Play balance

Discuss John Butterfield’s Battle of the Bulge: Crisis in Command Vol. 1
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Yojimbo252
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Re: Play balance

Post by Yojimbo252 » Fri May 10, 2013 2:08 pm

Out of interest, do SS view the reported balance issue as a problem?

If so are there any plans to address it?

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Re: Play balance

Post by spacerumsfeld » Fri May 10, 2013 8:45 pm

Yojimbo252 wrote: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.
Yojimbo, thanks for reading and offering your comments. I do respectfully disagree that you can rebalance the game solely by releasing the British. Releasing the British gets you one useful unit: Guards Armored. The rest are just good for consolidation. Given how the game flows later on, one good armored unit doesn't make enough of a difference to the counteroffensive.

Frankly, I think the whole "no-Ourthe" strategy is a bit of a red herring in the balance debate, because from the German standpoint I don't see any advantage whatsoever to deliberately not touching the Meuse. All you're doing with the no-Meuse is giving up one or two panzer divisions for a single useful Allied counterattacking unit, as well as giving up the VP you would have accrued, usually for holding Huy for one or more days. In general, I'm glad to let the Allied have the Guards cross the Meuse if I can have 10th and 11th Pz plus 2 VP.

My point is that the combat system is fundamentally not suited to large battles with multiple units on both sides in good terrain. Whether or not the British cross the Meuse, it is not possible to inflict enough casualties on the Germans (except in certain very unusual circumstances, such as the failed drive to Charleville I illustrated in the article) to offset the continuous VP gained from a solid German position, and that solid German position is too easy to achieve.

The only way I can imagine making the counteroffensive more viable would be to subvert the whole combat system by making the Air Support modifier +2, and I am afraid that might turn the late game into a buzzsaw in the other direction.

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Re: Play balance

Post by Yojimbo252 » Sat May 11, 2013 7:13 am

I'm not suggesting releasing the British will solely resolve the problem, I believe I said that it would be a big step forwards and some VP tweaks may be all that's required. The point is I was disagreeing with your premise that the game is beyond balancing without a major redesign.

I also disagree that the Guards Armoured division is the only useful British unit. Yes it's the most valuable but the Infantry lend their weight in attack and help soak up casualties, which is required if the Allies are to smash through heavily entrenched Axis positions.

Having said that there are points in your article that I do agree with but I thought it easiest just to mention the bones of contention.

We could go back and forth over the question whether the early British arrival makes any difference. I believe it does based on my experiences. The games where the Axis has gone for the Meuse (but fail to clinch an auto victory) have been far closer and more enjoyable than when the Axis play the defensive strategy.

I think the main reasons are that the Allies get all their British units which are free to attack immediately and are already at the frontline. The Axis OKW Reserves are drip fed from way behind the frontline and if the Allies successfully push/cut the Axis from the Meuse the Axis may not receive all the reserves they were hoping for, and those that do arrive wont play any serious part for at least a couple of days. Of course a lot of the above depends on how early the Meuse is reached.

Also by going for the Meuse it also tends to 'string out' the Axis positions making it more difficult for the Axis to have a narrow enough front to amass a defence that is 3 deep and difficult to flank, especially so if the Axis race for the Meuse in an attempt to reach it as early as possible.

So I'm not convinced the heart of the issue is the combat mechanics.

I think the only way this issue is going to move forward is to agree on a change and try it out. I don't like the current status quo because it relies on both players making a gentleman's agreement that whoever is going to play Axis will play it in the right spirit to make the game enjoyable.

And this is too good a game to let be spoilt by one imbalance.

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Re: Play balance

Post by s_nkarp » Sat May 11, 2013 12:14 pm

A very thoughtful and perceptive analysis of the balance issues and impact of the combat mechanics. Some initial reactions:

*We did play the game A LOT before shipping, with a large number of energetic and capable testers. As you point out, strategies and counters evolve. I've probably played the game as much as anyone, and it wasn't until February that I felt that I understood the strategic fencing well enough to conclude with confidence that the game had balance issues.

*Those issues really only show if both players are expert; until then, if one player is meaningfully more experienced than the other, that player will typically win. Release 1.2 (coming Monday!!) includes new metrics to assess results in the field at fine enough granularity to see which side is winning which scenarios on which turns. I'm curious about what we'll find: my guess is that it'll be roughly 50/50 overall, given that most players are not expert.

*The real concern to me is that the best strategy for expert Axis players, hunkering down once the numbers add up, leads to a dull endgame. We are looking at ways to improve that, but cautious about breaking other, tightly-interwoven elements, as Bruce discussed.

*We have specified methods for bidding and match play, similar to your suggestion; I hope we have time to implement them in El Al and its successors: that will both allow handicapping for experience and resolve shifting balance as strategies evolve. We'll probably also include a "draw" result, encouraging both players to push hard if they want to win.

*It's really fun working on this sort of problem. Keep the feedback coming! Your help, and input from other players in the Quarter to Three tournament, is extremely valuable towards delivering a really fun and exciting experience for the dedicated gamers we're most eager to please.

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Re: Play balance

Post by jarg1 » Sat May 11, 2013 4:37 pm

nkarp wrote:A very thoughtful and perceptive analysis of the balance issues and impact of the combat mechanics. Some initial reactions:

*We did play the game A LOT before shipping, with a large number of energetic and capable testers. As you point out, strategies and counters evolve. I've probably played the game as much as anyone, and it wasn't until February that I felt that I understood the strategic fencing well enough to conclude with confidence that the game had balance issues.

*Those issues really only show if both players are expert; until then, if one player is meaningfully more experienced than the other, that player will typically win. Release 1.2 (coming Monday!!) includes new metrics to assess results in the field at fine enough granularity to see which side is winning which scenarios on which turns. I'm curious about what we'll find: my guess is that it'll be roughly 50/50 overall, given that most players are not expert.

*The real concern to me is that the best strategy for expert Axis players, hunkering down once the numbers add up, leads to a dull endgame. We are looking at ways to improve that, but cautious about breaking other, tightly-interwoven elements, as Bruce discussed.

*We have specified methods for bidding and match play, similar to your suggestion; I hope we have time to implement them in El Al and its successors: that will both allow handicapping for experience and resolve shifting balance as strategies evolve. We'll probably also include a "draw" result, encouraging both players to push hard if they want to win.

*It's really fun working on this sort of problem. Keep the feedback coming! Your help, and input from other players in the Quarter to Three tournament, is extremely valuable towards delivering a really fun and exciting experience for the dedicated gamers we're most eager to please.
I also enjoyed the article, and agreed with much of the content, though not the conclusion. I already posted my reply on the Quarter to Three site. Regarding both the article and your reply, I don't think I've read any suggestions for play balance improvement that involve significant changes to the game mechanism in the early to mid game, nor do I think they are needed. There are problems early, for example the German perfect storm of long days, commando strikes, and good rolls which sometimes make preventing an instant victory impossible, but that occurs very infrequently, thank goodness. I agree that the German turtle isn't much fun for either side, but just as importantly it also usually gives the German an unpreventable victory, and I think the best game designs find a way to avoid such. For what it is worth, based on much contemplation I think the biggest weakness in the current system is that after the 22nd the Germans can continue to gain VPs fairly quickly by holding mid-map, and therefore the best fix would involve reducing the VPs for the eastern locations. Increasing the German VP levels somewhat helps, but it doesn't change the basic problem. They need to feel more pressure to contest the western half of the map throughout the game.

I'm pleased to read of the changes you are contemplating as they all sound like winners. Of the ideas your mention, I particularly like the draw. Also thanks for your posts as it is great to have feedback from members of the team.

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Re: Play balance

Post by boone737 » Sat May 11, 2013 7:18 pm

nkarp,

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I have to admit, since the imbalance has been discovered, the enjoyment I have of your otherwise fine product has waned dramatically. I am almost relieved to get it over with when playing as allied and I'll almost toy with the allied opponent as I know that I'll eventually reach the point of no return where that player will never be able to kill enough units to overcome the rapidly decreasing threshold for an axis win.

The fact that Shenandoah will evaluate this is encouraging. The problem for me is to get out the half-hearted play mindset so you can collect good data and develop and effective fix.

I still can't wait for El Alamein.

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Re: Play balance

Post by wargamer11 » Mon May 13, 2013 4:45 pm

Apologies in advance if this is read as harsh, but I want to make sure that a voice of those who think the game is fine as-is is aired ...

For all the differences between old-school paper wargaming and today's digital wargaming, one thing is consistent: the idea among many players that they can "fix" a game with insight they've gained after a handful of games against a handful of players using only the strategies they or their opponents can think of.

A troubling difference though is that, unlike paper wargames, if the "fixers" cries of imbalance are heeded and the game changed, it is likely that everyone will be forced to play the changed game.

I hope that if Shenandoah starts tinkering with the game to satisfy those who think it is unbalanced, they will at least provide an option for players to continue to play the original game - the one built on the decades of wargaming design and playtesting experience of John Butterfield and Eric Lee Smith and the team they've assembled.

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Re: Play balance

Post by jarg1 » Mon May 13, 2013 6:49 pm

wargamer11 wrote:Apologies in advance if this is read as harsh, but I want to make sure that a voice of those who think the game is fine as-is is aired ...

For all the differences between old-school paper wargaming and today's digital wargaming, one thing is consistent: the idea among many players that they can "fix" a game with insight they've gained after a handful of games against a handful of players using only the strategies they or their opponents can think of.

A troubling difference though is that, unlike paper wargames, if the "fixers" cries of imbalance are heeded and the game changed, it is likely that everyone will be forced to play the changed game.

I hope that if Shenandoah starts tinkering with the game to satisfy those who think it is unbalanced, they will at least provide an option for players to continue to play the original game - the one built on the decades of wargaming design and playtesting experience of John Butterfield and Eric Lee Smith and the team they've assembled.
In fairness, I think at least some of the members of the team have indicated they also perceive an imbalance, so it's not just a few vocal critics. And I also get the impression that many of the players asking for changes have more than a few games under their belt. BoB has already been patched, meaning like pretty much every game ever made, it wasn't perfect from day one. And having played plenty of the paper wargames, I also remember that many of them were updated throughout production, not to mention the pages of rule changes and clarifications that were released in the official publications such as General. I understand what you are saying about downside to the demands for instant gratification associated with the online experience, but I also greatly appreciate how much the internet has improved communications and allowed the creation of communities such as this one which allow relatively small number of people with shared interests to easily share their ideas.

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Re: Play balance

Post by Yojimbo252 » Mon May 13, 2013 7:16 pm

wargamer11 wrote:the one built on the decades of wargaming design and playtesting experience of John Butterfield and Eric Lee Smith and the team they've assembled.
I'm actually one of the playtesters for BotB and I'm firmly of the view that there is an imbalance that wasnt picked up during playtesting that needs to be addressed.

I hear what you're saying about the dangers of making snap judgements over knee jerk reactions to perceived balance problems but I don't feel that's the case here. This topic has been discussed at length for some time now with input from a variety of angles. Although I'm quite prepared to keep an open mind on the subject I haven't heard too many views that are of the opinion that there isn't an imbalance.

I'm hoping a solution can be implemented that leaves games that are currently being played 'in the right spirit' largely uneffected. The solution I feel just needs to discourage the particular Axis defensive strategy that we see as an issue without upsetting the rest of the game.

If that can be achieved I think that hopefully satisfies your requirements without needing to 'split' the game into multiple versions which I'm sure most would agree is not desired.

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Re: Play balance

Post by wargamer11 » Mon May 13, 2013 8:29 pm

I haven't heard too many views that are of the opinion that there isn't an imbalance.
No disrespect for your views intended, but that may just be because those that feel that there isn't an imbalance are simply out there enjoying the game, rather than arguing a case that the game needs to be changed to reduce the effectiveness of strategies they haven't figured out how to defeat yet.

It appears the stats presented show the game is balanced, at least as far as such things are currently measurable in ways other than anecdotal.

I'm not saying I can always win as either side. I have won many times, as both sides, against many different strategies .. but that's just my own worthless anecdotal evidence. However, in any game, when faced with an opposing strategy that repeatedly frustrates us, we have two choices:

1) Analyze flaws in our own play or in our understandings of the game and endeavor to figure out countermeasures.

2) Decide that the game is broken or unbalanced in design, and appeal for changes that will allow us to defeat the strategy that we can't figure out how to beat.

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Re: Play balance

Post by wargamer11 » Mon May 13, 2013 8:52 pm

Jarg1 wrote: BoB has already been patched, meaning like pretty much every game ever made, it wasn't perfect from day one.

Fixing a bug in a user interface or flaws in the way the game implements (or fails to implement) the rules as written is far different than changing the rules/victory conditions of the game to appeal to those that cannot figure out how to defeat a particular opposing strategy.

The former should be always be done. I would encourage doing the latter to be fiercely resisted, especially when current, objective, non-anecdotal evidence fails to show an imbalance.
Last edited by 5anny on Mon May 13, 2013 8:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Play balance

Post by sa_gibson » Mon May 13, 2013 8:55 pm

It appears the stats presented show the game is balanced, at least as far as such things are currently measurable in ways other than anecdotal.
Actually, I think the designers now concur that the game isn't balanced. See nkarp's response earlier in this thread.

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Re: Play balance

Post by wargamer11 » Mon May 13, 2013 9:14 pm

sa_gibson wrote:
It appears the stats presented show the game is balanced, at least as far as such things are currently measurable in ways other than anecdotal.
Actually, I think the designers now concur that the game isn't balanced. See nkarp's response earlier in this thread.

I read this from him:

*The real concern to me is that the best strategy for expert Axis players, hunkering down once the numbers add up, leads to a dull endgame. We are looking at ways to improve that, but cautious about breaking other, tightly-interwoven elements, as Bruce discussed."

Is there something else he's written that I've missed that is more of a "concurrence" regarding imbalance? Because the above doesn't seem like much of one. Or maybe he could just confirm it himself?
The only real conformation I've seen from Shenandoah is that the data they have - as expressed in actual game results - shows the game is balanced.

In any case ... in the echo chamber of discontent that is this thread, I'd expect nothing less from the classy organization that Shenandoah appears to be than to be diplomatic to frustrated customers.

I only post here to remind them of the silent majority of their purchasers who aren't complaining on their web site about supposed play imbalance, and that a significant portion of them may end up very disappointed if the rules or victory conditions of the game were altered.
Last edited by 5anny on Mon May 13, 2013 9:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Play balance

Post by wargamer11 » Mon May 13, 2013 9:30 pm

Just read the excellent article on Quarter to Three that was linked to above (http://www.quartertothree.com/fp/2013/0 ... the-bulge/), and it certainly presents an excellent summarization of the challenges the Allied player can face in some games.

I do believe there are several things the Allied player can (try to) do at earlier points in the game to frustrate the German player's attempts to set up the described late-game situation.

However, I strongly agree with the final two paragraphs of the piece, which more eloquently state the point I've been trying to make here today.

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Re: Play balance

Post by wargamer11 » Mon May 13, 2013 9:56 pm

One other comment ... this discussion, and other strategy discussions I've seen, really make me long for a feature I'm sure has been requested before ...

The ability to view a complete move-by-move replay of a game that can also be viewed by others.

Obviously, there are many ways to implement this, but I envision something like the ability to export a file (email it to yourself for later posting to forums for example), that can then be loaded into a Shenandoah (or even fan created) web site tool to display the moves, with some VCR-like controls to manipulate playback.

Easy to ask for by someone who doesn't have to do the work, but such a device could really fuel well-documented discussions about strategies, play balance, etc.

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Re: Play balance

Post by jarg1 » Mon May 13, 2013 10:04 pm

wargamer11 wrote:
Jarg1 wrote: BoB has already been patched, meaning like pretty much every game ever made, it wasn't perfect from day one.

Fixing a bug in a user interface or flaws in the way the game implements (or fails to implement) the rules as written is far different than changing the rules/victory conditions of the game to appeal to those that cannot figure out how to defeat a particular opposing strategy.

The former should be always be done. I would encourage doing the latter to be fiercely resisted, especially when current, objective, non-anecdotal evidence fails to show an imbalance.
Fair enough, but my larger point was that most games contain flaws that are not always immediately apparent. I'm not sure which evidence you are referencing as some of the design team have stated they don't have good statistics on game balance (though the latest patch is supposed to rectify that).

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Re: Play balance

Post by jarg1 » Mon May 13, 2013 10:07 pm

wargamer11 wrote:
sa_gibson wrote:
It appears the stats presented show the game is balanced, at least as far as such things are currently measurable in ways other than anecdotal.
Actually, I think the designers now concur that the game isn't balanced. See nkarp's response earlier in this thread.

I read this from him:

*The real concern to me is that the best strategy for expert Axis players, hunkering down once the numbers add up, leads to a dull endgame. We are looking at ways to improve that, but cautious about breaking other, tightly-interwoven elements, as Bruce discussed."

Is there something else he's written that I've missed that is more of a "concurrence" regarding imbalance? Because the above doesn't seem like much of one. Or maybe he could just confirm it himself?
The only real conformation I've seen from Shenandoah is that the data they have - as expressed in actual game results - shows the game is balanced.

In any case ... in the echo chamber of discontent that is this thread, I'd expect nothing less from the classy organization that Shenandoah appears to be than to be diplomatic to frustrated customers.

I only post here to remind them of the silent majority of their purchasers who aren't complaining on their web site about supposed play imbalance, and that a significant portion of them may end up very disappointed if the rules or victory conditions of the game were altered.
"We did play the game A LOT before shipping, with a large number of energetic and capable testers. As you point out, strategies and counters evolve. I've probably played the game as much as anyone, and it wasn't until February that I felt that I understood the strategic fencing well enough to conclude with confidence that the game had balance issues."

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Re: Play balance

Post by wargamer11 » Mon May 13, 2013 10:21 pm

Jarg1 wrote: ... most games contain flaws that are not always immediately apparent.
But, my question is ... is a group of people complaining "I can't figure out how to win when my opponent does X" really a "flaw" at all ... let alone one that warrants changing the game to prevent (or blunt the impact of) X? Should we be looking to rule changes to counter strategies that confound us?

To quote from the excellent Qt3 article: "stop declaring games balanced or imbalanced until you’ve played it a lot longer than you think you need to figure that out."

I'd add that you need not only have played it "a lot longer", but against a lot of more differing opponents, and using a lot more differing strategies, than you think you need to figure it out.
I'm not sure which evidence you are referencing as some of the design team have stated they don't have good statistics on game balance (though the latest patch is supposed to rectify that).
I refer to this post: http://www.shenandoah-studio.com/Forum/ ... t=80#p1790

You can argue that this data is not "good" or is not proof of anything. But I feel the burden of proof is on those that say the game is imbalanced, and that data is objective data that runs counter to what one would expect to see if the anecdotal arguments of imbalance were true.

Maybe the new data to be gathered will provide more conclusive evidence in either direction.
Last edited by 5anny on Mon May 13, 2013 10:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Play balance

Post by wargamer11 » Mon May 13, 2013 10:31 pm

Jarg1 wrote: "We did play the game A LOT before shipping, with a large number of energetic and capable testers. As you point out, strategies and counters evolve. I've probably played the game as much as anyone, and it wasn't until February that I felt that I understood the strategic fencing well enough to conclude with confidence that the game had balance issues."
Ok... but the next part needs to be included for context.

Specifically ...

"Those issues really only show if both players are expert"

I'd be interested in exactly what balance issues he feels he saw, and more interestingly, what exactly constitutes an "expert".

However, from reading the rest of his post, I suspect nkarp wants to see what the more advanced data that will be gathered in the next version of the game will show before doing anything based on the anecdotal evidence of imbalance.

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Re: Play balance

Post by wargamer11 » Mon May 13, 2013 10:53 pm

Some very strong examples of the dubious "value" of anecdotal evidence in assessing play balance is very evident in a re-read of some of the early posts in this thread. Wow!

My favorite is the guy who storms off because his Allied units are always "simply wiped of (sic) the map or are pushed north" ... he can't figure out how the Germans can be stopped, so the game must be broken.

Oh and just in case you happened to win once as the Allies, he reminds you it's because you obviously didn't face a "veteran German player" or faced someone who must have got completely bad die rolls early on.

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