Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Experimenting with a different card-activated unit activation system

Over the years I have tried all sorts of card-driven unit activation systems and in the main I have felt that they worked well. One of the main benefits that I have found is that they are a simple but effective way of limiting how many units a player can active at one particular moment during a battle … which for a solo wargamer such as myself is preferable to the standard 'I activate all of my units and then you activate all of yours'.

Yesterday I began experimenting with a method that I had not previously tried, and the results look interesting. I took two packs of ordinary playing cards and took out all the Red and Black 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, and 6s, and two Jokers. I then allocated the colour Red to one side and Black to the other before shuffling the playing cards and laying them face down.

The mechanism was designed to work as follows:
  1. The top playing card is turned over. Whichever side’s colour comes up can activate the number of units indicated by the number on the playing card (e.g. a Red 5 means that the Red side could activate five units).
  2. Once the units have been activated, the playing card is discarded, and the next playing card is turned over … and so on until a Joker is turned over.
  3. If a Joker is turned over, all the playing cards – including the discarded ones – are re-shuffled and the top playing card is turned over.
The first run-through of the mechanism until a Joker was turned over produced the following results:
  • Black 4, Black 3, Black 4, Red 2, Red 5, Red 6, Black 3, Red 6, Black 6, Black 5, Red 2, Red 3, Black 3, Black 2, Black 2, Joker
Black achieved 32 'activations' from 9 cards (an average of 3.55 'activations' per card) and Red achieved 24 'activations' from 6 cards (an average of 4.00 'activations' per card).

The next run-though produced these results:
  • Black 3, Red 4, Black 4, Black 4, Red 3, Black 4, Red 6, Red 5, Red 3, Black 2, Black 3, Red 2, Red 6, Black 6, Black 2, Black 5, Red 3, Red 5, Black 3, Black 6, Red 3, Red 5, Black 2, Red 2, Black 6, Black 5, Red 4, Red 2, Red 2, Joker
Black achieved 55 'activations' from 14 cards (an average of 3.92 'activations' per card) and Red achieved 45 'activations' from 15 cards (an average of 3.00 'activations' per card).

The third run-through produced the following results:
  • Red 4, Red 3, Black 5, Red 5, Red 6, Black 3, Black 2, Red 6, Joker
Black achieved 10 'activations' from 3 cards (an average of 3.33 'activations' per card) and Red achieved 24 'activations' from 5 cards (an average of 4.80 'activations' per card).

The overall results were that Black achieved a total of 97 'activations' from 26 cards (an average of 3.73 'activations' per card) and Red achieved a total of 93 'activations' from 26 cards (an average of 3.57 'activations' per card). This compared quite well with my estimated average number of 'activations' per card, which is 4.00.

The only concern that I had was that some of the 'strings' of 'activations' (i.e. incidences of several playing cards of the same colour being turned over one after the other) might produce occasionally unbalanced results. I therefore removed all the 2s and 6s as well as one of the Jokers.

The first run-though of the amended pack of cards produced the following results:
  • Black 5, Red 4, Black 5, Black 4, Black 3, Red 3, Red 5, Black 3, Black 5, Black 4, Red 4, Black 3, Red 5, Black 5, Red 3, Red 3, Red 5, Red 4, Black 3, Black 4, Joker
Black achieved 44 'activations' from 11 cards (an average of 4.00 'activations' per card) and Red achieved 36 'activations' from 9 cards (an average of 4.00 'activations' per card). This exactly corresponded with my estimated average number of 'activations' per card, which is 4.00.

The longest 'string' was Red’s 15 'activations' from 4 playing cards (Red 3, Red 3, Red 5, Red 4). On two occasions Black had 12 'activations' from 3 playing cards (Black 5, Black 4, Black 3 and Black 3, Black 5, Black 4).

This set of results was encouraging, so I did a further run-through, which produced these results:
  • Red 3, Black 5, Black 4, Red 5, Red 4, Red 4, Black 5, Black 3, Black 4, Black 3, Black 4, Red 4, Black 3, Black 3, Red 3, Red 3, Red 5, Black 5, Black 4, Red 3, Red 5, Red 5, Black 5, Red 4, Joker
Black achieved 48 'activations' from 12 cards (an average of 4.00 'activations' per card) and Red achieved 48 'activations' from 12 cards (an average of 4.00 'activations' per card). Again this exactly corresponded with my estimated average number of 'activations' per card, which was 4.00.

The longest 'string' was Black’s 19 'activations' from 5 playing cards (Black 5, Black 3, Black 4, Black 3, Black 4). On two occasions Red had 13 'activations' from 3 playing cards (Red 5, Red 4, Red 4 and Red 3, Red 5, Red 5,).

I now want to test this theoretical card-driven activation system in a wargame … which will mean that I will have to push some toys around on the tabletop.

One though struck me whilst I was writing this bog entry. Using this system it would be quite easy to factor in things like the presence of a superior general, better communications, or even better quality units by changing the selection of the values of the playing cards in each pack. For example, an 'excellent' general might have cards worth 4, 5, and 6 (which should produce an average of 5 'activations' per card) whereas a 'poor' general might only rate cards worth 2, 3, and 4 (which should produce an average of 3 'activations' per card).

An alternative might be to give one side more cards than the other. For example Red might have four cards of each value whereas Black has six. This should mean that Black has more 'activations' than Red during the course of a wargame.

20 comments:

  1. Cards give you a lot of different ways to do things, including activation, and are easily modified for command or scenario issues. Playing chiefly games in the Piquet/Field of Battle family, they are an integral part of the action. Some like that, others don't. Just another tool for use, but a very flexible one!

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  2. Oddly I was considering something along these lines last week before deciding to fallback on dice for now.

    One addition I considered adding was card to trigger pulling a chance card. Chance cards can allow some of unexpected or unusual events to occur in a limited fashion. Since the event can only happen as often as there are cards they cannot occur more often than the designer thinks is reasonable. If the chance deck is large enough and either well mixed with no event cards or else only drawn when triggered by something, like drawing the Queen of Spades (or other designated card) when the deck is shuffled before completion then events can be rare but players can never quite feel like everything is under control. The events them selves csn be things like reinforcements, allowing the enemy to order 1 of a players units (a blunder), barrage by off table artillery, thunderstorm etc etc.

    A variation I also considered was to use face cards like tactical cards in Battlecry etc giving certain unit types bonuses. These would crop more often though do need yo he balanced.

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  3. 'Rocket's Red Glare' uses something similar, but each player has their own deck of cards with values of '1' '2' and '3', plus a Joker (which counts as '2' and reshuffles. General quality dictates the mix of card values in the player's deck (as well as their command radius). Interestingly there are four general gradings, so it's impossible to have a general that's average and 'in the middle' - they are all Very Good, Good, Poor or Very Poor.

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  4. Gonsalvo,

    I have come to prefer card-driven rather than dice-driven mechanisms because I find them easier to use and to adjust. I know that there are some people who loath the use of playing cards ... but I love them!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  5. Ross Mac,

    Great minds obviously think alike!

    I have thought about introducing 'chance cards' but decide not to until I am happy with the way the mechanism works in practice rather than in theory. I like the examples of 'chance cards' you include in your comment, and if I do include them in my design, the 'chance cards' will probably be formulated along similar lines.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  6. Kaptain Kobold,

    The mechanism you describe is very interesting, and sounds as if it would work very well in a face-to-face wargames.

    Having four categories of quality for generals is a very good idea. As you state, there are no 'average' generals ... which is no bad thing,

    All the best,

    Bob

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  7. I like two different systems that i have played in the past

    The one used in Maurice where you hold a "hand" of cards; you decide whether to activate 1 unit (spend one or more cards depending on the action) or else use the content of a card in the hand to undertake a specific action (each card has its own costent)
    Then to replenish your hand you have some limitations. That gives a lot of optionality to the player.

    The other is the system used by TooFatLardies in many of its games. Basically you have a stakc of cards, oneper unit (or per command) in paly to activate them plus a set of cards that enable specific actions (double move, an extra turn of fire, etc)

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  8. Anibal Invictus,

    Because I want a random system that will work for solo wargames, the concept of holding a hand of cards that you can select from (as one does in most of Richard Borg's wargame designs) seems not to work for me. I have tried it, and although it has many merits - especially in face-to-face wargames - I think that it gives the solo player too much choice.

    The system used by the TooFatLardies sounds much more suitable to my needs, and if I get the chance I will take a look at it in some detail.

    Thanks very much for your suggestions and ideas.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  9. Another thought for different grades of generals is to remove some (not all) of the higher/lower cards . . . thus a "poor" general might only have two each of the "high cards"; the "not so poor" general, three each; the "good" general only three each of the low cards; and the "great" general, two each of the low cards . . . with as many variations as you like.


    -- Jeff

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  10. Bluebear Jeff,

    Your thinking is exactly working along the same lines as mine! I think that being able to adjust the number and value of the playing cards that make up the pack you use makes the system very flexible ... and easier to use than a dice-based mechanism.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  11. Bob,
    Some very useful ideas for using card activation in your latest posting.
    The one thing that concerns me is the possibility of a 'run' of more than two cards unduly favouring one side, so I tend to prefer the TooFatLardies' system of a separate deck per commander.
    As you say, the beauty of a card system is that one can vary it to suit different periods,individual generals and even each scenario.
    I look foward to reading about your further experiments!
    Best wishes,
    Arthur

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  12. Arthur1815,

    Long runs of cards may favour one side unduly at a particular point during a battle ... but I am sure that over time it will equalise out. Alternately it might be possible to limit a run to three cards, the fourth and subsequent cards in a run being discarded.

    The mechanism looks like it will work ... in theory ... but I want to see how it will work in practice before I start to tinker with the basic mechanism.

    What really appeals about this mechanism is its simplicity and its flexibility. I think that if it works, it will be a great boon to my solo wargaming.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  13. Hi Bob,
    That's an interesting solo activation system. If you split the decks into one for red and one for black, each taking turns to flip one card, then you could go back to the 2-6 mix and still have it relatively balanced, but with occasional runs of luck. A joker in each deck requiring a re-shuffle would keep it unpredictable.

    RE: Memoir '44 (& Battle Cry, etc.) solo, my method is to establish each sides' command level as its designated hand size. On each turn roll 1D6, if <= command level, draw 2 cards, play one, discard both; if > command level (command failure), draw one card, play it, and discard. I usually play that if the roll is < command level by 2 or more, draw 3 cards.

    Regards,
    John

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  14. Great ideas!

    I like the use of cards in games for a variety of reasons, some of which you all mention or allude to. Such as the flexibility and ease of use, the ability to customize decks as desired, for different scenarios and circumstances. It's a lot easier to customize and adjust odds with cards than it is with dice (although, I do like dice as well).

    I do tend to prefer custom-made cards, rather than standard playing cards, though, because I can put specific information right on the cards, rather than needing to refer to a look-up table or needing to remember what different cards mean. That said, regular playing cards are good for experimenting. I assume you still have your playing card tiles. Will you use those, or actual cards?

    I used to have a set of small playing cards... maybe an inch or so on the long edge. I wonder if I still have them somewhere... :)

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  15. On way of limiting the String of Cards effect is to reduce the number of activations each subsequent card offers. So a card has a value from 2-4, but if it's the second card you've drawn in a row, it is reduced by one, the third card is reduced by two and the fourth card reduced by three. You can either have 0 actions as a possibility, or say that the reduction never takes you below one. Once the enemy draw a card, or cards, or there is a reshuffle, your cards become worth full value

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  16. Bob,
    One further point I should have made earlier:
    Apart from being a simple game mechanism to introduce some Clausewitzian 'friction' and uncertainty into the wargame, one should, perhaps, make a decision as to what the 'activation' represents. Ideally, I tnink of it as a limit imposed on the army commander's ability to issue NEW orders, resulting from the unpredictable return of ADC's, messengers &c. to his battlefield HQ. For example: I would like to issue three orders, but only two of my staff are present, so I must prioritise. I tend to work on the principle that, once an order has been issued, the unit/officer will continue to attempt to obey it until successful or circumstances make it impossible to do so.
    On the other hand, one could regard 'activation' as portraying the delay between orders being issued to subordinates/units and them being executed. For example: I issue orders to a detachment but it does not draw its 'activation' card for several turns - either the orders were delayed in transit, or the unit CO was (for whatever reason) slow to read/understand/execute them.
    You will appreciate I've been talking in terms of games involving several divisions or corps, and that my comments are very much based upon black powder era forces with mounted messengers.
    In games portraying much smaller forces, 'activation' would seem to be more about the exact sequence in which events occurred: did one unit open fire before the enemy delivered a charge?
    Finally, a commander who is physically present with a unit, such as a formed reserve, should not need to 'activate' it, but should surely be able to issue a verbal order to it whenever he wants?
    Regards,
    Arthur

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  17. The Ferrymen (John),

    I am about to write a blog entry about my first play-test of the card-driven unit activation system and it has shown that the current system works quite well … but that there is room for improvement. I might well try out your suggestion using the same scenario to see if it produced any significant differences and/or improvements … so keep reading the blog!

    I can see how your solo method would work – and it certainly appear to work better than the way I have tried to use MEMOIR ’44 and BATTLE CRY solo – and I may well try it myself in the future.

    Thanks for the very helpful suggestions.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  18. Fitz-Badger,

    Because of the variety of cards available in a pack of playing cards it seems to me to be easier to get a more statistically balanced set of results. I have tried systems with multiple numbers of D6s, D8s, D10s, and D12s and although they appear to be easier to use, I find that playing cards are so much simpler … and don’t require me to be able to identify which is a D10 and which is a D12 at a glance. (I once used the wrong dice for the first half of a solo game and felt rather let down when I realised what I had done. That would not have happened if I had used playing cards as I would have noticed that something was wrong very quickly.)

    I hope to produce my own set of cards once I get the system to work satisfactorily … although drawing my playing card tiles from a bag would be a very good alternative to my current method. (Thanks for reminding me that I still have them! They have been ‘tidied up’ as a result of the on-going sort out of the contents of the old shed, and ‘forgotten’.)

    Good luck with your own card-driven systems.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  19. Kaptain Kobold,

    That is a very simple and sensible way to reduce the impact of runs of cards. As you will see from the blog entry I will upload later today, yesterday’s play-test did produce several runs of cards that made quite a difference to the outcome of the battle. Had I been using your suggested alteration, it might have been a somewhat different outcome.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  20. Arthur1815 (Arthur),

    If I were trying to portray the large-scale battles that you describe, I think that I would agree that ‘activation’ would be more about restricting a commander’s ability to issue orders that are acted upon. In my case I am looking at using the system with somewhat lower-level actions (brigade and possibly divisional-level actions) where the commander is more concerned with the sequence in which things happen … and the disruption to that sequence as a result of faulty communications, misunderstandings, and enemy actions and reactions.

    I would be interested to see you could use this system (or something like it) for corps/army-level battles. Perhaps I can see an article for a wargames magazine in the offing about this? I hope so!

    All the best,

    Bob

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