Sunday, February 28, 2010

Game Design Discussion

Game design is an interesting topic...does a designer have a specific methodology in mind when he designs a game or set of rules?   Does he have a design philosophy?

There are many game designers that I admire, for different reasons:  Frank Chadwick, Sam Mustafa, Rich Hasenauer, Buck Surdu, Phil Barker.  It is sort of like movie reviewers - you may not agree with everything they write, but you value their opinion - either because it agrees with yours or you know what to avoid because they recommend it!

Chadwick I admire because of his thorough, detailed period knowledge.  While I don't necessarily agree with how things are done in his rules, I completely admire his knowledge and design decisions based on his philosophy.  If you ever get a chance to hear him present at an HMGS East convention, I urge you to attend.

Mustafa - I admire his rules because they are usually unique; a different way of approaching a problem.  He's also a very good writer, and his meanings are pretty clear.

Hasenauer - all you have to do is say "Fire and Fury"; that says it all.  One of the cleanest sets of rules out there.

Buck Surdu - the "Look Sarge No Charts" series of rules has a number of unique concepts; always interesting to me.

Phil Barker - the legend!  What an evolution from the WRG ancients rules up through DBA/DBM.  To me, DBA was such a radical departure from his previous work that this alone earns him the respect due a unique designer.

If you look at each of these - they had a specific vision in mind when they wrote their sets.  I don't think they spent much time consciously worrying about defining those visions, they just knew what they wanted to have in their games.  Is there a mechanic that is historical?  Unhistorical? Valid?  Invalid? Unique?  Most likely, they knew where they wanted to get and just played around until they got there...I think there are not too many "eureka!" moments in game design...most games are 5% inspiration, and 95% persperation.  It takes a LOT of development time to clean up mechanics, get the text clean, make sure there aren't inconsistencies.

My personal design philosophy can most easily be summed up as "Comparative Recognizable Patterny".  

Recognizable Patterny means that you HAVE to include things that "feel right" for the period.  For example, you HAVE to have lines, columns, and squares if you're doing a tactical Napoleonic game.  You HAVE to have unit weight/usage classifications if you're doing an ancient or medieval game, you HAVE to have different gun weights and capabilities if you're doing WW2.  If you're going to do a grand tactical game, you HAVE to emphasize fog of war and command decisions.

Comparative means that I select an average baseline for the "normal" troop capability, and then you rate/adjust everybody else up or down from there.  Figure out the %'s that you want to have for success at any task for an "average" unit/individual/weapon, and then you're set.  As an example - a Sherman's 75mm gun is better than a short 50mm gun, but worse than an 88 (duh).  Crude example, but you get the idea.

I prefer results that force players into decisions - whether that is movement or combat.  Random sequence decks are my preferred method of limiting the choices a player has in controlling his force at any point in time, but there are certainly other methods to do that.  I prefer combat methods that incorporate morale results - I find separate morale test procedures to be tiresome and outdated.  I want the players to be placed in the role of commanders and leaders - they should be involved in rallying, directing, leading...most definitely not involved in the process of testing a morale level of a unit.   There is no single rule process in a set of rules that I dislike more than a separate morale test process.  Barf.

Movement - I enjoy randomization of movement, but with that movement being influenced by command and situational environments.  Fixed movement I find to be boring and predictable.  That has nothing to do with being "historical" or "unhistorical", but its just a personal choice.  I've experimented with Horizon Movement in Les Grognards 2nd edition, and think it has some merit depending on the game period, scenario, and game group.  It certainly moves games to conclusions quickly, but it doesn't give some players the "bit by bit" development of a game that they enjoy.  However, it is a great game design exercise.

I also firmly believe in simple, simple, simple.  It is WAY too easy to just add a modifier, or a process, to handle another bit of information.  I avoid "double jeopardy" - never modify the same thing twice...for example: if you think rough terrain should slow troops, you could modify the move rate, or you could modify the leadership modifier for movement rates.  BUT - DON'T do them both!  That just adds time to the process, proves that you can think up modifiers and clumsy processes...avoid that!

I base my designs on a LOT of reading and research to identify "recognizable patterny" to make sure the game feels "right".  While there is no absolute ruler of "historicity", you know what "feels right" when you play the game.  You don't need a PHD to find that out, you don't need somebody to tell you how right or wrong this or that game process or concept is - if you like it, you'll play it.  If you find a game's processes irritating or to produce results you don't agree with, you won't play it.  

I don't worry about placing rule design into the category of "art", "science", or "history".  Its a little bit of all.  One of the most overlooked, vital aspects of rule writing is just that - the WRITING.  Rule writing is not like writing a novel - its much more a technical writing exercise, once the rules concepts and processes are established.  If the writing isn't clean, clear, and precise, it doesn't matter what concepts are being introduced - the result is too garbled to be useful to anyone.

It ain't rocket science!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Field of Battle: Ancients - Last Photos

The Barbarian's rout!  Take that!
That is a nice looking unit...back in the woods that they came from

Meanwhile, a few hundred years earlier, and 2 1/2 feet down the table, the Carthaginian elephant reaches the Roman line.


Another view

An overview in the Late Roman Game

I'd be nervous if I was in that cavalry unit....

Roman Leader - beautiful

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Field of Battle: Ancients Playtest Photos

I'm too lazy to flip back and forth to identify the specific game pictures - so the game report photos will be intermixed between the 15mm Punic wars game and the 25mm Late Roman game.

Late Roman - army deployed.  Note the mixed spear/armor units.

Carthaginian phalanx rolls forward

View from behind the Carthaginian forces towards the Romans (booooooo).  The red pipe cleaners indicate the pilum capability of the units.  I think there might be less dominating markers!  In this game, each stand is a unit.

Late Roman cavalry square off.  Units are multiple stands in this game.

The lighter cavalry routs!

View from behind one of the Late Roman armies.  Love the look of these guys!

The Carthaginian line starts to fragment.  The Roman line looks organized...and ominous.

Barbarian unit prepares to engage in shock combat against a ballista.

I'll post the balance of the photos later.  The 15mm armies were provided by John Mumby and Terry Shockey; the 25mm armies were provided by Greg Cornell and Eric Miller.

Both games lasted approximately 3 hours and had a definite conclusion.  I'm currently working on the FoB: Ancients rules, hoping to publish by later this year.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Field of Battle: Ancients Playtest

Its just a quick post for now.

The two simultaneous games of FoBA went very well.  I made extensive notes on items to clean up, but overall I'm very happy with the rules right now.

One game was late Romans vs. late Romans (25mm)...I think it was 8 units vs. 9 units.  The other was Roman vs. Carthaginian (15mm)...around 24 units per side. 

Late Roman game at this end of table...Punic game at far end.  From left to right - Romans:  Greg Rold, Terry Shockey.  Carthaginians:  Ed Meyers, John Mumby.  The line of trees in the center of the table is used to separate the two games.

Late Roman infantry.  Not sure what they're late for.  Maybe they should leave earlier.
(figures painted by Eric Miller)

Enough for now.   More pictures and game thoughts later.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Making Rivers

I use 1/8" thick heavy duty vinyl tile to make my rivers, among other things.  See the previous post about this vinyl tile.  It sits flat, never warps, and its pretty easy to work with.  Another great benefit is that the tiles are 12" x 12", and are exactly cut.  That means that you can have exact length river sections that are 12" long, and that have a finished, machined quality cut on the end so that the segments match perfectly.
This is the backside of a finished river section.  Note that the piece is 12" long - the ends are the original factory cut edges.  I use a bandsaw to cut the wavy edges, but you could just as easily use a utility knife.

A good sturdy utility knife with a sharp blade makes it easy to scribe the line or pattern that you want to cut.  If you're cutting a straight line (for a road, for example), use a steel rule.  Watch your fingers - the utility knife blade will slice through very easily if you're not careful.  It's not tricky; just don't be a moron when it comes to making the scribe lines.  Its better to make several shallow cuts than it is to try to make a single deep cut.  You're not trying to cut all the way through the tile; just scribe it.  After you've scribed the line you wish to cut along, just hold onto the tile - one hand on each side of the scribe line, and start to bend the tile along the scribe line.  The tile will snap along the line.  The snapped edge will leave a bit of a rough edge.  You can either leave as is or just clean it up a bit with a quick pass of a piece of sandpaper.

Now that you have the basic river shape, you need to finish it.  I choose to add banks to each edge of the river to give it the illusion of depth.  After trying a few different methods, I settled on using caulking to form the bank shape, with sand and grit sprinkled onto the caulking to give it texture.

My narrow rivers are 1 1/2" wide, with 1/4" wide banks.  This leaves 1" for the "water" section of the rivers.  I mark the 1/4" out with a felt tip pen on each end, and then "eyeball" the width along the rest of the piece as I lay out a light bead of caulk along the length.  Don't use too much - you can always add more.  After you've squeezed out caulk along the river bank, go back with your index finger and smooth it out so it makes a nice edge on the river water side and also doesn't blob over the outside edge.   While the caulk is still wet, immediately sprinkle sand/grit onto it and then put it aside and let dry.

I use Dap Kwik Seal caulk.  It comes in an easy to use squeeze tube, so you don't need to use a caulking gun as you would for a standard tube of caulking.  That also means you avoid the hassle of trying to control flow, and its easy to just cap it off when you're done and then take the cap off the next time and use it again without any need to remove blockages in the tube.  It's acrylic, so it takes paint well.  Caulk is also flexible to an extent, so it can handle drooping or bending of the vinyl tile without cracking or coming off.  Great stuff.

A view of the end of the river piece.  The banks are just finished with the colors and method that I use to finish my figure's bases.

Some finished river sections.  The water is a blue black gloss wall and trim paint that I bought at Home Depot.  Search through the paint chips until you find the color that suits your image of what a river should look like.  I've tried brownish or greenish shades and didn't like them.  For some reason, my brain expects water to be blue.  Go figure!

As an aside, shouldn't they rename "Home Depot" as "Wargamer's Depot"?  I buy quite a bit of terrain and project supplies from there...but that's another post!

To finish off the water, I apply about 3 coats of Minwax acrylic polyurethane to the river water areas.  The poly is odorless and each to use and clean.  I use an el cheapo brush - maybe 99 cents.  Both the poly and brush are purchased at....drumroll please.......Home Depot!

And that's all that there is to it.  I want to make wider sections for some major rivers to be used in WWII assault river crossings, some beach and ocean sections for amphibious actions....the sky is really the limit with what can be made.

We have a game (actually 2 games simultaneously) this Saturday night.  They'll be test games of Field of Battle: Ancients.  I'll post again after those games with some pictures and a report on how the rules worked.