The Flare Path Dragons’ Den

Two weeks ago I invited readers to send in their ideas for military strategy games. The response was magnificent, the calibre of submissions Paris Gun high. Choosing a dozen or so pitches to put before the Flare Path dragons (five industry notables whose creations frequently grace this column) was horribly difficult, but the shortlist was eventually drawn up, the Scaly Ones summoned. While no two dragons first-prized the same pitch, praise did tend to cluster around a particular clutch of submissions. Those submissions together with a few personal favourites are displayed at the end of this piece.

A huge ‘Děkuji’ to everyone who took the time to share a cherished pipedream. If the ideas submitted are indicative of popular desires – widespread frustrations – then it’s clear that there’s a real craving out there for fresh themes and innovative mechanics. A hankering for more characterful combatants, thicker fog of war, and more fibrous and fallible command and control modelling. Even if you don’t receive a “When can you start?” call from Slitherine’s Iain McNeil in the next few days, perhaps your idea will sow seeds in the mind of a young coder somewhere or help nudge an established designer in an exciting new direction.

Fairly soon after posting the introductory article I realised I wouldn’t be able to send every submission dragon-ward without subjecting Steve Grammont (Battlefront), Tomislav Uzelac (2×2), Iain McNeil (Slitherine), Johan Nagel (Every Single Soldier) and Richard Bodley Scott (Byzantine Games) to days of solid reading. A shortlist was necessary and, despite my best efforts, that shortlist inevitably ended up reflecting my own prejudices and predilections.

Some ideas failed to make the shortlist simply because they weren’t war-torn enough. An ingenious historical city builder/archaeology sim and an intriguing Bronze Age trading game spring to mind. Others felt like sims or action games at heart rather than true strategy titles (Sam Crisp’s Forward Observer game – “Virtual-O but with High Explosives” – and Guy Atherton’s Behind Enemy Lines – “basically a first person survival game, but with Soviets instead of zombies” – for example).

Sometimes a pitch lost out because it resembled another fractionally stronger one too closely. There was, for instance, only room for one Patton’s Best-style single-tank roguelike in my shortlist, and unfortunately for Adam ‘Escape From the Falaise Pocket’ Kusiak, I ultimately concluded that Patton’s Best-style single-tank roguelike should be Brothers in Armour.

Only one pitch was sidelined on taste grounds. Accuse me of double standards if you like, but in the light of recent terror attacks, I just couldn’t bring myself to shortlist a game in which one possible role involved recruiting jihadis, collecting bio-toxins and carrying out “major attacks on population centres”. Sorry, War on Terror.

Some ideas that failed to make the shortlist may well have tickled the dragons more than some that did. If your pitch isn’t amongst the fifteen indexed below and perusal of the competition does nothing to dissipate the nagging feeling of injustice, do post your pitch in the comments section. Let your fellow Flareopaths ponder and pass judgement.

Which reminds me. Now the gnarled dragons have spoken and I’ve pinned my rosette to Smoke and Thunder all that remains to be done is to establish The People’s Favourite. Are you a People? Are you prepared to imagicode then imagiplay the following concepts and choose a favourite? There are no prizes but it will be fascinating to see how closely the views of wargame consumers mirror the views of wargame crafters.

INDEX

All titles are working titles and the game order roughly reflects pitch popularity (Low-number pitches received more praise from the dragons than high-number ones)

(1) Smoke and Thunder (1st-person general-em-up) – Richard Bodley Scott’s favourite and mine.

(2) Combat Outpost (Out on a limb in Afghanistan) – Singled-out by Steve Grammont and Iain McNeil.

(3) Voice of the People (Modern urban warfare with an unexpected twist) – Appreciated by Johan Nagel and Iain.

(4) The Battle of Lepanto (Oar wars) – Steve’s budget choice.

(5) ‘The Defense of Hill 781’ (The Soviets are approaching! Start planning) –  championed by Tomislav Uzelac.

(6) Blueprint Sky (Design warbirds, win contracts) – Johan liked what he read, as did I.

(7) Bad Heart Winter Count (Indian Country X-COM)

(8) Basileion (Ambitious Total War eclipser) – Richard’s second choice.

(9) Company Commander (WW2 leadership in a choose-your-own-adventure style)

(10) Brothers in Armor (Single tank wargame-cum-RPG)

(11) ‘Northern Fleet’ (Wet WW3 wargame)

(12) The Man and the Hour (The ACW from Lincoln’s perspective)

(13) La Résistance/Maquis (Tactical travails and tricky choices in WW2 France)

(14) ‘Chateau General’ (WW1 slaughter choreography)

(15) War Photographer (Risk-taking without life-taking)


Smoke and Thunder

by William Barnum

Concept: 1st Person perspective generalship simulation set during an 18th-19th century war.

Many games have attempted to model the tactical experience of leading armies during the age of massed volley warfare. A few have attempted to model the chain of command and realistic, courier based communication. Some have also provided a limited range camera mode, to simulate a general’s line of sight. These modes tend feel like exactly what they are: frustratingly kneecapped versions of the typical god’s eye perspective. We are lacking a title which focuses on simulating the actual experience of command from horseback, built from the ground up as a first person title.

Immersion would be a primary focus: there should be almost no UI. Reports would be letters from your subordinates, and the map should be a physical object in the game world, with no automatic updates. The player would have to mark and update their map manually, based on what they see of the battlefield, and the reports they receive from their subordinates. The game could work well as a VR title. Since the player will only rarely approach their troops, simple, stylized sprites could be used for large formations, with detailed models only loading in the player’s immediate area.

Many frequently overlooked historical aspects of generalship could be intriguingly explored with this approach. Foremost would be the challenge of maintaining situational awareness. The player’s limited perspective means that they would need to ride around the battlefield to personally view the action. This would have a downside in that couriers from subordinates might not be able to find the player, causing them to miss vital updates by not maintaining a set headquarters. Fog, dust, and above all smoke should be simulated, meaning that it becomes more and more challenging to understand the action as unit cohesion breaks down and the field becomes shrouded in smoke. The personal danger of commanding from the front would be another factor, as the player could come under artillery fire or be caught in crossfire at the frontline. In addition to adding excitement, this would offer the realistic challenge of calmly maintaining command while a storm of iron rains down around the player.

The next major aspect simulated would be the chain of command and the issues that entailed. Subordinates should be independent, capable of carrying out general orders from the player and adapting to their situation. They should also be consistently flawed: they should have personalities which influence how they behave and what they report to the player. For example, a McClellan-like general might often desperately call for reinforcements and refuse to advance in the face of an inferior foe, while a Ney-like commander might charge an enemy line without orders. It would be up to the player to get to know the personalities of their subordinates, and use this information to decide how much they can trust their subordinates’ reports, or if personal oversight might be needed. This would be another reason to risk leaving the central headquarters; to ride out and issue direct orders to a recalcitrant subordinate.

This game could be successfully set in any of the major wars of the 18th or 19th century. As an aficionado of underserved historical settings, I would personally like to see it set in a less covered conflict, such as the Wars of German Unification or the Seven Years War. The title would also be ideally suited to more commonly covered conflicts such as the American Civil War or the Napoleonic Wars.

Richard Bodley Scott: “My winner. This is a concept that could be adapted to earlier periods of warfare right back to Roman times. As a game that to some extent plays itself, with limited intervention from the player, this may not appeal to everyone. The challenge will be to make it into a fast-paced and exciting game with great replay value, rather than a faithful simulation that could nevertheless rapidly become dull.”

Iain McNeil: “Would I sign it? Sorry but no. I can see how if done well this would be epic to watch. However it would cost an enormous amount of money to do even slight justice to the game and its target market is so very niche the sales potential is tiny… Lots of interesting ideas for realism and to add confusion but ultimately these will just frustrate players. Most negative feedback from players is related to this kind of frustration which people accept in a real world situation but not in a game. Commanders not obeying orders again is interesting from a realism perspective but doomed for a game. Players do not want things happening they did not order to happen. I think this is the kind of game it might be interesting to watch someone else play but very few people would actually enjoy.”

Eugen’s Alexis Le Dressay and Pierre-Yves Navetat (Not official dragons but they were passing, willing and eminently dragon-worthy): “Smoke & Thunder is our favorite concept… There might be a lot of games about 18th-19th wars, but a first-person point of view would be absolutely unique, from both a tactical and an emotional standpoint. Such a simulation would be awesome for both history buffs & gamers seeking a new experience. It might even help us understand some much-debated tactical decisions by giving us the same limited field of view a commander had at the time… Definitely a game we’d love to play, especially in multiplayer with several players exchanging dispatches and swopping perceptions of the same giant battle.”

Tim: “An exciting idea, persuasively pitched. Devs have been tantalising us with elements of the first-person general-em-up for decades. I think now we’re finally in a position where our hardware and our heads can cope with the full Monty. I would give my right arm and Lord Uxbridge’s right leg to play Smoke and Thunder.”

* * *


Combat Outpost

by Harris Tweed

Why do we not yet have a tactical game that simulates running a company sized combat outpost in Afghanistan? The player would be tasked with designing the layout, managing a company of infantrymen, conducting patrols, defending the base from attacks, etc. The amount of primary source material, to say nothing of veterans able to advise, dwarfs any past conflict.

Randomized maps, soldiers with RPG elements who you will genuinely mourn, daily mission objectives with lasting consequences, etc. Good Lord, the game virtually writes itself, right?*

*Besides the coding stuff, which I understand doesn’t write itself yet.

Combat Outpost would combine the tactical combat of Close Combat or Combat Mission, a “management sim” in which you maintain the firebase, the company’s soldiers, and supplies; and a strategic layer in which you receive and carry out orders in your Area of Operations (AO).

Starting a new game would present you with a map of your AO, your Table of Organisation and Equipment (TOE), and your Operations Order. Difficulty level would dictate how helpful your company First Sergeant is, and how much guidance he provides on each of those screens.

TOE would vary between unit types. Cavalry, airborne, light, mechanized, etc, all have different elements. Other units could be sliced out to you (engineers, MPs, Afghan nationals).

Your Oporder might instruct you to establish a fire base in a certain grid for the purpose of conducting patrols to interdict Taliban movement. Follow on orders (Fragos, for fragmentary order) will change that as the year of game time progresses.

Your first task is siting your outpost with consideration to terrain, accessibility, resupply, fire support, etc. Your company mortar pit, barracks, TOC (tactical operations center), fighting positions, crew served weapons positions, etc would all need to be positioned.

Next you would work between your TOE and your outpost map to set guard shifts, schedules, etc. You could also then schedule local patrols around the immediate AO. All of this based on the quality and abilities of each of your platoons and squads.

With your outpost established, you begin receiving Oporders from Brigade to conduct patrols, meet with villagers, investigate weapons caches, etc. You’re required to balance mission accomplishment versus force protection versus limited manpower. Events happen at the outpost as well, from accidents to enemy probing fire to coordinated attacks.

Patrols would be planned and dispatched by the player, but AI directed until contact is made, at which point the player would be able to take control of them tactically. I would imagine the screen being a sort of Blue Force Tracker showing the position of friendly units and alerting the player to TICs (Troops In Contact).

Tactical combat would put heavy emphasis on fire & maneuver, supporting fires, suppression, etc. Behavior of individual soldiers would be closer to CC than to CM. Very heavy fog of war, too, of course.

The overall flavor of the game would put a huge emphasis on force protection, RoE, and individual soldiers. I have a close friend who commanded a company in Afghanistan and the anxiety of losing soldiers took a real toll on him. The player ought to feel that, as well. A successful game shouldn’t be one that ends with 50% casualties and 100% complete objectives. It should be one in which the player remembers every virtual soldier he lost and feels he accomplished his mission as well as he could without losing any more.

Iain: “Would I sign it? Yes. Taking Close Combat to Afghanistan could be very interesting. Adding to that base design, and a strategy layer where you manage patrols etc is a very nice touch.  You would want players to get attached to their troops so you want the force size to be manageable… Each solder you lose hurts you psychologically. You could find some interesting game mechanics to layer on that.  I think this could sell. “

Steve:  “I think this has a lot of potential.  However, these sort of sims can run into gameplay ruts and so the game would likely have to include lots of different environments and situations, which increases development costs and time.  This would be a very involved, long project to pull off.  Problem with games like this is falling short, even by a little bit, likely means it won’t do well.  It’s hit or miss, mostly.  To get around these problems requires a lot of really good development decisions and a good development team.  Oh, and a lot of funding because that team will not be small or employed for less than probably 2 years.”

*       *       *


Voice of the People

by Kyle Terreault

You know those civilian units? Those things you gotta keep 6 out of 10 alive or game over? Where’s their campaign?

In Voice of the People, players take charge of a citizen journalist organization in an occupied city. Starting with just one unit (you), players would spend each day recruiting, reporting, and evading detection from the authorities, all in the hopes of influencing the world and the war.

Play would take place on a grid map representing your troubled hometown. Each day (turn), you would need to make two major decisions per unit:

What are they doing?
How are they getting there?

The What could be visiting the air strike site across town, bartering for equipment, to set up an independent internet connection, setting up proxies and encryption for your devices, or recruiting fellow activists. Whatever the action, it requires time, skills and/or resources. You could record an interview with pen-and-paper, but taking pictures would pack more punch.

The How (your path along the map) determines who you’ll come into contact with. Take a direct route, you may have to risk a search at the checkpoint. Loop around, you’ll lose precious time. As patrols become more frequent and discriminatory, you’ll have to get creative. Maybe one checkpoint accepts bribes. Maybe you can swap out your phone’s SIM before a search. Will it work? Suspense!

Most importantly, your actions will effect the city and world. Getting a picture of a visiting officer might lead to an airstrike, thus increasing war attrition (less patrols, checkpoints, etc.). Getting video of a hospital bombing might lead to an UN investigation, thus tightening ROE. Constant, reliable coverage could lead to a ceasefire (if lucky) or a siege (if not). As an example, a UN investigator comes to town to follow up your chemical weapon story. Have a means to talk securely? If not, want to risk an operative? You could meet face-to-face and then book it out of town, at which point that pistol you bartered for could come in handy. Or not. Turns out having I-never-held-a-gun-before Steve carry the Beretta leads to an unfortunate ND. Probably should have thought about that, huh? It’s the burden of being (dramatic pause) the Voice of the People.

As the gameplay would be turn-based with actions planned for the day, there wouldn’t be much animation needed. Most situations can be dealt with through text; graphics for units and tiles could range from cheap pixel art to gorgeous 3D models, depending on budget. The game could be scaled massive (full campaign across the course of a war, level editor for custom scenarios, detailed survival mechanics, hundreds of events) or tiny (single mode with randomly generated map). Accuracy is key; it’s a serious topic, so the devs need to do serious research. If done well, its portrayal of civilians as active participants in war would make the game stand out.

Iain: “If this was done well this has huge potential. The idea of playing the civilians is a good one and though it has been done before (This War of Mine) Voice of the People promises hope and a way to win. There would need to be some scores – maybe public opinion in the member states of the UN security council is your score. You win by getting enough of them to a point where they intervene militarily to stop the war.  Some actions could increase relations with one at the cost of another. Each game could be different with starting conditions related to who the nation is allied with. You’d probably want fictional names to avoid lots of flak but you could randomise start conditions and have a very different game each time. It is very relevant in today’s world and could easily tie in to real world events. It could help raise awareness of what is going on some of these places so actually do some good.”

Johan: “One of my favourites. I see this as a hybrid between This War of Mine and Plague Inc. I had discussions with James, the developer of Plague Inc, about making a game about the effects of propaganda so when I saw this I liked it instantly. Not sure I agree on the TBS approach but this is not a game spec, merely a concept that can be worked with.”

*       *       *


The Battle of Lepanto

by Francisco Costa-Cabral

This is naval combat at (arguably) its most interesting, mixing the ancient tactics of ramming and boarding with gunnery and what can be described as mobile castles. The two sides are asymmetrical: the Holy League with some numerical advantage but a more fractured command, following the theme of heavier ships/troops with better artillery/small arms, while the Turks have opposite better manoeuvrability in tactics, ships, and boarding troops, plus elite janissaries units and attractional repeat bow fire.

The game could work in turns or slow real time. The first major decision would be over starting positions, which would be affected by random factors (wind, timing). The second would be over the starting gunnery exchange, again with some noise for range and skill. The macro strategy would involve enveloping/concentrating/breaking the battle line and shore/open sea manoeuvres. The gross of the game would nevertheless be the micro decisions of individual ship control. The ships would serve as platforms for independent troops, who can exchange fire and board/support the fight in other ships. Momentum could be built by liberating galley slaves to join the fight, but could also shift dramatically by going after admirals and raising the flag in captured ships. Each ship would have its value for being destroyed or captured (more spread out in the Holy League), which would be tracked by a meter. Victory would be achieved after a certain value or at the end of time limit for the day of the battle.

This would be a limited battle game, which could nevertheless be broadened by a campaign with diplomacy and control of key land points (Malta, other ports) or even covering the Turkish land invasion of Europe. Historically the conflict ended in a sort of a draw, so players could improve on it on either side. There are some unfortunate religious undertones to the whole thing, but one would expect them not to prevent mature wargaming. The engine (or campaign) could also be reworked for galley combat in the Punic or Peloponnesian wars.

Steve: “If my budget was small I’d go for The Battle of Lepanto. It wouldn’t be inexpensive to produce, but it would be far less risky from a development standpoint than Combat Outpost and I think, possibly more appealing… As stated, the naval battles of this era have characteristics which are hard to find in other time periods.  Though the “age of sail” offers similar opportunities, I think.  The 1980s produced Ancient Art of War At Sea.  It was extremely engaging, even to players that didn’t have a particular interest in the historical subject matter.”

Iain: “This sounds a lot like a game we are currently working on but set in the ancient world. As a result I’m struggling to judge it fairly!”

*       *       *


‘The Defense of Hill 781’

by Michael Catchpoole

Inspired by The Defense of Hill 781 I’d like to suggest a dual layer battalion level war game set in the mid 1980s.

Your task is to stage a series of defensive battles against a superior Warsaw Pact force. The game casts the player as a real life LTCOL making decisions with resource and (unusually) time constraints about the conduct of a defensive battle.

The game has two phases. A planning phase and a limited tactical phase.

The first layer is a planning phase. The key mechanic is time. Each of a limited number of sequential scenarios have a limited period of time in which your preparation can be undertaken. As the LTCOL you can order a series of tasks (for instance digging battle positions, counter-recon, firing plans, patrolling and screening, establishing OPs, replenishment and repair, crating obstacles etc). You can delegate those tasks (most efficient use of time but least control) to personally oversight (least efficient) with variations involving the XO/RSM. Each of your subordinate company and sub-element commanders will have skills and abilities. Some of your leaders will be better at task than others. FOs for instance will develop better fire plans faster than infantry officers. The Recon PLT CO will be better at patrolling. The XO and RSM will, if there stats are high enough buff other leaders nearby. The AI will perform tasks in a manner consistent with US doctrine in the 1980s less a random element of variation.

If you overwork your elements before the battle then fatigue and morale issues become apparent. In modelling the planning phase radio silence costs extra time units to relay orders but also increases the chance of revealing your position. Runners area slower but have less risk (although not without risk of detection). The order in which tasks are undertaken impacts on their effectiveness.

At the end of the planning stage, the player will have prepped the battlefield through a combination of engineering works, logistics and planning.

The tactical phase is really the execution of the planning game. The player can set battle positions, orders to attack or fall back and request very limited specific tasks including arranging fires (the quality and speed of which will be heavily influenced by the prep phase). Otherwise your subunits commanders will fight the battle in accordance with general tactical instructions.

The AI will normally have fire superiority, an extensive artillery preparation and superior mass. Key factors for success in the tactical phase are correct ground selection, proper fortification, counter-recon, fire plans, concealment and timing.

The ultimate design should be such that no formula guarantees success every time in the planning phase and any strategy might win a given battle but some are less likely than others to succeed reliably. The time units can also randomly be cut short or extended depending on the enemies plan. If you deny the enemy intel there attack might be slower or they might blunder into your force. Either way the AI will attack for ground but based on the AI’s guess about strength, disposition and intentions.

One further aspect is that by having a series of defensive battles with the same force, the player has to make decisions about when to hold and when to fold and form a view about force preservation as against holding ground. Again this makes the question of how to prepare more compelling and no one answer will necessarily work.

Tomislav: “My criteria was, I suppose, “immediate usability as a working design” as opposed to having a preferred period or style of gameplay. By that measure, I like The Defense of Hill 781 best. (I suspect I’d also enjoy Combat Outpost and Northern Fleet. Sorry if my wargaming tastes are kinda pedestrian.)

The game is very clearly structured (“a series of defensive battles”) and phased. This sounds workable right from the start – a limited scope (defense against a superior force) always helps with creating tighter combat mechanics. Repeated battles of this fixed type should be well tunable for difficulty, so you could have it ramp up and occasionally spike, just like a regular, non-simulation game would try to do.

The explicit separation of phases puts an emphasis on planning. Because there are things *you just cannot do* in the tactical phase, the player would quickly be made aware of any mistakes made in planning. This creates a nice feedback loop that reinforces sound planning, so the player can learn a thing or two about period doctrine without going through field manuals.

The pitch looks as if a discussion of low level mechanics was intentionally left out, so it’s very concise, but also incomplete. It will be a challenge to design these mechanics to organically reward “correct ground selection, proper fortification, counter-recon, fire plans, concealment and timing”. That said, the structure of the long game sets you up perfectly, so the designer should be able to do an equally good job with the short game – by this I mean: the details of unit and map representation, and how the planning/tactical phases are supposed to play out.”

Iain: “There’s nothing wrong with this but it feels similar to existing games like Command Ops or Flashpoint Campaigns.”

*       *       *


Blueprint Sky

by Angus Ruddick

The game, loosely entitled Blueprint Sky, is a response to a missed opportunity in war sims: the under-representation of the aircraft designer during the Second World War. Capitalising on the inherent LEGO-glee that comes with building something to solve a problem, the general gameplay would be a balancing act of trying to design the best aircraft for a given role, within the least time and using the least amount of resources.

Players will receive contracts from the government for specific configurations or with specific limitations – for example, a single seat fighter for carrier use. Successful completion of a contract grants the player a reward of resources to invest in technology research or improving upon design quality – aspects of a management sim.

The way the player interacts will likely be the blueprint design stage, reports from test pilots and combat reports, and a contracts screen – visually speaking, little to no implementation of the actual aircraft or flying need be shown. To supplement this, however, the reports of the aircraft will be detailed, based on the strengths and weaknesses of the design, to allow the player to address faults in an iteration process. Specific criticisms would allow a more realised aircraft to take shape, too – a quirk making it unsuitable for the intended battlefield, but perfect for another gives it character and credibility.

In more granular terms, the design stage of gameplay will involve the creation of the titular blueprints – by use of increasingly adjustable templates (a wing shape might, for example, be manipulated by dragging the corners) on a grid. The properties of these templates – size, shape, material, etc – would influence the aircraft’s performance. Initially, a simple flight model simulating for example the shape’s lift, drag, acceleration and climb rate would be all that was required – though in a perfect world, a system which could interpret finer details, like roll-rate, performance with different levels of fuel or in different temperatures, would both inform player design and make the experience more interesting.

Research into additional technology would fall more-or-less historically, though particularly skilled researchers would evidently have access to better technology earlier. What this does mean is that the game would have an element of alternate-history to it – therefore a ‘historical’ mode (or editable settings) would realistically limit resources as the war goes on, and either pitch player designs against historical ones, or task the player with recreating them.

At the beginning, as a fledgling company in the mid-1920s, players would have the opportunity to go into business designing single-seat aircraft for races such as the Schneider Trophy, and, as war looms, be offered contracts to manufacture for roles such as fighters or observation aircraft. Alternatively, they could start designing passenger aircraft, after which they might move on to bombers – though research would allow them to swiftly expand into whichever contracts most interest them.

Finally, specific events imposing limitations or advantages would occur, simulating to an extent a dynamic war against an adaptive foe.

Johan: “I like this one, a lot. Incorporating design into gameplay and giving the player freedom of expression within certain realistic parameters are things I am very interested in.”

Tim: “This is uncannily similar to an idea I’ve been pipedreaming for the past five or so years, ergo it’s unquestionably The Best Idea. The main differences are the timeframe – I always imagined the game starting before WW1 and ending around the time of the government-forced mergers of the late 50s – the contract mechanics – competing AI companies are a must for me – and the name. My version is called Avco (Picture the letters nestling inside a winged triangle Avro-style).”

*       *       *


Bad Heart Winter Count

by Joe Osborn

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: you are the leader of a crew of elite resistance fighters struggling against invasion by a technologically advanced alien culture bent on total domination. In this case, though, the resistance fighters are a small band of Lakota (more commonly and incorrectly referred to as the “Sioux”) and the alien invaders are white people.

I’ve stolen the title from two places:

A “winter count” is a kind of pictorial history used by the Lakota and some of the other plains tribes, in which an animal skin is decorated with a series of images, each depicting the most significant event of the previous year (which were measured winter-to-winter). Sometimes astronomical events; other times hunts, raids or massacres. It operated to supplement the more elaborate oral histories traditionally passed down by the elders.

More significantly for our purposes, though, a winter count provides a framing device by which campaign chapters can be divided: an image painted for each year depicting that chapter’s main battle. Ideally, each chapter will contain several smaller skirmishes or raids, and one major engagement. I envision the fighting as being somewhere between X-COM’s emphasis on careful unit placement and flexibility to changing situations and Shadow Tactic’s stealth mechanics.

Choice and consequence will be based partially on your battlefield success, but also on management of your village, diplomacy with other tribes and the federal government, and tech advancement options that reflect both native traditions (for example medicine bundles that granted wearers protection or power in combat) and white innovations like repeating rifles and revolvers. Another key component will be the psychological warfare of the plains. For example: you take two soldiers prisoner. Do you ransom them back for goods and guns, return them unharmed for diplomatic leverage, or torture them to death for a morale boost and increased notoriety among the tribes (which will lead to more warriors wanting to join you, but fewer diplomatic options with the army)?

Which brings me to part two of the title: “Bad Heart” is a loose translation of a Lakota term describing a man who is so consumed by hatred and grief that he only wants to kill as many of his enemies as he can before dying. The story, then, will be one of personal vengeance played against a backdrop of a clash between empires.

Although the main character will not be an actual historical figure (because many of their descendants are still around, and this is not ancient history to them), his band will play pivotal roles in historical conflicts starting with the Dakota War of 1862, escalating through Red Cloud’s War (1866-68), and culminating with the Great Sioux War of 1876 and the climactic encounter with Custer at Little Bighorn. The denouement will necessarily be a sad one: depending on your success as a fighter and choices as a leader, your people may be able to settle a big reservation on good land, a small reservation on shit land, or even flee north to keep fighting with the final holdouts in the years leading up to Wounded Knee.

Iain: “Would I sign it? Maybe. There is definitely room for this kind of RPG & meta game in the genre. I’d like to have known more about character progression. The pitch mentions XCOM but doesn’t say anything about levelling up or personalisation of the player characters which would need to be a big part of gameplay.  The setting may be more of a hindrance than a help. Tying it to a historical conflict makes your progression system very hard as you may end up with gameplay and realism at odds. The two often don’t get on…  I’d like to have known more about the meta game mechanics. Are there resources? How are they collected? What are they used for? What kind of decisions will a player have to make? It can be useful to walk us through a turn or two of gameplay explaining what the player sees and what they think about when making decisions.”

Johan: “I love the title and the largely unexplored topic but the concept probably need some distillation. I wonder if this could be built as a mod for an existing engine.”

Tim: “Several readers submitted ideas involving bands of resistance fighters and for my money this was the strongest. Of the handful of existing wargames that feature Native American forces, none provide much context or continuity. None attempt to simulate inter-tribal conflict or explore how tribes worked together to combat the US Army threat.”

*       *       *


Basileion

by Douglas Slaughter

The 10th Century was the high-point of both the borders and the armies of the medieval Eastern Roman Empire. The Basileion Rhomaion was unmatched on a strategic, tactical and logistical level, regularly overcoming vastly more numerous enemy armies through discipline, combined-arms tactics, and an educated officer class. In Basileion, the player must take control of an army both on the battlefield and off, managing their survival and morale through weather and starvation. All the while, be mindful of the factional power-plays of the Mother-City – maintain allies in the capital through success and favours, or see yourself recalled in disgrace from your command…

•Seamlessly drop in to command battles on land and water in real time through pre-planning and staff-rider messengers who can be intercepted and killed
•Command your campaigns through a real-time, pausable campaign system on a complex topographical map – outmaneuver your enemies or see yourself cut off and starving. Fleets will often be vital to supply and transport as well as pitched naval battles
•Manage your subordinate officers: their capabilities their foibles, their pride, their rivalries – some have powerful families back home
•Play through more than 12 truly dynamic campaigns from the 10th century (including the Nikephorosian Reconquest of Crete and the Crushing of the Bulgarian Empire), including a Grand Campaign – create a dynasty of generals for the Empire – perhaps seize the Imperial Throne for yourself!
•Manage and utilise the many versatile types of soldiers available to the Empire, from highly trained and highly armoured Imperial Guard troops, to the Thematic Troops to the many exotic and versatile mercenaries the Empire hires. Managing and preserving your expensive and irreplaceable elite troops is of paramount importance
•Fight the numerous and varied enemies of the Empire: Arabs, Armenians, Bulgars, Magyars, Lombards, Pechenegs – all with their own types of warriors and tactics
•Fight campaigns on both sea and land all over the Mediterranean, from Sicily to Tarsus, from the Balkan Mountains to the Euphrates.
•Interact with and appease local warlords to win them over, or see yourself fight them

Overall, this subtle game brings a very cerebral and meditative perspective to war: why fight the enemy when you can starve them – why fight them fairly when you can attack at night and vanish? Consistently outnumbered, the player will have to choose the sites of his battles carefully, and often avoid battle while attempting to inflict casualties on the enemy. A much anticipated 2018 release, Basileion promises everything a grognard could dream of, while maintaining a sufficiently transparent UI to not turn-away the newcomer.

Richard: “As a lover of all things Byzantine, I could hardly avoid giving this one an honourable mention. The Byzantines had an extremely systematic and modern approach to diplomacy, strategy and tactics, making such a detailed simulation true to life as well as entertaining, in a period that is not well-covered by the digital market. This is a game that I would like to play. If done well, it could be a cult hit.”

Steve: “It would require huge amounts of work to pull this off, but the concept is inherently sound.  Combining a limited management sim within a campaign system is always tricky, so that’s a potential source of problems.  Specifically “mission creep” where the campaign system becomes a distraction from the combat, which is the player’s payoff for going through all the management stuff.  Games often suffer from split personality because each is a game in its own right, which means players who like a lot of management are annoyed by the amount of combat while those that prefer combat are annoyed by the amount of management.  Pick one aspect, focus on it, and make the other bare bones to the fullest extent possible.  Not coincidentally this helps big-time with development costs and risks.”

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Company Commander

by Shiloh

Based loosely on the book of the same name by Charles B MacDonald, this is a game which puts you in the shoes of a US Army Company commander during the Battle of the Bulge but could be equally put you in the shoes of German/British/Russians etc., or even just in a series of generic, randomly generated scenarios/campaigns – each with their own particular command intricacies and problems.

I see it as a Sorcery (choose-your-own-adventure)-style game about choices and consequences – there’s little in the way of hexes or counter-pushing, rather it’s about managing your soldiers before, during and after battle, as well as dealing with your own fears and concerns. You have various numbers against your name (not an exclusive list below, just some ideas):

NERVE – ticks down as you’re exposed to various dangers, but which can be affected positively and negatively by various effects and which slowly regenerates over time. The fail state ultimately would a complete LOSS OF NERVE and either failure (you end up curled up in a ball in the corner of the CP awaiting medical evacuation) or being put on a charge – GAME OVER, essentially.

MORALE – how you’re feeling. Can be affected negatively by things like casualties, being surrounded, a bad CO etc, but positively affected by things like letters/presents from home, words of praise from superiors or subordinates, success on the battlefield, dry socks, strong positions etc.

READINESS – how good is your situational awareness? How much intel do you have on the enemy to your front? This affects the result of combat you and your men fight in.

COMPANY STATUS– what do your men really think of you? Affects combat, feeds into HQ STATUS.

HQ STATUS – what does HQ think of your command decisions? How likely is it you’ll get support (reinforcements/supply/arty,tank,air support) when you ask for it?

Your men have similar meters – again, mitigated by your actions and decisions, as well as things like availability of supporting artillery, notable kills, enemy surrenders etc.

Orders are generated on-the-fly and handed down to you from Battalion if there are actions you need to take or postures you need to adopt (ATTACK, DEFEND, PATROL, IMPROVE POSITION, PULL BACK, WITHDRAW etc) – but at regular intervals your log is updated with the more mundane elements of company life, either with information (see 01h00) or with a choice (03h00). If the latter, then the story branches depending on what you chose.

The first part of a typical “day” might play out as follows:

01h00 Quiet night. Sporadic machine gun fire reported by First Platoon Sgt. Hobart from treeline beyond Krewinkel. Could be something – or nothing.

03h00 Light snow falling. More machine gun fire reported by First Platoon. Maybe I should take a look at their positions? YES -> take Lt. Chaffey and PFCs Smith and Jones and recce First Platoon’s position. NO -> stay at the CP.

Branching choices as follows:

03h30 YES (NERVE-1 because you’re heading out from the safety of the CP into the snowy night, STATUS+1 (“we don’t often see captains this close to the enemy, sir!”): First Platoon seem well dug in – a little nervous, but OK. Reassured them and checked on ammo (PLATOON NERVE+1, READINESS+1). Reports of tracked vehicles moving beyond Ormont. Report to Battalion? YES -> Get battalion on the radio. NO -> No sense wasting battalion’s time with this. (Beware! constantly sending reports to Battalion could lower your HQ STATUS – they only want to know the important stuff after all and have recently let you know you’re something of a NERVOUS NELLY (MORALE-1)).
03h30 NO. STATUS-1. NERVE+0. PLATOON NERVE+0. READINESS+0. No need to bother Sgt. Hobart – he’s a good man and I’m sure he has everything in hand.

There are many decisions which branch from your initial decisions, but the point is not to punish the player, or even offer a “correct” way of negotiating the various decision trees – the idea is to give some idea of what a company commander might face and how you might deal with it.

Balance is important – there have to be good reasons why you might choose not to leave the CP in the above example (maybe a sniper pinged a bullet off the CP door as you were standing by it yesterday and he may still be out there – you’re the CC and putting yourself in harm’s way unnecessarily is definitely not part of your job, your main responsibility is to your men and making sure they come home from all this, so let your NERVE meter regenerate a little and trust to Sgt. Hobart to do the job the US Govt is paying him to do).

THE MAP INTERFACE – responds to your decisions, showing where you and your men are, where your company assets are, where the known enemy is, and any objectives (if you have them). Includes FOW to represent the uncertainty of commanding in real time, and the general lack of good information available to commanders once battle is joined.

Also, introducing a number of RANDOM events, and RANDOM effects on the meters, will aid replayability and have you always slightly on edge, as you can never be 100% sure you’re “doing the right thing” (maybe Sgt Hobart thinks less of you on your fifth trip to his foxhole as he thinks you’re interfering, don’t trust him and anyway, why’s the CO risking getting his head shot off when he should be planning arty support and making sure he’s on the radio net if the Germans do attack?)

COMBAT – basically handled “off map” but with its own decision tree (do you push on despite losses, do you retreat in the face of strong enemy pressure, who needs the heavy weapons platoon, do you move First Platoon up to the village or leave them in a support role, where is that arty support best used etc).

END GAME – after a set period of time, you’ve either completely FAILED (being KILLED, CAPTURED, WOUNDED or LOST YOUR NERVE) or have MADE IT (with various degrees of success, based on your numbers and those of your men, and also the number of casualties you’ve sustained throughout the course of the campaign and those you’ve inflicted on the enemy, the objectives you’ve taken or held etc). Are you Patton, less worried about casualties than obtaining the final objective? Or are you Monty, cautious and mindful of the need to limit casualties for the sake of public opinion back home?

Iain: “Would I sign it? Maybe. The key to this would be taking the idea and working how to convert into game mechanics… Clearly you can’t have a tree that branches with each player decision. After 8 decisions you’d have 256 branches and believe me dealing with 2 branches is a headache! So you need a dynamic way of generating the content and reaction to decisions. Everything has to be converted to data and equations and tweaked and balanced until it feels right. If that could be done (which would be a significant challenge) you’d have an interesting and unique game.”

Johan: “Conceptually it’s sound, but I wonder about longevity and excitement.”

Tim: “We may get to playtest this idea – or one very like it – fairly soon. Not so long ago I was approached by a team working on a very similar concept albeit with a different literary touchstone. Hopefully Burden of Command will break cover soon.”

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Brothers in Armor

by James Carlton

Synopsis: Squad level single unit tank wargame with crew management/RPG elements.

Elevator Pitch: Panzer General with one tank.

Inspiration:

•Squad/division level wargames such as Panzer General, Close Combat both digital and cardboard (eg Awakening the Bear)
•New Star Soccer (Soccer game as a single player, not a team)
•Darkest Dungeon (Town/Campfire RPG elements)
•FTL
•Interactive Fiction
•Kelly’s Heroes
•Fury
•The Beast of War

Overview: The player is the commander of a single tank crew in WWII, it could be the Eastern Front, North Africa or Normandy (I kind of like having it as a Russian crew) as they work their way through a branching scripted campaign with some procedural elements. The crew is randomly generated and they have various stats such as morale, perception, stamina as well as flaws and talents such as being a drunkard or having good eyesight.

The player must manage their crew out of battle, as well as direct their tank and crew in battle. The battle sections are hex turn based and play out like a tiny snapshot of a much larger wargame. Each hex would contain a single unit (tank, gun, small infantry section, maybe 10m hexes?) and facing, line of sight and turret rotation is very important. The player is given objectives such as take a town, ambush an enemy column, defend a bridge etc. but depending on how deep they are in the campaign they may just be the fourth tank in a platoon and expected to follow orders or they may have wider control over the units around them.

The player has a lot of control over their tank and the crew in battle but very little on other units. Even units under the player’s command can only be given rough objectives – they will still maneuver, fight and retreat or surrender on their own initiative. The player’s crew are also human and cannot be expected to work at maximum efficiency for long periods or if they sustain injuries. Loaders get tired, gunners lose their targets and drivers can take matters into their own hands if their morale wavers. Too many close calls and your crew might even abandon the tank altogether. Mechanical failures also need to be managed – especially if you’re lax on maintaining your vehicle. Stress the engine too hard or too often and you might find you’re commanding a bunker instead of a tank.

It’s war, and it’s not always very fair and the objectives may not always be achievable. The player will be judged on their actions. Capturing a hill but losing your entire squad may be less well received than a tactical retreat. There will be varying difficulty levels and save policies from ironman where your career can be cut brutally short at any time to easier modes where injuries and death are rare or your commander has a guardian angel and is always able to escape and fight again even when the rest of his crew meet their end inside a steel tomb.

Between battles there are single screen RPG elements and events where the player can direct their crew to scavenge supplies for an upcoming battle or to boost morale, repair or modify their tank, replace dead or wounded crew members and even upgrade to a newer model. The commander’s relationship with HQ is very important and the commander can gain rank and the privileges it affords such as being issued with subordinate units in the next battle, better intelligence, air support etc. as well as access to newer equipment. Fall foul with HQ and you might find yourself choosing between a suicide mission or a firing squad.

Sample Gameplay Snapshot:

Ordered to take a village the player is offered the choice of taking a unit of light recon vehicles or a single heavy tank in support of their medium tank squad. Using the scouts to probe the approach would be safer but they have a limited amount of time to secure the objective. They choose the heavy tank and give it orders to advance on the town directly while their squad approaches from the flank. It’s a smart choice for the player as the village is well defended by entrenched AT guns that would have made short work of the player’s medium tanks. Unfortunately the player is too cautious in their flank attack and the heavy advances close enough that a lucky hit knocks it out before the player can enter and secure the town, losing another medium tank in the squad when the AT guns have a chance to adjust their fire. Had the player upgraded their radio, maybe they could have ordered the heavy to halt out of effective range and continue to act as a diversion. HQ is happy the objective is secured but displeased at the waste of material. They’ll be reluctant to give out such expensive hardware next time.

As the crew bivouac in the town for the night, morale has suffered with the loss of two tanks. The player has the loader see what he can scrounge in the village and he returns successful with some bottles of wine he found in a cellar to cheer up the men. The radio operator manages to salvage some spare tracks from the knocked out tanks to use as extra armour which also raises morale. Unfortunately the gunner has trouble restraining himself and is still drunk when the order comes in at sunrise that enemy tanks have been spotted approaching the town from the north. There’s nothing to be done as the crew pile in and take up defensive positions. Lets just hope it doesn’t affect his aim too much.

Steve: “A game that is good in concept, but very difficult to pull off because of the major reliance on AI.  The more a game requires AI for basic functions, the more prone it is to falling flat.  Nobody wants to see wingmen doing stupid stuff, especially when the player has little to no control over what the AI does… Also I don’t see this as a turn based 2D hex game.  If the player is commanding a single tank I think most people would want to be inside that tank in a virtual environment.  Which pushes this thing into a seriously expensive direction.”

Iain: “An interesting idea but a flawed one I think… Turnbased hex  wargames require 1-2 decisions per unit per turn… They’re designed to allow you to control many units simultaneously. The fun comes from using your units as a team. There’s really no strategy to a single unit in a hex based game. You’ll either kill or be killed with each shot, making it more or less a lottery each time.”

Tim: “A fleshier, more fetching Armoured Commander? I’m surprised this wasn’t more popular with the dragons.”

*       *       *


‘Northern Fleet’

by Ozmodiar Flanker

Current Harpoon-esque games only cover tactical battles, none simulate the entire strategic focus of a NATO vs Soviet Union naval confrontation.

I propose starting with a 1988 Northern Fleet scenario as the base game – the map would be hex based, stretching from the coast of the southern US all the way to the Kara Sea. Hexes are 60nm wide, 3 8-hour turns per day, ships can move 1 hex per 8kts of speed per turn. The war would likely last 2 to 4 weeks so 40-80 turns.

This is a strategic level turn-based game – you give destinations to task forces of ships and individual subs but you have no control over how your forces move towards their destination or how they engage the enemy – individual Task Force Commanders will react and/or engage to the enemy according to their initiative and reliability ratings. A sub could remain out of contact for several turns if it is engaging the enemy or chasing a contact. Or maybe it’s sunk.

Each side would manage all major naval ships plus their escorts in Task Forces and individual subs. Aircraft and minor ships/merchant ships which would participate in the naval side of the war would be included but would not be directly controlled by the player – for example anti-submarine aircraft would perform their duties automatically without direction from the player. The player may be given the option to perform airstrikes if a target is within range, but the airstrike will be automatically resolved.

The game starts about a day before the war starts and there are 4 (de)escalation levels – peace, conventional war, tactical nuclear war, and operational nuclear war. Once operational nuclear war is reached the game is over and players lose points for not having their SSBNs in position to fire their ballistic missiles at their designated targets.

The Soviet Union’s objective:

– protect their SSBNs (nuclear missile subs) to preserve the Soviet nuclear strike capability. The Soviets need to make sure their SSBNs are within range to fire their nukes at their assigned targets if the war degrades to an operational nuclear war – by the late 80’s newer Soviet SSBNs could deploy in protected bastions or under the Arctic Ice-pack to hide, while older SSBNs might need to deploy in the North Atlantic off the US East Coast meaning they are vulnerable to detection and attack.

– keep their surface ships under protection of land based air cover and defend the Kola Peninsula and SSBN bastions from attack, and use amphibious/airborne operations to capture air bases in Norway to extend air cover further south.

– send subs into the North Atlantic and destroy NATO merchant ships trying to resupply Europe, protect forward deployed SSBNs, as well as (attempt to) hunt enemy SSBNs.

NATO’s objective:

– protect the scattered merchant shipping in the North Atlantic until they get to land-based air cover and/or port. Once enough merchant ships start collecting in US ports proper convoys will auto-cross the Atlantic to Europe and NATO will have to protect them as they cross.

– try and grapple control of the North Atlantic from Soviet subs while trying to assemble a few carrier groups to break into the Barents sea to launch attacks on the Kola Peninsula and the Soviet SSBN bastions.

– send subs to infiltrate Soviet SSBN bastions, launch missile attacks on Soviet ports and air bases, and harass the Soviet Navy.

– position SSBNs within striking range of their assigned targets in case the war degrades to an operational nuclear war.

Steve: “A fairly traditional concept, which means it’s viable since others have made a success of similar projects.  The trick would be to either keep it low budget and not mind a small audience, or to figure out what it would take to broaden the appeal to a wider wargame audience.  That, unfortunately, would require more expense on the development side of things so I’d start small and then expand if warranted.”

* * *


The Man and the Hour

by Jason Lefkowitz

The Man and the Hour crosses traditional wargaming with the character-driven gameplay of Crusader Kings 2 to provide a unique, grand-strategic game of the American Civil War.

You play as newly elected President Abraham Lincoln. The game begins on June 1, 1860; Fort Sumter has been fired upon and the border states have left the Union. Your task is to reunify the shattered Union — while also holding on to your job in the next election.

In this game, however, you do not move armies or make laws simply by ordering it so. You set policy, but those policies are actually implemented by a wide cast of characters – generals, the Congress, your cabinet, all real people from history. And the ways they implement them may not always resemble what you intended.

Your challenge is to manage these characters – to encourage ones whose interests and talents line up with your desires, and lever them into roles where they can make a difference, while sidelining or neutralizing obstructionists and incompetents. All characters have their own traits, power bases and personal alliances, though; and these can change, so your ally today may be your opponent tomorrow.

Each turn represents a month of real time. The player is allotted action points (AP), which they can spend on military and political actions. Actions carry different AP costs depending on how ambitious they are, so the player can make one big move or several smaller ones. The player also has a bank of Political Points (PP), which serve as a scorekeeping mechanism; successful actions earn PP. Some actions will also require a certain amount of PP, so you cannot emancipate the slaves on the first turn.

The military aspect of the war is abstracted to fit this model. Armies are built automatically; states periodically send new regiments, at a pace influenced by your popularity and the progress of the war. You choose the army’s general (or generals – you can assign additional leaders as corps commanders, to shore up areas where the commanding general is weak), assign it to a theater, and give some broad orders.

From there, though, the army’s progress is determined by the generals in command – some will be timid, others bold or even rash. The army will experience a series of procedurally generated battles, each decided by the size of the army, the morale of its troops, the talents and traits of its generals, and a healthy dollop of luck. Victories earn PP and move the theater closer to victory, but can also make generals harder to remove. Defeats cost PP, break reputations and push the army further from victory. And all battles create casualties, which as they mount will depress recruitment, make Congress harder to manage, and even lead to riots back home and mutiny in the ranks.

Can you master this tide of events and build a coalition that can lead the Union to victory? The Man and the Hour challenges you to find out!

Tim: “CK2’s influence on PC wargaming has been disappointingly slight thus far. While I’m in no great hurry to refight Fredericksburg or Chancellorsville for the umpteenth time, a game that forces me to deal with their political aftermath appeals. “

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La Résistance/Maquis

by Tommy Andersson

You are the leader of a Résistance/Maquis group somewhere in 1940s France. You must direct your group members to undertake certain tasks for example disrupting German communications, distributing underground newspapers, and helping Allied servicemen get back to the UK. Task success is determined by the willingness of the individuals involved, their knowledge, and various other factors including the current level of anti-resistance operations (this ebbs and flows depending on resistance activity and German success).

Turns outside combat represent one day. Engagements are also turn-based with classic action points (AP), health points (HP), weapon stats and combatant abilities influencing results.

You are also in charge of diplomacy with other resistance groups. Shall you work with the communist resistance so that the greater goal of liberating France is achieved or do you pursue your own agenda? You will be able to play all the kinds of resistance in France. Communist, Gaullist and other smaller groups.

Recruitment will be tricky. There is always a small possibility that a promising newcomer is a German infiltrator. It will be possible to establish links with external groups like De Gaulle, the British or the Soviets. Partners will ask you to carry out certain missions which will either further their political agenda or the common war goal. When these missions have been completed you will be rewarded with various things including weapons and money.

The map can either be totally fictional or based on a real location in France during the time. I see it either looking something like the one in Gangsters 2, or perhaps something more lyrical – a map on a table which stands by a window overlooking a typical French town. When starting the game two hands (yours!) appear on the table edge and the camera pitches down to examine the map – your area of operation.

Tim: “Tommy’s pitch is pretty short on detail, but the basic premise is so bulletproof it’s baffling this hasn’t been attempted before. I nominate Every Single Soldier to take this on.”

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‘Chateau General’

by Frank Rzesutock

My pitch is for a WW1 realtime, albeit pausable, wargame. The central feature would be command and control. So the player would be a general, represented by a chateau probably, and whenever the player gives a command ala an rts. A little runner would emerge from the chateau, run to the commanded troops, relay the order, and only then would it take effect. Supplementing the runner system would be wired communications, and the much rarer radio communications. so for example you could relay an order to a lower command, a company for example, over the land lines, and the runner would originate from there instead, leading to a quicker result. So on the spot rts style reacting would have to be channelled through a cumbersome system full of friction and fail points. I would forsee artillery constantly cutting the land lines for example. furthermore, this would inherently mean that commanding troops beyond your trench lines is a dicey business.

On top of this we add a planning stage a la Gratuitous Space Battles. This gives the player the ability to order large groups and get around the more cumbersome rts system. Here the player could lavishly and meticulously construct their very own first day of the Somme. Timed walking barrages, human wave after human wave, the player would be able to create the “perfect attack” and watch it simmed out.

Then the rubber meets the road. So the player creates and plans the attack, sets it in motion, and then tries to control it via the cumbersome command and control system. Inevitably, it would all go to chaos. Gains would be limited, and the casualty toll staggering.

As such, and to get into the historical spirit of the thing. Casualties would cost the player only one thing, time. I could see a gradual trickle of soldiers streaming in to replace the fallen, or maybe just some rts style barracks constantly churning out new units. Either way, the goal is to make the player ignore casualties as an annoyance, just like a true chateau general.

To keep the player busy during the lulls between attacks, besides planning the next one. Maintaining and constructing your trench network would be a fun little rts touch. build up your trenches by adding more duckboards or bunkers or more wire and stuff. connect fresh captured lines into the network. or isolate chunks that have been taken by the enemy.

So that’s the basic outline. Several problems come to mind. What to do about artillery? if the player can see where the attack is failing or conversely where an enemy assault is breaking through and then shift his artillery accordingly in real time, it would basically nullify the planning stage and make it vestigial. maybe only allow rts style artillery targeting inside “controlled” territory or push it off map and remove it from direct player control.

Also the ai would be a bear. Since the player’s ability to micro would be limited, the players forces would be on their own for most of the game. They’d have to be smart enough to make the system work, but not so smart the remove the necessity for the player intervening at all.

Finally fog of war. you could just do it traditional, like whatever a unit sees the player can see, and just compensate for the omniscience through the command system. Sure you can see what’s happening, but good luck getting an order there to affect it. Or maybe you could do some weird thing, like once the units get beyond the trench lines in an attack. the player only sees the simmed out attack, unless a runner makes it back, and then it would update with the real situation.

Like hey we’re doing great! runner gets back, ohh actually the attack failed 10 minutes ago, probably shouldn’t have sent that second wave in… oh well they’re replaceable.

And finally, all the failure. So by putting so much friction into the system, the idea is to kind of reverse simulate the problems faced in ww1. But if the game is simply all failure, then that would just be miserable and unplayable!

Tim: “It’s relatively easy for a WW1 wargame to sim the stalemate on the Western Front or show why Britain was so afraid of the U-boat menace, but I don’t know of any titles that properly explain why Great War attacks were so costly. This sounds like it could do the job, and do it engagingly.”

*       *       *


War Photographer

by Lee Greatorex

War Photographer is a strategic and narrative journey through the life of a photojournalist covering 2 monumental, very different wars in an ever-changing world. The decisions you make will not only result in developing your own unique story throughout the game, but may also affect the opinion (and support) of the war back home.

“I am a gambler. I decided to go in with Company E in the first wave.”

– Robert Capa

Gameplay mechanics would have the explorative feel of 80 days, written in an autobiographical form. Yet as the game develops you’ll also have to start managing your personal itinerary as well as negotiating with press. As you gain more experience and renown, you’ll be given more freedom and have the option to form a small media troupe, allowing you a little more freedom of movement, more story threads and the chance to make more money.

Event threads will be loosely based on actual encounters, but done in a choose-your-own-adventure style will illustrations rather than from a first person view (Pokemon Snap: War wouldn’t have the right mood + would be challenging with a small team). You will have requirements by press houses to shoot a certain event or location and will need to get there in a specific time for the photos to sell. Resource management will be paramount as you try to keep up with the front line.

Between assignments you’d see a map view, allowing you to select locations (costing time, money, chance encounters etc). You’ll be receiving reports on how your photos are helping drive support for the troops, with accolades and bonuses for notable impactful shots or sequences. This increases your rapport with the military and they are more willing to support more dangerous excursions initially.

You start as a young Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU) recruit in 1942. After basic training you are given your first assignment, covering the North African campaign. As a photographer, you’ll have some difficult decisions to make, including but not limited to; Who you decide to follow, how long you stay out capturing footage and how you react to the specific situations.

“Photography is the truth, if it’s being handled by a truthful person.”

-Don McCullin

Surviving WWII will move to covering the Vietnam war. How you approach this campaign is fully in your hands and you can shoot it how you choose to see it (you will also choose your approach to sale, media camps and teams depending on previous renown and success). Do you support the military/propaganda or show the true horrors of war? Support from the military will give you money and potentially safety for a while. Showing the truth will help the anti-war movement back home but may require dangerous unprotected excursions into enemy territory.

Reportage photography is a huge passion of mine and, like most people here have a fascination with what shaped our current world. The stories of war photographers are an incredible read, books such as Slightly out of Focus, McCullin and Vietnam: The Real War really show that personal battle between emotions – the sometimes addictive desire to be in inhospitable and dangerous situations linked with the guilt of an observer shielded behind a viewfinder. I believe the change of roles media had throughout wars is an interesting tale not fully told yet through games.

Tim: “Assuming the landmined roadsides and mortar misfires weren’t telegraphed too clumsily, this could be gripping.”

*       *       *

This way to the foxer

29 Comments

  1. Shiloh says:

    Wow, some fantastic ideas there. Having played Take Command 2’s mod Headquarters in the Saddle (HITS) many moons ago, I really like Smoke & Thunder. Oddly, I was pondering submitting something similar, but I couldn’t quite work out how to get it to a point where it wasn’t a huge exercise in frustration to play, given the well-documented C&C problems generals had during the period covered.

  2. Auldman says:

    Smoke and Thunder is the sort of thing I’ve been praying for not the least of which is because it would be pitched at an era of warfare I don’t think get’s enough coverage but because it would be a delight and a challenge to play.

    I think Ian McNeill too quickly dismisses it. Ian, there is a way to make this work. You find a way to accommodate timid but curious potential players by allowing, as games usually do, a tiered level of play. I.e. you don’t just immediately throw the player into the hardest level where subordinates are not following every order, orders or intelligence is missed or mislaid. You can save that sort of thing for the veteran player or those that like the “Suicide level” of hardness and, trust me, you underestimate how many of those kinds of players are out there!

    You could start players out with a company, regiment, brigade level before proceeding to corps and then army. They could command the smallest units and get used to that experience before moving on. Indeed it could be worked into a whole historical way of playing where you move up the chain of command based on your tactical abilities. You could be awarded or punished for not properly following orders and once you got to the top it could be you who dresses down a Grouchy for not following instructions. You might get to cashier a subordinate or administer the harshest possible punishment and you could even spread gossip about their inabilities to other commanders or the court.

    In short there are ways to work people, ease people, into this sort of thing and allow them to grow comfortable with the experience and there are a lot of people who would relish having to deal with shock and surprises they had not anticipated. Or they can go play a wargame that holds their hand for the whole game.

    I want to see this game made!

  3. Captain Narol says:

    I would vote for “Basileion”, but the concept from “Smoke and Thunders” is quite interesting too.

    On a side note (sorry Tim for the thread hijacking), did anyone around gave a try to the new steam release “Wars across the World” ?

    Link :

    link to store.steampowered.com

    I’m on fence about it and could use some feedback from the wargaming part of the Hive Mind !

  4. 1Derby says:

    1. Smoke & Thunder. Love This.
    The American Revolution would be ideal for this.
    Granny Gates at Saratoga calmly directing from his HQ.
    Daniel Morgan at Cowpens baiting Tarleton(?) into feeding his men into a meat grinder.
    General Washington and his Fabian grand strategy throughout the war, not to mention legendary horsemanship on the field.
    In VR… these are the kind of titles that would get the people who can afford them (me) to stop waiting on the next generation of the technology (I am still bitter about VHS vs Beta!)

    2. Also, any AAA Xcom-like that explores fantasy, or historical eras.

    3. Every RPG maker everywhere: Why aren’t you monetizing your Intellectual Property by allowing gamers to click a button, spend $10, followed by you 3D printing their favourite toon/character and shipping it to them?

    Great article!

  5. aircool says:

    I’d like Combat Post as long as there was a bonus for British Army mortar teams wearing shorts, flip-flops and a red T-shirt.

    • Rorschach617 says:

      Sounds like an opportunity for cosmetic paid-for DLC to me :)

      • aircool says:

        Indeed, but in a way, the flip-flops would be ‘pay to win’.

  6. Rorschach617 says:

    Big Heart Winter Count gets my vote.

    Strategy game not in over-used setting – Check!
    RPG elements – Check!
    Out-of-Combat Player decisions having an effect on the gameworld – Check!

  7. Gothnak says:

    I’d love to have taken part in this, but having been a Games Designer for the last 15 years, it might have been a bit unfair (Or i could have been embarrassingly rubbish!), and my fellow directors might have been a bit annoyed at giving some cool ideas away.

    Combat Outpost is certainly the most interesting for me, i love the Close Combat games and sticking character based RPG traits and management in the sections between would be a definite winner. I’d probably rather set it in command of a group of men (a’la Company Commander) as the importance of each person would come to the fore instead of helicopters, tanks etc…

  8. Zinegata says:

    Hey Tim!

    I’m guessing that my entry (“The Resistance” – based on Tito’s Yugoslavian partisans) didn’t make the cut because of “Bad Heart Winter Count”?

    If so I understand, the topic is really quite original and the “morality” system – wherein you may eventually create a core of die-hards too consumed by anger to properly fit in after the war – mirrors a lot of my ideas as well.

    Thanks for taking the time to hold this kind of activity. It was really rather fun fleshing out game ideas.

  9. David Mitchell says:

    Interesting ideas… I mentioned this thing to a mate while we were discussing Cold Waters link to store.steampowered.com. Apparently he emailed Tim on a remake of Jane’s Fleet Command link to store.steampowered.com. Either he didn’t send it, Tim never got it or the idea wasn’t sound? Aside from James Carlton’s Brothers in Armor, I’m a bit surprised with the other ideas here… um, not really anything I would buy? haha! At least Brothers in Armor reminded me of the RPG crew management in Microprose’s M1 Tank Platoon. Good idea James, I’d probably buy something like that. A Russian crew too, I like it.

    Now imagine a new Panzer Elite link to mobygames.com where we play as tank commander Martin Kessler (Robert Shaw), following his personal exploits though the ranks, through North Africa and Russia, ending up at the Bulge being blown up by a rolling petrol can? Or not? Aha, well that’s for you to decide, isn’t it? Along the way we look after our platoon of merry men, giving out promotions and medals. We also have stamping contests from time to time between battles, where you get to shout “SING!” at your comrades. Actually no, but it hurts gameplay when an old friend and veteran is lost in battle. Like a sort of Sven Hassel Simulator.

    Surprised with the lack of interest in Fleet Command though. Naval War: Arctic Circle was cool (pun intended) but it was a rather limited cut-down version of the original, so there is still very much room for improvement in that area. Like we were saying, just add a DirectX 11 fully rendered and weathered 3D battlespace & seascape (including underwater) to the underlying AI of Matrix Games’ excellent CMANO and it’d be an instant classic that Tom Clancy would’ve been proud of. Or not? Thoughts?

    • Rorschach617 says:

      If Sid Meier can remake Pirates with a sodding ballroom dancing minigame, you can have your stamping and singing Panzerlied. Somehow, it seems less ludicrous in comparison.

    • Jasta07 says:

      Sven Hassel was definitely in there as well as an inspiration for Brothers in Armor. :)

  10. Rituro says:

    In no particular order, I would definitely give Blueprint Sky, Bad Heart Winter Count and War Photographer a second look. BHWC in particular appeals strongly, as a positive depiction of First Nations is always a rare treat in the genre. Also, the phrase “X-COM” was used, so, instant points there.

  11. Father Ted says:

    Well, I missed the cut, so here goes nothing…

    “Flexible Command Simulator” is best summarised as a mash-up of Command Ops and SoW in terms of game-play, but covering Ancients to ACW. My main idea is to represent units merely as blocks which accurately depict formation size and shape on the map. The map itself is envisaged as 3D, but with stylised, simple features.

    What I hoped to achieve was a wargame which could convey big battles between big formations, but which would not require enormous computing power to do so. Power thus saved could perhaps be spent on AI.

    Also, because the unit models and maps are so simple, a vast range of conflicts could be covered.

    Anyhoo, I guess it’s not very ground-breaking, but I thought it was at least do-able and I hadn’t seen anything similar.

    Thanks for the opportunity to pitch (and re-pitch!) Tim.

  12. Hydrogene says:

    Blueprint Sky could be a fanstastic game for someone who loves all the technical aspects of warbirds! And Angus Ruddick’s description is much more detailed and fleshed out that the barebone idea I had about 1950s fighter design.

    All the other suggestions are also original and interesting, well done Flarepathers!

  13. josborn says:

    Heya Dragons! Bad Heart Winter Count was my pitch, and having seen the quality of the competition I’m just absolutely floored that it even got considered. Seriously, thank you for your thoughts. To sort of address your comments, I tried to keep things simple because A) You could fill a warehouse with what I don’t know about game design, and B) I wanted to stick to the word count and not waste anyone’s time. With regard to character progression and customization, though, I see the main character as largely malleable, in the sense that the player can shape him in terms of his stats and abilities (think kind of an RPG-Lite skill tree, although I’ll have to think of a graceful way to integrate “experience points” without turning it into a grind fest), and also that the diplomatic decisions between engagements shape the narrative and color the interactions with other tribes and the US gov’t. Equally significant will be your relationship with your “tiyospaye”, which is a Lakota word that means, at its most basic, your band or extended family (generally a few dozen households that follow a single headman by agreement). One of the things that stumped US government and military leaders in attempting to negotiate with the Lakota was the absence of any recognizable central leadership. The various bands could and would periodically join in following a single war chief (Crazy Horse being the most famous example), but once hostilities ceased (or even if they just decided he was a bad leader) the groups would split back up. The idea that one leader could “touch the pen” and sign away the rights of all Lakota to a given stretch of land or resources was just totally alien to their way of thinking. As a practical matter, this means that, depending on military success, diplomatic decisions, and resources (about which more anon) you will both attract warriors to your band, and have others leave if they don’t like your style. So earning and keeping the loyalty of more powerful fighters will be key to success in combat. In terms of resources, I think it’s fair to say that Lakota history was most shaped by three things: 1) Horses. Their lifestyle was built around raiding and hunting, and on the plains both required incredible mobility. 2) Firearms. Did you know there isn’t a single record of Crazy Horse using a bow in combat? Weird but true. Lakota military supremacy was built at least in part on having more and better weapons than their neighbors. 3. Buffalo. No animal had more spiritual or material significance to the lives and faith of the Lakota, and the decimation of the massive herds was more a deathblow to their way of life than any military loss could have been. For the purposes of game design, what this means is that you have a legitimate explanation for resources becoming harder and harder to come by as the game progresses. Hell, maybe there could be an increasingly difficult hunting minigame a la Oregon Trail? Or maybe that’s idiotic. I dunno. But you’ll need horses to stay mobile, guns/ammo to fight, and buffalo to eat and keep your band together.

    Um, hope that helps explain some. Thanks again for even taking the time to consider my idea though. I spent my early years on a rez in South Dakota, so I’d just really love to see a game that actually treats the tribes as made up of real human beings, instead of just as either cartoon villains or magic holy men.

  14. josborn says:

    Oh, and if I’m allowed to vote, I’d have to pick either Voice of the People or Combat Outpost. Both sound like fun on a bun.

  15. goodpoints says:

    Anyone interested in attempting to design something like Smoke and Thunder should check out Didier Rouy’s Le Vol de l’Aigle system for ideas. It’s a double blind refereed Kriegspiel-like of Napoleonic campaigns with players as Corps commanders (and optionally one as army commander) and division scale units. There’s three different volumes that have different time & map scales, and other special rules for the various campaigns. Essentially the players are looking at their maps with what limited info the referee feeds them and writing/receiving dispatches to other players. The ref handles all the necessary calculations like column length, marching speed, etc. Similar to HQ in the Saddle mode in Scourge of War, but less interested in the shootyshooty details as its on a much more operational level. e.g.1806 Prussia is the shortest scenario, anywhere from a few days to a month of game time.

  16. rollpapersmoke says:

    Very interesting!

    For my part, I’d like to see, play, and experience war games which focus more on the invaded and not the invader. Meaning, less USA against the world and more ‘what if I am a pakistani/yemeni/or other middle-eastern-country-in-conflict mother who looses her daughter because of a drone strike?’ How would I feel? How would I experience that as a player?

    What if you could find others like this fictional embodied character to revolt in some way? Who would you revolt against? What could you possibly do? What would your target be? What would be the aim of that rage and the justification of that violence versus the violence of ‘regular war’? What if that player as a fictional nobody gets to lay their hands on a very destructive form of weapon, would they use it? We are used to do so in most of the war games we play, right? The better the weapon, the closer the victory. I wonder if conceptually, that approach, still holds any value in our contemporary world.

  17. sandman2575 says:

    One of the smartest, most interesting articles I’ve read on RPS. Fantastic work, Tim, and kudos to those who submitted game concepts as well as to the veteran devs for agreeing to take part.

  18. wislander says:

    For all it’s flaws, I’ve wanted somebody to turn Fury into a game from the minute I saw the movie. I’d rather have it as a story-driven, relentlessly-first-person, sim/RPG with heapings of claustrophobia than a hex-based wargame, but I love everything else about the Brothers in Armor concept. Basically a Steel Armor but set in a Sherman or Panzer and with a scripted, branching story.

    • Jasta07 says:

      Thanks for the praise! I think you could make a brutal 1st person/VR game on the same premise as Brothers in Armor but I’m not sure it’d be a lot of “fun” adding the human element on top of a dry sim. WWII tank warfare always struck me as kind of terrifying. Making it top down sanitises the combat enough for me to still consider it entertainment somehow – if a little hypocritical.

      As for the criticism from the Dragons, I think some of it is fair. The AI would be tough to make “acceptably flawed” but I think it would be manageable. One thing to consider is that the game wouldn’t be Kursk every mission. A simple skirmish like taking a village from a few AT guns and some infantry isn’t such an AI challenge and is a lot more exciting when you have so much to lose.

      I also strongly considered adding an adjustable ‘luck’ factor that I hinted on, much like in old sub sims etc. where you could turn off dud torpedoes and the like. I almost went as far as to consider other tanks in your platoon as ‘lives’ whereby they would be knocked out before you when you made mistakes but it seemed artificial. Having a robust damage model so it wasn’t just alive/damaged/dead seemed better and giving the player lots of chances to bail out and save their crew seemed better, not to mention giving the opportunity for some ad-hoc infantry heroics.

      I’d love to expand it to other settings as well such as a digital remake of B-17 Queen of the Skies. Thankfully UBOOT seems to already be doing it for the Atlantic War.

  19. lesslucid says:

    Love the idea of Bad Heart Winter Count! Somebody, make this game! Also like the ideas of 2, 4, 9, and 12…

  20. zombiewarrior07 says:

    “Only one pitch was sidelined on taste grounds. Accuse me of double standards if you like, but in the light of recent terror attacks, I just couldn’t bring myself to shortlist a game in which one possible role involved recruiting jihadis, collecting bio-toxins and carrying out “major attacks on population centres”. Sorry, War on Terror.”

    Hi all,
    The designer of ‘Global War On Terror’ here. I just wanted to comment on the above, in order to clear up what appear to be some misconceptions about the game and pitch, and provide a bit of context.
    Crucially, what this description above omits is that my game is not just about terrorists inflicting as much death and destruction as possible. It is true that one player controls the terrorist mastermind and subordinates, and that their goal is to sow terror through their attacks, that is how the terrorist player can with the game. However, the game is called ‘Global War On Terror’ because the other players’ (the Counter Terrorist agents) goal is to PREVENT terror attacks, and not simply and passively experience their disastrous effects on populations. It is vital to understand this distinction, because it highlights the conflict between the terrorist and counter-terrorist agents, and the ‘information (Intel) war’ that underpins the game as a whole.
    I understand that Terrorism is a very sensitive issue, and I am just as appalled and disgusted by these attacks as everyone else is. Indeed, it is precisely because of recent attacks that I felt compelled to design this game, to highlight the truly global nature of these threats. There is a precedent for games with this subject matter, such as the excellent “Labyrinth: The War on Terror” –
    link to boardgamegeek.com

    Shameless plug: I encourage you to take take a look at my Boardgame Geek page, download the rules if you want to read them, and perhaps form your own opinion:
    link to boardgamegeek.com

    Thanks for considering my pitch, much appreciated. I hope to see some of these in game form!
    Regards,
    Greg Love.

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      For the record, I for one am not judging you. :) I don’t think there’s anything conceptually wrong or evil about such a game, but I have to admit I wouldn’t feel comfortable playing it, and I can understand why Mr. Stone chose not to include it among his top picks. I wouldn’t criticize you personally for it, by any means.

  21. cutechao999 says:

    A little disappointed that one of my pitches didn’t make it. It seems like just the kinda twist on a familiar thing that these seem to be. Ah well, I blame my poor text-pitching skills. I might actually develop mine at some point anyway…

  22. The Flare Path: Wars Across the World | Rock, Paper, Shotgun says:

    […] Slitherine and Paradox aficionados.”. If I’d read a pitch like this while drawing up my Dragons’ Den shortlist a couple of weeks back, I suspect it would have gone straight on the ‘pie in the sky’ […]

  23. zombiewarrior07 says:

    Thank you, Phasma, I appreciate your comment.