CLWG Design Conference 2009 Reports

Onside Report – WW2

I lead a discussion on
whether an operational research article could be used to produce some
mechanisms for running a WW2 wargame with resolution (i.e. smallest
unit represented) at somewhere between platoon and battalion.

The article1
in question was first published back in 1987, so quite venerable. I
came across a photocopy of it tucked into an old copy of British Army
Training News from the saem time period. I have subsequently found
PDFs of a slightly different version of it, along with a follow-up
article looking at urban combat.

Offside Report – Come
One Come Eorl

Andrew Hadley brought
back the Scottish component of this game for another try having
modified some of the mechanisms from the previous playtest. We didn’t
really play the game as we spent a lot of time talking about the
mechanisms and it sorting out in all the players’ heads what it was
all about, why the mechanisms worked the way they did and what we
were supposed to do.

For me there is clearly
a very good political/military game that should make an excellent
megagame, but it was clear from the session that we had that some
people are going to struggle with the game as it currently stands.
There needs to be some more elegant mechanisms around calculating
income, especially where there are sub-kings etc. It might also be
possible to dispense with influence completely as a separate token
and just make it part of game play, the title cards could just allow
certain activities to be done.

Without the benefit of
playing more than one turn of the game it appeared to me that the
sole use of influence was to get political actions done in the
‘parliament’ phase of the game. Obviously there needs to be a limit
to the number of actions that the High King can introduce, and this
limit should change as power is centralised (or de-centralised).
Bearing in mind that each title allows a player a vote (so players
tend to have multiple votes) then the influence of the High-King is
naturally limited by needing to keep at least some of the players on
side. But if they are the only person that can propose
actions/decisions then that gives them some leverage also. However
this doesn’t quite work if you want to be able to build up influence
over a period of time or if you want to trade it between nations.

Overall I’d like to
just play the game for a bit and then try and de-construct it to give
feedback. One of the things that I sometimes find frustrating is that
we talk too much about the mechanics, the briefings etc when we ought
just to be trying the game out. The talking means that the game
doesn’t actually get played as a game, which means that I don’t think
that we get to test it properly. Only by giving things a reasonable
chance are we going to see the second and third order effects that
the combination of rules, player decisions and luck have on the
outcomes, and whether this is an acceptable game. Sure there is
validity in discussion and working through things in slow time, but
we do need to be clear (i.e. the game presenter should say what they
want) when putting on sessions on whether we want to try mechanisms
or whether we want a design discussion. As participants we need to
respect the session presenter’s wishes and do our best to make it
work that way, even if we think it is fundamentally broken. It
doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t tell the presenter what we think
during the session, but we should try and work round our issues.

Agincourt Logistics

Jim has been
commissioned by the Royal Logistics Corps museum to produce a
training exercise for recent recruits to give them some understanding
of the history of logistics and how the predecessors of the RLC were
involved in moving and supplying armies. The scenario given was
fairly straightforward from our perspective, but would certainly
offer the opportunity for someone unfamiliar with logs planning some
challenge. There was a finite limit (20) on the total number of units
to be taken (including the pack horses) which drove some decisions
about force composition (although not size for us as we’d take up to
the maximum with extra pack horses and supplies).

The choice was between
knights (needing food & fodder), archers (food & arrows),
pioneers (food, fodder & maybe pioneer stores), the siege train
(two fodder and food) and pack horses (fodder). Each of the pack
horses could carry 12 units of supplies and there was a choice
between food, arrows, fodder, pioneer stores, and tents. There were
multiple solutions to the problem, which is always good, and some of
them got very complex (particularly Jerry’s optimised reducing

The game met the design
constraints as far as CLWG players went, and in fact we seemed to
have been too generously supplied with pack horses as we had arrows
left after we’d killed all the French, however both times one of the
units of knights was left behind (which was probably a correct
decision as the archers did 95% of the killing). However it is
entirely reasonable that another group might take 3 knights with them
which would add to the logistics burden and force some harder
decisions about load mixes. The first group to do it also had to
starve the soldiers because they were delayed en route, although if
they’d had a different mix (another day’s worth of food instead of
some arrows) then they might also have been fine. Both of us
immediately discounted artillery and tents reasoning that that they
weren’t needed on a forced march and would just slow things down.

My intention is to try
this on some of my work colleagues (they’re all business analysts
with little understanding of military history). I think it will be
interesting to see how they approach it.

Second Life

I had a shot of playing
with second life in the Sunday morning session. Overall I was pretty
impressed with the engine and what you can do in it. However it was
also clear that it is for people with large monitors and hefty
graphics cards. My little 10″ netbook only just gets to sneak in on
the ‘low graphics’ setting (despite being brand new).

There is a chance that
I’ll stick a better graphics card in one of the computers at home
which has a larger screen, but since I tend to buy desktops second
hand I’m not too sure whether or not this is something I’ll get round
to soon. However I will probably have a go at one of the CLWG second
life gunboat sessions sometime in the not too distant future. All
depends on whether or not family commitments allow a couple of hours
on the computer.

Minions of Evil

Brian Cameron started
off a design discussion about how we might create a game out of being
the evil players. He had observed that traditionally the heroes are
reactive and that the evil geniuses have a plan which they want to
execute to achieve some narrow aim, e.g. world domination, or
accumulation of riches.

We talked around a lot
of ideas, largely there seemed to loads of opportunity to create a
sufficiently detailed background to set a game in, whether
comic-book evil genius, some relatively real world evil (e.g.
corporations, mafia etc), an illuminati style game or even something
set historically. There was a general consensus that whatever the
scenario each evil genius should have some sort of fatal flaw that
would lead to their downfall and that there ought to be a specific
(but possibly unidentified to the players) nemesis.

One of the ideas that I
was quite taken by though was the idea of trading off how far you
were willing to go to achieve a rational objective for additional
character flaws and irrational objectives. This fitted into another
idea of evil merely being a matter of perspective. The example quoted
was Magneto from the X-Men who is fighting for mutant rights, which
if you are an oppressed mutant might well seem like a heroic
perspective. A more real example was Churchill, who ordered the
sinking of an allied fleet and also invaded a neutral country. For me
the morally grey area would make an interesting game as it would
allow the players’ choices to determine whether or not they were
truly evil or simply misunderstood. Also I tend to prefer complex
half-tones to black and white. There is probably some scope for a
game about corporations which covers this ground.

Players would represent
key investors in a corporate portfolio on a global basis. In their
individual player briefings they would have some objectives (possibly
self set at the beginning of the game) to determine what they were
looking for as a rational outcome. Examples might be: control of
media; political influence; vast riches; domination of a particular
market. There would then be a trade off between legal and moral
constraints (or otherwise) and the starting resources. The fewer
constraints you had the easier it would be to operate in certain
areas, but at higher risk from government institutions.

Rowlands, Degradation in Combat