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Narrative Suspense

A thoughtful blogger, Thomas Brandstetter, writes about his effort to design an ACW naval game & mentions the benefits of Tractics’ approach:

“The reason that process-oriented shooting and damage procedures with lots of tables are often seen as more realistic is that they create a narrative with clear causes and effects. In terms of game design, they are storytelling machines: in discrete consecutive steps, they tell the story of a projectile hitting something and then causing this or that effect. If you like that kind of story, you’ll anticipate each step with suspense and therefore enjoy those kinds of mechanisms.”

I agree with much of this comment & it's why I like Tractics & General Quarters 3.

Thomas prefers Chain of Command. He calls it result-oriented. I don't like CoC. I find that game to be monotonous & drags due to not enough morale impact. I think Battlegroup could be better with its Battle Rating ending the game. CoC’s armor rules are blah. From following CoC’s FB group, many gamers find the rules ambiguous. The lack of play aids hurts, too. When one asks a question, one gets an answer “do whatever you want” instead of yes or no!

I agree that soft issues are important, but ask, “Why not both? Narrative-driving process & human factors.” Through rules-bashing, one can combine Tractics with Battlegroup.

Like Gary Gygax, I still think of Tractics as the first role-playing game, with a judge & hidden aspects to adjudicate Fog of War among players who had not learned all the rules. Otherwise, finding an agreeable ruleset between two experienced players can be difficult. An advantage of the RPG approach is that only the judge needs to know the rules (or part of them)! New players can be raw recruits.

Thomas brings up the mismatch of player roles: a platoon or company commander wouldn't choose a shell type for a given tank. That's true. Here's where games depart from simulation by allowing micro-choices. Yet, gamers like this. And gamers like to roll dice. As a judge, I was glad to have players make micro-choices, but I always rolled. This was for two reasons: faster adjudication, and I was better about keeping a poker face about the result or even what was being rolled for. These are details, and each group develops different play styles.

The lack of hidden setup & movement in contemporary, results-oriented games requires artificial “friction” rules that having a judge could dispense with. That simplifies the game, allowing for more process orientation. With practice, the judge gets faster at the process. Why not both?!

*Most gamers do not use experience points and levels. THW's Nuts! does get into that, and with rules-bashing, one could provide those elements. I heard of a group in Chicago that starts a new player as a grunt or tank commander, and when they come back, might be given an upgrade of equipment or expanded command—tank section or platoon, etc. This would carry forward more of D&D's ground-breaking role-playing concepts.

NEWS ITEMS: Brew Up is progressing, though a bit behind schedule. I have enlisted extra proofreaders to avoid having to release errata. The Tractics' newsletter Duckbills #6 is available for free download.

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Thank you the kind words about my article! I've already written an answer over on my blog ( Let me just say that I generally like the RPG approach, being an avid player of RPGs before, but have never tried it in the context of a tactical wargame. I'd really love to participate in one of your games, but I guess the huge pond of water between us makes this impractical...

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