Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Other Decision Making Methods

What I would like is to use another decision-making mechanism for a replay of the last battle, rather than simply repeating the use of Mythic to make decisions. Although I have no problem using Mythic, especially for the major decisions of battle tactics and troop deployments, but it gets tedious answering four or five questions each turn just to simply verify the most probable course of action. (Although it does have the interesting side effect of introducing random events into the game.) So, I started breaking out the old stand-by books, like Charles Grant's Programmed Wargame Scenarios and Donald Featherstone's Solo Wargaming looking for ideas. One thing I have found with the 'old school' authors is that, because they wrote their own rules to use, they had no problems introducing new mechanisms that completely altered what I call 'the math of the game'. Examples would be chance cards, tactical cards, regimental cards, etc., all which would modify the core rules in some regard, such as adding +1 to melee combat or subtracting -1 from a morale check.

I thought about adding some of these types of rules, but to be honest they start to get hard to remember. (I am old and forgetful, after all.) Some ideas you might want to toy with:
  • Allow a unit to be a little better or worse on this day of battle: for example, roll 1D6 and on the roll of a '1' the unit is -1 REP, while on the roll of a '6' the unit is +1 REP. This should probably only be done for a few units and not the entire force.
  • Allow the unit to adjust their AC +1 or -1 using the same method above. This adjustment to AC is only used for determining casualties in missile and melee combat; movement is not affected.
Another way is to alter the actual game mechanics in small ways.
  • Each time a body moves roll two differently colored D6, designating one as 'Fast' and one as 'Slow'. If the Fast die rolls higher than the Slow die, +1" of movement is added to the maximum. If the Slow die is higher, -1" of movement is subtracted from the maximum. (Remember, the minimum move is ½ the maximum.) If any portion of the move is in non-open terrain (or across a linear obstacle), you can change the meaning to something that makes movement even slower on average.
If you are really bold, you can alter the mechanics even more.
  • For heavy infantry movement, each turn roll 2D6 - 1 for  the maximum number of inches the body can move. For light infantry use 2D6 + 1 and for mounted use 3D6 + 1. Terrain will slow the body down by removing the lowest rolled die.
  • Set a maximum number of dice in a pool for an army. The number of represents the fatigue and 'heart' of the army; the more dice an army possesses in their pool the more heart it has and the more fatigue it can accumulate. Each time dice are rolled for any reason they are permanently removed from the army's dice pool, never to be used again (in that game). So, if an army has 100 dice in its pool, it will only roll a total of 100 dice before the army collapses in defeat.
I prefer to minimize the amount of modifications I make to the core rules, especially something that alters the math of the game, and I don't like trying to remember lots of special rules that don't apply to all of the units of the same type (or at least appear the same). There is one area where I think you can add a little interest and not throw off the game too much: re-rolls. There are times when you really want to re-roll a failed die roll at a critical point in the game. Just as the suggestion above indicates you can create a dice pool, you can create a re-roll pool. The idea is that you have a certain number of dice that can be re-rolled during the game. For example, if you have two re-rolls in your pool you can designate any die rolled to be re-rolled, discarding one die from the pool each time you use a re-roll. (You may want to place some limits, like no die can be re-rolled more than once and that the second die roll stands, even if worse ... but you may not!)

One concept that I liked from the game Memoir '44 was that there are these cards called Combat Cards which make small modifications to the combat when the player uses the card (for example, adding one die to combat or reducing the opponent's attack by one die). This alleviates the need to remember which unit has this modifier; it is assigned when the card is played. The interesting part was that theses cards were accumulated primarily by playing cards that are generally considered the worst cards. So basically, if you got dealt a bad hand of cards you could offset your luck by accumulating Combat Cards. You can use the same concept for re-rolls. Each time a player fails both dice in a reaction test and does not use a re-roll he gains a free re-roll to use later. Simple to keep track of and not very over-powering.

In the end, however, most of these methods simply add a chaos factor to the game and make it less predictable, which is interesting for the gamer. But rarely do they add to the type or number of decisions that the solo gamer has to make, nor does it help him to objectively make that decision as if an opponent had made it. So far, the only two decision making mechanisms this blog has explored are rule-based and probability-based. These two methods have several factors in common:
  1. They use logic as their basis.
  2. They take into account all of the current factors in play.
  3. There is a degree of interpretation of the results.
Generally these are all good points to a system - one doesn't want to play again dim-witted or irrational opponents, for example - but sometimes they can lead to predictable play. What would be ideal is to find a tactical decision making method that meets the following criteria:
  1. Very quick resolution.
  2. Little is left to the interpretation of the player.
  3. Some element of surprise is introduced.
Decisions, decisions ...

First, let's start by examining the decisions that needed to be made in the last game.
  • Was a unit to be activated?
  • Did a unit move the minimum, maximum, or some value in between?
  • Did a unit maneuver (move other than straight forward)?
These three decisions encompassed all those made post-deployment. The rules took care of the rest (who to fire at, the effects of fire, who to charge, the effects of melee, etc.).

Was a Unit to be Activated?

This decision is one of the tougher ones in that it is a 'decision bundle', or a group of decisions, and each combination of decisions can produce a different result. For example, if you have units A, B, and C but can only activate two units in a turn, your choices are: none; only A; only B; only C; A and B; A and C; or B and C. Seven different choices. The combinations get even more complex when you have 12 units and three activations.

Did a Unit Move the Minimum, Maximum, or Some Value in Between?

How much a unit moves is largely governed by its intent. A unit of heavy infantry intending to close into melee would rarely want to move less than maximum speed. Moving less potentially puts the unit under more missile fire while it closes and  allows the enemy more time to react to the attack, bringing up supports.

A unit providing flank support, however, may want to move less than maximum movement, especially if moving faster will cause it move past the position of support (i.e. get ahead of the unit being supported). This is especially true of light infantry or cavalry, supporting the flank of heavy infantry, which move much slower.

Another reason for moving slower is to delay melee combat, allowing the unit to fire missile weapons more often. Generally speaking, however, if you are moving the minimum, you are probably trying to delay impact. This is useful even for troops without missile weapons, if your troops are heading towards an impact you are likely to lose.

Did a Unit Maneuver?

Generally speaking, this is not much of a problem for armies with lots of non-skirmishing units. Maneuvering is a good way of 'bleeding off speed', but that seems like a cheesy reason to do it. More likely you are reacting to a unit that advanced too far and got flanked. Cavalry, however, does has a modicum of maneuverability.

With skirmishers, however, this is a big decision. Generally it is easier to ask the question in terms of "where on the board (and facing which direction) do I want my skirmisher to end up at?"

Charts, charts, and more charts ...

If you don't like charts, don't play Two Hour Wargames rules. They love charts. The reaction system is essentially programming a unit's set of possible responses, assigning probabilities, and codifying it in a chart. Mythic uses charts. One thing that kept leaping out at me while reviewing the old masters (and 12 issues of Lone Warrior) is that solo gamers seem to love charts! So maybe our mechanism should be chart-based!

So, what are charts? As I said, they are a codified set of possible responses with assigned probabilities. If 'X' happens on the roll of a '1' and 'Y' happens on the roll of '2' through '6' you have defined two possible responses to whatever the chart represents, and assigned the probability of each response. As long as there are not a lot of modifiers to the die roll, charts meets the first criteria of 'very quick resolution'. Unless you have done a poor job of defining terms, charts also meet the criteria of 'little left to the interpretation of the player'. Whether or not the criteria of 'some element of surprise is introduced' is met all depends upon whether you allow for a response that is generally outside of the norm (but still possible).

Let take a concrete example. The Roman heavy infantry (Principes) were assigned to advance directly towards the enemy in the center and attempt to penetrate their line. As they have no missile weapons, and the enemy do, there is little reason for them to delay (i.e. move less than a full move each turn). So, given an enemy unit straight ahead of the unit, the range of their responses is:
  • Move the maximum movement allowed straight ahead.
  • Move the minimum movement allowed straight ahead.
  • Move some distance between minimum and the maximum allowed straight ahead.
Note that there is no option to not move at all; halting is not a voluntary option, save if the original activation order specified a point on the board where the unit was to stop 1. Again, if you think of moving maximum as the default choice, what would the exceptions to moving maximum be?
  • When facing a missile unit and the maximum move would not take you into contact, but would take you into its missile range, you want to stop outside of missile range, if possible (i.e. it is still within your minimum move distance).
  • When moving less than the maximum move (but at least the minimum move) distance would allow a friendly unit to catch up and provide support.
  • To expand the formation to avoid overlaps in an upcoming melee combat.
Of course, if the unit no longer has an enemy directly ahead, the options change. But for now, let's consider this simple case. How best to represent the decision making process for which option to use? Interestingly, Rally Round the King (RRtK) provides a good one: the reaction check. Think about it. How I move in relation to the enemy is a reaction. So why not use the reaction check mechanism for making this decision. In fact, basing it on REP (with attendant pluses and minuses due to hits and support) makes sense in this context and is something we have probably already memorized. So, you might have the following for the Roman heavy infantry:

ReasonPass 2D6Pass 1D6Pass 0D6
Center Battle Line MovesIf outside of missile range and overlapped, expand.If overlapped, expand.
If outside of missile range, a unit that can provide support needs to catch up to provide it, and a minimum move will allow that unit to catch up, move the maximum distance that will still allow the unit to catch up.If outside of missile range, a unit that can provide support needs to catch up to provide it, and a minimum move will allow that unit to catch up, move the minimum move allowed.
If moving the maximum distance allowed takes you into enemy missile range, but not into contact, move just outside of missile range if legal.If moving the maximum distance allowed takes you into enemy missile range, but not into contact, move the minimum distance allowed.
Move the maximum distance allowed.Move the maximum distance allowed.Move the minimum distance allowed.

There is really no limit to the number of tables that you can do like this; just keep them separate from the normal reaction tables so you don't end up flipping around too much.

Mind you this takes some work beforehand, but all good things typically do. This falls in line with my idea of writing out a detailed battle plan and then writing a decision-making process to go with it. I think that for the most part, however, this can be reused quite a bit. The result will likely be the Typical Army Behavior Jay referred to in his blog entry and the Enemy Behavior in Action article referred to in issue LW 166 of Lone Warrior.

One of the reasons I like this method is because it is so THW-like.

1 Update: I posed a question to the Two Hour Wargame forum and there is another way to voluntarily halt. As I am only presenting ideas here and not complete solutions, I am choosing to ignore this other option for now.


  1. I do like the idea of custom decision-making tables for specific units in theory, but, so far, the RRtK solo deployment and tactics rules - though broad - have been satisfactory in the very few games I've played. I've created a small enough number of bodies to make most decisions pretty straightforward, and, once embroiled, the Reaction System takes it from there. In my last two games, I had three main attack bodies and one in reserve on the enemy side (War Rating 3), so I just followed the guidelines for the particular tactics rolled on pages 52 and 53 and gave all enemy main attackers an order that was as obviously consistent with the deployment & tactics as possible. In your example above using Roman Heavy Infantry, I'd just send them up the center, full movement!

    Although you've laid out the case for advanced decision-making processes brilliantly, can you elaborate on whether your drive to add more layers of auto-enemy activation elements might be tied to the period in which you're playing - or if that even matters at all?

    1. I will blog a response rather than leave it embedded in the comments section.

  2. Good ideas, I need to try this out. Keep em coming.

  3. Excellent stuff Dale very thought provoking and in my case in some instances quite nostalgic.
    It may be worth bearing in mind that when old veterans like me started [solo wargamer since 1967] the 'old masters' were our guides and mentors and all we really had were our charts and tables. That goes for creating our rules too which were adapted to suit differing periods. Mine have remained with me ever since being expanded, amended, adapted over the years.

    When the SWA and LW was started by John Bennett in 1976 it allowed for an exchange of ideas by soloists. When I came across LW it effectively, for me at least, speeded up my progress quite considerably but decision tables were very much in evidence.

    As you rightly point out Jim Zylka's article gives an excellent view on the creation process. These tables do require research effort up front to formulate and may need a few tweaks but in my experience they are worth it.