Enabling History: The Making of For The People by Mark Herman

Introduction

The description of an historical event is based on the perspective of the chronicler. Perhaps more importantly, the perspective of the chronicler is very sensitive to the level from which they viewed the event. For example, during the American Revolution the war looked differently to LTC John Simcoe (of Queens Rangers fame) than it did to George Washington. On the other hand, George Washington and General Howe, although on different sides of the dispute, could understand the perspective of the other because they saw the conflict from the same relative level of command.

Every designer has a perspective that runs through his games. I resonate with games that put me in an historical role and challenge me with the types and level of decisions appropriate to who I am playing. When I design games I endeavor to put the player in a specific role and then tailor his decisions to that role. A fall out of this approach, is that with any particular game mechanic, the level of detail is calibrated to the role of the player. If I do my job right, the level of detail in the design is appropriate to the playerís historical role. Broadly, I call this design approach, enabling history.

In For The People the players are Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. You make high level decisions that effect the course of the war. You determine the overall strategy your side will follow to achieve victory, but you donít focus on the tactical details of implementation. You implement your strategy in a context of political events, resource management, and military campaigns. You measure your success by your electoratesí strategic will to continue your policies. These are the fundamental building blocks of For The People.

The Antagonists

Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis had similar levels of perspectives, but very different problem sets to solve if they were to be successful. It is the similarities and asymmetries of their respective strategic challenges which is at the heart of the design. Lincoln is trying to preserve the Union whereas Davis is attempting to prosecute a second American Revolution. These two goals are diametrically opposed with no chance of compromise. Hence the game will generate a winner and a loser, no ties are possible from an historical point of view. The design gives each player mechanisms through which the outcome can be effected. These are the political and military options presented to the player through the We The People card mechanic. Tables 2 and 3 summarize the key issues posed to each player by the game. For each issue there are a series of decision levers that allow the player to positively impact the issue in their favor. Every issue also presents each side with challenges to their success, as represented by actions their opponent can take. It is the continuous player interactions through the game mechanics, that determines the winner.

Game Engine

The game engine is based on my earlier We The People game which covers the American Revolution at the strategic level. The key mechanic is the playing of strategy cards which, with a few exceptions, present each player with a series of political or military options. The political options are represented by the event described on the card whereas the military option is the use of the cardís numerical value (ranges from 1 to 3). Most political options are focused on adding or subtracting troops (e.g., Strength Points or SPs), border state politics (e.g., adding or subtracting political control, [PC], markers), increasing or decreasing Strategic Will (SW), special military situations, or some aspect of naval warfare. The military options are primarily the movement of forces. A campaign season (e.g., spring, summer, and fall) is represented by the play of seven strategy cards by each player. An entire campaign game is 13 turns long with yearly scenarios taking 3 turns each.

As in We The People there is the ability to place political control (PC) markers on the map. Unlike We The People there is no Go mechanic for surrounding enemy PC markers. The major use of PC marker placement is to gain control of border states, establish lines of communication, and destroy Confederate resource centers.

Table 1 below categorizes most of the political events in the game by their main effect on play. The events cover the broad range of issues that surfaced during the four year conflict.

Partial Summary of Political Events

Category

Increase or Decrease SPs

Border State Politics or the addition or removal of PC markers

Strategic Will Effects

Special Military Situations

Naval War

The military options are fundamentally about the movement of forces or the initiation of campaigns. Land movement is characterized by the size of the forces moving. Based on the amount of SPs and command organization there are four types of movement represented in the game. A player can move his forces as armies (e.g., army marker with Generals and up to 15 SPs), corps (e.g., one General moving with 6 or fewer SPs), divisions (e.g., up to 3 SPs moving without a General), and cavalry brigades (e.g., Cavalry General moving with one SP). The Union has a naval movement capability which requires the play of a Strategy Board event or a 3 valued strategy card. The majority of the Confederate naval capability prevents or hampers Union naval operations although there is a minor Confederate riverine movement capability. The other military actions are the reshuffling of Generals (i.e., usually at a cost in strategic will), building forts, and building armies.

It is your ability to use these political and military options to win the war. The war is won if the Union can reduce the Confederate player to zero strategic will points or capture 10 Border and Confederate States. The Confederate player wins if he can stave off Union victory or have Lincoln lose the 1864 Presidential election.

Lincoln The Union player is cast in the role of President Lincoln. Lincoln must defeat the South to win. To accomplish this feat you must resolve the issues that Lincoln faced through the options imbedded in the game engine. List 2 lays out the key issues and your basic levers to resolve them in your favor. Each issue also has a list of challenges, which your opponent manipulates to defeat your efforts.

Lincoln Decision Issues

Issue
Isolate Confederacy from foreign industrial base
Decision Levers

Challenges

Issue
Border States
Decision Levers

Challenges

Issue
Open Mississippi
Decision Levers

Challenges

Issue
Maintain Support for Policy
Decision Levers

Challenges

Issue
Military Buildup
Decision Levers

Challenges

Issue
Military Command
Decision Levers

Challenges

Issue
Conquest of the Confederacy
Decision Levers

Challenges

One of the first acts that Lincoln had to resolve was the isolation of the rebellious states from foreign support and intervention. After some preliminary feelers the Lincoln administration adopted a two track approach. The first track was that the conflict was an internal US matter which the Federal government would deal with as an extensive police action. To this end Lincoln called for volunteers to suppress the rebellion (e.g., Emergency Call for Volunteers card). The second track was to declare a blockade of Southern ports (e.g., Lincoln Declares Southern Blockade card) The difficulty was this proclamation de facto recognized the belligerent status of the Confederate States (e.g., Brazil Recognizes the Confederacy), but was a required step to force the British to acknowledge their neutrality in the conflict and restrict legal trade to the North only. The game simulates this complex series of issues by allowing the Union player to build up his naval capability by increasing the level of the blockade. Alternately the Union player can launch amphibious operations to capture Southern ports and prevent their use by blockade runners.

The Union had to gain control over the border states of MO, KY, and WV if it wanted to have unrestricted access to invade the South. The players use both events and the placement of PC markers ala We The People to gain control of the border states. Most of the efforts in the first three turns of the game (e.g., 1861) is spent resolving this issue. Failure on the Unionís effort to gain invasion corridors into the western Confederacy is a sure way for North to lose the war.

The next key issue is the opening of the Mississippi river to Northern commerce. The Union naval advantages make this a useful, but not required focus for Union military campaigns in the 1862 time frame. As Lincoln discovered during the war the East is likely to result in a stalemate given the lack of maneuver room and the large size of the forces deployed in that theater. It is in the West where the war is to be won. The opening of the Mississippi gives the Union an SW boost (e.g., 10 points) and reduces Confederate resources. This issue is dominated by military campaigns both on land and sea. Most of General Grantís campaigns in the west centered on this objective.

The key issue is the military conquest of the Confederacy. To successfully accomplish this feat the Union must build up its armies, place aggressive Generals in charge of these forces, while avoiding a serious erosion of Northern Strategic Will. As the Union conquers the Southern States his ability to move divisions to protect LOCs becomes easier while reduction of the Confederate resource base reduces the reinforcement rate. Another aspect of Southern conquest is the lengthening of Union LOCs which are vulnerable to Southern Cavalry Brigades. It is the ability to maintain its armies on Southern territory while they gain control of Confederate States and destroy resource centers that decides the outcome of the game. The ultimate Union goal is to either reduce the Confederate Strategic Will to zero or capture 10 Confederate and border states. Most games that I have seen are usually won by the Confederate player if at the conclusion of the game the South has a positive Strategic Will.

Davis The Confederate player is President Davis. Most of the issues that Davis must deal with are summarized in List 3 below. For the most part the Confederate players goals are the antithesis of the Unionsí. The key Confederate avenue for victory is the maintenance of its Strategic Will while conversely eroding the Unionsí. There are some key political events (e.g., Cabinet Intrigue and Financial Crisis) and the impact of invading the North that work toward this end. However, at the end of the day it is the ability of the Confederacy to continue to field effective military forces that allow it to defend its territory and achieve independence.

Davis Decision Issues

Issue
Convince Union to accept Confederate Succession
Decision Levers

Challenges

Issue
Achieve Foreign Recognition
Decision Levers

Challenges

Issue
Border States
Decision Levers

Challenges

Issue
Protect Domestic Industry
Decision Levers

Challenges

Issue
Maintain Support for Policy
Decision Levers

Challenges

Issue
Military Buildup
Decision Levers

Challenges

Issue
Military Command
Decision Levers

Challenges

The key issue for the Confederacy is the protection of domestic industry. If the South can slow and even prevent deep Union penetrations of their territory the Confederate reinforcement rate coupled with its superior replacement system (i.e., built into game system) will keep sizable military forces in the field during the critical 1864 period of the war. The South tends to use more political events and special weapons to accomplish this feat. For example, the deployment, through the play of event cards, of ironclads, torpedoes, and forts can facilitate the protection of blockade runner ports (e.g., Wilmington) and Mississippi crossing points, such as Vicksburg. If the South can succeed in protecting its interior it will also tend to reduce Union Strategic Will. If Union Strategic Will can be reduced below 50 during the Fall 1864 game turn, then Lincoln loses the Presidential election and the South wins the game.

Conclusion

As these few examples illustrate the game engine allows the player to address a diverse set of issues with the same overall mechanic. Unlike its predecessors in the series, For The People is a full spectrum wargame that doesnít sacrifice accuracy for playability, but still delivers playability because of the its simple game engine. In future articles on this game I will explore the game as history besides a series replay.

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