Category Archives: Gameplay

A Tale of Two Wargames

I first conceived of General Staff as a very simple, introductory wargame that might be the first real wargame to be released for the Xbox (clearly, an under-served market). However, two things stopped this plan dead in its tracks: first Microsoft closed down the independent online games channel for Xbox and then, after being approached by a major wargame publisher, I was told that there was, “no market for wargames on the Xbox,” however a new version of my UMS series, could, “sell 25,000 units in its first year.”

So, I went back to the proverbial drawing board but I also asked you, the Grognards, what kind of a game you wanted. And here are the results:

Clearly, almost as many people want a simple, Kriegsspiel type game as want a complex military simulation.

After pondering this conundrum I had an epiphany: ‘simple’ wargames and ‘complex simulations’ actually share about 80% of the same code and data. Why not make a wargame that the user can decide which he wants to play? Sometimes people aren’t up for hours long complex simulations; other times people are.

Screen capture from General Staff showing the set up for ‘Simulation’ mode (note the button in the upper-left hand corner). Click to enlarge.

In the above screen capture the user has selected ‘Simulation’ mode. Note that there are headquarters units displayed. Headquarters play an important role in General Staff in simulation mode. All orders are given through the commanding general to the subordinate commander (via courier) and then (again via courier) to the actual unit. For example:

In this screen capture an order from Marshal Beresford will take 8 minutes of game time to be delivered to ths subordinate commander. (Click to enlarge)

It will take 8 minutes for the courier to ride from Marshal Beresford headquarters to the subordinate’s headquarters.

It will take an additional 6 minutes for a courier to deliver the order to the subordinate infantry unit. Click to enlarge.

Additional time (based on the headquarter’s Leadership value) will be added before the next courier is dispatched to deliver the order to the infantry unit. So for a command to go from Marshal Beresford, to Major General Stewart to Colborne’s Brigade will take a minimum of 14 minutes of game time plus additional time penalties based on the leadership abilities of Beresford and Stewart.

Detailed information about a unit in Simulation mode. Even the number of volleys remaining are tracked. Click to enlarge.

Lastly, the leadership of Colborne’s Brigade is used to calculate how quickly the unit will act upon the received orders. This is an example of the detailed Simulation mode for General Staff.

However, in Kreigsspiel mode,  all headquarters units are removed and the user issues orders directly to the units that immediately respond to the commands.

General Staff in Kreigsspiel mode. Note the button in the upper left-hand corner, headquarters units have been removed and unit strength is either 1,2,3 or 4.

Also, all unit information except a simple value (1-4) is ignored. Kriegsspiel mode is the simple, introductory wargame that I originally envisioned.

 

Gameplay Surveys 1 & 2 Results.

We just ran two Gameplay Surveys to find out exactly what kind of units and unit structures you wanted to see in General Staff and the results are in. We especially wanted to know, in general terms, if you wanted us to create a classic Kriegsspiel game or a very detailed military simulation like UMS, UMS II and The War College.

Well, here are the results and they’re not what we expected:

48%: I prefer simple unit data; just the unit type and unit strength.

52%: I want to include as much detailed information about a unit as possible.

In other words, about half of you want a simple game and about half want a very detailed game. I must admit, I had to think about this for a while, but I’ve finally come up with a solution. This really isn’t about gameplay, it’s about the information that is stored about each unit and how the information is used for combat resolution. When an army is created using the Army Design Module all the required information will have to be added and stored within the unit data structure. However, when a user selects a scenario to play, the user will be able to decide if they want to play the ‘classic Kriegsspiel‘ or ‘complex simulation’ version.

The half of respondents that want detailed information about units requested the following information be stored for each unit:

Unit Name. For historical or informational purposes such as, “Chasseurs à Cheval Garde” or “Battery B 4th US Artillery.”

Unit Type. Such as, “Heavy Cavalry,” or “Field Artillery.” See below for more survey questions about pre-designed unit types.

Unit Strength. A numeric value of the number of men in the unit. However, in the ‘classic Kriegsspiel‘ version this value would simple be the numbers 1-4 and shown by the number of unit icons displayed (see below):

Screen captures of various unit types and facings in General Staff. Note that unit strength is obvious (1,2,3 or 4). Click to enlarge.

Unit Leadership. A value from 1-10 representing ‘poor’ to ‘superb’ leadership values. This will be displayed as a graph in the game. This value is used in the combat equation and to calculate how fast a unit responds to orders.

Unit Quality. A value from 1-10 representing ‘poor’ to elite’ unit quality values. This will be displayed as a graph in the game. This value is used in the combat equation and to calculate how fast a unit responds to orders.

Unit Morale. A value from 1-10 representing ‘poor’ to ‘elite’ morale. These values will change during the game in response to the results of the unit’s combat. This value will be displayed as a graph in the game and is used in the combat equation.

Ammunition Level. A value indicating the number of volleys remaining for the unit. In the ‘classic Kriegsspiel‘ version of General Staff units have unlimited ammunition.

Our next series of survey questions asked what unit types would you like to see. The following unit types will be available in General Staff:

Infantry (line infantry), Light Infantry (including skirmishers), Cavalry, Light Cavalry (including lancers), Field Artillery, Horse Artillery, Headquarters (see below) and Supply Trains.

We next asked if users wanted a ‘flat’ or ‘hierarchical’ army structure. The hierarchical army structure allows for a Corps → Division → Brigade type structure. Headquarters units will be included and orders will be transmitted via couriers. Users overwhelmingly wanted a hierarchical structure:

88% of users want a hierarchical army structure.

Lastly, we asked you about screen resolution.

75% of users were happy with 1440 x 900 screen resolution.

We understand that 25% of users want a higher resolutions and we’ll do our best to accommodate them.

Feedback from users is very important to us. We want to create the wargame system that you want to buy. If you have other questions or comments please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

Gameplay Survey 2: Army Structure.

This week’s survey will wrap up our questions about units and armies and after tabulation work can begin on the Create Army Module. General Staff is a simulation of 18th and 19th century warfare. We hope to use the same engine for an Ancient and Modern wargames as well.

We have just three survey questions:

What unit types should we include in the Create Army Module? Armies will be created by clicking and dragging unit icons from a pallet; consequently we need to know in advance what the ‘pre-designed’ unit types will be.

Will the armies have a hierarchical structure (e.g. Division → Brigade → Regiment) or a ‘flat’ structure (i.e. units do not belong to a superior command structure but, rather, can be given orders without consideration to other units).

What is your preferred screen resolution? We’re thinking of writing for 1440 x 900 resolution. Does anybody have a problem with this?

Gameplay Survey 1: Unit Complexity.

When I first started thinking about designing General Staff I envisioned a simple game that was almost chess-like in parts and that was designed to introduce novices to wargames. I thought that the Xbox would be the ideal platform.

After talking to two major digital wargame publishers I was told:

There is absolutely no wargame market for the Xbox and it was idiotic to even think that there was.

Traditional wargame buyers want more complex games; not introductory games.

Wargame buyers (can we just say Grognards?) still fondly remember UMS, UMS 2 and The War College (UMS 3) and would certainly support a major update.

Consequently, I have had to readjust my thinking about the gameplay and design of General Staff. Maybe the wargame you want to buy is different from the wargame that I was planning on making. To better understand what exactly customers want from General Staff I’m going to be posting a series of surveys about very specific gameplay and design issues. I’m going to lay out the pros and cons of the various options and then I’m going to ask you to please vote and give me feedback.


Simple unit details:

My original design called for a very simple unit structure. Other than a number of bookkeeping variables (such as location, facing, speed, orders, etc.) the only values that we would store were the unit’s type and strength.

The screen captures below show examples of this design.

Screen captures of various unit types and facings in General Staff. Note that unit strength is obvious (1,2,3 or 4). Click to enlarge.

The rules on unit type and strength are:

  1. In any given square there can be a maximum of 4 artillery units, 3 cavalry units or 2 infantry units.
  2. Different unit types cannot occupy the same square.

Advantages of a Simple Unit Structure:

There is a very appealing simplicity to this system. The user can immediately see the strength of forces at any location. As a unit takes losses the number of symbols displayed in the square are decremented until the unit, itself, is removed.

Less data is required to create a scenario.  But, the real problem is trying to assign values to variables like ‘morale’, ‘experience’ or ‘leadership’. Inevitably, these are just value judgments.

It presents a simple and less intimidating interface (no names, ‘strength bars’, etc.) for beginners.

Visually it fits right into the Napoleonic and Victorian topographical battlefield map engravings style that I want to emulate. I, personally, am greatly enamored by this style and would love to maneuver units on these incredible contoured maps:

Bataille de Molino del Rey : 1ere Position [y] 2éme Position (1820) .From: Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonio Bibliográfico. A superb example of 19th century battlefield map engraving. Click to open link in new window.


Complex unit details:

How much information can we store about every unit on the map? The only limit is the size of available storage; in other words, on modern computing devices, there are no real limits. Below is screen shot (with explanations) of the variables used to calculate combat results in UMS II: Nations at War.

Unit variables used for combat resolution in UMS2. Click to enlarge.

Among the most likely variables to be included in the unit structure are: unit name, leadership value, morale level, strength, fatigue and unit type.

Advantages of a Complex Unit Structure:

Theoretically, the more data you have the more accurate the simulation. Obviously, this depends on the accuracy of the data but as long as the variables are relevant to the simulation and your model is good, the more variables the better.

Simply having a more detailed model with a lot of unit variables may help to sell more units to Grognards.

Disadvantages of a Complex Unit Structure:

More data has to be researched, compiled and entered into the Create Army Module (see here).

This data needs to be displayed in a way that doesn’t overload the user. Below is a screen shot of some tests that I did for an earlier version of General Staff:

Screen capture showing one method of displaying information about a unit. In this case the stored values include Melee attack value, maximum range, ranged attack value, strength, unit quality, formation, morale and fatigue. Click to enlarge.

Screen capture showing one method of displaying information about a unit. In this case the stored values include Melee attack value, maximum range, ranged attack value, strength, unit quality, formation, morale and fatigue. Click to enlarge.

Inevitably, at some point the scenario designer has to make some very arbitrary decisions about a unit’s morale and leadership values.

What is the maximum strength of a unit? Remember we’re talking apples (artillery) and oranges (infantry divisions) here. What does the value ‘strength’ actually mean? Is it the number of men in the unit? Clearly 50 men in an artillery battery have more ‘strength’ than 50 men in a line infantry company. Is there some other modifier (perhaps ‘unit type’) that is necessary to convert a unit’s strength to its combat power? And, what if a scenario designer creates a unit with a strength of 1,000 while other units have values of, say, 10? Will this be an unstoppable behemoth on the battlefield?


So, now it’s time for you to make your feelings known about these issues. Simple or complex unit data structures? What information should be stored about each unit?


You input is very important to us. Please feel free to give us more feedback either via the online form or by emailing me personally at Ezra [at] RiverviewAI.com

General Staff Features

General Staff is a direct descendant of the UMS seies which featured a suite of tools that allowed the user to create new maps, armies and scenarios. Our recent survey indicated that 73% of respondents felt that it was either ‘very important’ or ‘somewhat important’ for General Staff to have these abilities, too. Below is a flow chart of the five modules that make up General Staff:

Flow chart of General Staff. From the main screen the user can either create a new map, create a new army, combine a map and two armies into a new scenario or play a previously created scenario. Click to enlarge.

Flow chart of General Staff. From the main screen the user can either create a new map, create a new army, combine a map and two armies into a new scenario or play a previously created scenario. Click to enlarge.

From the Main Menu the user can select:

The Create Map Module

This module provides all the tools that a user needs to create detailed, authentic-looking maps. The are numerous tiles that represent the eight different terrains (field, water, swamp, city, woods, bridge, road, fort). Additionally, the user can sculpt hills and ridges with the AI automatically adding ‘splash contours’. Rivers and roads are added using a Bézier curve tool.

After the map is completed the user can select the amount of ‘dirtying’ (map folds, coffee stains, age stains, etc.) to be added to the map.

The Create Army Module

Armies can be in either an hierarchical format (see below) or a flat format. A flat format is a data structure without layers of commanders. Next week we will be running a user survey to find if you have a preference for hierarchical or flat army unit structures.

Screen shot from UMS II: Nations at War showing a hierarchical army structure. There are four levels of command in this army structure: Army Group, Army, Corps and Division. Click to enlarge.

The original UMS had a flat army structure while UMS II had a hierarchical unit structure.  For both systems an intuitive click and drag interface is provided for quickly creating, editing and saving armies.

Available unit types include: heavy and light infantry, heavy and light cavalry and heavy and light (horse) artillery. Headquarters and courier units are provided for hierarchical army structures.

Create Scenario Module

In the Create Scenario Module a user can combine any two previously created armies with a previously created map to create a new scenario. Mix and match to your heart’s content! The Napoleonic Imperial Guard against the Army of the Potomac’s First Army Corps on the Gettysburg battlefield! The battle of Marengo re-fought with Russian and Austrian troops! Obviously, you can also create historically accurate scenarios, too.