zwischenzug (ZVI-shen-tsoog) — noun

A chess tactic in which a player, instead of playing the expected move, first interpolates another move, changing the situation to the player's advantage (such as gaining material or avoiding what would otherwise be a strong continuation for the opponent).

Showing posts with label wargames. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wargames. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Case for Complexity

Complex games often require a little more thought or a few more plays to wrap your head around.  Nonetheless, there are complex games that can be a great experience for casual or family play.  Blogger Keith Medlin was kind enough to contribute his thoughts on complex games.

Two popular threads in the wargames forum on BoardGameGeek right now are about wargames than can be played in less than 1 hour. Generally, though certainly not always, shorter games can mean less complexity. The other thread is looking to put a page limit on the rules for a wargame. Again, fewer pages doesn't guarantee less complexity, but it often facilitates it.

So, before I begin...what is complexity?

* Is Chess complex?
* Is Dominion complex?
* What about Mage Knight Board Game

Complexity is difficult to capture in a single defintion unfortunately when it comes to boardgames because of it's non-boardgame meaning:

1. The state or quality of being intricate or complicated.
2. A factor involved in a complicated process or situation.

By these definitions Chess most certainly is complex. Not because it is intricate, but because of the factors involved in the process and situations that the game presents. Mage Knight is complex for the opposite reason. The rules are intricate, but the problem-solving doesn't offer the same level of complication or situational evaluation.

Dominion, on the other hand, is not. The process for the game is relatively simplistic, though more than 4 players and the strategy ratchets up a bit. The puzzles aren't difficult to resolve for it either.

So, does complexity mean success or that a game is "good?" Absolutely not. Rather than extol the virtues of complex games on individual terms, it's important here to talk about the processes that go into playing distinctly complex games versus less complex ones. There is a strong case for complexity because it helps support problem solving, deduction, and cognitive reasoning.

First, let me say that I love non-complex games. Lost Cities is a great way to spend time with a loved one or friend. Ticket to Ride brings families together and gives an great introductory train game for kids of all ages who are into trains. There's nothing inherently wrong with easy to play, learn, and solve games. They provide incredible fun and allow players to enjoy the social aspects in the forefront of the in-game experience. It's lovely.

Complexity, however, is something designers and gamers shouldn't shy away from in any way! Complexity offers a new set of challenges, depth, and (as the definition says) intricacy. It's often in these nooks & crannies that we find some powerful cognitive abilities. Stroking those through practice is a great way to give yourself the mental workout you deserve! Keep that spongy thing between ears in tip top shape.

In fact, gaming decreases your chances for long term cognitive impairment according to the peer reviewed Neurology magazine ( Fernand Gobet, Alexander J. De Voogt, & Jean Retschitzki identified two types of complexity in board games in their 2004 book, Moves In Mind: The Psychology Of Board Games.

Mutational Complexity - This relates to how a player evaluates the given board state and the effects that moves will have on the changes that are made. This is particularly evident when there are many moving pieces or multiple sources and levels of information necessary to calculate with each move.

When I think about this, I think about the armor rules in Advanced Squad Leader. Not only am I determining the motion state of the vehicle, but also the facing of the turret, the vehicle's covered arc, the weight of the vehicle and what terrain on which I can move, the speed I can move, the effects of the potentially dozen units that are observing that move and what armament they have which can be brought to bear on me as well as the goal for my move. Each move I make with that tank can totally reshape the board state. This is true if successful or if I turn into a burning wreck because now I have smoke, fire, and defensive cover potentially.

Computational Complexity - This has to do with the relative game state with relation to it's end, how many "moves" must be considered in a branching state, and what their effects may have on the overall progress toward the goal.

Chess is handy here. When evaluating moves in chess you're thinking ahead not 1 or 2 steps, but rather 4 or 5 for an average level player. You need to consider HOW the pieces will move in order to achieve your given strategy. This is particularly true in the opening where both players are computing the probabilities involved in a variety of openings and responses that will shape the mid-game.

So what do we benefit from these skills?

Simply put, these are skills that can be applied across domains. Working through problems in your career can be aided by considering how the different components of game cognition are applied in your complex career. While not everyone is trying to solve the world's problems, there are definitely stressful situations and complexity that arise at all workplace environments. Whether it's the lunch rush at McDonald's or trying to negotiate a contract with a vendor, understanding how you can approach the situation using strategies you may have honed in a game of Go is handy!

Should you run out and try to tackle The Campaign for North Africa? Absolutely not! I am suggesting...strongly...that you consider adding more complex games into your rotation if you're not already doing so because of the scientific benefits for your mind.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Publisher Profile: Hasbro Part II – Avalon Hill

Avalon Hill is a venerated name in the boardgaming hobby, particularly amongst wargamers.  Started in 1954 by Charles S. Roberts, the father of modern recreational wargaming, the company is alive today as a brand owned by Hasbro.  Current titles tend to be traditional Avalon Hill games and games within the Axis and Allies family.  These are produced for the hobby industry as opposed to the typical Hasbro mass-market game.

There are several memorable games from the Avalon Hill line that many remember seeing as teenagers.  Tactics is the first published game, written by Roberts himself.  Many of these games still have a following: Squad Leader (and Advanced Squad Leader), Panzer Leader, Kingmaker, Dune,  Civilization and Wooden Ships & Iron Men.  (None of which have I ever played, though I own a few!)  The purchase of 3M’s gaming line brought several non-wargame titles to the company including Facts in Five, Twixt and Sleuth.

An earlier version of Diplomacy (Bradley Eng-Kohn)
Some of these games are still in print, and are almost legendary.  Diplomacy, one the earliest titles, is still in print after over fifty years.  Acquire, one of my all-time favorite games, will be fifty years old next year.  Several are being printed by other companies who have acquired the license, including Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, Britannia and The Republic of Rome.  Fantasy Flight is putting together a reprint of Dune, though under a slightly theme due to licensing issues.  Several companies have simultaneously announced a reprint of Merchant of Venus, and while it’s not a wargame, it appears to be setting up quite a legal battle. 

The current version of A&A (Promotional Image)
In the last ten years, Avalon Hill has still represented a line of games that are geared toward the hobbyist.  In addition to Diplomacy and Acquire, best selling games include Battle Cry, Betrayal at House on the Hill and Nexus Ops.  The largest publication efforts have been in marketing the Axis and Allies brand of lighter wargames.  The original Axis and Allies was a Milton Bradley game published in 1983, however revised editions were released as Avalon Hill titles.  The Axis and Allies rule set was then adapted to other WWII games, including Axis & Allies: Pacific, Axis & Allies: D-Day, Axis & Allies: Battle of the Bulge and Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal.  Naval and land miniature systems were also created.

One of Hasbro’s latest offerings, Battleship Galaxies: The Saturn Offensive, was released under the Hasbro line despite the fact that it really is a hobby game.  Given the fact that Hasbro has another game line, Wizards of the Coast (which actually operates the Avalon Hill line), it could be the Avalon Hill brand will not see new titles, but only continue to publish the titles it already has.

Are Avalon Hill games family games?  Generally, I don’t believe so.  Acquire could certainly be played and enjoyed by a family with older children, but often an Avalon Hill game is either too complex or simply too long for casual gaming.  Many of the older wargames are strictly two-player affairs.  If you are looking for family games, this brand is one where a little extra research on the game is necessary. 

It’s Your Move

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Third Sunday Gaming - Notes from the Weekend

A few things of interest this weekend:

First of all, we played the revised edition of Risk this weekend, and really enjoyed it.  The game lasted just over 90 minutes with four of us, and no one was out of the running.  Two players had a good shot at winning until the game ended.  Like most of the times I have played this game, the game was about opportunistic play, and it ended somewhat abruptly.  That's not a bad thing, just one of the differences from classic Risk.

We played Bang! also, which was new to the group.  This is a game that needs to be played a few more times to get a feel for it, but it certainly is a family style game.

My son and I were out and about after football practice Saturday, and stopped by the newly minted game store in our area:  Epic Loot Games (website below).  In my opinion, they had a nice selection of games which was very current; there were no stinkers that I saw.  The owners are boardgamers, which is not true of every store in our area, so they are a little more in touch with our world.  They are also they only game store in town that even knows what BoardGameGeek is!  It's more of a drive for us, but it's now my go-to game store.  Check it out!

We bought The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game there.  We then arrived home to find the box with Midgard and Phoenicia had arrived; these are two games I won off eBay for $10 plus $11 shipping.  It was listed at that price, and I threw in a bid on a lark.  Apparently I was the only bidder.  With those and Memoir '44 showing up on the doorstep as part of a game trade, I had a busy week with games!

It's Your Move!

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mass Market Mêlée – Risk: Revised Edition

Most of my friends and acquaintances have two games they consistently know, and one of them is Risk.  This is the Epic Game for most of them; the game that produced most of the fond (or not!) memories.  I have to admit that I really like Risk, and I am glad to have played it.  Past tense.

Photo by Leo Zappa
A few years ago, Hasbro floated a small print run game to the gaming community:  Risk: Black Ops.  It was a very hot item, and it is said it was really a marketing study for the revised rules they were considering for a revision to Risk itself.  Regardless, the rules from Black Ops were incorporated into the rules for the 2008 edition of Risk.  This has taken a game I have always enjoyed but was too long for most evenings to a new level: a new game I will play anytime! The new rules introduced cities and capitals.  The overwhelming power of the cards was reduced.  Lastly, objectives were introduced, which now define the game end and winning condition.   I am going to take the liberty of assuming you know how the original game worked.

Cities and capitals change the count for armies at the beginning of the turn.  Cities are placed on the board randomly at the beginning of the game, and each player places his or her capital in a territory they control at the beginning of the game.  Rather than just count countries at the beginning of their turn, players count countries and cities, then divide by three to get newly recruited armies.  Another army is added if the player still controls their own capital.  Armies are still gained for controlling continents.

Cities and capitals go on the board at the start; some of the bonuses from objective go on too. (Photo by Liang Roo Wang)

Gone are the massive armies generated by turning in cards.  Cards have one or two stars on them, and the number of stars turned in determines the number of armies received.  Any number of cards can be turned in, totaling a maximum of ten stars.  However, you won’t want to hold onto your cards that long!

Objectives are the biggest change by far.  They give the cities and capitals even more importance, as they shape the endgame and victory conditions.  At the beginning of the game, eight objectives are placed on the map.  These objectives may include taking over an opponent’s capital, controlling a certain number of cities, conquering an entire continent in one turn, or some other goal.  This is the biggest change to the game, because the first person to achieve three objectives wins!  Forget about wiping people off the board!

The combination of these changes results in a game that is very familiar yet far more fun.  The combat dice rolling is still there, as well as most of the major elements.  However, this game now plays in 90 minutes, and after many plays I have never seen a player eliminated!  Never again will people be sitting around for hours to find out the winner of the game they were eliminated from hours ago!

Strategically, there are important differences.  First of all, there is “turtling” in Australia or South America: building up a massive horde to OVERRUN THE WORLD IN STEEL AND BLOOD!  Mwahaha! – er, um, yeah.  No, if you are building up a massive army, you are losing time to those who are skirmishing and raiding to take those objectives (some of which give a combat bonus).  You will lose.  The name of this game is opportunism.  It is probably a little less strategic and a little more tactical than the original, but it is much more fun!

For the family gamer, the new Risk  is excellent for age eight and above.  The only issue with children is the emotional one; some kids are just not ready for Mommy or Daddy to grind them down and seize their cities and capitals.  Tears may be the result.  However, children approaching 9 or 10 could easily grasp the rules.  Given that most people could be given a three minutes explanation of the rule changes, and would know the rest, I believe this game is a must have for the casual gamer.  It will easily bring back those epic games of the past.

One additional note:  This is the same game as Risk: Onyx Edition.  However, the line between Iceland and Greenland is missing in the Onyx version.  This is a misprint: the line is supposed to be there.
Vital Statistics:

Risk (Revised)
                Ages:                    10 and up
                Time:                     90 minutes
                Players:                 3-5

It’s Your Move!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Never Underestimate the Awesomeness Factor

I learned something this weekend about the need for Awesomeness; it is still incredibly important to my 13 year old boy.  It may very well be the difference between giving a game a chance or not.

 Battle Cry and it's great visual appeal - Awesomeness! (Photo by Joe Keller)

We have been playing Battle Cry, a game with a modular board that lets players set up various battles from the American Civil War.  The game has various miniature plastic pieces which represent infantry, cavalry, artillery and leaders. The play is very quick and very fun, but a little light (at least as far as wargames go).  Daniel loves it when we play, and I thought another Civil War game with a little more depth and complexity might work well. I asked, and he looked over the titles of my other Civil War games and picked one.

Friday night I was in front of the TV with the family punching out the little cardboard squares that represent units, leaders, political influence and game markers and bagging them as I do.

For the People has more interesting game play, but isn't as cool (Nick Avtges)

My son says, "Dad, are those the pieces to the game?"

"Yes Daniel, though it's not just the units.  This game also incorporates the events and politics of the war, so there are markers for those, too."

"Oh.  Dad, it looks kind of, well, boring."

"Is that because it doesn't have miniatures?"

 "Um, yeah.  I am more interested in a game that has something that at least stands up and looks like the soldiers."

Oh well, I guess I will see if I can trade my copy of Combat Commander: Europe for Memoir '44 , which is in the same game series as Battle Cry.  That way WWII is still a possibility...

It's Your Move!