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Gaming cheese ruins operational thinking

 
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Gaming cheese ruins operational thinking - 6/13/2012 9:21:38 PM   
IDontThinkSo


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Since I am going to vent a bit about the objectives system and the means of achieving victory, let me first make clear that I absolutely love this gem of a game. Apart from this.

I have just finished Stalingrad for the second time (it was much easier the first time around before the newest patch hit the download channel), after some 20+ attempts at Brilliant victory. This was a grueling slog that involved trying out various angles of attack with careful front pushing and retreats when necessary, until I was finally forced to base my attack on a silly forward push across the two bridges close to Stalingrad and keep pushing, throwing one unit at the front after another until I had very little left (I did cut enemy supplies from the north for a turn though, which did help somewhat). I had to call on the costly Sdkfz to be able to push the southern front northwards. Then, out-of-supplied, outnumbered and having captured one of the objectives earlier, by a stroke of luck I had good suppression air attacks on the second objective, resupplied one of my two remaining tank divisions via air drop, emptied the objective I was holding, moved in, attacked, and captured the second scenario. I got the fanfare, victory won, end of scenario.

This is just so wrong.

I am no soldier, nor am I a military historian. I treat most of my Matrix purchases not only as an entertainment product but also as an opportunity to get a taste of the historical battles, whetting my appetite before I read up on the subject matter some more. As such, I have currently zero knowledge of how things went during the battle for Stalingrad, and what followed. What I do know is that declaring victory when you capture a city while being outnumbered, surrounded with enemy divisions, AND with enemy reinforcements streaming in is madness. How are you expected to hold the city in such a situation? If I were forced to defend the objectives during the Soviet turn that would follow, I would have lost at least one (if not both) of the objectives. Being out of supply, what little would have remained of my army would be forced to pull out, if at all possible (since the AI, apart from being very good in general, is especially good at cutting your supply lines in particular). The Soviets would then summon the five troop divisions and at that point, I might have as well call game over since there would be no way of me achieving the decisive victory I'd need to move forward.

My point is that the game encourages very gamey tactics in hard scenarios, which makes all the maneuvering that goes into moving your front forward while keeping your supply lines connected actually cheap - it's just a constraint placed on you while you are solving this elaborate WWII puzzle.

I still love this game and hope we will see an expansions and/or a sequel. But next time we're forced to solve puzzles, I'd like to have all the WWII labels removed and have the game played on an abstract board with red and grey pieces.
Post #: 1
RE: Gaming cheese ruins operational thinking - 6/14/2012 4:28:11 PM   
pzgndr

 

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quote:

the game encourages very gamey tactics


IMHO, it's the whole Panzer General style of game engine that encourages gamey tactics. It's not wargaming like we grew up with playing boardgames; ie, with unit stacking, combined unit attacks, odds-based CRTs for combat resolution, etc. It's a gamey game, which is ok for entertainment and provides some flavor of historical accuracy, but it's still not wargaming. I play it and it's enjoyable, fine, but damn it I wish designers would dropkick the simplistic PG model and get back to old-fashioned unit stacking and odds-based combats...

(in reply to IDontThinkSo)
Post #: 2
RE: Gaming cheese ruins operational thinking - 6/14/2012 11:28:27 PM   
2xTom


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quote:

ORIGINAL: pzgndr

IMHO, it's the whole Panzer General style of game engine that encourages gamey tactics. It's not wargaming like we grew up with playing boardgames; ie, with unit stacking, combined unit attacks, odds-based CRTs for combat resolution, etc.


As I see it, stacking and combined attacks do not add all that much to the game being more simulation-like (a "real" wargame). As long as the game is IGOUGO you're going to end up with some gamey tactics. If you have stacking, then there's the pitfall of "super stacks". Combined attacks IMO emphasises "min-max" type decision making which is gamey in its own right.

If you're willing to abandon IGOUGO you can certainly do much better. I know there are boardgames in which the non-phasing player is also active during the turn, and that looks like a good idea, but unfortunately we can't have it in computer games. Would it really be fun to watch the AI do its turn, and get involved maybe 10% of the time, just to modify a retreat route or something? I'm not convinced...

quote:

ORIGINAL: IDontThinkSo

If I were forced to defend the objectives during the Soviet turn that would follow, I would have lost at least one (if not both) of the objectives.


Well yes, giving the AI one turn to try and get back objectives could reduce the gamey-ness some. That said, the proper proper solution would probably be to allow the scenario designer to spell out the victory conditions in more natural terms, like "hold the objective with such and such forces" or "destroy x% of enemy force". This at least is my general thinking for future iterations of this system - I've got nothing very concrete on objectives at the moment though.

What complicates things further is that victory level should tie into the campaign game. The decisive/brilliant victory system is not perfect but at least it's very simple in that respect. But a more complex victory system - and on top of that we need to improve the campaign game anyway - that's a lot to chew on.





_____________________________

Tomislav Uzelac
Unity of Command Lead Developer

(in reply to pzgndr)
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RE: Gaming cheese ruins operational thinking - 6/15/2012 12:44:32 AM   
gdrover

 

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Don't agree with the unit stacking comment. There are already PC games that have taken that approach (I especially like the ones from SSG). The beauty of Unity of Command is in its simple elegance.

That said, I do agree that basing victory 100% on victory point objectives while ignoring losses is a weakness of the game. It does, indeed, force the player to needlessly sacrifice units to achieve the capture of a location a little sooner. I think a stronger model would award points for destroying enemy units as well as victory locations.

I also think that CONTEXT is important in determining levels of victory. As IDontThinkSo says, it feels wrong to 'win' when the tactical and strategic situation isn't really a victory situation.

That's why I really believe that this system would shine in longer scenarios that cover a larger area of operations (like the entire fight of Armee Group South for an entire year or more). Dividing the battles into bite-sized game experiences is fun, but doesn't allow for context and forces the designers to create artificial and therefore 'game-y' victory conditions.

(in reply to 2xTom)
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RE: Gaming cheese ruins operational thinking - 6/15/2012 12:51:20 PM   
pzgndr

 

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quote:

As I see it, stacking and combined attacks do not add all that much to the game being more simulation-like (a "real" wargame). As long as the game is IGOUGO you're going to end up with some gamey tactics. If you have stacking, then there's the pitfall of "super stacks". Combined attacks IMO emphasises "min-max" type decision making which is gamey in its own right.


A nagging concern I have is that we are coddling a whole generation of new "wargamers" who have never experienced board wargaming from the old Avalon Hill and SPI days. What worked pretty darn well has been tossed out the window for computer programming simplicity. PG-style single unit move-shoot is ok to a point but requires players to orchestrate their maneuvers in a very unrealistic way. And min-max is not gamey; Economy of Force and Mass are well-established principles of war, principles that are difficult to simulate in the PG-style game and can leave players wondering just how those historical battles and campaigns really happened.

I'm not saying get rid of all these new games. They play pretty well and provide sufficient flavor. It's ok, and I like UoC. But still, as I asserted earlier, I'd like to see more of the traditional wargaming style make it into the computer programming. It is doable.

(in reply to gdrover)
Post #: 5
RE: Gaming cheese ruins operational thinking - 6/16/2012 7:47:37 PM   
2xTom


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quote:

ORIGINAL: pzgndr

What worked pretty darn well has been tossed out the window for computer programming simplicity.


It's mostly about PG-style systems being easier to pick up for the players I think. Implementing the systems, i.e. programming, should be about equally complex for both. In any case, we chose not to have stacking, and only have the specialist steps, quite intentionally.

quote:

PG-style single unit move-shoot is ok to a point but requires players to orchestrate their maneuvers in a very unrealistic way. And min-max is not gamey; Economy of Force and Mass are well-established principles of war, principles that are difficult to simulate in the PG-style game and can leave players wondering just how those historical battles and campaigns really happened.


My point is that, when discussing gamey-ness in this context, IGOUGO trumps all other concerns. Granted, shuffling units about like in UoC is artificial on small scales, say 3 hexes or less. But that's nothing compared to the fact your opponent's entire army is standing across from you like sitting ducks while you're executing your neatly planned attack.

Combined attacks and unit stacks only exacerbate this problem IMO. In the worst case, most of your planning time goes to figuring out optimal combinations of units to get you into the best column in the CRT. What you end up with is min-maxing your attack odds at leisure, but against immovable targets and not a live and dangerous enemy.

Also, combined attacks mean that there are way fewer attacks to start with, making the system much more RNG-sensitive: a bad roll can really ruin your day there.

On the other hand, the system we use in UoC alleviates the IGOUGO problem to a certain extent. Your big combined attack of say 4 or 6 units is played out as a sequence of individual attacks. What's important is that with each of these attacks, the RNG throws a spanner in the works of your carefully orchestrated plan.

For example, when confronted with a continuous enemy line, you may start by trying to achieve a penetration in several places. How this unfolds from there depends largely on the results of these initial attacks. You are forced to be flexible and maneuver to react to any opportunities that arise in order to open the wider breach through which to commit your mobile forces. As a result, the game hardly ever plays the same.

My thinking is that the above benefits more than make up for the artificiality of "unit shuffling" etc. But importantly, what we're doing here is our best attempt at creating a proper wargame within the IGOUGO framework. Sure there's limitations, but we're really shooting for more than a toy game with some correct wargaming flavor.







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Tomislav Uzelac
Unity of Command Lead Developer

(in reply to pzgndr)
Post #: 6
RE: Gaming cheese ruins operational thinking - 6/17/2012 12:15:09 AM   
jeffreys

 

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A few comments occur to me.

1) I do not think the outcome described at by IDontThinkSo is that ahistorical. In reality the Germans kept pouring troops into Stalingrad in an attempt to subdue the entire city. They came very close, but were left sitting in a salient and had depleted both shoulders to the point that the Soviets were able to counter attack and isolate the German Sixth army, which was forced to surrender a few weeks later. Hitler was so focused on achieving the geographic objective (Stalingrad) that he left his army depleted and vulnerable to destruction, which sounds rather like the situation in the game described by IDontThinkSo.

2) In the old playability vs. simulation debate Unity of Command has gone more toward playability than simulation. It's a relatively low complexity game though it seems to me to have more simulation value than most other games in this category (e.g. Strategic Command 2, Commander: Europe at War, Panzer General). For instance it does a very elegant job of modeling supply. The ability to combine movement and combat in any order, along with the overrun feature, the ability to return to a unit after moving a second unit, and the ability of friendly units to negate zones of control, act together to give a pretty good simulation of combined arms and the "rhythms" of World War II combat (sometimes fast and fluid, other times a bloody slog).

Overall then I think this game is outstanding as it is, a very enjoyable, playable game of relatively short, challenging scenarios with reasonable simulation value. I think Unity of Command is best left pretty much as it is, perhaps with some tweaks. If you start adding complexity, or creating much longer / larger scenarios, in an attempt to remake it into something different you run the risk of losing what you have. When you want more complexity and realism and larger "campaign" scenarios (as I often do) there are other outstanding games such as "War in the East", SSG's Decisive Battles series, and Decisive Campaigns (who will soon be releasing a game "Case Blue" covering the Stalingrad campaign) which are available to fill that niche.

3) That said, I agree with gdrover that the criteria for determining the level of victory appear to be too simplistic. My suggestion would be to take the score that the game currently calculates, apply scenario specific modifiers for casualties inflicted and for casualties sustained, and use that modified score to determine the level of victory.

< Message edited by jeffreys -- 6/17/2012 7:47:20 AM >


_____________________________

All My Best,

Jeff Sutro

(in reply to 2xTom)
Post #: 7
RE: Gaming cheese ruins operational thinking - 5/21/2014 6:30:21 PM   
Gargoil

 

Posts: 381
Joined: 1/6/2008
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quote:

ORIGINAL: jeffreys

A few comments occur to me.

1) I do not think the outcome described at by IDontThinkSo is that ahistorical. In reality the Germans kept pouring troops into Stalingrad in an attempt to subdue the entire city. They came very close, but were left sitting in a salient and had depleted both shoulders to the point that the Soviets were able to counter attack and isolate the German Sixth army, which was forced to surrender a few weeks later. Hitler was so focused on achieving the geographic objective (Stalingrad) that he left his army depleted and vulnerable to destruction, which sounds rather like the situation in the game described by IDontThinkSo.

2) In the old playability vs. simulation debate Unity of Command has gone more toward playability than simulation. It's a relatively low complexity game though it seems to me to have more simulation value than most other games in this category (e.g. Strategic Command 2, Commander: Europe at War, Panzer General). For instance it does a very elegant job of modeling supply. The ability to combine movement and combat in any order, along with the overrun feature, the ability to return to a unit after moving a second unit, and the ability of friendly units to negate zones of control, act together to give a pretty good simulation of combined arms and the "rhythms" of World War II combat (sometimes fast and fluid, other times a bloody slog).

Overall then I think this game is outstanding as it is, a very enjoyable, playable game of relatively short, challenging scenarios with reasonable simulation value. I think Unity of Command is best left pretty much as it is, perhaps with some tweaks. If you start adding complexity, or creating much longer / larger scenarios, in an attempt to remake it into something different you run the risk of losing what you have. When you want more complexity and realism and larger "campaign" scenarios (as I often do) there are other outstanding games such as "War in the East", SSG's Decisive Battles series, and Decisive Campaigns (who will soon be releasing a game "Case Blue" covering the Stalingrad campaign) which are available to fill that niche.

3) That said, I agree with gdrover that the criteria for determining the level of victory appear to be too simplistic. My suggestion would be to take the score that the game currently calculates, apply scenario specific modifiers for casualties inflicted and for casualties sustained, and use that modified score to determine the level of victory.


You read my mind jeffreys-

1) With the historical starting forces, setup and goals for the Axis, and considering the actual chance of a successful outcome (slim to none), what is called "gamey" seems to me to be more the historical lack of wisdom of the German high command in thinking that taking Stalingrad at any cost was worth it. You, as commander of Army Group South (who was it at this time, Von Runstadt?) are tasked to take Stalingrad, do or die. What happens afterward is of no consequence, as it is a forgone conclusion.

2) I have played just about every method of wargame simulation - RTS, WEGO, IGOUGO, Impulse (round by round each player taking one action), etc. I actually do not believe it matters to realisim that much. What does matter is the more are the attributes, opportunities and constraints the system establishes have the combatants perform historically. Here with no stacking, single attacks, overruns, ability to partial move, attack, move other units, come back to unit not completed their move, and single action to attack that can be forgone for increase mobility, steps, attachments, air, bridging, logistics, etc, the game is a masterpiece of balanced "design for effect".

3) Victory conditions are, in my opinion, the weakest link in UoC. I would have liked double the objectives with taking enough to win (say 4 out of 7), and extra credit for taking more as an alternative. I also would like to have seen more rail depicted, but witht the player needing to expend assets to "repair" rail lines, so players had more flexibility to choose direction of attack.

(in reply to jeffreys)
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