Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

innovative game mechanics and conflict/development simulation

I’ve just posted this set of questions over at ConsimWorld, but I’ll post it here too in case Paxsims readers who are also gamers have any reflections to share on the issue:

I’ve been reflecting recently on the last 30 years or so of wargaming–miniatures, boardgames, and electronics alike–and the important innovations over that period. Has gaming become qualitatively better, or are we reinventing the wheel? With regard to the latter, there’s no value judgement implied. It might be that the “wheel” already works well enough, and certainly no reason to innovate for innovation’s sake alone!

Regards miniature gaming, there was a shift away from a complex focus on the supposed performance of slightly different weapons systems in the 1970s and 1980s, to greater attention to command and control issues thereafter. This was exemplified, for example, by the transition in Ancients from WRG’s 6th and 7th editions to DBA/DBM. In some ways these simplifications led to much more realistic battles, characterized by friction and decided by generalship. In other cases, however, the effect was to render games even less realistic. I’m thinking here of many sets of modern company/battalion level wargame rules, where the failure to make a command rolls can result (for example) in a platoon suddenly halting in the middle of an open field, and where the quite important differences between modern weapons systems seem to vanish. (I have to say, I haven’t really found a set of modern rules that I think get the playability/detail/command/weapons-performance balance right, and I still use a set of 30 year old WRG 1950-85 rules with house updates for newer weapons systems).

In boardgames, we’ve certainly seen dramatic structural changes in an industry that was dominated in its heyday by SPI and AH, and where now smaller game companies, CAD for maps, counters, and professional-looking rules production, and internet-based ordering/distribution have become commonplace. However, have there been any major innovations in game mechanics and play? If so, what games have changed the way we thing about simulations?

Finally, what can we say about computer wargames? (I’m on less firm experiential ground here, since I use a Mac and most computer wargames are never ported outside a PC platform.) Obviously, technological advances in processor power (driving better AI and more complexity) and graphics capability have had major effects. But have we seen design innovations that have or will change the way we wargame?

The issue arises in part because I’ve been thinking about game mechanics and their potential usefulness for the sort of conflict and development simulations that we deal with here on the blog. That question, of course, is a broader one than just looking to wargame design for inspiration: it applies to to role-playing games, and there may even be some aspects of customizable card games and even other game formats that could be usefully adapted for teaching and training on fragile and conflict-affected countries.

Thoughts, anyone?

(Image at right with apologies to Magic: The Gathering. I am sorely tempted, however, to develop a humorous development assistance CCG just for the fun of it…)

2 responses to “innovative game mechanics and conflict/development simulation

  1. Brian Train 03/05/2010 at 8:26 pm

    I think Eric Walters hit it on the head in his reply to your post on the CSW social site (can’t be bothered to log in and write this there). He identified four very important developments, the most iportant IMO being the advent of chaos and loss of control issues being worked into board wargames – where, as you note, they have lived comfortably in years in miniatures wargames, for good or ill effect. (I am awaiting delivery of “AK47 Republic”, a set of miniatures rules from Peter Pig that eschews a lot of the detail on weapons and focuses on troop quality and introduces a fair bit of chaos.)

    I think the Internet saved board wargaming from complete collapse, and the desktop computer with all its publishing technology kept it looking good. I’m not sure all the games being produced are that great – too many of them are derivative of other not especially good designs, are not well tested and veer too far to one side or the other in terms of complexity. Owning a paintbox doesn’t make you Monet.

    I dont’ want to comment on computer wargames. I don’t play them, never have, and I think the current fascination with putting everything onto a screen is a mistake. Again, people are mistaking the pretty flashy moving pictures for anything else of substance. I know that you can pile a lot of data into a computer game and have it run automatically so that a live player/umpire doesn’t have to deal with a level of detail that would swamp him. But jamming a lot of numbers into inside a “black box”, with suspicious algorithms that are not transparent to the players, will give you the wrong answers. And computer AI should be completely out of the picture – I think people may start out responding to computer AIs as if they were human adversaries, but sooner or later they end up playing to the AI’s flaws (one of these flaws being that AIs exhibit their own flaws, not human flaws).

    One good thing that modern technology has brought us is the ability of humans to play together remotely. The logistics of getting enough people physically together for a worthwhile multi-player game often prevents them from happening. With instant messaging, videoconferencing and free software that allows real-time play over the Net like VASSAL, you can have a satisfying BOGSAT game when the table is not really there in the first place.

    What kind of game mechanics can we use for conflict/development situations? Interesting question. There’s a lot we shouldn’t use, certainly. I would say any mechanism that reduces a player’s control over game elements and agents, increases imponderables, and introduces the unexpected, would be most helpful – though this works only up to a point, after which the players are reacting to the system and not each other.

    Some form of role-playing like exercise (preferably umpired and double-blind) with players agonizing over the allocation of pitifully meagre resources or decision abilities to nearly limitless ranges of action (like a card-driven game), and an emphasis in its execution on the unintended and secondary effects of player’s actions… that’s a start.

  2. popodepok 02/05/2010 at 3:58 am

    I just finish beating mass effect 2. This sequel comes with awesome graphics compare to the first one. Here’s a somewhat short review on mass effect 2. The game starts very shortly after the previous one and Shepard is now a human hero. A very cool thing is that if you have your save file from the first game this will affect many things in the sequel depending on the decisions you previously took.

    Mass effect 2 is more of the same but with many great changes such as you no longer have an inventory like in most normal RPG’s. You’ll get very quickly tired of hearing “probe away” while scanning a planet for resources. The sequel is a lot more of a first-person shooter than the previous game. In fact I would say this one is more of a first-person shooter with a very well done and detailed storyline with great realistic party members. The new delay between shooting that was overheating previously is now simply reloading your gun like in most first-person shooters.

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