Once upon a time I played Operational Combat Series/Tunisia Kasserine Pass scenario with wargaming newbie Ancor. We had a discussion after the play which we documented into a little note. I hope it would be interesting to read.
Hexandcounter: Hello, Ancor! So, you played your first operational level hex & counter wargame! You started not from something for beginners, but from real hardcore. What are your first impressions? Does it feel like something familiar? Is wargame another world for you or do you see any intersections with your habitual eurogames with victory points?
Ancor: Hi! First of all, thank you for invitation to try one of your favourite wargame, it was a great experience. What about first impressions, I liked it. I think that I am not ready to engage into 20+ hours campaigns, but I would try another scenario or two. And of course, approach to the game, impressions and the perception of the process differs from eurogames that more habitual for me.
I do not think it’s another world. I played a lot of games that ends with fulfillment of victory conditions by one side, though it’s more inherent to ameritrash, not euros. The second points relates to the eurogames: building of an optimal model for achieving the goal. Yes, there are some nuances: in eurogame you are not so dependent from the decisions of another players, and your goal doesn’t varies from game to game, as you have no scenarios – just reach as much VP as possible. But I can see common points in the moment of strategy choosing and decision making. Don’t you agree?
Hexandcounter: Thank you for taking part! OCS both good for scenarios and campaigns, but campaigns are the heart of the game. At the distance, the planning and carrying out the chain of operations leaves more integral impressions. The scenario we played is just one of the dozens operations that would happen in the campaign. In my mind, the moment of strategy choosing and decision making during the game highly differs from other games. First of all, in eurogame you may choose the strategy at the start of the game and follow it till the end. No one can prevent you from that and you will know was it optimal choice or not at the end of the game (counting VP). In the wargame you may have a starting plan. It could be good or bad, but certainly it will evolve. Let’s take our scenario. One may make a general estimate like ” encircle east flank in three days (turn 1), take Kasserine Pass in the following two days (turn 2) and decisively strike on Tebessa in the last three days (turn 3)”. Much more detailed plan with implementation details would only confuse you because anything could happen after your first movements. So, your plan will mutate during the game, reacting on what’s actually going on. For example, as I found an opportunity to rush to the exit zone with mechanized units, it tooks me to sacrifice the possibility to conduct massive assault on the city. Like in ameritrash, a lot of things here depends on what your opponent is doing, but you may impose him certain things with initiative activity.
You may not feel the beauty of the system in the short scenario like Kasserine Pass, as you have short-term goals and not so much forces. Like victory conditions gives you a clue what to do. In a larger scenarios and campaigns you have more extensive goals and it’s up to you on how much “small scenarios” will you break your general goal. But did you feel how much possible solutions there were even in a such small task?
Ancor: Yes, it was the main goal for my first play to try and feel what features the system provides. I really had the feeling that you can do anything you want, just some actions will move you closer to the victory but some don’t. But can you agree that such freedom imposes certain obligations and requirements on the players – the rules reading, playing time, attitude of the players to the game?
Hexandcounter: I would add interest in military history to your list. For person who is not interested in military history it could be boring to wander with British troops in the jungles of Burma, to stuck with German tanks in the mud of Tunisia and wait for sand storms to end in the deserts of North Africa. What you said is correct – attituted should be corresponding, or else one may be frustrated about spent time after 60-hours campaign. Would you like to tell anything about game “mechanics”? What it feels like? What did you like? What seemed original and what seemed excess?
Ancor: Let me return to the question of attitude first, please. I think that wargames has very steep learning curve and high barrier to entry. Before Tunisia, I played Twilight Struggle and Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage. When I played Hannibal, I wasn’t a leding player in terms of preparing to the game, reading the rules, etc. In Twilight Struggle, I was a leading/teaching player and it was my first play. It felt very different. In the first case I was focused on my own actions and strategy. In the second case I was focused on teaching and trying to remember all those rules. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like TS but like Hannibal and Tunisia. Maybe after 2-3 plays in OCS and reading the series rulebook it will be lesser problem for me to become leading player. But in the situation where I bought an interesting historical wargame and sat to play even with experienced wargamer for the first time, I’m afraid it would be the first and the last play. The second point you spoke about is interest in history. I was lucky today because it was one of your favourites theaters of war and you had a lot to tell about. We also played amongst seasonal wargamers and the added their interesting comments to what happened in the game. So from that moment the game stopped to be moving of cardboard squares on the map, but started to fill with a real meaning. I even had a strong desire to read/watch something on that battle. I don’t think you had the same feel about tribes of Central America after game of Tzolk’in. That’s both has its own charm and a certain barrier.
Now let’s get to your questions. In fact, rules didn’t seemed to me too imaginable after your explanation. I liked the freedom of action and abscence of some artificial restrictions. It’s cool to take the throw of dice not like a plain number and row in the combat charts, but as aggregate of real random factors that could affect the course of the battle, especially when you realize that you prepared an attack in the most effective way or took the most favorable position in the defence and random factors are an inevitable reality. I can’t judge about originality, but I especially liked two moments. First is a surprise and combat roll modifiers due to difference of the units’ quality. It gives some sence about importance of the combat experience in battle. The second is supply system which contributes to realism and excitement, as you are always under the risk to be left without fuel and ammo. By the way, is wargame for you just a game or a simulator?
Hexandcounter: Well noticed about rules explanation. Even in this game, I tried to watch everything to be correct and often inadvertently mistaken due to that. But that problem is much wider than wargames. I had the same issue even at Merchants & Marauders. You’re right about Tzolk’in, I had no desire to read something about setting. As about realism, I think that wargame is not a simulation but a game. At the same time, good games put you in front of problems and decision making that existed in reality.
The rules a really drawn very logically, so the general outline could be easily digested. Forty pages of rules has a lot of details that not so easy to remember at once, but not all the rules are used in every scenario. What would you like to add about the scenario that we played and our match itself?
Ancor: I think that you’ve chosen an ideal scenario to familiarize new player with the rules and the system. Objectives are clear, game time is acceptable (personally for me). If we don;t take into account rules explanation and breaks, we played it in four hours, right? The match itself was very rich. In discussions after the game I understood a lot of mine mistakes, but part of them was made due to my desire to understand how everything works. What I also liked is nerve in the game. The stress is present all the time on many issues: will there be sufficient quantity of supply, how opponent will act, how to take the best steps to exploit a success next turns. In eurogames we often have a situation that one player starts to break away thanks to properly constructed system of obtaining VP, so it’s quite difficult to catch up with him. I also like that you can see how close or how far to the victory you are. In some eurogames you can check it only at the game end after all hidden goals are revealed.
I also didn’t like one point that was very important in this particular scenario (of course you will try to persuade me that it would not be so important in campaign). I’m speaking about weather. The scenario takes place in the February. Every turn you roll the dice for the weather determination. In February, there’s almost 10% probability for heavy rains, so it would be impossible to move any units that turn. So there’s a small probability that Germans will lose due to weather, no matter how good they are playing, as it would be impossible to capture Tebessa and exit units in two turns. How do you like it?
Did you like the match? Looks like it wasn’t your first. What do you think about scenario balance. Let’s also speak about how match ended and your relations with dice.
Hexandcounter: Thank you for the detailed answer! I think that without our advices, match would ended much earlier 😉 I wouldn’t persuade you about the weather as you know everything yourself 🙂 It could be really weird in this scenario (and in 58 turns campaign it feels different). Don’t forget, that good weather is guaranteed on turn 1. Probability of two heavy rains in the row is about 1%, and in my mind it’s possible to complete the operation in two turns. I also played Race for Tunis scenario for German side. It is the very beginning of campaign, when American army advances from Algiers to Tunisia after the Operation Torch and Germans starts to accumulate forces there. I held defences against the Allied hordes and heavy rains also helped me to hold (though, they happens more often in the January).
I think that Kasserine Pass is a balanced scenario. High quality mobile Germans relies on speed and surprise and Allies relies on the amounts and excellence in logistics and supply. It’s a good scenario, as teaching German player may try something interesing, and newbie may feel the game through the defence. I think I should play more aggresively for Germans and cut more supply routes.
The game ended in historical way: Germans didn’t reach their objectives, but caused some troubles for the Americans. What about dice: combat table is created such way that a prepared attack will give you some results even in the case of bad luck. So, I sacrificed valuable recon battalions to advance in critical positions several times. Would you like to add anything or we going to summarize?
Ancor: Yes, I would like to ask one question. We played a scenario in which no one has problems with supply points. What about campaigns? Is supply points always enough? If SP not enough, that adds some contingency management to the game, like it happens in Agricola, Le Havre, as you need to invest your resources with maximum efficiency. If we’re going to summarize, I liked the match and the process. I understood how steep is learning curve due to opponent requirements and game compexity. I will glay to play with you again after I prepare a little bit more. Thank you again! 🙂
Hexandcounter: Supply Point is a mix of food, ammo and fuel. Generally speaking, in this scenario the Germans seriously lack of supply (as in full campaign). I was out of just couple of Tokens to make a decisive blow on Turn 2. We really have a contingency management here, not only with supply, but also with human resources (you are often out of supply and units to plug all holes in the frontline or invest in the strikes in all directions) and time resources, as you need to race against time. I’m glad you liked it, we will repeat the match for sure!