Successful game design requires iteration. Iteration requires you to recognise that your brilliant idea is not going to work, and then coming up with a new brilliant idea. Which probably won’t work either, but at least it feels like progress!
Pax Victoria is going through an iteration process, as I turn several interlocking sets of mechanics over in my mind. They key mechanics I need to cover are:
(1) Pre-game grand strategy formulation and its flow through impact onto all choices made in game
(2) An attrition based land combat system (i.e. its a meat grinder system if both sides are evenly matched)
(3) A maneuver based naval combat system (i.e. one which often results in no battle at all, or a decisive victory/defeat)
(4) “Twitter Diplomacy” – all written agreements must be done in 140 characters or less
(5) An economics/logistics system to allow units to be built/replaced and to track economic fatigue and eventual economic collapse.
I’m well into my third iteration for all except the diplomacy rules. For the second iteration I made my usual mistake of creating a dice game, and after a couple of happy days of meshing all the synergies together, I remembered what a PITA it is for GMs to spend time sorting dice and figuring out if a roll was good/bad hit/miss critical/boring and then implementing it in game. So I took the numbers and underlying math and turned them into a card game of sorts.
For a World War One style game I am influenced by various history books and Great War boardgames that I have played, especially Ted Racier’s Paths of Glory. So there a few key features I want to represent:
- Railway networks and supply lines are important. Industrial armies cannot survive by living off the land. If their supply line is cut they collapse quickly.
- Cavalry units are largely ineffective, unless a gap is created for them, or their opponents are weak.
- Artillery is the Queen of the battlefield – it was responsible for far more lives lost than the machinegun
- Fortresses are situationally powerful. Build them in the right place and they work like magic, build them in the wrong place and watch the enemy ignore them.
- Mobilisation of reserve forces is important.
- Enveloping units on multiple flanks, or pressing on all sides of a salient, is a tactically strong move.
- In a battle of resources, it makes strategic sense for an economically powerful country to focus on attrition, while a militarily powerful nation will be striving for the “Short, victorious war” beloved of politicians down through the ages.
So I have roughly six types of units with the following qualities:
- a movement rate of zero to two hexes
- a strength rating of zero to six
- a range rating of zero to two hexes
- a stamina rating of zero to two.
A Guards unit is an elite infantry unit. These will be limited in number.
Full Strength (5) Stamina (1)
Half Strength (2) Stamina (2)
Guards units are tough, the only unit at reduced strength with a strength greater than one, and the only unit with a stamina of two for a glorious last stand around the regimental colours.
Artillery is a support unit. Like Guards, Artillery will be in short supply.
Full Strength (6) Stamina (0)
Half Strength (1) Stamina (1)
Special Ability: Because there will only be one unit in most hexes, artillery contribute their strength to any battle within two hexes of the hex they occupy.
Special Weakness: Artillery are the strongest land unit in the game, but at full strength they have a stamina of zero, so if involved in combat they must automatically flip to half strength. This will make it hard to sustain attacks, as sooner or later you will need to resupply your artillery units back to full strength to keep attacking.
The standard army unit, no special abilities or features, other than being the most common unit on the map. All nations will have a similar number of Regular units.
Full Strength (4) Stamina (1)
Half Strength (1) Stamina (1)
Reserve units do not start the game on the map. They must be built during the game. Nations will have very different reserve force pools, based on their grand strategy. Effectively a weaker version of the Regular unit, but cheaper to build, and in quantity they have their own quality.
Full Strength (3) Stamina (1)
Half Strength (1) Stamina (1)
The last of the limited number elite units, Cavalry are good for rapid advances against light opposition or exploiting gaps in weak defensive lines. Attacking solid defences, not so good.
Full Strength (2) Stamina (1)
Half Strength (1) Stamina (1)
Special Ability: If a gap is created in the enemy lines to the green fields beyond, cavalry units can move to the gap, and then onwards one hex into vacant enemy territory.
A Headquarters (HQ) is a supply source. If attacked in combat it collapses as Generals flee for safety. It counts as a Rail hex, so if you form a continuous chain of HQs you can carry supplies deep into the wilderness, or use the HQ line to bring reinforcements into the campaign.
Strength (0) Stamina (0)
A strong defensive unit that is immobile. Good for defending cities, railway junctions, or key border crossings.
Full Strength (6) Stamina (+1)
Half Strength (3) Stamina (+1)
Special Abilities: (1) Acts like an artillery unit for support, but does not flip. (2) Can have a garrison unit stacked with it (3) Increase the Stamina of any garrison unit by +1 (4) Acts as source of supply for its Hex (5) Counts as a rail hex.
So those are the units. Apart from Forts, I am keen to avoid any kind of stacking on the map, single counters are far faster to count and so will help players make good informed decisions in less time.
As for the crunchy bit of combat, after playing around with die rolls and realising that would be too hard I thought about a system where you pulled one card from a deck per stamina point the defending unit has. Today I had the brainwave that it would be faster to pre-print cards with multiple entries for Stamina-1, Stamina-2, Stamina-3 etc. Each Stamina line has a number, which is the total strength the combined attacking units require to defeat the defender and force a retreat. Each line will be 1-10 strength, average of 6, accumulating over the lines. So if attacking a Regular unit (Stamina 1), if you draw a card and get six on the Stamina-1 line, then if you are attacking with only a Guards unit (Strength 5) you fail, but if attacking with two Reserve Units (Strength 3 x 2 =6) you succeed.
Units would get a +1 stamina bonus for defending beaches, cities, mountains or rivers.
The defending unit is always reduced in strength by the attack, unless the card has a symbol indicating that the defender does not flip (I’m thinking of having this on about 10% of the cards).
The attacker flips a number of units equal to the defender’s stamina, plus all supporting artillery. I may have symbols on a few cards (10-30% of the deck perhaps) indicating that elite units have their effective strength increased, perhaps even doubled, for that battle. So while overall outcomes are predictable, there is enough variation to keep it interesting.
So how do you win a land war in the Southeast Colonies?
1. Attack reduced strength or stamina 0 units, with full strength units. A destroyed unit costs more to build than a half strength unit costs to reinforce.
2. Envelop or surround a unit so you can attack with 3+ units, increasing your strength to guarantee a forced retreat. If you keep taking a hex a turn, after a few turns you will be in their capital city.
3. Use overwhelming force, Guard units supported by artillery can smash through on a narrow one hex front if the defender does not have stamina boosting terrain, Strength 5 + Strength 6 = Strength 11 total versus a maximum of Strength 10 on the One Stamina line of a Battle card.
4. Bloody Attrition, from a position of economic strength attack with expendable units so that you create a situation where (1) is possible.
5. Counterattack, wait for them to attack you when you are in stamina boosting terrain, then counterattack while they are weak.
Both 1 and 5 are going to depend a on when teams draw their logistic chits (the number of which you have are determined by pre-game grand strategy choices). Its going to be nerve wracking to see if the reinforcements arrive in time for the big push, or whether you signal to home that its been delayed by mud.
I need to ponder the naval combat design for a while longer, but I can probably do a post soon on how I see the pre-game Grand Strategy choices working. I also need to do some thinking on the economics. I found some economic analysis of GDP figures in World War One recently, and while the USA and UK had GDP growth during the war, all the other great powers lost a large chunk of GDP, despite massive increases in the government share of GDP. So while a wartime economy works, more or less, it does not create an infinite supply train of resources, so I suspect peak wartime strength might only be around 20% above fully mobilised pre-war strength.