Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Scenario Gaming vs. Scorched Earth Gaming: Part One

All wargames seem to have two sides to them. Scenario Gaming and Scorched Earth or "Wipe Out" style gaming. For today's blog-tastic bit of wargaming wit and wisdom we're going to look at scenario gaming and the types of armies that excel at this type of gaming.

Scenario gaming is exactly what it sounds like. The game's victory conditions are based around some kind of objective. Whether it's the Capture and Control style missions prevelant in 40k 5th Edition, the old school (and returned versions in battle missions) ambush and breakout missions, or the plethora of missions in the Warmachine tournament document this style of Wargaming seems to be "en vogue" right now, with even WFB changing to scenarios in 8th. The presumed theory is that this is a more realistic method of deciding the victor in our make believe wars. Is it a good indicator of battle and success? When the Allies landed at Normandy beach the battle was technically won or lost by the control of certain pieces of ground. As the landing forces were put ashore they were pushing towards the highground to secure the landing zone. Sounds like a good example of scenario gaming to me. In fact it actually sounds like a "Planetstrike" game for 40k. (complete with deep striking Airborne regiments that scattered... badly) Jumping back a little less than 100 years, look at the battle of Gettysburg. Studying the entire battle as a 4 day campaign an astute gamer can see a scenario based "game" come to light. Each portion of the battle was a series of take and hold missions with very clear attackers and defenders. From Buford's control of the high ground outside the city as Heath's divisions poured down the road to the failed attempts by the Confederacy to "take and hold" the Roundtops or to "Breakthrough" the center of the Union line in Pickett's charge.

One thing seems to be missing though, in none of these examples were there "objectives" in the other armies "deployment" zone. The German officers weren't looking at each other saying "get a platoon down on that beach and take that place where the boats are landing." Nope, they were snug in their machine gun nests mowing down Americans as they ran across the beach until through superiority in numbers and heroism the American troops got through. Likewise, Buford didn't have some of his calvary mount up and try to ride around the flank of Heath's corp to take a special spot back behind the baggage line. Chamberlain stopped his men when they got too far away from his lines, didn't send some forward into A.P. Hill's lines looking for an objective. He held his position, pushed back the enemy and consolidated his forces.

It's easy to see "why" we have these objectives for game balance, but would it be more interesting to have the majority of scenarios include an attacker and defender? I really liked the old (read 3rd edition) 40k missions with attackers and defenders and before we put 40k aside to focus on Warmachine recently, I was happy with the new turn towards attacker and defender situations. Some of the intangibles of "real life" scenario battles are hard to represent in game turns as well. While every wargame has some kind of psychology mechanic, they all fail to the reality of watching your buddies die horribly while your officers seem to be unsure of what to do next. This factor, more than any other, probably is the realistic indicator of the swing of a battle. Likewise, I haven't played a game yet where the ammunition of the units was tracked. Of course this would be a nightmare logistically in the relatively abstract world of wargaming, but using my earlier example of the battles at the Roundtops, Chamberlain only ordered his famous wheel manuever down the hill because his men were out of ammo. ("Brother Sergeant, the bolter rounds are running low." "I see. Brothers? Draw your steel we take this battle to the xenos scum, for the Emperor!") The other interesting gaming condition is our concept of turns. I find limited turns to be the most unnatural thing hoisted on wargamers with regards to scenario gaming. What if the game ended when Amistead's men had reached the "High Water Mark" of Pickett's charge? Does the Confederacy then win the day three battle even though the entire Union army is standing right there? What if the Spartan player rolls to end the game after the Persians loose the Immortals in the second night of Thermopylae. Hundreds of thousands of Persian warriors waiting to see that the inevitable happens, but hey, I rolled well, so Spartans win! Just something to think about.

Ok, so I've babbled a heck of a lot about not much. But what kind of armies thrive in scenario gaming? In part two of my random thoughts we'll look at armies that thrive in this type of game.

Please add any thoughts or examples of your own on Scenario gaming in the comments section.

1 comment:

  1. comparing the relatively non-violent hobby of wargaming to actual battles is a dangerous proposition.

    fairness/balance has to be the key when talking about missions/scenarios. the reason is, we have limited time to play these games, and no one wants to waste a few hours playing the weaker side of a scenario. most of the problems with the old GW missions was that the attackers/defenders were never really balanced, and it made for some crappy games. combined with the fact each army has different strengths/weaknesses, it's easy to have really unbalanced attacker/defender scenarios, leading to one party or team not having a great time.

    fixed turns, from a practical standpoint, is needed, otherwise these games would take even longer. i'm not sure random turns are the answer either, because they often lead to ties, the stupidist thing ever. i like how you play until the end in warmahordes, but some of those games can start to drag as well.

    i think timed turns are the way to go, perhaps even with progressively shorter turns as the game goes on. this puts pressure on the players to play fast, and you could even make some "realism" argument that as the armies engage there is less time to react and plan.