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Shayne Logan is the designer of Old School Tactical for Flying Pig Games. As we reach the final tweaking stage before sending the game to the printers, I thought it might be a good idea to let him explain his thinking in designing the game. Take it away, Shayne.
OST Design Notes
As Old School Tactical is a new system, we thought it a good idea to put together some notes on the design. I’m putting together these notes for all of you to see a little behind the scenes, some thoughts and choices that went into the game. If I ramble or jump around incoherently, just remember Mark is the writer, not I.
The beginning, about two years ago, I decided to get back into counter pushing. Most wargamers can envision the perfect game they’d like to play. I was the same way and just decided to go with it. I had experience with graphic and game design in the computer games industry, so why not give it my best shot.
I Love Tactical
I feel there is nothing more immediate and ‘in your face’, than playing a wargame at the tactical level. Gritty, down in the dirt warfare becomes much more real to me as a player. Every squad, every tank and every leader has an important part to play. Personally, I can watch the game unfold almost like an action scene in a war movie.
Shaken squads in a burnt out factory being overrun by shock troops. A Panzer IVf2 moving out from cover and taking a shot from a hidden AT gun waiting to ambush. A Lieutenant falling from sniper’s bullet. All of these things put the war in wargame for me.
This is where the series starts. The history, the battles and the machines of war make this one of the most interesting periods for a tactical game. As a history nerd, WW II was always of interest to me and many others. And the East front theater was an easy choice for an initial game.
The series begins on the steppes of Russia in WW II, but we plan on taking it to new theaters and time periods as it progresses.
Plain Jane, blobs of green for woods and blue lines for rivers just don’t do it for me as far as immersion goes. Functional yes. The terrain, counters and charts have to be functional, but not bland.
There are a lot of very talented artists out there doing amazing things for wargames and I follow their work. And in a lot of areas, I know I still have a lot to learn. But I really enjoy the craft and look forward to creating new, pretty, shiny things.
What kind of system?
This is the point in these notes where I ramble on, so forgive me.
Clunky, overbearing rules is a major turn off for me. If I look at a wargame table and the players have their heads buried in rulebooks, I think the design is flawed. Simply put, play the game. If you put so many layers of rules on top of other rules, the game play suffers. And if someone says that all of these rules make a wargame more realistic, I say it only makes the game more complex. My opinion only and a thought that went into the design.
You can achieve realism without adding all kinds of additional rules and that was a challenge from the start. What I refer to as ‘Rules Creep’ I think affects every design. At every turn you think you should add another rule. Just a little one this time, I promise. But this leads to another extension of the rules and before you know it the rulebook has ballooned to 50 pages. So keep this in mind when you read the rulebook and think ‘well they should’ve added so and so to that mechanic’. I’ve thought the same thing and made a ruthless decision to discard that so and so. Sorry.
The rules were designed to feel natural to the player and give realistic results. After a couple of plays, you shouldn’t need to refer to the rules at all and you’re then free to just play.
Most of the mechanics used in the game have probably been used in one form or another in other systems, so I wasn’t going to re-invent the wheel. And if the mechanics feel familiar, it can only ease game play.
Movement was simple. At its basic level there are Movement points for units and movement costs for terrain. A terrain chart is on the Player Aid.
Combat was created with a basic Attack - Defense formula. All units have ratings for Firepower and Defense. Terrain can modify the attacker’s Firepower and the defender’s Defense. A final Firepower of the attack is referenced on a combat table and 2D6 are rolled for effect. This mechanic works well and keeps the game moving.
Of course there are many other elements in the game such as leaders, support weapons, melees, air and artillery strikes and many more. All things were added to round out the system and make it full featured. Each additional feature was added cleanly and didn’t bog things down.
Add Some Chaos
I do not like a wargame where every unit gets to do this and do that every turn. I believe this is incredibly unrealistic. I think there should be a little uncertainty on the battlefield. Maybe that unit didn’t receive its orders, maybe it is ignoring them, maybe it is confused or exhausted, maybe it is missing a man and waiting, maybe it is lost or just getting up the nerve to move forward again or maybe a million other things are keeping that unit out of action at this moment. This chaos that ruins every perfect plan.
I tried to model this with the Impulse system. Each turn both sides roll a set number of dice for an allotment of Impulse points for the turn. Any action by a unit cost a point, so if you roll 12, you basically have 12 actions available to your side for the turn. How you spend the points with your forces is entirely up to you.
Mounting losses and you start subtracting from your total, so a player should always be mindful of casualties.
The system works great and it does make for some exciting games. But I’m sure many of you will curse me when you suffer a bad roll for Impulse points. There will be times in some games where your troops just have to take it. How a player handles a turn like this, well that is why the Iron Crosses are made.
Time is Money
Time is a precious commodity and I wanted to be able to play a scenario or two at a buddies place on a wargaming day.
The way the system turned out, this is possible. No need to leave a game out on the table for days on end as some of the smaller scenarios can be played in a couple of hours. Often in testing we would switch sides and play the scenario back to back.
There are some larger ones and the ‘Die Falle’ operation that will take more time. And there are many more scenarios that are somewhat in between.
And I’ve looked at enough armor penetration tables to last a lifetime. Though I’ll have go through some new ones in the future :-/.
If you find something that doesn’t jibe, I’ve tried my best, I’m not a research analyst by trade.
Let the Player Decide
From setup areas of forces to use of Impulse points, I’ve tried to give the choices to the gamer. I don’t want to be handcuffed by the designer when I play. Win or lose, it’s your decisions that decide, and that’s the way it should be.
Nothing worse than sitting around doing nothing while your opponent makes all his moves. Game play goes back and forth between sides and there is always Opportunity Fire to keep you on your toes.
During matches our attention was always on the board as the battle changes dynamically.
Testing, testing and more testing
We played and played and played during the development. Pieces added to the puzzle and pieces taken away. Rough edges were smoothed down and some clunky bits refined or changed outright. All things were done with the design goals set out two years ago. I’m confident with the final game.
To note, all of the playing was also a lot of fun.
Where Do We Go From Here
Anywhere and everywhere is the short answer.
Personally I have in mind, not in any order WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and 3 what ifs.
But of course we’ll have to see how the series goes and I’m always open to suggestions.
In closing, I would like to thank again all of you for giving this new design a chance. It has been a lot of fun and I hope you enjoy the game just as much.