World at War: Big numbers, little numbers

As someone who isn’t exactly inclined towards mathematics, I’ve always marvelled at how the stat freaks, hardware geeks and treadheads of the wargaming world can slice and dice combat results – particular in tactical wargames.

I appreciate their quest for accuracy. I laud their depth of knowledge. I have no idea what they’re talking about most of the time, but I’m sure that without their herculean efforts, wargames would still be using simple odds-based tables and six-sided dice to resolve combat. (What? Oh, wait…)

Personally, I don’t mind a bit of abstraction in the interests of fun and playability. I remember sitting around with my copy of Avalon Hill’s newly-published “Tobruk”, nursing my sore dice-roller’s wrist and reading the technical notes in the back of the rulebook (at least I think that’s where they were). I discovered that people like the late Hal Hock put a lot of thought into game design, but I couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t something more to combat results than coming up with clever ways to reflect technical performance.

The quest for a combat results system that has both ‘guts’ and ‘feel’ is never-ending. Nothing that I’ve seen to-date qualifies as perfect, and certainly nothing is out there that pleases everybody. But right now, I’m getting a lot of quality time out of the combat system used in Mark Walker’s World at War series of games.

From discussions I’ve seen around teh Intrarwebs, I gather that it’s not everybody’s cup o’coffee. But as a long-time miniatures gamer, I was instantly comfortable with it. If you’ve played any miniatures game in which combat involves opposed dice rolls, you’ll immediately grasp combat in World at War. The attacking player rolls ‘X’ number of dice, and each dice that equals or exceeds a result of ‘Y’ scores a hit on the defender. The defender then rolls ‘Z’ number of dice, and each dice that equals or exceeds a result of ‘N’ erases one hit.

Unlike miniature games that use a similar mechanism, World at War has all of the relevant numbers printed right on the counters. Large-printed numbers indicate the number of dice rolled, numbers in smaller print indicate the to-hit (or save) scores. You can get an inkling of it in the image below. Note: I can’t take a decent close-up image of this game to save my life. This image is cadged from theĀ Lock N Load Publishing web site. (Hey Mark, if you want me to remove this absolutely free plug for your handsome game graphics, just let me know and I’ll replace it with some stick figures or something equally attractive and promotional, no problemo.)

Lots o' numbers

Lots of numbers

One unsaved hit disrupts a unit. Disrupted units that take a hit lose a step. Combat can be fairly quick and bloody, but then that’s my take on ‘modern’ combat in general. Modifiers (to either the number of dice or the success values) are fairly limited, which minimizes table look-ups.

I can’t speak to the mathematical ‘accuracy’ of the process – I leave that to the aforementioned numbers-crunchers – but I like that of all of the modern combat games that I’ve played over the years, it has the least of what I call that ‘Proving Ground Feel’. It might even be a bit on the chaotic side of combat mechanisms, but then I LIKE a dose of chaos in my wargames.

Despite the chaos factor, it’s still a really bad idea to run your guys around in the open in range of enemy guns. Your basic, old-fashioned ‘tank rush’ will almost always produce a lot of smoking wreckage. (I hedge with ‘almost’ because on rare occassions the defenders will roll a bunch of misses. Guess they didn’t do so good in gunnery school.)

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