Sunday, May 20, 2012

Task Forces, Baseball

Hi, there – Thanks for stopping by!

Not much new to report that I haven’t mentioned before. I’m working on a novel, doing some design work for Paizo (the Thornkeep book for Goblinworks’ Pathfinder Online kickstarter), and tinkering around with a little consulting and light design work for some other folks. Oh, and my new ebook Prince of Ravens is getting closer to release: It should be out in early July. All of you Forgotten Realms fans who have been wanting another dose of Jack Ravenwild, this is your chance! Sorry about making you wait ten years between books.

Gaming: I’ve been noodling over bit of kit-bashing in the last few weeks. I mentioned a few blogs back that I’m a fan of the old Avalon Hill title Victory in the Pacific. It’s one of my old favorites, but the game does have a couple of things I don’t like. Most importantly, bringing a smaller force to a battle is just a savage beating, because every unit in the zone gets to attack. Secondly, there’s no rule to limit “ganging up” attacks. At the risk of complicating a simple game, here’s the mod I’ve been thinking about:

1.      Ships in a zone are grouped into Task Forces. A Task Force can have up to 10 ships. You can’t have more than 4 battleships in a TF. You can’t have more than 4 carriers in a TF.

2.      Before each combat round, number your Task Forces. If you have 2 TFs in the zone, one of them is TF 1, and the other is TF 2. You decide which is which.

3.      Each combat round begins with a Search Phase. You get to roll 1 search die for each TF you have in the zone, and 1 search die for each land-based air squadron. Add 1 search die for each previous round of searching you’ve performed.

4.      A search die “spots” the enemy Task Force equal to its roll. For example, if you roll three search dice and get 2, 3, 6, you spot enemy Task Forces 2, 3, and 6. If there isn’t an enemy TF to find in that slot, that search die whiffs.

5.      You always spot all of your enemy’s land-based air squadrons.

6.      TFs that aren’t spotted are Hidden. You can’t attack hidden TFs.

OK, so that organization and search process splits your giant armadas into smaller components. You might find some, all, or none of your enemy’s fleet. He might do the same to you. It’s bad news when you find none of your enemy fleet and he finds all of yours, but that’s war. Now here are the basic combat rules for task forces:

1.      Surprise Phase: Hidden TFs can *either* make air strikes against land-based air squadrons and spotted enemy TFs, *or* wait to attack spotted enemy TFs in Surface Combat. Damage you inflict now takes effect before other air strikes.

2.      Air Strike Phase: Spotted TFs and land-based air can attack any spotted enemy TFs or enemy land-based air squadrons with air strikes. Attacks in this phase are simultaneous (two carriers can sink each other). Damage you inflict now takes effect before surface combat.

3.      Surface Combat Phase: Hidden TFs *may* engage any spotted enemy TF in surface combat. Spotted TFs *must* engage spotted enemy TFs of matching number. In other words, if my TF 2 and your TF 2 are both spotted in the Search phase, they fight each other in fleet combat. Attacks in this phase are simultaneous (two battleships can sink each other).

In surface combat, you can’t assign two ships to attack one ship unless you’re attacking all other eligible ships. You can’t attack a carrier or amphib unless you can assign two attackers each to all other units in the TF you’re attacking. (However, carriers that use their gunnery factors lose this special consideration and are treated just like other ships.)
Each cycle of search-surprise-air-surface is one combat round. You can’t withdraw until at least one surprise attack, airstrike, or surface combat has occurred. Hidden groups that withdraw can’t be pursued.

This system is a simplification of the TF and search rules from Avalon Hill’s Rising Sun/GMT’s A World at War. I like it because it’s good simulation, it’s simple, and it’s a ton of fun in AWAW, but the idea seems like it could easily make combat in Victory in the Pacific a lot more interesting. With good search dice, a smaller force can sting a bigger force and slip away. In War at Sea or Victory in the Pacific, the “right” way to play is to keep your ships in gigantic stacks; this system says that you don’t often get to use all of your gigantic stack at the same time (certainly backed up by history).

I think there are a couple of other games that would benefit from similar house rules. For example, GDW’s old Imperium game or Federation and Empire likewise involve gigantic stacks of ships and punish you for not keeping your fleet in a gigantic stack. It would be pretty easy to mod out this system for either of those games.

Politics/Current Events: We’ve hit the interleague play portion of baseball’s 2012 schedule. While I enjoyed the novelty of interleague play when it first began in 1997, I find that I am not much of a fan of it these days. The simple reason is that the wild card ticket to the playoffs combines pretty poorly with the interleague schedule. Since you don’t play *every* other team in the other league, just a selection of “regional rivalries,” it’s possible for one team in League A to have an interleague schedule against distinctly stronger opponents than another team that might be competing for the same wild card slot. For example, the Phillies draw a bunch of strong AL East teams for their interleague schedule, while the Cardinals draw a bunch of weak AL Central teams. But when it comes time to figure out who’s going to be the wild card, well, a win’s a win. The Phils have a disadvantage on strength of schedule.
Now, if there wasn’t a wild card, no big deal—you get to the playoffs by winning your division, and you could set it up so that all the teams in a division had the same interleague schedule.

You can certainly argue that the wild card is bunged up already because some divisions are stronger than others, and teams play an unbalanced schedule where they get three times as many games against rivals in their own division as they do against teams outside the division. But a wild card based on a system where all contenders play the same teams would be an incremental improvement over the current situation.
Unfortunately, interleague play is about to get worse. Next year, the Houston Astros are moving from the NL to the AL. Well, that’s good for Dallas and Houston; that should be a fun rivalry between the Rangers and Astros. But two 15-team leagues means that interleague play’s going to have to happen all through the season, with all its inequities. It’s not going away anytime soon.

I really find myself longing for the days of two divisions in each league, with a one-round league championship, followed by the World Series. That was the format from 1969 through 1993, and there were some legendary playoffs through that time. Maybe I’m less sympathetic to giving the weaker teams a bit more hope because my Phillies have been at the top of the heap for four or five years now, or maybe I’m just remembering the Olden Days with a warm glow of nostalgia. But it seems like the postseason was just better back then, doesn’t it?

The Finer Things: Cold Stone Creamery. I dig the Coffee Lover’s Crunch and Peanut Butter Cup Perfection mixes. I only go in to a Cold Stone maybe two or three times a year, and it seems unfair that I have to pick one or the other.


  1. Hey Richard. I really enjoyed the books you wrote for the Forgotten Realms world about Geran Hulmaster. Just terrific writing all the way through.
    Do you have plans to write more about this character, or anything taking place in Toril?

  2. Thanks, glad you liked them! I have an idea or two about continuing Geran's story, but I'm afraid I don't have anything in the works at the moment. After "Prince of Ravens" I don't have anything in my queue for Forgotten Realms -- but of course, that might change in the future.


  3. I think I agree with you about the baseball schedule. Neither the wildcard nor interleague play have ruined baseball. They have their good points, and it makes me feel like an old curmugeon to rail about how the "good old days" were better. But baseball has definitely taken a few steps toward the NBA model where the regular season is mostly about tournament seeding. Just making the playoffs used to mean a lot more, and as you point out, it was also a lot more fair. And then with a bigger playoff pool, we get 5-game playoff series, which are also bogus. Not to mention, a stretch run for a wildcard slot will never have the same magic that a tight pennant race used to have... Not that I will stop watching...

  4. Rich,

    Interesting take on VitP and worth giving a try. I grew up on the old AH games and particulary WaS and VitP. In the last few years I also dug them out again to teach my children who really enjoyed them. They were the primary reason I jumped on AANM WaS when it first came out without knowing anything about the game figuring it was some what a remake of my old favorites with minis.

    All the best,


  5. nowadays in the MLB if your a team like the bluejays and you have the rays, yankees and red sox all in your division you have little chance of making the playoffs ever.

  6. The odd thing about that upcoming Rangers-Astros rivalry? Nolan Ryan also owns the Corpus Christi Hooks, Houston's AA franchise.

  7. Thanks for the TF rules. I really like the surprise attack element that the original optional rules lack. Matching TF numbers to search results and as combatants is a fun innovation.

    Victory in the Pacific was the first historical wargame I ever played and later owned. Still have the original, though its missing some ships. Scored a mint unpunched copy on ebay awhile back to replace it.