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Subject: A review from Strategy and Tactics #94 : Fall 1983! rss

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Rommel in the Desert Game
Design: Craig Besinque

Reviewed by David Cook
Strategy & Tactics #94 Fall 1983

components: 8.5 x 50" 2 colour game map, 138 wooden block counters; 28 page rules booklet , 1 card of mines and disruptions ( must be cut out) ; box

The Game Preserve : 24.95 plus $2 shipping




Every once in a while, there appear on the wargaming horizon those games so utterly devoid of historicity that they demand attention.Perhaps the game concept is revolutionary . the subject fascinating , the graphics dazzling , or (heaven forbid!) the game is simply fun. In a field where players may willingly spend up to an hour scribbling hidden movement orders, this last factor can be a rare commodity. However , after a short examination , most of these games are put on the shelf and forgotten, dismissed as amateurish and not serious enough. This is unfortunate , for some of these games are worth serious attention

Some years ago a company named Gamma Two Games came out with a couple of titles ( Napoleon, Quebec) that did not have die-cut counters , instead using stand-up wooden blocks. Each player could see the information about his units , but could not see the strength of the other players pieces. Play was simple and the game, not history, was important. The games faded away (Napoleon was acquired by AH) and the whole concept was forgotten as an oddity of its time

But not quite; Rommel in the Desert is the grandson of the Gamma Two games. Dont be fooled by the title or the cover- this is not another attempt to carefully simulate the North African Campaign. The box is not heavy with massive maps , charts, counter sheets and rules, but with 138 wooden counters. Game play is simple, After setting up the units ( which takes about 5 minutes) , the Axis player starts by deciding what type of turn he will have. his is determined by spending supply units ( think of them as money) from the units on the board. A turn can be a basic move and then attack, or some variation , such as an offensive turn of two moves than an attack. Units move in groups , one entire group counting as the entire move for a turn.
Battle turns represent about one day of action and are overly bloody , as entire divisions can be wiped out. One die is rolled for every point of a units attack Combat Value ; the player announces what attacks he wishes to make . If the proper number is rolled , the attack is successful. Successful attacks cause units to lose steps in strength , which are are shown by rotating the counter block. Players may also attempt to withdraw , retreat, disengage, use pursuit fire , and ver-run. When both players pass or run out of supply , one month ends. Each player now shifts units , enters reinforcements, rebuild depleted units , and makes minefields. Another turn then begins. It is obvious , from the minute a player begins , that this must be treated as a game , not as a simulation. A player can sit down , have a few beers , chase the kids out of the room and have some fun. Its about as close to a party game as one can find in wargaming.

There are problems , however. First , the rules are not always clear in their intent. They can be figured out in time ; both players should agree on any unclear points ahead of time, to lessen problems. Other questions deal with the design itself. The Assault Turn option doesn't seem to be a usable ploy, since it doubles the effectiveness of defensive fire as well. An ambitious payer may want to add a few homemade rules corrections

Rommel in the Desert is not a simulation , and was never intended to be one. Reinforcements arrive pn odd-and-even numbered turns, not by specific arrival dates. Units are never withdrawn. The simplistic combat precludes any chance of simulating desert warfare; supply is handled abstractly off the map. In essence . all the detailed features of a simulation have been ignored, or given lip service only

If you are looking for a simulation , or even a solid wargame of the Western Desert Campaign, don't buy this game. However , if you want a game-game and are willing to overlook some of the flaws , pick this up. It is a game that can be alof of fun for gamers looking for a not-too-serious evening of play.

Capsule Comments:

Physical quality: Homegrown, but well done.Some sets may require fitting unit labels on the blocks

Playability: Quite good , aside from a few vague sections in the rules.Moves fast , but can be tough for the Axis to win

Playing Time: about four hours

Historicity: Practically nil, but not the designers intention

Comparisons: Because of its focus, certainly not for desert buffs or historians , and thus it suffers in comparison to games like the Desert Fox Game. But its probably just as accurate , and somewhat more fun than , say, the Afrika korps game (AH)


Overall: Good, simple fun, nothing more







Dude 163 here!

(This was all transcribed by hand as my scanner dislikes windows Vista!)


funny how at the time the block wargames were such a huge leap for the grognards to grasp , all those new and different concepts that we take for granted today. I just thought it would be neat to see how a game that is still published and well received was reviewed * back in the day* especially since I won a 1st edition copy off ebay and it will be here soon


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Robert Taylor-Smith
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I believe the S&T reviewer had the original 'orange' map edition. The map was changed, rules cleaned up, and scenarios added in the later editions. The latter Columbia Games editions, which are basically the same rules, do have a different gameplay experience.

Personally I like the 'orange' map Game Preserve edition better. The Columbia Games editions have a more accurate map (based on 'real' distances) which slows down the game somewhat.

After reading the 'historically accurate: nil' comment I wonder if the S&T reviewer had much of a grasp of the North African campaign or really played the game much, or any North African campaign wargame. Clearly a silly comment(s). I stongly suspect he never actually played the game beyond reading the rules. By 1983 S&T had lost the Grognard aura and this review shows why the mag was in it's deathbed. All the editions have stick on labels, yet another example of a poor review.
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Seth Owen
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The reviewer was also incorrect about Quebec 1759 having "faded away"
and indeed, it's still here.

I think it's a little odd that he thought the battle system was overly bloody with entire divisions able to disappear in combat when most contemporary North African campaign game were either whole unit elimination or step reduction with 2 steps. Seems to have the whole 80s hex-and-counter blind spot about what constitutes "realism" (overly concerned with minutia like exact unit arrival dates, for example).
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I agree Seth

I think to him the ultimate game would have been the Campaign for North Africa , or nowadays something like DAK2
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wargamer55 wrote:

I think it's a little odd that he thought the battle system was overly bloody with entire divisions able to disappear in combat when most contemporary North African campaign game were either whole unit elimination or step reduction with 2 steps. Seems to have the whole 80s hex-and-counter blind spot about what constitutes "realism" (overly concerned with minutia like exact unit arrival dates, for example).


If you read the review closely you'll see he is referring to divisions disappearing in a single day. Blind spots certainly do move around as reaction to this review shows.
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ross_menzies wrote:
wargamer55 wrote:

I think it's a little odd that he thought the battle system was overly bloody with entire divisions able to disappear in combat when most contemporary North African campaign game were either whole unit elimination or step reduction with 2 steps. Seems to have the whole 80s hex-and-counter blind spot about what constitutes "realism" (overly concerned with minutia like exact unit arrival dates, for example).


If you read the review closely you'll see he is referring to divisions disappearing in a single day. Blind spots certainly do move around as reaction to this review shows.


That's his assumption, unsupported by the rules. Each game turn represents an entire month, so I'm not sure where he got the idea that each battle turn represented a single day. It would be unusual for non-Italian divisions to disappear in a single round of battle anyway unless very heavily outnumbered. The combat system tends to spread the hits around due to restrictions on which pieces can be targeted in certain conditions. Ans as I said, most other 1980s era desert campaign wargames used whole-unit elimination or 2-step units so the criticism still strikes me as odd.

The entire review drips with a disdain for the entire block game approach, which is ironic considering that the most popular days for that type of game were ahead of it -- due in large part because of Rommel in the Desert, which opened a lot of eyes to the potential for the game system to simulate more complex situations. A few years later East Front came along and really got things rolling.
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dude163 wrote:
funny how at the time the block wargames were such a huge leap for the grognards to grasp , all those new and different concepts that we take for granted today.

It's just one guy's opinion, and he certainly didn't speak for all grognards. Most of the wargamers I hung out with in those days thought RitD was pretty good. As for supposed advances in attitudes today, I don't think a thing has changed. You can read reviews of Conflict of Heroes or Napoleon's Triumph that show precisely the same attitude, the primary difference being that the put down of choice has changed from "party game" to "eurogame".
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wargamer55 wrote:

That's his assumption, unsupported by the rules. Each game turn represents an entire month, so I'm not sure where he got the idea that each battle turn represented a single day. It would be unusual for non-Italian divisions to disappear in a single round of battle anyway unless very heavily outnumbered. The combat system tends to spread the hits around due to restrictions on which pieces can be targeted in certain conditions. Ans as I said, most other 1980s era desert campaign wargames used whole-unit elimination or 2-step units so the criticism still strikes me as odd.

The entire review drips with a disdain for the entire block game approach, which is ironic considering that the most popular days for that type of game were ahead of it -- due in large part because of Rommel in the Desert, which opened a lot of eyes to the potential for the game system to simulate more complex situations. A few years later East Front came along and really got things rolling.


I stand corrected, although he is still talking about losses within a turn rather than across it. I've never played the game so have no opinion on it per se. The review dismisses it as a simulation but praises it (with some disdain to be sure) as a party game so is not at all inimical to the idea of it being popular. Suggesting that the game's continuing popularity proves the reviewer wrong doesn't really fly - A&A is still very popular but nobody's going to quote it in their history dissertation (not that there's anything wrong with that). Most block gamers live in the delusional state that the hidden strength aspect of the designs simulate something & derive their appreciation of the simulation value of the game largely from that delusion. In the case of the desert campaign though - punctuated by short confused bursts of combat - you probably have the most legitimate case for hidden strengths in an operational/strategic WW2 game. I've yet to play a block game that was better than sub-par in any area but looking at this one it doesn't seem to have the tightly bound artifical systems that things like HOTS entirely rely upon, plus does seem to have the extended down times that catergorised the desert war & aren't often seen in other desert games I've played so I might well give it a try.
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Oops, sorry, left something out. Commonwealth withdrawals were crucial to the complexion of the campaign. Massive deductions of troops to Greece and the Far East in particular allowed 2 of the 3 German offensives to occur and many would suggest that the variations to the forces the Commonwealth had available was THE determining factor to the course of the campaign. Unless there is some very clever mechanism in the rules that I couldn't see which handles this in a different way, to catergorise this complaint as minutae is more than a little absurd. In the absence of such cleverness it would seem that the review is entirely on the money.
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ross_menzies wrote:


Most block gamers live in the delusional state that the hidden strength aspect of the designs simulate something & derive their appreciation of the simulation value of the game largely from that delusion.


Rather harsh, there. As opposed to the delusion that knowing the exact strength and combat effectiveness of every unit in order to set up precisely calculated and maximized "odds" is more realistic? That was the state of the art in the mid-1980s.

The hidden information is part of the simulation aspect of the block system, but there's also the ease of reflecting partial losses with relatively little fuss. Rommel in the Desert also reflects qualitative differences between the Germans and British, the impact of tech improvements and new weapons such as 88s, Grants and Shermans. It's true that the game doesn't directly reflect the historical withdrawals but effect of those withdrawals can be reflected in the flow of supply cards. The fact that the players in most Desert Campaign games know when the withdrawals will happen and their extent is unrealistic in its own way. It's a common problem in wargames where things like reinforcement arrivals, the weather and other events have to be dealt with. Do you go with the "historical" weather which means that the players have a long-range weather forecast that wasn't available to the actual commanders or do you have some randomness in your weather which reflects the uncertainty of the event but makes it likely your game will diverge from history on a fundamental point? I don't think there's a "right" answer. Hindsight is always going to be a problem.

Typically block games take the approach of trying to capture the uncertainty facing the historical commanders and don't worry overmuch about exact fidelity to variable things such as weather, exact unit designations, arrival times and the like.

Now, is it the latest word in simulation. No, but I think it compared very well with contemporary titles and still holds up reasonable well today.
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There's certainly much that you say that I agree with, although the Brits did know from November 1940 on that units were to be withdrawn to Greece for instance and to a lesser extent this was also true of the Far East Withdrawals. Regarding CRT v Blocks though I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that a CRT game is a good simulation because it has hexes and a CRT; or because they like the fact that they can calculate exact odds. Instead they will comment on how all of the elements of the system gel to produce a good simulation. With block fans though the first answer nearly always references the hidden strength aspect and often doesn't progress beyond that. While as a game dynamic that may be attractive (according to taste), from a simulation point of view there are massive problems that are more pronounced the further into the modern era you get. How rickety the simulation value of limited intelligence systems (to expand beyond just block games) are is heavily dependent upon game scale and especially time scale. In general, the longer the 'real' time represented the more unsupportable the claim to simulation value becomes. Once you get to operational level and above there are very few occurances where whatever 'surprise' actually existed in game scale affecting terms is not better simulated via the mechanism of movement values and the vagaries of the combat system.
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ross_menzies wrote:
Once you get to operational level and above there are very few occurances where whatever 'surprise' actually existed in game scale affecting terms is not better simulated via the mechanism of movement values and the vagaries of the combat system.


Can you give us some examples of the above?

Because my personal experience after 30 years of wargaming is exactly the opposite: The bigger the scale, the more difficult is for any system without hidden information to model any kind of surprise (as historically was the case way too many times during WWII).
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harzal wrote:
ross_menzies wrote:
Once you get to operational level and above there are very few occurances where whatever 'surprise' actually existed in game scale affecting terms is not better simulated via the mechanism of movement values and the vagaries of the combat system.


Can you give us some examples of the above?

Because my personal experience after 30 years of wargaming is exactly the opposite: The bigger the scale, the more difficult is for any system without hidden information to model any kind of surprise (as historically was the case way too many times during WWII).


For sure, I'll even use a couple of examples drawn from events that are normally the poster-children of limited intelligence (LI hereafter) advocates:

1. In September 1944 Allied Intelligence knew the positions of about 99% of the German army in the West. The one glaring omission being 2 SS Panzer Corps - at Arnhem. In a hypothetical divisional game with say 2 week turns these units are in the replacement pool, are rebuilt following the Market-Garden landing; entrained; sent to Arnhem; attack; roll a 6 & push the Brits off the bridge. LI advocates will say that this doesn't fully simulate the situation but in fact it does so vastly more accurately than making the Allies blind to the whereabouts of 100% of the German army.

2. In July 1944 the Germans attacked a very strong Soviet defensive position around Kursk and suffered a heavy defeat. LI advocates would say that the Germans blundered accidently into a strong hidden stack but in reality the Germans knew pretty much that they were hitting the strongest part of the Russian line & this was the point - to break the Russian army in one cataclysmic battle. They delayed the offensive in order to include the latest heavy tanks for the very reason that it was going to be tough. In a hypothetical corps level game the German player knows exactly the strength of the Russian position but has decided that the potential benefits outweigh the risk - he exactly calculates the odds & as long as he doesn't make 6 consecutive rolls of 3 or less he will come out of the battle at least at par. He rolls 1 1 2 3 2 3. Surprise! The alternative in a hypothetical LI game is he somehow unluckily picked out the strongest Russian AT concentration in a fifty odd hex long front. That certainly would be a surprise but I don't really see that it actually simulates anything.

I can continue ad nauseum to be frank. The advocates of LI inevitably clutch at examples which are irrelevant in terms of the amount of time which a game turn represents. Thus a statement in a history such as "the battalion was surprised to encounter elements of the Das Reich" gets extrapolated into the whole division that the battalion belongs to being surprised for every day of the 2 weeks of that game turn. Not exactly fast learners apparently. LI designs almost invariably teach the lesson that the main source of intelligence is the full blown attack. In fact most intelligence came from sources hardly ever simulated. Many forms of attack such as WW1 Stosstruppen tactics rely heavily on the accumulation of intelligence pre-attack so that the joins between units can be the focal point. Very difficult to simulate in a LI design.

I could go on but - the more sustained and lengthy the combat environment being simulated the more bogus LI attempts at simulation become. Thus LI is highly applicable in naval games since the combat instance is often short sharp and brutal - LI is appropriate since the actual combat is just a small percentage of a game turn. I already mentioned the Desert war as being more appropriate for that very reason (but only by degrees). Other than such cases the variability of combat results & the ability to bring surprise through methods of play are vastly superior.
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I'm afraid that we have very different views regarding how LI works both in games and real life.

There were way more many things that the Allies didn't know before MG and the Germans before Kursk. Especially at the operational level.

In any case, how would you effectively simulate most of the ETO campaigns without some sort of LI and other C3i limitations? I'm talking about France 1940, Barbarossa, Overlord, the Bulge, the Stalingrad and Falaise pockets, Crete, and many other operations whose outcomes were undoubtedly influenced at a large extent by LI.
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harzal wrote:
I'm afraid that we have very different views regarding how LI works both in games and real life.

There were way more many things that the Allies didn't know before MG and the Germans before Kursk. Especially at the operational level.

In any case, how would you effectively simulate most of the ETO campaigns without some sort of LI and other C3i limitations? I'm talking about France 1940, Barbarossa, Overlord, the Bulge, the Stalingrad and Falaise pockets, Crete, and many other operations whose outcomes were undoubtedly influenced at a large extent by LI.


In all cases mentioned the amount of game affecting information known at the time hugely exceeds the amount not known. The incidences where LI affected campaigns are often well known for the very reason that they are the exceptions to the rule. In nearly every case though, 'conventional' systems much more accurately handle the situation than having everything face down etc. In France 40 for example the Germans didn't base their whole plan around the fervent hope that the French didn't have 2 DCRs in the Ardennes - they knew they didn't. The Allied surprise in the Ardennes in both 1940 & 1944 is simulated just fine by the sudden concentration of previously dispersed units. Famous minutae like the French having a few hours window to cut through an undiscovered gap in 7th Panzer's trail simply isn't going to show up in a Division level game with weekly turns, regardless of the system employed, and nor should it - it is perfectly handled by a counter-attack on 7th Panzer - 6 means that they found that gap (or otherwise triumphed), 1 means they didn't. With Overlord we have the inestimable advantage of an existing LI system - the GDW game who's name escapes me but I have played it on a number of occaisions - the allies grope around trying to find a gap or attackable hex as if in some kind of extended blind man's bluff whilst the Germans in their turn jiggle their positions around more than a belly-dancer's stomach. It bears little resemblence to the strategies employed in 1944.

No contest that intelligence was a very important factor which affected operations in WW2. Oat quality was another. Bullet production quality assurance. Truck tyre durability. Fuel transportation and distribution methods. All very important but in the vast majority of cases unneccessary to show explicitly because these factors and many more are handled perfectly adequately and invisibly by most systems. From quite early in the war (1941?) the British tracked the rough position of every German division with close to 100% accuracy. There was the occaisional time-lag and the even more occaisional complete mystery but which system more accurately reflects this intelligence situation, 100% knowledge of German dispositions or 0%?
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Just wnated to jump into the discussion, here.

I think it's pretty much true that the general placement and strength of enemy units was pretty easy to obtain in a static situation - before a major operation such as Normandy, for instance - but after the operation has begun, the knowledge of who was where, when, and where they were going, was quite a bit tougher to nail down. So at these "crisis points" in wars it seems to me, is the point at which you begin to lose that pre-battle intelligence. The division is driven off, but you only have a rough idea of its losses, and no idea where it's headed . . . at least not until you can get air superiority and receive a call from the HQ.

I think both types of games simulate different things.
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ross_menzies wrote:

In all cases mentioned the amount of game affecting information known at the time hugely exceeds the amount not known.


I would still disagree with such a gross generalisation.

In any case, the perfect information that you can find in many wargames hugely exceeds the amount known at the time even by the most efficient intelligence services in the world.

Quote:
The incidences where LI affected campaigns are often well known for the very reason that they are the exceptions to the rule. In nearly every case though, 'conventional' systems much more accurately handle the situation than having everything face down etc.


Neither block games nor other LI systems have "everything face down". You've got tons of information beforehand (number of units, precise location, supply lines, etc., etc.) that the historical counterparts did not have.

Quote:
In France 40 for example the Germans didn't base their whole plan around the fervent hope that the French didn't have 2 DCRs in the Ardennes - they knew they didn't. The Allied surprise in the Ardennes in both 1940 & 1944 is simulated just fine by the sudden concentration of previously dispersed units. Famous minutae like the French having a few hours window to cut through an undiscovered gap in 7th Panzer's trail simply isn't going to show up in a Division level game with weekly turns, regardless of the system employed, and nor should it - it is perfectly handled by a counter-attack on 7th Panzer - 6 means that they found that gap (or otherwise triumphed), 1 means they didn't.


That's ridiculous. The success of the Germans had a lot to do with lousy C3i by the Allies and some daring decisions by individual commanders like Rommel.

You are never going to replicate anything like that with a perfect information system unless you impose some external limitations to Allied activities.

Quote:
With Overlord we have the inestimable advantage of an existing LI system - the GDW game who's name escapes me but I have played it on a number of occaisions - the allies grope around trying to find a gap or attackable hex as if in some kind of extended blind man's bluff whilst the Germans in their turn jiggle their positions around more than a belly-dancer's stomach. It bears little resemblence to the strategies employed in 1944.


Once again, you seem to be talking more about what you know in hindsight and not the LI that both sides had about each other's forces at the time.

Quote:
No contest that intelligence was a very important factor which affected operations in WW2. Oat quality was another. Bullet production quality assurance. Truck tyre durability. Fuel transportation and distribution methods. All very important but in the vast majority of cases unneccessary to show explicitly because these factors and many more are handled perfectly adequately and invisibly by most systems. From quite early in the war (1941?) the British tracked the rough position of every German division with close to 100% accuracy. There was the occaisional time-lag and the even more occaisional complete mystery but which system more accurately reflects this intelligence situation, 100% knowledge of German dispositions or 0%?


No boardgame that I know offers 0% information about your opponnent's dispositions. In fact, even block games do offer certain information that was not often available to the historical commanders, such as units location, air support, availabilty (or lack) of reserves and supply, etc., etc.

In any case, I would also rebut the idea that the British had 100% perfect information about every single German division from 1941 on. That was not the case too many times. In any case, the information about the strength and availability of both the enemy and your own forces was not so precise as what you can find in way too many games.
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I'm afraid that I'll have to agree with most of the rebuttals as well.

First off, I think claims that any side ever had anything like 99% knowledge of the opposing OB in World War II overstates the case. There were many cases where large formations of division size or larger were missed entirely or the significance of their presence was misinterpreted (functionally similar). On the East Front there were a number of cases of operational and strategic surprise, with the Stalingrad offensive being among the more famous, but hardly unique. The Ardennes in both 1940 and 1944 saw significant surprise. Market Garden and Normandy both saw the success of an operation put in jeopardy due to the unexpected presence of major German formations.

But going further, I think you're also overstating the fog of war in a block game. It's not Stratego. Or one of the double blind hex-and-counter wargames that were briefly popular in the 1980s. It's rare that you have absolutely no clue what the enemy force in a given hex contains. If you've been paying attention you have seen them move, you've gotten intel from previous revelations in battle, you know the general outline of the possible enemy OB, etc. While you may not know the exact strength of the enemy units, you should have a realistic "close-enough-for-government-work" idea. The vagaries of the combat system in block games mitigate the value of precise knowledge anyway.

For the most part the challenge in wargames is limiting the ability of players to capitalize on hindsight to exploit the game system in unrealistic and, ultimately, unsatisfying ways. The block system is simply one tool (although one of the more elegant and fuss-free tools) available to the designer.

The gamer has the advantage of knowing the entire range of possible outcomes and if the game hews too closely to the historical inputs it can create a situation that's decidedly ahistorical. In Bowen Simmons' upcoming The Guns of Gettysburg he's going to have a variable entry order for the reinforcements in order to recreate a little bit of the historical uncertainty. But even with the provision, the players still have a much better window on what will happen than any of the on-scene commanders did on July 1, 1863.
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Yes, Daniel in the (Block) Lion's Den.

To reply to a couple of people's objections - obviously (obviously) in LI games the wherebouts of the front line, OB, supply lines etc are known. Above such givens (in both systems), in terms of C20 warfare, comparing the amount of information available in a 'conventional' game & a LI game to the information available historicaly will come down overwhelmingly in favour of the 'conventional'. I've used the Western Allies as examples since they had the best intell but even if you use some of the 'blinder' nations, in order for the LI case to be proven the accuracy of their intelligence would have to average 49% across the entire campaign & further - this percentage would only have to take into account units appropriate to the game - it is meaningless to talk about not knowing where a ski battalion is when referencing a corps level game for instance. I don't think that it can be shown that anybody, not even the Soviets, were that blind.

With the mechanism of how 'conventional' systems reflect LI I have already shown this in spades but if you don't like the answer then we've reached the Zealot portion of the discussion whereby no answer bar that which corresponds to the ideology of zealot is acceptable. We may as well be arguing over The Russian Campaign's terrible failure to explicitly reflect the sloped armour advantage enjoyed by the Russians in 1942. Similarly, the mentions of missed units at Normandy & Arnhem - these stand out in the narrative for the exact reason that I am correct - they are the exceptions which prove the rule. And their individual impacts are completely explainable within 'conventional' mechanics.

I have played Block games, just not WW2 ones and they were exactly like Stratego, not that that is meant as a put-down. Have certainly played non-block WW2 LI systems though and while I aknowledge that the Blocks give slightly more info than most others, in that you know the number of pieces in a given hex/area etc, in effect they are much the same. One of the features of the Block game is the 'hide in the crowd' syndrome whereby an identified piece races into a stack and then re-emerges having 're-cloaked'. Other than in a game on Startrek, what is this simulating?

Part of the problem in assessing the suitability of LI systems is their adherant's confusion as to what they personally represent in the game. In a game of Rommel In The Desert the axis player is under the misapprehension that they are Rommel - in fact they are closer to being the desert. The functions fulfilled by the player in a wargame do not in any meaningful way equate to those exercised by the historical commander. You are not Rommel or Foch or Napoleon - you are an active abstraction of an historical process combining multiple decision-makers and input-providers with many (many) diverse imperatives. To suggest that any rule 'puts you in the mind of the commander' - wrong.

Now to return to my original point, which was that LI is advanced by its devotees as the reason why their games are good simulations whilst 'conventional' players will reference how the system as a whole gels together. I'm a big fan of Frederick The Great which relies heavily on LI and this feature adds greatly to my enjoyment of the game. Take it out though & the game still functions as a game & a simulation. If you present me with a game on the 7 years war which doesn't have LI, does that mean it isn't as good a simulation as Freddie? Not at all - it depends upon how everything is acomplished within the system - might well be better. In the Block games that I have seen, take out the LI & there's virtually nothing there - they fall over. The one's which I've seen in action are the gaming equivalent of the one-joke-movie (starring Adam Sandler no doubt). Now there might be some great block games out there as yet unexperienced, including the game that this thread nominally concerns itself with but y'all really do need to stop deluding yourselves that the fact that wooden blocks are used to provide LI means anything other than you like to play games like this. Or not. Either way, enjoy your games.

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ross_menzies wrote:
Yes, Daniel in the (Block) Lion's Den.

I have played Block games, just not WW2 ones and they were exactly like Stratego, not that that is meant as a put-down. Have certainly played non-block WW2 LI systems though and while I aknowledge that the Blocks give slightly more info than most others, in that you know the number of pieces in a given hex/area etc, in effect they are much the same. One of the features of the Block game is the 'hide in the crowd' syndrome whereby an identified piece races into a stack and then re-emerges having 're-cloaked'. Other than in a game on Startrek, what is this simulating?


If you're playing games from earlier periods what the "re-cloaking" simulates is, simply, the generally spotty nature of any intelligence. I thought you had earlier suggested that the mechanic seemed appropriate to pre-20th century wargames and you were questioning its applicability to WW2 games like RITD. If the games seem like Stratego to you, I'll respectfully suggest that you may not be playing very well. I've been playing block games since 1977 and I can't really say I've had that Stratego feeling very often. If you're paying close attention to the game there's an awful lot you can deduce about what the enemy has in front of you.

Quote:
Part of the problem in assessing the suitability of LI systems is their adherant's confusion as to what they personally represent in the game. ... functions fulfilled by the player in a wargame do not in any meaningful way equate to those exercised by the historical commander ... of an historical process combining multiple decision-makers ... To suggest that any rule 'puts you in the mind of the commander' - wrong.


Look, if you want to have a huge meta-discussion about how "realistic" wargames are. etc. etc. you're welcome to start a thread devoted to that topic, but everything you mention is just as applicable to conventional hex-and-counter wargames and seems off-topic in regards to this old review and the POV of that reviewer, who didn't get into that meta-debate at all.

Quote:
Now to return to my original point, which was that LI is advanced by its devotees as the reason why their games are good simulations whilst 'conventional' players will reference how the system as a whole gels together.


This is a straw man. While there are undoubtedly fanboys who can see no wrong or limitations in their favorite game (of whatever type) I don't know anyone who sees "limited intelligence" (whether provided by blocks, plotted movement, dummy counters, untried units, double-blind or whatever) as the reason why its a good simulation. It's just one tool and if handled poorly (like the 80s double-blind games I mentioned before) it can definitely reduce the simulation value (to the extent that one wishes to recognize one). In the case of RITD the hidden information from the blocks is just one part of the design and not necessarily the key element -- I would say that it's the way the "system as a whole gels together."

Quote:
In the Block games that I have seen, take out the LI & there's virtually nothing there - they fall over. The one's which I've seen in action are the gaming equivalent of the one-joke-movie (starring Adam Sandler no doubt). Now there might be some great block games out there as yet unexperienced, including the game that this thread nominally concerns itself with but y'all really do need to stop deluding yourselves that the fact that wooden blocks are used to provide LI means anything other than you like to play games like this. Or not. Either way, enjoy your games.


This puzzles me as you seem to have very strong opinions about block games while admittedly having played few of them and not this one. I don't know your history but I wonder if your negative experience might have more to do with some blockheads (in the pejorative sense rather than Blockheads meaning people who like block games) you may have played with rather than the games themselves.

The thing I like best about block games is the gaming challenge, not their simulation value. That said, I think most of them compare very well to similar "conventional" wargames when you match them by complexity level, playing time, number of players and the like. RITD can be played in a 4-hour game session by two players. Within the constraints of a manual wargame it's as realistic as a more conventional wargame of similar scope -- a viewpoint the old reviewer did not share but which I think was colored by a common 80s hex-and-counter player prejudice against any sort of game that fell outside the hex-and-counter mode. (Area movement was another design tool that's quite popular now that met a lot of resistance back in the 70s & 80s).
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ross_menzies wrote:
I have played Block games, just not WW2 ones and they were exactly like Stratego

That's pure hyperbole, and you lose a great deal of credibility by making such a statement. Name the game.
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ross_menzies wrote:
I have played Block games, just not WW2 ones and they were exactly like Stratego
Sphere wrote:

That's pure hyperbole, and you lose a great deal of credibility by making such a statement. Name the game.
I'll bring this further along and 'posit' that the former 'quip' is also HOW the original 'author' then felt! surprise
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Sphere wrote:
ross_menzies wrote:
I have played Block games, just not WW2 ones and they were exactly like Stratego

That's pure hyperbole, and you lose a great deal of credibility by making such a statement. Name the game.


Err, my credibility with who? Just before the fanboy tar & feather party arrives at my door you might want to examine why the defensiveness displayed here & to the article in question (remember that?) which I made the (now clear) mistake of commenting on. In fact I just happened to be wandering past since I'm selling this particular game and noted the hate directed at what was basically a capsule review that didn't seem too far from the mark according to what I've heard of this system in the past - a game game rather than anything serious -might well have understated the simulation value of the game. Wouldn't know personally but at no stage have I made any comment on it per se, so.... What I have commented on, as an observation, is the tendency I have observed previously for Block Gamers in particular and LI disciples in general to hold up the LI aspect of these designs as some sort of automatic marker of superior simulation. I disagree for reasons that I've already made abundantly clear.

Far from being predudiced against block games (which must be the case if I criticise them, yes?) I approached my first game of HOTS with immense enthusiasm - 'this is going to be great' I remember telling my opponent. It wasn't great. It was very very far from great. It was appalling and remained so after trying it a number of times just to make sure that I hadn't missed anything. Now, in answer to your request I've played in full or in part 3 blockers - War Of 1812, HOTS & R3. Let us compare the systems encountered in comparison to Stratego shall we?
Upright pieces used to conceal enemy strength? - check
Limited intelligence derived from combat and the way in which pieces move? - check
Extremely limited movement system? - check
Contrived playing surface? - check (except perhaps for R3)

Now it is certainly true that all of the stuff loaded on top of this basic system to produce the 3 games in question is just basically sophistry (especially since with the possible exeption of War, they bear as much resemblence to their themes as the average Knizia game) but I don't really mean that unkindly. One could say that most hex & counter efforts are simply Tactics II + sophistry and one would be largely right. What is indicative is the 'how dare you!' element when Stratego is mentioned to blockers or, as seen above, the outrage which greats any suggestion that LI means nothing in simulation terms. Or for that matter any criticism at all as per the original article.

For the record I had a number of Stratego variants when I was a kid which presented the system in more contemporary military terms. Being a bit of a tinkerer & into history, I assigned historical designations to the pieces, varied their strengths and eventually started making my own boards. It would not be beyond even moderate belief to postulate that War Of 1812 gestated in just such a way.

Please keep me informed of my credibility rating and try to love the things you love for what they are and regardless of where they came from.
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The 'blocks' use DICE and "step loss" to resolve their "Combat" and whatever else these affected. I do agree somewhat with Ross in that you could more readily distinguish a unit's Composition whether it comprised between Cavalry, Infantry, or Artillery due to their distinctive outlines and such. That aspect is one matter, while they do even have this in C&C:A.
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ross_menzies wrote:
With the mechanism of how 'conventional' systems reflect LI I have already shown this in spades


Nope. You have proved nothing of the kind.

Quote:
but if you don't like the answer then we've reached the Zealot portion of the discussion whereby no answer bar that which corresponds to the ideology of zealot is acceptable.


Funnily enough, the more you post the more I only read one zealotic fallacy after another coming from you.

If you wanna have a proper discussion on the subject I would dare to suggest that you try a few more LI games and systems (FWIW, the three that you say you have played are way too simplistic and thus not a very good yardstick to judge LI games in general) and read a little bit more about the central role of C3i in the military campaigns of most ages.

Then come back and try to offer us something better than a long list of gross generalisations.
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