Point 1: I was at a Warhammer / 40k tournament last weekend, and one of the participants I know (and who is planning on running a tournament in the not-too-far future) was asking how I felt about lending a hand with his tournament in some capacity or other.
Point 2: On Facebook, I ended up getting bogged down in an
internet argument lengthy debate with one of the JadedGamerCast’s regular commentors pundits who also follows their podcast, all regarding the place of randomness in the Warhammer games. I try not to engage in such stupidity as internet-fighting, but his comment on what a bad idea it was to make it possible that randomness in the game could still result in you losing, despite your “playing a perfect game” really set me off. That attitude just ignites me: for me, denying that random factors have a place in a battle or game is akin to denying that different troops from different nations/armies can be of different calibres of ability.
Side note: I’ll try to keep my cheap shots sparse, but I can’t walk away from the fact that the guy doesn’t play Warhammer Fantasy at all but felt he was an authority on why the random charges in 8th Edition are absolutely NOT appropriate in the game—not a major transgression in and of itself were he not carrying out his argument in a very Stelek-like fashion (for those not in the know, Stelek was/is the driving force behind the ‘Yes the Truth Hurts’ blog and always handles his arguments in absolutes that makes all conversations with him fairly pointless…unless you’re just agreeing with him.)
Six Five Degrees of Separation
My first two points dovetailed nicely together (and gave me the impetus to do this post) when, on a whim today, I checked out The Miniatures Page and saw that Miniatures Wargames magazine, in hopes of drumming up subscriptions, was offering (for free) complete access to a PDF of their newest issue for bloggers to embed on their own blogs. In the TMP comments section, someone posted a link to the ‘Scatterbrain’ blog, which offered access to the free Miniatures Wargames magazine issue (also of note was Scatterbrain’s post about the offer–a worthwhile read, to be sure), so I checked it out. I did a pretty cursory “flip through” the magazine. I read an article on one author’s ideas on the evolution of warfare from the standard medieval long bow up to rifles and the impact those changes had on army tactics.
…actually, I haven’t finished reading the article yet as I then got sidetracked by the sidebar. More accurately, I got sidetracked by the LINK beside the sidebar photo for the “Charlie Don’t Surf” minis rules put out by TOOFATLardies.
This led me to their blog, ‘Lard Island News’—more on that in a moment.
Too Fat Lardies
TOOFATLardies, whose motto is, “Play the Period, not the Rules,” is a minis wargaming rules company that have been releasing products for a while now. They are very niche, appealing more to the strictly historical crowd, but they also put out the “Sharpe Practice” rules set which, essentially, are skirmish rules for minis-gaming the Sharpe series of TV shows and novels.
I only have a very cursory amount of knowledge about TOOFATLardies as a company, but my impression is that their breakthrough game is their “I Ain’t Been Shot Mum!” set of World War II rules. Since then they’ve followed up with a lot of other rules sets, all quite niche; but also they’re supposed to be quite good. A common trait in their games is the use of a squad-activation mechanic where randomly-drawn cards determine which squad goes next in the game turn.
Back to Lard Island
All this leads me to the TOOFATLardies post this week on their blog. The title of the post is “Friction or Fiction?” and delves into the heart of (I suspect) a lot of the fundamentals of wargame design—if not most game design in general. Friction or fiction, at heart begs the question in game design of ‘Realism or Fun?’ I heartily recommend reading the blog post as a lot of good points are made; though they are aimed at historical miniatures wargames, a lot that’s said is just as applicable to Warhammer. There’s a lot of meat in the article–after all it is a 5200–word essay: lengthy indeed!
But what does this have to do with Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 tournaments?
First off, on the JadedGamerCast thread, my argument that luck and the randomness of battle was then countered by the other guy with his argument that careful planning trumped randomness: it works that way in real life with real armies—they take no chances and plan for everything; therefore, my insistence of randomness needing to be an important part of the game was invalid—or rather, the dice rolling for hitting & wounding & armour saves is about all the random probability the game requires (the emphasis is my educated guess of his full position on the matter). I still disagreed with his view but lacked enough concrete examples of how prevalent randomness is on fields of battle to get further than agreeing that we disagree.
Look, I know Warhammer and 40k are NOT real, but what’s the point of playing these games if we don’t try to make it at the very least realistic in the ways that matter? (To illustrate this: reiterating one of the sentiments of the “Friction or Fiction” post, if it’s just a game, why don’t we make it in one of the mission that lasguns blow up tanks but Demolisher Cannons can’t….if it is all really just a game? Realism, that’s why: a 9mm Glock pistol cannot destroy more than the M-1 Abrams’ 105mm rifled tank gun and 40k should be no different.)
To bring in some of the real-ness of war, no matter how much it doesn’t completely mesh with Warhammer, we need to bring in some randomness to the games that will emulate factors that players cannot plan for. To do that we must look to historical battles and the effect unplanned-for events had on them. More importantly, we need to see how all the preparation in the world (read: list building) can have no bearing on those battlefield variables, and I quote from the “Friction or Fiction” blog post:
June the 6th 1944:
A date that will be remembered by history as D-Day. The Normandy landings were possibly the most carefully planned operation of the Second World War. Yet despite this of the eight companies in the initial wave on Omaha beach only two landed where they should have done, the majority landing a thousand yards to east. The DD tanks of the 743rd Tank Battalion allocated to support the landings found sea conditions too rough…meaning that over half of the tanks were swamped in the run-in to the beach.
The massive aerial bombardment designed to soften up the German defences over shot their target by around three miles. Killing a few cows in the fields to the south, but doing little or nothing to their supposed target. Bad luck? It certainly appeared like it to the men landing on that beach.
An eight man British SAS patrol was gathering information behind enemy lines. They were spotted, their security compromised. Not, however, by Iraqi forces, but by a small boy tending a herd of goats. The patrol had orders to maintain absolute radio silence. If identified by the enemy they were to make for a pre-designated emergency pick-up point where a helicopter would arrive once a day. They did this but no helicopter arrived as the pilot was taken ill during the flight and obliged to abort the mission.
Forced to now use their radio they found that the set they had was malfunctioning. In fact they could transmit but not receive messages. Their call for assistance was heard by a US pilot, but they were unable to hear his response. Many sorties were flown in an attempt to locate the patrol, but ended in failure and they were taken prisoner by the Iraqis. Again we see a pattern. The goat herd, the radio, the sick pilot, all seeming to conspire to put a spoke in the wheel of military affairs. Could this indeed be another case of “bad luck”?
Operation Eagle Claw, the rescue of the Iranian Embassy hostages was meticulously planned with first class troops, and yet due to a mix of sandstorms, hydraulics problems and pilot fatigue there was a gulf between what was planned and what actually happened. Whose fault was it? Not Delta Force, they had made their plans with the greatest of care, not the Iranian Republican Guard who were entirely unaware of what was going on. It could only really be put down to the most dreadful “bad luck” again.
Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily, involved major airborne landings scheduled for the night of the 9th and 10th of July. US paratroops lost 23 transport planes when they flew over friendly naval vessels. A nervous gunner on one ship opened fire and was immediately joined by almost every other vessel in throwing up a curtain of anti-aircraft fire. The result was that the pilots broke formation and the paratroops were scattered over a wide area, many far from their objectives.
However friendly fire was not the only issue to contend with that night. Particularly strong winds meant that many of the troop carrying aircraft were simply blown off course. Of the 147 gliders carrying British airborne troops only 12 landed on target. 69 crashed into the sea. Again, the plans were sound, and the Germans and Italians had nothing to do with these events, it appeared to be simply “bad luck”.
All of the examples we have looked at have focussed on what could be described as unexpected events that occur in war. Events that are not errors on the part of commanders, their intentions in all cases are entirely sensible and well meaning; their planning is logical and thorough. What’s more, these events seem to occur without any assistance from the enemy. So if neither side is responsible, who is to blame?
I guess we could put all of this down to chance or our old enemy “bad luck”, however these unexpected, unplanned events clearly occur with such regularity in warfare that we cannot simply write them all down to “bad luck”. Indeed so prevalent are such incidents that soldiers have developed their own language to describe the effect. FUBAR and SNAFU being just two examples that are best left as acronyms in polite company.
Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian military theorist of the early 19th century, referred to these type of happenings which neither side was responsible for as Friction; and, according to Clausewitz, “Friction is the ONLY concept that more or less corresponds to the factors that distinguish real war from war on paper.” To make that statement more relevant to Warhammer gaming, the factor of Friction is the difference between theory-hammering a game and actually playing a game of Warhammer.
No, seriously, what does this have to do with Warhammer Fantasy & 40k tournaments?
This all leads back to my preference for “crazy” missions and a love for a randomness that is well-represented in a war game.
So where do I get off feeling I have solid ground to stand on, making my missions and tournaments so “crazy”? Well, because of my view of wargaming, as I’ve progressed in running tournaments, more and more my approach has been to make randomness on the field of battle (beyond just the To-Hit rolls) a prominent factor of my tournaments and those tournaments I’m involved in organising. Essentially, my hope is to make tournaments with enough variables present that the event rewards generalship rather than list building. (It probably has something to do with me being not too terrible a general but hating list building…and rebuilding…and optimizing…and points juggling: all of which feel so very…accounting and speaks of playing an accountant to me. I play this game to have fun, not to practice balancing ledgers.)
To quote von Clausewitz again, “The best General is not the one who is most familiar with the idea of friction and who takes it most to heart…The good General must know friction in order to overcome it and not expect a standard of achievement in his operation which this very friction makes impossible.”
That is what I want tournaments I’m involved in to reward. That is the challenge I want my missions to give players: to make it so that no army can perform optimally, and the tournament shows which general commanded his force best. In other words, which player was best able to weather the chaos of the battlefield?
Of course, the real trick is in making the tournament work that way…..but that’s another blog-post altogether. I’ll end this post with one of the thoughts that was wrapping up the “Friction or Fiction” blog post:
THE ART OF WAR IS TO CREATE ORDER IN A CHAOTIC SETTING
(If you’re interested in von Clausewitz beyond the wiki-link I provided but don’t want to read his book, “On War,” this blog basically recaps the book and makes it accessible for anyone–children even (!), complete with hand-drawn pictures!)