German Bias in WWII Gaming

The Kursk Gold: "Bleed them White" scenario inside the editor.
I posted a blog this morning about a 9 turn scenario in the "Kursk 43 Gold" John Tiller Software game called "Bleed Them White." And as I shared the post in the various forums and to my Facebook page, I received an interesting comment:

"Too bad the scenarios are ahistoricaly pro-German."

I have seen comments like this before in forums about other games, but I can't recall ever seeing anyone say this about a John Tiller game (but according to the person who commented, this is a thing).

Let me first say:  I know for a fact, that the JTS/WDS guys aren't "pro-German."  They present the facts through their historical setups, detailed notes and with an engine that assigns combat values based on terrain type, range, unit status and supply.

There is however, something called "Unit Quality" within all John Tiller games which assigns values to the units of both armies.  Unit quality is graded on a scale of A-F and influences almost any action within the game. Better quality units are less likely to disrupt, breakdown.  Better quality units have higher quality fire, higher assault modifiers, faster bridgebuilding, are better spotters and if it is an HQ unit, a greater command range.

But is there a bias built into the unit quality grading of the John Tiller scenarios?

There is a difference.  The SS units in the scenario are "A" quality and the Russian Guards units are a "C" quality.  But is this bias? I don't see it that way.  Higher quality units are just better led soldiers but that doesn't make them any braver.

Let me step back for a moment and say something about my view of the Eastern Front and the Russian and German armies in general.  I believe it to be true that early on in the war, German units were better than their Russian counterparts.  They had more experienced leaders and troops. Their weapons were better and their doctrines were better, BUT as the war went on this began to change.  Russian unit quality rose as German unit quality decreased.  Russian commanders gained experience as better German commanders died off. As German losses piled up in the latter part of the war, Soviet confidence grew and all of the factors that go into "unit quality" were improving.

If this is a historical bias on my part, then stop reading.  I don't see it that way because I am not questioning anyone's bravery.  As an aside, I think one of the bravest units in the entire Second World War is the 13th Russian Guards division.  They were incredibly brave.  They crossed the Volga under fire as the Germans entered Stalingrad and fought the German advance to a standstill.  I don't think they were well led at that moment, but they were incredibly brave and they stopped the Germans cold, buying precious time for the Chuikov and 62nd Army to regroup.  This just isn't  a bravery discussion for me.

It is a worthwhile question though, because no wargaming company regardless of the period, wants to be known for exhibiting bias.

Back to "Unit Quality"  

I don't see "quality" then as a measure of bravery, I see it as: leadership+training+tactics+weaponry+experience.

In 1943, SS units DID have the better equipment, training, tactical leadership, etc but it was waning.  In fact, I would argue that it was battles like Kursk, Narva, etc that killed the "quality" off.  Russian Guard units just weren't there yet in terms of "quality"but they were improving.

The "Guards" unit title didn't imply a better trained soldier in Russian terms.  It was an honorific based on unit experience.  It was a way for Stalin to bolster the confidence of soldiers and recognize the heroic sacrifices Russian soldiers were making to stop the Germans.  After 42, it represented a different set of units, weapons, etc.

So to say there is a pro-German bias in John Tiller Games is incorrect.  There is a unit quality difference, but the difference at this point in the war (1943) is justified.


Anonymous said…
We should remember that this is a game. Among other things It aims to simulate (to a certain degree) effects of actions on battlefield, but with a lot of simplifications and abstraction. Grading units should help in this regard, at least in theory. If those scenarios are any good, then attempting to mirror historical movements and actions should produce similiar effects. More or less. People will always argue that this or that unit should be graded differently for various reasons, but maybe grading it as it is helps maintaining game balance in broader perspective. In real life things are bit more complicated.
Chris said…
Hi Anon. You are right!

The chief complaint of this person was that the German player always wins. I think German players win not because of bias/or a flawed analysis but because the information available to digital players that real-life commanders didn't possess makes all of the difference. We know so much more about units on both sides of the battlefield than your actual commanders did. We don't have any attachments to the men we order forward in battle. We sacrifice units in a historical ways, in order to achieve our digital objectives. When the game comes down to numbers and not emotions or feel, as digital wargames do, the numbers will almost always win, even when the real life result was different.
Anonymous said…
I have also seen too many times people forgetting about the obvious - the knowledge of the scenario (and historical setup). The smaller the scenario the easier is to a player to exploit it. By knowing the moves (especially the opening ones) and with knowing the units setup you take out the elemnt of surprise completely. You basically know things that in reality where not known.
I have played against a Person in PC Budapest'45 (the whole operation). Because my oplent played that scennario many times and I have played for the first time within first 4-5 turns he crushed me knowing exacly where was my soft spot initially. And even in the middle of the game he knew what reinforcements are coming for me (and exactly when). So although I did well as a commander of Red Army he beaten the hell out of me. No magic. No German bias. He just knew the scenario and the engine of the game and used this knowledge against me.
Unfortunatelly there is no way of countering such situation unless there is a substantial amount of randomization. If he was handed different units instead of exactly the same each time. If the enemy units were different each time. And if the situation and reinforcements would be dynamically programmed then this knowledge "exploit" would be made redundant.

Chris Ad
Chris said…
That's a really good point. In the Command Ops game you can set variable reinforcement tables which makes it challenging to know exactly when and where and when something will happen. That does make for a challenging game.

Anonymous said…
If there is "German bias" why in "Budapest 45" several of the German divisions such as the 22 SS cav div and polizei regiments rated D or E?
Chris said…
Good point Anon. That would tend to go along with what I was saying about waning quality on the German side by the end of the war.

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