Saturday, December 24, 2005

Branching Out A Little

This is coming from my latest Hamsterprophecy post.

(I've never read or played a historical miniatures game, and have no idea if they tend to have the same or different problems. Just, FYI)

Ok, so Sim-supporting miniatures game. First, let's get rid of two big minature game staples:
First, I think that there should be a populated world, rife with conflict, and all that stuff. Political and ethnic divisions should be seperate - as in, some countries/kingdoms/whatever have majority-ethnic populations, others are totally mixed, most fall somewhere on the spectrum. Of course, there's a large contingent of mercenary forces and non-affiliated beasties that are ripe for recruitment.

Building an army is kind of like using Lifepaths, as I understand them, from Burning Wheel. There's a number of options for why the army is in existence - raised by the nobility to prosecute a war, a rebellious mob, a megalomaniacal cult of personality, a democratically raised militia, whatever. Each of these base choices gives you a number of unit choices. Units are classified by metrics of race/ethnicity and social class, maybe others (magical ability?), as well as the basic organization of the army. You build your base army from this. Write down all the officers/important people, as well as any interesting thoughts about backgrounds, etc. Maybe each army gets a "signiture unit" of your choice.

Each choice has a "army path" tree, which further adds/removes options, changes the organization, gives access to cool stuff, whatever. You probably make two choices past your base choice. Stuff like "co-opted by the forces of evil" or "independent means" or "naval force". You make your first choice, promote officers into new slots, fill from the bottom with recruits, etc. Keep track of these changes, you're building the history of your army. Your second choice, you do it again.

Now, maybe each "strata" of unit gives you a certain number of bodies to divide amongst the units, or you have a total force that you divide among them all, something like that. For the most part, fighting effectiveness is based on history/background of the unit, with some options, which you set when you get the unit. Weapons are pretty much color, for the most part, except for really special stuff.

So, when you're done with the army, you have something with a whole background, including (probably) bonuses in combat from using certain themed tactics, stuff like that. The text comes with sheets for recording what happens to each unit - casualties, successes, etc. At certain benchmarks they become eligable for promotion to new unit status, new options, etc. You can keep track of this on your own, or have it be part of a campaign. There will be good and bad changes, that, if you keep track of them, should cancel over time in terms of army effectiveness.

Now, the actual mechanics would have to include some mechanisms for meta-control, I think, in order to simulate close, back-and-forth battles. Maybe each player gets two "reversals of fortune" that give an advantage to their side for a little bit, etc. Maybe some armies get certain meta-options (the patriotic rebellion army gets a phat bonus once it takes mad casualties, for example) that are theme-specific.

Of course, a lot of work would have to go into either A) balancing all the options or B) making the mechanics such that badly matched forces still get close, exciting battles.

How's "Constructive Denial" work into your Simmy wargame?

I think, in order to get away from Gamist play, you'll need to change the win conditions of the actual playing part. Don't pit the armies against each other in such a way that utter dominance is necessarily a winning strategy. Something like non-exclusive goals for both sides, so that I want to reach the tree line while you want to escort Special Unit X to the high road. If both sides have a number of goals in each engagement, and each goal is worth victory points, whoever gets to 20 victory points first wins the game, something like that?

Do you intend for this to be played iteratively? Most wargames I've seen result in the utter destruction of the losing side -- a slaughter. How can you fiddle with things so that a win does not remove the losing side from existence (or is that something that you do want?)
I dunno if it applies. I mean, there's not a shared imagined space in mini games, its a shared physical space. So the constructive denial would have to be something on the tabletop.

I agree about tweaking the win conditions (though, it is still a wargame. So there is necessary fighting). I think it owuld be worth checking out actual stats from historical battles and seeing what kinds of casualties the majority of those would take. I mean, "decimate" literally means that 1 in 10 people die.

There would be something for determining whether a casualty from battle actually dies (removed forever), injured (can come back down the road), just taken out for the battle, whatever. So, you'd keep track of casulties in this way.

Again, it would be set up in a such a way that you could create an army, and keep track of it, regardless of those you play against, over the life of the army. So yes, iteratively. I think a combination of non-opponent-required win conditions and low casualty rates would keep the "crushing the opposition" thing from happening.
"some countries/kingdoms/whatever have majority-ethnic populations, others are totally mixed, most fall somewhere on the spectrum."

AMEN! I study military history a lot, and the idea that political allegiance = culture = fixed menu of army units (or spells, or architectural motifs, or whatever) is just stupidly unrealistic, owing more to 19th century nationalist fantasy than real history. The son of the Serbian leader killed by the Turks at Kosovo Polje ended up leading a vassal contingent of Serbian soldiers in the Turkish army; El Cid worked for the Moors sometimes; King David, before he was King, spent a while as a mercenary fighting FOR the Phillistines -- check out 1st Samuel, Chapters 27-29.

And the "institutional lifepath" idea is very, very cool.

As for eliminating battles of, well, elimination, some suggestions:
- make choosing terrain a big part of the game, so outmatched forces can choose to fight on terrain that gives them barriers and a way to escape (historically common)
- instead of just giving points for how many enemies you slaughter, also give points for how many of your own guys you preserve. Maybe victory is based on how the friendly:enemy strength ratio changes from the beginning of the game to the end: e.g., if my army is worth three times as many points as yours when the battle starts, and then I drive you into headlong retreat but my surviving force is only worth twice as much as yours, I just lost bigtime.
- campaigns, of course. If you have to fight another battle with the same "character" (i.e. your army), you're going to be a lot more interested in preserving it.
P.S. My dream Warhammer army was always Empire with Orcish auxillaries -- it's what the Romans and Chinese did with their border barbarians, after all.
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