Saturday, October 8, 2011

Games - Tempo

Tempo and initiative are related concepts, but have very different Impacts.  This article discusses Tempo.  We will discuss Initiative in a different article, then combine the two concepts.

Tempo is the "speed at which things develop".  This may seem to be under the control of the players, but only to an extent.  The game system also has a natural rhythm which impacts the speed of play of the game.

Games with fast Tempos are quick, with decisive engagements.  Usually there involves lots of maneuvering, but not always.  Generally speaking, a game with a fast tempo will end quickly, while one with slow tempo takes longer.

Fast Tempo Games
Games with a fast tempo begin at a point where forces are relatively close together or able to engage as early as the first turn.  Fast tempo games may also involve combat which quickly decides whether a unit lives or dies, or where the scale of the board is small enough movement from one edge to the other is relatively rapid.

Memoir 44: a fast tempo game with minimal rules for quick play.
Still loads of fun in a short package 
Fast tempo games tend to be quick and brutal, with heavy losses.  It is not that Fast Tempo games do not have strategic depth, but if a large mistake is made it may be difficult to recover.  The games may be lighter in nature, but that doesn't mean they are no less challenging.  Other fast tempo games may involve territories which change player's control territory.

Memoir'44, or any of the "Command & Colors" games by Richard Borg fall within this category.  Most of these games resolve within an hour, sometimes slightly longer.  Combat is a simple die roll, and the board is large enough to allow maneuvering, but not large enough to allow units to escape combat altogether.  Once damaged a unit remains damaged, and repair or reinforcements may not appear in the entire game
Slow Tempo Games
Other games develop slowly.  Combat may involve partial losses, or damage rather than outright destruction.  This usually mean unit's slowly deteriorate over time rather than completely dissolve.

Slow tempo games may also suffer from a resolution issue.  Some games have a simple quick and dirty combat system: Units hit or miss, and do damage accordingly.  These tend to be quicker combat games.  Games with slower tempos tend to have more complex battle resolutions: such as calculating range effects, determining suppression levels, rolling to determine the power of the attack, then having the target check for morale failure, etc.

Advanced Squad Leader (ASL), and many of the "hex and paper" games of the 1970's/1980's, fall into this category.  ASL focused on tactical level combat at the squad/individual tank level, but other games focus on the operational/theater level.  Slow tempo games usually require greater understanding of strategic placement and the options available to the units to get the most out of them.  Many dice rolls are common in these type of games, meaning luck should even out, and the victory depends more on unit placement, positioning, and mobility.

Changing Tempo Games
VTES(aka Jyhad) is a changing tempo game
where a challenge is to predict when the tempo
will change
*Image provided by Maeglor at
One of my favorite games to play are those with a changing tempo.  Changing tempo games are rare, especially those which change multiple times during the game.  Most games involve a period of setup, during which players construct units, maneuver forces, and explore the area around them.  Then, sometimes unexpectedly, oftentimes planned, there is a flurry of activity as players compete for position or victory.  After this flurry, the game resumes a more leisurely pace as players replenish their forces, repair their units, and prepare for the next assault.

The collectible card game V:TES (previously, Jyhad) is the best example I know of this type of game.  A game with eight players may last 4 or 5 hours, but the tempo tends to accelerate/decelerate every 20 to 30 minutes.  At first players need to build up their forces and get resources into play.  Some little actions occur during these first turns to disrupt the other players, but no major assaults.  Once one player has enough in play to stage an assault, there is a rush of activity as players attempt to defeat one another.  Usually this ends with one or two players removed from the game and everyone weakened.  The process than begins again.

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