Professional Development, selon Sabin

Connections UK, King’s College. Note, not all the hair is gray; nor are all the participants male, or American, or from the DC beltway. But shouldn’t this square with the dysfunctional images we’ve been fed about wargaming? Why doesn’t it?

Possibly reflecting the dynamics of the course he teaches, Philip Sabin talks of development less as a discrete step than as a dispersed type of attention within an iterative design process. Although he isn’t explicit, the cycle he describes seems more an aspect of group work than a traditional assembly-line style of publication:

…wargame rules will evolve throughout the process, with a profusion of different concepts being tried out, modified or discarded as the designer’s ideas develop over time. The challenge is so difficult that it is very much the exception rather than the norm even for published wargame rules to achieve the level of clarity and accuracy required.
(Sabin, 2012, p125)

Sabin’s notion of development is much closer to the iterative process of software development. A game is developed by the continued attentions of a group of players, with the designer’s participation. The would-be publisher’s presence is not in evidence. This seems sensible, even obvious, once written down. He continues, noting the vagaries of teasing out rules problems and unexpected strategies:

All these insights will be maximised in the case of “blind” playtesting where the designer is not even present to explain and correct, although this extreme approach makes it harder for the designer to see what is going wrong, and it increases the risk that a single initial mistake will go uncorrected and so devalue the whole of the subsequent playtest. For commercial wargames where the whole point is to publish something that people across the world can play with no other input from the designer blind playtesting is an essential safeguard against discovering fundamental problems only when it is too late…
(Sabin, 2012 p130)

Sabin’s sense of game development (commercial or academic) assumes close physical proximity between playtesters but not necessarily designers. Why is the absence of the designer necessary for blind testing but not the developer? Or both? I suppose in any context the answer depends on who has the final authority over a change.

The output of the course he teaches is available online and is the product of serious students of armed conflict destined to work in the decisional echelons of political and military policy making organizations. Third Lebanon War would rule the roost here. Based on my cursory survey, it is both more sophisticated in its design and its comprehension of the conflict it treats than most of Sabin’s students. Which is not at all surprising, given Brian Train’s experience. This is not a knock on King’s students but rather highlights how game design is rather more exacting than one expects it to be. Game design which flows naturally from a sophisticated understanding of what it proposes to model is rarer still.

It would be instructive, and beyond the scope of this article, to compare 3LW with Goor Tsalayachin’s Second Lebanon War. The fact that we could make such a comparison at all is testimony to the golden age we are living through: both designs are available for the time it takes to print and assemble copies. The niche that wargaming has been told it occupies (somewhere between phone books and DOS games) – a defeated attitude internalized by gamers themselves – is disintegrating as wargaming becomes a tool for professional exploration of political and military decisionmaking.

Commercial publishers have not kept pace. Indeed, some have regressed. Decision Games, content within the niche, continues turning the crank to a low standard. In our case, milling the meaningful differences off of 3LW was necessary to make it a recognizable DG product. I’ll leave the perversity of doing this in the pages of magazine called Modern Warfare for others to contemplate. As we’ve seen, Mark Walker’s explicit description of a game developer as a production editor could only be improved by calling a spade a spade. The word “developer” has been bent to so many different uses the tool loses its shape and with it, any utility. Calling for, say, a production editor might draw someone from outside of the hobby with wider experience and different practice. Publishing doesn’t really proceed by inventing the wheel for every title edited. Practice is shared throughout the industry. A copy editor at Knopf does the same thing as a copy editor at Penguin. Only wargaming seems to insist on idiosyncrasy. To its detriment!

Can development can be conducted outside of physical proximity to the designer?

Next up: admonition to designers to do their development upstream from publishers.

Professional Development, selon Perla

Peter Perla, for those of you who haven’t been following along with the surge of military interest in civilian off-the-shelf simulations, is one of the white hot centers of the new Golden Age of gaming. He is a principal research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses (which should immediately hire me, while I’m still available), one of the historical pioneers of wargaming practice in the US military. Accordingly, Perla is a prominent spokesman of serious wargaming practice among a widening field of notables including Rex Brynen, Tom Mouat, Phil Sabin, and probably ten other people who will embarrass me when next we meet.

“Design proposes and development disposes,” Perla writes in The Art of Wargaming. Such a straightforward epigrammatic attack deserves a great deal of attention. Perla does us the service of breaking development down to four steps:

  1. Validation of model, data, and scenario
  2. Playtesting
  3. Preplay
  4. Preparing final rules

Preplay pertains more to the conduct of a professional game, including the logistics of its setup and running through a few turns in abbreviated form, just as a designer or developer might set up a presentation of his game at a convention for a public who has never before seen it. Perla’s practice, like that of GMT and DG, has the developer preparing the final version of the rules checking cross references, play aids, etc. In the commercial wargame world such a specialized detail work is best handed off to a proofreader. Perla’s task organization is better, as the developer will be privy to rules discussions with the designer and the attendant changes. This is a heavy, labor-intensive responsibility which, ideally, should be backstopped again by external copyediting. But Perla’s insights run deeper than production editing. “…[P]erhaps the most important and difficult task of game development is to ensure that the game can meet its objectives,” (Perla, 1990 #p211). Fair enough, though this begs the often-ignored question about a game’s objectives.

Professional games serve explicit professional objectives. What about commercial ones? Few commercial titles have any discernible objective beyond mild revision of existing tendencies or simply holding down a place in a pre-existing niche. Or simply existing as a unit of sale — though as we’ve seen, very few wargames actually take this on as an objective. This muddies the waters for a would-be developer. The goal of magazine games is vague beyond filling out a number. Magazines operate in perpetual liability of fulfilling subscriptions. Certain magazine games, especially those published on a strict schedule, are doubtlessly only given “good enough development” in view of the schedule. As usual, the meaningful constraint on civilian commercial wargames is time, not money. Interestingly, Perla also notes that developers should calibrate the level of detail in a system. This is a valuable insight I haven’t seen expressed elsewhere.

There, fixed it for you. Originally, “Ecce Costikyan” a portrait of SPI dying for your sins.

In the review of the game which occasions these articles, we’ve seen how nuance in 3LW was effaced at the added expense of more traditional graphics with extra fiddle. NWL is a much worse game for the development it received.  It could even be considered unplayable, sans the dispensations subscribers traditionally accord S&T/MW . Yes, NWL is simply the kind of mediocrity to which we’re accustomed. The characteristic snap and lucidity of 3LW’s designer is much less present. But then, the shock of the new always did resist commodification. A fat and happy operation (or a meagre and complacent one) privileges running the presses above any other consideration.

Still and all, at least two magazine game publishers, Against the Odds and Battles have abandoned a regular publication interval (tacitly in the former case, explicitly in the latter). Even industry leader GMT is pausing production to overhaul distribution. Quality is always its own argument. ATO, Battles, and GMT simply produce better games because they take the time to do so. The hobby desperately needs less product and more deliberately produced, deeper games. Integration of Perla’s professional development standard to commercial practice would do a great deal to improve the situation.

Professional Wargame Development

DefLing’s rendering of a NATO CPX using the game Decisive Action. Depicted is the deployment of 9BLBMa in an attack to relieve Amiens.

By professional, I mean games specifically tailored for military, political, or administrative education. My own experience is limited to military language teaching (outlined in a forthcoming volume on matrix games edited by Chris Engle, to be published by John Curry) but stems from shared practice of the US, UK, and French trainers who helped me get started.

Time pressure at all phases from design to actual play to after-action reports is crushing. Systems simply have to work and tolerate abuse. Attendance in a game or exercise comes at large opportunity cost for the participants, whose organizations pay twice for the exercise in terms of trainer fees and in time lost by participants at their official function. It is difficult to explain to civilian wargamers, who are all too accustomed to hashing out rules ambiguities over a cup of coffee. Notes an experienced trainer to a NATO-allied army with whom I consult:

The military audience is composed of people who understand their job very well, but usually understand simulations poorly if at all. Their motivations for being in the military vary widely, and their motivation for taking part in your exercise usually boil down to “because I have to”. Don’t waste anybody’s time explaining clever design or intricate rules. Tell them what role they have, what outcome constitutes success, and then get them pointed at planning to accomplish it.

They are extremely competitive. Make sure they have clearly identified their opponents in the exercise or game, and half your motivation issues drain away. Many will complain that one or another aspect of the game is bullshit. Sometimes, they are correct. Being highly competitive humans, they also complain any time events do not run in their favor. Try to deflect these to the end when passions have cooled.

Oddly enough, many in the military audience are less discerning than a civilian audience. The civilian wargame audience really cares about the game and its subject; many in the military audience will not care as deeply. The civilian audience is already sold on the potential value of the game, while the military audience is more likely to be doubtful.

There are always technical obstacles. But those are the easy ones. It is the psychological hurdles to using games in professional military education like those outlined above, shared out more or less equally among trainer and trainees, that require development and testing to mitigate for a positive outcome. Recall that it took me a year of teaching using games just as presentation engines before I actually dared integrate a playable game into the classroom.  Over subsequent posts we’ll look at what Peter Perla and Philip Sabin, two notable practitioners, have to say about professional wargame development.

Commercial Development, State of the Art

GMT Games represents the industry standard. There are smaller publishers who do a better job on a unit basis, but nobody moves more good product than they. Over the years GMT have published developer’s reports and interviews but there is no explicit notion of how development proceeds in their shop. When putting up titles for P500 orders, developers will advocate or introduce a design . Whatever GMT is is doing, works. Although my query to Gene Billingsley, the company’s president, went unanswered we have the following from Boardgame Geek:

We tell the developers that their job is not to change the designer’s game or even modify it. It’s to give him clear feedback and let the designer make updates/corrections before a new version goes back to the testers. So the developer running the test process frees the designer to observe, listen, and then work on addressing any issues without the time sink of having to worry about all the interactions of the testing process. During final pre-production, the developers are really useful in helping the designer catch any errors that creep in during the final art/layout process. All in all, developers just make our products better.

So the role is one between a game organizer, catching observations as they rise from playtest, and a production editor. Contrary to popular notions, development isn’t a step between design and playtesting. This is Do-No-Harm development; not Berg’s synthetic-creative relationship.

I’m not sure how much sense it makes to talk about a state-of-the-art in magazine game publishing, if not because comparing them is difficult, given their varying publication schedules then for the logic that they publish games, after all, which are not so different from those that come in boxes on a more stately schedule. If you want to argue that magazine games are rough drafts, I’ll give little argument. If you say that that buyer expectations should be lower, I’ll refer you to my previous argument that the hobby is so crowded that bad games are driving out the good.

Decision Games, the inheritor of SPI’s imprimatur, and presumably some of its production practices, is quite straightforward. At this writing, the following job listing is open:

…[W]ork as a part-time contractor and meet with the Managing Game Developer and Publisher at least once per year. …responsibility for the overall quality of assigned games of a particular type (magazine, mini/folio, or boxed history strategy games, science-fiction themed, or Euro-style), assigned game audience development, direction of assigned Play Testers, and development of assigned game projects. He/she coordinates development efforts through Play Tester reports, progress reports to and discussion with the Managing Game Developer, and the proofing of component/art files. This individual coordinates schedules with and reports to the Managing Game Developer.

Additional duties and responsibilities listed are oversight of game publication process; communication with the design, development, and production teams; and, responsibility over printer’s proofs and freelance proofreaders.

The following is notable:

Ensures audience development from previews and discussion of assigned games during development through responding to game play questions and providing gamer support after publication.

Ummm, yeah. Did you get the memo about the TPS reports?

You had me at part-time with obligatory travel. Intermediary reporting just sealed the deal! Add to that responsibility for customer outreach and advocacy and one wonders what part the publisher plays other than run the presses. It is clear, albeit hierarchical, but also a rather tall order for flat-fee compensation. One can dream, I suppose. There is no mention of matching particular historical expertise to designs. Both of these professional descriptions are centered on coordination and production control, an emphasis different from editor and movie director metaphors. Development is more scut work than top-down direction.

Mark Walker, of Tiny Battle Publishing, is considerably more utilitarian and to-the-point. A recent ConsimWorld Post:

I’m specifically looking for a person who can take what the designer deems to be a completed design, test it, eliminate silly-ass mistakes, such as “Set up on this hex” when “this hex” isn’t on the map, or “conduct ranged fire in the Ranged Fire Phase” when there is no such phase (it’s called a combat phase) or misspellings, poor grammar or mistakes on the counters or any of a million other things. I’m not looking for someone who tries to redesign a design…

Berg’s synthetic notion is out the door. This is production-oriented line editing. An interview at Grogheads suggests that the think-tank model no longer applies in the new golden age, at least at Tiny Battles:

What we don’t do is extensive development. If a designer can’t give us a completed game, we don’t want it. The role of the developer has become greatly exaggerated in today’s wargaming scene. I’ve met first-time designers who don’t feel it is their responsibility to test their own designs. They’re wrong.

This is something much more than Do Not Harm. Call it GIGO, or garbage-in, garbage out. It won’t do to submit grotty boxes of glued-together prototype counters rendered freehand with a few sheets of notebook paper, I guess. Walker wants to turn the presses, certainly, but he seemingly wants more forethought than designers traditionally apply.

Commercial Development, Iconic Golden Age

John Cooper’s website is the bomb. Tell him DefLing sent you. And Pat Summerall. If you’re too young to get that, well then, I don’t know what to say.

At this writing, games are subjected to vicious opportunity competition in the market space. Commercial publishers don’t have the latitude for too much artistry. The market is divided between novelty and nostalgia. Games which bridge the gap do well.  Patience is certainly a virtue. With luck a publisher hits on a perennial title like Twilight Struggle or the Command and Colors franchise upon whose coattails a publisher might follow his star to more obscure or contemporary subjects like 3LW/NWL. Games publishing is content to let design progress at a slow pace. Accordingly, publishers’ understanding of development is conservative.

Yet even during wargaming’s first Golden Age, there was an injunction to make it new. It is a bitter irony that the call came from Strategy & Tactics (S&T) magazine, the longest continually-published wargame magazine, now put out by Modern Warfare’s publisher, Decision Games. What gets published in the pages of S&T has always had the appearance of being subscriber driven, via regular polling on a curated list of subjects. Speaking for S&T fourteen years before its Decision Games incarnation, Richard Berg wrote, “To simply do a subject over again because it is your favorite is not enough; make sure there is something to say.” Moving the conversation along used to be part of S&T’s DNA and presumably remains among its developers’ goals. The magazine is still fertile ground for would-be designers — not necessarily for the right reasons. Along with this model of novelty emerging from tradition comes the notion of integration with previous designs but also contention. Berg sets out a creative and synthetic designer-developer relationship:

“At SPI a two-man team handles a game: the designer does the research and initial conception; the developer then takes it from the designer and polishes the product, consulting with the designer as he proceeds to a conclusion. This system has several major advantages. First, it puts two people’s experience into a game….”

James Dunnigan, twice S&T’s editor, wrote in 2005 — after development between digital and manual titles had had enough time to differentiate — that cheap-to-develop manual games led to publishers putting out a multitude of titles. There is a novelty-driven thirst among game consumers that might be profitable to feed. Publishers of all kinds have to play a long game in hopes of breaking even. Manifold titles is a way of dispersing risk. Even on the digital side, as practices were worked out, seek tight control over costs.

Development, Popular Notions

Third Lebanon War is undeveloped in the sense that, after initial testing, it was the designer who made tweaks, not a third party; NWL, however, was submitted to Modern Warfare, provisionally accepted for publication, assigned a developer, who in turn requested subsequent tweaks from the designer (among them to reduce the number of die rolls) and then ignored some while and adding others of his own. Then in-house testing presumably took place. At least this much can be surmised from the back and forth between designer Brian Train and developer Eric Harvey, who shares something of his reasoning:

All in all, I can only suggest that we agree to disagree, and I’m sorry that your game as originally submitted was not exactly suitable for the magazine-game customer that wants games with less complexity.

Fair enough. This tallies with a popular notion of what a manual game developer does and even includes a slight dose of condescension as a bonus. Players and/or customers often employ holistic, naturalistic metaphors which seem inappropriate for the discipline. A design might be caused to grow and differentiate along lines natural to its kind, but I rarely see evidence of such tender, botanical care, certainly not in 3LW/NWL’s case. Modern Warfare knows what its subscribers want to see and will accordingly modify games to gratify them. Call it a Shoehorn Approach.

Not pictured are the attachment of artificial limbs, unnecessary counters, plastic squirrels, ambiguous rules, muddy topology, and yellow ribbons.

The real use of any definition is to complain in a more convincing fashion. Wargame development must be some very odd pornography indeed, if not for the narrow clientele, then for its slippery definition. What could there be beyond “I know wargame development when I see it.”? The following is a survey of game players’ understanding of development. A recent thread on Boardgame Geek supplies a decent handlist of development metaphors, many of which are dysfunctional.

Sometimes, the designer-developer working relationship is author to editor, screenwriter to director, musician to music producer, and finally the arcane theater director to dramaturge. Sometimes, developing games is likened to forging a sword. The designer is the metal and the developer is the hammer. The developer must have a strong hand, I guess. Or maybe the designer is a crazed artist while the developer wipes his chin and remains the knowing, sober judge of the designer’s real worth. This is a needlessly arrogant image and every variation comes with an unnecessary reminder that there is real money at stake for the publisher. If this bougie-romantic image had much truth to it, there would be want ads in every game magazine for game developers. Judging by 3LW/NWL, mediocre development seems to have been priced into Modern Warfare‘s cover price.  That a designer comes up with the mechanisms and a developer turns the game into physical product limits both roles and seems unlikely to produce a game with richer nuance. Call it the Do-No-Harm approach.

The old saw about design. “You may choose two.” My opinion? Glad you asked. “Slow down, already!”

Better notions of development seem to issue from actual experience and stress its cooperative nature, where the best development is done by playtesting teams. Maybe a developer has a limited role in creation, mostly acting as an agent of the publisher to see that the game is finished. Nobody says that development isn’t a worthwhile process but, even when minimally functional, it might not be an experience anyone would want to repeat with certain developers; it seems that good development is necessarily diplomatic.

The real economic constraint on all aspects of gaming is always time, expressed as the opportunity cost of playing one game over another. Successful game companies capable of bringing new ideas to market and advancing the idiom know what they mean by development. Others observe that the overabundance of wargames at this writing owes to a shortage of decent, experienced developers. Some designers strive, but do not hurry, to deliver fully-developed games. Call it the Simmons standard. Discussion of financial risk is often very overheated. If a publisher is taking existential risks every time he runs the presses, then he is doing it wrong and won’t be around long anyway. Publishing of any sort, traditionally, is a long-term losing proposition. I do not doubt for a minute that publishers who are concerned about risk are currently slowing their production. The problem is that the market has been an absorbing an ever-increasing number of games and, for the past decade or so, various publishers have seen this as a production problem, not a development one. So many mediocre games have been produced that they obscured the good ones.

Curiously, throughout my survey nobody raised the role physical proximity plays in effective development. Just as American publishing is unimaginable without New York City, one cannot really imagine the critical nexus of SPI circa 1980 in, say, Fort Worth. Nor could Avalon Hill be imagined anywhere other than in the greater Washington DC area. Physical proximity and access to a critical mass of playtesters, brings with it a charge of speed and creativity difficult to maintain otherwise, even via the Internet.

What do publishers themselves expect of development? Survey continues in the next post.

Playing NWL

Now that’s what I call freedom of movement!

The first turn saw deep penetrations of HZB space, the IDF task force rolling into Tyre without so much as the possibility of interference. The rocket forces there, units which can directly produce victory points for HZB, were lucky and evaded. The rules seem to suggest that they can evade to another zone, but this isn’t explicit. I left them in the zone.  Bringing an opponent to battle is much more straightforward than in 3LW because the intelligence function has been simplified, become much more powerful; battle is no longer a function of chit expenditure, just proximity to the enemy.

Rather than fire them on Israel, I dispersed the rocket forces in Tyre elsewhere, but the initial chit draw was such that I could do little else but strengthen a militia unit. Since, In NWL battle happens everywhere both sides occupy a hex, Operations chits (J3) are freed up for risk-free maneuver. This is much more in the vein of traditional small-scale wargaming where the temporal and spatial scales are such that “everyone moves; everyone fights.” The actual function of real-world J3 is coordinating fire and movement to  carry out command’s intent. Something larger than a change in the designer’s intent seemed afoot.

The IDF escalated through random event. I made up the task forces and pushed some more counters. The first battle was a fiddly affair of matching up forces off the table (a signature feature of a Miranda game) and repeated single die rolls. As unwieldy as 3LW’s bucket-of-dice resolution might be (not very), NWL is at least as much bother and fiddle. The new game is much more procedural. The timing of when battle happens is important but confused: it is unclear whether they are all conducted at one time, at the end of operations, or whether one may wait and conduct subsequent operations. I shrugged and soldiered on through the fog.

A subsequent turn had the IDF securing the border to Nahariyya although Nahariyya is linked to another region. The difference matters quite a lot to HZB as raids, always successful in NWL (presumably, to eliminate a die roll), are important for victory. Raids can be launched from either four hexes or two, depending on the deals you make with your opponent. The graphical link between Nahariyya and Quryat Shemona is perhaps just a detail — and perhaps it is pedantic to bring up. Good wargames are made with attention to detail. The assumption that players work it out among themselves can only contribute to player indifference. “Meh, just another magazine game.” Trying to learn the rules, I felt like I was being asked to love the design far more than the publisher did. For I was surely doing the publisher’s work. This kind of publishing is brain damaged and has been going on for far too long. Nostalgia besotted indifference amounts to a negative standard without which the industry would be better off. Damaged and bad games continue to drive out the good in the competition for gamers’ time.

Is it safe? Whether the border is secured from HZB raids depends on your ability to read the developer’s mind. Note the playing card, top left. For the uninitiated “playing cards” are traditional household game materials that, apparently, the publisher thought necessary to represent in the counter mix!

The rest was a knife fight in the phone booth of the scenario’s eleven hexes. Soloing is a real disadvantage, but one that applies to both my playtests. The decision cycle seemed much less characterized by hard choices than in 3LW. HZB evades often only to fall into automatic battles once the IDF is sufficiently dispersed. Battles just happen wherever there is contact. J3 chits fly much more freely and so does combat air support. Collateral effects and negative outcomes occur more logarithmically rather than linearly in relation to volume of fire. It is unclear topographically whether HZB may enter the IDF’s sanctuary, although the rules seem to prohibit it — something which is also true for HZB’s sanctuaries in Northern Lebanon and Syria. I played the short scenario through, finishing with such a sense of fatigue that the long scenario was not an option.

On close inspection, much nuance present in 3LW has been leached out of NWL; even basic procedures have changed, and not for the better.  Initial setups don’t have to be much thought out (aside from puzzling over the cartographic ambiguities) as the general tendency of NWL to give the IDF a great deal more freedom than in 3LW. Players are deprotagonized, to borrow some jargon from role-playing game theory — chit selection is now half random, half player selection. Worse, command and control capacities are fixed in NWL. Denying HZB the tactical objective of temporarily impeding the IDF’s superior planning by disrupting task forces removes important nuance from the model.

Leaving aside the numerous errors introduced during 3LW/NWL’s sloppy development, the elimination of variable C2 levels (among others) actually counts as eliminating news the designer seemed at pains to deliver about the real conflict. It prompts re-examination of the 2006 war: did HZB consider degrading IDF C2? If not, why? If so, how? Decision Games apparently has, ahem, decided that such nuance doesn’t belong in the pages of Modern Warfare. But if there was ever an audience which delights in nuance it is long-time wargamers. For whom in the wide, wide world of sports is Modern Warfare published?

Next War: Lebanon; Topological Differences

Next, some impressions of playing Next War: Lebanon, the Decision Games’s version of 3LW, published in Modern Warfare, issue 13

Starting a magazine game by first having to overlook rules ambiguities is both familiar and annoying. I have no nostalgia for the feeling. Before getting to the confusing cross references, rendered incoherent by subsequent revisions (there are no “Disrupted” markers in NWL; setup instructions can’t be executed with provided counter mix), you have to get past the map. For some mysterious reason a hex grid has been imposed over the terrain. Since I’m a cartographer by trade, I must remark the topology between the two versions is different. True, wargames often succeed or fail by close attention to such detail, but the game-stopping problem is the ambiguity of Israel’s depiction. There is no differentiation, as there is in 3LW, with Israel’s reserve area or between named border areas.

Relative topologies with the number of paths to and from each node. 3LW (left) NWL (right). While it is still three spaces to Tyre, the Shaqra area and Tyre itself are richer nodes, favoring the defender by making freedom of movement harder to control. Similar constraining/expanding effects can be seen in northern Lebanon and along the Syrian border.

 

 

The internationally recognized border, so visible on the 3LW map is completely absent on the NWL one. This doesn’t seem like an improvement on the original and has caused experienced wargamers to reject playing it out of hand. So, on balance, pleasing readership with a cosmetic and unnecessary hex grid doesn’t seem like much of a win. A more careful development of the original map would have been to make the line of the Litani river explicit, adding a few cosmetic touches (with no game effect) to edify the reader.

I think I can anticipate a commercial logic behind the hex grid – a gridded map is what wargamers expect to see. Yet why use it and then have an undivided Syria, an ambiguously divided Israel, featuring both hexes on the regular grid, an attached ambiguous space, and two place names labelling a contiguous space? This is just the first of trivial seeming changes which, in the ensemble, weaken the story the designer was trying to tell.

If changes like the hex grid are so trivial, why make them in the first place? Especially if they come at cost of introducing confusion that did not exist before?

 

3LW’s Organic C2 and ROE models

The drive on Tyre continues apace. It’s only thee spaces to the objective, but C2 chit economies and competing imperatives intervene. Click through for a larger image.

Turn 7 and we’re still not in Tyre! Lots of effort diverted to securing the IRB and, with activation of 162, demands on planning capacity increase.When all else fails, playing 3LW, when there’s no play to put together from the chits, or there’s no Schlitz on the shelf, 3LW tempts the IDF player to lash out. He has the unusual liberty to decide how much force to employ. Going beyond a certain point gives you the enemy’s ground but loses you points. Hezbollah is ever present. The “fish in the sea” concept HZB employed in 2006 is organic to the system – there is no need to add rule exceptions or chrome in order to model it. Rather, creativity and resiliency matter more to HZB, especially if he can get ahead in the decisional loop. Miranda’s idea works lucidly to express operational tempo, moreseo than other operational systems which become accounting exercises. Once HZB’s planning capacity is stressed they are constrained by the chit economy to raiding into Israel, or else raining down missiles into Israel. This tallies very well with journalistic accounts of the 2006 war and with current thinking about the dilemmas of fourth-generation warfare (4GW).

After operations IDF anticipates objectives for Turn 4, choosing chits accordingly. HZB makes use of sanctuaries to reorganize while disengaging, and searching for the IDF SF bn. Upcoming turn will be dedicated to missile strikes and restocking next-generation ATGMs.

A reformed bucket-of-dice mechanic (BoD) is well-suited to a game where force is elegantly modeled other than in terms of basic mobility and firepower. If you listen to what the designer is trying to whisper, rules of engagement matter very much in 4GW. Applying the optimal amount of force is a major consideration.

Turn 7 and we’re still not in Tyre! Securing the IRB and activation of two other task forces have stressed IDF planning capacity, making the original CONOPs difficult to purse.

After six or seven hours of solo play of both scenarios I began to worry over resolving an ambiguity about when command chits are returned to a player’s pool. It wasn’t clear whether the chit pools refreshed at the end of each turn or whether chits actually selected in the previous turn took some time before becoming available again. The refresh phase rewards the second player (usually HZB) inordinately, as he will have more potential chits to play in reaction to the first player’s actions; whereas, the first player suffers greater uncertainty and greater stress on available chits, as he must decide whether to husband them for future reaction. Decoupling chit refresh from a final, mutual phase opting for a sub-phase of the player turn would be better. Chronologic resource-management aberrations arise in all IGOUGO systems. Nevertheless, command staff adapts well to hybrid warfare and could be an excellent tool for challenging some of the operational assumptions of the COIN series. Next I’ll look at DG’s version of the game Next War: Lebanon.

Playing 3LW, Hello OODA

Concept of operations for HZB/IDF in the short, historical scenario of 3LW covering the limited invasion of 2006.

Playing both sides in 3LW takes the trick of the mind known to most wargamers — maybe especially so to lovers of magazine games who often seem to despair of finding opponents for commercially unproven games on esoteric subjects. I drew up a concept of operations for both sides. The Israeli Defense Force IDF isn’t really menaced in any conventional way; whereas, Hezbollah (HZB) has to think about optimizing its ability to hide and delay discovery of their rockets long enough that they can rack up victory points. Above all he has to be a wicked opportunist. With respect to traditional designs, 3LW puts you in the deep end of planning considerations. You do not have long parallel snakes of counters to analyse or even lines of communication to secure. Yet you have strategic assets such as special operations forces whose optimal use is outside of a larger force. Once it is understood that the IDF has great freedom of movement, the initial situation is very tense and unpredictable.

IDF begins by developing intelligence on enemy positions before pushing the 36th division up to Tyre. Command chits structure

The real limit on force is planning capacity. The IDF rolled into southern Lebanon like the tide. But there were gaps. Hezbollah (HZB) conducted reconnaissance and so discovered the IDF’s main effort, a critical intelligence task that is often underplayed in most operational wargames. (Note that in a face-to-face game all counters are face down until discovered via ISR or engagement.)

Setting correct priorities for your planning staff is crucial. The fight immediately settles into absorbing cycles wherein some force capabilities become robust while others are at rest. Worry about where the other side might be in its cycle invades your choices. For example, it is best if the HZB player times his planning so that he fights at the precise moment the IDF has to take an operational pause to coordinate its maneuver, before his intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets become available. The IDF player has to decide whether it is opportune to go pedal-to-the-metal at the expense of maintaining combat power.

IDF 36th division moves and successfully uses its ISR to identify the enemy in Al Naqurah. HZB opts to exfiltrate them, requiring the expenditure of one of its J2 chits.

Joe Miranda’s command card system models these considerations in an admirably straightforward, simple fashion. 3LW would be an ideal tool for professional study of the conflict. Students of operational warfare will appreciate how naturally John Boyd’s famous OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) decisional cycle manifests itself. I can’t think of a wargame which illustrates this concept better, in fact. Staying ahead of the enemy’s cycle is hugely important. It is hard to judge in a solo playtest, but I can well imagine expending intelligence (J2) chits to reveal the enemy’s chit selection.