Monday, September 15, 2014

Why I took up Play By Email

Last night I played scenario "1914_0823_01s: The Creeping Tide" concerning a holding action by the German 37th Infantry Division at the villages of Lahna and Orlau in the JTS game East Prussia '14. I played the German side this time, and here was the result:

Historically, this was a Russian victory, though not really an overwhelming one. In my game, the Russians have taken an absolute drubbing. As you can see, the 37th has wrecked an entire Russian Corp while sustaining (for WWI) light casualties. The defeat would have been even worse had I managed to move my reserve regiment a turn earlier, allowing me to retake Orlau.

The problem here is that the Russian AI attacked all along the line, failing to concentrate sufficient force at any one point to achieve a breakthrough. Where the AI did concentrate, namely at Orlau during the first turn of the game, it was successful. For the remainder of the game it allowed disordered units to stack up along the line and fed fresh troops in piecemeal. German machine guns and artillery wreaked havoc on these stacks of units that were incapable of assaulting my positions, resulting in large numbers of broken battalions.

While reminiscent of the Western Front battles of 1915-1917, this wasn't a good representation of WWI combat during 1914. I doubt any human player even marginally familiar with the mechanics of the game would have spent eight game turns making the same bloody mistake over and over again. Yes, during this era defensive strategies were usually superior to offensive strategies, but this isn't yet the era of trench warfare.

This game was a good reminder that the cracks start showing in many simulations when you stack the deck against the AI. I've fought some good battles against the JTS games' AI, but pretty much always with the AI on the defensive. Sure, there were attacks as bad as this in 1914 (Joffre, anyone?), but I can produce a result like this almost always in the JTS WWI games. The AI just isn't creative enough, doesn't learn from mistakes, and is already handicapped by being put on the offensive in a war that favors the defense. I'm not that great a commander, but nearly always, the AI is going to lose.

Not all game AI suffers from this. The AI in Command Ops isn't half bad on the attack. In Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm it can be downright lethal. Still, it's never as good as a human opponent. If you want a real challenge and you want to learn to play better, find someone to play against. It's a great deal more fun!