Play balance

Discuss John Butterfield’s Battle of the Bulge: Crisis in Command Vol. 1
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boone737
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Re: Play balance

Post by boone737 » Tue Apr 09, 2013 2:32 am

An example that I use for the perceived unbalance: I was able to win as Axis with only Bastogne and St. Vith. And the Allied player was very good. No mistakes that I perceived. In my opinion, it was just unbalanced play.

jarg1
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Re: Play balance

Post by jarg1 » Tue Apr 09, 2013 5:55 am

Boone737 wrote:An example that I use for the perceived unbalance: I was able to win as Axis with only Bastogne and St. Vith. And the Allied player was very good. No mistakes that I perceived. In my opinion, it was just unbalanced play.
I just finished a pair of games against the same opponent, one as the Germans and one as the Allies. I won as the Germans with an automatic victory on the 19th, and he won as the Germans on the 24th with 50VPs. He didn't even know when he had won because he didn't understand the scoring. I might have been able to turn it around given another turn, but just the fact that I lost (again) as the Allies to a player that I could so easily beat as the Germans seems meaningful to me.

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Re: Play balance

Post by jarg1 » Tue Apr 09, 2013 5:49 pm

nkarp wrote:I really appreciate this discussion, guys: good detail and a lot of thought.

The tournament is in its third round. I have asked that careful records be kept, so we'll have facts to deal with balance.

But the issues you guys raise are deeper than that: motivating good axis players to take the chances that make for a fun game. Two ideas I'm batting around:
1) Increase victory thresholds by ~5 AND give a one-time VP award of ~8 the first time the Axis touches the Meuse.
2) Release the Brits on the 2nd turn after touching the Meuse, rather than immediately (otherwise the penalty for hitting the Meuse late in the game is too severe).

Thoughts?
My latest thought involves a variation of this. I think it might improve the game if St. Vith wasn't worth 1VP or if some change was introduced that allowed the Allies to contest it for a longer period. Here's my reasoning. While historically St. Vith was a vital location, in the game it is pretty much a freebee for the Germans. I've occasionally seen it held for a turn, but only under the most bizarre circumstances will the Allies hold it longer. Furthermore, it will remain in German hands for the remainder of the game unless the German player is incompetent or extremely inexperienced. As I noted elsewhere, during the actual battle it was held by the Allies until the 21st, and if that were possible I could see the point in adding incentives for a capture. But what's the thinking in giving points for a location that isn't contestable? Anyway, your idea about the 5VP threshold change matches up approximately with taking away these free German points. Assuming the Germans are somehow kept out of St. Vith until the 17th, they will accumulate 7 fewer points by the 24th when the VP thresholds start going down. To get back to the 5 VP net reduction, another location further west could be increased in value, though I don't think strictly speaking this would be necessary, since those VP sources actually already exist in Huy, DInant and Givet, but currently the Germans have mixed incentives to take them. The beauty of this change is that the German has to touch the Meuse to get back on the VP win track, thereby releasing the British.

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Re: Play balance

Post by daviddunham » Wed Apr 10, 2013 6:21 pm

Hearing that someone doesn’t understand scoring makes me sad. What could we do to make things more clear?

For amusement value, I looked at today’s metrics of how games end. (We have no way of tracking completely abandoned games.) Amazingly, among all games played (of both scenarios lumped together), the results are exactly even. (It’s always been pretty close, but I have never noticed it being split like this.) Note that we separated an early victory by the Axis crossing the Meuse, so you’ll need to add up two values to get the total wins of all sorts.
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jarg1
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Re: Play balance

Post by jarg1 » Wed Apr 10, 2013 6:59 pm

daviddunham wrote:Hearing that someone doesn’t understand scoring makes me sad. What could we do to make things more clear?

For amusement value, I looked at today’s metrics of how games end. (We have no way of tracking completely abandoned games.) Amazingly, among all games played (of both scenarios lumped together), the results are exactly even. (It’s always been pretty close, but I have never noticed it being split like this.) Note that we separated an early victory by the Axis crossing the Meuse, so you’ll need to add up two values to get the total wins of all sorts.
Image
Regarding the scoring, the player I was referring to obviously had not read the rules section on victory, and he thought the location VPs were scored at the start of each day. I remember being unclear about this when I first started playing but it is clearly stated in the rules.

I really don't know what to think about these numbers. They include the Race to the Meuse scenario, which I play infrequently, and have no sense of the balance. Anecdotally, I did recently win a game against the Germans in Meuse because he didn't seem to realize which scenario he was playing, and didn't even try for Bastogne or the Meuse before the game ended. Anyway, judging from the 16% Draw result, it seems to constitute a fairly large percentage of the games played.

Without more specific data, I remain convinced the full scenario is not balanced.

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Re: Play balance

Post by s_nkarp » Thu Apr 11, 2013 11:46 am

Jarg1 wrote:Anyway, judging from the 16% Draw result, it seems to constitute a fairly large percentage of the games played.

Without more specific data, I remain convinced the full scenario is not balanced.
I suspect you're right, particularly for more experienced players. We are introducing metrics to better track this.

AikiPhil
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Re: Play balance

Post by AikiPhil » Fri Apr 12, 2013 7:18 pm

I'm with Boone737 in that amongst experienced players the Axis almost invariably wins. Looking at some of the league and tourney results so far this seems to be borne out. I do win a lot of games as the Allies but usually only when auto-matching against what are by observation inexperienced or intermediate players. This could well explain the perceived equality in victories shown by the statistics above.

A few random observations that I'm sure have been mentioned numerous times before:

One big difficulty with the allies is that you always have to guard against the auto victory. This makes it really difficult to prepare a good position for the mid game and end game when the allies have the initiative. But if you can't prepare a good position then the axis can always turtle for a slow win. Because you don't know which approach your opponent will take its really difficult to make sensible decisions on the first day.

I also think there is far too much variability in the number of first day turns. A long first day (more than 6 turns) is almost instant death for the allies. Against an experienced player if they get a long first day then I feel like I may as well give up.

And don't get me started on the axis commandos... :) overall I feel like there is too much randomness in the early part of the game that leaves me feeling like luck will decide the outcome rather than strategy. Beyond the first few days that feeling settles down.

Just another minor point: double moves are very frustrating. Getting the last turn as axis on a day and then getting the first turn on the next day can create some highly unfair scenarios that are difficult to guard against.

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Re: Play balance

Post by AikiPhil » Fri Apr 12, 2013 7:30 pm

Oh, and one other thing: the allies have so few armour units that switching to the offensive can be a really slow process. A canny axis player can slow the allied progress to a grind by taking advantage of the fact that infantry can only move 1 space into enemy territory. This can make it really difficult to build effective stacks (especially if you don't get the elite British armour). I also find the reinforcements in the south are usually insufficient for the task of recapturing Bastogne with any consistency.

I feel like the first half of the game should be tough for the allies, and then the second half should be tough for the axis. It doesn't really feel that way most of the time. It just feels tough all the way through for the allies

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Re: Play balance

Post by jarg1 » Fri Apr 12, 2013 11:47 pm

AikiPhil wrote:I'm with Boone737 in that amongst experienced players the Axis almost invariably wins. Looking at some of the league and tourney results so far this seems to be borne out. I do win a lot of games as the Allies but usually only when auto-matching against what are by observation inexperienced or intermediate players. This could well explain the perceived equality in victories shown by the statistics above.

A few random observations that I'm sure have been mentioned numerous times before:

One big difficulty with the allies is that you always have to guard against the auto victory. This makes it really difficult to prepare a good position for the mid game and end game when the allies have the initiative. But if you can't prepare a good position then the axis can always turtle for a slow win. Because you don't know which approach your opponent will take its really difficult to make sensible decisions on the first day.

I also think there is far too much variability in the number of first day turns. A long first day (more than 6 turns) is almost instant death for the allies. Against an experienced player if they get a long first day then I feel like I may as well give up.

And don't get me started on the axis commandos... :) overall I feel like there is too much randomness in the early part of the game that leaves me feeling like luck will decide the outcome rather than strategy. Beyond the first few days that feeling settles down.

Just another minor point: double moves are very frustrating. Getting the last turn as axis on a day and then getting the first turn on the next day can create some highly unfair scenarios that are difficult to guard against.
All good points. Regarding not knowing your enemy's approach to the game, it is actually worse than you state, because a good German player creates a strategy based on the situation. For example, If the Allies prioritize Bastogne, you ignore it and throw everything but a covering force north, while the Allies force sits useless in the south.

Also, the double move is a key part of this genre of games, and does an excellent job of conveying the idea of initiative. The problem is that by the time the initiative reverts to the Allies, the game may be over, and regardless they will not enjoy the edge in strength that the German has for the first half, making the big comeback unlikely.
Last edited by troygoodfellow on Sun Apr 14, 2013 6:38 am, edited 1 time in total.

AikiPhil
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Re: Play balance

Post by AikiPhil » Sat Apr 13, 2013 8:02 pm

All good points. Regarding not knowing your enemies approach to the game, it is actually worse than you state, because a good German player creates a strategy based on the situation. For example, If the Allies prioritize Bastogne, you ignore it and throw everything but a covering force north, while the Allies force sits useless in the south.
Very true
Also, the double move is a key part of this genre of games, and does an excellent job of conveying the idea of initiative. The problem is that by the time the initiative reverts to the Allies, the game may be over, and regardless they will not enjoy the edge in strength that the German has for the first half, making the big comeback unlikely.
I agree that the double move adds excitement and is fine in most circumstances, but when combined with something as binary as the auto-victory it creates situations that encourage brinkmanship rather than strategic play. Personally I'd like to see the auto victory disappear entirely.

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Re: Play balance

Post by rddfxx » Sun Apr 14, 2013 4:26 pm

A modified trip down Memory Lane: A simple solution would be reduce or time out VPs for objectives on the eastern half of the map, especially St Vith and Bastogne. For example, the historical German "Long Solution" objectives, the Meuse, Liege, and (good grief) Antwerp were set by Hitler. The game's objectives seem to be weighted more heavily towards the German generals' prefered "Short Solution". That is to say, in this game the Axis player is role playing the commander(s) at the front, not Hitler. Maybe we want Hitler instead. VPs for St Vith and Bastogne ought to be accrued for only a short period, perhaps allowing the Germans to earn points early, then terminating additional accruals by Dec 20th or 21st. So the idea is to set a timetable for VPs, at least on the eastern and southern edges, so the German must drive for these objectives early, then onwards to the actual Wacht am Rhein goals; there could even be a "Fuehrer is furious" random event that triggers a significant VP deduction if the Axis hasn't reached the Meuse. I like the fearsome quality of the Axis offensive if the turtle can be spurred forward. Unlike other Bulge games, we don't have a fruitless slugfest at the start line, and I'd vote for gameplay vs historicity on this one.

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Re: Play balance

Post by jarg1 » Sun Apr 14, 2013 5:16 pm

rddfxx wrote:A modified trip down Memory Lane: A simple solution would be reduce or time out VPs for objectives on the eastern half of the map, especially St Vith and Bastogne. For example, the historical German "Long Solution" objectives, the Meuse, Liege, and (good grief) Antwerp were set by Hitler. The game's objectives seem to be weighted more heavily towards the German generals' prefered "Short Solution". That is to say, in this game the Axis player is role playing the commander(s) at the front, not Hitler. Maybe we want Hitler instead. VPs for St Vith and Bastogne ought to be accrued for only a short period, perhaps allowing the Germans to earn points early, then terminating additional accruals by Dec 20th or 21st. So the idea is to set a timetable for VPs, at least on the eastern and southern edges, so the German must drive for these objectives early, then onwards to the actual Wacht am Rhein goals; there could even be a "Fuehrer is furious" random event that triggers a significant VP deduction if the Axis hasn't reached the Meuse. I like the fearsome quality of the Axis offensive if the turtle can be spurred forward. Unlike other Bulge games, we don't have a fruitless slugfest at the start line, and I'd vote for gameplay vs historicity on this one.
I agree with your historical analysis, and I have suggested a similar solution, though I think it gets the same results with an even simpler change, mainly removing the 1VP award for St. Vith. This creates additional incentive for the German to drive towards the Meuse for those VP objectives.

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Re: Play balance

Post by Yojimbo252 » Mon Apr 15, 2013 11:56 am

The reason why I think we should consider an adjustment to the British arrival rather than any other type of change is that when the Axis is played "in the right spirit" it's actually a reasonably balanced and enjoyable game.

It's only when the Axis play the defensive strategy that balance breaks in my opinion.

Remove the incentive for the Axis to avoid the Meuse entirely and we *may* not need to make any other changes.

If you start reducing the Axis VPs gained for the Eastern objectives or start boosting the Allies in some other way you are going to make winning much harder when the Axis trigger an early British arrival and I've not heard too many players complaining that winning as the Axis is too easy when the British arrive early.

Regarding the stats as indicators for this particular balance issue, you would need to remove all Race for the Meuse scenario games and all those where the Axis has reached the Meuse and the British arrive earlier than the 26th as I don't think those are being contended.

In other words what is the Axis/Allied win percentage when the Axis player deliberately avoids the Meuse entirely by employing the defensive strategy?

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Re: Play balance

Post by jarg1 » Mon Apr 15, 2013 10:21 pm

There is another situation which makes me wonder about the statistics. Specifically, do the first turn German resignations get counted as Allied victories? The reason I am curious is because I have noticed that it seems the games I play in automatch have a suspiciously high number of good surprise attack results compared to when I play the AI or when I am auto-matched as the Germans, which makes me think some players are cherry picking their starts. In other words, if attacks fail, or Allied units retreat, they resign and start again. If this is the case, then it would artificially boost the Alllied wins.

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Re: Play balance

Post by Yojimbo252 » Tue Apr 16, 2013 8:55 am

Good question.

I guess the general point I'm trying to make is that when balancing a game (any game) I'm of the opinion it needs to be balanced at the highest level. And I don't mean that to sound elitist or anything but generally speaking if we take board brush stats that include all sorts of anomalies like the things we've mentioned, sub optimal play, etc it could give a false impression that everything is ok, when in actuality there's a significant imbalance when a particular strategy is exploited.

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Re: Play balance

Post by jarg1 » Mon Apr 22, 2013 12:00 am

Another play balance idea involves VPs for unsupplied locations. First, I don't really understand the logic of awarding these since the high VP areas supposedly are of value towards the broader objective of sustaining a drive to Antwerp, and they can hardly do that if they are out of supply. But putting that aside, I find this rule occasionally loses games for the Allies that they are otherwise doing well in. For example, I "won" a game today when my opponent resigned after I was able to put almost all of his panzers out of supply (a very difficult task as it turned out). It was the start of the 25th, and he had 44VP and held Bastogne, St. VIth (of course), Spa (though I had a decent chance to take it back the same day), Marche, and Huy (the last taken after he realized he was cut off). His out of supply panzers were near full strength, and I had use everything in my maneuvers to cut them off and as it turns out had very little in position to make some immediate kills for VPs. Thankfully he was so demoralized he didn't bother to do the math, namely that even if I regained Spa, he was going to rack up another 5VPs for a total of 49. But of course the victory threshold for the Germans on the 25th is only 43, meaning I had to kill 7 points of his units, which was a very iffy proposition. I have to say I found the idea that he most likely would have won had he decided not to quit a bit annoying since I felt I played a good game, and that he had not, and it seemed counter-intuitive given the overall situation. I have had other players note the same feeling after I won a couple of games as the Germans with most of my forces out of supply, but safely tucked away out of harms reach, and there by design. Why expose units to attack and a potential loss just to maintain a supply line after all!

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Re: Play balance

Post by rddfxx » Sun Apr 28, 2013 6:56 pm

I like granting VPs for control of objectives regardless OOS or not as it encourages aggressive Axis play. There is a separate award of 1 VP per SP in supply over the Meuse and the big enchillada, 3VPs per SP that exits the map, which is only possible for activated Axis units.

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Re: Play balance

Post by jarg1 » Sun Apr 28, 2013 11:37 pm

rddfxx wrote:I like granting VPs for control of objectives regardless OOS or not as it encourages aggressive Axis play. There is a separate award of 1 VP per SP in supply over the Meuse and the big enchillada, 3VPs per SP that exits the map, which is only possible for activated Axis units.
Actually your example shows the inconsistency. Why are the objective town VPs scored when units are out of supply, but the Meuse locations are not? As I noted in my examples, it can make for unrealistic playing. Let's grab this VP location even though the unit may be cut off since it will get scored regardless.

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Re: Play balance

Post by s_nkarp » Fri May 10, 2013 12:53 pm


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Re: Play balance

Post by Yojimbo252 » Fri May 10, 2013 2:07 pm

A very good article. However there is one aspect that I disagree with.
Sure, you can start fiddling with individual rules: Release the British as soon as they appear....The problem with all this is that even a game as abstract as Battle of the Bulge has certain elements that make it feel like a historical wargame, even if the balance favors a very ahistorical outcome. A big reason for this is the game’s “chrome.”

Yeah, yeah, you’re saying — so how do you fix the game? I hate to be such a doctrinaire conservative about this, but frankly, you don’t. Unless you want to redesign the entire thing...
I don't believe you need to redesign the entire game to make it balanced. The issue described is largely created by the condition that triggers an early British arrival.

Take that away such that the British always arrive 'early' and you're a big step forward towards balancing the game. Beyond that some slight tweaks to VP thresholds may be all that's required.

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