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Balance and Playability

Latest Blogs - Sat, 06/07/2014 - 07:09
HAYSEED: 'That's the fifth black card you've drawn in a row.'

SUNDANCE: Yeah, lucky...'

HAYSEED: 'I think there's more to it than luck.'

SUNDANCE: 'What are you sayin'? Are you saying that I'm cheating?' '

HAYSEED: I'm sayin' nobody draws five black cards out of a Russian pile without drawing a single red card.'

BUTCH: 'Soviet.'

HAYSEED: 'OK, Soviet then. It can't be done. Take that last FFE off the board or I'm gonna fill ya full of holes.'

BUTCH: 'C'mon, Sundance, it ain't worth it.'

SUNDANCE: 'I wasn't cheating.'

HAYSEED: ' the famous Sundance Kid outta Laramie?'

BUTCH: 'Look mister, just apologize and you can go back home to your carrot farm.''

HAYSEED: 'If I'da known he was the Kid, I wouldn'a said anything.'

SUNDANCE: 'I wasn't cheating.'

BUTCH: OK, Kid, just let turnip-boy here go home to his mare. There ain't gotta be no killin.'

SUNDANCE: 'Butch, tell him I wasn't cheating.'

BUTCH: 'Look, sodbuster, the Kid don't cheat at draw piles. Oh, sure, he may knock over a few concealment stacks or forget which StuG is outta smoke, but who doesn't?'

SUNDANCE: 'Thanks, Butch.'

BUTCH: "Don't mention it. Now, be a good dirt farmer and apologize so we don't have to spend four good dollars on a casket.'

HAYSEED: 'Sorry, Kid. I hope ya didn't take me wrong. I know you wouldn't cheat.' BLAM!

SUNDANCE: He didn't say it with enough conviction. I even gave that son-of-a-bitch the balance.'

BUTCH: 'I know, Kid, I know. I heard the face to face is a lot better down in Bolivia."

As we go into ASLOK weekend (or, in my case NotASLOK), I become curious about play balance. Here in SoBo, we play according to a loose Gentlemen's Agreement. It is always kept in mind that we do not play for wagers--not large ones anyway. Even among the wider expanses of the Centennial State, comradeship is the norm and I have only once had a firearm drawn against me.

However, in a tournament setting the stakes can often be as high as a $30 module that you won't even have to pay shipping for. The idea of a $10 trophy to set prominently in one's man cave is a unholy, beckoning lure that turns an otherwise affable fellow into a HIP-swapping swine of the lowest order. Cheating? Yes, but there is sharking as well. Some dude lays up and gives you the old, "I've always wanted to play Grinding Mill as the Russians."

Scenario balance is generally considered a function of playtesting. A well-playtested scenario should be relatively balanced. While ASL is not generally played for money, fame or sexual favors, people generally like to believe that they have a chance of winning a scenario they are about to play. Hence, the term "unbalanced dog" is a term which all scenario designers run in fear from lest they fall prey to the pumpkin headed horseman.

Using data from ROAR, the Remote On-line Automated Record, I compiled a list of scenarios to see what the data say about ASL scenarios. Now, as TEDMS will certainly point out, ROAR is not perfect. It does not take into consideration the levels of the players, in many cases the balance used and of course randomness which is inherent in the game. However, once a critical mass of playings is reached, there are no reasons to think these random effects would not balance out. ROAR is self-reporting and (while I'm not accusing anyone of doing this) it is susceptible to manipulation by third party marketers that wish to show their scenario packs as balanced and getting a lot of play. However, especially in the case of large numbers of playings, we can assume that the data here are a pretty dependable source of inference about the balance of a scenario.

This involves analysis of 4141 scenarios, although only 3477 have a recorded playing.

First, I develop a percentage of playings where the attacker wins the scenario. Not surprisingly, but noted with some comfort, the mean (average) probability of wins by the attacker is 49.8%--very near the 50% we would expect if we chose the winner at random.

The percentage of wins by attacker is then plotted with number of playings. The hypothesis is, of course, that more balanced scenarios are more likely to receive regular play. Thus, the more playings recorded by a scenario, the more likely it is to be balanced. However, we need to be very careful about this inference because statistics and probability always suggests that the more often you observe something, the less likely you are to observe a mean which deviates from the expected pattern. Nevertheless, here is the plot:

On the right hand (vertical) axis is scenario balance. This is calculated by taking the absolute value of the difference between the percentage of wins by the attacker and .5 (the expected random result.) The formula for this is:

B = |(a/p) - .5|
Where B is the balance, a is the number of attacker wins and p is the number of playings.

While in general, there is sufficient evidence to support the hypothesis (that is, the data suggest that scenarios with greater balance are more likely to get more play), there are a number of curious deviations.
The n, or total population of playings, is 71567. The standard deviation from the expectation of scenario balance (50%) is 95.1, meaning that we can be confident to almost 1 chance in 1000 that the overall balance of scenarios is nearly 50%.

This, of course, leads to a wealth of new questions. Which are the most balanced scenarios? That I can answer! The top ten scenarios by statistical confidence measures are not much of a surprise to the grognards:

A pretty wide variety of publishers--an far fewer than I would have thought for "official" publications.

On the other hand, here are the most unbalanced scenarios with more than 50 playings:

Note that nearly all are official TAHGC/MMP scenarios. And all of them are pretty well known. Since many people consider balance to be crucial to scenario selection and (at least among reporters) everyone has access to ROAR, why are these scenarios getting played?

Clearly, these are some good scenarios with a great deal of prima facae attraction.

According to ROAR, the most played, least balanced scenario in the archive is ASL14 Silence that Gun from Paratrooper. While tipping 30% pro-German, StG has 320 recorded playings. What is the attraction?

First, a synopsis: A half a company of American paratroopers complete the “Longest Day” by attempting to seize the board 3 village and/or a hidden AT gun. The Germans defend with the usual collections of Sad Sacks and Hiwis which, for some inexplicable reason, were stationed in Normandy to clear the good troops for the Eastern Front. The board is the classic 2-3-4 arrangement, meaning that this is, largely, playable with SL components.

What makes it a favorite? Well, it’s D-Day and Paratroopers. It’s one of the first scenarios and has components practically everyone has. In all, this seems like a classic scenario waiting to happen. It’s a scene straight out of a John Wayne movie.

What makes this scenario unbalanced? Well, first off, it is a half-company attacking a company. While there is a HUGE qualitative difference, the Americans enjoy a firepower advantage but only a marginal morale advantage. Leadership is equal. Germans enjoy a rather large advantage in SW—the HMG and the MMG. The VC do not force the Germans to spread out and, it seems, the best strategy is to have the fortified building and HIP gun covering each other or to move the HIP gun completely out of the way and never, ever use it. With six squads and six turns, it’s simply impossible for the Americans to find it in time except by sheer luck or by a really bad strategy on the German’s part.

Destroying the HIP gun seems to me to be a hopeless task for the Americans. It involves deploying and doing lots of searches—which will still take time. There are 450 hexes in the German setup area. Probably around 100 have concealment terrain. Six American squads, six turns. Do the math.

So, the Americans have to “solely occupy” the fortified building in the board 3 village. Logic dictates that this will be building N1. It’s tallest. It’s biggest. It’s stone. This kind of takes the guesswork out of it, but can anyone really justify any other building? Perhaps M5, if you were adventurous. While it is wood, it has a first level. It is more difficult to approach—but the Amis have lots of smoke. You could cover it from N1. Still, it has less than half the locations of N1, making things a lot easier on the Americans.

Therefore, it looks like this one devolves into an “Americans assault 3N1 building” scenario. It is do-able. Perhaps not all that fun.

The balance fix is to remove the second level from N1. That doesn’t seem like much, but an examination of the board shows precisely why it is extremely important. N1 suddenly doesn’t cover the approach from the east, allowing paratroopers to deal with a few covering squads and then run up next to the building.

One “fix” is to not allow the gun to set up HIP. That’s a pretty big balance and changes the scenario substantially. It provides the Americans a real alternative to assaulting 3N1. Perhaps more importantly, it makes the Germans set up differently, making them bring the gun into the safety of the N1 MG nest cover.

Funny, but I don’t ever remember having played this one. My view of “Silence that Gun” is that it is a pretty simple scenario and one that is good for teaching first timers (give them the Germans.) It’s kind of a classic, but it’s hard to imagine how many plays it would have if it were more balanced. And it’s not really that far off. I would be interested to hear what others have to say about this one.
Categories: Blogs

Bring the HEAT...

Latest Blogs - Sat, 06/07/2014 - 06:46
ME: Thinking, thinking...

TEDMS: Time's up.

ME: I'll fire APCR. A "7", I haven't got it. Firing AP. A "9," miss.

Earlier I talked about various to kill effects of Soviet APCR rounds. These range from the moderately effective 45mm APCR round to the why-bother 76L round. Range is a key factor on whether APCR is worth firing. APCR is most effective at close range. Which means that good tankers save APCR when you need to kill a monster at close range.

However, good tankers also know that APCR can increase your hit chances. Because depletion numbers are low numbers and therefore, you are more likely to not have it (and, therefore, no shot takes effect), you get a second shot--a "do-over" or a "mulligan." As a result, the probability of getting a hit usually increases.

But there is a lot of math behind this. A lot of math. As demonstrated above, it is possible to attempt special ammo and have your non-shot be a hit and then miss on the do-over. For this reason, it is a bad move to use the APCR to-hit strategy when you have a low depletion and a high to hit unless you need the TK bonus.

These figures are, approximately, the modification to your to-hit probability based on your depletion number if you first try APCR. The horizontal axis is your FINAL to hit number. As you probably guessed, this strategy generally works best if your depletion number is high and your to hit number is somewhere in the middle. The easier a target is to hit, the less it makes sense to attempt an APCR shot--if you are simply seeking to increase your hit probability.

Why do the lines drop to the negative? Because of the likelihood that you will deplete your ammo but hit with the first shot and miss with the second. Keep in mind also that you are effectively doubling your chances of malfunctioning your weapon. APCR may also increase the risk of creating smoke where you don't want it.

A good tanker also assesses the risk of depletion when firing APCR, because you don't want to use a shell to increase your likelihood of hitting a softer target if you have a monster to deal with. Even depletion numbers as high as a 7 make it extremely likely you will only get one shot. The WORST case scenario for you is firing and missing with your last APCR round.

So here are your probabilities for each depletion number for each shot taken:

In fact, these numbers are good for HEAT as well (although I think some of the Soviet heavy guns have higher depletion numbers and if you throw low ammo into the mix it changes everything.)

All of this boils down to a rule of thumb: If you face something that you need the APCR for later, you probably don't want to fire it simply to increase the likelihood of hitting. If you are firing it to increase you chances of hitting, don't fire it if your final to hit number is greater than your depletion number, because the benefits drop off very quickly.

I find this tactic kind of gamey and unwholesome and it is a bit silly for the rules to provide an advantage simply as a mechanism for determining rarer ammunition availability. As an alternative, I might suggest treating APCR, HEAT and even SMOKE more like panzerfausts. When the player announces the shot, he makes a dr based on his depletion number:

Rolling less than or equal to the availability number means that gun has the special ammo and is in a position to fire it for that shot. To preserve balance, I would also suggest the following modifiers:
+x for each previous shot with that type of ammo by that gun.
+1 for low ammo
-1 for attempting (and failing) to fire special ammo with the previous shot
-1 for target's best AF > or = the gun's TK number
+2 for a deliberate immobilization shot

Gunners rarely unloaded their AP shells to replace them with HEAT or APCR. Standard practice was to fire the round in the gun and then load the desired ammunition for the follow up shot. So the alternate system provides a degree of realism by increasing the likelihood of a second shot being special ammo.
Categories: Blogs

LOADER! Um...surprise me.

Latest Blogs - Sat, 06/07/2014 - 05:13
Armor Piercing Composite Rigid (APCR) ammo is made from a nickle alloy. In fact, the hunger for nickle drove many campaigns, many in the most inhospitable conditions (e.g. Narvik, Petsamo). Nickle was so valuable, in fact that the US stopped using nickle to make nickles and used them instead to make shells. You can still find some 1943-1945 nickles out there in circulation with an "S" stamped on them for the steel they were made from.

APCR can really seem like a difference maker when taking on tanks you really have no business taking on. But is it? Here I am going to examine the real to-kill effects when using APCR for common Soviet gun types against different levels of armor protection.

Because dice probabilities are not linear, we would assume that APCR has different effectiveness against different targets. APCR is limited in its quantity, so knowing when to use it can be a crucial decision. First, we look at the effectiveness of APCR and AP ammo at medium range:

To-Kill Probabilities at Ranges 7-12

From this graph you can see that the to-kill chances tend to be much better for 45mm APCR than 45mm AP. This is not so true for 76L ammo, which game designers again hamstring and shortchange proletarian production models. However, we can see the difference is particularly crucial for 45L's looking to crack those 6AF PzKwIII's and T-34/85's taking on Tigers.

These differences look meek when compared to close up shots:

To-Kill Probabilities at Ranges 0 or 1

Here we see huge gaps in performance of nickle ammo compared with their regular counterparts. Particularly, we can see the value in the T34/85's APCR when confronting Tigers and Panthers head on. But the very large across the board differences between the solid lines and dotted lines make it clear that firing at close range gives your gun a much greater punch.

Later, I will look at the differences in penetration of the most common Soviet guns at each range and on the effects of special ammo on a to-hit roll. In the meantime, keep in mind this crucial lesson: APCR is most useful for dangerous situations when you suddenly find yourself face to face with a monster and is somewhat less useful at range, where, in any case, you may have more maneuverability to get in a side shot which makes APCR less crucial. While you are using the nickle mined by Fascist dogs in Siberia, remember to use it wisely to kill their co-conspirators.

Also remember that Soviet workers turned out 5 times as many T34/85's as Panthers and more than 25 times as many as Tigers
Categories: Blogs

Panzer General Online

Forums: Latest Threads - Fri, 06/06/2014 - 10:19
The old warhorse game Panzer General is now available as an online game. Does have a Ubisoft account tie-in. Maybe if I get some time.......
Categories: Forums

To End all Wars

Forums: Latest Threads - Wed, 06/04/2014 - 10:58
Not to many WWI simultaneous turn-based strategy games around. Here's one that I might be interested in. In development, so we wait. And we will see what Matrix will price it at.
Categories: Forums

Sabaton: War of the Weeping Land

Forums: Latest Threads - Sat, 05/31/2014 - 05:28
"Sabaton: War of the Weeping Lands is an awesome take on a popular game called Brigandine: The Legend of Forsena! Stema, Urbz and , Carnifair The three nations,are in a state of war and consternation has spread throughout the three weeping lands.

There is a lot of bloodshed and territories seized by someone else.
The Heroes or the Monsters, Whom do you support?
Will the nations reunite?

Guys, you've got to get over to-"
Categories: Forums

Top 10 Best Assault Rifles

Forums: Latest Threads - Fri, 05/30/2014 - 06:16
Hi guys,

According to the website, the top 10 Best Assault Rifles are:

4.M16 Rifle
5.Heckler & Koch G36
8.Steyr AUG

What is your chart? Have you used any of above listed in gaming?
Categories: Forums

Battlefield 3 for Free

Forums: Latest Threads - Wed, 05/28/2014 - 19:34
Until June 3, Battlefield 3 is free on Origin!

This is a really good deal!

I think EA would be smart to give away BF4 for a week or so. If the game has really improved as DICE claims, this would be the best way to openly demonstrate that fact. And they would still make money off of the DLC.
Categories: Forums

Best free PC games ever

Forums: Latest Threads - Mon, 05/19/2014 - 13:36 Here's someone's opinion on the best free pc games. Some I've played and some I've never heard of. #15. War Thunder, played it and am going to revisit as tanks are now active. Like it. #14. World of Tanks- played it, prolly won't go back. #11. Star trek online, liked it; bias as to it should be higher but that might be my Sci-fi interest. #10-Age of Conan, as a Conan book reader way back I wanted to like this game but bailed after a week or so. #9.Hawken- Just started playing this and am liking it so far; time will tell. (and my wallet if I pop for credits) #8. Star Wars: The Old Republic, Good spot; like it. #5. Team Fortress 2-lot of time in this game, still play occasionally. #2. Lord of the rings online, I dunno; played it but didn't really grab me like other games. I wouldn't have it this high. And #1. Path of Exile. Never played it, what am I missing? Anyone play this?
Categories: Forums

Supreme Ruler 1936 Official Release Announcement

Forums: Latest Threads - Mon, 05/12/2014 - 16:08

I just wanted to share our news. We are very excited to announce the official release for Supreme Ruler 1936;

Quote: Ancaster, Canada - May 9, 2014 – BattleGoat Studios is today pleased to announce the official launch of Supreme Ruler 1936. David Thompson, Lead Designer and Co-Founder of BattleGoat commented, “This is our most ambitious title to date and the scale of the game is truly immense. There are thousands of historical events that may or may not come into play depending upon the actions of the player; players need to watch their economy, diplomacy, and even weather patterns floating across the world that could turn a potential battlefield into a muddy or snowy quagmire; and when they go to battle they have access to the historical military units of WWII and much, much, more!”

With four Campaigns, six Scenarios, and three Sandbox Maps playable from almost 100 different regions, Supreme Ruler 1936 brings the scope and sweep of World War II to strategy gamers. A Real-Time Geo-Political Strategy game, Supreme Ruler 1936 combines resources, economy, diplomacy, and battalion-level tactical warfare.

BattleGoat Studios would like to thank everyone that supported us through Steam Early Access and helped us to make Supreme Ruler 1936 the best game possible!
Steam Store:

About Supreme Ruler 1936
Supreme Ruler 1936 is Real Time Geo-Political Strategy Game for PC (and soon Mac). Take control of a nation in the World War II era and guide it through a significant Military Campaign, or attempt one of many Set-Piece Historical Scenarios. Players can also customize their play experience with the Sandbox Mode and play as any Nation with their own preferred Victory Condition.
- Play Multiple Campaigns from either the Axis or Allied perspective.
- Take Control of any Nation in Sandbox Mode and impact the outcome of the era.
- Battle the elements! Fully integrated weather model influences battlefield outcomes.
- Challenge yourself with Historical Scenarios for a faster-paced gameplay experience.
- The butterfly effect... Influence the timeline and outcome of thousands of historical events.
- Use Diplomacy, Trade, Espionage, and Intimidation to influence the policies of other nations.
- Research new Technologies to give your nation a significant military advantage.
- Modernize your economy to support whatever social and military policies you choose.
- Sophisticated Real-Time Strategic and Tactical Control of your Military Forces.
- Detailed historically-accurate armies down to the Battalion level.
- Choose your level of control. Make all decisions or use your Cabinet Ministers to help.
- Significant graphic improvements to 3D terrain and Graphic User Interface
- Up to 16 players in Multiplayer over local network or Internet

About BattleGoat Studios
BattleGoat Studios is a Canadian Software Developer committed to developing leading edge "Intelligent Strategy Games". BattleGoat’s game design history dates back to the first text-based Supreme Ruler game in 1982, making Supreme Ruler one of the longest computer gaming franchises still in development. The design team firmly believes that Strategy Gamers are looking for more sophisticated games that also remain fun to play. BattleGoat insists that their approach to development will always emphasize an accurate, heavily researched environment assuring players an entertaining and immersive gameplay experience. Their previous PC releases are Supreme Ruler 2010, Supreme Ruler 2020, and Supreme Ruler Cold War.

Twitter: @battlegoat / @SR1936
Forum: If you have any questions, please let me know.
Categories: Forums
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