Historical refights, campaigns, scenarios or competitions using points systems for balance. What is your preference? Over recent weeks I’ve listened to a few podcasts and YouTube videos where various people have articulated their preferences, sometimes with clearly strong views. A theme has been a dislike for points systems almost always linked to competition formats. But is it as simple as that?
In a previous post I mentioned that I have no interest in competition games these days. Without doubt this is a result of my experience with overly competitive players, both during and before the game. A hallmark of such players, apart from their “in game” antics, are customised lists tuned to give every benefit possible. In my view these customised armies are a far cry from an historic general’s challenge of making do with the troops available. That said if you have a good group of players then competitions can provide an excellent means of playing games, at least against a group of likeminded players. I do recall several excellent events in the past. But if competitions are out for me then what do I base my games around?
I have refought several historical battles of the Napoleonic or American Civil War periods, as well as a few others from other periods. Reading historical accounts, modelling the terrain and deploying the armies can, I find, be immensely satisfying. How did terrain impact the battle, what determined a particular strategy? All these factors combine to help me further understand an historical battle. Unfortunately I can only refight so many historical battles, and of course the preparation time can be significant.
Campaigns have a strong draw. Historical campaigns have the same appeal as historical refights, yet my experiences suggest a successful campaigning can deliver terribly unequal battles, which are not particularly satisfying. I’m of the view that campaign mechanics must be simple providing a narrative for a scenario game, or be played as a seperate campaign in an evening, likely as a board game.
These days the majority of my tabletop games are scenario based. Yet scenarios can be challenging to develop. How do you create a tactical problem that is generally balanced, interesting and of course challenging?
One option is scenario books. I have found some published scenarios have produced very interesting battles. Yet, sometimes the terrain or force requirements are challenging to replicate, reducing the number of scenarios that can be played. If the scenario book is too generic they are at level that doesn’t interest me. I am for example interested in the larger battle. So five Napoleonic regiments capturing a bridge doesn’t normally interest me. So, if scenario books are not always of use what do I do?
Well, if the scenario designer has done his job correctly he has somehow balanced the scenario, assuming he wants to provide a tactical challenge with an equal chance of success for each side. Here for me is the clue.
The majority of scenarios I play have been developed by scenario system either as part of the rules, or as a close addition. Particular examples are the well designed system within Volley & Bayonet and my own system for Spearhead. To help balance the scenario both examples use points systems.
Does this bring me full circle? I mean points and the inherent optimisation they bring are the very problem with competitions aren’t they? Well I don’t think so. I feel points systems can be a useful tool to help balance a scenario. However, that only works if players do not restrict themselves to the same points budget or composition in each game.
The most obvious means of variation is to changing your army composition creating variation. For example using more or less cavalry or different battalion formations. Alternatively you could use a fewer points than your opponent, giving him an advantage. Montrose didn’t seemed that concerned by points budgets. Perhaps different budgets can be used between games. Such a change certainly creates different force structures and therefore challenges. In my view all add variety and tactical interest, much like historical battles.
This of course has been something of a long rambling post. However, in summary I believe points can be a useful tool to balance scenarios. They need not always be associated with competitions.
Before I sign off I must ask, is your preference historical refights, campaigns, scenarios or competitions and of course, why?