France 1944 Fixes

France 1944 box cover France 1944 is a conflict simulation designed by Mark Herman and published by Victory Games in 1986. The simulation covers the Allied advance on Germany after the D-Day landings in Normandy. It is a notable simulation, not for its topic, but for the innovative (at the time) mechanisms Mark Herman designed for simulating simultaneity of movement and combat in a two-player game as well as the limitations of command and control. Nonetheless, it is the opinion of many players that—despite many effective design concepts—the game is unenjoyable because of a combat resolution system that generates unexpected results, encouraging tactical combat decisions that lead to anomalous strategic choices.

As Mark Herman explains, the original combat system attempted to show how combat efficiency (in the form of training, experience, and morale) can have a greater impact than numerical odds, as often happened in the battle for the bocage, the subsequent breakout, and the toughened defense of Germany. Mark also incorporated coordination issues into the system by assuming that higher force ratios reflected more complicated operations. Although every single one of his simulation goals was completely sound, the model used to achieve those goals has been perceived to generate anomalous results. It is my opinion that perceived problems with the system result from linking coordination effects to force ratio instead of absolute force levels.[1] Furthermore, the system treats combat efficiency (i.e., morale) effects as a bimodal function instead of as a function of combat efficiency differential.[2]

Working with fellow gamers on ConsimWorld, I have developed some fixes for France 1944 that attempt to reproduce Mark Herman's original design goals. Although I believe these to be improvements, they have not undergone a comprehensive battery of evaluation. These changes may make France 1944 a better game, but not necessarily a better simulation.[3]

Before evaluating these modifications, you should play the game without any changes. If you like it as is, great! If you think the game requires improvements, then try out these modifications. If you do not have any issues with the original combat results table, keep it and use the other less-controversial modifications.

France 1944 Revisionshtmlpdf


Given a recent surge in interest in the game following a video review, the posting of a one-sided redaction of the ConsimWorld design discussion, as well as aspersions that have been made against anyone who questions the game's CRT,[4] I've decided to republish part of the post I wrote 12 years ago that apparently quelled further discussion about the behavior of the CRT, possibly because of an attempt to characterize the issue precisely with some equations.

If you understand what I wrote, it should be clear that I understood the behavior of the game's CRT and did not maintain that more is better or that linear is good.[5] I'll also add that at the scale of the game, higher odds need not necessarily correspond to greater attacker density. Just because a counter has a particular strength factor doesn't mean the commander of the forces represented by that counter would commit all of the forces in an attack. Greater odds gives you greater capacity to keep forces in reserve to avoid crowding the front. The scale of the game hides so much. Consequently, what's really being debated is how to maintain a player's suspension of disbelief rather than simulation accuracy. Sometimes all that is needed is a good explanation in the form of design notes. When that fails, design changes may be required.

10:14pm Feb 19, 2003 PST


>fact it often is not the case, especially with inexperienced
>units.  The 3 morale unit isn't good enough to be the lead unit in a
>larger attack.  You need a better unit to lead a higher odds attack
>because it is more complicated.  So if you are splitting your attack
>into two smaller pieces you advantage yourself against poor German
>units, but you are disadvantaging yourself against a broader array of
>German units.

I don't question any of this.  After you explained the reasoning, it
made sense and I'm happy to have learned something.  I'm looking for
confirmation that correlating to odds is the right way to represent
this behavior.  The comment you made that most strongly supports this
is that at higher odds you have a greater attacker density.  However,
if the only behavior is that lower morale units are ineffective at
leading larger attacks, then that's an argument in favor of a
quantitative rather than a relative system.  In other words, is it more
complicated to lead a higher odds attack or is it more complicated to
lead an attack involving many units? These are two different
things.  My mind is stuck in the mode where I think an M morale unit
should be effective at leading an attack involving N units for N <= K
and have that effectiveness go down as a function of N for N > K where
K is a function of M.  If the most effective a unit can be is 1, then
you've got:
   E(M,N) = 1 for N <= K(M) 
   E(M,N) < 1 for N > K(M) 

K(M) is simply the maximum number of units (or possibly strength
points) a unit of morale M can lead in an attack without loss in
effectiveness.  The CRT in France 1944 uses something more like:
   E(M,N,D) = 1 for N/D <= K(M) 
   E(M,N,D) < 1 for N/D > K(M) 

where N and D are the relative strengths of attacking and defending
units.  For argument's sake, let's say E is a monotonic linear function
when its value is less than 1.  That means for a given value of M, E is
inversely proportional to N in the first case and inversely
proportional to N/D in the second case.

That's why I found it strange when after a 1:1 attack reduces a
defender a subsequent attack at 3:1 involving the exact same units has
a higher probability of going awry.  There aren't any more units than
there were before, only higher odds.  A contributing factor is probably
that when defenders occupy a single hex you don't get a sense of the
reduced frontage and higher density of attackers.  So I would ask if
the historical data support the notion that higher odds attacks are
more complicated or that attacks involving more units are more
complicated.  Historically, these may always have been the same thing,
making it impossible to differentiate between the two cases.  The other
factor at work that you alluded to is the tenacity of the defender.  I
assume the relationship to N/D captures that the grimmer the odds, the
harder the defenders fought.  I think it is this factor that is lost on
the average wargamer (or at least was lost on me) and the primary
source of confusion.


[1] This analysis has nothing to do with an expectation of a naïvely linear combat results table. I completely understand Mark Herman's explanation of the reasoning behind the design of the combat results table. More importantly, I understand and agree completely with what it is supposed to do. Nevertheless, in my experience—as well as that of other players—the combat results table doesn't actually end up doing what it was designed to do. It only does so if you know in advance what it is supposed to do and make decisions accordingly, thereby avoiding the situations that lead you to make a different set of decisions.

[2] It is unclear if parameterizing combat efficiency differential is more accurate from a simulation point of view, but it makes the game more fun.

[3] In no way do I claim that these changes make the game a more accurate simulation. I find they make the game more fun to play. I long ago gave up any expectation of finding wargames satisfying as simulations. If you want to recreate history, read a book. I'm satisfied if a conflict simulation is fun to play or teaches me something. I expect wargames to be games first and preferably also learning tools that provide insights into the decisions faced by the historical actors. That second part is what Mark Herman designs—especially his most recent ones—excel at.

[4] It's bizarre that an obscure wargame—within an already obscure wargaming hobby—can inspire such fervor.

[5] I hope it's also clear that I'm a fan of Mark Herman designs; else why would I have spent time trying to improve the game. It's possible to like something and constructively criticize it.