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This section contains a few of my thoughts on various gaming topics, as well as things that won't fit in anywhere else. Feel free to email me with discussion points and reactions.
©1999-2004. All rights reserved.
Another way to
skin the cat

Realism, Omniscience and Quantum Mechanics in Wargaming.

Abstract representation

Quantum physics has revealed that the electron does not function like a real particle, because it does such things as going from one point to another without travelling through the intervening space. Rather than visualising it as a very tiny sphere, it is more accurate to think of an electron as the chance of an event of the electron-collision type occurring in a given area of space and time. In the same way, instead of trying to simulate each action and movement on the battlefield, thinking about events in a more symbolic way may allow you to create a system which concentrates on the most important aspects.

Sequence not time

A battle can be considered as a sequence of events. The time interval between each one is relatively unimportant, only the order in which they occur is critical. If A and B are having a shootout then all you need to know is who gets hit or runs out of ammo first. Traditionally wargames tend to use turns of an equal nominal time length and within each of these there is a chance for an event to occur. This approach results in large numbers of dice rolls where the result is that nothing happens. Instead dice rolls could be used to go straight from one significant event to the next, rather than using them to decide whether each distinct possible occurrence did or did not happen within an arbitrary time slot.

Rather than individual dice rolls being a virtual shot, they can be used for more abstract and fundamental probabilities such as who shoots who and which of several events happens first. Probabilities do not necessarily need to be resolved in the chronological order in which they would occur. If a batch of dice rolls are required to resolve a situation, then later dice rolls may modify the previous ones.

Related chances

Any events which are subject to the same probability modifiers can also be lumped together. For example the chance of hitting a target is basically proportional to the number of shots taken, which is directly related to running out of ammo, so a test can be made for the combined probability. If there is a 'success' then a second supplementary test can be applied to find out which of the two has occurred. Although this introduces a two stage dice roll, the second roll will not always take place, so it may be quicker than making two separate rolls.

Reducing Omniscience

One approach to realism is to load the game with details, but these may not necessarily make your simulation of reality more accurate as they may be irrelevant. Worse still they may actually make the game less realistic. In a game players are making tactical decisions which in reality are made by the troops from a limited amount of information. If the players have more information than this then they can use this to influence decisions in an unrealistic way. This implies that in order to achieve a high level of realism it is necessary to use role-playing aspects to limit the players in an appropriate way.

In a skirmish game, for example, the players are broadly speaking in the role of a squad leader, although they are also likely to make decisions for individual troops. If their principal role is that of a squad leader then keeping meticulous records of individual's ammo levels may reduce rather than increase realism because it allows the players to make use of information that the person making the decision in reality would not have. 'Wargamer's omniscience' is a difficult problem to get round, as the players can see the whole table, and have all kinds of information which they shouldn't have. Hidden movement rules for example are often slow and laborious to implement, but this problem is exacerbated if players can use unknown information and 'telepathy' to make all their troops function as one well-oiled machine.

The Undecided Cat

Another feature of quantum physics is the probability waveform. Particles can exist in an undefined state, described by a probability waveform. When this state is tested, this collapses and the particle snaps into a particular state. It is not that the experimenter doesn't have the information about the particle, but that the information is only decided when the test occurs. Schrodinger devised a famous thought experiment based on this principle. A cat would be placed in a sealed box and a particle detector would release cyanide into the box on a 50/50 chance based on the particle state. If the particle decayed then the cat died, if not it lived. The twist was that if the particle state was undetermined then this implied the cat would also be both simultaneously dead and alive, which common sense says is impossible. In reality when the consequences of a particle's state are magnified to a macro scale, for example by killing a cat, then the waveform collapses and the state becomes fixed.

Applying this system to wargaming, if the player should not have access to information, for example about ammo or casualty status, then it may be best to leave it in an indeterminate state until either the situation is investigated or has an effect on another event. This prevents players from using that information and also reduces record keeping.


I am currently working on a skirmish system based on the above principles. It has been played in prototype form, but still requires the rough edges taking off and some detailing. When it is a bit more developed, I will post it on the site.

1999. All rights reserved.