Abilene Bid System
So you think you know ASL?
Abilene Bid System Rules
AbBS Scenario Design Tips
Scenario One - Prochorovka
Armor duels near Kursk
Scenario Two - Chantilly Prelude
Last stop before crossing onto German soil
Abilene Bid System Introduction
The Abilene Bid System is a bidding system developed in Houston. Used initially at the ASL tournament at the annual NanCon event, it has progressed into the form today. While basically a DYO, it refined several points and reduced the inherent unbalancing factors DYO introduced. Essentially, it is open bidding with each player bidding down to the minimum number of points he thinks is needed to achieve the victory conditions. The scenario includes a menu from which the players choose their forces and corresponding bid values.
With the proliferation of scenarios in the recent years, the DYO has lost popularity. There are so many scenarios from which to choose and they offer almost any type of tactical situation. However, the AbBS (not to be confused with the unfortunate coincidence of the similarly named Australian Balance System, ABS) was designed for tournament play. The intent was to meet several design goals.
1) Small, short actions with the emphasis on tactics. The games have to small since the system will falter on larger ones - the bid process would get unmanageably complex. It also encourages player to get the most of each weapon. Games are intended to last four hours. In a tournament situation that easily allows for four or five games in a weekend.
2) Truly test player's knowledge of the value of units. In deciding their forces, bidders have to know what kind of units and how many are need to accomplish a task.
3) Give the players a chance to use tactics with which they are comfortable. While limited by the scenario, by choosing their weapons they also decide tactics for the game. For example, a strong infantry player might put emphasis on infantry over mobility to achieve victory conditions.
4) Limited scope of unit purchases. The predecessors to AbBS suffered from Monty-Hall-Lets-Make-a-Deal approach of purchasing. They would a mind boggling array of units and options. By limiting the scope of the purchases, the system is simplified to within reason. Often the list will only include one or two types of infantry, SW, AFVs or other weapons. Keep in mind, the system tests players ability to achieve objects on a limited budget.
5) Offer a play test point range. This gives players a reference in deciding purchases. Also, the medium value in that point range may be used to play the scenario without a bid process. Use that value and select sides. The Bid Side will still have to purchase units, of course.
One of the criticisms of the system, or at least DYO in general, is that is scenarios do not have to be designed; just slop together a situation and the let the games do the play balance themselves. That is a misconception and is not true by any measure. At least, it is no less the case than conventional scenario design. We all have played bad scenarios that we wonder how it got past the play testers. In fact, these scenarios are play tested the same as other scenarios. The quality of a scenario will always be questioned. It is interesting to note that the Australian Balance System is actually a variation of this idea, in that it allows players to modify a given situation slightly. While the intent and implementation is different, the concept is similar.
Not that AbBS is perfect. There are inherent weaknesses as well.
1) Players must be evenly matched. Any skills difference between players will greatly benefit the stronger player.
2) More startup time preparing the bid. There will be an extra half hour or hour up front in deciding bids. It is also intended that the nature of the smaller scenario makes up for the added startup time. That is why I like limiting the choices severely. Too many choices and a too complex victory conditions
3) No common reference. Players tend not to like AbBS scenarios since they are not accepted by the ASL community yet. As such, they will never read about that scenario in trade journals or be able to talk to different gamers about it the same way they can with printed scenarios. It is one of those self fulfilling prophecies kind of thing. If the trade journals had them in it... Even so, I understand player's hesitancy.
My Spin on AbBS Scenario design
These scenarios were used in Houston tournaments. Play testing was conducted and they were revised. They fully conform to the design restraint listed above. However two important modifications were used. The first is the limited use of concealment. I am not against concealment per se, but it radically slows games down. Where applicable, I disallow it. Second, the number of vehicles are limited as well. Again this is a aspect of the ASL that slows the game down. While both sides usually have vehicles, the severely limited number along with the small number of troops on both sides own, allows focus on tactics. I also like my games bloody.
I see tournament scenarios having an almost puzzle-like nature to them. But conversely, they can not be so small that luck is too prevalent. In the old scenario, The MG, a single American HMG, is surrounded by attacking German squads. While the HMGs firepower is capable enough to win the scenario, a single bad DR (malfunction, you guessed it) dooms the player to defeat. And yet, what bad decision did the American make to deserve to lose?
Ahh, but I pontificate and scenario design theory is another story...