Mark Herman's Wargaming Blog
Monday, 10 August 2015
Post Publication Musings on Churchill
Topic: Churchill Design
Well Churchill has finally hit the market and I am very pleased with the production values and the initial reception. Only time will tell if this one becomes a cross over design, but I could not be happier with how it came out.
I was at the World Boardgaming Championships (WBC) in its farewell to Lancaster PA and I never saw less than four ongoing games of Churchill being played in open gaming. A new phenomena for me was in most cases there were at least one if not two females playing in each session (three person game). This is the one game that I have done out of over sixty that my wife will play, so it hopefully will be a more accessible game to the most important part of the human race.
For those who have not followed my earlier blog posts I wanted folks to experience a different narrative of World War II. Don’t get me wrong I am a sucker for Third Reich and the multitude of big picture strategy games on the war, but I have been there done that and I have over 50 games in that category. Churchill’s genesis was based on his World War II memoirs and his big picture perspective. I wanted to sit in the big chair and win a global war not drive tank divisions across Europe.
I used the periodic Allied conferences as the main mechanism for players to metaphorically debate issues and decide the strategy for prosecuting the war. The winner of the game is the player who can work cooperatively to defeat the Axis, while prosecuting their national agenda to gain leverage in the Cold War that follows. The primary mechanic in the game is you are dealt a hand of staff cards. Each staff card is a named personage who was directly involved in the discussions leading up to a conference or who actually participated in a conference. Each conference has three segments: agenda nomination, meeting discussion, and decision implementation.
Each conference opens with the play of the conference card where historical events and agenda items offer some shape to the discussions that follow. A player may find that he has to use some amount of production in a particular theater of war or an Axis offensive such as Kursk is initiated. Each session plays with one variant of three for every conference to keep the events fresh.
Agenda nomination is where the players put a subset of the available issue categories on the map board conference table. The British have an advantage based on their imperial staff structure for determining the order of play. The winner of the agenda segment also gains a bonus on the first issue picked.
The heart of the game is the meeting segment where players in turn use one staff card to advance an issue. Advancing an issue has you move it toward your side of the table. What is being simulated is the personage used has made a compelling argument for how that issue should be resolved. the strength of the argument made (strength of the card) is how far it moves toward your side of the table. Each staff card also has an attribute which is their historical area of specialization, so if you play a staff card on an issue that they are an expert on you get a bonus to their strength.
Once you have played all of your staff cards the player whose staff dominated the conference (won the most issues) gains some victory points and then you implement all of the issues at the conference. Issues directly impact the war which comprises support for partisans, governments in exiles and the military fronts whose inexorable advance wins the war. If you can add and subtract the number two you will have no problem with the military mechanic for how fronts advance on the Axis. Prior to each advance the Axis reserves deploy and try to retard the Allied military advance. Once the Axis surrender or the Potsdam conference is completed the game is over and the winner is determined.
Churchill uses a different sort of victory determination. Unlike the majority of multiplayer games the person with the most points only wins if its close. If you build up more than a 15 point lead over last place the player in second place wins the game (known as condition 2). Condition one is the Axis surrender with the score differential to 15 or less points is victory for the player with the most points. As already mentioned if the Axis surrender and the score differential is more than 15 points (sans some die rolling) the player in second place wins (condition 2). And if the Axis do not surrender by Potsdam (condition 3), then the player with the most points wins with several die roll adjustments to determine the final winner. The antidote for a would be global hegemony (conditions 3) is for the other two players to force Axis surrender and have that player lose in condition 2. The point is the end game calculations and card play should ensure an infinite level of re-playability.
But what I was going for was a different narrative of the war. What follows is a narrative of a specific situation that was written in response to the question, why would I ever make a double move. I find that when a new game is released amongst the initial interest and such, people want to understand their options and interesting strategy threads begin. This one was around the strategy for when to debate an issue during a conference. To answer the question I had to relate some of the richness of a specific situation which I think is instructive on how the game plays and what considerations you may be faced with during a session.
Question: Why would I ever want to make a double move, it makes no sense as it is no different than advancing an issue on my turn?
Answer: If you are looking for a rule of thumb in the situation it does not exist. If you are saying that it never makes sense then there are more examples of how this impacts the game than those presented that are beyond the mechanical examples cited above in this thread. Factors such as what staff cards are available, or is there a staff bonus for the debate that overrides the loss of a card, or you want to block the guy to your left from debating (he has no leader) or your leader cannot advance only debate an issue, etc.
I will offer one example, but all examples of double moves are based on specifics that go beyond the mechanical dimensions mentioned in this thread. So, here is one story that I once experienced, but if you want to say that this is rare, well there are many rare situations that add up to it happens once every couple of games. I will say that it usually occurs at the close of a conference when players are down to their last couple of cards. It is in the design to create that extra bit of uncertainty and hopefully excitement.
For example, let's say the US won the agenda segment and let's say that Churchill/Stalin are inactive (previously used). Let's say its Potsdam and the US (Truman no A-bomb) wants to freeze the political situation, but Churchill and Stalin each have captured a Pol-Mil issue with none remaining.
Now we pick up the action where Churchill has one card (already played second to last card), Stalin has two cards remaining and the US has two cards. Stalin plays Budonny (five when Stalin is inactive) on the Global issue (US 3 space), US debates to keep it on the 3 space, then plays Truman to ensure capturing the issue (cannot be debated).
Why did he debate and not wait? Well Budonny would move it to the Soviet two space and the US is holding one strong and one very weak card. The US on its next play could have moved it back to the US three space. However, the US is afraid Truman without the A-bomb might be a four not a seven and if the British or the Soviets play on the Global issue with their last cards the US may not have enough juice to win this issue.
For example a British 4 play on Global followed by a debating Molotov would put the issue out of reach with a 4 strength Truman (its a 2 to 5 and I never roll dice well when it matters by the way). Since winning the Global issue is essential for a US win this double move sequence auto captures the Global issue. In addition when I did this, with all three leaders now inactive, I knew that I would win the conference on a tie using my Arsenal of Democracy national characteristic, so I did not need to go last. The US characteristic is a nuanced but powerful capability.
The US then used the Global issue to create the UN blocking either player from removing any US political alignment markers as they now have insufficient resources from the already won Pol-Mil issues to do so.
The main point is there were two different outcomes based on a number of unique factors and how you could use a double move to lock down the one you wanted.
That is a lot of detail, but there are lots of unique situations like this. Another is you are also assuming that you always want to play efficiently, so a double move might allow you to run out of cards or change who goes last to allow another player to win the conference.
It is just not a simple this makes no sense and I would never want to do it so why is it in the game. The reason is it is another tool in the Churchill tool box that I intentionally put there.
If you have not read the rules or played the game the above sequence may not make that much sense, but all of those interactions are based on 5 pages of rules. Churchill uses a few simple concepts and rules, but can still generate a very complex narrative with decisions to match.
I will leave it there for now, but more to follow as the Churchill saga continues.
10 August 2015
Posted by markherman
at 3:47 PM EDT
Saturday, 11 July 2015
For The People and Simulation Verisimilitude
Topic: For The People Material
Periodically friends who really like FTP as a game raise there concerns on some simulation elements in the design. What I continue to experience is people make points and I use statistics and analytics to make my simulation case. It was how I was raised by Dunnigan. What has been the case almost without exception is no one changes their mind, yet I also never get any analysis in reply, just a restatement of the original point, still not supported by any data. It is the way of the internet and all of the people in this discussion are friends, so it was at all times a gentlemanly disagreement.
I am posting this here so I can keep the information for future purposes. If you want to read the entire thread hit the link. Here are my responses to the salient points, so you can judge for yourself.
most of the counterpunches Lee pulled off in Virginia were in the hopes that the North would just get sick of all the dying and withdraw.
This is a case where we see the same things, understand the same history, yet see it differently. Taking just your one remark of many well stated ones, that is the point of SW and the invasions.
1) Smith's and Bragg's invasion of Kentucky, meant to "liberate" Kentucky (they even installed a temporary pro-CSA government on their way to Perryville) 2) Antietam, arguably meant to win Britain and France over 3) Gettysburg, arguably meant to do the same thing.
Using your succinct points, which I agree with...
1. Bragg is trying to liberate KY, this to me is a KY border state still not controlled by either side with the outcome being KY becomes a Union state. If Bragg is successful KY becomes a CSA state, which was its intent as evidenced by them trying to put a CSA State government in power. KY is also represented by one of the 13 stars in the CSA battle flag.
2. Antietam campaign: intent was to bring in Foreign Intervention which can occur if the CSA can get their SW to 110+ as simulated by the raid raising CSA SW value.
3. Installing a CSA army in the North was Lee's intention for both his invasions. If you read the OR (Official Records of the Rebellion) he states this exact thing to Davis. So, I can only conclude according to Lee's statement that he intended to put his army on Northern territory to cause the Union to sue for peace. This would be moving toward doubling the Union SW for the auto win.
As far as raiding being the main CSA path to victory, it was in all three cases how FTP handles them. As far as the Davis strategy of defense only, all I can do is cite recent Pettus and Docter CSA defense victories that have been on the rise over the last few years now that the metagame on how to properly defend Washington seems to have taken hold.
CSA players denuding the West to attack in the East are extreme strategies that you can argue could not happen. My response is the Union has more SPs and should be able to more than match a CSA asymmetrical buildup and still have sufficient forces to wreck the South in the West. I note that the Union has twice the CSA strategic transport capability, so they can always place more SPs in the East than the CSA. While I could have legislated various strategies out of the game, I feel that if they can regularly be defeated with appropriate response that should stop the activity. You should check out Dockter's and my CSR winning article on how to defend in the East, with a sidebar from the Master. I also note that there is a Crisis in the West card that can wreck this strategy. I must confess that I put this in the game in 2006 and nicknamed it the anti-Pei card.
An interesting sidebar to the CSA goes East strategy and why it should not work is the 1863 scenario. Watch James Pei play the Union. He gets a modest force into the Trans-Missippi and converts MO, AK, TX, and LA then the Union knocks the South down 15 points and 3 SPs plus gains the Union 10 (25 point swing). In the end FTP is won by the side that gets and holds the initiative. I do not fear a CSA build up if I am hitting them with where they ain't.
Anyway, as you can see we see and understand the same history, but I am unclear how FTP handles it with SW is not directly tied to the history vice other games with VP systems that are design for effect. Regardless, my point is this is what I call simulation verisimilitude. The CSA debated the defend versus attack strategy. In the end they flip flopped between the two and both are available. It is up to the players to refute a strategy, its always artificial and easy to do with garrison rules, etc.
Good discussion, others... I love this can of worms...
A games historicity is a function of many factors, but one of them is my responsibility that I believe that I have executed to the highest standard I am capable of. I also believe that there are many myths about this war that have been created by the games that we play on this conflict and upon which I have written about when I talk about psychological history. If a Union player is not worrying about Washington because his fortresses are impregnable then you are not experiencing Lincoln.
The other responsibility falls upon the player, just because a thing can be done does not mean it should be done. If the CSA player wants to play an all out offensive strategy to win the game by turn 6 and fails to a better Union strategy, whose responsibility is it that this does not look like the war in the books. As you note:
Gosh darn it, I always forget about New Bern.
To get a more historical game, the Union has to play like the Union or they reap what the sow. FTP can generate the historical starting positions for each of the yearly scenarios. I would argue that a weak Union player allows the South to gain advantages that were possible if Lincoln played like Davis. Not only is New Bern an important way historically to begin the isolation of Virginia, but it is a necessary move to shut down the South's ability to send offensive levels of forces to that region.
I would also note that one of the most significant victories in the West was the fall of Forts Henry/Donelson. Once this fort is taken out the South's ability to do anything in KY is neutered. I rarely see this move taken on. This means the Union has to invest in AA... Dockter's AA Cartel image would be good here. The play of one AA card (e.g., Fox) neutralizes the impact of the fort. Get Foote or Porter and the Union attacking the fort that usually has one SP garrison gets a +4/+5 drm, which is almost a guaranteed win. Once this historical move is made then the West opens up. Knock out New Orleans, historical, and the MS river is opened up and the South cannot easily send reinforcements to the Trans-MS, etc. If you let history be your guide FTP will reward you.
So, in the end, the designer and the players have a dual responsibility for historicity. As long as I do my job and create the environment where playing historically is correctly baked into the game and is a solid strategy to follow it is up to the players to use that history to their advantage. As I am not a fan of scripted history, I design history to be an emergent property. Players can and do run off the rails, but in a plausible manner. As I said history is in the eye of the beholder.
An addenda to this last point occurs in my Empire of the Sun game. Most Japanese players as they run short of air units often denude Japan of all aircraft. At some point the Allies figure out that this vulnerability can temporarily shut down all Japanese reaction and does so. Then the novice Japanese player writes in big letters this is a-historical and could never happen. I agree, who said you should take all of your planes out of Japan. The Japanese never did that. I of course could have written a rule that says you cannot take out all of your planes from Japan, then it never happens...
As the Riddler told Two Face (Harvey Denton) when he was about to kill an unconscious Batman... "Don't kill him. If you kill him he won't learn anything."
Then a new thread begins in the discussion…
Thank you Gilbert for your cogent remarks about FTP. I appreciate that you are a fan of the game but less so of the simulation. I have been waiting for this opportunity to have this discussion once again. I would offer that if you listen to Dockter's excellent podcast, Guns Dice and Butter, I cannot remember which episode we discuss this very topic. I will make the same point I made there, but with more statistics. You will note that Eric Lee Smith agrees with my point. I have also had this discussion with James McPherson and got similar agreement. This goes into the bucket of 'for what it is worth'.
I will use the following statement as a point of departure for my answer. This out of context comment is not meant to minimize the detail that is behind it as folks can read the full text above.
How could a Confederate army hundreds of miles from it supply bases sustain itself for months AND be able to control the local populace? Live off the land you say? How? Where would a confederate army get their ammunition from? In particular artillery ammunition. The only evidence we have for Confederate invasions of the North are from the historical record itself.
I will begin by taking the view that I have always had, if Sherman (Union) could do it, why couldn't Lee/Jackson? The evidence that cannot be demonstrated historically is that Lee made a 300 mile march off of his supply line as Sherman did. That is true because in both invasions he lost the big battle. What would have happened if he had won? I cannot believe that Lee and the AoNVa known for being a tough army that marched and fought on limited rations was inferior to the abilities of Sherman's army. I see no evidence for that and the substance of my analysis is based on the distributive property that if Sherman could do it, then any well led Civil War army could do the same. I am not sure what the argument would be against it, but I will continue with some statistics.
Sherman's march to the sea was 250 miles in length. His second and as significant next march off of a supply line was 300 miles (Savannah to Bentonville). So, it was done twice and I conclude that a march of 250 to 300 miles was not only possible, but a proven fact. The distance from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati is around 280 miles, but it works for any march inside of Ohio. Therefore what can happen in an FTP game when Lee goes through Pittsburgh to anywhere in the mid-West is an equivalent event.
Sherman's army consisted of 62,000 men, which includes a cavalry bde, so in FTP terms this is a 10-11 SP army with Sherman, McPherson, and Scofield plus a Cavalry brigade general.
During the course of the march Sherman requisitioned, foraged, stole, you pick which term you like best:
13,000 head of cattle
9.5 million pounds of corn
10.5 million pounds of fodder
Ohio had a population that was twice that of Georgia and from what I can see had probably 3 times the agricultural capacity, so Ohio would generate at least twice the amount of material for a foraging CSA army of equal strength.
The last point that comes up is ammunition, especially artillery ammunition when you are off a supply line. Well for starters Sherman managed two long campaigns without access to these materials, so unless you are fighting a big battle this is not much of an issue. For a benchmark the AoNVa over the three days of Gettysburg expended 80% of its artillery ammunition that it could not replenish and was certainly a factor in Lee's decision to withdraw. Using this as a benchmark a 62,000 man army off of its supply line could fight either the largest longest battle of the Civil War or many smaller engagements similar to the skirmishing encounters that Sherman encountered during his march and not be ammunition depleted.
I conclude from this that a CSA army once it had broken into open country after taking the surrender of Pittsburgh would be in the same situation except each city has an armory and unless it was destroyed would offer some opportunities for ammunition forage and capture of Union ordnance. This situation was a regular feature of Civil War battles. A large portion of the AoNVa rifles and a proportion of their artillery train were captured Union issue.
So, to summarize my thoughts on why I respectfully disagree and make the claims that I do is I have done a great deal of research on this topic and this is my conclusion that is baked into FTP. Any well led Civil War era army could march at least 300 miles off of its supply line. Sherman did it and Lee certainly could have done it. The difference between the two is Sherman won the battle of Atlanta enabling his march, Lee lost his battles and was prevented from doing what he told Davis he was going to do, operate and subsist his army on Union territory.
Gilbert I do not expect you to fall down and acclaim that you have now seen the light, but I wanted you to know that if I did not think this was an important historical simulation element in FTP, it would not be there. I did not haphazardly allow for this possibility, it was well researched and considered.
Thanks for the opportunity to debate...
Thanks Jeff... I will note that this kind of discussion can go on forever without resolution since no two events during the war are exactly the same and since it is based on a simulation model of what is possible, you can always introduce another factor and so on. That said let me take your two points on this way.
I would note wonder about how much of Shermans "raid" was in fact supplied by the Union, and how much it worked because he knew he was moving towards a eventual supply source - the port of Savannah, *and* he had good intelligence that there simply wasn't any southern force of note that could possible engage him, hence ammunition was not of particular concern to him.
Sherman could not carry more than about 3 days of food with him, although he did have 20 days of hard tack. This has been an historical fact since the beginning of time due to the fact that the animals collectively pulling the wagons consume the contents beyond this period. See Alexander the Great and the logistics of the Macedonian army for the details. Since each march took more than a month, Sherman was living entirely off the forage that I spoke of.
As far as the intelligence goes, Lee would have equivalent information, usually gleamed from reading Union newspapers and cavalry. If Lee had won the battle of Gettysburg, where was there another Union army? There was none and he would have been in a similar circumstance. Historically Sherman's march to the sea works because Grant aggressively pinned the AoNVa and its units in VA with his advance on Richmond. Put McClellan in that position and a Corps is dispatched. This is more or less what happened in the Chickamauga campaign and Sherman now has a problem. Remember in FTP even a lousy Union general gets a +2 drm when the enemy is out of supply.
As I said, Lee's army in the Gettysburg campaign had at least four days of artillery ammunition in its trains. And there was no battle during the war like Gettysburg for length, size, or intensity. So, while circumstances would differ I think artillery ammunition is important but not a show stopper. As I also note he would have foraged some amount of captured ammunition if he had won the battle.
One thing that Gilbert mentioned that does both me is the very gamey tactic of spreading your troops all over the place to control spaces, then sucking them all back in - it just feels rather ridiculous from a simulation perspective
First off the notion of 'gamey' as a derogatory verb is just nonsense. No insult intended but what the heck does it mean, its a game.
Anyway, what you describe as 'ridiculous' was a standard feature of how 19th century armies operated. This is true for Napoleon through the ACW. Lee regularly detached forces in exactly this manner because he could not keep his army concentrated over the winter or even a long march.
Many people forget that a Civil War army was larger than most cities of the era. The AoNVa was the second largest city in the South after the fall of New Orleans. Any Civil War army, to include Sherman's during his march, especially if they are off of their supply line, marched in parallel columns.
If you remember the Gettysburg campaign Lee's army occupied the Harper's Valley, Chambersburg, and Harrisburg spaces prior to concentrating at Gettysburg. At the beginning of the Gettysburg campaign (battle of Chancellorsville), you will note that Longstreet is not present. The reason is Lee is using the 'gamey' tactic of moving a Corps to Suffolk to subsist his army to avoid attrition. So, if 'gamey' means simulating exactly what was done historically, then guilty as charged.
The danger of spreading our your forces in the game is they can be defeated in detail. In order for the South in FTP to do what more or less occurred regularly requires a proportion of its 7 strategic transport. So in the game if you use your last card play to spread out to avoid attrition, the next turn you either pull them in expending most of your strategic capability and forgoing any reinforcements being brought up OR you stay spread out and you are a target for being defeated in detail. Its not a free lunch, and as Chancellorsville shows it has an historical downside.
Anyway, I think I have made my point and I do not want to appear argumentative, but I am very passionate about historical simulations and what I put in my designs always has facts behind them. You do not have to agree with my facts and my interpretation of history, but I rarely see any statistics or facts that make me think I missed something. So in the end, simulation verisimilitude is in the eye of the beholder.
Thanks for your support...
It ended as it began, respectfully with everyone right where they started. But I leave it to others to make up their own minds.
I hope you are enjoying the game… the reprint is top notch.
Fortress of Solitude
Posted by markherman
at 8:25 PM EDT
Saturday, 20 June 2015
Studiolo Designs Update: June 2015
Topic: Design Diary
Studiolo Designs has just completed its first year of operation and I find myself at a good transition point. I thought it would be a good time to review the recent past and talk about what’s next.
My very enjoyable collaboration with Volko Ruhnke yielded gold, well at least it looks gold, from Boardgame Geek when Fire in the Lake won best 2014 wargame. Thanks to all who supported this title.
I also am very appreciative for the support shown by the tribe in getting all of my GMT CDGs back into print. While Washington’s War and For the People are more or less straight reprints, Empire of the Sun 2nd Edition is the same design, but with significantly upgraded components and concepts such that it is the next evolution of this design. Folks should be receiving this one at their doorstep soon as it is being organized as I write this for the P500 orders in Hanford.
Then there is Ribbit: the jump, move, and block game that I self published and produce with my wife. I would have published this through GMT but it is such a departure from anything else that I have ever done, I thought it would be easier to self publish this little design of mine. Check out this 4 minute video where you can learn how to play the game:
It takes about 1 minute on your own or 4 minutes watching the video to learn how to play and the rules, all of them are printed on the plastic board (yes plastic). The pieces are wooden meeples and discs, so it is quite durable for outside play. I have found that it is like a Disney movie. Kids like it and the adults also like it, but for different reasons. Many of my friends kids (7 years old, some younger) will go off for an hour and play amongst themselves without any adult supervision instead of using the internet or watching TV. Consider that the next time you are looking for something to do with your kids on vacation or a quiet weekend afternoon.
Lastly, there is Churchill. I have one of the few copies available, which I will be bringing tomorrow to the Consimworld convention in Phoenix. I am very excited about this title, but as always it takes a village. As many may know there were two versions of Churchill that beyond the title and time period bear no resemblance to each other. I would like to acknowledge John Leggit and his group of testers, whom I do not have names, as more than a year has passed since I scrapped that version. I will of course send them free copies, but I thought it would be appropriate to acknowledge this group publically.
Then there is the game that has been published. Check out the credits in the back, but particular mention goes to Wendell Albright, Gordon Pueschner and David Dockter plus their entire 1st MN crew out in Minneapolis who were the bulwarks of the testing plus my rules editor Steven Mitchell who raised the rules to the next level. As always I am truly advantaged to have the talents of Rodger MacGowan, Mark Simonitch, and Charlie Kibler to make my crayon drawings into works of art.
One interesting dimension of the last couple of years has been my effort to supply instructional videos for my designs. Upon review I was surprised that my feeble efforts had risen to a dozen videos covering a range of strategy and instructional topics. Of course there are also the unboxing videos where you get to hear me act like a kid in a candy shop when I get a game shipped to me from Hanford.
In case you missed any of my videos here is a list, with links:
Churchill Unboxing Video
Empire of the Sun Solo Tutorial
Empire of the Sun 2nd Edition Unboxing
For the People Strategy Video
Fire in the Lake Unboxing Video
Fire in the Lake Tutorial
Empire of the Sun Wargame Opening Hand Analysis
Empire of the Sun December 41 pt 2
Empire of the Sun December 41 pt 1
Empire of the Sun Opening Strategy
Ribbit: the Jump, Move, and Block Game
So, what’s next?
Right now I am working very actively on several games. First up is Plan Orange, which is Empire of the Sun set in a 1932 scenario. It is going to be published in c3i magazine with artwork by Mark Simonitch. This one is almost finished and I will be turning it into production next month.
The next major design is a sequel to Churchill, titled Pericles: The Peloponnesian War. While this new design uses the conference/issue mechanic from Churchill, it is a different beast in most ways. Those who know me know that I make the design fit the situation and not the other way around. The genesis of this design goes back to an unpublished variant of my earlier Peloponnesian War by Victory Games. If you want to see the first draft of the playtest map, check out the Churchill Unboxing video and you will see it in the background.
In this retelling of the war the game pits two teams of two against each other representing the Athenian and Spartan, governments plus there are ‘Bots controlling Corinth, Thebes, and Persia. The two player teams each represent two factions from the respective cities. For a player to win, his city state (Athens or Sparta) must win the war AND you must be the player in charge of the government that turn. The two player teams interact using the Churchill conference mechanic with some interesting twists that make it a very different experience from Churchill. Of course there will be an option to play solo, two, three, or four player. Anyway I will publish more on this title as I move closer to a full up prototype.
The next title is the War is Hell a four map American Civil War operational game. This one is in active development, but it is a huge undertaking and it will take a while until I have gotten this one into playtest shape. The good news is I have solved all of the design issues that I was wrestling with, so now it is a matter of research and rules writing until I have things ready for testing.
Last on the list for now is Sun Tzu a CDG set in the Chinese Warring States period. James Pei has finished the basic research and I am significantly revising the design, so this one is on the horizon and should move faster than War is Hell just due to the smaller size and time investment to get it up and running.
Well, I think I will leave it there for now… more to follow later this summer. Until then…
Posted by markherman
at 5:58 PM EDT
Thursday, 9 April 2015
What is history?
Topic: Empire of the Sun
I have written on this topic before in my c3i Clio’s corner, but the conjunction of an interesting thread I found on line and the release of the 2nd Edition of Empire of the Sun moved me to want to write up some of my thoughts on ‘historical realism’ in my Empire of the Sun design. As a disclaimer I believe that it is a truism of the Internet that facts and data never change anyone’s opinion once publically stated. I write this for my own purposes as an archive of my thoughts and for the few people who read this blog. I also do not want to embarrass anyone or make these comments appear personal, so I will not state the source of various comments other than to say that I post them without edits exactly the way they were posted. They are there not to start an argument, but as a source for discussion.
First off for those who do not know me here are some of my bona fide’s as an historian. I have an undergraduate degree in History and a Masters in National Security Policy from Georgetown University that had a strong emphasis on Political-Military history. Beyond that I have taught Military Strategy and Policy for the Naval War College and Georgetown University. As an historical simulation designer with well over fifty published designs (see my Bibliography on this site), I have done decades of original historical research that I have published in books, in games, and on this website. As a gamer, historical verisimilitude is extremely important to me in any design that I play often and I play Empire of the Sun continuously. My point is if I did not think Empire of the Sun was an accurate simulation of the Pacific War I would have changed it before publication and certainly would have done something about it over the last 10 years. Truth be told, EotS meets all of my personal standards for historical accuracy that I contend are a high bar.
Empire of the Sun (hereafter EotS) is not a beginners game, so it automatically plays to a small segment of the wargame market. That said, the biggest hurtle to playing EotS is it is not a game that is easy to play well. What is the point of playing a game often if skill does not matter? As most gamers these days do not play a game more than a couple of times it can appear inaccessible unless some desire to play regularly is engendered by ones early experience with the design. This is an important point as some of the comments that follow fall into two buckets. Comments attributed to bad history but are really poor player skill with this design and those that directly challenge the game’s history based on incorrect statements of historical fact. The 2nd edition of EotS comes with a new solitaire system that I believe will act as an interactive tutorial on how to play well. Hopefully this will lower the barrier for early enjoyment of this design.
To be fair some of the commenters while tough on the design said very flattering things about me, so I know that their views are not personal and I do not take them that way, so no acrimony should be implied from my commentary.
I have attempted to integrate comments from a long thread into a shorter coherent set of comments that capture the intent, although I did not edit any of the words to include various misspellings or sentence structure, I just co-located pieces of the same point from different commentators into one place.
Comments are in italics, my response is in non-italic type.
A Cylon who attempted to learn about the Pacific War, by watching game of EOTS would learn:
- The Japanese were very careful to avoid taking more Allied objectives than absolutely necessary. This would lead to a high chance of Allied war weariness.
This first point is not an historical one as much as it is a lack of experience with the playing the game. This comment came out soon after release and continues to be discussed as if it’s a fact. My reply is based on over a decade of public online gaming and tournament play at WBC where this has been tried. This strategy with even a modicum of skill always fails. In fact the Japanese lose the game quicker. So, this comment is not an historical comment as much as it’s a lack of game knowledge comment.
The interesting historical point is the conquest of the Solomon’s and New Guinea beyond Rabaul and Lae were based on a series of Army-Navy conferences that began on March 7th and continued through June of 1942. This outer perimeter defense concept (invasion of New Hebrides, Fiji, and Samoa) was a compromise after the Army blocked the IJNs plans for the conquest of the Hawaiian Islands and occupation of Northern Australia. The main point is my research for a game has to go beyond what is written in a narrative history, but has to captured what are plausible ‘what ifs’. A ‘what if’ for me are those options that were historically discussed and not executed. The IJNs defeat at Midway caused the cancellation of the offensive into Fiji and Samoa. So, not extending the Japanese perimeter beyond Rabula was a path discussed but not chosen.
- The operational tempo of the Japanese fleet had little to do with their own fuel supplies or maintenance resources, but was instead determined by the Allied fuel and logistical capabilties.
EotS is not my first Pacific rodeo. Some may recall my earlier Pacific War game where I also did extensive fuel and operations tempo analysis. That experience gave me a rich body of data and experience upon which to draw from when I designed EotS. What may not be well known is the first thing I did when I began designing this game was to play my third Pacific War campaign game (the first two occurred when I did the original). Based on that play through I reviewed all of my original research and supplemented it with additional data based on new books and material that had been published over 15 years, not yet available in the early 1980’s.
The Japanese fought six major offensives with high operations tempo in the Bismarck barrier throughout 1942 and 1943. In 1944 the Japanese were prepared to throw the fleet at any USN attack on their inner perimeter. They had developed numerous options, but the key-planning feature was a shortage of carrier air not fuel. This resulted in two major sorties (Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf) that resulted in the destruction of the IJN. I also discovered through research (Prados) that there were several fleet sorties, to include the BB Yamato that did not lead to battle. In these situation the fleet put to sea but it was too far away from the invasion to intervene, hence the operation was cancelled, but not before lots of fuel was used. All of these factors went into a model.
One of the interesting facts is while the Japanese suffered extreme fuel shortages; the major impact was felt in the civilian economy. The military always had first call on fuel resources and while they were always a consideration in their planning I can find no instance where operations, especially counteroffensives, were curtailed or cancelled due to fuel shortages. The reality is there was a fuel shortage in Japan due to the loss of oilers to US submarines, but not in the amount of fuel available at its source. This is why the Japanese fleet eventually moves closer to the source of fuel in the Dutch East Indies, something that occurs naturally in the game as augmented by an event card. While using unrefined crude oil levies a maintenance penalty on the ships, the Allied air-naval die roll modifiers for the late war in some part account for this performance penalty.
The result of this analysis was a model of historical operations tempo as a collective metric for sortie rate, historical fuel consumption and maintenance capability. I ran this model through a Monte Carlo set of simulation runs and the result was that the Japanese consistently ran out of forces before they could exceed the bounds of their fuel constraints or historical sortie rate. This was confirmed by game testing and a decade of matches that demonstrated if the Japanese player attempted a higher than historical tempo of operation they ran out of navy faster than occurred historically naturally capping the number of sorties and fuel required. If the Japanese player played more of a guerre de course strategy they were using fuel at a lower than historical rate across a larger number of small sorties. If they husbanded their assets for a late war showdown, again they were using less fuel than they did historically. My point is the EotS model in the aggregate captures the Japanese sortie rate bounded by combat attrition and historical operations tempo.
These points aside, some folks like to micro manage fuel points and the like. My design goal was to create a strategic model of the Pacific War that integrated most of the key operational factors in a more streamlined manner. For some this is too abstract and for them I designed Pacific War where you keep track of this stuff.
- Japanese military capabilities included seizure of the Hawaiian Islands, Northern Australian, and Ceylon as well as creating enough political unrest in India to cause them to successfully revolt against the British
One area of WWII history that continues to fascinate me are the minutes and commentary on the big strategy meetings such as the one held in Japan on March 7th, 1942. The Japanese navy wanted to invade the Hawaiian Islands and Northern Australia. Plans had been drawn up that were logistically challenging, but at least on paper were considered feasible. The Army would not support either of these operations, but that was a matter of inter-service politics not capability. For an extensive history of Japan’s plans for invading the Hawaiian Islands a recent book not available to me when I did this game confirms my earlier conclusions (John J. Stephens, Hawaii Under the Rising Sun). So to make the point that this was beyond Japanese capabilities stands in opposition to the view of elements of the Navy staff. Hayashi’s ‘Kogun’ makes the case that an Australian campaign required more logistics than the Navy thought was required and the Army could provide. The fact was those logistics were available to the Army, but they would not release them from what they considered higher priorities. This makes my point that this was more an issue of military politics than logistic potential.
As far as India is concerned there are a host of books that I read that go into great detail on how the Army viewed the value of Bose and Indian unrest in achieving their goal of closing the last supply route supporting Chungking. So, not much to say on this point other than there is a significant body of literature that I read in the Georgetown library that is the source of how this is treated in the game.
- Japanese ability to strategically deploy hundreds of thousands of troops and their equipment was not hindered by the fact that virtually their entire merchant marine was destroyed by Allied airpower and submarines.
I have a table taken from the US Strategic Bomber survey that shows with some precision the amount of merchant shipping possessed by the Japanese for every month of the war. Broadly the Japanese started the war with 6 million tons of merchant shipping which was augmented by 1.2 million tons of captured Allied shipping. The Japanese had sufficient merchant shipping to move their ground forces around until 1945 and even then they were able to reinforce Okinawa, Luzon, and Formosa. In one month a merchant ship can generally get from anywhere on the map to another location. In a four month turn, even accounting for attrition there is sufficient shipping to administratively move forces around. This does not say that the civilian economy was unaffected, but the Army controlled their own shipping and they set the priorities. The short pole in the Japanese tent was less merchant shipping but oil tankers covered in my earlier remarks.
- The pre-war Japanese military was able to establish very large, high capacity, navel and air bases throughout the Pacific from which to combat Allied efforts to seize the islands upon which those bases were to be built by the Allies once the Allies seized them.
One thing I avoided in this design was extensive engineering rules. Even the Japanese could build an airfield within a four month game turn and the Seebees do not even break a sweat to accomplish the same thing. Another consideration is I integrated the US mobile fleet train into my infrastructure model. So, while the capture of Ulithi gives the US a base it is more a function of the anchorage in combination with the large number of auxiliary ships that make this possible. As far as the Japanese side goes, a large amount of the Japanese bases existed before the war or were captured fairly intact (Rabaul). In the end I chose to simplify this dimension of the game. The key is how I treat the auxiliary ships and US underway replenishment groups, floating dry docks, etc.
- Really? It is exactly my issue with the game. In all the games I've seen, the US routinely suffers failed amphibious invasions, and the Japanese fleet retains operational and strategic mobility until the end of the war.
This issue has two dimensions, game play and scale. It is more or less mathematically impossible to fail an amphibious ground combat in EotS. If it occurs it is poor play and has nothing to do with the design. The simple rule of thumb is one Marine division will defeat a brigade, two Marine divisions will defeat a division, and three corps plus any size unit will defeat 2 divisions (full strength army). The only issue is not success or failure but how bloody the battle will be. So, the notion that this is a regular feature of the game is just not true if you have any idea how to play the game. So when somebody says that the majority of invasions succeeded in the Pacific this is true once you establish forces ashore and is fully supported by the design.
However, EotS is a strategic simulation. At the strategic level and the way EotS models offensives there were several failed invasions during the war to include Coral Sea and Midway. In both cases the intent of the attack was to culminate in an invasion, but in these two cases the transports were turned back when the naval battle was lost. These were major strategic failures and the rule whereby losing the air-naval battle precludes a landing captures the strategic nature of these failed invasion offensives.
- If the major Allied operations cards come out wrong, the Allied player may have to run more risk, because simple math will not allow sufficient operational intensity. It is this part that I find worst about EOTS, because it simply makes no sense. What does it mean that "the major Allied operations cards come out wrong"? Those major operations were planned because they were seen as the key stepping stones on the path to victory, and therefore they were given the resources needed to succeed. The cards we find in the game were the things that were built to fit the order in which the cards were needed historically, not the other way round. (I'm aware that the official explanation is that "the cards you get represent the constraints that someone like Nimitz worked under" but having read extensively on the strategic planning in the Pacific, the constraints imposed by the cards do not seem to reflect that style of planning at all.)
One thing that I wrestled with was whether or not to name the cards for historical operations instead of labeling them large offensive, medium offensive, and small offensive. In the end leaving off the historical source of the card is like cooking without spices. As I have said innumerable times the cards are logistics and you can ignore the names if it bothers you, although that is like telling a jury to ignore the inadmissible evidence they just accidently heard. This is one of those if you do not want to see past the titles there is nothing I can say or do at this point that can change it other than to say I like it.
On the other hand the card decks are mathematically constructed. The order of the cards has no impact on strategy except in a fun way. There are times you may have to solve a military puzzle, but the Allies can have the cards come out in just about any order and they will have sufficient logistic resources to do anything they could do historically. The same goes for the Japanese in the opening. This has been demonstrated in numerous public online games under what are considered the worse conditions imagined by novices, such as over half a game with the Allies under ISR and the A-bomb still got dropped.
There are over 5 billion seven card hands possible in the 84 card Allied deck, so no amount of play testing could ever confirm this so I had to calculate all of this mathematically. The acid test that I got it right is I have played this game for over a decade online with a large crowd of participants, collected data on 11 years of WBC tournaments, ran one two-year online tournament and at no time has an experienced Allied player had insufficient resources over the course of any game turn to accomplish what needed to be accomplish. If you have not played this game more than once or twice you likely ran into a problem, but that is inexperience not a design issue. This comment is made often despite its inaccuracy, so it is what it is.
- An EotS abstraction that threw me for a loop is the possibility of the Japanese shipping an entire army by sea to reinforce an invasion target during the invasion operation. IIRC, Mark explained it as US intelligence underestimating the size of the garrison. Well, um... I don't count that as an abstraction, but a distortion, in particular since the Japanese ship that army when they know the operation is already happening. Mark explained it as US intelligence underestimating the size of the garrison. Which, not to belabor a point, but as far as I know never happened during the actual War..... I mean, really, missing a Corps+ (!) on a island <10 mi^2?
There are two pieces to this comment. First, you can only react with one division (~15,000 soldiers), never a Corps or Army. This is an important factual error for what follows.
One of the important features of the EotS design and my earlier Pacific War is I treat intelligence as a central feature in both games. While most games usually only look at the Midway phenomena that is seen as an Allied advantage there was a flip side of notable failures. I researched how many Japanese defenders were believed to be present for all of the major invasions during the war, such as Bougainville, Peleliu, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the Philippines. In all of these cases the intelligence estimate was off by at least 15,000 soldiers, one division. In the case of the Philippines the estimate was off by 250,000 soldiers. This data is not hard to find, so it is easy to validate.
The Japanese were very competent and it was not hard for them to anticipate the likely locations for the next US offensive. In most cases the reason that the intelligence estimate was off is the Japanese reinforced the island proximate to the invasion. The Allies for the most part relied on photographic intelligence to estimate troop strengths based on a formula of visual clues. The problem was the Japanese got very good at overhead cover discipline and they were excellent tunnel engineers. This made estimating the size of the garrison an art more than a science. There is a reason that Peleliu and Saipan were estimated to be 3 day operations and instead took almost a month.
The one fly in this ointment is the method by which I chose to incorporate this intelligence feature. The reaction move of a division while the invasion force is already at that location is a mechanistic abstraction that can be visually tough to reconcile. I did not want to have people writing stuff down on paper, etc. and the method chosen works quite smoothly with the other elements of the design. This is one of those that you either buy the abstraction or play another game.
I think that covers the main points I wanted to cover. I want to reiterate I appreciate the commentary and the fact that the individuals played the game to form an opinion and stated it so I could continue to refine my thinking on this topic. I hope that I have protected the anonymity of the commentators for it is not my intention to start a feud. They are only saying what others have said before, but I had the time and the inclination to write my thoughts down. As I stated in the opening this is being posted in my blog so I can archive my own thoughts and what I have written will not change any opinions that already exist either for or against this design of mine. All I can say is I am really looking forward to continuing to play this design with the new 2nd edition.
Posted by markherman
at 9:46 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 9 April 2015 10:15 PM EDT
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
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