In Hack’s Hardcore Hints series, David Galster shares some of his scenario design toolkits for Campaign Series: Vietnam, a work-in-progress tactical platoon-scale wargame.
It’s a pleasure, Campaign Series Wargamers,
As all of us know, there is much concern about scenario design. Wargamers want to play the best scenarios available. But, what are the important aspects for good scenarios? What constitutes a well-designed scenario?
Well, I think there are at least three important goals in scenario design:
historical accuracy, and
Of course, balance is probably the most important thing to players. Who wants to play a game only to find out later that the odds were heavily stacked against him? If it was because the designer did not do adequate playtesting or did not consider enough factors, then the scenario is not too much fun. Most players avoid known unbalanced scenarios. Getting balance in a scenario is very difficult, however.
Techniques for balancing are vast, and books could be written about them. Here I’ll cover just a few key concepts. First, is it possible through some method or strategy for one player to dominate, with no effective counter? If the answer is yes, then a serious balancing problem needs to be addressed.
Three things determine balance:
victory levels, and
Ideas that work most of the time are: Use high objective values, assign victory levels with good margins, and assume losses are equal for preliminary victory levels. High objective values provide incentive for players to attack, and pursue them. But, they shouldn’t be so high that players disregard losses. (Live to fight another day.) Objective values should be proportional to size modifiers, and the amount of forces involved. For example, it doesn’t make sense to have 1000-point objectives in a small scenario, size modifier 1. Note that an infantry battalion is worth between 400-500 points. Players should evaluate objectives, and pursue those that are worth more than potential losses in taking them. Use playtesting to evaluate the disparity of losses, and then the victory levels can be adjusted.
Another concept is equilibrium. If one side can consistently destroy most of the enemy within the time limit, then “equilibrium” is not achieved. Balance is not likely in these cases, or at least not in a traditional sense. In some matchups, regardless of victory conditions being met, both sides have losses reducing their effectiveness to the point that neither side can continue an offensive. This is when “equilibrium” occurs. If this is observed during playtesting, then it is possible to get a balanced scenario by modifying objective values, setting victory levels, and adjusting the time limit. Typically, the time limit should be shortened so that “equilibrium” is not quite reached in average games.
Playtesting is the ultimate method for obtaining balance. It is only through many playtests, that the designer can understand how forces, terrain, or reinforcement schedules affect outcome. They must also be aware of differences in playtester skills. With enough playtests, perhaps eight or more, statistical analysis of scores is a tool for assigning victory levels. The main point here is that rigorous playtesting, with many games played, is probably a designer’s best chance to get a balanced scenario.
Historical accuracy is important for most players, even for those who like hypothetical scenarios. Who would be proud of a scenario that featured 1946 Viet Minh troops outfitted with AK-47s? There are three basic scenario levels for historical content: Purely historical, historical based, and hypothetical. All of these are acceptable, but scenario descriptions should identify this. The factors for historical accuracy are: map era, forces available, weapon plausibility, objectives and narrative, and finally, unit and commander identification.
The map should reflect the period within a few years, perhaps, of the battle date. Using a modern map with superhighways, and sprawling urban areas is probably not a good idea for an Indochina battle in 1953. Luckily for CS Vietnam, there are many mid-1960s topographical maps available, covering virtually all areas of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
The forces should reflect the kinds of units and weapons in armies of that period. Unless a historical narrative provides exception, the standard unit organizations should be used in most cases. Weapons should be at least plausible. A 1965 VC tank battalion was probably not very likely. This is common sense, but subtle details about some weapons, like artillery pieces, may be overlooked. A certain howitzer model may seem okay, yet may not have been available at the time of battle. This type of information must be carefully researched. The org-editor will not always prevent these mistakes.
Having a good, detailed narrative gives the designer adequate information needed for a historically accurate scenario. Unit organizations should be as close as possible to the narrative, and also the typical structures of the era. Having unit numbers down to the company and platoon level make the scenario more realistic based. To the extent possible, a designer should try to find as many commander names as available references provide. The internet is probably the best resource. Particularly if a leader had a colorful past, or had a reputation, this narrative can be brought out in the org file, and in the description.
Intrigue is a somewhat elusive concept, but one with conceptual meaning. It is what makes any topic interesting. For battles, the things that add interest are surprise elements, deception, or upsetting events. And, it could be the leaders or colorful soldiers involved, if they were legendary, or mysterious, or showed some particularly great skill or bravery. As far as combat elements are concerned, the weapon-counter weapon dichotomy adds interest.
For example if one side has many tanks, but the opponent has some good defensive cover, and powerful anti-tank guns, then this could be an interesting situation. Asymmetrical warfare is the key here. Concealment, and smoke always add interest and surprise. The mine – engineer dyad always makes for interesting situations. Does the attacker know there is a minefield? And once he discovers it, does he have engineers available to clear them?
Counterbattery artillery fire can add interest, especially if rockets or artillery are mobile, and can move after firing. The air defense – aerial bombing duel was a staple of the Vietnam conflicts. Scenario features like trenches, blocks, and caves add in some elements that make it more challenging for the attacker. And, with the new CS Event Engine, there are even more possibilities to provide elements for intrigue.
Hopefully, the three goals: balance, historical accuracy, and intrigue can add fun to scenarios in CS Vietnam.
I imagine that Col. David Hackworth would have agreed on the importance of playtesting, just like he believed in after-action critiques . . .
So here we go – at the time of writing this, there’s some 150 responses in.
This is what you said:
Campaign Series: Vietnam Survey
A diverse group we are, but not getting any younger obviously. This is good feedback and indeed encourages us to keep in mind to have the user interface clear and large enough for players of all ages.
We, as a rule, own a lot of wargames. Long may it continue!
Three Favorite Computer Wargames
Lots of great games get a mention here! We’re in a good company here.
It was interesting to notice many of you lot are not mainly wargamers, there’s a lot of other types of games included here as well.
Computers Are A Boy’s Best Friend, indeed! We do like our little hobby here, and our rigs are there to support it.
With some regret we let go of the Windows XP systems, as Microsoft themselves ceased to support it as well. As part of that decision, we moved into MS Visual C++ 2015 Development Environment, better designed to support the HW out there today.
This survey clearly supports that decision. Three quarters have Windows 10 already, while Windows 7 is the second popular option. Just a couple of Windows 8s in the mix as well, while XP got one mention (please update, it is not a safe operating system anymore!).
When asked about the Display Resolutions everyone has, it was quite clear the HD displays still rule, but already one in ten gamers aäready has a 4K display. Tells us to look at Desktop Scaling options as part of our design and testing regime.
That said, one in ten still has a smaller display, something we’ll keep in our mind, too.
It was quite surprising to see some half of you were already on Intel i7 or similar. Lots of computing power out there! Intel i5 or similar still occupies one third, with older CPUs still represented with some 15% piece of the pie, too.
When designing game features, it seems we can rely there being adequate resources out there. We won’t be going overboard, but good to know we don’t need to be overly cautious, either.
Quite an impressive story here as well, with almost two thirds already at 16GB or more memory sizes. 8GB comes then, and a few smaller memory allocations there too.
Again, good to know, and while we don’t plan to go overboard here, either, again good to know we can assume most of you lot have quite decent HW out there.
So how do you like’m games, then?
Computer vs Human Opponent
Computers Are A Boy’s Best Friend, and it goes on to show here as well. 70% of you enjoy to duke it out with the Computer Opponent, while some 15% of you are hardcore Human-vs-human players.
We will keep both sets in mind, CS Vietnam will likely come with most scenarios designed both for vs-Computer and vs-Human versions.
Also, this will encourage us to continue to develop the AI. With Alternative AI in place, Event Engine there to support things too, we’re looking to have even more fun for both sets of gamers!
Matrix PBEM++ Game Server
Sometimes it is a bit difficult to find opponents, and Matrix Games have come out to assist in this with their PBEM++ service.
Most of you guys haven’t tried it out yet, while those of you who have, mostly seem to enjoy it. Campaign Series doesn’t support PBEM++ yet, and likely won’t within the Campaign Series: Vietnam 1.0 timeframe. Something to keep in our minds, though!
Random Battle Generator
Random Battle Generator has been a feature of the Campaign Series since the beginning, and proves to be a popular choice, despite bespoke historical scenarios being perhaps the most popular choice.
There were quite a few open text comments for the Random Battle Generator being further developed, so as some 60% of you consider it an important feature, we won’t be forgetting about it either.
Campaign Series Vietnam
Now, into the next game in the series, and what you had to say about that.
Perhaps no surprises here, there’s still good support to have a few scenarios included depicting battles outside Vietnam War and Indochina War as well.
One of the things you liked about Campaign Series was the fact it includes a variety of battles, as mentioned in several open comments. This indeed is our plan for Campaign Series: Vietnam as well. Maybe something for everyone, in allocations as the graph here indicates.
Favorite Scenario Sizes
Regimental to Brigade sized battles just eked a victory here, while Company to Battalion sized battles were a close second. There are fans for the larger scenarios as well.
Again, we plan to have something for everyone, and again, maybe roughly allocated in a similar manner as below.
Favorite Scenario Lengths
This one compares nicely to previous one, so max 25 turn battles in the lead, max 35 turn battles second, and max 15 turn battles third.
Again, fans out there for those monsters, too.
Fun factor had to be anchored against something, as everyone would want to play fun battles, right.
History knows a lot of lopsided battles that perhaps are not that fun to play as the losing side, so all the responses here point towards us including those battles in the scenario set as well. Oh, we intend to make them fun, too!
With CS Event Engine available, we can do new types of scenarios, like taking into consideration how long the other side holds onto certain objectives, and rewarding him for that, so plan to do just that. Wish us luck! (Lots of playtesting goes without saying.)
This one took us by a surprise, a bit. Campaign Series are well liked in the H2H Wargaming Clubs, and should there be a unbalanced scenario in the lot, we hear about it immediately.
While we strive for fair victory levels in future as well, and won’t be forgetting our H2H wargame club players, this perhaps shows that a historical simulation of a given battle is appreciated, even if at times it is difficult to get the victory levels spot on.
Again, with the help of Event Engine and other new tools, we will try to make the battles fun for those who enjoy seeing a proper reward at the end handed out to them.
There’s a history buff inside most wargamers, so this one was expected. We do enjoy our historical briefings, don’t we.
There’s often a LOT of research behind each scenario design, and this response encourages us to have that more available to players, as background information. Nice thing about the latest incarnation of the game engine is that we can now have a generic Scenario Description, and then the side specific Player Briefings too.
We will continue to have as much historical immersion thrown in as makes sense here.
Campaign Series: Vietnam – Floor is Yours
Thank you for all the input and insight here!
A lot of you put quite an effort to give us feedback here, it is greatly appreciated, and we will take them into consideration with CS Vietnam, as well as in other coming titles, too.
Call to Action
Again, our sincere thanks for everyone’s input so far. If you haven’t waged in yet, you are welcome to do so, the survey will stay open.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty of data for us to digest and take into action as we go ahead and work on Campaign Series: Vietnam game engine and scenarios.
With Middle East 2.0 out the door, all hands are now on Campaign Series: Vietnam, our next tactical wargame title, with an estimated release date of late summer 2018.
To assist us on our game and scenario design, we put together a web survey, asking you about your gaming profile, gaming hardware, general preferences, and yes: what you would like to see in Campaign Series: Vietnam.
There’s eighteen questions, mostly multiple choices, and completing the survey will take approximately five minutes of your time.
In Uncle Ho’s Hideout series, David Galster shares some of his tips and techniques in scenario research and design for Campaign Series Vietnam. By popular demand – here’s one more!
This issue is about a more efficient way to update orgfiles with Notepad ++ or jEdit rather than using the org editor.
Sometimes we discover our orgfile has the wrong units in many places. To correct this with the org editor, we have to find the right platoon on the unit tree on the left of the org editor and import it to the org structure on the right using the “Add Unit” icon. Once it is imported, and we enter its correct unit name, like 2nd Platoon, we have to place it in the right location in the structure. This is done with up, down, left, and right arrows to move the platoon. Going from the bottom to the correct place for many units is very tedious and time consuming.
Unit replacements can be made using Notepad ++ instead and can be much quicker. For example, in the orgfile Mang_Yang_1965.org there are many ARVN Ranger platoons, P112041. This was a 1963 ARVN Ranger unit. Suppose you find that in this particular battle that the weapons and training were not up to par, and also through playtesting, you decide that a more realistic unit is the P112040, a 1960 Ranger Platoon. This change could be made in the org editor. But, there are 12 Ranger platoons involved. This means that you would have to go to the org editor, find the 1960 Ranger platoon, and then using the “Add Unit” icon, add in 12 units. Then, these all have to be renamed to the proper platoon, like 1st, 2nd, etc. Then for each one, move it using the left, right, up, and down arrow commands, and move into position and delete the old unit.
Instead, the file Mang_Yang_1965.org, can be opened using Notepad ++. Once it is showing, use the “Advance Find” icon. (On the “Home” tab to the far right.) Find P112041, and in the replace field, type P112040. Then use the “Replace All” button to make these replacements. Of course, if you are uncertain, you can find one, replace it, and do this more cautiously. Imagine how much quicker this can be done than using the org editor. Save the file. Then, you can go into the org editor to verify results.
I imagine that Uncle Ho liked to find easier ways of waging war also.
This bonus post completes the Uncle Ho’s Hideout series. Again, I hope you have enjoyed them. Next, I will begin a series of articles focused on scenario design, in Hack’s Hardcore Hints. Til then!
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