17 November 2010

Confusion, Uncertainty and Frustration

There are basically three approaches that have commonly been used in wargame rules to place limits over the ability of a player to respond to the situation as he sees it on the table. This is critical, since in an unrefereed miniatures game a player has far more information than would be available to any general.

One way is to tie the player to a intent expressed prior to the next round of enemy action being known. This is often linked to some sort of simultaneous resolution. Charge! and Command Decision are examples of this approach.

A second is to impose uncertainty about the ability to act on the commander's intent, by forcing a roll to determine if, and to what degree, a unit can act. Black Powder, Blitzkrieg Commander, Warmaster and Hearts of Tin take various approaches to this.

A third is to vary the sequence of action, by using cards to select the order in which units act, or what they can do.

Some attack the problem indirectly, for example by limiting what can be done outside of a certain radius of a command stand; or push the solution somewhere else by constraining movement or combat.

Most rules mix these in some way - 1870, for example, uses command radius, order chits, and random chance of activation.

All of these have their virtues. And to cover a situation like Mars-La-Tour where so much depended on Prussian bluff and French passivity, you need something.

So, I have listed some great rules that I have played with pleasure. Why don't I just steal the best bits and get on with it?

In the next post, I will vent my concerns about random activation and player frustration.


  1. I think you have missed an important device, blinds. Not being able to see what the enemy can have an important effect on plans. Its easier with a GM but even solo, some form of blind or dummies can be used for one side.


  2. Coming around to blinds, actually. They do provide "legitimate" uncertainty.

    Also, Command Decision has an interesting mechanism in the Fog of War card which can let unexpected events happen in a way that is at least dice free.