Saturday, September 29, 2007

Blub, Blub

Chuck came over today for a little wargaming, and to show off his hot new black Infinity sports car. I can hardly wait to have my own mid-life crisis! We chose Nine Navies' War, the War At Sea-derived alt-history game from Ty Bomba and Decision Games. The "alt" part supposes that the British delay a couple of weeks in getting the BEF onto the continent at the start of hostilities in the Great War, and that the German general Moltke doesn't fail his gut check in sucking in the French Plan XXVII armies into Germany and encircling them. As a result, France falls, the Germans take over portions of the French fleet as well as their ports, the Italians honor their treaty obligations and join the CP (little known fact), and the Spanish and Greeks join as well. That leaves the British and the Russians as the lone members of the Triple Entente, with the US due to come in at a random time on the Allied side. The Germans decide to attempt to blockade the British rather than make peace, and so the big naval surface battles that everyone was arming for before the war happen in this timeline. Historically, there were a handful of battles, only one of which really ended up being major (Jutland) and even then people still argue over who won.

In our game, only one of the random historical events ended up happening with the Allies taking out the CP's African colonies. Otherwise, Russia held on, the Suez canal never fell (although we mistakenly thought that at least one of the Russian ports had to fall), the US never entered, and Gibraltar held out. Which was generally bad news for me as I was the CP.

The game fell into a pretty standard pattern early, with me pressing the issue with the German fleet early in the North Sea and the Med, and I won the first battle of the North Sea with a lot of hits but very few sunk vessels. Chuck's repair facilities in Scapa Flow looked like an ER after a riot, although my ships got beat up as well. However, I started winning the number of ships sunk war early, and never really turned back. In the Med, I never really had any competition as most of the British set up in England as Chuck learned that it's much better to go strong up north in his earlier games. However, with me doing serious damage to the Russians both in the Baltic and the Black Seas as the game went on, and with a couple of turns where he was forced to place all of his units before I had to place mine, there was really only one battle in the North Atlantic where things went seriously wrong for me and even then you can replace "seriously wrong" with "matched ship-for-ship".

We made it to the ninth turn, when Chuck looked at his once proud British fleet, saw a whopping 12 ships left on the board, me with about a 40 point lead, one or two Russians left, no US involvement (they come in a bit slowly), a huge ship advantage in the Med, and decided that perhaps we'd be better off discussing the plans for my new gaming room. We had a bit of a suspicious that perhaps either the Allies required a slightly different strategy, or else they were in real trouble. There is an optional rule that forces the German fleet to move to the Cherbourg port in the first turn rather than start there, and I suspect that will help a bit, although to be honest he got a bad roll for the French fleet (he got four ships, I got 12) and the US never came in.

This is a great solo game, one I'll probably set up and play in the fairly near future. You do roll a bucket of dice, and high rolls are good in general, so Mike will hate it. Next time, of course, I'll have to be the Allies...


Greg W said...

There was a short segment on the Dice Tower recently from someone who set out to prove that the more dice you roll at once the more likely you are to have a statistically balanced result. Not that it will likely mean anything to Mike, who seems to have a real problem with dice. :^D

Dug said...

I like lots of dice for several reasons:

1) You get to roll a lot of dice. Sort of like going into 6th gear in Formula De just because you get to roll this big-*ss die.

2) The more dice you have, the more "resonant" the statistical curve is at the center.

3) The more dice you have, the *wider* the results can be. In games where you have to roll a certain range of numbers, this means that at times a significantly weaker force can beat a larger one. The odds aren't great, but they are there.

Mike's complaint is mostly confined to #3. If the statistical outliers, which are admittedly unusual, occur during a critical battle, you can find yourself completely screwed by a single result despite good doctrine up to that point.

My response is that sh*t happens, and a wide statistical result is very unlikely.

Personally, I find it easier to figure out if I've got a statistical advantage if there are a lot of dice, usually because you simply divide by however many dice you have. If you need a 5 or 6 on a d6, you simply divide the number of dice by 3 and that needs to equal or exceed the number of hits you need to get.

The point is that designers need to use a random outcome generator that reflects their design goals effectively. Paths of Glory requires every combat to roll two dice, so you have 36 possible results, many of which end up collapsing to a smaller number of actual results once loss factors are tallied. Since this was a conflict that didn't really see surprise results (gas, tanks, aircraft - these had some effect, but usually on a temporary basis, and the combat cards simulate this in an acceptable manner), you'd expect the range of results to be suitable small.

As always, it's *when* you roll the dice well that matters as much as what the method is, and in that respect Mike is undeniably the king of poor timing. :-)