Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Victory Conditions Are Stupid

I’ve been thinking about scenario design lately. I always struggle when it comes to establishing victory conditions for each side. It just doesn’t feel right to me for each side to know that “we have to do exactly X” to win.

After working through the victory condition issue in my head, I think I’m ready to write out what I’ve come up with.

Victory Conditions are stupid.

There. I said it.

Of course, I am posting this all based on game play for battles, not skirmishes, using some sort of army morale clock that effectively runs out and forces an army to quit the field when it has suffered enough damage. Field of Battle has armies start with a randomly determined number of Army Morale Points based on the size of the army. Army Morale Points are lost for each Unit Integrity lost in the army. Simple, really – once an Army is down to 0 Army Morale Points, the tests start to see if the army quits the battle (either in small pieces or one big chunk).

Victory Conditions are stupid.

Here are my three main reasons I think VCAS (Victory Conditions Are Stupid):

Victory Conditions provide each side with a knowledge of the important location or achievement in a battle that actual participants wouldn’t have had. Did Hood know that Devil’s Den was worth 1 VP and that Little Round Top was worth 5 VP? No! Generals observed the terrain, listened to reports from scouts, and planned their actions accordingly. They knew (generally) where the enemy was, and their job was to lever them out of there, and damage them as much as possible so that they weren’t a threat to apply strategic pressure. In essence, their job was to drain the enemy’s morale point pool and make them quit. They didn’t worry about things like “if we take that road intersection, we get 3 VPs”. No – they targeted that road intersection because it might put the enemy force in an untenable position, forcing them to attack in order to keep their line of retreat/communications open. Take the hill or ridge to get 4 VPs? No – take the hill/ridge because it was a tactically commanding position and the best piece of ground to control the battle and damage the enemy.

Victory Points are vital to boardgames. Boardgames are typically focused on a single battle, and must be replayable and interesting – no matter how many times you play exactly the same battle. They purport to be a recreation of an historical action – using hindsight to emphasize what the important achievements of the actual battle were (after the fact) and making those objectives for the course of the game. Wouldn’t you like to know that if you did exactly A, followed by B, followed by M and then W, you would have a successful day tomorrow? Unfortunately, real life, and the battlefield environment, isn’t nearly so predictable. To me, it smacks of chess and checkers. Do exactly THIS, and you win. In effect, the game is set up to make the game flow in generally the same sequence of events as the real event.

The idea of having very specific goals to achieve in a battle seems to be out of scale for a battle – it just seems to be more of a skirmish focused mentality. The Lt. in charge of a platoon knows that his small, closely focused and identified task from his immediate commander is to take that building, or clear that block by noon, or hold that bridge until relieved tomorrow afternoon. I don’t think those types of specific (skirmish level) goals fit in a game that is attempting to represent a battle. See my thoughts above – I just think these types of items are far below a General’s attention. He’s worried about a multitude of items – it’s a junior officer’s job to make sure that bridge is held. He orders the army forward, emphasizing a flank attack, a delay, etc. The smaller achievements and lower level goals are lost to the macro level of achievement at the army command level.

VCAS. Now that I have that off my chest, I’ll see if I can write up the Rule of Twelve.


  1. Enter the Devil's Advocate!

    All valid points (and I am not necessarily in passionate disagreement), but VCs we introduced to stop the "last unit standing" syndrome, where a General would battle on knowing he had lost in real life. There comes a point where a real life General "feels" he is losing a battle and will quit. He is not bothered about the individual bridge-but he is concerned his line of retreat/supply/reinforcement is cut. Without VCs (in some form or another)we can chase a unit of Hussars around the table simply because there is nothing left to kill? Extreme example I know!


  2. Very true - but that's why (in my mind) a game needs an integrated system to prevent the "fight to the last man" mentality. There are multiple ways to do that. I suppose VCs might do that, but it just feels to cut and dried to me. The trick to scenario creation is making the force mix and army size ratios interesting and a fit with unique terrain and potential tactical situations.

  3. Brent-agreed!

    VCs are a cumbersome system at the best of times and I am always open to a solution. In my experience the end game comes via an umpire (the best solution to date + they can play some dirty tricks to keep the game going if the scenario is too one sided) or VCs (including-VCs-by-any-other-name). However if you can find an "elegant" solution I can guarantee I will play it!

    Actually some of the best games I have played are solo games (either because I have no friends or because I can add my own VCs as I "feel" the battle evolve around me!!).

    I follow your thoughts with interest. You are not a million miles away from my own thinking-just I do not have a solution yet!


  4. I was thinking about this while getting into a game very far from the usual stuff shown here: AT-43.

    The game has Victory Points for capturing and holding zones and features. The holding part is pretty good, since it encourages the fighting over the features, and has that time factor into it (the more it takes for you to take it, the more VPs the enemy will get). They also make good use of a different kind of points called Reinforcement Points that you must earn during a battle in order to bring the reserves into the table. You can see it's pretty interesting, but there was a bit missing.

    The more "expensive" features were obviously targeted first. Now, what if instead of a set number of points they would give a modifier? Instead of having feature A handling 5 VPs and feature B handling 2 VPs, you'd have A +3 VPs and B +1 VPs. To that you add a die roll, and those are the points you get.

    It adds some uncertainty to it all without getting to the point where just simple annihilation is the best option. It would make for an amazing situation to fight your way up that hill, giving it all, and rolling a 1, not enough to surpass your opponent's VPs. Ok, new plan, start thinking fast.