It is useful to understand some of the parameters, algorithms, assumptions, and approaches in wargame design. Occasionally game designers will share these, most often they don't. So called "Design For Effect" school designers are perhaps the most reticent in this regard. But it would be worthwhile to compare and contrast approaches to various kinds of issues that budding military historians, game designers, and more than a few of us curious players are interested in.

COMBAT ADJUDICATION, WEAPON POTENTIALS, AND TERRAIN EFFECTS: The granddaddy of OA application. Nearly everyone has to come up with an OA model for this function. And we're all interested in how this was done and what calculations/assumptions/validations went into it.

TERRAIN, WEATHER, MOVEMENT, AND UNIT AGILITY: Not often considered but often just as important is how movement is thought of and how well units can change direction. There have been a few attempts at modeling this to various levels of fidelity--traffic jam rules in Bulge games are one example, but some may remember units taking up various "road space" in SPI's hoary old LOST BATTLES and Jack Radey's KORSUN POCKET, which complicating things. In HIGHWAY TO THE REICH, you had to watch out in what order you moved units as stacking limits applied during the ENTIRE move--overstack even temporarily (commonly moving a piece over a stack during movement that created an overstack...albeit you piece intended to move on...) and everybody got disrupted (shades of Patton directing traffic). Impacts of terrain are also not a "given" and we've seen games take a number of approaches to it.

STACKING. This rates its own discussion. How much physical space does a unit take up before clogging itself (and others)? How do you determine this?

ZONES OF CONTROL USAGE. Some games have tried to address this (ZOC "links" in CAMPAIGN FOR STALINGRAD, among others). What leads designers to pick "locking" versus "fluid" ZOCs, and why have ZOCs at all?

COMMAND AND CONTROL. We began to see games treat this a little more seriously in the 1980s--what are the analyses that leads to the various systems we now see proliferating in games?

LEADERSHIP AND MORALE. What leads to comparative "ratings" and assessments between cardboard warrior leaders? Between units?

SUPPLY AND LOGISTICS. Where this is covered in some detail, what are the calculations that led to rules to govern unit/capability sustainability? What could be simplified? What couldn't be? We all know how detailed CAMPAIGN FOR NORTH AFRICA was, but in KORSUN POCKET you had to watch your artillery OCS games supply is critical and explicitly managed, even if abstracted. You have to create dumps and forecast consumption well ahead of time when contemplating operations....

Don't know how many game designers/developers will frequent this group discussion, but I'd hope a few. In the meantime, when group members flip through designers notes in games (old and new) that seem to provide insight into these subjects, it would be worthwhile to post them here to "prime the pump" as it were. And if you have game designer/developer/playtester friends who are into this, please send them here....

Views: 258

Replies to This Discussion

For Combat Resolution - I proposed a measure of Relative Luck - randomness vs systematic factors in CRT's.
RL = "Standard Deviation of some result variable" / "slope of the Ratio -> that-result curve".

Both calculated empirically as averages between 2 points, or by regressions etc.

Found out some games have exceptionally large local luck (e.g. the SCS system, up to 5.6x that is the luck in one situation is like shifting 5-6 columns on the table !!) but the overall system is still "forgiving".
Other less so (Tigers in the Mist, without CRT but implied ~2.0) but strategically more important because positive feedback applies immediately and more often. Like losing an unit means not only losing an unit, but having to place 1-6 units to crossroad(s) behind the breach to prevent a disaster.

This is the kind of stuff I am interested in. I don't have the answers and hope that designers would partake of this discussion, but what I can do in the mean time when time allows is to post Design notes.

Okay next post I post the design notes for one of my favorite games and designers. I'd like you guys to pick it apart as best as can with your OA skills and knowledge and then shed light on it if you don't mind and have the time.

See next post.

The idea of a War in the East game has always been rather simple. Do a division-level game of a campaign in which hundreds of divisions were used at any one time on either side. A campaign that lasts for four years and involves a front line that almost always exceeded a thousand kilometers in length. And then, of course, there was the intrinsic curiosity about the eastern front, the largest and most active theater of operations during World War II. And, in fact, the largest campaign ever fought in the history of warfare. The lack of prominence given to this campaign in the west has only added to the interest in it. The first game to be done on the eastern front, Stalingrad (Avalon Hill), was on the corps level. It was a rather simple game but did put across some of the basic situations and problems of the War in the East. Subsequent campaign games remained totally strategic. For example, there was Barbarossa (SPI), an army level game which was even simpler than Stalingrad. Then came the tactical and operational level games, games like PanzerBlitz (SPI/Avalon Hill) and the division-level series of games including Moscow Campaign, Turning Point, Kursk, Destruction of Army Group Center, and Battle of Moscow. Still, there was the desire for a division level game covering the entire war, the entire campaign, the entire War in the East.

As early as 1967 the "old" S&T magazine was talking about the "Stalingrad II" project. This game was, so to speak, the grandfather of the present War in the East game. Since then (and perhaps before then), many individuals have cooked up their own version of the War in the East. SPI's War in the East has been the most awaited version, if only because we have been "obligated" for so long to produce it.

Our work on this version of War in the East actually began in 1970. At that point we (wisely) decided that successful completion of the project was not yet within our capabilities. We suspended publication of the game, and it wasn't until 1973 that we felt we were capable of doing the game up to the standards we had set for ourselves.

The big breakthrough in our ability to do War in the East was in our development of a division level World War II game system. This system first appeared in the Kursk game, and then in France 1940 (SPI/AH). It has since been used in Turning Point, Moscow Campaign, Breakout & Pursuit, Destruction of Army Group Center, NATO, and in a much modified format, East Is Red. By early 1973, we had gotten most of the bugs out of our division level World War II system. Oddly enough, the basic artwork for the War in the East map had been done in 1970. We checked this artwork and found that the scale, while twice as large as our normal division level games, was still suitable for the game system we were then using for division level World War II games. By using the established and proven mechanics of these division level games we solved some of the thornier problems in producing a quality game. There were many other problems, and we will take these one by one, in the sequence that they appear in the game rules.

In terms of game equipment you can see right away that we made a number of changes from what one would normally expect from a War in the East game. The most obvious change is in the counters. We had originally planned to use a rather elaborate set of unit counters containing historical designations. We found that, because of other considerations, primarily historical in nature, it was not worth while to use a great variety of unit types or for that matter historical designations. This was because the overall effect of different types of units was not that great, and in addition, the changes that did occur could more realistically be handled by using different Combat Results Tables. Thus, we arrived at a fairly standard counter mix considering the scale of the game.

The Sequence of Play is rather simple. It is directly from the division level World War II game. To movement we added a few embellishments. Such as the forced march provision and a fairly elaborate overrun rule. Again, nothing new or unusual here.

When it came to rail movement we faced the first of our strategic problems in War in the East. The simulation is, after all, a strategic level game (even through the parts of War in the East are actually on the operational level). The rail movement rules had to be fairly elaborate, and these included provisions for building, destroying and repairing railroads. Again, all the developments were necessary because of the strategic nature of the game. The strategic problems were, in fact, the biggest problems we had with War in the East. Because of strategic problems we also had to contend with (to a certain extent) sea movement.

The Zone of Control rules were, again, quite conventional. Although because of certain types of specialized units we had to modify the Zone of Control rules somewhat. The use of certain specialized units, such as security divisions and partisan units, was prompted by the fact that the partisan problem was basically a strategic level problem. On a division level game covering just one campaign, one could "factor out" the partisan problem. In a strategic level game it became much more difficult. Stacking, fortunately, was a much simpler problem, although like everything else in War in the East, it was affected to a small extent by the strategic nature of the game.

Combat is one of the least changed aspects of the game and this is one element that makes War in the East so (relatively) playable considering the size of the situation covered.

Air power was another area where strategic considerations became paramount. Air power is, in the final analysis, a strategic weapon. Primarily because of its ability to move vast distances in a short space of time. And also its ability to project its combat power far behind the fighting lines of ground units. Developing air power rules that would be simple, playable and yet realistic was one of the major sub-projects in developing War in the East.

The supply rules, fortunately, we were able to take relatively intact from other division level games. The railroad rules took care of the strategic aspects of supply. So the supply rules themselves were mainly concerned with operational levels of supply and thus were a little different from the smaller division level games.

Weather was another problem, a consideration that was not often found in operational level games. Weather was another area where we spent a considerable amount of time and effort. There was not so much a problem gathering the information on weather, as there was a problem in finding effective methods for integrating the effects of weather into the game itself. We found that, considering the strategic nature of the game, there was little effect on the game if the weather changed according to a set schedule, or if it changed according to a variable schedule. On a smaller game, such as one of the division level games, the actual date of weather changes could become quite critical, but in a strategic level game you have so many other variables to worry about that the exact date of weather changing could not become that important. Unfortunately, this was discovered only after hundreds of hours of playtesting. We passed the benefit of this experience on to you.

There was one element in War in the East that is unique to this game. It is also the most important element in making War in the East a true strategic game. And, of course, is one of the key elements in making War in the East truly realistic. The element we refer to is the Russian production.

For the Russians the War in the East was their only war. It involved the entire resources of all Russia. Thus, for Russia, the War in the East was an economic war. An economic war is primarily a war of different demands. Different demands upon limited economic resources. How the Russian commander allocates these resources decides how successful the Russian commander will be in beating back the German onslaught.

To build a military unit requires three basic resources: Arms and Equipment, Manpower, and, most importantly, Time. These three primary elements have been represented on the Russian production chart and in the Russian production rules. On the map itself are shown the primary production centers as well as the primary population centers. It is the capture or destruction of these areas that can insure a victory or defeat for the German Player.

It is extremely important, when using the Russian production rules, that one formulate a well thought out strategy. The success of this, strategy will be entirely dependent on the production strategy each player takes. Should the production strategy and the operational (military) strategy not be very closely coordinated, it is almost certain that the Russian player will face disaster. It is not enough for the Russian player to take only easily produced rifle divisions because he will then soon run out of men. On the other hand, it is not advantageous to produce only the more time-consuming technical units, such as armor and artillery. Because then the Russian front line units may be depleted before these stronger units can be brought to bear. If there is anything that makes War in the East a multi-player game, it is the use of the production rules. One of the Russian players should have nothing to do but take care of production. In fact, this player should be the commander-in-chief. Not controlling any specific units himself, but rather directing the general use of other players' units while having absolute control over production. This shows quite clearly that he who controls production calls the shots.

Speaking of multi-player variants to War in the East, there was one very interesting one which we developed during playtesting. It's called "Rondo."

What is involved is the use of only four or even three players for the entire game. These players divide the forces on each side into three or four areas and groups. Then each player takes an area or group of forces which exists on one side and another area or group of forces on the other side. What makes the system work is that, for example, Player A would take control of the Russian units in the Finland sector while taking control of the German units in the Rumanian sector, In other words, each turn the players are always moving. In effect, they change hats after one side has been moved and go over and move the other side's units. If nothing else, this keeps everybody busy. We have found the Rondo system works quite well, although it may not work for every group. But if you only have three or four people and want to play a relatively "quick" game of War in the East, the Rondo system is probably the best.

The Battle group rules are taken directly from our division level World War II game. The splitting units rules are something new for War in the East. These are derived from the production rules. And, while not that frequently used by the Russian player, they do allow him to obtain more additional units while in turn sacrificing combat points.

The Russians and, to a larger extent the Axis forces, receive reinforcements. Russian Reinforcements appear only early in the game, and these represent units, from distant parts of Russia coming to the front. Thereafter, Russian units are raised according to the Russian production rules.

Axis Reinforcements are normally the primary method whereby the Axis player receives new units to replace losses or to increase their strength. The German player also receives draft replacements and replacement divisions. These are individual men to replace losses and individual pieces of equipment to replace equipment losses. These are represented by replacement drafts and replacement divisions.

German and German allied replacements or reinforcements are handled differently from the Russian production, because for the Germans the eastern front was not the only front they were fighting on. They were fighting a multi-front war, and these other fronts made demands upon their limited resources. What the Germans tended to do throughout the war was, in effect, send as little as was necessary to the eastern front. As it was, German resources were strained quite a lot to sustain their enormous armies in the east. We have, in effect, made German reinforcements and replacements self-adjusting and dependent to a considerable extent upon what losses they take in the east. In this way we're able to take care of many of the built-in "political" factors which affected German policy towards the eastern front.

Another important, if not critical, element in German performance on the eastern front was the political influence upon the fighting. The most obvious representation of this is the fact that the Germans were often forbidden to withdraw from a seemingly untenable position. This "no retreat" policy has been endlessly debated during and since the Second World War. We felt we had to include something in the game to re-create this. Our solution was the Axis continuous line/no retreat rule. It worked quite well during playtesting. The "required Axis garrisons" to a large extent accounted for the anti-partisan activities the Germans were forced to engage in.

Much of the anti-partisan activity resulted from the administrative policies of the Germans in the east. Again, this was a political consideration, a political decision which could have been made differently. In the game we treat it rather gingerly and if at all possible attempt to re-create what went on historically.

One important operational element dealt with in War in the East, that was not dealt with in previous division level games, was the use of Russian Fortified units. These units were division sized formations which were, in effect, told to dig in permanently. The Russians called them fortified zones, although they were, as we said, division sized units. They sacrificed almost all of their mobility in order to increase their defensive capability. These units were primarily strategic in nature and, again, since War in the East is a very strategic game, we have included them.

Another strategic element is Siberia and the area to the east of the War in the East map. Special rules had to be formulated for this aspect of the game.

Another strategic element is Finland and Rumania. Not only their national armies but also their political situation. This was another one of the additional elements of War in the East that we had to spend considerable time and effort on developing. This wasn't made any easier by the fact that Finland's relations with Germany were rather complicated, much more complicated than Germany's relations with Rumania. For these reasons, these two countries required quite special treatment.

One of the thornier problems we had to deal with was the Partisan rules. We finally decided to make it an optional rule since it became something of a game in itself. The Partisans were a rather complicated phenomena. Most of them could trace their origins back to so-called "destroyed" units that the Germans had overrun earlier in the campaign. The remnants of these destroyed units do not immediately become Partisans. Their becoming partisans depended on two factors: time, and the directions they received from the Russian high command. Therefore, we had to develop Partisan Cadres, or "ghosts" as we called them during playtesting. These Cadres were not really units at all. They were merely the potential for units. Thus the Germans had an extremely difficult time in rooting them out. When the word was given, these "ghosts" could turn into full-fledged partisan units. At that point they became more effective, but they also became more vulnerable to German anti-partisan activities. If you really want to get an idea of what the partisan war was like in Russia, then use the optional Partisan rules.

The Victory Conditions for War in the East are quite straight-forward. The idea is, quite simply, to totally smash Russia's ability to wage war, or, from the Russian viewpoint, to expel German forces from Russian territory. The scenarios have used variations on these total war victory conditions. The scenarios used intermediate objectives as their conditions of victory. The intermediate objectives in this case are usually industrial or population centers.

What we have tried to do in War in the East is maximize realism and playability. On a game this size, you can't help but have a healthy amount of realism assuming a certain level of design competence. The problem with War in the East, from our point of view, was in making it playable. By its very size, War in the East is somewhat unplayable. We tried to overcome this problem by making the game mechanics as simple as possible.

We think we have achieved a good balance between the size of the game, the realism we wished to achieve, and the maximum in playability. We also realize that most people buy the games and use them for acquiring information and not so much for sitting down and playing through one game after another. War in the East was also designed with this in mind. One can simply take the game, set it up (assuming one can find a space big enough), and set up units, playing out a few turns. Or simply "playing out" various strategies and tactics, which will provide an enormous amount of information on what went on during the War in the East.

The developer's notes for War in the East will give the numerous tactical and strategic "tricks" that we developed during testing the game. What we have tried to give you here was some of the background on why certain things were done in the game. We hope you are able to get as much out of playing War in the East as we got out of designing and developing it.
Several months ago I wrote a new Groping for the New Paradigm article that looks at the feedback the first three articles generated and addresses hobby trends in those terms. Several of the issues mentioned here are touched on in the piece. However, I haven't submitted it for publication because frankly it seems too narcissistic for my comfort, and I'm just not sure I'm up to the crapola of it all right now. However, if folks here are interested in reading it, I'll post it.
Please do.

We can do an "informal peer review" if you'd like, then if you choose to publish, pull it off the discussion board and submit it.
For those interested, ATO is going to run the piece. I made some changes and added some things to flush it out a bit.
I suppose it goes without saying, but I probably ought to anyway: The above is copyright by me and not to be distributed beyond this forum.
I was particularly taken with this piece and would have liked it to see print. There will always be dissenters in anything meaningful. Whether that be in designing/developing/publishing games or in critiquing articles/game reviews. I like to see all the angles and make my own decisions.

Also like the topic of innovation in wargames. HOLY WAR AFGHANISTAN is good, but I liked NICARAGUA even better in simulating insurgency. Of course, the design scales and intents were different for both games and both work well for what they were attempting to simulate. The most recent innovative games in my book were/are Bowen Simmons's two Napoleonic block games--very different in terms of movement mechanics and physical format...and very inexpensive given what you get in the box, to boot. Beyond that, we've been doing evolutionary work in game design, not revolutionary work. And that's fine so long as we're happy with what we're getting. Eventually, however, we'll find the existing "paradigm" tenets of design aren't working for specific game problems we want to solve and there will be a breakthrough into a new way of doing it.

Keep up the good work...I always enjoy reading your articles/missives....
Thanks Eric. Hopefully a few more will chime in. Once I finished writing it, I wasn't certain it would do any good other than fire up the same people all over again.

In a sense I agree with the evolution notion, but even evolutionary steps seem few and far between. Before the coming of P500 style systems, you could see new ideas evolve as the systems were tried and polished over several games, for instance the Panzer Blitz design and it's SPI brethren. Many feel that the ultimate statement of the design system was October War, but it took a lot of iterations to get to that. I'm not sure a publisher has the luxury of that anymore. OTOH, because we don't really see anything quantitative in design notes anymore, you have to wonder just what is driving the numbers. When Berg said "We make up the numbers, so can you," I think he may have nailed it on the head.

Recently I've seen some games that seem to follow an approach that has no interest in decision-making at all, but rather include a special rule for every historical twist and turn the designer could look up. So as a player, you seem to be turning a crank rather than making choices. I thought GMT's Downtown was like that in which I the player was nothing more than a mechanism to help the game resolve itself. Some of the more recent monsters (and certainly a few of the older ones) hit you with 200 pages of rules that seem more concerned with impressing you with how much the designer thinks he knows about WWII than giving you a decent environment in which to make decisions. The recent second edition of War in the Pacific is a good example of that, as is GMT's World at War (I spent several months trying to grock the game well enough to write a review of it and finally gave up). Oddly enough, ASL, despite its very long rules, is actually a very good game in that regard.

I recognize that some folks like that sort of thing and I say more power to them. But let's be honest, it's not really a wargame anymore, but some form of interactive study media when it gets to that stage.

But back to the article, I'd like to hear some more opinions before I decide to ship it off for publication.
I had a discussion years ago with a developer about decision-making (or lack thereof) you cite. He used to tell me that a designer shouldn't make a player make a certain decision, but let the game show him the advantages and disadvantages of his options. Unless there's some doctrinal or technological reason why he should be prohibited from doing something, generally, every option should be on the table.
Whoever that developer was, I hope he's still doing it.

Excellent post (I still need to read your post above, so this is to this post in particular).

I have yet to play EotS but I heard that it was a really good game, the Cards drive certain historical events and or options and the various tables on the map drive the decision that the player has to make.

Some non-monsters I think have more decisions to make then some of the monsters and some of the older one seem to shine in this regard. It could be back in the 70's that the design parameters were far different.

Your very correct about ASL, it's complex in one sense, and a lot of rules are written, but the actual game play boils down to small unit tactics and decisions.

Just my thoughts on this.


Help Center

Latest Activity

Ian Schofield posted photos
13 hours ago
Daniel Windham left a comment for Kim Kanger
"Hi Kim!  I just did a open box review of Critical Hit's ASL comp for Dien BIen Phu. I…"
16 hours ago
Daniel Windham left a comment for Carl Nogueira
"Hi Carl, I did a video review of Critical Hit's Dien Bien Phu. I know you did some scenarios…"
16 hours ago
Daniel Windham posted a video

Squad Leader Review: Dien Bien Phu from Critical Hit Games

A in-depth open box review of Dien Bien Phu the Advanced Squad Leader Comp from Critical Hit games. Including secondary sources, photos, and a little sarcasm...
16 hours ago
Daniel Windham left a comment for Eric Walters
"Eric!  Sorry for my slow reply I was busy working on this video review of ASL Dien Bien…"
16 hours ago
Steve Altra commented on Dave Smith's blog post A bit of a mystery.... who can solve this one?
"I don't know who Mark is, but I dig seeing that Oil War "WiP" map."
Donald J. HANle left a comment for Eric Walters
"Eric, Just saw your comment from last July.  Clearly I do not check this page often…"
Kevin Duke left a comment for Eric Walters
"I'm with you. We actually hosted the "Team Squad Leader" tournament at Origins the…"



CSW Related Links

© 2021   Created by John Kranz.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service