Friday, December 28, 2007

Eisenbach Gap: A closer look

Time to revisit the topic of World at War: Eisenbach Gap. I’ve managed to get in a few games of this over the holidays, so I’m able to comment about it intelligently.

The nutshell version is that I like this game quite a bit. It’s not very fiddly, plays quickly, has some interesting hooks and delivers plausible results. The physical production is a pleasant enough package, the rules are fairly well written and the game’s tabletop footprint is manageable without feeling restricted.

In a way it’s what I would call a “brave” design because of the combat mechanism. There is no combat results table. This game uses what I’ll call a little buckets o’dice system for combat. “Little” because players are never rolling more than four or five dice at a time.

It’s a design element that took some guts to include because games that use any form of buckets o’dice (BOD) resolution always seem to get a mixed reaction from the wargaming community. Maybe it’s a bias against the mechanism because it’s used in a number of miniatures games? I don’t know. If a designer does his math well, combat probabilities can be modelled just fine using BOD.

More likely, some gamers dislike BOD because the mechanism does introduce a higher element of randomness into combat resolution – or at least a greater perception of randomness. Odds- or differential- based combat results tables are frequently designed to contain randomness. It’s very rare to find a CRT that offers wild swings of fortune within a single odds or differential ‘column’. (Advanced Tobruk is a system that comes to mind, and that CRT has taken it’s share of flak.)

Sometimes that sort of ‘chaos control’ is used to compress the range of possible results and make game outcomes more “predictable.” Lack of a farily narrow predictability puts many gamers out of their comfort range – thus the knee-jerk negatives concerning BOD.

But I digress. In Eisenbach Gap, to be certain, there can be some swings of fortune. But I like that combat in the game avoids the Proving Ground Syndrome of 80 percent kills at 2000 meters. Sometimes a platoon of Abrams will fire on a platoon of T-72s and completely flub. Other times they’ll turn the whole lot of them into smoking junk. The odds favor the latter result (or something in between), but the lack of narrow predictability is a key component to the game.

In some other ‘modern’ tactical games, maneuver is generally undertaken only at great sacrifice. While it’s true that modern weapons systems are very lethal, I think under most circumstances it’s highly unlikely that they will ALWAYS achieve complete mission kills against enemy units.

I think Eisenbach Gap models this notion pretty well. Stupid tricks will get you hammered pretty quickly and exposing your units to enemy fire is a very risky proposition – but I think the game achieves the right chaotic balance (is there such a thing?) and provides a highly enjoyable gaming experience.

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