Core Values, Part 1

17 12 2010

Games, like people, have a set of principles that they hold most dear.  While playing games, principles reveal themselves through the options they give their players and through the strategies that prove effective.  Most games hold as their highest principle that their players be lucky.  Craps, for instance, has not a single other trait.  How would you lose craps on purpose?  Bingo?  Roulette?  No strategy works (or fails)  for any of these games.

Others games reward players for maintaining the largest number of options the longest.  Gin is a good example of this.  Chess is as well.  The act of placing a player in “Check” in Chess, a usually bad place to be, restricts an opponent to only moving pieces that get them out of check.  Not having any options is to lose the game.  Checkmate.

Scrabble (a game I am truly terrible at) believes that people people should have a large vocabulary and be very good at spelling.  Players do draw letters at random, but this hardly matters in the end.  Low scoring letters are easier to use and high scoring letter are harder, but well… higher scoring.  Knowing a word that contains the letter ‘j’ and that has an ‘e’ three letters after an ‘r’ will win you a bunch of games.

War-games tend to have a couple of high level values in common:

  • Historical strategies should work – A war-game should confirm the strategies and tactics of their era.  For sure there are things that generals would have benefited from in hindsight but there are reasons why things were done the way they were.
  • Challenges faced by commander’s of the era are reflected in the game  – Generals struggled with thorny problems during battle that should be appreciated after playing a good simulation.

Without these core values, a game is just historically themed.  It doesn’t simulate its era at all.  McPherson and Revenge aims to get this right by remembering the following:

Good Things Happen to Good Generals” – Any Civil War narrative is a story of its Generals.   Perhaps this is a romanticizing things a bit but that’s the way this conflict is embedded in our history.  Fredericksburg and “The Crater” are recorded as General Burnside’s failures.  General Howard saved the day at Little Round Top.  For decades following the war, accounts of virtually every event in the war was recorded in the memoirs of one of its various generals.  Often, in the south, political power was bestowed upon ex-soldiers based on how many degrees they were removed from the unerring hand of Bobby Lee.  And for a generation following the war to be president one had to have been one of its Union generals and later one of its combatants in much the same that a president prior to the war had to have spent some quality time in a log cabin.

Generals will be the control focus of McPherson and Revenge.  A general will be required for any bold action.  For instance, convincing units to advance into enemy fire will require a general to give an order.  If this general happens to be a good general… well… that will make doing the tricky all that much easier.  Generals will not only find it easier to to do things, they will find it easier to do more than one thing.  In the course a battle an officer may find that he will need to give different instructions to different units.  A good General will do this better than a bad one.  Furthermore, generals will also carry with them a degree of luck.  If something bad happens then a general might be able undo it, or prevent if from ever having happened by either quick thing or careful planning.  Good generals will be luckier than less good generals.

Control disintegrates over time” – At the beginning of a battle troops know their roles.  Commanders have good idea of what is about to happen.  In short, everyone knows what they are doing.  From the first fired shot this begins to change.

For units in the field, a battle is a confusing and demoralizing place.  Prolonged exposure to battle will eventually result in the breakdown of cohesion.  In McPherson and Revenge units will be required to test their morale, that is to verify that staying in the fight is something they are willing to do.  These tests will be easier on units that have achieved veteran or elite status through fighting elsewhere.  These tests can occur as a result of taking casualties, witnessing other units breaking and of being forced to withstand assaults.  Units that fail are forced become unsteady.  Soldiers will have begun to flee but other still stand their ground continuing the fight.   Further collapse will send all running pell-mell  to the rear.  These troops may recover order and may even rejoin the fight, but will not be as effective for the remainder of the fight.

The control of units is brought about by Brigade and Division commanders and their considerable staffs.  When this group is well informed and well coordinated much control can be exerted and complicated things can be done with relative ease.  As the battle wears on officers will become casualties, and, worse, officers will become misinformed giving orders that cannot, or should not be followed.  McPherson and Revenge will allow for disintegration of command.  With each order will come the possibility of a permanent downgrading of command capability.  The likelihood of this downgrading will grow the nearer the enemy.

It’s not possible to know everything” – It’s very easy to create a game where units move and cause damage at a constant rate.  Looking down on a table of miniatures knowing where everything is, how far everything moves and when everything moves will create a very chess like game.  In reality, much would have gone on out of site of each sides generals.   For instance:

  • It might not be possible to know the identity and condition of soldiers across the way.  It may not be a possible to know the condition of your own troops.
  • It would not be possible to see troops moving beyond line of site.  It would happen all the time that troops would literally “suddenly” appear.
  • It would not be possible to know how quickly orders would be complied with.  Messages go astray and many an order was given that were lost, did not fit the situation by the time they where received or where discarded.
  • Units that were disorganized or scattered could take quite a bit of time to recover enough to be (re)committed to the fight.

McPherson and Revenge will ensure a fog of war by:

  • Not absolutely defining the movement range of units
  • Using a randomized system for determining what order that units move in
  • Providing a mechanism for issuing orders and determining if those orders are successfully followed.
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