Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Tactical Uncertainty Principle

Advanced Squad Leader did an excellent job with morale. Previous editions of this particular game manfully attempted to address communications and control, albeit in a clumsy manner that was not very gameplay-friendly. But few, if any, games, have successfully addressed the issue of information in war on the tactical level. What passes for “fog of war” is largely limited to something like the ASL concealment mechanism, in which line-of-sight immediately results in full and correct disclosure of the enemy forces. And while this makes sense in light of the obvious limitations of tabletop gaming, it is somewhat strange that computer wargames have not substantially addressed this issue to the best of my knowledge.

So, my thought is this: what if line-of-sight provided unreliable information in the manner Clausewitz describes? What if one benefit of unit experience was the ability to correctly identify enemy units as well as their quantity? There is ample historical precedent after all. One need only read a history of any post-Normandy WWII battle to realize that American troops were prone to misidentifying almost any German tank as a Tiger.

To most American troops, any big tank trying to kill you was a Tiger. Admittedly, the sloping frontal armour of a King resembled that of a Panther Tiger, but a soldier in trouble doesn’t stop to count the road wheels or turn to his recognition handbook. Similarlly, many Allied memoirs talk of being under fire from ‘eighty-eights’, whereas msot German field and anti-tank guns were of 75mm calibre.
Snow and Steel: Battle of the Bulge 1944-45 by Peter Caddick-Adams

The mechanism is relatively simple to implement. For each unit, there is a short catalog of mistaken quantities and types based on probability. One is much more likely to mistake a 75mm field gun for an 88mm than for a 37mm, after all. It is obvious that troops tend to overestimate their enemies rather than underestimate them, both in terms of quality and quantity, so the tendency should be to err upwards. Both the visual and statistical information reported to the player will be inaccurate, then updated as other units make contact or sustained contact causes the initial units to correct their initial error.

It seems to me that this could be as important an advance in wargaming as the ASL morale model was. So, what do you see as the likely costs and benefits of implementing an Unreliable Information model, or if you prefer, Tactical Uncertainty principle?Just because a number of gamers and game designers have expressed interest in it, I’m going to run through my thinking on the subject in public. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I conclude that this could be the most useful new wargame design mechanic since John Hill introduced the morale model in Squad Leader. Also, I’m not going to concern myself with how to implement the principle in a board-and-counter or tabletop game yet, since my primary interest is developing a model that will work for Striker (3rd edition) in the 3DV engine, which is to say, on the computer in a 3D tabletop. While the principle remains the same in either case, the precise model of optimal application will necessarily differ.

The basic Tactical Uncertainty Principle, which is based on the Clausewitzian concept of friction in the form of information, can be summarized thus:

  •  Information reported by LOS is unreliable.
  • The reliability of the information reported depends upon the quality of the unit or leader reporting it.
  • Units reporting inaccurate information tend to inflate both the quantity and the quality of the enemy units reported.

Today, I will focus on the second aspect of the Principle, which states that the reliability of the information reported about the enemy units spotted depends upon the quality of the unit or leader reporting it. For now, I will utilize the five-level unit-quality system of ASL. Here is how I envision the application in terms of pre-modification statistics, with the number representing the percentage chance that the unit will accurately identify the unit(s) sighted.

Elite 85
Veteran 70
Regular 55
Green 40
Conscript 25

A unit with a leader of differing quality will identify an enemy unit on the basis of the leader’s quality rating rather than its own. A unit with the same quality leader will receive an addition 5 percent identification bonus. So, a Veteran unit with an Elite leader will identify enemy units with an 85 percent success rate, but an Elite unit with an Elite leader will do so at a 90 percent success rate.


Will multiple units with a LOS on the same enemy unit make independant roles and report potentially contradictory information (and is there a clean UI for showing this)?

Yes. Yes.

How often will units reroll for possible updates?

Once per enemy movement turn.

Can there be multiple units stacked in a given location and if so, can a unit go entirely unnoticed?

Yes, in the case of a board game and no in the case of a miniatures game. And yes.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

GameBrain: the time penalty

In designing the two-tier answer system for GameBrain, it was obvious that correct fill-in-the-blank answers had to be worth more than correct multiple-choice answers because they are much harder. However, when we decided to incentivize faster multiple-choice answers by reducing the value of a correct answer by as much as fifty percent if the maximum amount of time (10 seconds) was utilized, this raised the question of whether we should apply the same point-reduction to the fill-in-the-blank answers as well.

However, we ultimately decided against that, because it would give an advantage to players who read faster and type faster. Reading faster isn't much of an advantage in multiple choice because the question has already been read and the timer starts anew when one moves from FIB to MC. But typing faster is a big advantage, particularly when there could be a 12-point difference in six seconds. So, we decided to keep a flat point reward for fill-in-the-blank no matter what portion of the 12 seconds is used, and start the penalty gradient for multiple choice at the 3-second mark.

This playtests well, and the only potential issue that remains is if there should be any penalty for waiting most of the 12 seconds one has to do FIB before hitting the spacebar and moving to multiple choice.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Submission time

We've decided to go ahead and submit Elveteka. We've also put a short gameplay video up on YouTube.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Battle Report: July 29th

Another week, another war in Minaria. This game was just a quick two-player one between Werepuppy(as Shucassam and later Rombune) and myself(as Immer). Early on, Immer managed to get Muetar and Hothior as allies. Shucassam gained Rombune and summoned barbarians to aid their campaigns. From here, we begin. 

The most pivotal early battle in this session happens just outside Beolon on the Downs. A roughly even fight between the massed forces of Immer and the Shucassami alliance, ends poorly for Shucassam. With the monarch of the desert kingdom perishing in the battle. Shucassam falls into confusion, its attempt at hegemony failed. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Battle Report: July 22nd

Again we come to Minaria. This week is actually a continuation from the July 1st game, between lastRedoubt, Jared, and yours truly. Who are playing as, the Trolls, Pon and, the Black Hand respectively. 

Last time, Pon was far and ahead in the lead in both power and victory points. They count both Shucassam and Muetar as their allies. The Trolls were second in power but, had allied themselves with Zorn and Hothior. The Black Hand is last, having lost allies left and right, including Shucassam and Immer. From here, we begin. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Battle Report: July 16th

Alright after a brief hiatus last week, we have another battle report this week. Where Aerospyke, Jared, Werepuppy and, yours truly vie for the dominance of Minaria through our avatars. Who are the monarchs of the Dwarven kingdom, Zorn, Mivior and, the Elvish kingdom. From here, we begin.

In the far northern reaches of the great forest of Neuth, the Elves move against the Dwarves at their outpost of Aws Noir.

Monday, July 10, 2017


Spudbox wanted to know about my inspiration. The dictionary definition isn't that different from "motivation": the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something. What is it really?

It also means "where do your ideas come from?" Let me see if I can answer that more interesting question now that I've completed the title screen music.

First I looked at the title screen art. This image has been featured on this blog before. (Hat tip HereAndNow.)

What stands out here? The light shining down from the heavens through the tower to the statues staring down onto the monarch, and monarch looking up at the statues. I get a sense of the monarch being aware of this exact moment in history, and comparing himself to the great men of the past. Also, the light, the tower, and the army signify the marriage of martial and magical forces.
The image evokes physical sensations as well. Between the stone and the light, a sense of brightness and heaviness, all at once.

Do I think about this consciously? No. I'm observing my emotional reactions and how my eyes follow the various elements on the screen.

Then I studied the game's lore. An ancient empire. The Scarlet Witch King. The Cataclysm. The Fall of the Lloroi. Barbarian tribes becoming kingdoms. The war for Minaria. In all this, the fall of the Lloroi stood out. It sets up everything that follows - perfect for the title screen. Now I was working with light, stone, magic, war, and the fall of an ancient, powerful race.

Keeping these elements in mind, I wrote this piece.