Thursday, 2 March 2017

A little bit about Command & Control in my games

I've had a few questions about the progression of command mechanisms through the 'Rampant' games, and there seems to have been a few forum discussions about this too. On one usually very affable forum, someone made a - let me be polite and call it an ill-informed and incorrect - statement that the changes in command mechanisms over the different rules are due to a lack of playtesting with the earlier 'Rampant' games. How kind... and also how completely wrong.

Thankfully, most other people discussing this are a more polite and open-minded. So here's an answer for them:

The short answer is that, no, the mechanisms I use are not evolving from one mechanical source (or being 'fixed', as the less pleasant comments seem to imagine) they're being developed as similar standalones based on my understanding of a period or what I wish to reflect in that particular game.

If you've played Lion (or Dragon) Rampant, The Pikeman's Lament, or The Men Who Would Be Kings, you'll probably already know that there are levels of similarity between the gameplay of all three, but also some differences. TMWWBK is rather more different, as I've explained in various design notes, to better reflect that period of warfare. The development of every game I write is based on a list of my research and thoughts about the period's key aspects of warfare - what will give the game the correct 'flavour' I'm after. For example, if you've read my Dark Ages wargame, Dux Bellorum, you'll already know that the way command works within those rules is very different to the aforementioned games.

As you might imagine, command and control usually features strongly in this list. Different periods, in my opinion, benefit from different approaches to how troops are handled on the tabletop, based on our understanding of how the real-life battles were fought.

Therefore, for Lion Rampant, I favoured a generally chaotic approach. You get to activate some of your units - all if you are lucky and allocate your resources correctly - but my take on leadership in the medieval period is that most nobles leading a small force were not very adept at small-scale warfare, and that skirmish-level encounters lacked tactical finesse. And therefore, so should medieval skirmish wargames - keep things simple in terms of your goals and you'll do well, but try to do too much and you'll achieve none of it. Others may disagree with this approach, but that the reason why players' turns can be very stop-start in LR. I intended that to be the case to reflect what I perceive to be a relatively chaotic era of warfare.

(Otherwise, I'd have used different activation scores...)

The Pikeman's Lament, developed with my co-author Michael Leck, offers an 'improved' chance of getting your units to do as you wish, but is still based on the Lion Rampant system. This is because we perceive some growth in training and tactics in the pike and shot period, making it more likely that your troops are better drilled and more aware of what they should be doing in battle, and the scope for officers to be better schooled in their approach to combat or at least 'professional' soldiers (not true of all of them, of course!).

Incidentally, Michael's idea of adding a campaign storyline for officers seems to have gone down very well with players, and that can be retrofitted to LR too.

And thus onto The Men Who Would Be Kings. Now, the command system is a very different kettle of fish in this game. With better-trained soldiers and (mostly) well-motivated natives in the nineteenth century, each with better developed battle plans and tactics or at least more reason to stay active (and alive) on the firearm-age battlefield, it's more likely that units can achieve something in any given turn. There's more chance of getting things done, not because skirmishes on the colonial battlefield could be any less chaotic than earlier warfare, but because the accounts I've read generally show that there was 'always something going on' at a smart, trippy pace and the pressure to stay un-shot mentioned above. The mechanisms reflect this, offering all units the chance to do something 'simple' or the chance to do something more daring based on their training and leadership. The activation rules were also made to work differently because of the relationship between shooting and movement - which I think is the key to making a colonial-era game flow well, and is something that requires fairly precise regulation rather than too much luck-of-the-dice.

So each system has been designed based on the specific type of warfare I wanted to model.

To wrap up, of course it is fine to change the target numbers to get the game YOU want to play, or introduce other ideas to dress up my core rules - one of my main beliefs as a game designer is that I offer you the game as I personally wish to play it, on the understanding that you are free to make the changes you need for you to get the most possible fun from it too. But it's also worth remembering that I developed the games as I did for a reason - to reflect the style of play that I wanted to have on the tabletop - rather than evolving my ideas about what constitutes good play over time.

If the rules had published in reverse order - TPL, then TMWWBK, then LR - the command mechanisms would still have been written as they are in the published books, as they best reflect the way I've chosen to style warfare in that given period.

This is an over-long post and it delves into game design at a level I rarely decide to cover on my blog. I hope this answers a few questions for the politely curious, and helps at least one ill-informed person to understand that I might actually intend the consequences created by my rules!