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I Ain’t Been Shot Mum – What’s the Point?

I had and email the other day from a gentleman in Ohio who has just bought I Ain’t Been Shot Mum having been playing another particularly popular WWII Miniatures Game for some time. He chose IABSM as he was looking for a set of rules which didn’t treat Germans as uber-troopers, and consequently was seeking a system with a bit more balance. He raised a really interesting question and I hope he won’t mind if I answer it here so that a wider audience can benefit.

The good news for our friend in Buckeye State is that IABSM are written with no particular bias towards any one nation, indeed whilst better troops will undoubtedly have an edge over poorer quality ones it is just that, and edge, rather than the type of overwhelming “force multiplier” (to use a Dupuy’ism’) that is often applied to German troops. Long time Lardies will hopefully recall the Danzig Bleibt Deutsche street clearing scenario which we ran at Salute in 2006 which demonstrated that far from relying on sledgehammer tactics the Soviets could be quite sophisticated and in fact their ability to develop new and effective tactics on the hoof was something that had first been seen in the Winter War with Finland when they literally stopped the war for several weeks and retrained their forces to cope with the demands of breaching the Mannerheim line.

On the other side of the coin, I Ain’t Been Shot Mum is firmly in the camp of being a scenario driven rule system rather than a points based competition game. For many gamers this approach fits the bill entirely, however I can fully understand that the gentleman in question, concerned as he is about the imbalance he felt was in his old rule set, is keen to strike a balance with IABSM.

In truth my feeling towards points systems has always been pretty clear. I feel that not only do they NOT create balanced games, they create an illusion of doing so which is even more misleading. A gamer seeking to create a scenario which provides both parties an equal chance of winning will have to sit down for a few minutes to think about how the game plays out, and then allocate forces according to what he feels will be fair. Of course I am not talking here about forces which are “equal”, although in an encounter battle this could be the case, but forces which give an equal chance of victory. So, for example, if my Company of infantry supported by a platoon of tanks is attacking a well entrenched enemy it may well be that the defender has little more than a platoon of troops with a couple of anti-tank guns.

Conversely a points system will lull the gamer into a false sense of fair play. Rather than think about the balance of the game it is far easier to just throw together 500, 1000, 1500, 2000 points (whatever system one is using) and say “Hey, that’s fair!”. No, it isn’t, and it cannot be so unless you are actually matching your forces so as to almost mirror each other. And that’s called Chess.

Yes, if you field my company of regular, well trained troops against your company of regular, well trained troops on a tabletop where the two halves mirror each other then sure, you can argue that the points system gives you balance. But, frankly, that sounds like a VERY dull game, and you could have balanced that scenario up with no recourse to a point system anyway! The problem with a points system comes when you introduce forces which are imbalanced, which sadly is precisely what the point system is designed to avoid.

Imagine I field a platoon of anti-tank guns. These are weapons designed to kill tanks. Yes, sure, some of them can fire H.E. at your infantry, but in truth they aren’t very good at it, or at least they shouldn’t be if the rules are reflecting reality. If you field a platoon of tanks my AT guns are a worthwhile investment in terms of points, if you don’t field any tanks and just stick to infantry then I would have been much better off going for a MG platoon. However, if I’d gone for the MG platoon and you’d fielded tanks I’d be in trouble. The truth is that this is a circle you just can’t square.

The same can be said for armoured cars or light tanks. I was talking to a friend the other day who had played a Spanish Civil War game where an FT17 tank had dominated the table because nobody else had any armour. In the land of the blind the one eyed man is King. If I spend x number of points on a platoon of armoured cars and you field all infantry then my little tin cans become the masters of the tabletop, with all the menace of a King Tiger. But if you field just one tank then I may as well not have bothered.

This, of course, does not even take into consideration the effect of the environment on combat. Were I commanding a company of German infantry on the Russian steppes and the enemy sent a couple of platoons of tanks against me I would be extremely concerned as I’d have almost no way of countering him once he had spotted my positions (were I using rules where everything was deployed on the table, with no opportunity to hide troops as yet unseen this would be even worse), as he could just stand off and obliterate my position with H.E. Yes, with IABSM I may well spring a bit of an ambush, use my panzerfausts to take out a couple of tanks, but after that initial shock the game balance would shift to favour my Soviet foe. But put my infantry company into the ruins of a German city, where vision is restricted and there are some rat-runs where infantry can evade tanks, then the boot is on the other foot. Without supporting infantry the Soviet tanks are the mice to my cats. Yet how many point systems take this into account?

To a large degree the way weapons technology has developed, with one invention leading to a development of a foil or counter-weapon, has led to a situation where warfare resembled the child’s game “rock, paper scissors”. Indeed you can use “tank, anti-tank mine, Engineer” in the same way. The tank will kill the engineer, the mine will kill the tank, the engineer will kill the AT mine. Of course warfare is far more multi-facetted than this simple model, however unlike some sci-fi games where one super-dooper walker can be the ultimate war machine, reality isn’t like that. Every arm of service, every type of platoon, has its own role which it excels at, but they will be equally unsuitable for other roles, and this is where points systems, for 20th century conflict onwards at least, MUST fail. You can only allocate a points value to a rock if you know your opponent has scissors, if he has nothing but paper your rock is worthless.

So how do you balance up your force with IABSM? There is no easy, glib answer I am afraid, it’s a bit like choosing your favourite sweet, you just have to suck it and see. In the rear of the rule book there are four scenarios which we recommend that any player new to the rules runs through. They have been designed to provide a simple, easy entree to the rules, with the first scenario being just infantry and then adding a bit more to the mix each time until you’re fielding an “all arms” force. My recommendation would be to use those scenarios to learn not just the rules, but also how your forces shape up. By the end of the first game you’ll get an idea of how your Soviet infantry company shapes up against German defenders. The national characteristics cards do give each force its own personality and reflect its strengths and in some cases weaknesses, and what balance you want to strike in your games can be influenced by experience as you play through the first couple of scenarios and as you gain a greater understanding of what the national characteristic cards do for your forces. You’ll also find that the scenario generator in the rules is designed to allow you to produce balanced scenarios without recourse to a points system, and equally importantly scenarios which are not the all too common wargaming “encounter” battle which in reality was a rarity.

It’s an old article from an old special, but why not take a look at this late war scenario from the Eastern Front in 1945 to see how the Soviets can operate when they put their mind to it. Far from a human wave, the tactics used there were developed around using a mixed team of infantry, tanks, assault guns and guns to clear each street. This represented a coherent and cogent solution to the problems of fighting in a built up area. Download it here:Danzig scenario

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31 Responses

  1. Jim says:

    ‘Victory’ is an elusive term. If we were just talking in terms of “I’ve killed more men/destroyed more vehicles” then yes, a points system works well for that. War is rarely decided on that issue though, except in a strategic sense.

    ‘Victory’ in the sense of achieving an objective is a different thing. Take a Korean War scenario, where a US platoon needs to hold back a PLA attack for a period of time to allow a new defensive line to be created, or for the remainder of the battalion to escape over a river bridge.

    The game might inevitably end with the PLA achieving a ‘Victory’ in the sense of the US platoon being killed to a man, but if the platoon held them back for a sufficient period of time, then who is the ‘winner’ then?

    You don’t get that in an ‘equal points’ game, or even a ‘meeting engagement’. Points and ‘equal’ forces are fine, if dull, if you just want to throw a game together, or play a competition, I’d even argue that completely mismatched opponents did meet up in real life, with the inevitable consequences for one side.

    Such games just wouldn’t be fun for the unlucky player though, which is after all, why we do this thing.

  2. Zippee says:

    i shall adopt a devil’s advocate position here just to grant Rich some amusement 🙂

    Points and balance is I think a red herring – if you have cheap, affordable and expensive rock, paper and scissors available the task/fun/art is in selecting from that range a suitable and viable force. this is no different from choosing from a basic company plus assets – you still have to consider what the terrain may be and what the enemy might have in its pocketses.

    What points actually do is set a size limit (and thus often a defacto time limit and scale) to the game. it’s a measure whereby both players can pitch up with similarly sized forces, selected from a limited baseline. The intent not being to generate some kind of absolute balance but rather to eliminate the worst sort of imbalance.

    And the purpose? Well the purpose is to ensure that a reasonable game can be played between similary scaled forces. If we want to set up an unbalanced, one side with no hope engagement we can do so with or without points.

    Taking the ATG example I can make this elementary egg-in-basket error with a point-buy system or a pick and choose from core elements system. Is it a weakness of points? No it’s a weakness of player choice, in short choosing an entirely AT force without knowing your enemy is just high risk!

    i submit therefore that points aren’t about ‘balance’ they are about a point of reference in order to scale the game so one side doesn’t turn up with a platoon of militia and the other with an armoured division by some kind of misunderstanding.

    Accepting that points just beome a useful tool in game design (note not rule design but game or scenario if you prefer) because they allow you to scale the size of the forces in an abstract manner that allows a large degree of latitude and choice to the players.

    How can that be a bad thing?

  3. James Manto says:

    Good article.
    Well reasoned, although you had me contemplating ‘paper,rock, scissors, lizard, Spock’ from The Big Bang Theory!

  4. Nailed it, IMO 😀

    The very similar thought came up on my blog’s comments just now, when I was discussing design of Age of Arthur armies with AndyH, and he pointed out that my potential design of 1500 pts spent on 3 warbands + 1 cavalry will get mullered by the same spent on 4 warbands. But, methinks, not in all scenarios.

    @jim – kind of what I was thinking about designing scenarios and campaigns – see http://troubleatthemill.blogspot.com/search/label/designing%20scenarios for some of my ponderings to now. I think part of the problem is that (especially, say, in a club environment) you really need someone prepared to step back and design the scenario, and even umpire it, which takes time, and sadly, some folks do just want to turn up and use their evening pass from the misses and get stuck in with a battle.

    @rich – (Re Age of Arthur – looking forward to TFL’s Dark Ages rules – have you considered ‘Mighty Dux’ for a name? :D)

  5. Adrian says:

    Very good article; it nicely sums up a lot of frustration I’ve been feeling lately with Flames of War. Not trying to point any fingers really, just saying. The point system really just encourages power gaming/power list building which to me isn’t the point of playing a historical game. Maybe it works for something like 40K, I don’t know, but I know I don’t care for it in historicals.

  6. Jim says:

    Nearly spat my tea out there… another vote for ‘Mighty Dux’ here…

  7. Gary says:

    I know who asked you the question!!! I’ve been working to get people to play TFL games here and he is my first convert. I’ll be gaming with him tonight and will let him know his question got a wider audience.

    First IABSM and next Sharp Practice.

  8. Gary says:

    I forget mention that the article is very good and hits a lot of my same hot buttons in gaming. I am a pure scenario based gamer. I cringe at anything point based.

  9. Burt says:

    The thing that must be born in mind is that games based on points are from rules that are designed with competition gamers in mind. Competition gamers are one set of wargamers and then there are non competition gamers, the other set of wargamers. I play wargames with my friend who is a regular competition gamer and I have found over the course of a few years that he looks at games differently to me. I enjoy a game that is good fun and that to me a good dose of historical flavor too it, scenario driven games being the example. He however doesn’t enjoy these games as much. If he doesn’t have total control over his forces due to rule mechanisms ( and loses) he considers the game/rules not very good he examines rules for loop hole etc. I recently took up Fogr with him and have come to understand the mind of the competition gamer. The wargame is regarded as a game, not unlike chess that is played with figures, the historical eliment is defiantly secondary. The points system is part of the game trying to find the killer list etc.

  10. Andrew Brentnall says:

    Great article Rich! I am in danger of becoming “grasshopper” to your master! Just don’t start mixing up your films and TV series and start all that “Wax on, wax off” malarkey .

    Mollinary ( a distinctly mediocre Austrian general, given a chance of fame and fortune, but missed it. Just one of nature’s
    “ad latus” commanders.)

  11. Nick B says:

    I play IABSM for preferance and FOW as it’s the most popular game at my club. I enjoy both (Ooh shock horror!). I agree that scenarios for me give the best game. However, there are significant draw backs to scenarios.

    1. Unless you provide all the toys, your choice of scenario is limited by what your opponent can field. If you do bring all the forces this can actually put people off as they wold like a chance to get their toys out.
    2. Scenarios are by their nature not pick up and play games. Scenarios can take several weeks to organise. I have been gaming for 30 years and as I have moved around the country have been a member at numerous clubs. They generally have the same limitation in common – that of playing time. Point based games generally have a definitive end and the vast amjority can comfortably be accomplished in an evenings play, where as I have seen numerous scenarios run out of time on club nights which leaves all sides rather disatisfied.
    3. Points based armies are cheaper to collect – enabling more people to participate. By this I mean that a player can build a single force and play with that rather than having to have a wide range of troops for every occasion.
    4. Points based enable two (or more) people who don’t play each other regularly to put two roughly equal forces on the table.

    It seems strange that FOW is so regularly bashed but remains the most popular WW2 game out there and the vast majority of gamers are not competition players. The fact is that it provides an avenue for folk to play quick, enjoyable WW2 pick up games which IABSM does not.

    I started out by saying I am an IABSM player who prefers scenarios and I sincerely am. But until some one can solve the above I will continue to struggle to sell the game to others at the two clubs I belong to.

    I shall now duck below the parapet in readiness for the inevitable outrage!

  12. Jim says:

    With FoW I think it’s a case of ‘hate the playa, not the game’ as these rap people would say. I have nothing against it whatsoever, I even own a copy.

    Take any rule set you like and give it to a certain type of person and they will look to make the rules work for them, instead of just playing the game as someone else might. That’s just how it is and if that is what they want out of the hobby, then fair enough.

    Not my outlook on what I see as wargaming, but clearly it is what some people want out of their hobby. Each to their own.

  13. Minondas says:

    While being almost strictly historical wargamer (I admit of owning 2000 points Post-Romano-British WAB army), I’m having hard time accepting the position taken in the article without objections. True, point based armies are not for everyone, but on the other hand, neither are historical scenarios. Let’s remember that we are far from homogenous group of people and far from all of us use miniature wargaming as an extension of genuine interest in military history and as a tool for better understanding of real life events, tactics, decisions, etc. Point-based armies, if designed and used properly, are IMO adequate tools for representation of typical force composition and will with all probability render decent game with proper historical flavor and challenges without requirement for extensive research and preparation. For many, or perhaps even most of us if one is to draw conclusion from success of FoW, DBX, FoG, that level of realism is quite sufficient.

    It is also tempting to point out that “historical” wargamers seem to be as keen on “balance” as their point-counting, heretical brethren. 🙂 There is a reason why we don’t select very often to run games featuring Romanians on the flank of 6th Army at Stalingrad, Mack at Ulm, Pickett’s doomed regiments at Gettysburg or Romans at Carrahe – such scenarios will probably not be very fun to play and as much a case of “bringing a knife to a gunfight” as the point-based mismatch described in the article above. If any conclusions are to be drawn from ASL scenario statistics, most popular scenarios for this game are those that provide balanced games with equal opportunity for a win for both sides. I don’t know about the rest of you, but the games that I remember best are those “near-run things” that were decided with last dice throw. In other words, I think that both camps are guilty of the particular sin of wish for a balanced game, the only difference is that our guilt manifests itself in a slightly different manner on the tabletop.

  14. Big Rich says:

    Andrew, when you can walk the rice paper…

    Nick, I thought you knew me better than that! My post was in response to an individual who has used points in the past. I am not “anti” any rule set, I admire Battlefront in many respects and I have never played their rules so onestly cannot comment on them and would never criticise the product of any other company. My comments are against the illusory nature of a points system, rather than against any points system in particular.

    At the core of my argument is one very simple premise. How many points can be allocated to rock, paper or scissors? One could simply say that you could give each a numerical value of 1, or 100, or 1000, however the fact remains that their effectiveness will always depend on what your opponent chooses to field. In an extreme situation, where you field 15 rocks at 100 points each and your opponent fields 15 papers at 100 points each you WILL lose.

    I am not arguing for the advantages of scenarios over points, I am not saying that I have a pathological hatred of points, but merely that they DO NOT WORK. Simple. I have yet to see any argument, here or elsewhere, that persuades me of anything else.

    I would point you towards the scenario generator in the back of IABSM. It has no points, yet it works.

    I accept the arguments that people have made about how when one introduces a points system some gamers will attempt to use that to create an uber-army, and how that is a-historical, these are fair points and well made, yet they are not my points.

    Minondas, I am actually in agreement with much of what you say. In Ancient warfare one can essentially measure unit effectiveness by how fast they can move and how well they can fight. This is far more quantifiable than in a modern (20thC onwards, and in particular 1916 onwards) setting, where the “arms race” saw a wider range of unit types emerge. For example, when Britain first deployed the tank in 1916 the Germans began their attempts to counter that. The 37mm AT gun was designed SPECIFICALLY to shoot at tanks. It was useless when firing at anything else. This set the pattern for the evolution of weaponry, and in WWII you would find that what emerges was, essentially, a game of trumps. When your opponent played his card (an infantry attack a tank attack or whatever) you trumped that with MGs or AT guns or whatever was appropriate.

    Again, I would suggest that the issue which I am addressing here is that points systems in the 20thC simply do not provide for balance, they provide an illusion of balance which allows us all to feel that we are playing fair. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. There are too many factors (some quantifiable and some unquantifiable) to allow a simple points system to work. And if a points system is not simple then it is unworkable. Ipso facto, it don’t bleedin’ work. QED.

    Thanks to all who have commented. It’s good to talk!

    Rich

  15. Jan says:

    Good article, Rich!

    One thing I always find remarkable about points games (many of which I have played, although my preference is for scenario-based games). Despite the fact that they are predominantly favoured in competitions and tournaments, no one ever uses them in the way that seems most useful to me: handicapping.

    If the purpose of points systems is, first and foremost, to provide a quick, easy way to produce a “scenario” in which two players can have an evenly matched game, why on earth would you always give them both the same number of points?

    I play a good deal of DBA, and there are, locally and regionally, players I game against quite often who are much better players than I am. I have been playing for many years; so have they. We both know the rules well and agree on any needed interpretations and house rules. Doesn’t matter which armies they take or which I use; if I play (let’s call them) A, B, or C, they will beat me handily three or four times out of five games. And there are other players with whom I am on the opposite basis; no matter what armies we choose, I will beat D, E, and F more often than not.

    Are we all, A-F and I, on the same level as players? No. But if we enter a points-based competition, we all use the same number of points for the same round. Surely if there’s a values to points systems, it would be the same as that for golf–making sure that games between players of different levels of skill and experience got balanced out. But somehow that never seems to be the case.

    It’s interesting that Minondas mentions ASL, another game I enjoy. It was a points system, but I have *never* seen it used, and the balancing of scenarios that he rightly mentions as being an important factor of the game is done in design and development by playing them many, many times over and gently tweaking an OB or a map feature or a victory condition. And even then (as the stats he refers to, stored on sites like the ROAR) show that scenarios don’t always work out as evenly as the developers hoped. My guess, again, being that unbalanced results totals have more to do with the skill level of players than with the troop forces on the two sides. I recently played a scenario twice over with a beginning player (the second playing was his suggestion–he wanted to try the same role again to see what he had learned). We had a fun time of it, not cut-throat play, with me giving him tactical tips as we went along. But I still hammered him hard both times. The ROAR record for the scenario? 45 German wins, 45 American wins. Even “balanced” scenarios are susceptible to differing levels of experience and skill.

  16. MarkL says:

    I truly believe designing a good scenario depends alot on experience and what could be called ‘touch’. Many of us have been gaming for decades and have read enough to be able to determine what would work as a fun game. The idea of points is something that is unnecessary. We can tell how units will/should perform on this piece of ground, in this weather, under the tactical restrictions, and what would be make for a good opposing force. I can’t remember ever worrying about points. And I really think that mastering the art of designing a miniature game has a great deal to do with an intuitive knowledge of what makes sense, what would be an interesting matchup, and that comes from experience and research. Games that I have enjoyed have never been based on ‘points’ but on a well thought out sense of melding a historical situation to a game system.
    Lets face it, this is an art. Some people can throw together a fantastic scenario on the fly and other will spend months on their concept and it will be a disaster.
    Maybe points can help with the basic formation of a game, but eventually the competent game master will rely on their inate ability and knowledge.
    And if we’re dealing with historical gaming, the best source of game design is history. If there is no desire to do some digging and read about the period, then you can bet the games will not be enjoyable–especially to someone who has that basic knowledge.

  17. Big Rich says:

    Zippee, well, when it comes to amusement you know how to do it. Are you seriously telling us that points systems are NOT designed to provide a balanced game, but to provide one which just doesn’t have too many toys on the table. Why not just use a set of scales and do it by weight then? A 15lb army rather than 1500 points?

    I think, in fairness, that your argument strays somewhat from the original point (which was, quite simply, that points systems do not create a fair game. We seem to have moved now to discussing not what points systems don’t do, and on to what they CAN do. Okay, so let’s go there anyway.

    I would agree with you that utilising an arbitrary points system as a simple mechanism to pick a force is a useable mechanism, so long as you’re not looking for that illusive “fair game”. However the key word here is arbitrary. The points system is so inherrently flawed as a mechanism for providing fairness that you may as well simply say “You have two infantry platoons plus three support platoons of your choice”. Indeed this is precisely the system used in the scenario generator in IABSM (I am, of course, simplifying somewhat, but that’s the basics).

    Where I would suggest that the two systems differ is that the points system is very often not viewed as a force selection mechanism which is used in a balanced manner while also considering the terrain for the impeding battle. What more normally happens is that, as has been pointed out here and/or on TMP, gamers create a “Killer” army which they they use in every situation.

    Conversely, when using the scenario generator in IABSM the first thing you do is to consider the scenario and the terrain, and that will then infleunce your selection of support units to work with your core force.

    Am I saying that you can’t take that approach with a points system? No, not at all, indeed this is nothing whatsoever to do with my original posting which was purely to do with the “points = fair” issue. What I would say is that you simply don’t need a points system if all you are doing, as you suggest, is to limit the amount of toys on the table. There are other ways of doing this which don’t involve adding up a series of numbers which, in truth, are entirely arbitrary and not fit for purpose given that they have been allocated with no consideration for the specific battle that is about to be fought.

    Personally I fail to see what possible advantage points have over systems where you have a core force and then pick your supports from a range of options for a particular game.

  18. Nick B says:

    Rich,

    I wonder if your point of view is based on the misnomer that WW2 points battles are stand up fights with all points immediately on the table. If you look at 2 other sets – BKC and FOW this is raely the case. Both have a scenario generator giving a variety of missions. BKC approach the game on the basis of the type of game and who is attacker/deender. Each side will then get disproportionate points e.g 2:1 in favour of the attacker. FOW approach it from a different angle by using reserves – so in a standard attack defence game the defender will start with only 50% of their force on the table. The rest arrive by rolling each turn for reserves (which may or may not arrive). Clearly in this case it is up to the defender to select from his pool of forces which units he will have on the table initially based upon the terrain and enemy. The scenario and who is attacker/defender is selected after you have choosen your force.
    So whilst the points give a basis for forces the scenario generation then scews this to the situation.
    So how does this fit in with your premise?

  19. By weight, no. By price, perhaps? 😀 GW (sorry, I know, rude words) do, I understand, pretty much price figures by ‘points value’.

    I think two things points give (and no, I’m not defending them, even though I do participate in a number of points-based battles and tournaments), are an *illusion* of balance, and a rough measure of size. Particularly in a tournament, or a quick-and-cheerful Monday-night-down-the-club, these are actually useful, and because there are hard and fast numbers attached, people perhaps feel that these are somehow ‘better’ than the alternatives.

    You could of course make the argument that the scenario system in IABSM is points, except it’s very ‘lumpy’ points, and it doesn’t set the army in stone, whereas the average tournament army requirements for (say) WAB or FoW don’t tend to allow for changing based on terrain/scenario (where they even have a scenario beyond ‘break the other side’).

  20. Nick: maybe I’m maligning FoW unduly, but too often what I see down our club by way of a ‘scenario’ seems to be ‘place several markers in arbitrary and strategically meaningless locations on the table, pick a random set of deployment and reserve rules, and award points for capturing the markers’.

  21. Nick B says:

    Mike,

    Clearly you’ve not played the game or read the rules – very easy to form opinions based on a cursory glance.

    “Pick a random set of deployment and reserve rules” – and how does that differ to the IABSM scenario generator?

    No points for capturing objectives – weather in competition or club games. They do do this is many Rapid Fire! scenarios though.

    How are the objectives more strategic under the IABSM scenario generators? One picks a point, the other picks an area.

    Anyway my intention was not to start a FOW-v-IABSM discussion. My point is – if you go back to my initial post – that to deride points systems especially in a rival game is inappropriate if you blindly ignore the gaming advantages they bring to the players. Points giving balance or not is only one part of the arguement as to wether scenarios are better than points.

  22. Big Rich says:

    Nick, I simply don’t see any relevance at all. I am not talking about specific rule sets or how they organise their scenarios, that’s something we all seem to do with our rules to one extent or the other. All I am saying is that equal points does not equal a “fair” or “balanced” game, because it is impossible to allocated a numerical value to any unit where the different units interact with each other in different ways.

    Imagine a wargame with cavemen. All they are armed with are sticks which they use to bash each other over the head with. No missiles, nothing else, just sticks. Your basic caveman unit is ten figures so lets call it 100 points. You could then say quite credibly that a 15 caveman unit is worth 150 points, or that an elite caveman unit of ten men which is 10% more effective in killing its opponents is worth 110 points, i.e 10% more.

    The problem comes when you introduce different types of units. We could say infantry, cavalry and artillery, but in fairness that is relatively simple. The REAL problem comes when we get to the 20thC where units are increasingly specialised in their roles, so you can have unit X which is good against unit A but rubbish against unit B. This is not the case with our cavemen as they will fight anyone with equally good effect. So, it is here that points fall down as they do not take that into account. That is all that I am saying, and nothing I have seen here or on TMP has done anything to challenge that. Indeed lots of people seem to have done the knee-jerk defence becuase they “like” points, but I can see no cogent argument that actually challenges the premise of what I am saying in any respect.

    Cheers

    Rich

  23. Big Rich says:

    Oh, and Nick, could you point me to the bit where you feel that I have derided a point system in a rival game? I have not do that. I would not do that. I do not even recognise the term “rival game” as I do not believe that rule sets compete against each other. Different rules suit different people.

  24. Zippee says:

    I try 🙂 No I said that I think points were instigated to avoid the problem of very badly unbalanced forces, which is subtly but importantly different from aiming to provide a balanced game. And not ‘too many toys’ but ‘similarly scaled forces’. You can’t use weight due to the advent of plastic!

    Ah but it was the premise I was calling into question. If you assume points are about absolute balance then you are correct but I don’t believe points were intended to be primarily about fairness, just a device or measurement tool that allows forces to be similar in scope. Of course what the Great Unwashed have since presumed is another entity altogether 🙂

    All methods are going to be arbitrary – even historical OOB. I don’t see that points are any more inherently flawed than the core plus asset method. I’d agree that core plus asset is more attractive for a 20thC+ game like IABSM but that’s due to the force structures, other periods differ.

    I think you are confusing ‘points systems’ with ‘competition/tournament angst’. There is certainly a mini-game in force generation that points tend to generate (although such planning and fiddling is a natural tendency for most gamers) but the creation of ‘Killer’ armies is a tournament goal and is fundamentally flawed. It’s a Holy Grail and in most rules systems they tend to fall down heavily in the rock-paper-scissor environment. In a tournament setting the advent of an obvious ‘killer’ force is seen as a product of broken rules not as a Good Thing. It’s a by-product of poor rules not a goal of point systems.

    Most players when selecting a points-based army will also consider the likely terrain and opponent as part of the selection, well apart from the muppets who wouldn’t bother under either system! The only difference is when used for competitions the points selector is trying for an all-round force that can cope with a variety of terrains and various opponents, not just the single scenario. Doesn’t that sound like the goal of Top Brass deciding what elements ought to constitute a division or combat group?

    But I think you are conflating ‘points’ and ‘fair’ in reaction to the “it’s only a game” mob on PMT. Points are a perfectly adequate arbitrary mechanic for force selection. Are they superior to core plus asset, no not necessarily but they do offer difference.

    For instance points are broader in scope, offer a flat unified method and can be applied to very wide ranges of different elements however they are perhaps somewhat soulless in the process and don’t easily bend around known force structures (but are very useful where there are no known force structure). Core plus asset is a better tool for directly reflecting specific periods where we have known data. Neither is the preferred method when trying to recreate an historical situation.

    Points are allocated with about as much consideration for the current battle as any corps or divisional commander would have.

    Your core plus asset method is essentially a very simple point system, where each ‘unit’ is worth a point and each side takes its core plus X assets. If you decide to play with core plus 2 against core only that’s no different than deciding to play with 600 points against 200 in principle.

  25. Nick B says:

    Rich,

    I apologise if my comments have antagonised or annoyed you – this was not my intent. I will refrain from any further comment in this discussion to avoid any edgyness creeping in.

    Cheers

    Nick

  26. Elmar says:

    Interresting thoughts and nicely written article.
    BTW any news on the state of adaption/ conversion of the IABSM supplements to IABSM3.

    Cheers
    Elmar

  27. Simon Gaudin says:

    Very good article & much of the argument also applies to just about any other period I have any knowledge off & the only points systems I like & I believe have the merit of working are those which are reflective of economic costs rather than combat effectiveness.

  28. John O says:

    Scenario based games are good butits a hell of a lot easier to say I’ll bring points and you bring x points to organise a one off. It’s also easier when trying to get new players interested. Easy to set your sights on a points value and build it rather then prepare yourself for some ephemeral scenario. Scenario based games are fine if the person setting it up has all the forces or you have experienced players otherwise forget it. I love wargaming but it is dying a slow death as we all get older and no new blood enters due to the insular views of many in the community.

  29. Jan says:

    Mike said:

    Nick: maybe I’m maligning FoW unduly, but too often what I see down our club by way of a ’scenario’ seems to be ‘place several markers in arbitrary and strategically meaningless locations on the table, pick a random set of deployment and reserve rules, and award points for capturing the markers’.

    and Nick replied:

    Mike,

    Clearly you’ve not played the game or read the rules – very easy to form opinions based on a cursory glance.

    My response:

    I played FOW for a year or two before I came across IABSM and then BFWW2. I would say Mike’s summary is pretty much spot on as a description of FOW (I can’t speak to BKC–I’ve never played it.) The utter irrelevance of where objective markers got placed always bugged me. Yes, it’s a way of setting up a totally random game between point-based forces, but the failure of the points system to take terrain into account and Rich’s point about the failure of points to adequately reflect weapons specialization pretty much shoot the whole “balance” factor in the head AFAIAC.

    And in my experience, players–even in friendly club games, let alone tournaments–design their lists well before the board is ever set up and before they see their opponents’ army (often before they even know who the opponent is; just “here’s 1500 points I’ll take to the club tonight”), so there’s none of the “consider[ing] the likely terrain and opponent”. Whereas a battlegroup commander doesn’t send the same well-rounded force into every engagement but tailors it, with his organic and supporting troops, to fit the enemy and terrain he will be dealing with.

    And, yes, at least in the clubs I’ve played, a points list is assumed to be more or less balanced against another points list of the same size–that’s what points are regarded as being for. We can’t, like Humpty Dumpty decide what words (or concepts) mean in a vacuum; we have to address how people actually use them in the real world.

    BTW, I’m just back from Cold Wars, and I would hasten to reassure John O that the hobby (at least as far as I could see there) is doing just fine, with tons of kids eagerly learning games, buying figures, and seeing how much fun can be had with minis. Yes, the community has a lot of gray in it, but it’s got plenty of young people too.

    (And I was glad to see TFL products well-represented at several dealers; I didn’t get to do a round of all the convention tables to see what was being played, but I know that there were some TFL games in the PEL.)

  30. Brian says:

    The group I played with in Texas used to use the FOW points for distributed scenario design frequently. When organizing a multi-player game, we would put out a call to players to bring specific points worth of troops to the game. However, it was far from the typical 1-on-1 FOW points game as players knew of the scenario and brought forces appropriate to the theater, time, and their role in the upcoming battle. Almosy everyone was also on the same page in terms of creating a group scenario game, so abuses were few. We could have mostly just used something akin to the system in IABSM, but the points did allow some more novice gamers without a lot of knowledge of WWII force structures to more easily join in. That said, when I tried the same idea at the local game store here in Virginia, the game was (IMO) a total flop. The player mostly arrived with their bog standard tournament armies with little effort made to expand the scope of their FOW game or represent the historical conditions the game was based on. I think that was the last time I played FOW, as I found some players at the shop around that time intersested in IABSM and I’ve been playing that since (I had owned it for years before but had not gotten anyone interested – V3 helps sooooooo much in that regard).

    So points can be useful for scenario games, but only if the players are really ones that could design a scenario game without them. Basically it just kept us from having to try and keep track of what anyone else owned.

    Brian

  1. May 31, 2016

    […] Well, Richard Clarke, he of Too Fat Lardies fame, has once more sallied forth on this topic on the latest entry on the Lard Island Blog. […]

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