Friday, July 12, 2024

What Do You Like Least About Miniatures Wargaming?

One question in WSS' 2023 Great Wargaming Survey asked, 

What do you like least about miniatures wargaming?

Well, this is a loaded question if I ever saw one!  In this case, the question was open-ended meaning respondents could enter whatever was on their mind.  Some did! 

Given that the responses were free text with about a 2100 character limit, responses could be quite long and detailed.  Out of the total number of survey responses, 7,278 entries had text in this field.  A sample snippet of these responses is illustrated below:
As seen from the text snippet, anything goes.

How can we bring order and meaning out of these unstructured texts?  For that, we turn to text analytics including cluster analysis and principal component analysis (PCA).  Without going into details of the machine learning techniques, simply understand that it is a data reduction method that summarizes large quantities of text data into fewer clusters and principal components.  The results are then wrangled to present (hopefully) interpretable graphics.

To begin, each text response is parsed and tokenized to create words.  For example, the highlighted line, below, can be parsed into the following word tokens.  That is, 
"people" "who" "are" "too" "pedanttic" "about" "details".
Preprocessing requires a number of text transformations (including correcting spelling errors) to get the tokens into a standard and more usable form.  In addition, synonyms are used to group similar tokens.  After tokenization and preprocessing, 4,918 unique tokens (words) resulted from over 36 million token combinations.  The result is a large dataset with useful inferences likely obscured by such a large sample space.

To begin data reduction, records having near-zero variance are removed.  After that reduction, only a manageable number of tokens are retained.  Some ambiguous tokens are, likewise, removed.  After the data reduction is complete, only eight tokens remain.  These remaining tokens are:
  • rules_lawyer
  • painting
  • people
  • time
  • cost
  • competition
  • find
  • miniatures
Already, I reckon these eight tokens tell an interesting story.

Using cluster analysis, these eight tokens are grouped to produce the dendrogram shown below:


Looking at a two-cluster solution,
the resulting clusters are "rules_lawyer" and everything else.  Rules lawyers seem to find themselves high on the "Do not like" list and separate and distinct from all other tokens in a two-cluster solution.  Into the rules_lawyer category, I dumped discussions of rules, themselves, including complexity, ambiguity, arguments, etc..  A four-cluster solution looks like,
with the four clusters as, (1) rules_lawyer, (2) painting, (3) people, and (4) time/cost/competition/find/miniatures.  After rules lawyers, respondents tend to dislike painting followed by people(!) and then the remaining effort constraints.  The "find" and "miniatures" tokens require some explanation.  Into the "find" grouping were lumped discussions on finding opponents, rules, figures, places and time to play, and money to fund the hobby.  Into the "miniatures" grouping were included discussions on painting, storing, assembling, price and quality.

Turning to PCA (and without going into details), the PCA Variable plot below illustrates the loadings of each of the eight variables in 2D space.  Color and length of each vector denotes its contribution to the PCA analysis.
One of the useful traits of PCA analysis when displayed as a graphic is that inferences are easier to understand.  While only two of the dimensional plots are illustrated here, both of these dimensions lend themselves to interpretation.

Looking at Dim1, the graphic suggests that the dislikes are bifurcated into two groups.  These two groups are "People" related attributes and "Effort" related attributes.
Similarly, looking at Dim2, the graphic suggests that the dislikes are again bifurcated into two groups.  Those two groups are "Cost" and then everything else.
First, I find the results amazing in that a 36 million cell tokenized matrix can be distilled down to meaningful inferences.  Second, I find the results surprising in that rules lawyers and gamers, themselves, rise out of the murk to irritate many.  I suppose that I should not be that surprised.  I once had a wargaming friend (I still consider him a friend!) who confidently stated that the hobby would be great if it were not for the people!

Do these Top 8 wargaming dislikes reflect your own hobby dislikes?  Does a rules lawyer stand alone at the top of your wargaming dislike ranking?  If not, what do you like least about the miniature wargaming hobby?

The survey also asks a parallel question only in this question, respondents are asked what they like most about miniatures wargaming.  I may look into that topic another time. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

The Turkish Problem and the Cold War

In mid-May, I received an email from Richard L. asking if I would be interested in participating in a multi-player, map-based strategy Zoom game.  Richard would share none of the details beyond saying that there would be six strategic commanders, four ground commanders, and two umpires.  The game would be played on 07 July with an 0600 start time for me on the West Coast.  Richard knows I am an early riser so thought the early start would be no problem.  He was right and I happily accepted the invitation.

On the day of the scheduled game and about an hour before start time, the six remote players received briefing packets describing the situation and their roles in the exercise.  The incident to be gamed was the 1974 Greco-Turkish crisis when a Greek junta-sponsored coup was launched by the Cypriot National Guard.  The goal was to depose Archbishop Makarios III (President of Cyprus) and place Nikos Sampson in his place.

The six Strategic Commanders (Remote Players) would assume the roles of:

  • General Phaedon Gizikis, President of Greece
  • Jim Callaghan, UK Foreign Secretary
  • Archbishop Makarios III, President of Cyprus
  • Bülent Ecevit, Prime Minister of Turkey
  • Andrei Gromyko, USSR Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Henry Kissinger, US Secretary of State
In the room there are four Ground Commanders playing:

  • Nikos Sampson, Greek Appointed Commander
  • Air Marshal Sir John Aiken, British and NATO Commander
  • Lt. General Dewan Prem Chand, UN and other Commander
  • Lt. General Nurettin Ersin, Turkish Commander
Being the token American in the group, Richard assigned me the role of Henry Kissinger.
Each of the remote players had objectives to attain, the main goal for the USA and USSR was to prevent the situation from escalating into a Hot War while backing the “correct” government.

While the remote players could see the Cyprus map with troops moving around, we could not hear any of the table discussions as dice were rolled, units were picked up and removed, and new units added onto the board.  For the Strategic Commanders it was a bit of a tense guessing game as dispatches flew in Zoom Chat.

Who could be trusted and who was telling the truth?

After overseeing each turn on the operational map, Richard would return to interview one of the Strategic Commanders and provide news and updates.  During the crisis, Richard Nixon was impeached and resigned from office.  Kissinger (me!) was hauled before a Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs to answer questions about what I knew and when did I know it.  In the end, Kissinger kept his position and stayed on under the newly appointed President Gerald Ford.  Whew!
Much of our simulation followed the historical events quite closely.  Uncannily so in many situations and quite surprising.  In the end, the UN deployed troops on the ground to separate the Greeks from the Turks, British nationals were successfully evacuated, the island was partitioned, and order restored.  The USA and USSR did not intervene directly but the USA's reluctance to intervene on behalf of Greece gave the Greek government grist for withdrawing from NATO.

Very interesting game and situation in which Richard handled seamlessly throughout.  With no time to prepare and information coming in as if through a fire hose, the Strategic Commanders were forced to think quickly and live with those decisions.  Under a constant barrage of questions from the press, other governments, and the US Senate Committee, decisions were made without fully understanding the real situation down on the ground.  Immersive game.   

Hats off to Richard for organizing and pulling off such an ambitious endeavor.  Well done and really good fun.  Still in awe of his organizational skills.  Not something I have ever experienced at the wargaming table and something I would enjoy tackling again.  

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Still Sumer Time!

Back to the Sumerian battlefield once again.  In this encounter, the same armies face off as in the earlier clash (Sumer Time) but this time, with a whole new cast of four players.  In today's fight, fought 02 July, Mark and Chris take command of the Blue Army (blue and black dice) while David and Tony pick up the reins to the Red Army (red and green dice).  Player commands are distributed as shown on the battle map below:
Army and Player dispositions

Let's drop right into the action to see how Tuesday's battle unfolded.

As the battle opens, both armies advance to close the distance to bring themselves within missile range.  With skirmishers screening both battle lines, missile fire is ineffective.  Tony leads his red battle car up on the right plugging the gap between his bowmen while David holds back both green and lugal battle cars.  Dust cloud trailing Tony's car shows that it is in motion.  Both armies anchor their lines upon the rocks on one flank and the oasis on the other.
Battle lines close.
Red battle car moves smartly up on the right.
With flanks secure, the battle begins!
Tony gets the battle rocking as he drives his car into the enemy line.  Mark lets loose a volley of arrows as the car closes but missile fire is ineffective.  The battle car reaches the enemy line but the bowmen, with limited support from friendly skirmishers, manage to drive the battle car off in disorder.  Oh my!  Tony's car veers off to return back from whence it began.  The difference this time is Tony exposes a rear to the enemy!
Tony tests the waters...
and finds the going too hazardous.
With his battle car now in motion, Chris launches his blue battle car into the enemy line.  The skirmishers in his path are overrun.  Chris continues in pursuit.  The car's pursuit carries Chris into a position similar to Tony's earlier exploits.  Chris faces massed archers and skirmishers blocking his path to the enemy's rear.  Like we saw with Tony's attack and repulse a few minutes before, Chris' battle car is driven off.  The car clumsily veers off to the right.
Chris attacks with the blue battle car!
Pursuit carries Chris into the enemy line.
Realizing his battle car can get into trouble more quickly than it can get out of it, Chris finds himself in a jam.  Unable to quickly extricate himself from this tight spot, the enemy lends a helping hand.  David brings up his green battle car striking Chris' car in the flank.  Disordered by the impact from his flank, the fight is uneven.  David dispatches Chris' car but fails to pursue.
Chris' pursuit stopped cold.
With his battle car gone, Chris turns his attention to getting his heavy infantry into the fight.  He sets them in motion toward the enemy line.  The heavy shielded spearmen face a volley of arrows as they close.  Disordered and taking hits from the missile fire, the heavies march on into the enemy line.  Disregarding losses and disorder, Chris' heavy infantry push the enemy aside.  Some break and run.  Chris' heavies continue their pursuit into the enemy's center.  Has the blue spear block outmarched its support?  
Spearmen attack...
and the enemy recoils!
Chris' spearmen are in hot pursuit!
While earlier regretting his decision to attack into the enemy line with his battle car, Tony reconsiders that decision when he sees Chris' spear block dead ahead.  Coming in on the flank, Tony makes an attack.  Again, the defenders drive Tony away!  Tony!  
Tony attacks!
Chris' spear block is not out of danger yet.  David brings up his car to make his attack.  He sees more success than Tony experienced moments before. The clash causes the spearmen to lose half their number.  The remnants of Chris' heavy infantry are driven back.  David pursues!  At this point in the battle, it looks like the Red Army has gained the upper hand.  While the battle rages to his right, what are Mark and his wing doing?  They are advancing methodically up through the palms to bring Tony's right under pressure.  
David crashes into the spear block...
and pursues the vanquished...
as the enemy is driven back.
Mark stealthily moves up through the palms.
With Chris' spearmen falling back, the Blue Lugal moves up to plug the gap and take on the enemy car.  David's car loses the exchange and veers off in retreat.  Blue Lugal pursues.  The Lugal's pursuit carries into the path of Tony's battle car.  Hit from behind, Tony does not have much of a chance.  His car routs away with Chris in pursuit.  Cutting a wide swath through the enemy's battle line, Chris and his Lugal pursue deep into the enemy's rear, scattering skirmishers as he goes.  Blue Army's deep penetration into the enemy has split Red Army's line.  These vigorous actions bring the two Army Breakpoint clocks back into balance.  The problem for both armies now is that both teeter near the breaking point.
Blue Lugal counterattacks!
Tony's car is destroyed as Chris' Lugal rampages on.
Tony caught from behind!
Breaking through, the enemy backfield is open.
The Red Army's battle line is split!
Sensing the time is right, Mark brings his heavy spear block forward to engage the enemy.  In the melee, Tony's spear block is cut down to half size.  The loss of those men is just enough to break the Red Army.  Victory to Chris, Mark, and the Blue Army! 
Mark delivers the coup de grace!
What a bloody and very exciting battle!

While this was the first game for these fellas to try their hands at running battle cars and Sumerian armies, tactics evolved as the battle wore on.  I reckon they all have a much better idea of how to handle these unwieldy cars when we next return to this period.     

Again, the battle saw much ebb and flow throughout with victory only settled with Mark's final attack in a spear-on-spear fight to the death.  Watching the players jockey for position while bringing their battle cars into the fight was tremendous fun.  Attempting to extricate the cars from harm was even more fun to watch.  Play was fast and furious with the contest lasting about two-and-a-half hours.

My condolences to David and Tony in defeat but, really, everyone played an excellent game. 

Good fun and thank you!

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Picking Up the Pace

Painting output picked up in June finding me now ahead of my painting goal of 750 figures established back in January.  With June counts formally entered into the Painting Log, YTD counts stand at 470 figures painted.  These counts show 386 foot, 68 horse, and 4 chariots.  Good to be ahead of schedule.  Can I maintain this pace through the summer months?  Well, we will see.  Mileage on the bike has been ramping up as temperatures rise.  It will be a hot one this holiday weekend as highs are expected to hit and possibly exceed 100F by early next week.  That's hot!
In the quiet coolness of the morning, four regiments of 10mm ACW Confederate infantry muster out from the painting desk.  A small addition in size but a big addition for the annual count.  Figures are Old Glory.  I do not enjoy painting these little 10s as much as I once did but I do enjoy the mass effect of these little guys on the gaming table.  Still quite a lot more of these figures in The Lead Pile.  I picked up a bagful of 10mm ACW Blaze Away cavalry in Lancaster Games' year end sale.  These little fellas are really impressive sculpts and make Old Glory figures look shabby in comparison.  I look forward to putting a few of these fine figures into the painting queue at some point.
Tuesday witnessed another rip-roaring Sumerian battle fought out in a four-player remote game.  The game featured great fun and high drama in great company.  Perhaps I can scrape a report together over the weekend?  Until that time, below is a teaser highlighting some of the action.  In this case, we see one battle car crashing into the flank of the enemy's battle car.   
Finally, another photo of Spokane Falls as I passed through downtown on a recent bike ride.  The photo looks toward the Lower Falls with the Monroe Street Bridge spanning the gorge.  As soon as the temperatures rise a bit more this morning, I will be heading out for another spin.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Are Wargamers Competitive?

Referencing the 2020 survey is no typographical error.  I am revisiting the Wargames, Soldiers, and Strategy's 2020 Great Wargaming Survey (GWS).  Why?  Well, the 2020 edition of the GWS contained a battery of additional questions to support academic research by Robert Körner and Astrid Schütz from University of Bamberg.   Their paper was published in 2021 with summary results shared on WSS' blog at Personality and Motivations.
The study uses psychometrics to examine a collection of personality traits as a driver for engagement in miniature wargaming.  Six types of motivators are considered.  They are, socializers, completionists, competitors, escapists, story-driven, and smarty-pants.  In this exercise, I explore only the Competitor trait.

Why single out the competitor trait to begin this analysis?  Curiosity mainly.  I am interested to see the motivation behind competition and why we game.  The survey includes three questions addressing the competitor trait.  The three questions are:
  1. Winning is a big reason for me to play miniature wargames.
  2. It is important to me to be the strongest and most skilled person playing the game.
  3. I play to win.
All responses are on a seven-point scale from (1) Strongly agree to (7) Strongly disagree.  Let's see what the survey data suggest. 

The first two questions (as shown in Figures 1 and 2) show a decidedly skewed response profile with much of the response weight collecting into the “Disagree” categories.  Broadly, winning and being the best player at the table are not so important to the majority of respondents. 
Figure 1

Figure 2
Question 3, relating to playing to win, produces a much different profile (see Figure 3).  Here, responses are evenly distributed across all choices with the exception of Agree strongly
Figure 3
These results suggest that while wargaming in a “play to win” contest runs the entire gamut of degrees of agreement, actually securing victory and being the most skilled player are distant or even discouraged considerations.

A refreshing and encouraging result to which I agree and endorse.  While we may give our best efforts in an attempt to gain victory by playing to win, seeing success on the table takes a backseat to the camaraderie that social wargaming offers.  A result I see frequently reinforced at the gaming table among a wide cross-section of wargamers from all over the globe.

While this analysis focuses only on the overall assessment, are there differences between age groups or wargaming genres?  Do historical and non-historical wargamers present a different competition profile?  What about possible differences between gamer location or game type?  I leave these questions for another time.

What about you?

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Sumer Time!

After a long engagement of the War of Austrian Succession battle of Bassignana,  I cleared the gaming table and rolled out the Sumerian armies for a few games.

The first, of what may be several games, featured four, remote players in a balanced introductory scenario.  With equal forces, the four players were divided into two armies with random player assignments.  Doug and Colin (Lugal) would command the Blue Army while Stephen (Lugal) and Alan would step into command of the Red Army.  After recently gaming in both WAS and Great Italians Wars, players asked if I could bring the Sumerians to the table.  I was happy to oblige! 
Initial dispositions.
Since this contest would be an introduction into chariot warfare (well, battle cars), the terms of victory were simple.  Break the opposing army!

Let's see how the players made out in this first clash.

Both armies step off toward the enemy.  Blue Army (blue and black VBU dice) gets its battle cars in motion early while Red Army (red and green VBU dice) holds back some of its battle cars in reserve.  A few shots are exchanged as the two lines close.  Skirmisher on skirmisher fire is ineffective but some of the skirmishers rush into the fighting in an effort to displace the enemy skirmishing screen. 
Battle lines close.
Skirmishing from afar.
Hidden behind his own troops and by the oasis surrounding the pond, Colin whips his equids as fast they will go and plunges into the enemy.  Colin is wasting little time in thrusting himself into the fray.  Probably in shock, Alan's archers fail to get off a volley of arrows as the battle car attacks.  The clash is decisive.  Alan's archers retreat having suffered heavy casualties.  While Alan's supporting skirmishers run clear of Colin's battle car, his massed archers are not as fortunate.  The archers are caught in pursuit and scattered.  The battle is not beginning well for Alan!   
Pursuit and destruction!
With his right bending already under the weight of attack, Stephen whips his Left Wing battle car into action in an attempt to stabilize the situation.  Massed archers are brought up in the center in range of the enemy as Alan moves his spearmen forward.  Skirmishers fall back.  Stephen also puts his Lugal's battle car into motion perhaps to be utilized as a mobile fire brigade.

Stephen's Left Wing battle car trots in to hit Doug's massed archers.  Doug's archers coolly let loose a volley of arrows into the battle car.  Taking damage and disordered from the volley, Stephen plows on!  In the clash, the archers actually manage to stand their ground and see the battle car off.  With his left blocked with friendly infantry, the car is forced to wheel right and head back toward the center of the line in retreat.  A cheer goes up from Doug's line!   
Heavy infantry to the front!
Skirmishers to the rear!
Stephen's battle car attacks...
and is repulsed!
Stephen's battle car slowly turns back toward the center.
Back on the Blue Army's Left, Colin is not finished with his mad dash into the enemy's line.  Winning initiative, Colin continues where he left off.  That is, causing havoc upon the Red Army's Right.

With Alan's car offering up a flank attack, Colin gleefully accepts and plows into the side of the enemy car.  In an uncharacteristic turn-around in fortune, Alan actually repels Colin's attack after two rounds of melee.  Choosing to pursue, Alan catches the enemy battle car and dispatches it!  Cheers go up from the Red Army!        
A tasty flank attack...
turns sour!
Seeing the enemy car wheel about and offer up a rear, Doug whips his equids to pick up the pace.  Passing through his battle line, Doug strikes Stephen's car in the rear.  I am not sure Stephen even saw what was coming.  Red Army's battle car is destroyed.  Doug fails to press on as his car refuses to pursue.  In the center, Alan's spearmen take a pounding from Colin's archers.  Alan's rear stand of spearmen is about to dissolve.    
Doug dispatches an enemy car...
while Colin makes the enemy pay on the approach.
Sensing that now may be the crucial point in the battle, Red Army's Lugal crashes into Doug's car in the middle of the field.  Doug's car is driven off as it veers to the right.  Stephen, in the Lugal's car, presses on to his front.  First the Lugal overruns an unfortunate skirmisher before crashing into Doug's Right Wing.  Worn down by its exertions, Stephen's Lugal cannot break through.  Instead, he is forced to veer off to the left bringing him upon the rear of Doug's battle car.  

Fortunately for Doug, a retreat is no pursuit so Stephen's Lugal cannot attack.  With an end of turn, there is much gnashing of teeth as initiative is rolled...and rerolled.  The Red Army wins initiative!  Stephen uses this chance to put his Lugal in motion and finish off Doug's car.  Hoorah!     
Red's Lugal attacks and drives off the enemy car!
In pursuit, Red Lugal is stopped...
but delivers a fatal blow to Doug's car in the next turn.
Uncertain as how the combat on either wing would play out, Blue Army's Lugal (Colin) strikes straight up the middle.  Charging straight into two bodies of massed enemy archers at the junction between the two wings, Colin drives the enemy back with great casualties.  In pursuit, Colin's Lugal scatters two enemy formations and wheels into the center of the enemy's rear.
Blue Lugal attacks!
The Red Army's battle line is split!
Blue Lugal breaks through into the enemy's rear!
While Stephen's rampage with his Lugal manages to even the Army Breakpoint Clock, Colin's attack in the center brings the Red Army teetering upon the brink of collapse.  One more successful attack ought to do the trick but one more unsuccessful attack could spell doom for his army too.

Advancing out of the woods, Colin attacks Alan's badly damaged battle car in one last push.  Who was victorious?  Colin, Doug, and their Blue Army, of course!   
Spearmen attack out of the woods...
breaking the enemy's will to fight.
Fantastic game with each army and player getting in a few hard licks and taking a few as well.  Terrific action throughout with fortunes seemingly changing with each passing activation.  Players came to grips with the rules and battle car operations quickly to produce a very enjoyable game for the host (me!).  Hopefully, they enjoyed the contest as much as I.

Congratulations to Colin and Doug in victory.  My condolences to Stephen and Alan in defeat.  The outcome really could have gone either way and it was refreshing to see Alan's dice make somewhat of a turn-around in this game.

Thanks fellas, that was great fun!

Please visit Colin's (Remote Wargame in the Sumer(ian) Time) and Alan's (Biting the Bullet) blogs for their impressions of the game.