Mark Herman's Wargaming Blog
Sunday, 8 February 2015
Churchill, RIBBIT and more... 2015 is off to a roar...
Topic: Design Diary
Happy 2015... here is what I have been up to since my last blog post:
If Churchill was a ship launching, we have hit the hull with a bottle of champagne and we are fitting it out. As I write this I just sent Mark Simonitch the final counter corrections and all of the cards, map, etc. are in final form. For those who like to clip counters you will be disappointed as all of the counters punch out individually with rounded corners. The last thing to do at this point is finish the final edit of the rules and this one goes off to the printer allowing me to move onto my next project. Watch Gene's GMT update for shipping dates.
RIBBIT: the Jump, Move, and Block game
My first self- published game is a deceptively simple classic strategy game whose closest cousin might be checkers. I have been testing it for a couple of years and since it was so different from anything else I have ever done it only made sense to publish it myself. The game takes about five minutes to play, so my experience is folks play out several matches in one sitting. It should take anyone who reads this blog about one minute to learn or you can go over to You Tube at the following link where you can learn to play in less than 4 minutes:
If it strikes your fancy you can find the game for purchase on Amazon at:
It has a DTP mounted board (8.5x11") with 16 wooden pieces (no counters). My young nieces and nephews play it all of the time yet it still generates tight competitive play amongst adults. It also has the virtue of being very light, so it travels well. All profits for the first thousand games are going to a charity for disadvantaged children. Lastly, if you do get a copy, please post reviews, as I have no advertising budget beyond what I can post through twitter and the various game forums.
FTP, WW, EOTS Reprints
What do you get if you cross the famous Brando movie, "On the Waterfront" and Otis Redding’s, "Sitting on the dock by the bay"? You get delayed shipping of reprints coming from overseas. The good news is the reprints for FTP and Washington's War plus a few others are done and somewhere on the US West Coast. The bad news is port delays are slowing things down, so hopefully we will all have our reprints sooner than later.
The good news is the 2nd edition of Empire of the Sun is at the printer, so without any shipping friction we should all have our copies by the spring. I am very excited about the solitaire system that comes with the second edition. I think it will allow folks to climb up the strategy learning curve more quickly. Expect to see the 2nd edition at the WBC tournament.
The reprint is in the graphics phase. I have one of the two maps and hope to see the second one shortly. All of the counters have been redone into their new format and they are gorgeous. Once Olivier completes the new graphics for the game the pace for finishing the rules will pick up. I do not have anything approaching a shipping date other to say that real progress is being made and after 30 years I am focused on getting it right not going faster.
War is Hell
I recently set up one of my favorite Napoleonic battle games, GMTs (Berg Billingsley) Battles of Waterloo. The reason I bring it up is I rediscovered an old brochure that talks about a large Herman/Berg ACW game, so here I am talking about this game 20 years later. The short answer is some research progress has been made, a map exists, and their is a set of rules, but progress is slow given my other projects. Just know, that this one will see the light of day, but dawn is a bit off.
I am in the early days of my design for a tactical WWI system. The focus is on the early career of Rommel as described in his book 'Attacks'. The first game of this series will feature scenarios that cover the western, eastern, and Italian fronts. Look for information on this new title in future blogs.
My good friend James Pei has done some awesome research on the Warring States period and I am starting to integrate that information onto the extant card set and work it into the scenarios. The v1.0 system exists, but I am now in the process of streamlining the design, while deepening the period theme. Look for more information as this title progresses.
I think I will leave it there for now, but very excited to see Churchill heading to the printers, Empire of the Sun at the printers and anxious to see how RIBBIT is received by the gamers.
Posted by markherman
at 7:10 PM EST
Thursday, 24 July 2014
Studiolo Designs Situation Report, July 2014
Topic: Design Diary
I have not posted in a bit and I wanted to catch everyone up on where I have been over the last couple of months and where I am going.
Since my last post the Empire of the Sun reprint has been on the front burner. One of the perennial WBC champions, Antero Kuusi, stepped up to re-write the rules to make them more accessible. I want to say he has done a fabulous job in reorganizing and rewriting many of the trickier sections. While EotS is still a very intricate design I believe that he has lowered the barrier to entry for those who want to get involved. Backing him up is a crack team of editors drawn from the elite staff players on Consimworld who have been playing the game continuously since its publication almost a decade ago. Besides the rules rewrite I have incorporated a few of the more important c3i variants into the core rules, so there is a lot to like about the reprint rules.
On the card front, about 60 of the 160 cards have had a rewrite to incorporate FAQ questions and I took the opportunity to insert a bit more history into the game with new bonuses on many cards that were not in the original. A good example is the small naval force that was under MacArthur’s command is now incorporated without any extra rules. MacArthur’s navy allows an Army activation of one non-carrier naval unit while under ISR. The rest of the new bonuses I will leave as a surprise.
The counters are almost unchanged except we added many of the c3i mnemonic counters that the team have found useful plus I renamed a few counters to give each counter a unique name so instead of BB Kongo 1 and BB Kongo 2, we now have BB Hiei and BB Kongo.
Probably the most interesting dimension of the reprint is the incorporation of the Card Driven Solo System that is based on my experience designing the US ‘Bot for Fire in the Lake. Essentially I am writing a Japanese and Allied ‘Bot for EotS. When I told Mark Simonitch what I was doing he wrote, “you’re crazy”. While that may be true it works. I learned a long time ago that if you tackle the hardest problem last, you end up solving lots of small issues that do not add up. To avoid this pitfall I started by building the logic for a non-player Japanese opening. My current version captured Malaya, the Philippines and the DEI plus set up a defense perimeter in 9 cards. Not to bad… The way I see this working out is you will have the option to play the Japanese, play the Allies, or what I like best is start as the Japanese with a non-player Allied side. When the Japanese have reached their apogee switch sides and become the Allied player against the Japanese ‘Bot. This way you are always on the attack. So, far I have finished the version 1.0 Japanese opening logic, with much more to do before this is fully up an running.
Now what you will get in the reprint is the version 1.0. It will not perfect but I am looking at this as a work in progress. I will do the first cut, put it up on line with a template and the EotS tribe can continue to improve and develop it. That’s about all I have on the EotS reprint other than a few minor map improvements to handle the revised India surrender procedure and a couple of nits. All that is left is to proof the revised rules layout, which I should see shortly.
The other big activity has been Churchill. The game is now in blindtest and I would encourage you to go to the BGG Churchill page to see some interesting videos, one that features my beautiful wife who teaches you how to play. The playtesters have been very engaged and I am getting very positive feedback on the game experience. The early playtests showed a VP bias against Stalin that has since been rectified and the most recent games have all been very close whereby one change in a countries status or winning one more conference would have changed the winner. I have just rolled out the final conference cards that bring in the remainder of the history and some chaos. The chaos comes in the form of government in exiles having an imbroglio. Just picture a petulant DeGaulle causing all sorts of problems.
Once again under the category that you can teach an old dog new tricks, based on my recent Fire in the Lake experience with the ‘Bots, Churchill now has a Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin ‘Bot. I have been playing the game in zero player mode just watching the ‘Bots beat each other up. It was a close game. I have also been regularly testing with my wife most recently using the Stalin ‘Bot who managed to win the opening conference, very embarrassing. With the solo ‘Bot mechanic pioneered by the COIN series, you now get to play against me when no one else is around.
I would say that this one is just about done and I should be sending it into the production team in September.
On the I get to have fun front, I have been having a good time play testing Mark Simonitch’s Civil War game. Its DNA is Eric Lee Smith’s Civil War game after a one night stand with For the People, as interpreted through Mark’s lens on the war writ large. Great fun and good history that I predict will be an instant classic.
In the midst of all of this I received one of the first finished samples of Volko’s and my Fire in the Lake COIN series game. It looks amazing, so I have played one campaign game (ARVN victory) and I have another going as I write this. I am looking forward to getting in a couple of games at WBC with the published components in a couple of weeks.
On the ‘what’ comes next category, is the redesign of War is Hell. This is a four map monster game on, wait for it, American Civil War. I finished this design over 5 years ago with some additional work done by Richard Berg, but now its time to bring it all to closure. The basic system is a chit pulling system that represents logistics being built up at various locations. When your general has enough supplies he can be activated to perform a variety of operations. In addition you can apply some political capital to add a push if your general has the slows. The combat system is based on detailed casualty and performance data on all of the battles, leaders, and campaigns and seems to do a really good job at replicating the tempo and losses of the war.
Copying from my Pacific War experience, while the game has a master campaign game its main focus is a multitude of scenarios covering all the important campaigns and battles of the war. So, while it looks like a monster game its really a ACW operational series all in one box. For the research I have an intern working on something that just does not seem to exist, a comprehensive timeline of when every regiment mustered in and out for the entire war. Once this is accomplished I will start the campaign scenario, but right now I continue system work using the Gettysburg Campaign of 1863.
Speaking of Pacific War, it is moving along nicely for its reprint. The most noticeable change will be the beautiful graphics being done by Olivier Revenu. A major order of battle change inspired by EotS is we have dispensed with unnamed air units and now have a comprehensive air order of battle, same system, but now instead of a 1E-L2 Land based air unit it’s a 1E-L2 Tainan air group. It may be cosmetic, but it really improves the game narrative. The reprint will also feature a totally redone submarine mechanic (think patrol areas) and has incorporated the best thinking of its devotees from over these last 35 years. Really! this game was published 35 years ago… best not to think about it.
Also, Sun Tzu continues to continue through its design phase with a new map from James Pei who is now focusing on the event cards. All of the research in this game comes from Chinese sources, so the pace is being set by translation throughput. All is going well as we try to bring to your gaming table details on the Warring States period that is poorly represented in English sources.
To close this out I am just starting to ramp up my reading on the Peloponnesian War. The next game using the Churchill system will by Pnyx: Political conflict during the Peloponnesian War. The game will be playable with 1-8 players, so I am really excited by the possibilities.
Well that’s it for now; I am going back to writing the next version of the Churchill rules.
Posted by markherman
at 3:25 PM EDT
Friday, 6 June 2014
Studiolo Designs in Progress Report
Topic: Design Diary
Here is a quick rundown on the goings on in my current designs.
This one is really looking good. I have had a number of playtest sessions, most of which have been posted on the web. At this point the design portion of the story is more or less complete. The rules are complete and things are ready to roll forward as soon as I get in the professional playtest map that Mark S. is working on. Once that has happened I will be going into public testing with a few select groups.
At this point it is about game balance and generating the solo version of the game. My plan is to use some of the tricks I learned from doing Fire in the Lake with Volko whereby each of the three sides will have a solo persona. When you play solo or with 2 players, the non-player sides will use the solo personas.
The players represent themselves in the guise of Churchill, Roosevelt, or Stalin. Based on your persona you have a special ability, a vulnerability, and a national characteristic. For example Churchill and Roosevelt are better than Stalin on Global issues, such as the U.N., but Stalin is better at clandestine issues. The British have superior staff work, the US Arsenal of Democracy wins all ties, while the Soviets are good at being disagreeable in debate. When you use yourself you have to check against your vulnerability. Roosevelt may die and be replaced with Truman, Churchill can have a heart attack, and Stalin might get paranoid and intimidate his staff. These characteristics are based on your personas historical narrative. You are supported by a staff of personalities as represented by your staff deck. Each card represents an individual senior leader with a value, 1-5 and an attribute. A staff attribute increases or decreases their base value as determined by the issue you engage them on. So for example Bill Donovan of OSS fame is normally a 2, but a 5 when he is used on pol-mil (clandestine) issues. Some attributes are situation specific and sometimes like Admiral Pound, they die of natural causes or in the case of Vatutin from a partisan ambush. Beria sometimes executes one of his comrades that should make the point that these are not just cards with values but personalities with quirks and abilities that need to be considered for maximum efficiency. At the beginning of each conference the player draws a hand of seven cards from a deck of 21 staff cards. Before you ask you start every conference with your 21 cards.
The game play breaks down into four basic segments. For each conference the players first generate the agenda by picking issues that will be discussed at the conference. The historical conference often puts an issue on the table, such as during Quadrant the historical discussion around Yugoslavia puts a pol-mil issue onto the table. The players each conference will generate an additional seven issues, so a big piece of your conference strategy is around what do you want to talk about.
Once the agenda is chosen play proceeds literally around the conference table display with each player playing a staff card and advancing an issue toward their position as represented by the chair you and your meeple equivalent are sitting in. Each player in turn can debate the issue by playing a staff card that either reduces your argument or could be strong enough to reverse it. A key Soviet tactic is to be disagreeable (debate).
Once per conference your persona can weigh in directly. As a head of state you cannot be debated, but one of the other heads of state can take you aside in a tete-a-tete and neutralize you. Given its a 3 player game, having two leaders neutralize each other is often an opportunity for you to carpe diem on an important issue.
Once all of the staff interaction is concluded the player who won the most issues is awarded some VPs and the post conference implementation portion of the game begins. For each issue won by a player there are actions that are taken that directly impact the war (offensives and naval support) plus clandestine support for partisans that directly impacts the political alignment of countries and colonies. Off to the side is the US-UK Manhattan project and Soviet efforts to penetrate its secrets. Winning a Global issue alters the rules of the war.
The last portion of a conference is deploying Axis reserves to the various fronts and then determining how the war is going. This is done with a simple mechanic that equates the current strength of a particular front based and how much Axis resistance it is encountering. Play proceeds until either the Axis surrender or the players have completed the tenth conference with victory awarded to the player with the best overall conference performance, military performance, and political position on the map, plus a few situational bonuses that reflect national priorities.
The game has three scenarios. The short scenario is the Race for Berlin and comprises the last three conferences, playing time seems to be around an hour. The medium scenario is D-Day covering the last 5 conferences with playing time around 2 hours. Then their is the Road to Victory covering all 10 conferences.
As I said earlier I am really addicted to playing this one, but due to sportsmanship I keep having to play Stalin and its making me cranky and in character. The players are reacting very favorably to the conference mechanic metaphor and my long term plans for this system is to do a series of Power Politics designs along these lines. You can expect to see Versailles: 1919, Metternich (post Napoleonic era), Lincoln, a real ACW political game, King George III (American Revolution), and Pynx (Athens and the Peloponnesian War) plus I have a Science Fiction version in mind. More to follow as playtesting proceeds.
Sun Tzu (the Warring States Period in China): This one has been in design for over 4 years, but I finally have the time to devote to pulling the seven versions of the game into the one that I have currently on the table. I am fortunate to have several wingmen on this one to include Robert Ryer of VG fame, Rich Phares an experienced commercial designer, and James Pei all star gamer but more importantly the native speaker who is doing all of the primary research in Chinese. This will be my fourth CDG with some new mechanics focused on delivering a great deal of historical narrative on a subject that is poorly documented in English. You will learn who the Robert E. Lee's of China was and the origins of the famous parables as you try to unite China under your rule. The game will come with 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 player scenarios covering all of the major portions of the Warring States period in China.
War is Hell (aka Big ACW): This one has also been kicking around for a while. I finished the basic design on this one over 5 years ago, but it is now back in my court for the duration and I am taking a fresh eye to the whole project. Do not expect this one for a bit as a great deal of research needs to take place while I beat the design into shape. More on this at the end of the summer.
Pacific War: This one is moving along nicely. I have seen many examples of the new art and I must say that the new map will blow people away. Playtesting continues mostly in Europe, but expect this one to stay on schedule.
I think that is where I will leave things for now... more to follow.
Posted by markherman
at 4:59 PM EDT
Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Churchill Redesign Complete
Topic: Design Diary
Design Diary Entry: Churchill
Well I must say that I am thoroughly enjoying being a full time game designer again. I can now do in one day what it took me a month of Sundays to do. So, what have I been focusing my time on? Churchill...
I am very happy to say that the new version of Churchill is completed and I am very happy with the result. My metric for when a game is ready for prime time is when I am addicted to it and I have now crossed that line. While I was a big fan of the first version I felt that it was a good game but not good enough. So, what is the redsigned Churchill about?
Like many of you I really enjoy playing strategic World War II games. After designing Empire of the Sun I wanted to do a WWII game on Europe, but when I surveyed the landscape I noticed that while the range and perspectives represented in the designs were very diverse they all focused on the same narrative. Of course that narrative is the historical one, but it generally works out to the following. Germany invades Poland, there are lots of political rules to accommodate the Soviet-German pact with conditional rules for how the various minor countries enter the war leading up to Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union. From a game point of view as the Germans you either knock out Britain or the Soviet Union for the win, or failing that try to beat the historical clock. All great history and wargame fun, but the same story told through different lenses. Not a bad thing to be sure, but I was looking for a new view.
The game that had not been done was how the war ended and led to the east-west confrontation now known as the Cold War. What I became fascinated by was when did the Allies realize that the war was won and their focus on what came next begin? As I noodled how I would do such a game I saw a really interesting set of documentaries on one of the history channels. I forget how many parts it was in, but it explored the bilateral relationships between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin. The most interesting episode was the one describing the relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt. I knew they had disagreements on strategy and policy, but it appeared that as the war headed toward its conclusion those disagreements became more pronounced. This was the missing piece of my intellectual design puzzle.
As I read more on the conferences and negotiations between the Allies the war broadly broke into four pieces. The first was what I will call England stands alone. In this phase of the war the Germans do their blitzkrieg thing that I suspect is the subject of more games than any other topic. Then there is the invasion of the Soviet Union, Americas entry into the war, followed by the road to Berlin. What I realized was that sometime after 1942 it became evident to the Allies that they were not going to lose the war. While there was a great deal of struggle and pain to come, the political dimensions of the peace to follow began to impact military operations. This is where my Churchill design begins...
Churchill is NOT a wargame, but a political conflict of cooperation and competition. While the game focuses on 10 of the historical conferences from 1943 till the end of the war these and much of this design should not be taken literally. Before and after each conference small groups of advisors and senior officials moved between the Allied capitals making the deals that drove the post war peace. Each conference sees one of a group of issues nominated for inclusion in the conference. The issues categories are: Theater leadership changes, directed offensives, production priorities, clandestine operations, political activity, and strategic warfare (A-bomb). Each of the historical conference cards independently puts some number of issues such as directed offensives or production priorities metaphorically put on the table, while the players nominate an additional 7 issues.
The game display for this is a circular conference table that the three players sit around behind their 'seat'. Each player has a staff deck of named personages, such as Secretary Stimson and Anthony Eden that are randomly drawn to make your conference hand. A pre-conference round of cards gives leverage to the winner who then moves an issue toward their side of the table equal to the value of the card played. Play then proceeds with the conference where each player in turn plays a card on one of the issues in the center of the conference table moving it the value of the card toward his side of the table. Each card is an historical personage and they often have bonuses if played on a particular category of issue. Contesting an issue has you move an issue away from an Ally toward your own. At all times each player has his Head of State card (Roosevelt, Churchill, or Stalin) that can weigh in on any issue once per conference by discarding another card. Each use of your personage has a bonus and a potential penalty. Each time Roosevelt is used he may die and be replaced by Harry Truman. Churchill can have a heart attack and miss the next conference, while Stalin's paranoia may cause a mini-purge and reduce his sides effectiveness for the remainder of the conference. The net result of the conference play is players will 'win' various' issues with the player who won the most issues gaining leverage in one of the bilateral global issues (UK versus USSR global issue is Free Europe versus Spheres of Influence).
The game then moves into a post conference phase where players implement the issues that they now control. These actions impact three basic game functions: clandestine operations, political activity, and military offensives. Clandestine operations has players try to establish political networks in conquered counties and colonies. Using a very simple mechanic of place a network or remove an opponents network the historical ferment that occurred in Yugoslavia, France and across the world is simply simulated. A country or colony can only have one dominant side's network at any given time and during political activity players can emplace friendly governments in exile that can be subsequently undermined and replaced if the supporting networks are later neutralized by one of your allies.
Once this has all been sorted out the military portion of the game keeps the score. There is a separate display that abstractly represents the major theaters of war, Western, Eastern, Mediterranean, Arctic (Murmansk convoys and Scandinavia), CBI, SW Pacific, Central Pacific, and Far East. Each of these tracks has a Allied front for which I am looking for some kind of 3D tank piece that advance toward Germany, Italy, and Japan. Using a very simple combat mechanic each front tries to advance with Axis reserves deploying to oppose the various fronts. A successful offensive advances the front one space, although with overwhelming superiority a two space breakthrough is possible. Naval operations are simply handled by requiring a defined level of support to advance into an amphibious entry space such as France (D-Day). When a front enters Germany, Italy or Japan they surrender shutting down military operations although clandestine and political activity continue until the end of the game. In the background is the development of the A-bomb and Soviet efforts to steal its secrets. If the A-bomb is available Japan can be forced to surrender sans a direct invasion.
If at the end of Potsdam conference Germany, Italy, and Japan have not surrendered the Allies as represented by the players collectively lose the game. If the Axis have been defeated then tthe winner is the player with the most Cold War points portioned out for governments and networks aligned to your side, global issues, and a list of conditional situations. For example colonies with no network or political authority give Churchill points for keeping colonialism alive or which fronts caused axis surrender.
As I stated this is not a wargame, but a three player excursion into power politics. The game takes around 3 hours to finish, but I will be including a short and medium scenario. All scenarios end with Potsdam, but you will be able to start later in the war if you only have 1 or 2 hours to play. In addition the game can be played with 3 or 2 players plus solitaire. I am very excited about the new Churchill and large scale playtesting will commence by the end of the month. More to follow...
Posted by markherman
at 10:31 AM EDT
Tuesday, 15 April 2014
Topic: Design Diary
Much to report. Now that I am officially self employed I have begun to design again in earnest. My book and game library (close to 200 boxes) has now moved. With that in my rear view mirror I am finally establishing a new routine of work and exercise.
I am starting a new company; Studiolo Designs
To be clear, this is NOT a new publishing company. My intention is to use it to house my designs that will be published through a growing list of established companies. The concept is that of a studio workshop along the lines of Renaissance Italy Florentine practices.
The current 2014 release schedule is as follows, subject to change.
April: Hoplite (GMT; with Richard Berg), this one is actually shipping and I have a copy, looks awesome.
May: Desert Fox (Shenandoah Studio; with Nick Karp), in final software testing. I find the game addicting. I have to play less of this and design more.
June: Fire in the Lake: Insurgency in Vietnam (GMT; with Volko Ruhnke), this one is complete as of this Friday. My hope is the printing and shipping go smoothly, but in either case I predict it will be available no later than July.
Churchill; this one is looking good. I have decided to focus the game more on the Allied interaction during the conferences and simplified the war fighting portion of the game. That effort is just now kicking into high gear again after all of the delays imposed by recent life events (retiring from corporate life).
PacWar reprint: NUTS publishing
This one is well along the way as it was originally delivered to MMP and is now moving along with a new publishing team and developer; Marcus Stumpter. I do not have a schedule as that is up to NUTS to determine, but sooner than later.
Empire of the Sun reprint: GMT
This one is a major labor of love. See the various posts on BGG and Consimworld regarding what will be in the reprint, but this will be a cherry on the sundae reprint. Working on integrating the FAQ into the rules. No design changes although some of the c3i variants will find their way into the package. Check out my videos on how to play the game, but this one has a shot for the end of 2014.
For The People: GMT
I haven't started this one yet, but there is almost nothing to do on this one and it should also see the light of day by the end of 2014.
In preliminary design
France 1944 reprint: ConSim Publishing; I am not sure that this has even been announced yet, but John Kranz would like to get this one back into print. I will be revising the combat and supply systems.
Sun Tzu: Chinese Warring States; this one is a collaborative effort between myself, Robert Ryer (of VG fame), Rich Phares, and James Pei. James' fluency in Chinese has opened up the research on the period. This will be a CDG with multiple scenarios for 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 players and a solo option akin to Volko's COIN series non-player bots.
There is one other project that the publisher has not announced yet, so I will hold off until they do.
In early research
Peloponnesian War: My thought here is to do a two in one design. The box will contain a revised version of my original VG design, but will also come with a new CDG design on the same topic. This one is a ways off with much in front of it. The main effort is I am re-reading all of my books on the topic, starting with Thucydides.
Spanish American War: Still working on who the players are and how they interact with each other. Currently the players are both American representing the pro and anti war factions. The anti-war faction player gets to move the Spanish forces as of now.
Battle of the Cold War: Now that I am no longer working as a Defense consultant I can now do games that go beyond Vietnam. I will probably start with Vietnam, but I plan on using a streamlined variant of my Flashpoint: Golan system to cover all of the major operations of the Cold War in the Middle East, South Asia, SE Asia, and Africa.
Non-Wargame Designs: I have a few designs that are not wargames. One is based on the horror genre, historical themes, and an abstract strategy game akin to Othello. We'll see how these develop as designs going forward.
More to follow...
Posted by markherman
at 8:59 AM EDT
Friday, 15 November 2013
Refocus on Game Design Career
Topic: Design Diary
I wanted to begin a dialog, probably with myself as I have little to no evidence that anyone reads my blog, that I am going to once again become a full time game designer starting next year. As a consequence I am starting to ramp up my production schedule which should take about a year to fill up before the games begin to flow into the market. I will begin posting future projects and thinking as things develop and if you have a view please feel free to reply.
The futures so bright I have to wear shades.
Posted by markherman
at 1:55 PM EST
Sunday, 3 March 2013
Topic: Churchill Design
Churchill is my most recent design that is now getting into the latter phases of its development cycle and has passed its GMT P500 level, so it will be published in the later half of 2013.
Churchill is a game of Inter-Allied Politics during World War II. The players explicitly represent Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin and their Military Staffs. The game is played as a series of Conferences where the players resolve who determines Theater Command, Type and Deployment of Production, Deception Operations, and Theater Offensives. The goal of the game is for the three players to cooperate to defeat the Axis powers in 5 Conferences or less while competing for a superior post war position. Players score victory points for which powers are present in an Axis country when it surrenders and key areas of Western and Eastern Europe. The player with the most Victory Points wins with Conference performance determing the winner in tie breaker situations.
Churchill at its core is a simulation of inter Allied cooperation and competition. I use the term simulation to denote one dimension of the game, the Allied conflict for who drives Grand Strategy. In all other ways the other simple game mechanics are designed to move the strategic narrative along. In this manner many will view it as an historically themed game but as I have written in my c3i column we often diminish psychological history versus physical history in our hobby. The reason that Sun Tzu is still relevant in todays world is its strong focus on the mental dimension of warfare, which has been augmented by technology while humans still remain humans.
While the strategic narrative is totally unscripted, geography and victory conditions drive the war along recognizable historical paths. This is a game of Grand Strategy where high level Joint Allied decisions drive Command, Production, Deception, and large scale conflict (e.g., Battle for the Atlantic). What it is not is a strategic level game ala Empire of the Sun where you worry about a particular theater. Combat resolution is designed to be simple to implement and generates successes, failures, and attrition, with little insight beyond numbers matter with some assistance from special situations injected through the conference cards (e.g., Market Garden). One important but simple rule that has huge strategic implications is one whereby if an Allied production center (UK or Eastern US for example) has more Axis forces adjacent to the space than exist in the production center, that sides production is halved for the next conference, as you can imagine this is a bad thing. Therefore, while no rule exists to force winning the Battle for the North Atlantic, Roosevelt and Churchill will quickly tire of having their production halved and build naval forces to avoid the situation. Now while at first blush it would appear that Stalin would prefer this situation and might even work to engineer it, the balance is the Axis will not lose the war and the Soviet forces alone will be insufficient to win the game without US and UK forces in the mix.
If Germany falls before Italy (Marshall's preferred strategy), the remaining Axis forces are still considered German as they have fallen back into the Festung Alps.
If Italy falls before Germany (Churchill's preferred strategy), then it follows fairly historical paths.
Japan is the wild card and while historically the US was the sole historical occupant, although Soviet influence (Manchuria) and British (naval) were in the mix. Any outcome that sees other powers fulfilling the surrender of Japan would be viewed as the A-bomb causes Japanese surrender and which side(s) are in the best position to occupy Japan first.
Value is also achieved for who has sole or joint control of Western and Eastern Europe at the time of Axis surrender. It behooves the US-UK to try and consider Churchill's Balkan strategy to try and limit Soviet post war advantage in Eastern Europe.
In all cases what happens in the game is driven by who wins the agenda battle during a particular conference. So while it may feel very strange to have the Soviets moving US forces in the Pacific, what it simulates is the Soviets winning the argument on where the various offensives should occur. A similar situation occurred for most of the British offensives in the CBI which the British reluctantly agreed to execute. It should also be remembered that the US argued for earlier Soviet participation in the Far East and in retrospect that may not have been to US post war advantage.
How much cooperation and how much competition the players need to exhibit is determined by how ahead or behind schedule the Allies are on the historical timeline for ending the war. The self correcting mechanism in the game are the players. If the players do not successfully hinder or support each other at the right times then what happens is your groups strategic narrative for the war.
There is almost no luck in the game. So, player skill alone will determine who wins. The rules will not force obvious player actions, it is for the players to sort through the Grand Strategy puzzle that is confronting them from a Realpolitik perspective. Weird stuff only happens if you let it. So, far I have found no advantage for any particular side as I have now won or observed every side winning with most games coming down to a few critical decisions as the war comes to its conclusion.
I hope these continuing posts are helpful for folks, but I am not aware of any games that have gone down this path in this manner. I suspect that for the hardcore tactical crowd this will not be their cup of tea. For those who are looking for a Grand Strategic vice Strategic game, with a different perspective on the war this may be worth a look.
My thanks to all those who have already P500ed the game as it is now slated for production which I would expect would start in the late Spring to early Summer. As always I am not in a rush, but the game is starting to get set in its final form.
Posted by markherman
at 4:33 PM EST
Thursday, 7 February 2013
Glad To Hear It
Topic: Washington's War
|Glad to hear it...|
"I don't actually see the American's weakness in CUs as much of a problem, except for Washington's force. It is devilishly frustrationg as the British to encounter a force of nats that keep returning and showing up to foil your plans , block access, retreat before battle, intercept, break control, cut LOC and force you to attack them in a non -winter space."
This is exactly the situation that I wanted to occur and is part and parcel to what I felt where WtP fell short as a simulation. The whole point of the solid front with rear area security is how the British can deal with this feature of the design. The guerrilla forces are usually 1 CU in strength, so easy to defeat, but it takes an activation.
My point about the British reinforcement card advantage is the Americans need for creating a guerrilla force (a general + 1 CU) is an inefficient use of cards by design. The point is the Americans will require two cards to maintain their forces most turns usually 2 and 3 value cards vice one card for the British usually a 1 value card. This numerical tension is offset by the British need to preserve 3 OP cards for movement while the Americans can use 1 and 2 OP cards.
Adding to the dynamic is Washington's two sided nature. His excellency is both a great offensive force (Continental Army) and the 'soul' of the revolution and while his loss no longer ensures defeat, his loss sways things strongly in the British favor. Just to review, besides Washington, the Americans have 3 other 1 strategy rated leaders and one of them (Arnold) is an uncertain asset. So, only Washington is a consistent offensive force and if the British can bring him to battle on a regular basis, the Americans will have to maintain the Continental army with a reinforcement card that does not increase the number of American forces on the map. This is also an important tool.
Again, my point is to open the aperture on the British strategy discussion as a means to offset the current state of play. If more sophisticated British strategies are unable to move the needle then I will consider what modifications are necessary. I would say that while the tournament variant rules are well thought out, I would consider more subtle yet significant alterations. So for example I would consider extending the overrun rule to any force, so guerrilla armies that cannot get out of the way of British armies could be eliminated enabling the British army to get back to a winter quarter.
Based on what I am seeing I would offer an Occams razor view of the proposed tournament rules.
1. The Continental Congress proposed rule allowing the British to determine who goes first when it is in flight; I like this one as it fits within the spirit of the design.
2. This is a tournament idea, the last card play of the game, so the condition is the game ends card situation would establish that the game is about to end no Army activation is allowed. The notion is the Americans cannot make some aggressive move to alter the games outcome without a British response, although events or a discard to change remove one PC marker etc. are allowed. It also allows the play of another game ends card continuing the game.
Posted by markherman
at 10:55 AM EST
Now Playing: More on Game Balance
Topic: Washington's War
This post was in response to my earlier point that if the best players can win with either side whether a game could be unblanced.
Balance is very dependent on player skill. If a game has a true bias players who can consistently beat anyone with either side would be difficult as luck over a period of time is not a factor. Just because many people play it one way and lose, but the superior player does it another way and wins is indicative that the winning player has discovered a technique that balances the game. Players love to regale me with how luck bit them and they lost. Fact of the matter is over a short period of time this can always happen.
My point is with as many moving parts that a medium complexity game has even tournament results are not necessarily an indication that a game is unbalanced but a reflection of the current state of play. I am not arguing that the statistics are wrong, but they are a course measure without more detail. I think that it is curious that if the game were truly biased that the British side won the final three times in a row. That could be due to luck, but I have to assume that the American opponent was a strong player also and if there were truly a 70-30 bias in favor of the Americans how does that happen? Luck would seem an insufficient answer, so I am asking a deeper question, what happened in those games? There may be a tactic or technique that if more broadly discussed would in it of itself alter the perception of balance.
I can only use FTP as my model as it has had a longer time in tournament play. James was beaten by the way, but not due to poor luck, but s superior strategy delivered by Rikku. At that time everyone bemoaned the loss of balance, but even before the final that James lost I had sat and watched what Rikku was doing and I already knew the counter to his plan. However, the difference between internet play and ftf is surprises have to be solved in real time with only a short time for thought, so it was very effective.
I even discussed this with several players that evening, one of whom was James but he felt that he had it, although it more or less worked in the finals. Immediately the FTP crowd wanted to make changes to the game to 'fix' the problem and all I did was publish the simple counter strategy and the issue dissolved.
That situation is not this situation, but I would like to hear a deeper discussion of the issue via strategy vice rules as rules lock in a new set of variables attempting to shift the balance based on the current state of play. I would prefer to not see that happen as it diminishes the art of the possible.
The two sides are very asymmetric so applying American strategy logic to British strategy is not a simple conversion. My point around American reinforcements was reflecting that asymmetry and a general response of an American weakness to some of the thinking of the British maneuver limitations and not going last. My question is have all strategy concepts been explored? I am not sure that they have...but if people are convinced that all paths have been explored we can always make changes.
Posted by markherman
at 10:17 AM EST
Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Washington War Balance Over Time
Topic: Washington's War
Balance in a game design is always important if for no other reason than to validate the effort of the players in taking either side. The main issue with balance is while a game may be intrinsically balanced, player ability can easily alter balance, so it takes statistics from numerous tournaments before you can really know.
Based on tournament play Washington's War is now viewed as having an American advantage, so I recently posted the following
Balance over time...
I think this is a useful discussion, but for me it operates at two levels. First, is the current metagame strategies without a credible response from within the rules? Second, if yes, then work on the strategies ala Keith's personal experience. If not, assuming a solid design, then there are tweaks.
My experience with FTP is that over 11 years the balance has swung about every 6 months from CSA to USA advantage based on new strategies with no rules changes. Currently the Union seems to have the edge, but now we are starting to see a new crop of CSA long game strategies vice offensive 62 strategy that I believe is going to shift the balance back toward neutral.
If Keith and I stand in a minority that think the game is balanced it is because we have had consistent success with the British. I use a solid front strategy that initially concentrates all British armies in New England or the South. I use the 3OC leaders to anchor a line, control all rear spaces, and use the 2OC generals for offensive maneuvers to expand British territory. This usually gets the British to 5 colonies (NE + Canada) or 4 colonies (South + Canada) after about three turns. The strategy assumes that the British will not move more than one 3OC army per turn. From there it all depends, but British naval power is an important element in how I maneuver into the mid to late game. I am not saying this is some unbeatable strategy, but I feel that when I can get myself organized and moving in this manner I have a 50-50 shot at winning.
I usually hear that WaWar is not a simulation but an area control game. Be that as it may, but at the strategic level, this is what the war would look like from London or the Continental Congress. As most players view any one map game that does not have battalions as a strategic game all I can say is I differ on what a strategic simulation looks like vice many other people.
The reason that this is important to me is the main balance criticism is usually the British disadvantage in maneuver and the impact of a bad hand. As this is at the core of my design intent all I can say is that is what I wanted as a critical simulation dimension of the game. Basically in a given year the British are not going to move a lot. That said, you should get to move with more than half your hand if Burgoyne and Cornwallis are in play. In fact if the British are moving more than three or four times a turn they are going to crush the Americans given their inherent strength advantage. I find that the critical choice is when to make those maneuvers and in what combination.
The ability to go last is usually a greater advantage than going first in a CDG, also why I designed GBOH the way I did. For what it is worth I believe that the defense-offense combo has historically been a stronger tactic. Given the American strength disadvantages this was part and parcel to American survival. The issue is not that the Americans go last, but what are the British going to do to offset it. Going back to my strategy if the Americans want to take on a properly resourced space with a +2 Winter Offensive arm that's fine as they will need to use a card next turn to replace their losses, reducing their maneuver ability.
Of the changes that Keith articulated the most significant is who goes first and I like British getting the choice with a CC (current rules) and if American Congress is in flight (tournament). If this one works out I would like to see it incorporated into the standard rules. The other ones are situational, ala DoI, and are typical tournament fare to knock off the downside for competitive purposes. The additional Kings Men PC is the standard way to alter the numerology.
Hopefully adding to the conversation,
Posted by markherman
at 3:05 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 6 February 2013 3:07 PM EST
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