Saturday, March 24, 2007

Some early thoughts on CRTs and Card Driven games.

I had pretty much drifted out of wargames before card driven wargames became popular and as such have only relatively recently played any card driven games. My experience so far is limited to Memoir ‘44, Command and Colors: Ancients and Combat Commander: Europe, although I expect this list to grow over time.

I suppose I grew up on CRTs (Combat Result Tables), sometimes they were on charts on other games they were printed on the map or board. Usually it was just a matter of adding up the attacker’s strength and the defender’s strength dividing the attacker’s total by the defender’s and finding the ratio on the CRT. Then roll the die, in some games a modifier was possible due to other factors such as air support, weather etc. The die roll meant that usually you were not entirely sure of the result. To me the randomness of the die roll meant that it was the influence of things that you could not control, or had not taken into account when planning the attack. Depending on the game it could be anything from local weather conditions, morale, timeliness of supplies, improperly maintained equipment or just plain dumb luck. If you had a huge majority you could be reasonably confident of a victory, however the smaller your majority the less confident you could be of any level of success.

At times in history battles, both big and small, have been won against seemingly impossible odds, the CRT with die roll helps simulate this.

In card driven games the CRT has been replaced by rolling hits on a die. The stronger the attacker the more dice they roll (or in the old system the better column they were on). The same basic outcome applies, with a large majority for the attacker you would be more confident of winning. As the attackers strength decreases, your confidence of winning also decreases.

In the traditional hex and counter wargame, you could usually move all units every turn, subject to supply and interlocking zones of control of course. There may have been some games that had something akin to an action point system, i.e. you only had a certain number of moves, or a certain number of action points to spend each turn, although at the moment I can’t actually name any.

In the card driven games I have played so far, you are restricted to moving units based on the cards you hold. It is rare to be able to move or order all of your units to do something in a single turn unless you have very few units left of course!

As all the card driven games I have played so far are at a tactical level, this would seem to simulate that you cannot have command and control over all the units all the time, you are concentrating on some of the forces at your disposal at any given time. Of course it could be argued that if you had ordered that if you had ordered a squad to advance to the farmhouse engaging any enemy units that it encountered, you don’t really need to be concentrating on that unit until it has reached the farmhouse. A little bit swings and roundabouts really, although it can certainly be frustrating when you want to order particular units and you just don’t have the cards for it.

Games like Combat Commander: Europe have done away with physical dice and have a multi functional card deck. The cards are the subset of orders that you can issue your forces, they can also trigger random events, resolve the random events, have functions separate to the normal orders at special times (e.g. when the deck is complete) and replace the dice rolls and as such function as a dice deck. As far as I can tell the Combat Commander: Europe deck is two complete result sets of rolling 2d6, i.e. there are two “2”s, two “12”s and twelve “7”s. Any given turn of the card in isolation is the same as roll 2d6, however as you work your way through the deck this becomes less and less true, because the result set in the last few cards in the deck is strictly limited, where as with the roll of the dice the complete result set is available at all times. For example in my first game of this I had seen all the eleven and twelve results already appear so I started burning through the end of the deck as quickly as possible so the deck could be reshuffled and they could be put back in the mix of the result set. This phenomenon can on occasions influence tactical decisions, but is not a game breaker.

As I said at the start my experience with card driven games is limited, I would be interested in seeing if there are many strategic or grand strategic games, my gut feel is that the mechanic is more suited to a tactical level. I presume over time I will find out, it should be interesting.


Kris Hall said...

a1GMT is making a business out of selling strategic-level card-driven games. The advantage with cards on the strategic level is that the cards can bring lots of odd or unlikely historical events into the game that would be hard to model any other way.

Also, cards can help designers keep the complexity of their games under control because they can shovel some special situations onto cards, and avoid haivng to develop special rules just to deal with a unique historical event.

If you want to sample a strategic card-driven game, you might look at Twilight Struggle or We the People (if you can get ahold of this out-of-print title). Wilderness War is also not too complicated.

Many people think War of the Ring fits into the card-driven category. It's easy to see how the cards add lots of Tolkien flavor, and allow the designers to simulate events from the novel that would be otherwise hard to deal with. Many of the events dealing with the travels of the Fellowship are re-created through cards, with the Shadow player using cards like Lure of the Ring or Foul Thing from the Deep to attack the Fellowship, and the Free Peoples Player using cards like Athelas or Mithril Coat and Sting to ward off damage and corruption. War of the Ring is a good example of how cards can be a vital part of a design that simulates a highly idiosyncratic situation. Some of us think that War of the Ring has balance issues, but don't let that stop you from checking out this ingenious design.

At the other end of the complexity spectrum is Here I Stand, Ed Beach's long and complex game about military, political, religious, economic, and cultural conflict in the time of the Reformation. This game is certainly complicated, but the complexity would be unmanagable if Mr. Beach tried to simulate the era without cards.

Possibly the most interesting developments in the wargame genre in the past ten years or so has been the growth of card-driven games, and block-driven games.

Fraser said...

Twilight Struggle is on my wishlist at the moment. Luckily there's a couple of copies floating around at Gamers@Dockers so I should be able to organise a game relatively easily (hello Alpha!)

Dr. Matt J. Carlson said...

Cards and wargaming made me think of the recent non-collectible game: "Battlegrounds" I think it is called by Your Move Games.

It is basically a miniatures game where the minis are actually just cards (and can be written on with a grease pen or dry erase marker to mark off damage). In the game you can assign orders to each unit (advance to "X", shoot at "Y", etc...) Thus each card can move on a turn, however you do have action points of a type so that you can only CHANGE orders of a limited number of units per turn.