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Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ?» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Flawed simulation of a conflict that's difficult to simulate rss

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Fernando Darlington
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Dieroll Honker wrote:

Is anyone really claiming that? A good historical wargame will (in addition to providing an interesting, fun, and competitive game) offer such insights into the event as the designer thought to highlight. For the People, for example, does an excellent job of showing, among other things, the Union's naval superiority and its importance in the ACW.

You could also read a book on the same subject and learn the same things and more. But the book would be a different experience.

But For the people also allows some players to tweak completely the events so anyone foolishly enough to hope learning something just from For the People could get the idea that Lee was very dumb not to use a better strategy isolating Washington (for example).
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Fernando Darlington wrote:
But For the people also allows some players to tweak completely the events so anyone foolishly enough to hope learning something just from For the People could get the idea that Lee was very dumb not to use a better strategy isolating Washington (for example).

You rather miss the point.
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Fernando Darlington
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Dieroll Honker wrote:


You rather miss the point.

Or you didn't explain yours very well.
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Fernando Darlington wrote:
But For the people also allows some players to tweak completely the events so anyone foolishly enough to hope learning something just from For the People could get the idea that Lee was very dumb not to use a better strategy isolating Washington (for example).

He'll certainly learn that isolating Washington was not an easy task. Both historically and in the game.
 
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here are my 2 cents(probably worth 1 cent).

this has been a remarkable discussion about something that is "only a game". Clearly gamers have strong feelings and fall into various camps.

I have only been wargaming for two years. Over that time, I have realized that what I really enjoy is a conflict simulation such as Fields of Fire, Downtown-Air War Over Hanoi, D-Day Omaha Beach, Whistling Death and so forth.

I want to feel as much as possible what the cardboard counters feel and sweat along with them. This is my personal preference which has evolved over time.

Actually, Labyrinth is the game that finally clarified that for me. Until this game, I was not quite sure what I was looking for in my purchases.


When my wife asked me how I liked my new acquisition, I told her it was a real game rather than the Conflict Simulations I have been enjoying recently. That distinction diminishes its value for me subjectively.

However, for those who enjoy great GAMES, this is probably one to pick up. I think Labyrinth is a very well done GAME that many people should and will enjoy as it has twists, turns and surprises, strategy and luck.
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Kingdaddy wrote:


Just an FYI, there's a lot of historical research that may not be a game per se, but depend on an effort to re-create or simulate an event. For example, military historians often "walk the battlefield" to get a better sense of what might have actually happened. See, for example, Peter Green's excellent book on the Greco-Persian Wars, which he sprinkles liberally with observations from visiting the critical locations like Marathon.

Sometimes, this effort isn't literally walking the battlefield. You can sandbox a battle in other ways. At a certain point, what you're doing isn't too far away from a wargame. Why did the Roman flanks collapse as quickly as they did at Cannae? How many troops would Alexander have needed to maintain an effective siege of Tyre? What defeated the French at Agincourt, the longbow on its own, or the exhausting slog through the mud that the French knights took to reach the British lines? The answers often depend on a simulation. One historian, Philip Sabin, takes this to the point of explicitly wargaming battles.

And, of course, the practitioners of war simulate potential battles all the time. Wargames are essential parts of military planning and officer training.

Tom, historians walk the battlefield to answer a specific question they pose to the battlefield. That's how it works: formulate a question and pose it to your source material. That means that everything that is not directly related to the question will be abstracted or neglected. You will possibly get a simulation of something, but not of the whole conflict and certainly not a game.
Thus a simulation can never recreate reality in all its complexity. Even the most sophisticated simulations I have participated in (while in the military) were always missing something. And those simulations went way beyond anything I have seen in the boardgame genre so far. So even there you have a certain degree of abstraction. The designer of these simulations have to decide what they want the teach to participants. Usually, the goal is to train behavior and to get the trainee to adopt standardized solutions to common problems (or creative solutions to not so common problems). I don't think this can be easily compared to a boardgame.
I know Philip Sabin by the way. After careful consideration I decided not to enroll in his class and went for Lieven/Farrell's Conduct of Contemporary Warfare instead. :-)



edit: some elaboration for more clarity
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Alex H.
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Dieroll Honker wrote:
alex352 wrote:
Here I absolutely disagree. No game, regardless of how complex it is and hot thick the rulebook, can ever really put you in the position of people who acted in the historical event.

Is anyone really claiming that? A good historical wargame will (in addition to providing an interesting, fun, and competitive game) offer such insights into the event as the designer thought to highlight. For the People, for example, does an excellent job of showing, among other things, the Union's naval superiority and its importance in the ACW.

You could also read a book on the same subject and learn the same things and more. But the book would be a different experience.

Ok, I can see a point where we might agree.

Premise: A wargame should try to create a setup which does not directly contradict historical facts. So if I look at the board of Wilderness War the initial distribution of the troops should mirror as much as possible history. Also, core rules that affect the whole game should be based on history (example: Roman fleets move with more ease than the Carthaginians in HRC).

If this is what you mean I agree. Beyond this point things become much more difficult. As soon as the actions of players within the boundaries of the rules allow for a certain degree of freedom of choice the best I can think of is "recognizing" historical events/facts in the actions on the board. I must know these facts already, otherwise I might not be able to tell true from false historical facts since both have the same quality in the game and both depend on an abstract rule-set instead of complex reality.
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Andrew Prizzi
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Quote:
So if I look at the board of Wilderness War the initial distribution of the troops should mirror as much as possible history. Also, core rules that affect the whole game should be based on history (example: Roman fleets move with more ease than the Carthaginians in HRC).

This depends on the role you place the player in. If he's the commander of all French forces in the New France, he'd certainly have the authority to deploy his forces differently than was done historically. There was nothing pre-ordained about Roman naval superiority. If the scope of the game is wide enough, the Carthaginian might invest more in shipbuilding and training sailors and have as much or more freedom of movement as the Romans.
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prizziap wrote:


This depends on the role you place the player in. ...

This is obviously always true. I was referring to those two games because their designers have decided to include history in these set-up rules. These are instances where I accept that people could learn something from the boardgame. But maybe I am missing the point of your post?
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Andrew Prizzi
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I guess my point is that there is a much wider scope of possibilities than in many cases than some people clamoring for "realism" might think in a variety of historical situations.

Someone earlier in the thread said that a WWII game would be ridiculous if it allowed the WAllies to land in France in 1941. Why the heck not I say? If they want to try it go for it. Maybe they invest more in their navy, maybe the German has failed to make adequate defenses, maybe the WAllie player is an idiot and will get slaughtered.

Likewise I sometimes see comments that a WWII game should not allow Germany to invade Spain and attack Gibraltar from the land, because it is unhistorical. Well guess what, if Hitler decided to invade Spain he could of invaded Spain.

I like games that set the situation but then allow you to make whatever decisions you want which are appropriate for the role you are placed in. Obviously the level of decision making is different if you are a PFC or a POTUS.

It just annoys me when people mistake railroading for realism. Labyrinth is a game that allows for ahistorical outcomes. That's how it should be. The players will make different decisions then the actual historical participants did so the outcome SHOULD be different. Otherwise your choices don't matter.
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Tom Grant
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Volko, many thanks for the response. Please feel free to tell me, in your singularly gentlemanly way, where I'm full of crap.

Volko wrote:
The core one may be the question of whether jihadism is just terrorism or is a transnational insurgency...

In real life, terror and insurgency typically overlap. They do in the case of jihadism as well. Terror and guerrilla warfare are each tactics that insurgents use or eschew at various times.

Good point, and I'm glad you brought it up. Here is exactly where we sometimes get tied up in knots, confusing groups and methods (and which one exactly the US is fighting).

Groups do use a mix of methods, which change over time. The NLF in the Vietnam War, for example, certainly followed the Maoist model to a great extent. On the other hand, they were very adroit at terror attacks, sometimes precise (assassinations of people working with the South Vietnamese government), sometimes deliberately imprecise (rocket attacks on populated areas, bombs in public places, etc.). Were they a terrorist organization, since they used terror some of the time?

That question has followed me around for years. There does seem to be a threshold of terror where the differences among groups are a lot more distinct than just a slide up and down a continuum. Primarily depending on terror -- deliberately targeting innocent bystanders to horrify, terrorize, and ultimately coerce -- is a real pact with the devil that limits future choices. You have to be very secretive. You have to be small and disciplined. Apparently, you have to be pretty doctrinaire to justify in your mind what you're doing. Quickly, this crystallizes into a distinct, recognizable type of organization.

(But again, feel free to disagree. What might sound like a lecture to some is actually my way of trying to open a discussion.)
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Tom Grant
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alex352 wrote:
Tom, historians walk the battlefield to answer a specific question they pose to the battlefield. That's how it works: formulate a question and pose it to your source material. That means that everything that is not directly related to the question will be abstracted or neglected. You will possibly get a simulation of something, but not of the whole conflict and certainly not a game.
Thus a simulation can never recreate reality in all its complexity. Even the most sophisticated simulations I have participated in (while in the military) were always missing something. And those simulations went way beyond anything I have seen in the boardgame genre so far. So even there you have a certain degree of abstraction. The designer of these simulations have to decide what they want the teach to participants. Usually, the goal is to train behavior and to get the trainee to adopt standardized solutions to common problems (or creative solutions to not so common problems). I don't think this can be easily compared to a boardgame.

I hear you, Alex. But I'd argue the opposite: a simulation that re-creates too much of the complexity of the real world may be useless. At best, it's a tedious exercise to find out how many variables you can stuff into a model.

Here's an analogy from my college years. Way back then, someone in our department gave a presentation about a proposed project that would capture every single thing that a small group of people did throughout a couple of days. Their goal was to build a mini-database of human behavior that other social scientists could tap for later research.

The problem was, no one could figure out what possible use it was. If you want to do research on, say, the differences in non-verbal communication between men and women, the sample size (one day of interactions among a small number of people) might actually be too small. Or, just wading through the complexity of the information, which requires unraveling the way the people who recorded it have coded and organized the repository, wouldn't be as valuable as a focused research effort that selectively collected the data needed to test the hypothesis.

Greater complexity doesn't necessarily lead to an understanding of what's essential. Any model of reality, from economics texts to wargames, has to make decisions about what's essential. My review of Labyrinth as a simulation isn't a plea for greater complexity, but an argument for a different choice of essentials.

But I think we may actually agree on this point. If you build a simulation as a training exercise, you not only have to equip people with standard responses, but also sensitize them to the things that matter. Learning to drive, for example, requires greater attention to some details, and much less to others.
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Christopher O
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superflypete wrote:
Thank you, Radsailor, for finally giving me the information I was seeking. "It's an enjoyable game, with twists, turns, surprises, strategy, and luck."

Just because you have a narrow definition of what you expect to hear in a review doesn't mean that all reviews have to adhere to that format.
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Alex H.
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Kingdaddy wrote:

I hear you, Alex. But I'd argue the opposite: a simulation that re-creates too much of the complexity of the real world may be useless. At best, it's a tedious exercise to find out how many variables you can stuff into a model.

Here's an analogy from my college years. Way back then, someone in our department gave a presentation about a proposed project that would capture every single thing that a small group of people did throughout a couple of days. Their goal was to build a mini-database of human behavior that other social scientists could tap for later research.

The problem was, no one could figure out what possible use it was. If you want to do research on, say, the differences in non-verbal communication between men and women, the sample size (one day of interactions among a small number of people) might actually be too small. Or, just wading through the complexity of the information, which requires unraveling the way the people who recorded it have coded and organized the repository, wouldn't be as valuable as a focused research effort that selectively collected the data needed to test the hypothesis.

Greater complexity doesn't necessarily lead to an understanding of what's essential. Any model of reality, from economics texts to wargames, has to make decisions about what's essential. My review of Labyrinth as a simulation isn't a plea for greater complexity, but an argument for a different choice of essentials.

But I think we may actually agree on this point. If you build a simulation as a training exercise, you not only have to equip people with standard responses, but also sensitize them to the things that matter. Learning to drive, for example, requires greater attention to some details, and much less to others.

Ok, makes sense and I totally agree with a great deal of it. I just think that if one would try to incorporate your criticism in a game design the result would be much more complex than what Lab does offer. If I am wrong with this assumption please blame it on my limited imagination and creativity: I am not a game designer and just trying to think of how to put all the complexities of real world Islamic Jihadism (most of which you listed in your review) in all its facets into a game design makes my head spin.
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It is not really question of complexity, or levels of detail, or manageability, but of thesis. (Though sometimes complex reality requires a complex model,sadly.)

For example, the reality of operational combat in the Napoleonic age was not orders of magnitude less complex than that of today. Kevin Zucker's Campaigns of Napoleon system manages to be an effective "simulation" of that reality by having a robust, empirically-derived and convincing thesis: that the relationships between administration, logistics, commander capability, operational intelligence and march rates determined battle outcome, that battle outcome more than geography is the primary influence on National Will, and that National Will is the determinant of campaign result.

Factors outside the core thesis - for example, army morale, or the conduct of battle, or politics can therefore be ignored (or in the case of battle resolution, done badly) without invalidating the model.

An as yet unanswered question for Labyrinth to my mind is whether its thesis stands up. I have no doubt it conflates insurgency and terrorism, that governance doesn't actually mean governance, that its model of Islamic factionalism is rudimentary, that its terminology is jarringly pro-US or that its jihad hive-mind is a wild exaggeration. But if its central thesis does not depend on those things, then they don't really matter.
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Scotty Dave wrote:
shadow9d9 wrote:
If you want to "simulate" war, join the military. If you want to learn history, read a book. If you want to play games, play games.

I never understood people who want to "simulate" wars. To me it is just a tad bit sick.

Different strokes and all that.

But you seem confused. Just because a game's model is a reasonable representation of some aspect of reality does not imply that its players are simulating war. For example, they might be studying it.

Much better that than the "it's only a game" brigade, those who want flavour not substance, who as I've said before are dancing in the graveyard.

As for you, does your highly-principled anti-war position also lead you to avoid war movies, military history or toy guns for children?

I never said I avoid anything.

I simply don't want to "simulate" a war.
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wolvendancer wrote:
shadow9d9 wrote:

I never understood people who want to "simulate" wars. To me it is just a tad bit sick.

I feel the same way about games simulating bureaucratic monotonous drudge-work, bland faceless drones of one standard colour or another being ordered to deliver an endless supply of cubes to nondescript locations, never a pause in the work, never an ounce of joy, as their player-overlords collect more and more money and notoriety. Surely people who indulge in these fantasies are fascists-in-training, honing their skills so that they may exploit more effectively later in life, or worse yet they are petit-fascists, indulging in fantasies of exploitation that they are too craven to pursue in their daily lives. Middle-management porn.

Those railroad gamers are even worse- naked predatory greed on display there. And those Ameritrashers... don't get me started. A Giant Penguin with cybernetically-installed ICBMs? Have you no shame, Ameritrashers?

Or maybe gamers are just gamers, people looking to have a little fun. Regardless, we probably shouldn't clutter an already long thread with our prejudices, eh?

That would be a great comparison if anyone actually asked to "simulate" any of those. In reality, people are simply playing games with those variously connected themes. None of them ask to simulate any of those games or genres. Wargamers, on the other hand, regularly complain that the games are not a simulation of the war(s) or conflicts.

So... in other words... you completely missed the point.
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Volko Ruhnke
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Hi Tom, thanks.

Quote:
Here is exactly where we sometimes get tied up in knots, confusing groups and methods (and which one exactly the US is fighting).

True, we can, certainly in terminology. But I feel pretty clear myself on the distinction between groups and methods, having dealt with the issue for years, and I very much had that distinction in mind in LABYRINTH's design. How does a game about "jihadists" sometimes using "terrorist" tactics as part of an insurgent strategy to establish their version of Islamist rule "confuse groups and methods"?

Quote:
Groups do use a mix of methods, which change over time. The NLF in the Vietnam War, for example, certainly followed the Maoist model to a great extent. On the other hand, they were very adroit at terror attacks, sometimes precise (assassinations of people working with the South Vietnamese government), sometimes deliberately imprecise (rocket attacks on populated areas, bombs in public places, etc.). Were they a terrorist organization, since they used terror some of the time?

That question has followed me around for years. There does seem to be a threshold of terror where the differences among groups are a lot more distinct than just a slide up and down a continuum. Primarily depending on terror -- deliberately targeting innocent bystanders to horrify, terrorize, and ultimately coerce -- is a real pact with the devil that limits future choices. You have to be very secretive. You have to be small and disciplined. Apparently, you have to be pretty doctrinaire to justify in your mind what you're doing. Quickly, this crystallizes into a distinct, recognizable type of organization.

(But again, feel free to disagree.


Not much there that I disagree with. Only question that I have is what is "small"? NLF used terror effectively, you say: were they small? What about the Taliban today? (Don't they use terror as part of their insurgency?)

As you know, a group or movement can include units, networks, or cells that specialize: propaganda, recruiting, guerrilla warfare and sabotage, terror. It's possible to have small, secretive units within a larger, looser movement, no?

vfr
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Volko wrote:

How does a game about "jihadists" sometimes using "terrorist" tactics as part of an insurgent strategy to establish their version of Islamist rule "confuse groups and methods"?
vfr

I think that the issue might be that terrorism forms too predominant a part of the jihadist tactics in the game. I would interpret the game as giving the insurgents only two real tools: Terrorism (ie, plots) and Guerrilla warfare (ie, Jihad.)

Certainly in my unashamedly unskilled initial plays as the Jihadist, a very large share of my effort has been devoted to terror: recruiting cells, travelling, plotting. And if anything, the emphasis on terror is even greater for the solitaire AI.

So I can see the force of an argument that LAB feels like a game of terror tactics in an insurgency context.

Now I get that you mean the cells to represent much more than the apparatus of terror, and that a cell in Afghanistan might be a very different animal than a cell in the UK, but in game terms they seem to do the same thing by and large.

Of course I accept that if the aim of the game is to "evoke" rather than model, and if part of the design approach was to accept "oversimplification" in the name of the quality of the overall game experience, then these finer distinctions may have been consciously jettisoned.

And I'm sure many, even the majority of purchasers of the game would welcome that.
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Quote:
Now I get that you mean the cells to represent much more than the apparatus of terror, and that a cell in Afghanistan might be a very different animal than a cell in the UK, but in game terms they seem to do the same thing by and large.

But cells in the UK and Afghanistan do not do the same thing in game terms.

A cell in the UK can try recruiting, or attempt a difficult high profile plot that will inspire donors to pay up for the Jihadist struggle.

A cell in Afghanistan can target US troops in the country, and wage Jihad against the government of Afghanistan. The cell in the UK can not Jihad against the UK government.

The options open to the Jihadist player in the two locations are very different.
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I hope this isn't off-topic, but I am strongly reminded by this thread of a discussion about PATHS OF GLORY not long after that game had come out and become widely popular. The issue was how well did it model the Great War. One charge that I recall was that the Replacements mechanic failed to account for exhaustion of manpower supply, and therefore the game was a poor representation of the war.

Well, maybe. But another charge really applied to all CDGs since HANNIBAL: that representing decisionmaking in a conflict by allowing a choice between events and operations (really central to the CDG experience, so no small issue) was way off.

Let's take TWILIGHT STRUGGLE, for example (since it was mentioned above). I've just randomly picked out of my box here: "Iran-Contra Scandal", "Iranian Hostage Crisis", and "Chernobyl". So the game is evoking the Cold War by having me as the Soviets choose between influence operations and the US suffering an Iran-Contra scandal, or influence operations and US-Iranian hostage crisis. Or as the US, influence operations or a Chernobyl disaster. Huh? What does that choice represent in the real world, in Cold-War strategy?

Can we really analyze each individual card event and ops mechanic in any CDG and conclude that the game gets the real world right?

Yet as CDG enthusiasts we nevertheless somehow feel that we get an overall sense of a conflict from playing the game. David, perhaps this effect is akin to the output-based measure that you have been promulating...

None of this is to dismiss critique of LABYRINTH's representation of the world with an "it's just a game" defense. Gene Billingsley asked me for "an intelligent game" about the strugge with Islamist extremism, and I'm happy to defend the shot that I took at achieving that.

But there is an issue of what level of magnification is most useful when examining a game's individual mechanics as opposed to the overall impact of playing it.

vfr
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prizziap wrote:
Quote:
Now I get that you mean the cells to represent much more than the apparatus of terror, and that a cell in Afghanistan might be a very different animal than a cell in the UK, but in game terms they seem to do the same thing by and large.

But cells in the UK and Afghanistan do not do the same thing in game terms.

A cell in the UK can try recruiting, or attempt a difficult high profile plot that will inspire donors to pay up for the Jihadist struggle.

A cell in Afghanistan can target US troops in the country, and wage Jihad against the government of Afghanistan. The cell in the UK can not Jihad against the UK government.

The options open to the Jihadist player in the two locations are very different.

Nah Dan, that's an overclaim. Cells can plot, or if they are in a Muslim country, they can also jihad. Terror or guerilla war. There is a difference in the RESULT of a plot in muslim vs non-muslim countries, but the difference is not large.
 
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"Large" or "small" is not a very accurate measure of the difference. They are different.

-They are different in the effect on governance.
-They are different in the effect on posture.
-They are different in the effect on funding.
-They are different in the ops required
-They are different in the chance for success
-They are different in the effect on prestige
-The chance of disruption after the plot is different.

So, if you consider those all a small difference, then I guess for you the difference in plotting is small for the UK and Afghanistan.
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Volko wrote:
Yet as CDG enthusiasts we nevertheless somehow feel that we get an overall sense of a conflict from playing the game. David, perhaps this effect is akin to the output-based measure that you have been promulating...

None of this is to dismiss critique of LABYRINTH's representation of the world with an "it's just a game" defense. Gene Billingsley asked me for "an intelligent game" about the strugge with Islamist extremism, and I'm happy to defend the shot that I took at achieving that.

But there is an issue of what level of magnification is most useful when examining a game's individual mechanics as opposed to the overall impact of playing it.

vfr

Cards certainly help a game evoke.

Yeah, it's a good point. PoG's genius was precisely the need to make impossibly hard choices between events and other pressing priorities, and one implication is that the game's narrative rarely makes much sense at anything below the most abstract level. Contrast that with the equally-excellent For the People, where the player's dilemmas are framed much more in terms of on-the-map strategic choices. As a result, it's possible to storyboard the war in game terms without stretching things TOO far.

I think that cards' ability to evoke actually addresses inputs more than outputs. Because even though I argue for output-based assessment of games' models, in truth that's not enough. Games also have to meet a sterner test than economic models, say; they have to "feel" plausible too. And that's where cards can help - they can provide some atmosphere to help the cardboard pusher suspend his disbelief.

By the way, as I said upstream, I have no doubt that you set out to produce more than just a game. That's actually why I am happy to probe how well it succeeds in that area at such length. The difficulty I am having with that is that there doesn't seem to be much consensus about what "success" should look like. Tom's original criticisms are very cogent, but on reflection I don't think that on their own they demonstrate that the game fails its "intelligence" test.

I'd suggest two criteria for gauging that:

1) Do the game's mechanisms lead the players to make choices which make some sense in real world terms?

2) Does it conjure up the "feel" of the conflict?

What do you think, Volko - would you be happy for Labyrinth's success as "an intelligent game" to be judged on these criteria, or are there some others which would better apply?
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David Hughes
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prizziap wrote:
"Large" or "small" is not a very accurate measure of the difference. They are different.

-They are different in the effect on governance.
-They are different in the effect on posture.
-They are different in the effect on funding.
-They are different in the ops required
-They are different in the chance for success
-They are different in the effect on prestige
-The chance of disruption after the plot is different.

So, if you consider those all a small difference, then I guess for you the difference in plotting is small for the UK and Afghanistan.

Dan, you're stretching that elastic way too thin. Most of those are distinctions without difference.

I think you are arguing for arguing's sake, so I'll leave it to those who know how to play to reach their own judgment

 
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