Thursday, December 29, 2011

Through The Ages - Wonders - Age A - Pyramids

If you like this series of articles, please rate this in your favorite social media forum ("like" it, +1, or just share with friends).  This is the first in a series of articles examining specific cards in Through the Ages. I have separated these topics out into a distinct section of the forum, located here:

Pyramids seems like a simple "no brainer" at first glance.  It grants an additional Civil Action for 6 resources and 4 actions.  In short, it pays for itself in three turns.  Furthermore, it is available at the beginning of the game.   What nation couldn't use an additional Civil Action?   Amazingly, the Pyramids may not be all the Wonder they seem to be.
Hidden Cost
Pyramids have a hidden cost associated with them, one most people (including myself), often oversee.  The cost is related to this section of the rules:

"The cost to take a Wonder card is increased by 1 Civil Action for every Wonder you already have built."

Basically, if planning on taking a wonder after Pyramids, the building of Pyramids increases the cost of that Wonder by an additional 1 Civil Action.  This

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Through The Ages-Part VII-Culture: The Game Winner

Forum for discussion located here:
Culture: Victory Condition
Culture is the scoring system Through The Ages uses to determine the victor.  The greatest military, the greatest Science, the greatest economy is worth nothing if at the end of the game Culture is not large enough.  Therefore, acquiring culture is the primary focus of the game.  Without it, everything else is for naught.
Ways to Acquire
There are many ways to acquire culture:
  • Direct Card play,
  • Leader effects,
  • Construct Building,
  • Create Wonders,
  • Militarily steal it from your opponents,
  • Playing Event cards,
  • Territories,
  • Treaties and Agreements,
  • Final Scoring Cards.
Each has its own risk and rewards.  We will cover Culture generation in the next series of articles, from the different means of acquiring culture and their efficiency.  The wisdom of which route is best will differ depending on the choice of strategy and when cards become available.

Final Score of 'Average' Games
After reviewing a few dozen TtA games (chosen randomly, 4-player, Full Games onl

Friday, December 23, 2011

Through The Ages-Part VI-Actions:Governments and Summary

The forum for this topic is found here:
Governments provide the last method of generating actions.  Using the same methodology as the above analysis develops the chart to the right.  Of these, the Republic government technology generates an additional 33 actions under ideal conditions.

Theocracy, which has the same number of actions as Depotism, is not shown as it would provide no benefit. in fact, Theocracy would have a -2 benefit from the time it is adopted.

Monarchy is the only government which can provide a benefit through Revolution.  This is mainly due to the decreased cost to generate Science at the beginning of the game.  The benefit of Revolution will generate a single additional action at the end of the game.  The chart for revolution of Monarchy is shown below:
For Monarchy, and Theocracy, there is a 'ramp up' time needed to gather the science.  From the chart above, the earliest a Revolution can take place is on turn 4, the turn after taking the government card.  The Revolution costs all the Civil Actions for the government, so in this case it is the equivalent of costing 4 actions.  The result is the Revolution costs one action.

For the remaining Government technologies, we make the assumption the science is immediately available, regardless of whether Revolution or normal change.  In all of these cases the Revolution action costs greatly exceed their action return.
Maximum Generated Actions
The following chart tracks the absolute maximum number of actions in an ideal game.

The recipe for this is as follows:
  • Turn 1 (Actions:2): Take Hammurabi, Pyramids
  • Turn 2 (Actions:1): Play Hammurabi, Increase Population,  Build a Mine
  • Turn 3: Build Philosophy
  • Turn 4 (Actions:2): Take Code of Laws, Build Stage 1 of Pyramids
  • Turn 5 (Actions:3): Play Code of Laws, Build Stage 2 and Stage 3 of Pyramids
  • Turn 10 (Actions:5): Take Republic, Play Republic, Take Kremlin, Build 2 Stages of Kremlin
  • Turn 11 (Actions:1): Build Stage 3 of Kremlin
  • Turn 16 (Actions:2): Take Civil Service, Play Civil Service
Since the Build Mine and Increase Population actions are 'normal' actions, they do not count against the actions need to bring the items into play.

The maximum number of actions returned through this method is increased by 68.  Thus, the theoretical maximum actions a player may have is 148.
Reality Check and Conclusions
Many things affect achieving the maximum number of actions available:

  • Cards not appearing at perfect times,
  • Event cards removing resources/actions,
  • Taking cards higher in the Card row,
  • Other Players Military Actions.
With these factors in play, a player can reasonably expect to achieve between 30% and 60% of these additional actions.  This leaves a player between 100 and 120 actions.  I would like to say these estimates are based off some real data, but in this case it is based on an intelligent guess.  Roughly half of these actions will be available in Age I, about 10% in Age II, and the remainder will arrive in Age III. 

If we make the fair decision a player will have an average number of actions, this comes to 114 actions.  Based on the above charts, it is sensible the actions will be divided as follows:
  • Age A (Turn 1): 4/turn (preset by rules/not changeable)
  • Age I (Turns 2-4): 4/turn
  • Age I/II (Turns 5-11):  5/turn
  • Age II/III/IV (Turns 12-20):  7/turn
This increase in actions explains the acceleration factor seen in the game.  Each of Ages I through III has 55 cards.  Age II runs faster than Age I by a single turn, but Age III runs through the same number of cards in just over half the number of rounds as Age I.  During Age III players accumulate more actions and spend these actions on more cards on the card row.  The more cards players collect, the faster the Age ends.
How to Use This Information
Players who understand how much can be accomplished in a game lets them better prioritize their choices.  It lets a player realize the impact of their decisions in card selection and order of playing cards.  specifically, the following points can be made:
  • Once a government is chosen, it is never efficient to switch governments a second time,
    • Especially through revolution.
  • Republic generates the most total civil actions of all cards,
  • Kremlin and Hammurabi are roughly equivalent in Return on investment if the Kremlin comes up early and is immediately build 
    • Hammurabi has a better guaranteed return, whereas Kremlin may arrive too late to be effective.
  • Players have roughly 114 civil actions during a game, meaning players should plan how to spend these actions at the start of the game.
There are other cards which were not reviewed that may impact actions available.  Isaac Newton permits the learning of technologies without expending actions, and Robespierre allows revolutions using Military Actions instead of civil actions.

I want to continue the discussion on Actions, but will switch to Culture Generation.  What issues have you experienced with Actions and might want advice on, or what comments do you have about the information above?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Through The Ages-Part V-Actions: Civic Cards

The forum for this blog is located at:

Civil Technologies
Three civil technology cards exist to increase actions: Code of Law, Justice System, and Civil Service.
Code of Law

TIPAction CostRecipe
Expedient35Turn 1:Take RevIdea-A
           Take IdlBusSite-A
Turn 2:Play IBS-A Philosophy
           Take RevIdea-I 
 Turn 3:Play RevIdea-A
           Play RevIdea-I
           Play Code of Law 
Efficient52Turn 3: Build Philosophy
Turn 5:Take Code of Law
           Play Code of Law
Turn 3: Build Philosophy
            Take RevIdea-I
Turn 4:Play RevIdea-I
          Take Code of Law
          Play Code of Law
Max Benefit = 14
Code of Law provides one of the best ways to gain actions.  At half the Science cost of Monarchy, Code of Laws is relatively cheap on the Science.

In all cases it is required to build a philosophy.  For the Expedient this is built on Turn 2 using Ideal Business Site.  For the other processes, the Philosophy must be built on Turn 3 without using a card.

Justice System

TIPAction CostRecipe
Expedient94Turn 9:Take Justice System
           Play Justice System
Efficient102Turn 10:Take Justice System
           Play Justice System
Turn 10:Take Justice System
           Play Justice System
Max Benefit = 9
Justice System occurs about halfway through the game, at best.  It may provide a maximum benefit of 9 actions if played around turn 10, but most likely the benefit will be less.  Despite costing only one more Science than Code of Laws, it is inferior in generating Action points.

Civil Service

TIPAction CostRecipe
Expedient94Turn 9:Take Civil Service
           Play Civil Service
Efficient102Turn 10:Take Civil Service
            Play Civil Service
Turn 10:Take Civil Service
            Play Civil Service
Max Benefit = 8
Civil Service is the last Civic Special Technology card which provides actions.  Despite being a late game technology, Civil Service provides an almost immediate return on its investment.  This means no matter when the Civil Service comes out, it is guaranteed to generate its Action cost in return, at least as long as no other Civic cards are already in play.  Even so, if the game is guaranteed to last one more turn, Civil Service is will generate an action profit.

Switching Civic Cards
If a player switches civic cards there is the risk of losing actions needlessly.  The chart to the left displays the results of a change to the civic actions.  From the chart, going form Justice System to Civil Service  or from Code of Laws to Justice System results in an overall loss when compared to just the Code of Laws.

The best gain is to switch from Code of Laws to Civil Service, granting a total yield of 17 actions.

Basically, if concerned with Actions, all three Civic cards provide a decent return.  Their largest drawback is the science cost.  The earlier Age Civics provide greater overall return than their later Age Civics.  However, switching from either Age I to the Age III Civil Service will provide a net increase in almost all regards.

In the case of switching from Age I to Age II will always result in a net loss of actions.  The best return begins with the Code of Law and switches to the Civil Service.  At most, civic technologies will provide an additional 17 actions to a player's game.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Through The Ages-Part IV-Generating More Actions

The forum for this site is located here:

Civil Actions drive the economy engine of a Through The Ages empire.  Generating more actions than others provides an advantage.  From this analysis, it is important to see how to generate more actions, and what can be expected from these actions.
Ways to Generate Actions
There exist a limited number of means to generate additional actions:
  • Government Technologies: Everyone but 
  • Leader: Hammurabi
  • Wonders: The Pyramids and Kremlin
  • Special Blue Technology Cards (Civil type cards)
Expected Payoff
Bringing these cards into play requires civil actions.  Every card requires at least 2 civil actions, and several require more than 2 civil actions.  Additionally, Yellow Cards may be played to "accelerate" bringing a card into play.  The following analysis represents the best "theoretical" possibility of bringing each card into play and a more "realistic" approach to bringing them into play.  For the sake of this discussion, only Civil Actions are important for review, any other benefits/penalties a card brings are ignored.

TIP = "Turn in Play", when the card enters into play and begins generating its bonus.
Expedient: Means the fastest the unit may enter play (theoretically), through play of Yellow cards if necessary.
Efficient: Fewest Actions to bring unit in play
Expected: A realistic expectation of when the card may enter play, based on when the card will most likely appear in turn order.
TIPAction CostRecipe
Expedient 22Turn 1: Take Hammurabi
Turn 2: Play Hammurabi
Efficient22Turn 1: Take Hammurabi
Turn 2: Play Hammurabi
Turn 1: Take Hammurabi
Turn 2: Play Hammurabi
Max Benefit = 5
Hammurabi, at least in my edition, gains 1 civil action, but loses 1 Military Action.  Being an Age A leader, Hammurabi is available to be taken on Turn 1, so is available for play on Turn 2.  Being a Leader, Hammurabi dies when Age I ends, which is on Turn 8 from our earlier discussion on game flow.  Thus, Hammurabi only benefits the player for 7 turns at best.

Hammurabi is the fastest way to increase Civil actions available to players.  However, his benefit is not long lasting.  On the other hand, the break even point for Hammurabi is the turn after he is played.
TIPAction CostRecipe
Expedient35Turn 1: Take Pyramids
           Take EG-A
Turn 2: Play EG-A
Turn 3: Build Wonder x2
Efficient44Turn 1: Take Pyramid
Turn 2: No Action
Turn 3: Build Wonder
Turn 4: Build Wonder x2
As Efficient above, OR

Turn 1: Take Pyramid
Turn 2: Build Mine
Turn 3: Build Wonder
Turn 4: Build Wonder x2
Max Benefit = 13
The Pyramids are the first Wonder available.  Being a Wonder, there is no way to stop the Pyramids beyond the "Ravages of Time" event card.  If another Age A or Age I wonder is built, than the "Ravages of Time" event gives the player controlling Pyramids the option to either remove one Action or Ravage the other wonder.

An interesting not of the Pyramids action return graph is it does not matter which way the player opts to build the Pyramids, both break even on Turn 5.  From this chart, it doesn't seem rushing the Pyramids using Engineering Genius is necessarily good if actions are needed elsewhere, such as taking cards from card rows, increase mines to 3 workers, etc.

Note the action used to Build a Mine does not count against the Pyramids construction cost.  This is because the Build Mine action does not change the turn used to build the Pyramids and it provides an additional Ore benefit for the remainder of the game.
TIPAction CostRecipe
Expedient 105Turn 9: Take Kremlin (3 Actions)
Turn 10:Build Wonderx3 
Efficient104Turn 10: Take Kremlin
            Build Wonder x3
Turn 12: Take Kremlin
            Build Wonder
Turn 13:Build Wonderx2
Max Benefit = 7
The Kremlin is an Age II Wonder, and its arrival late in the game is seen in its action gain chart.  At best, the Kremlin appears on Turn 9 and can be built on Turn 10.  If it is taken from the card row immediately, it takes 5 turns to pay off the action cost debt.

If the other players take cards from the card row to drop the Kremlin into the 1-Action cost card row range by turn 10, it is possible to select the Kremlin and pay for it all on Turn 10. In this best case scenario, the pay off is 7 additional actions.

Realistically, however, Kremlin appears somewhere in the middle of the turn, around Turn 11 or 12, and is built on Turn 12 or 13.  If the player did not build any other Wonders, Kremlin might be expected to gain 4 Actions in any given game.  Normally, most players have already built a Stage A and a Stage I wonder by this time, driving the cost to take Kremlin up by 1 or 2 actions.  Thus, the realistic gain in Actions from Kremlin is a meager 2 civil actions.

From a Civil Action Standpoint, the Kremlin is the worst of all the Civil Action Generators with the exception of late arriving Age III governments.
Only partway through the analysis, but already we can see some important variances between the Theoretical Maximum and the "expected" average draw.

Hammurabi provides the fastest return on investment, but maxes out with only 5 actions.  The Pyramids provide an additional 13 actions, and is the only item with this level of return available from Turn 1.  The other interesting fact is the payoff for Pyramids is the same whether Engineering Genius is used or not.

The Kremlin, if it appears immediately and is built, has the ability to eventually provide a payoff similar to Hammurabi.

We will discuss them in greater detail in a future article after discussing the other means of generating actions: Civic and Government technologies.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Through The Ages-Part III-Actions: Efficiency vs Expediency

I have started a forum for discussing this at the following site:

Through the Ages is game where players need to balance Expediency, the ability to create buildings/structures, with Efficiency, the ability to create the buildings using the fewest amount of resources.  there resources could be:
  • Actions, Civil and Military
  • Ore
  • Population
  • Science
This article will discuss Yellow, or Action, Cards.
Civil Action Advantage
Left to their own devices, having more Actions in TtA yields an advantage.  If nothing else, it provides 'options'.  First, it allows a player to expand the economy so more buildings may be constructed, population increases are relatively less expensive, and it provides a greater hand of civil cards.
Card Row: Cost in actions increases as the card enters play (on the Right) and decreases over time (as card moves left)
Plus, there is the card row to consider.  Even if two players perform the same actions, if one player has
an additional action it means they may take higher in the card row.  This can provide the player with more actions the ability to grab a card an extra round earlier or deny the card to their opponents.  Therefore, understanding how to generate more Civil Actions becomes critical.  It will also assist in the player generating a strategy about which cards to choose, and when to play them effectively.
Action/Resource Cards (Yellow)
Action cards are all the Yellow in TtA.  Action cards are used to transform "Actions" into some form of resource: Ore, Food, Science, etc.  For purposes of this blog, I will ref

Friday, December 9, 2011

Through The Ages-Part II-Rules of Analysis and Flow of a Game

Here are some of the basic rules I'm adopting for analysis of TtA:
  • Number Players: 4
  • Expansions: None (base game only)
  • Number of Rounds in Game: 20
    • Age A  = 1
    • Age I   = 7
    • Age II  = 6
    • Age III = 4

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Recognition of Pearl Harbor Day

Every Pearl Harbor Day I go out and find an American Flag regardless of where I'm at and spend a few minutes reflecting on the impact and sacrifices of Dec 7th, 1941.  Five minutes of my time is little enough to ask to remember those that died that day, and during WWII.  In Florida, I used to go out front of the Office Depot and spend some time gazing at the flag waving from the flag pole.  In the Longmont, CO Office I would walk several blocks to the Police station.  Today was not as auspicious.  It was in just in my garage, but it is a tradition I remembered.

Does anyone out there do anything special for Pearl Harbor Day, or is just me?

Lastly, a friend of mine sent me an article on the submarine forces during WWII, which I share with you now: Submariners at Pearl Harbor.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Through The Ages- Part I - Overview

 This will begin the analysis of Through The Ages (TtA), a board game by Vlaada Chvátil.  In general, I like Vlaada's work, it is original and funny.  Most of his games are relatively short, have "two distinct parts" (Planning and Resolution), and require quick thinking or on the spot decisions.

TtA is nothing like those games.
Through the Ages is a civilization building game.  Players manage their nation's economies to discover technologies, construct buildings, discover new lands, and manage military conquests.  Most of this is done abstractly, but no less clearly.  Up to 4 players may play a game of TtA, but a face-to-face game can take upwards of 3 to 6 hours, depending on the number of players and the degree of Analysis Paralysis.  This makes playing TtA an all day affair.

Fortunately, the people of boardgaming online have created an electronic Play By Email (PBEM) version of the game which also alleviates all the "accounting work".  This leaves the players with the strategic decision making and the low level details to the computer.
Two Types of Boards
Common (Scoring) Board
The first board is essentially a tracking and scoring board combined.  It contains all the players current important information in a glance.  This board measures the following for each player: Culture, Culture gained per turn (Culture Rating), Science, Science gained per turn (Science Rating), and Military Strength.

This board also holds the Civil cards in a "Card Row".  Players may select a card from this row by using one, two, or three of their actions, depending on the card's position in the card row.

Military Cards are placed in a pile and are drawn randomly.  Some military cards are "Events", and these can be seeded into the "Future Events" pile.  When an Event card is placed in the Future Events, the top event of the "Current Events" pile is drawn and resolved.  If there are no "Current Events", the Future Events are shuffled and become the "Current Events".

Player Board
Every player also receives a Player Board.  The Player Board contains the cards in play in an organized fashion.  Unfortunately, the Player Board cannot hold all the cards in play, so some cards will "Leak over" onto the table.  The important aspects are there, however.  From here, the player manages their workers, resources, and other important aspects of their civilization.
General Concept
Each player receives a number of Civil Actions (CA) and Military Actions (MA).  These two types of actions are spent on different things:

Military Actions Civil Actions
Build Military Units (troops) Increase Population
Declare Wars Assign Worker
Declare Aggressions Learn Technologies
Draw Military Cards into hand Retrieve card from Card Row
Controls Military Card Discards Build Wonders

At the end of the turn, the civilization generates the resources in the following order:
  • Happiness - Every population added to potential worker pool increase unrest.  If there is every more Unrest than unassigned workers, the player generates no other items.  To offset unrest, the player's buildings generate "Happy faces".  Every Temple and Theatre generates happiness.
  • Food - Equal to the number of workers assigned to Farms minus any consumption (population eats some food).  This comes from the blue "Resource" tokens in the player's bank.
  • Production (ore) - Ore is added to the player's Mines for each worker assigned to a Mine minus any "Corruption".  These also use the blue Resource tokens, just like the Food.  Corruption occurs if the player uses too many Resource tokens.
  • Science - Generates science equal to the player's science rating.  Basically, any worker on a Lab or a Library generates Science.
  • Culture - Generates culture equal to the player's Culture Rating.  Basically, every worker on a Library, Theatre, or Temple card generates Culture.
Combat Resolution
Combat in TtA is geared towards the defensive player, but will differ slightly depending on the type of conflict: War or Aggression.
Military Units
Every military unit generates a "Strength".  Additionally, combining military units in particular combinations may increase this strength if the player has a Tactics card in play.

During War and Aggression, a player may sacrifice (return the Military Unit's worker) to the player's Yellow Bank.  This unit will then generate an additional amount of "Strength" equal to its value.  If units are spent in combinations of the same type as the Tactics card, then the Tactics cards strength is also added second time.

When players declare any "sacrifices", the Attacking player declares sacrifices first.  Then the Defender.  This gives the Defense an edge in knowing what the other player is going to commit.

The standing Military Strength is capped at 60.  Players may sacrifice units to increase this beyond 60, however.

A war is resolved on the turn AFTER it is declared as the first part of the Attacker's turn, before all other actions.  In Wars, the player with the Highest total wins the war.  Thus, with Wars the attacker and defender are at risk.

Wars have wide ranging and devastating effects depending on the War card played.  Some may steal culture, Steal the other player's Yellow Tokens from the Population Bank, Destroy buildings, Take resources, etc.

Wars are not available until Age II.
Similar to Wars with three important differences.
  1. Aggression cards resolve immediately when played.
  2. The Attacker, even if he loses, does not suffer the consequences of the card
  3. The Defender may play Defense cards to "boost" the player's strength and prevent the Aggression.
More Information
For more information, it is recommended to read the rules.  The next article will delve into the beginning of strategy analysis. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Upcoming - Specific Game Strategy Discussions

Game Specific Strategies/Tactics Coming 
In the coming weeks I will begin discussing various strategies, or analysis, of specific games.  The objective is to provide guidance about particular aspects of games.   I often feel there are few "best ways to win" in a well designed game, but I'm looking to put my thoughts on electronic paper and back them up with objective analysis.

Site Changes
I am also trying to determine a way to collect these articles into a "forum" which people could comment on.  I plan to post them to both this blog, and to the forum.  I haven't found one I'm happy with yet, so let me know if you are aware of a good forum service and I'll check it out.

Initial Games

The first game I plan on analyzing is:  Through the Ages.  I've played quite a bit of in the past few months and there is more than enough meat to chew on for quite some time.

Other Suggestions
I'm also looking to get suggestions on what game(s) to analyze after Through the Ages.  Any ideas?  If there is one you would like to see, please either send me an email or leave a note in the comments.  It does take some time to properly analyze a game, and it takes repeated plays (especially if it is a really deep game).  As such, I may create a list of games people suggest and have players vote on the next game I should analyze.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Doctrine vs Strategy

Doctrine, Strategy and Tactics all differ slightly.  Strategy defines the objectives needed to achieve success.  Tactics describes how those objectives will be taken.  But dictating over both is Doctrine.  Doctrine is a military concept, but also one which can be applied to players when playing a game.
Doctrine is something which is taught, and it becomes and these teachings become an ingrained belief.  Often armchair generals talk about "why didn't xxxx use yyyy when it was obvious zzzz wasn't going to work?"  The reason: Doctrine.

Doctrine forms the basis of military thinking around how the next war will be fought.  As such, it determines what military engagements "should be like" in the next war.  Nations then build units around this "should be" doctrine.  This enters into a self-fulfilling prophesy, however.  As the units are designed for a specific type of war, then the next war is fought using the tactics which best fight that type of war.  Thus, in most cases, Doctrine is "correct" not because it is "valid", but because the units are designed to operate in that way under the best conditions.

Changing Doctrine
Doctrine can change, albeit usually under duress.   It would be great to say Doctrine changes before it is required, but often this is not the case.  Doctrine changes primarily when:

  • Technology makes it obsolete,
  • Terrain makes it impossible, 
  • Necessity demands it.

In the American Civil War (ACW) tactics were driven by the Doctrine taught at West Point, which were a product of Napoleonic wars.  In true Napoleonic style, this meant the three arms of the army (Infantry, cavalry, and Artillery) working together in coordinated unison.  However, in the United States the terrain prevented much of that required coordination.  Technology changed such that artillery was deadly at long range, disrupting the ability to hold formations together.  During the ACW, the defensive was so much stronger than offensive, the South eventually developed "Trench Warfare".  This confirmed what the British learned during the New Zealand Wars (aka: Maori Wars), fighting behind fortifications in long lines would cause greater damage to an attacker than the defender.  Unfortunately, this lesson was essentially ignored by the military of all nations until World War I established trench warfare as the new doctrine until the development of aircraft as the decisive weapon of war.

Necessity also demands changes.  Nearly all navies of the world subscribed to the "Decisive Battle Doctrine", where a great naval battle of both sides duke it out and the war is then decided.  At the center of this naval doctrine was the battleship.  With the destruction of the American battleships in the Pacific in 1941, the US was forced to change its doctrine.  The US fleet could not take on the Japanese fleet in a decisive battle.  Instead, the US adopted a "Commerce Raiding" doctrine.  American fleets avoided large scale battles with the enemy where possible, instead focusing on destroying critical enemy ships at given times, and then retreating to conserve ships.  Only after achieving production superiority did US ships engage in fleet battles, and even those were initiated by the Japanese.

Doctrine In Games
A major difficulty for designers becomes the recreation of "period" doctrines.  In many ways it is simpler to simulate units at the operational level, where the distinction between types of units becomes blurred and all that matters are armies.  At lower levels, it becomes more difficult as the differences between the types of units: artillery, infantry and cavalry, become more distinct.  Unfortunately, it is tempting to use 'Napoleonic cavarly' with a "german Blitzkrieg", a way in which cavalry were not used.  Some systems attempt to prevent this in the rules, but this can quickly create a large rules set with many exceptions.  
Doctrine Of a Player
Players also adopt a play style which can become their "Doctrine".  I know of a player who prefers the idea of "bigger is better".  Regardless of the game, the player will always build the unit with the biggest guns, despite the evidence there are more cost effective units out there.  The result is the player becomes predictable and easier to counter.
Know Your Doctrine
Knowing your style of play becomes critical to understanding your strategic and tactical blind spots.  Oftentimes I will try a new strategy not out of boredom, but to see what I can learn about my play style.  This challenges me to try to work outside what I'm familiar with and learn how others counter it.  I like to think it makes me a better player in the long run, it certainly doesn't add to my Win-Loss rate in the short term, but it keeps my opponent's from knowing what I will do next.  And, every once in a while, I combine elements to form a new strategy which throws everyone off kilter, and makes the game fun.

Carl Boyd, "The Japanese Submarine Force and the Legacy of Strategic and Operational Doctrine Developed Between the World Wars", in Larry Addington ed.Selected Papers from the Citadel Conference on War and Diplomacy: 1978(Charleston, 1979) 27–40; Clark G. Reynolds, Command of the Sea: The History and Strategy of Maritime Empires (1974) 512.

The Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee (February 1947), Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Larry Jewell & Patrick Clancey, ed., HyperWar: Japanese Naval and Merchant Shipping Losses During World War II Japanese Naval and Merchant Shipping Losses During World War II by All Causes NAVEXOS P-468Hyperwar project ed. Patrick Clancey

"Japanese Naval and Merchant Vessels Sunk During World War II By All U.S. Submarines". Retrieved 2010-10-31.

 "Creating military power: the sources of military effectiveness". Risa Brooks, Elizabeth A. Stanley (2007). Stanford University Press. p.41. ISBN 0804753997

Joseph H. Alexander, Closing In: Marines in the Seizure of Iwo Jima (1994) a short Marine Corps history

Schenker, Carl R., Jr. "Ulysses in His Tent: Halleck, Grant, Sherman, and 'The Turning Point of the War'". Civil War History (June 2010), vol. 56, no. 2, p. 175.

Simpson, Brooks D. "After Shiloh: Grant, Sherman, and Survival". The Shiloh Campaign. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2009.

Steere, Edward. The Wilderness Campaign. Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1960.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Surface Area III...Defensive Options

First, I have added a poll question to the right bar which I'd like to collect everyone's response.  Please let me know what you think.
The Player's Positions
Yellow: On the Defensive
It may seem Yellow has no actions when on the defensive, but there are things Yellow can do to adjust the mental state of their opponents.  This allows Yellow to control their opponent's actions to a degree.  However, first Yellow must come to terms with a given fact:
Yellow Will Lose Territory.

Inevitable Loss of Territory
Unless Yellow has an unusually large number of units compared to their opponents, it is not possible for Yellow to defend every space.  The following chart lists each color, their number of units, and their 'Army Density': how many troops may be spread evenly along each location adjacent to an enemy.

Player Spaces Surface Area Army Density
Blue 15 5 3
Green 12 7 1 (5 Leftover)
Red 9 4 2 (1 Leftover)
Yellow 14 10 1 (4 Leftover)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Surface Area II...Plan of Attack

When dealing with Irregularly Shaped boards, it is necessary to consider the areas to attack and how to defend against them.
A Game "In Progress"
Here we have basic Risk style game in progress, using the map of the US as the board.  The states occupied by a player all show the same color.

   Blue = 15 Armies
 Green = 12 Armies
Yellow = 14 Armies
   Red = 9 Armies

For this example we will have the following rules:
  • Every state provides one army per turn, which may be placed in any state(s) the player controls,
  • Every state may only attack states adjacent to them,
  • A player may not 'Blitz' -- launch an attack from a recently captured territory (Example: I capture Colorado this turn, I may not then attack from Colorado this turn, but may do so next turn).
Michigan in Pink
It's all one state
We will look at various sides to determine the best possible moves and how the irregular board affects their decision making.

NOTE: Michigan is oddly shaped and in the main image appears as if it is two separate locations.  However, it is important to realize this location is all one state.
Yellow: On the Offensive

Yellow appears to be in the worst possible position militarily.  Yellow has charged up the center and now occupies 14 regions.  Normally in a game where a player creates a bulge like this it is not a good thing.  Despite receiving 14 armies, Yellow can be attacked into 10 different locations.  Trying to defend all of these locations is nigh impossible, especially considering they may face the might of all three opposing powers.

Yellow needs to consolidate it's power.  The answer is to attack.  The question is "Where?"
Positive Attacks
Positive Attacks
Since the concept is to reduce Yellow's surface area, Yellow should consider attacks into the locations indicated on the right.  The two attacks against Red in the upper left should be made first as they will decrease Yellow's overall surface area from 10 to 9.

When on the offensive, any Reduction in Surface area is a good thing.  Therefore, these attacks are a Positive Attack: an attack the player should definitely make!  The order of the attacks is important.  The northernmost attack should be made first as, by itself, it is a Neutral attack. 

Negative Attacks
Increase Surface Area
Negative Attacks
Attacking any of the states shown in the diagram below will result in Yellow increasing the surface area.  This will result in Yellow spreading its troops even thinner in order to hold on to the state.  Even if Yellow were to win ever battle there would be a net increase in surface area.  Unless a player has overwhelming superiority in force, or there are no other options remaining, negative attacks should be avoided.

Neutral Attack
Neutral Attacks
The attack into Missouri will result in a neither an increase nor a decrease in surface area.  As such, the player may decide to make the attack or choose to wait it out.  Such territories are considered 'Neutral Attacks', as they provide no tangible benefit, but carry no additional risk.

Some games, such as Risk, give a player a bonus if capture a territory.  In the case of Risk, if a player captures one territory during their turn they receive a card.  When matched with other cards the player has collected, the player may trade them in for additional armies.  For many such games, these additional armies become critical to winning the game.  This can shift a Neutral Attack to a Positive Attack.  However, if the player has already captured a territory somewhere else, the benefit (the card) has already been earned.  This once again relegates the attack to being 'Neutral'.

Neutral Attacks should be undertaken only if the player has sufficient force.  It can also be used as a bargaining chip for negotiations with other players.

Conditional Attacks
Conditional Attacks
The two attacks on Red's southern states (Arizona and Utah) normally would yield negative results.  Even if both states were won together they would result in a net increase in surface area.  However, if the two attacks above it are successful (see Positive Attacks above), then winning both states would result in no overall net increase in surface area, but the player would control more states resulting in more armies.

This makes these attacks 'Conditional Attacks'.  Making these attacks is dependent on the outcome of some other attack(s).  They are also dependent upon having sufficient forces available for both attacks to be successful.

Next Article
The next article will discuss what Yellow should do if it is not its turn and is forced to act defensively.


This article will cover an important part of many player games: negotiation.

Importance of Negotiations
In games which involve more than two players, the possibility of negotiations present itself.  Negotiations can become critical to success.  By coordinating efforts, two (or more) people can combine forces against another player.  The effect is to either:

  1. Increase the number of units brought to bear against the target player,
  2. Open up a new front the opponent must deal with, or
  3. Secure a player's flanks from attack

Achieving successful negotiations is common, but several elements must be considered.

Element of Trust
Both player's need to exhibit some trust.  Normally when negotiating, both players must put themselves at risk.  The risk may be greater for one player than the other, but the element of risk is there.  To that end, both players must have a degree of trust.  This means both players must have a reason to trust each other.
Sample Diagram
Looking at the diagram above, agreements could be reached between almost all players, except Red and Yellow.    Red and Yellow are in direct conflict.  In order for Red to expand its territory, it must intrude

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Surface Area

Map of Red Storm Rising -
Thin black lines indicates the various spaces
In past articles we discussed hex based war games.  Not all war games are hex based, some have irregularly shaped spaces which create an interesting mosaic for players to work around.  Although many of the same advice can apply to these types of games, there is one concept particular to these games to discuss: Surface Area.

Irregular Board
The following board comes from Red Storm Rising(RSR).  The spaces are all polygons, mostly four sided, but put together like a mosaic.  This type of board can require some time to decipher.   Unlike hexagonal grids, where distance become easy to determine by simply counting from one hex to another, irregularly shaped boards do not always have a "clear shortest path" from one location to another.  Adding in terrain effects (Rivers in RSR are more difficult to cross), and the calculations become more challenging.

The first question which comes to mind is "Who would come up with such a crazy map scheme".  Probably the same group which tried to break states up by natural border lines, waterways, and political boundaries.  An example of such a map is provided below:
Look familiar?
Surface Area
The "Surface Area' of any given location is equal to the number of adjacent spaces.  Color coding our Map of the United States, we get the following:
Individual Surface Areas of the States

Maine, the state in the uppermost right, is the only state adjacent to a single other state.  This means any attacks must come from New Hampshire.  Compare this to Texas, the large state in the south, which may be attacked by any of its four neighbors: Lousiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.  As expected, the states at the edge of the map have fewer neighbors than in the middle.  Still, one state, Kansas, is dead center in the map but only has four neighbors.

Objective of Surface Area Games
Normally, in games with irregular maps, players try to create 'fronts'.  A front consists of a group of units strung out along a contiguous line which faces the enemy.  Since most games limit the number of units a player receives each turn, it is best if the player's front is smaller than their opponents.

This becomes basic mathematics and a war of attrition.  If players received 12 units a turn, the player who occupies 4 locations will have 3 units added to each territory.  If their opponent occupies 6 locations, then the opponent will have only 2 units per territory.  Furthermore, the player has the option of attacking any 6 of their opponent's locations.

Kansas: Breadbasket, Corn fields, Stronghold
Missouri: watch your back, front, top, bottom...
Stronghold of Kansas
Some games permit units from surrounding territories to combine their units in attacks.  Even with this rule, Kansas stands out as a 'stronghold' in the center of the map. At most, 4 states could attack Kansas.

Compared to the state to its left, Missouri, where 8 states could combine efforts.  In this case, the smaller surface area again provides advantages in defense.

Oddities like the "Stronghold of Kansas" exist in many such games.  Identifying these oddball locations can create situations where players' "run to Kansas" just to force their opponents to thin their lines.  In the Kansas situation, it is odd because it rests in the middle of the board.  Thus, it differs from "Fortress Australia" from Risk.

Siam: Gateway to Fortress Australia

Fortress Australia

"Fortress Australia" is another common configuration found in games with irregular boards.  Made famous by Risk, the Fortress Australia configuration is more easily identifiable than "Stronghold Kansas".  The primary feature is a section of the map with an obvious choke point.

In the game of Risk, the continent of Australia can only be attacked through Siam.  Furthermore, if a player controls all of Australia's territories, the player gains bonus armies.  While the bonus armies are few compared to North America, Europe, Africa or Asia, Australia has an advantage in that it is easy to defend.  Furthermore, Australia is isolated next to the largest bonus continent: Asia.  Defending Australia consists of Occupying Siam and building a massive force.  While holding Siam, Australia provides 2 bonus armies and denies a player Asia's benefit of 7 armies.

The "Fortress Australia" is usually fairly obvious and the strategy around it is fairly simple.  Railroad Tycoon has a similar "Fortress Australia" in the Northeastern States, where there is a greater concentration of cities with relatively easy terrain.  If left alone, a single player can quickly dominate the game.

Next Article
The next article will discuss more about Surface Area as it applies to the players positioning.  We will cover Tips for Attacking and Defending, setup the ground rules for a sample game, and discuss how irregularly shaped boards need to affect the overall strategy.