Wednesday, January 24, 2007

If I was a headshrinker...

If I ever lost my mind and decided to get a doctorate in psychology (there’s a pun in there somewhere), I have a ready-made topic for my doctoral thesis: How wargames can be used to demonstrate the different ways people comprehend, experience and assess the same game.

Well, from reading Boardgame Geek I suppose that could be applied to all games. But since I ‘know’ more wargamers, that would be my selected subset.

Following the online chatter about Combat Commander, it’s illuminating to read the different takes people have on the game. Most opinions are influenced to a degree by expectations. Many are additionally shaped by prior gaming experience (which I suppose shapes expectations…). It’s also interesting to speculate on people’s reasons for offering strong opinions when it’s pretty clear that they haven’t actually played the game.

CC is one of those games you have to ‘get’ before it makes sense. In that respect, it’s like PanzerGrenadier. If you don’t solve the twin Riddles of Scale and Assault (which I didn’t at first), PG doesn’t quite seem to ‘work’. With CC, to me it seems you have to solve the Riddle of Chaos.

Of course, there are some players who are simply never going to enjoy a game that doesn’t give them near-absolute control of their units. Even if those guys ‘get’ how the game works, they’re not going to enjoy it.

The guys that are really interesting to follow, though, are the ones who perceive that because of the card system, gameplay is almost totally random. That’s the part you have to ‘get’. It’s not ‘random’, although it is ‘chaotic’. Mathematically speaking, orders and actions fall within a structured range of probabilities that generally only influences WHEN things happen.

In game-speak, what this means is this: If you want your guys to get from Point A to Point B, you will be able to move them there – but you may not be able to move them at an ideal moment. If you don’t immediately have Move orders available, you either discard or do other stuff until you get them. Maybe the other side will shoot them to hell before they get going. But that’s kind of like ‘real’ combat – 2nd platoon was ordered to move out at 0600 but didn’t get the word in time and then got caught by an artillery barrage at 0605, blah blah blah.

Another critical point I see players missing is leadership. A well-placed leader can work wonders for coordinating units and getting things done. That might seem like a ‘doh!’ statement, but it really does seem to elude a lot of players. They’re probably influenced by how leaders are used in ASL or other tactical games. In CC, a ‘2’ rated leader can activate with one order a 5-hex long skirmish line – on a map that’s just 10 x 15 hexes. Seen it, done it. Good leaders are a real ‘force multiplier’.

Still taking this game through its paces, but so far, so good.

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