Monday, February 25, 2019

Brief Notes from the designer about Hastings 1066

The Battle of Hastings was the culmination of an unusual three-sided competition to be elected Edward the Confessor’s successor as King of England, with no chance of alliances, and each side the enemy of the other two. As is typical of most medieval and ancient conflicts, we have few close-to-contemporary sources, and little solid information. (Some historians like to sound much more certain than the evidence justifies.)

Weather prevented William of Normandy from sailing to England where Harold II was waiting, while Harald Hardrada of Norway was able to land in the north and defeat the local English earls at the Battle of Fulford. Harold of England, more or less in possession of the kingship, marched north and surprised the Norwegians, resulting in a great slaughter (and the death of Hardrada) at great cost to the English. Harold’s force at Hastings may have been smaller than his force at Stamford Bridge.
Meanwhile William had landed. A mystery is why Harold didn’t wait to gather additional forces (having left his archers behind). Instead he rushed down as rapidly as he could to fight William. William wasn’t doing anything, really, for example not attacking the heart of the country (London). Harold could have waited, but he was a brave man and experienced soldier. In the end, it cost him and his brothers their lives.

I actually got the idea to make a small game about the battle when visiting the (supposed) site as a tourist.

Hastings 1066 is the closest thing I know of to the microgames (such as Ogre (1977) and my Dragon Rage (1982)) that were so popular in the earlier years of the hobby. They were the least expensive type of wargame, simple, usually quick to play. Those were board games, but it’s impossible to persuade many people to buy a thin cardboard board and tiny pieces nowadays, so the clear alternative is to use cards.

Cards inherently do not show the maneuver and geospatial relationships that are at the heart of any battle, but I devised a simple method to provide a board equivalent using the cards themselves.
Ancient and medieval battles are inherently poor subjects for games if you stick with the reality, that the commander had little control over what happened once the battle began (still seen in many miniatures rules sets today). The initial version of Hastings reflected this. So to make a better game I ignored some reality, allowing the players to control all the units, making the battle more fluid so that the players had more influence.

The system can be used to depict many battles, even post-gunpowder battles. I’ve tried Fulford and Stamford Bridge, but they don’t fit the standard line-up battle that’s ideal for the game system. I have prototypes of Stalingrad (the city itself, reflecting the “meat-grinder”), Waterloo (focusing on artillery, line, column, and square), and the naval battle of Lepanto (cannons and ramming). The Worthington folks have devised others. Every game using the system can concentrate on what was really important, hence the possibilities that your leader will die during Hastings 1066, and the action of the Norman archers.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Reducing chance in games that use single die rolls

My recently-published design Hastings 1066, which well-known game reviewer Marco Arnaudo calls a “lunchtime wargame”, and which I call a successor to old-time microgames, reflects the amount of chance that occurs in a real battle: a lot. As with any historical battle game, simulating the chaos and chances of war is more or less the opposite of what gamers want as they explore generalship. (Commercial wargames are not representative of war, more of generalship). Gamers want to control the game, they want to feel that they succeed or fail by their own efforts; but war isn’t like that at all.

Some people won’t mind this, while others might hope there was less chance. Here I present a method of making sure that each player gets about the same number of good, bad, and middling die rolls during the play of the game. And it also might be faster than rolling dice.

To do this you need at least two decks of ordinary playing cards. Extract all the Ace through Six cards in a deck (24), shuffle them thoroughly, and draw from that deck when you need a D6 roll. Each player has his own draw deck, and each deck has an identical selection of cards. When you’ve exhausted your deck shuffle it and start over.

I think it’s more practical in some ways if you have two decks of cards per player, because it will be harder for players to memorize how many times a particular number has been drawn, and in the course of a seven turn game you’ll need more than 48 die rolls.

There’s still the chance that one player’s sixes will all be up front or all at the end of his deck, and one player might reshuffle well before the other; but in the long run this may be more satisfying than a lot of dice rolls. It’s up to you.

I make this suggestion because in one of my playtests I played someone who was not a wargamer and who was not a deep thinker, playing for the first time, but I couldn’t roll for shit and after a valiant fight I lost. It’s like the famous poker champion Doyle Brunson saying that if you consistently don’t get decent cards there’s not much you can do (when he went out of the World Series of Poker on the first day). Imagine how happy he might be if you could somehow be sure that the cards he was getting were about the same average value and frequency as the cards other players were getting, in the long run.

(Of course, dice rolling “evens out” in the long run; there is no such thing as a “bad roller”. What we’re doing here is trying to even it out in the shorter run.)

By the way, this method has flaws for rolling 2d6 or more. I wouldn’t use it for that.

(The game is available on Worthington Publishing’s website at $35. I haven’t looked for it on the usual online sellers.)