Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Where There Is Discord: Further Impressions

I've finished my first full game of Where There Is Discord (WTID) and have a pretty good idea of how the system works and where it's strengths are, both as "simulation" for those wanting some insights into the conflict, as well as "game". I learned a lot about the entire system, to the point where I feel like I have it down - this is not a complex game in terms of choices, but like most solitaire games it's involved in terms of  sequence of play and process.

How did I do? There are two measures of success in WTID: How many of your ten units you put onto the board (and keep them there), but it's all for naught if you end up dropping your Domestic Opinion level to 0, usually as the result of a combination of events and naval losses. I managed to make it through May 28th with my Domestic Opinion at 2, but only managed to hold 4 of the 10 landing areas for a Narrow Argentine Victory (5 would have been a draw). There were some very obvious things I would have done differently, especially with the landings, but I had a lot of very good luck at times.

In my previous entry, I didn't mention the San Carlos portion of the game, which was apparently added onto the original design after it was felt there needed to be more of a struggle for the beaches rather than just getting the troops there. I think this was a good decision, mostly because it's now the critical part of the game and there are things you can do as a player to improve your chances long before the Falklands even come into view.

A big part of solitaire wargame design is balancing player decision points vs AI admin tasks. Here's a list of the various phases and the balance in each:

  1. Weather/Event/SitRep Phases - Weather is clearly far from anyone's control, nor are the events that come up. However, almost every event gives you a choice, and the ones that don't give you one later on (such as the San Carlos events that affect the later game). Most will affect International or Domestic Opinion, which will have an effect on your overall capabilities (Intl) or drop you closer to catastrophic defeat (Dom). SitRep, on the other hand, is a major decision that is entirely within your hands. You want to pay very close attention to this as the longer it takes you to launch Operation: Sutton (where you start landing units) the more of a defense will be in place when you do land. Since some events force a Ceasefire (or can) it's generally a good idea (but not always) to advance the SitRep when you can. It's knowing when *not* to that will come in handy. An excellent example is when you have very little air cover available (since you used all your Harriers last turn), the weather is good, and moving forward would increase the number and/or chance of air raids. 
  2. Deployment of Forces (fleet) - Probably the most agonizing part of the game, particularly toward the end. The Task Force display is set up so that if you wish, you can play the odds with both your surface forces as well as your CAP, but you need to be very aware that it only takes one successful raid into your central area with your troop, support, and carriers to serious hinder your chances of winning. If there are multiple raids, and an earlier raid cleans out a picket area, you can also find yourself in serious trouble. Unfortunately, you have *just* enough forces to cover the entire perimeter early on. More ships show up later, but many of them are non-coms and will be of limited help. Be very sure to get a good mix of surface-to-air defense systems to cover the four range bands of incoming aircraft. Also, don't discount putting a weak unit in the defensive zone to help find Argentine sub incursions. I lost two ships to these, more than I lost to Exocet attacks, so be ready. 
  3. CAP/Interdiction/SAS - CAP is another thing you have to be careful with. You have 15 aircraft for the entire game, and when you lose them they don't come back. By game end, you'll want to have enough to cover both the landings as well as protect your TF as there can be up to five raids per turn at that point. Unfortunately, you'll also be largely hoping for Nimrod support to get adequate early warning, but it's almost always a good idea to have a couple of aircraft on deck in case a high-probability area gets cleared out in an early raid. I think it's also a good idea to send a single aircraft on Supply Interdiction missions early just to try to ratchet down the Argentinian supply. Believe me, you want every advantage when your troops land, and flipping the enemy units to lower strength will help more than almost anything else you do. Finally, you want to have your SAS units observing one of the various airbases, and which one you pick may mean the difference between getting a Harrier up to salvage the perimeter. Early on, the choices are fairly obvious, but I think it's not a terrible idea to focus on the Etendards and their Exocets early, then once the game gets into it's later phases, focus on Skyhawks (the second most dangerous aircraft) or perhaps whichever base has the best chance of being called on for that turn. 
  4. Sub Deployment - Fairly straightforward. I liked to put two in the Coastal Waters, one more in the Search box, with none in the Exclusion box. However, I would only do this if I had some surface ships in the Defense Zone of the TF, as there's a better chance for Argentine units to attack the TF if they somehow end up in the Exclusion box. However, it's a fairly low chance for surface vessels (three 1's on 3d6), a slightly better chance for subs (three 1's on 3d4), so YMMV. Since whiffing on 1's with these rolls means a unit stays where it is, you have an excellent chance of units sticking in the area they're already in, especially the Coastal area. Later in the game, hopefully you've killed a few of the Argentine units and this will be a minor issue. However, I can't stress enough that Argentine subs killed as many units as air attacks did, and they only went after the TF three times. 
  5. Naval Combat - Choices? You don't get no stinkin' choices! This is where you find out whether or not things are going the way you hoped they would. Shooty shooty, baby. 
  6. Air Raids - A little more in the way of choices here, mostly whether or not you scramble the remaining Harriers on your deck and when to fire your surface-to-air missiles, as surface vessels get *one* shot per raid. If you have any. Otherwise, it's a lot like Naval Combat - you made your choices, now take your chances. I'll reiterate the importance of having your various s-t-a systems spread out among the high percentage areas, and have at least *one* SeaDart system in your central TF area just in case. 
  7. Landings - The most important decisions you make are actually at the start of the game when you assign the various landing units to the various transports. I recommend you go with the stronger units early (higher numbers are better), and understand the importance of landing units on the correct beaches by spreading out units with similar emblems across transports. When you consider how you'll sequence the landings, be sure not to clog up the landing beaches too much by attacking adjacent zones. The landings themselves are a bit of a crap shoot, but by knocking down supply as much as you can and by putting the right units in the right locations, you can improve your chances considerably. I didn't understand the implications of being at the "right" beach until I'd started landing, nor how important wiping out supply was. Those two elements are probably the most critical to your success. Otherwise, just be sure to put CAP up, even in bad weather (even one squadron will help), understand the importance of having those landing craft and combat units to provide AA and gun support, and you'll be fine. Otherwise, it's all AI admin.
As you can tell, much of the game's decisions are front-loaded, much as they are in RAF:Lion (not so much Eagle, which is extremely front-loaded to the point where you have long periods with no decisions to make at all). IMO, this type of system is very common because it's very intuitive in terms of design - make decisions, see how they turn out given probability. By contrast, D-Day at Omaha Beach does an admirable job of mixing up the decision making, and the meat of the game is thick and chewy indeed when you must decide which units to activate, and you can react to the AI instead of making choices and seeing if they were the right ones (although that happens too). 

That said, a front-loaded player choice model can be very successful if the AI admin load isn't too heavy, and if the system moves quickly. WTID does this very nicely. While it will take you a while to get used to the processes involved in combat sections of the game (especially learning the exceptions that are in different sections of the rules, such as how you know if San Carlos gets bombed instead of the TF), once you've been through half the game it starts to become very second nature, and I was able to finish the final week (arguably half the game in terms of time because of frequent air raids and the San Carlos landings) in a couple of hours, including figuring out the system. Having a few more tables available would have been nice on the huge and somewhat poorly used board, but otherwise it's an extremely clean system. There *are* fiddly bits, but wargamers are quite used to those. Expect your first game to take about five or six hours, but future games should be easily playable in three or four once you have the system down (and are familiar with the rules organization).

The publisher has mentioned that they are deciding whether or not to do a reprint of this title, but as of this posting there has been no formal word either way. If this game intrigues you, I recommend sending a very nice letter to the publisher, Fifth Column Games. I do hope that in future editions they come up with a smaller box - the one they have has an insert that takes up about half the box volume and it's completely unnecessary - the entire game could fit into a box half the size, which would have to lower it's costs a tiny bit, but certainly shelf space. 

Highly recommended for those who love solitaire wargames, can tolerate a fairly high level of abstraction compared to most wargames, and are interested in modern warfare but aren't quite so interested in the complexity of a game like Harpoon or it's ilk. If you can get it, of course. I can only imagine what the prices on eBay are like. 

1 comment:

Grograt said...

Wow great reading, nice to find some other fanatics out there, check out my new blog ( never had one before ) Not up to your standard, but an attempt at advertising an on line turn based wargame :)