Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wargame Wednesdays - the Combat Results Table

Another new (weekly) feature here at Gaming with Chuck, will be Wargaming Wednesday.  This, of course, is an effort to get some regular (irregular?) content on the blog related (specifically) to wargaming.

Classic Wargame - "The Russian Campaign" by Avalon Hill

For a first outing in this venture, I can't think of a better part of modern wargaming to consider, than the Combat Results Table (CRT).  Before considering the effect of the CRT on wargaming, a quick history and overview of how it works (if you don't know).

A variety of different 1-6 CRTs

This is a mechanism going back to Von Reisswitz' Krigspiel (1830s), but used specifically in modern wargaming, at least since the early Charles Roberts efforts that lead to the early days of Avalon Hill.  Charles' second outing in design, was Tactics II (1958, the year Avalon Hill was formed) that introduced the Combat Results Table to the modern boardgaming world.  A decent article is available from wikipedia.

The typical (at least if we consider the form that is included in so many of the Avalon Hill Classics) form is a table, numbered from 1 to 6 on the left side (referring to the results of a typical 6-sided dice), and the columns from left to right are labeled with odds, typically ranging from those most favorable to the Defender, all the way to the right with those most favorable to the Attacker.  These "odds" refer to an expressed ratio that comes from comparing the Combat Strength of the Attacker to the Combat Strength of the Defender.

Avalon Hill CRT with a chart (bottom half) allowing odds to be calculated quick and easy, just by comparing modified Attacker's Factor to a modified Defender's Factor

As an example of calculating odds, consider two units (represented in a wargame, of course, as playing pieces) that are engaged in combat.  The attacker has a combat strength of 6, and the defender has a combat strength of 4.  This means that the combat odds are 6 to 4.  This reduces to 3-2, or 1.5 to 1.

Unit counters from an updated version of "The Russian Campaign"
Taking a look at the sample combat results table here, we see that there is not a column the corresponds to 3-2.  In most (typical) cases, the odds round in the favor of the defender, so this would become a 1-1 attack.

Looking at the results in the 1-1 column, we see that if the die reads 1,2, or 3 then the results are that the Defender Retreats (results: DR).  If the die reads 4,5, or 6 then the results are that the Attacker Retreats (results: AR).

Example CRT from a Simulation Publications Inc. (SPI) game

Most CRTs have their results predicated on the military maxim that to have a decent chance (or expectation) of success, an attacker has to have 3-1 odds.  In the combat table pictured here, we can see that if the combat were a dice roll in the 3-1 odds column, the results would be on a 1, the Defender is Eliminated (results: DE).  On a die roll of 2 through 5, the Defender is required to Retreat (results: DR).  Finally, on a die roll of a 6, each side loses a unit (EE - each eliminate).

Okay, so all of these elements - the structure of the table, the fact that the columns are based on numeric odds, the size and nature of the dice, the types of results, the number of results per dice roll.  All these things can change, but basically all of the different types of CRTs result in a table of combat results, with a random (stochastic) factor being introduced by a dice roll (of course, there are dice-less CRTs, but we'll ignore them for now).

The fact that a CRT (at least in early form) gave the results of Eliminate, Retreat, or Exchange for either the Attacker or Defender or Both (in the case of Exchange), it meant that if a combat occurred and a unit was affected by it, the WHOLE unit was affected (either eliminated or retreated).  This means combat had a certain discrete granularity - if the units were Battalions, then whole Battalions were either living or dying in combat.
Example CRT (or BRT - Battle Results Table) from Chariot Lords (Excalibre Games, 1975), showing the "whole unit" effects, but rather than call it "Eliminate", here it is called being "Smote" to evoke the Biblical Warfare theme.  Below is a separate combat type CRT - detailing Siege results.

As games grew more complex, the idea of half units (basically, being able to make change due to losses in combat) came about - which is a much more typical representation (it seems) to real life combat.  No matter how bad a unit does, in MOST situations, it would survive the encounter with some fighting strength.  What this has, as an effect on combat, is that encounters are not so immediately decided, but tend to last a while.  In a lot of cases, this means games give the player the ability to react to results in combat, by moving in reinforcements, withdrawing, etc.

Another reaction to CRT based combat was to introduce separate combat factors for Attack and Defense.  This was done, early, in Blitzkrieg from Avalon Hill - Artillery units had high offensive combat values, but basically the same as an Infantry unit for defense.  Very nice, for the mid 1960s.

An interesting modification to the basic CRT is to have multiple results per dice roll.  This could be a result to the Attacker and Defender, or a Destroyed result, and Retreat result, for instance.  In cases where aggregated units (companies, battalions, divisions, brigades, etc) are involved, it IS likely that any combat will result in losses to both sides.  This type of CRT result is more nuanced, and definitely reflects the cost to a unit to engage in even a "successful" combat.

In 1970, PanzerBlitz was published by Avalon Hill, designed by Jim Dunnigan.  This is a game based on small units engaging with each other.  In order to reflect the effects of morale and disruption, the CRT for this game could result in a unit being eliminated, or disrupted.  Since combat was very tactical, the different ranges of the weapon systems involved was represented by allowing attacking units to engage at range.  Each unit had an attack strength, a defense strength, and a range.  Additionally, each weapon system was a different class weapon (armor piercing, high explosive, or infantry), and each unit type was a different class target (armored, soft, or infantry).  Depending on how these weapon and target classes interacted would determine if there was a modifier to the attack strength, before consulting the Combat Results Table.  So, this represents more changes (disrupted, versus destroyed or retreated) (weapon/target pairings resulting in changes to attack factor), to the basic idea of the CRT.  By the way, following up on PanzerBlitz, there were (and still are) a large number of small unit, or individual tank, type games that have a similar CRT mechanism. This even included the highly successful science fiction games of OGRE and G.E.V. from Metagaming (later Steve Jackson Games).

OGRE CRT, expanded out to work with either 1d6 or 1d12, showing Disruption (D) and Elimination (E) results for the target unit.

Not described yet, but in many games from the beginning, is the effect of terrain on combat, in a combat system based on a CRT.  Often this will come to play in one of two different ways - first, it could be a multiplier or modifier to the defense strength (or combat strength) of the defender.  If they are in, for instance, terrain that makes them hard to acquire, or protects them physically (like in a built up area, or in a fortress), then an increase in their combat strength will likely result in lower odds on the CRT, meaning a reduced chance for effect.  Second, it could result in "column shift" effects.  This refers to shifting the column (the odds based column, in most cases) to the left or right, representing reduced or increased chances of dealing significant damage to the defender.

PanzerBlitz CRT, along with Terrain Effects, and also elevation, and weapon/target pairing tables.

In the days of board wargaming, prior to heavy influence by computerization of the hobby, there was a large percentage of gamers who participated in Play by Mail gaming.  In this situation, each player has a game set up at their own home, and moves are exchanged via mail.  These days it is done via email, or through digital software representing the game, but exchanging turn information digitally.  When done through the mail, there was a requirement to have a combat results table that could be consulted by both sides, and based on some unpredictable (I won't say random) number.  The answer was the stock listings in the newspaper.  The players would agree on a newspaper they would consult.  When they completed a turn, there would be an agreed to sequence of order that the combats would be resolved in.  And there would be an agreed to Stock listing that would be the beginning of the combat.  Each dice roll required in the combat would be based on the final digit in a stock price.  This gave a sequence of numbers (that each player could consult independently), each from 1 to 10.  Of course, then, this required a CRT that was keyed to the random factors being 1-10 rather than the typical 1-6.  Such charts were produced, and Avalon Hill even made them available in "play by mail" kits for their popular titles.

There are still games (plenty) that get published using a CRT for combat resolution.  However, there have been lots of other mechanisms for doing unit-to-unit combat in the years since Tactics II.  The next article on Wargaming Wednesdays, here at Gaming with Chuck, will detail some of the alternate systems.


littlejohn said...

great post

Dale said...

Good article. Keep it up Chuck!

chuck said...

Thanks Dale, Thanks Littlejohn - I might add that the follow on article - which talked about different basic chartless mechanisms - was this week's posting.