War in the East: 1-2-3 leader check, check

, | Game diaries

I’m pretty sure everybody reading this has at one time or another had the experience of overpromising something, only to underdeliver in the end. Whether it’s a competitive game of League of Legends or a magical presidency of hope and change, we all know what it’s like to make commitments we’re just not able to keep. While I know I never actually promised anything as part of this series of articles, I was secretly hoping to be able to do one thing before I finished, and that was explain in detail how the combat system works. Unfortunately, I’m here to tell you that isn’t happening. Several weeks of scrutinizing the combat results and flipping through the manual has driven home the fact that short of learning assembly language or whatever COBOL derivative developers use to make games these days, the only way I’m going to be able to come through with that information is to steal it from Gary Grigsby’s hard drive. And since that’s something I’m loath to do unless fighting the terrorists, I’m going to have to settle for the layman’s version. I hope you’re not too disappointed.

The good news is that it doesn’t really matter, anyway.

After the jump, make peace with our bipartisan compromise solution to combat results.

When you load up War in the East, you’re immediately comforted by the sight of two numbers on each of your counters. Sure enough, they represent combat value (or CV) and movement allowance. Any wargamer can orient himself or herself around these two concepts. For opposing units, you get a combat value and a fortification level, which is like a defense multiplier. Perfect. But almost immediately, the manual gives you caveats. Here is the biggest one, straight outta pages 126-7.

Unlike fixed combat factors that are found in other games, the CV in Gary Grigsby’s War in the East is a calculated value that can only provide players an idea of the ability of the unit. Displayed Unit CV’s are determined by a complex formula that takes into account the different ground elements making up the unit as well as unit morale, experience, fatigue, leadership, and supply. CV values displayed for units are non-random approximations of what in combat is a series of die rolls and thus somewhat random values, so no single CV can be more than a guide to how the unit will perform in any particular combat.

What they’re trying to say is that once combat starts, there’s gonna be an awful lot of die rolling, so here’s a good guess instead. Fair enough. But if you read further, the caveats start snowballing.

In addition, note that calculated CV’s are fairly large numbers, so for ease of visualization the CV displayed on the unit counter on the map and in the unit bar are divided by 100 and rounded down, while the unit CV’s displayed in the combat resolution display have been reduced by a factor of 10 and rounded down. The CV displayed on a unit will not be less than one unless it is a HQ, depleted, or routed unit, but realize that due to rounding, on-map units with a CV of one could have an actual CV that ranges between 1000 and 1999, a substantial spread.

I’ll abstain from the obvious jokes and just let you enjoy the unspoiled in-manual humor right there, straight from the designers to you.

So what we’ve established is that the numbers on the units are approximations, and no numbers are final until all the dice have been rolled, and in fact the numbers you see may not even be the exact approximations because of the whole integer question. You may be surprised to hear that I have no problem with that. As long as the information I have allows me to make meaningful decisions, I’m ok with fudging the details.

But somewhere along the line, I’d kind of like to at least have an idea what the game is doing with the numbers. And that is exactly what you’re not going to find out. For example, leader ratings. Each headquarters has a leader attached, with all sorts of ratings, from mechanized to political. Seriously. Take a look at the screenshot below if you don’t believe me.

What do those do? A lot. Don’t take my word for it, take the word of Page 173.

Leader ratings can have an impact on virtually all actions taken by units; to include both the logistics and action phases of the turn Leaders will literally conduct thousands of checks using one or more of their ratings from everything from combat value (CV) determination to the number of admin points expended to attach a unit. Initiative, admin, and morale checks are the most ubiquitous, but infantry or mech checks figure prominently in ground combat, air ratings checks are made for every air mission, and naval ratings checks occur during amphibious strategic transport.

The manual goes on for another two pages, with a painfully detailed example of the precise mechanism for an initiative check for a corps headquarters which has more units attached to it than its maximum admin rating allows. I say painful because it goes on for almost a whole page, and never tells you what happens if you fail the check. The exact command range modifier for failed checks which go “up the chain” to the next-higher headquarters gets its own separate chart, but all you know about Morale leader ratings is that they are “used for determining unit combat value in battle”.

I’m a scientist, so in the end, I try to take refuge in empirical data. Maybe I can just end-run this whole explanation thing and go straight to the source. After all, big manuals are overrated. If you look under Preference in the game menu, you’ll find something called “Combat Resolution Message Level”. That sounds promising! Let’s turn it all the way up to 7, which for some reason is as far as the Combat Resolution Message Level dial goes. I’ll bet it shows you all the calculations, and which factors affected the combat value most, and what the die rolls were. Check out the screenshot below.

That’s actually just a little preview animation. The text messages go on for another five minutes, with periodic casualty updates. I could only bring myself to capture eight lines. You’ll have to trust me when I say that there are no magic answers in all those additional lines of text about how the panzers actually did, or how accurate the bombers were, or how on Earth to save this presidency. Don’t get all mad. I tease you because I love you.

But that little gif of horrors begs a whole lot of questions. Specifically, ones like: who could have possibly thought that any of that stuff conveyed one byte of useful information that could help anybody? Just like the whole leader ratings fiasco, the game does a meticulous job of telling you what it’s doing without ever telling you what it meant. A 12.7mm gun fired at a sapper squad, okay? Why are you so nosy?

In the end, the big secret to this whole thing, and War in the East’s saving grace, is that there are so many die rolls that I think it drives the variance way down. That’s another way of saying that it sucks not to know exactly what you leader rating does if it generates a single die roll, but if it generates a hundred die rolls, the chance of being sunk by a single avoidable roll is very low. If I had one morale check to make which might increase my CV by 50% on one die roll, and I had a couple different leaders available, and I didn’t know the mechanics, and I lost a crucial combat, I’d be pretty mad. If the game is rolling thousands of dice per turn, then I’m probably going to put my best leaders with my strongest, most mobile units, concentrate them at the point of attack, and hope for the best.

The real design question here is why have these rolls at all. Why not just factor a rating that is going to be used thousands of times into a simple multiplier, and then apply it to all attached units? I know: granularity of results, and simple immersion. So what’s the way out? Let me tell you.

If you want to play War in the East, as far as I can tell, there are only a handful of factors you need to worry about once you look at the numbers on the units. The first is deliberate vs. hasty attack. The latter halves the attacking CV, but costs fewer movement points. Armored units with a lot of movement points can go quite a long way making repeated hasty attacks.

The second is involving different headquarters in the same attack. Two different corps suffer a 10% penalty, two different armies suffer a 20% penalty, and two different army groups suffer a 30% penalty. That’s on page 211.

Lastly, as you’d expect from a wargame, terrain makes a big difference. Page 201 spells it out nicely.

The combat value of each defending unit is modified by multiplying the CV by one plus the total fortification defense modifier, which is the sum of the terrain modifier and the fort level. […] For example, a defending unit in a Light Urban hex (terrain modifier of six) with a fortification level of three would have its CV multiplied by ten (1+6+3).

So if you see an enemy unit marked 1=1 and another marked 2=5, the second one actually has ten times the defense value of the first one, because in the first case you multiply 1 by 1, and in the second case you multiply 2 by 5. Yeah, yeah, it’s actually 200 or 2000 by 5. Whatever. There are penalties for cross-river attacks, as you’d expect, which I lump into this category. Try not to attack across rivers.

Once you’ve figured out what the combat values are, the rest is actually pretty simple.

At the end of all combat, the modified combat values for both sides are calculated and compared as a ratio (attacker/defender) to determine the winner and loser of the battle. If the displayed modified CV ratio is 2:1 or greater, the defender will be forced to retreat.

Retreating units can rout, or they can shatter, and this has to do with supply and morale (leader checks!), but the magic ratio seems to be 2:1.

And that’s it. There are a lot of other modifiers to CV, but these mostly appear to be approximated in the number the game gives you on the unit itself. Once you have this number, it’s probably not going to be modified by much that you can determine in advance besides the three things above. I’ve watched countless battles to this point, and from what I can see, the final combat values follow this formula pretty well, and while sometimes I get weirdo strengths that come out of nowhere, it happens infrequently enough that I just chalk it up to leader checks and move on.

That was a lot of number-crunching. Sorry about that. I hope that makes some sense out of how the most important part of War in the East works. If not, here’s an extended excerpt from Moscow 1941 by Janusz Piekalkiewicz.

On August 18, 1812, on the 58th day of operations, following much bloody fighting, Napoleon took Smolensk. The Russians, having lost 6,000 men there, pulled back in an orderly fashion, but the French had 7,000 dead and wounded themselves and were unable to pursue the Russian troops. By now the Grande Armee had covered 580 kilometers, averaging somewhat over 10 kilometers a day.

Napoleon concluded correctly that since the Russians had not given up Smolensk without a fight, they would also not give up Moscow without staking everything. In order not to spread himself too thin in the vastness of Russia, he concentrated all his forces on the advance to the capital. Napoleon: “An enemy struck in the heart, no longer moves his feet.”

Neither the riches of the Ukraine nor the administrative metropolis of St. Petersburg nor the rich industrial centers of Kaluga or Tula tempted him. He had no design on the enemy’s potential strength, only on his active armed forces. In this lay a fatal risk but also the chance of a quick decision. Napoleon’s primary forces, before the operation against Moscow, numbered somewhat over 170,000 men.

At Smolensk, General Prince Poniatowski implored Napoleon to halt the offensive and end the campaign by striking the withdrawing Russian units in the Ukraine. But Napoleon wanted to force Russia to capitulate by means of a decisive battle which had to occur somewhere between Smolensk and Moscow. He did not dream of stopping the advance and switching to the defense. After a rest for the spent army, it was to continue to march as quickly as possible toward Moscow.

In the evening of August 18, 1941, Commander in Chief of the Army, Field Marshal von Brauchitsch, and his Chief of the General Staff, Colonel General Halder, presented Hitler their memorandum on the continuation of the campaign. The most important eastern operation was now to be Army Group Center’s advance on Moscow.

Up next: wouldn’t you like to know?
(Click here for the previous War in the East game diary entry.)