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ASL Players Are Suspect Historians?

Discussion in 'Advanced Squad Leader' started by Christopher47, Sep 17, 2014.

  1. Christopher47

    Christopher47 Same Song, Fourth Verse

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    Dear fellow players,

    Even though I'm out of the hobby, (I don't have the free time anymore or the equipment and social circle), I do remember exactly what it was like to play Squad Leader, and then ASL after it.

    I have just been involved in an historical debate here on this site. Two member made some very nasty comments about the inabilities of wargamers to understand certain tactical aspects of history.

    He then went on to tell me that we are all alike in this respect.

    Now, I'm fairly certain that my time as an ASL player EHANCED my historical understanding, not skewed into a straightjacket of mythology.

    Wondered how you people felt. Does playing wargames give a blinkered view of reality? And surely book knowledge is one dimensional, whereas a good wargame, to my mind, can show you more about straight results and history in an afternoon than many a book in weeks.

    I noted that many game designers went into scenario design and therom for the militaryon computer. Military computers have unlimited hard drive space and are perfect for complex programming. Some designers wrote books on tactical principles and strategy, others got the computer bug and went freelance. The designers of this hobby gained a wide reputation as very handy to the military in assisting them with training and theory.

    One reviewer of Squad Leader when it first appeared rferred to the game as "The Chrome Plated Machine Pistol". They said, quite rightly, that designer John Hill was not giving us an official interpretation of infantry combat in WW2, it was, rather, John Hill's interpretation of infantry combat in WW2. But is this not the case for EVERY military instructer? You always get 'the picture' through the eyes of the teacher.

    Anyhow, I still remember the first scenario, "The Guards counterattack", on a micro half board. I still remember looking at all my guards, watching the clock run down, and realising that, no matter what I thought of the situation, if I did not send my guardsmen into the street at some stage, this scenario was lost. I was impressed how the game forced you into things that your mind was telling you was "no go". One reviewer faced this situation, and his opponent turned to him at the start of turn 5, and told him if he didn't get a move on, he would lose due to time restraint. His opponents reply was, "Well, I will surely lose, then, because I am NOT sending my soldiers into that fire swept street!"

    Is this not something, an experiience you just can't get from a book?

    Anyhow, I am angry that some members of this forum, long termers, that should know better, don't. and i feel insulted for it.

    Wondered how you all feel about this subject?
     
  2. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    I was a big ASL player back in high school and college. They are fun and do teach some tactical thinking. However, the game tactics do not translate into real world tactics. It's similar to modern day first person shooter video games, they may have input from Special Operators, but the end result is that where it's a good simulation, the skills used in the game do not translate to real life skills. They can't incorporate enough variables and it is limited by the games framework.
     
  3. Christopher47

    Christopher47 Same Song, Fourth Verse

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    We all read the same stuff. So we all must have a level of achievement equal on paper at least. I feel any drag factor is imposed by each individual brain.

    Calling me 'incompetent' simply for taking the time to play the game is just wrong. I'm not trying to replicate tactics, just acquire knowledge. It's like stating that reading a certain book will make you less intelligent. Thats a better analogy.
     
  4. green slime

    green slime Member

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    Games are easy.

    Its not often real mates die.
    Most often, the only casualty is Ego.

    But the scale and understanding provided by games is limited; in order to be an interesting scenario, there has to be a degree of equality in the forces, a degree of achievability for both sides.

    War seldom works like that.
     
  5. Christopher47

    Christopher47 Same Song, Fourth Verse

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    True...

    Our gaming circle always used to say, when confronted by a decision that would cost us lives, "Cardboard soldiers don't leave cardboard widows and children."
     
  6. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Actually that's not always the case. In some games that I've played the victory conditions assumed a win by one side. How soon and what the losses were determined whether the player "won" or "lost".

    A well designed wargame can give one considerable insight into some aspects of history, others not so much. History text written by gamers also tend, in my experiance, to be some of the more even handed. where they are weak is in the social context. IMO wargames are one of a series of tools that are useful in examining and understanding history. They shouldn't be the only tool used but neglecting them entirely isn't very wise either.
     
  7. Christopher47

    Christopher47 Same Song, Fourth Verse

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    "where they are weak is in the social context."

    This is soooo true. Designers tend to gloss over social factors, not always, but mostly. this is because most of them are military historians first, and social history takes a back seat.

    I found this myself. My understanding of mlitary matter tended to over-ride the social, so that i would sometimes attach exagerated importance to the military, and de-emphasize how an event could have been affected socially. It's an old trap that conflict historians tend to gloss over.
     
  8. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    First, I don't believe I was involved in the conversation that spawned this thread, so I didn't call you incompetent. Gaining knowledge is always a good thing. I stated in my initial reply that I played these same games heavily years ago. They do not make you less intelligent. Wargames can help understand a battle or campaign, but the results obtained not used as a source in a debate. Having said this, books provide facts, narratives, and conclusions. In some cases the information presented is not accurate or sufficiently complete. That's why it's important to read multiple accounts, don't accept everything printed blindly, chances are if multiple sources agree in certain areas it's probably accurate, don't accept all conclusions made by an author, use your own brain, experience and most importantly common sense.

    Where the problem comes in is when someone starts using the game, the tactics they develop from playing the game, or the results from the game as evidence that something translates into real life. I am not speaking of you when I say this, but we have had posters that claim "this rifle is more effective, because it's more effective when I use it in Call of Duty", or some other piece of equipment, or tactic, from any of a blue million games. Same for board games, while a useful simulation, just because a tactic works or doesn't work in the game, it does not necessarily translate that the same holds true in real life. If a piece of equipment, unit or unit type performs particularly well or poorly in the game, it does not necessarily reflect the true capabilities of it's real life counterpart. Values are assigned based upon the game designers perception and biases, which may or may not be accurate. The game designer decides which variables are important and how many they can incorporate into the game while maintaining playability. It is impossible to factor in all important variables that effect the real life event. Then you have the game testing, where the game is played and the outcomes compared to real life outcomes. The game and it's data are then tweaked in order to give an outcome similar to what occured in real life the majority of the time. This may result in some idividual units, equipment or tactics being portrayed as stronger or weaker than in real life, in order to obtain an acceptable end result. This leads the game designer to aim for the results that cluster in an acceptable area and adjust the game to minimize those results that fall outside this area. So the lucky shot that sunk the Hood, or the success of the "Tin Can sailors" of Taffey 3 against an overwhelming Japanese surface force, aren't easily replicated within a game. Again, games are usefull for understanding a situation, but game results should not be used to support an argument.
     
  9. Christopher47

    Christopher47 Same Song, Fourth Verse

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    Mr Price, coming from you, with all those years of experience in the real world behind you, Its much easier to swallow what your'e saying.

    My social circle all went into the military, with one or two exceptions.

    One ffellow, Steele, could not read satisfactorily when we began to play SL. He started as the worst player for this reason, but he got better and better. The night he asked me to borrow the rulebook was turning point.

    Eventually, Steelr got so good at this game, that he was practically unbeatable. He was always one step ahead, or two or three. It took immence effort to beat hime, and this from a fellow who struggled to string 50 words together.

    Steele used to keep mercenary magazines in his cupboard, (rather than mag of naked girls). He joined the army reserve. Found his six foot five frame suited the army.

    He joined the regulars, infantry. Took his games with him. Used to leave them set up even for inspections on his recruits course. Officer would turn red at first, ask Steele "what is this?" ...When he answered, "A wargame, sir!", they would invariably break into a smile, ask him a question or two....and leave with the game untouched....

    Steele got out of the army. he had problems supporting his wife. She kicked him out....he went to Marsialles in France...and joined the Foreign Legion...

    Posted to Djubouti.....did six years as a Legionary.....became someone different that could speak french.....went to Iraq doing security....we have not heard of him in ten years....will never come home....

    All this...from playing our games...from Squad Leader and others. SL trained his mind, sharpened his english interpretation skills, got him thinking logically...

    We are ver proud of our freind...even though we all know he'll never come back.

    You sound like you've had a simlar experience, with one exception. I believe you have been under fire...

    Steele did not see a shot fired in anger. It was his only regret.
     
  10. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    I don't think I am in complete agreement with this. Depending on the game and just what the debate is about game results especially if they are multiple plays of the game may indeed support one side or the other. One must be mindful of the limitations of the game and just how it is used but that doesn't mean it isn't still useful.
     
  11. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    I agree and disagree with your point.
    1.) I do agree that if you're mindful of the limitations it can be a good learning tool.
    2.) I do not think that game results can or should be used to support a point of debate. Too many factors can invalidate the results. Too many gamers play to game the game, i.e. exploit the rules and strengths or weaknesses in the simulation. That's why it's common once an exploit is identified for game players to adopt house rules to prevent exploitation of a weakness in the game. Some other factors are; games do not replicate personalities very well, if a particular general is overly cautious and slow to act, or overly aggressive to the point of carelessness. Games cannot negate foreknowledge, anyone that plays Midway from japan's perspective will be more cautious than the historical Japanese were.

    All that being said, the point you raised is a good one.
     
  12. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    If (and it's a big if) you have a flight simulator for instance that does a good job of modeling physics and you have two accurately modeled fighters then if you fligh a long enough series of enagements (swaping pilots and such) then analysis of the results coud produce some support in a debate as to which was the better dog fighter. Other examples aren't hard to find. Now if you are gaming particular battles it becomes a bit more difficult.
     
  13. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    I'm not totally, and I have stated so, discounting the value of wargames simulations. I enjoy a good number of them including a couple of flight sims. What I am questioning, and what it was my impression that the OP was asking, was their value in debating/discussing history.
    For example if the question were which is the better fighter, the P-47D or the P-51D. One respondant may use statements by pilots that flew both. Another might use official military evaluation reports that compare the two. Another may use statements by enemy pilots that flew against them as to which was the more formidable aircraft. Some may argue using the statistical data. The best argument would be to use all of the above to form an educated opinion. The weakest argument would be how it performed in a flight simulation program. IMO.
     
  14. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    As a aside, more years ago than I care to recount I played a Avalon Hill (I think) board game set during WWI as a "Dogfighting" contest. Various well known types from both sides were offered and my personal favorite was a two-seat reccon plane. Not terribly fast or maneuverable but had good firepower and could be devastating in a diving attack and could absorb considerable damage. What I did not realize at the time was that I was repeating the tactics espoused by Claire Chennault and his Flying Tigers. Fly higher than my target, dive on his rear with guns blazing, then use my dive speed to get clear and clime back up to altitude. The one difference was my rear gunner could also cause some damage as I evaded my target.

    I am sure somewhere on the western front somebody did the same thing, but also had I been a little more savvy I would have chosen a true fighter. Still it did click with me when reading about the success of the Flying Tigers.

    I tend to agree that these games offer teachable moments about war, within their limitations.
     
  15. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Might have been "Richthofen's War" or "Knights of the Air"...

    Both games I thoroughly enjoyed.
     
  16. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    Yeah, I had and played "Richthofen's War". Still have it around here somewhere.
     
  17. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Sounds right for "Richthofen's War".
     
  18. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    my 2p.

    Wargames do several things to help to improve an understanding of military history.

    1. They provide a way to model warfare. A set of rules is a model. You can test that against data. - historic events. The evolution of the versions of a well used set oif rules can show how the model evolves. The iterations of the releases of Talonsoft game Operational Art of war is a good example.of how lots of iterations gan build evidence to adjust the model. I recall some relase of this game in which the 1940 invasion of France could never take place. It is possible to explain some military history in terms of wargame models that lie behind strategioc assumptions. e.g.in 1940 the French mistakenly thought they were playing to a set of 1918 rules which said that the Ardennes were impassable and the tanks did not get an extra move after combat.

    2. They allow the player to gain an insight into experiences they could never have at first hand. A simulator allows a player to be in the cockpit of a WW2 fighter flying a combat mission or a Ww2 tank in a simulated battle or on the bridge of a ship. They give the player a vivid understanding of the nature of air combat,. why, for e.g spitfires and hirricanes manouvre in the horizontal plane against the Me109 which manouvred in the vertical. Anyone who has tried controlling a group of players in a flight simulator becomes very aware of the limits of aerial command and control.

    3. A well run umpired wargame can put the player in a position of limited information which allows them to gain an insight into the problems faced by historic commanders. The late Paddy Griffiths used to run wargames at Sandhurst wich did this for a generation of Sandhurst Students.

    There are limitations with wargames.

    1. Wargames are just the designers way of telling the story. One a recent trip to Crete I took a copy of a french military history and wargame magazine which published a review of all the different cardboard and hexagon wargames of thew 1941 battle of Crete. It was obvious that some of the designers had no idea about the countryside over which the battle was fought and there were some bizarre variations in the orders of battle. It is possible to persuade yourself that history had this wrong and not the game model.. Of course, if you play a wargame as a game just to be won, history is merely the sources for legal arguments to make it easier for your preferred army computer side/ ride to win then you will not learn much history at all!

    2. Commercially successful games need to be challenging, fair and fun. Hiosgtory isnlt always like that ;) E.g. one of the releases of Call of Duty(?) had a level on "Pegasus Bridge" The real fight for Pegasus Bridge was over in about 30 seconds as the lead platoon stormed the bridge.. That would not make a suitable wargame and so in Call of Duty snipers needed to be picked or and Bren guns manned .

    3. It is easier to base rules on the physical rather than the psychological aspects of warfare. It is straight forwards to work our whether a particular tank gun could penetrate the armour of a certain thickness. It is not so easy to build a model of the likelihood that the tank crew might seek a position from which they might not be able to engage at all, or render their vehicle unserviceable or the circumstances under which they might choose not to engage an enemy for fear of giving their position away. There are games which have modelled the potential for troops to not do as they are told. S&T had "Panic". This can be amusing for the philosophically included gamer, but see point 2 above..



    . .
     
  19. green slime

    green slime Member

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    Correct. You could even have a game whereby one of the opponents had no troops at all, just to see how cautious the other player is, and how much time is lost, and the time taken to agonise over decisions.

    My point being: In scenarios for commercial wargames, both sides know the approximate size of forces, and what needs to be achieved for that particular scenario to be branded a "win" for one side or the other.

    In Reality, a commander may have some of that information about "expected opposition", and operational goals, but it is still feasible that the Intel is incorrect, and goals may morph as the situation quickly SNAFUs. That the valley does not contain 100 Mujaheddin, but 1200. That it is not just a path on the route, but a supply center, for which they will battle hard. This level of uncertainty just isn't available in a commercial packaged wargame, that I'm aware of.

    Furthermore, in a wargame, you "know" the enemy is there, somewhere on the table/map. There is never a sense of "this is a safe area", Nor is it a battle to fight boredom and fatigue. Everyone tired? Just have a break. No one sits at a wargame table for three+ days doing routine patrols waiting for shit to happen.

    Not saying they don't have purpose, when it comes to providing partial training and partial understanding . Just that you shouldn't base your entire expectation on reality on a limited model of part of that reality. They are a complementary tool, to instruction, reading, experience, and reflection.
     
  20. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Depends on how you play the game.

    ASL had many "pre-packaged" scenarios where each side knew exactly what he was facing. The other way of doing in was a "points" based system - each side is given X points and the player selects Y units worth that amount of points. So, you really had no idea what you were facing until the counters were placed.


    This "reality" is quite prevalent in combat RPGs, as the players are expected to spend far more time playing the game. It is less prevalent in tactical board games for several reasons, such as - time constraints, size/scope of the game, ability to keep the board & counters "safe & secure" for a long period of time. Strategic based board games are a different story altogether.

    In the RPG I used to play, Palladium' "Revised Recon" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recon_(role-playing_game)
    your "reality" was never a problem, in fact, it was expected. However, in ASL, unless you had many map boards for use, such a massive scenario would cripple the game(although with the advent of computer based games, this is far less of a problem.
    You've never played a board game "double blind" have you? Player A is in one room with with his game setup, Player B is in a separate room with his game setup, and Player C is the "umpire."
    Adds a whole new dimension to playing a war game, but can be very time consuming, although some game tournaments are played this way.
     

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