While designing and testing my wargame software project, I have been led into thinking about stacking, as a concept. This in turn has led me to considering the relationship between the rules and the wargaming experience in general.

Stacking is a very necessary device if you want to simulate the correct intermixing and density of occupation for any given era, unless you choose a very large geographical scale. But frankly, it is a very contrived device. You have to worry about the significance of stack order, and what it means in terms of the rules to combine units. Compromises have to be made for practical reasons - such as insisting that a stack attacks as one unit. You can't readily see what is underneath the top counter, which detracts from the fun in playing - though at least on a computer you can't knock the damn thing over ...

I personally wanted to create a computer gaming experience that is fun and flowing. Not that it can't be fun and slow, but that's a different sort of 'fun' - the sort that savours historic detail, I guess. Fun and flowing is most easily achieved by making historical accuracy a low priority.

But even if you play a game that has hardly any simulation or historic detail, it can still feel like a wargame. What is war but the achievment of objectives against an opponent in a rule bound environment? In real war of course, the rules are the laws of physics, and hopefully the Geneva Convention.

But on the other hand, if the decisions and thinking you make as a player aren't of a certain type - then the game will not be a wargame - it will just be a strategy game - chess for example. Wargames require a 'natural' use of two dimensional space, and a 'natural' sense of time and movement. So chess is not really a wargame, because the pieces do weird things spatially, and only one piece can move a turn.

Stacking is really a way of deciding to concentrate forces at a spot, or to signify that units are cooperating closely. These are two spatially oriented decisions that a player can make.

However, it is quite possible to do away with stacking, and still retain the ability to implement such decisions.

For example, if you leave gaps between units, then you are spreading your forces out. More so if you leave double gaps. Even more so if you leave triple gaps. Though it has to be said that the use of ZOCs really enhances the distinction between triple gaps - without ZOCs, single and double gaps are almost like huge gaping triple holes.

So I found that lack of stacking does not impair the wargaming experience. Once I realised that, I also realised that abandoning realism in general does not have to mean that you abandon the 'realism' of the wargaming experience. It was like a weight off my shoulders! Because believe me, making a fun flowing game that is historically realistic is hard!

So I started developing the software 'backwards'. I asked myself what I wanted the experience to feel like - what sort of level of planning and what sort of decsions I wanted players to be thinking about, and made the rules of the game fit around them. The result is a very 'abstract' game in some ways, but also very naturalistic in terms of space, time and resource allocation. Take a peek here if you like www.mapperleygames.com.

My next project is a WW2 version. I have always been fascinated by divsional structures, and wanted to play a game where I could decide things like whether to have a recce batallion as part of an infantry division. Should the anti tank batallion be motorised? Should I reduce the number of heavy tank batallions in a division in order to save resources? That sort of thing. So I am really looking forward to starting that.

But I can't think how an anti tank batllion could support an infantry batallion without actually stacking with it ... so maybe I will allow some stacking!

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Comment by Pelle Nilsson on November 19, 2008 at 4:03am
I think having no stacking can have several advantages, especially to software wargames, as you say.

Several computer wargames do fine without stacking. Panzer General for instance (OK, you could have an aircraft in a hex in addition to a ground/naval unit, but never two ground/naval units). They solved the support problem by allowing artillery units to join battle with adjacent units. For aircraft combat they allowed fighters adjacent to a bomber to act as escort and automatically get a free attack against enemy fighters attacking that bomber. I think you could do something similar by saying that a tank (or other support unit) located adjacent to another unit will act as support for that unit. Or you can make tanks assets that don't work as other onits, only show up as a small icon on infantry units to show that they have been assigned tank support.

Some boardgames also work well without stacking, like the Napoleonics 20 series from VPG. It depends as you say on the scale. If you make hexes the size that would be reasonable for one ground unit to occupy, then it doesn't make sense to allow stacking.
Comment by Jo Bader on November 14, 2008 at 6:04pm
software is mostly a problem of presentation. I think your counters don't need to have the same size like on the board.
Maybe you can show some smaller counters adjacent to each other on bigger hexes.
There are many good games with a stacking limit of three like in Totaler Krieg.

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