(War)games as models

I’ve been having some game-as-model thoughts over the last few years of a more philosophical than perhaps practical nature. As a way of at least getting them out of my brain, and hopefully as a way of stimulating some discussion, I’ve started to post them here. Tell me what you think!

A played ‘game-as-model’ is an instance or instantiation of a model rather than the model itself. This echoes comments by Volko Ruhnke, who, like me only better, applies systems thinking to games design.

It’s useful to realise this when thinking about game-as-model. It means that there are variables specific to a particular instance of the game. You could think of this as a specific ‘run’ of a process. Individual players have their own unique understanding of their particular role in that game. They also have their own psychological states while playing, and these are likely to vary between different plays of the game. There might be specific scenario details, for example, relationships between terrain components, peculiarities of actual combat elements, and unique mechanisms for the scenario.

Each play of a miniatures game is a unique experience, with fewer similarities between plays than most board games, I think. There are (nearly) always variations in troop composition, and in layout – precisely where terrain is placed will be different – even if the same scenario is being played. In contrast, successive plays of a board game have greater commonalities through perhaps gridded layouts for movement and stricter rules interpretations – firmer rules if you will – especially when compared with an umpired figure game.

However, there may be some general lessons to draw in terms of the interaction of players with instances of the model. One of these lessons may be not to draw too many conclusions from one instance!

I hope to return to this topic in a later post.

2 Responses to “(War)games as models”

  1. 1 Pete S/ SP January 8, 2020 at 00:51

    Interesting post. The differences between repeated plays of a miniatures wargame is what keeps me playing with toy soldiers for tyactical games and sticking to boardgames for operational and strategic level games. Tactical board games seem to me to often be a puzzle that needs to be solved often after it has been ‘learned’ and suboptimal solutions worked through, compared to the near infinite variations of a toy soldier game I find no comparison.



  2. 2 benthamfish January 9, 2020 at 09:22

    Thanks for your comments, Pete.
    I agree there is a danger with tactical board wargames that players will see them more as puzzles to be solved, or as games to find the ‘best’ solution for, rather than as a unique contest. Even dice for randomisation of combat doesn’t eliminate that, because dice are predictable within parameters.
    My impression with board wargames is that there are fewer, or often no, ‘unknown unknowns’, whereas an umpired game enables those.

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