Note from Gene: John Welch is the designer of two of the three games in our upcoming Revolt and Revolution tri-pack (Darin Leviloff, creator of the States of Siege series for VPG, designed the third game, Soviet Dawn, which in many ways inspired John's creation of the other two games). John is creating an ongoing "Inside the Design" series of blogs to give us better insight into his thinking behind the design and history in these games.
We'll be adding to this page (oldest post at the bottom of the page) as John creates new segments. We hope you enjoy this feature.
Inside the Designs in Revolt & Revolution
By John Welch
March 26, 2012
My goal was to get this posted for Saint Patrick's Day but I missed it. I wanted to take a brief look at how the English Civil Wars played out in Ireland and how they affect game play in Cruel Necessity.
It's fair to say that for many Irish, the legacy of Cromwell is not a popular one. Cromwell was driven by a powerful hatred of the Catholic Church and a strong desire to impose English rule on the Emerald Isle. During the course of the English Civil War, both England AND Scotland would deploy forces in Ireland. Cruel Necessity models these deployments and depending on how the Scotland and Ireland political tracks are doing, have a direct impact on game play in England. I didn't what to shy away from the arguable excesses of the Third English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell's campaign in Ireland during that period and there are depicted in several of the Event Cards from the third deck. While the massacre of Irish at places like Drogheda would raise the morale of the Puritans, it played havoc for the politics in Parliament and as the player you are trying to raise the profile of both, this kind of dilemma makes that a real challenge. Cromwell's ruthless subjugation of Ireland (or righteous subjugation depending on your historical point-of-view) kept the possible use of Ireland as a staging area for the Catholic's League's invasion of England as a dream postponed for Catholic Europe.
As I've written about earlier, the challenge of allowing for historical possibilities to keep Cruel Necessity both a simulation AND a game there was the need to deal with a player that chose (as part of a grander strategy to focus on the military game in England) to 'ignore' Ireland. The Royalist Irish Army track does not continue into England (as this really was beyond the logistical capabilities of the Royalist Irish Army during this period) and in the original draft of Cruel Necessity the player could allow the Irish Army to get to its '1' space, fortify the Dublin Fortress, and wait there until the game ended - costing the player potential victory points but not much more. This is where alpha testing and some great dialogues with the likes of Tim Porter and Steve Carey allowed me to articulate the 'what if's' of "letting Ireland burn".
The basic question was what would the likely outcome have been on the politics and religion of England if Ireland had been abandoned by the Parliamentarians and the Puritans. After considerable dialogue on the subject, the consensus was that it would have had a very negative impact on the support for Protestant Puritanism, the general support for Parliament as the lost of Ireland would seem a political failure and the inevitable stories of the killings of English men and women there would further this opinion, and finally it would sour relations with Scotland who would view the English failure there as a sign of weakness. From there, it was simply a matter of creating the mechanisms shown in the two jpegs from the prototype map from the game to model all those effects in a simple yet comprehensive way. Not only is the "let Ireland burn" strategy dangerous for the end-game it now has dynamic consequences to the rest of the player's struggles during the game itself.
Once again, thanks for reading and be sure to let me know your comments or questions.
March 4, 2012
As this is the only day of the year that is also a command - March Forth! - I thought I'd write briefly about the 'what if' nature of wargaming and Revolt and Revolution in particular. Opinions about historical accuracy in our beloved hobby are as numerous as those that play the games. The great thing is with so many games coming out each month, a gamer can indulge in whatever point-of-view and subject matter they wish. I want the wargames I play to play historically if I choose to, but to allow for a different outcome if the choices made and the effects of those choices come out differently. At last year's Pacificon, I attended a session featuring Joe Miranda and he made the point (and I'm paraphrasing) that one of the goals of wargame design is to put the player into a situation where only the choices that were historically available are there for the player to grapple with and in doing so, the player gains a better understanding of why events occurred the way they did. I realized that this was one of my goals - to present history and see if the player can change the outcome. I enjoy counterfactuals both in fiction and in film. However, most of my reading is non-fiction which I enjoy very much. The challenge is to create a design that accurately mirrors history but does not script an ending. This means putting bumpers on the actions a player can take and then having some fun with probable outcomes.
The goal in Levee en Masse is to protect and grow the Republican Revolution in France through military, political and social actions. The event cards take the historical event on the card and interpret them into the mechanics of the game. These effects include the movement of enemy armies, changes in the three political tracks, modifiers based on outcomes and the number of actions a player has for that particular turn. These actions represent political will, resources and command and control. Those familiar with the States of Siege series know that the number of actions is never enough to accomplish all the things a player wishes to do. While the player has a limited number of actions to perform, the game doesn't dictate which route to take to victory. What defines victory are literally printed on the map but the player can choose a strategy that focuses on military force or political maneuvering. Deciding to expend precious actions to remove disorder in Paris can come at the expense of an advancing enemy army going unchallenged. Allowing Paris to burn with disorder tears at the support for Republicanism across the country. Of course all plans don't survive contact with the dice - the d6 provides that element of chance that can stymie the best of plans or save the worst situations. I will leave the arguments about the role of 'luck' in wargames to others but I know most wargamers are history buffs and they could (if asked) come up with dozens and dozens of examples from history where 'luck' turned the tide of fate - the d6 plays that part in Revolt and Revolution. Like many, I like a game that has a 'pay off' at the end - the game itself must be engaging, challenging and fun but I also want something beyond "you won" or "you lost". Given my predilection for counterfactuals, I really enjoyed planting the 'what if' seeds for the various possible outcomes of a game of Levee en Masse. It was fun to play with what could have happened had one or more of the First Coalition Armies had taken Paris or if civil war had ripped France apart. While it is a small thing and not for everyone, for players that enjoy such things it will give them food for thought.
When I approached the design for Cruel Necessity, I knew I wanted to play with dictating the number of actions per turn. This would keep the game dynamic but needed some fine tuning as it introduced a random factor that could make the game much too hard or much too easy. In my research for the game, I found that control of key fortresses and regions in England were the key to victory. London and environs provided more than 40% of the money and manpower for the Parliamentary forces in the English Civil War. Thanks to some great feedback from early playtesters like Tim Porter, Steve Carey, and Gene Billingsley, the number of 'zeal points' (the in-game currency of Cruel Necessity) was limited to four key cities: London, Hull, Bristol and Oxford. Control of key cities determines the number of 'zeal points' a player has each turn to conduct actions. With London as the key city - it's loss to Royalist forces means the game is over - and worth two zeal points, then the bumpers were in place for a low of two zeal points to a high of five zeal points per turn. Now some cards can award or take away zeal points and two of the political and religious tracks have effects on zeal points but the range is restricted while allowing for dynamism during game play. Removing determinism was something I wanted to experiment with and was encouraged to do so by some great friends and long time wargamers. This means a lot more gears turning and will make the final playtesting and balancing more of a challenge but one that I think will make the final game experience that much better. As with Levee en Masse, the terms of victory are clear and on the map and there will be levels of victory and defeat that will include some speculative historical fiction.
My design targets are fairly straight forward - a game that is historically accurate (meaning that if a player follows what was done historically and gets average dice rolls they will get the historical outcome - a quick note here, in Levee en Masse and Cruel Necessity the historical outcome level is not the highest win possible), a fun challenge to play, a platform for trying out historical 'what if' decisions, and playable in an hour or so (less if things don't go well). The degree to which I succeed is determined by those that play and enjoy the experience.
Once again, thanks for taking the time to read this and a big thank you to those that have pre-ordered (or will pre-order) Revolt and Revolution. I remain happy to answer questions as they come to mind and let's March Forth to gaming goodness.
February 20, 2012
Clausewitz is famously ascribed to having wrote that "War is politics by other means" - while there is much debate about the translation and meaning of the phrase, what is true is that in a simulation of war at a strategic level like Cruel Necessity, issues beyond the battlefield are key to determining victory from defeat (and all the levels in between). I first explored this concept in Levee en Masse where political actions were important and the relative strengths and weaknesses at the end of the game determine whether the player had been successful - leaving Monarchy or Despotism high meant a defeat for Republicanism no matter how successful the French armies had been on the battlefield. I wanted Cruel Necessity to be a more in-depth game and this called for an expansion of the mechanic of abstracting not just politics and religion but diplomacy as well.
In Cruel Necessity, the player represents the forces of Parliament and Puritanism and this meant the contrary positions would need to be simulated. This created the first set of dichotomies - Puritanism vs Catholicism and Parliamentarianism vs Monarchy. As with any abstraction, there are levels of complexity that must be folded into the model and Cruel Necessity is no different. By the time of King Charles I, England had been a Protestant country for more than 100 years so the efforts by Puritans to further remove Anglicanism from the Church of Rome brought them into conflict with as many different sects of Protestantism as Catholic foes. The event cards in the game bring in the struggles with the Calvinists, the Presbyterians, the Covenanters, the Levelers, etc. but for all the religious struggles within the British Isles, the prospect of the Catholic powers in Europe intervening was very real - as they would do in Ireland. Therefore, I chose to label the track Catholic but it includes all the forces in opposition to Puritanism. The Parliament versus Monarchy tracks are more straight forward and mirror those found in Levee en Masse - another revolution pitting Republicanism and Divine Right Monarchy and part of the Revolt and Revolution pack.
The mechanics for these tracks work simply - it is more difficult to suppress the forces of Monarchy and Catholicism and raise those of Puritanism and Parliament the higher their support gets. A simple mechanic to be sure but it does a fair job modeling relative influence and power on a broad scale. The rules booklet lists some of the details of what a roll to reduce Catholicism or Monarchy can represent for those that want to know what a particular dice roll is simulating. Keeping levels at their highest for Puritanism and Parliament and lowest for Catholicism and Monarchy can produce bonuses during in-game play e.g. if Puritanism is at its highest level, then the player gets an extra Zeal point for each turn it stays that way. Levels at the end of the game determine whether the struggles have resulted in a triumph of Puritanism and Parliament or whether the forces of Monarchy or Catholicism have remained too strong.
Using tracks for Politics and Religion was new but I wanted to model the struggles of the English Civil War in Ireland and Scotland as well. In Cruel Necessity, each of these two countries gets its own track but they represent different aspects of internal politics and diplomacy. The goal during the game is too keep Scotland on the side of Parliament while suppressing the Irish rebels. The track mechanics work similarly in that it gets more difficult to boost Scotland's loyalty or keep the Irish down (I have to smile here as the entire side of my family on my Mother's side is Irish from the west coast of Ireland - Murphy's and Sullivan's) the higher their levels get. Given the structure of the map and dealing with the historical realities of what was possible and not possible (e.g. it would have been highly unlikely that an Irish Army could have invaded England and drive to London). This led to a situation in early playtesting wherein players simply ignored the Ireland track as it posed no real danger to events in England. Thanks to some wonderful support and design help by Steve Carey and Tim Porter, the idea of the logical outcome of letting 'Ireland Burn' come forward in the 'Irish Troubles' mechanic. Now if a player allows the Royalist Irish Army to get to its 'one' space and stay there, then on each turn that the event card calls for an Ireland advance it is translated into a reduction of Puritanism (Catholic triumphs in Ireland), Parliament (English settlers allowed to be persecuted) or Scotland (the Scottish forces in Ireland being defeated). This was a great way to simulate the 'what if' factor of the game - more on the 'what if' factor in the next installment.
Doubling the number of tracks from Levee en Masse to Cruel Necessity was a deliberate choice to add complexity and more of a gaming challenge for the player. It was also an effort to give players more of a feel for the complexity of the English Civil Wars and a better understanding of what an amazing accomplishment it was for the forces of Parliament and Puritanism to meet their goals. As with all the games in Revolt and Revolution, mirroring the success of those involved historically is no mean feat and they all show that "war is politics by other means". As always, thanks for reading and I'm happy to answer questions if you have them.
February 12, 2012
Every game in the States of Siege series has taken the basic core mechanics and added new ones or created variants to those already in print. While this wasn't planned per se, it seems to be in the nature of designers to want to push the boundaries of existing game systems to see how much 'design weight' they can carry - so far, the States of Siege structure as been able to support all the experiments in scale, theme and mechanics. Please note that the images included with this are entirely my own playtest graphics (creating them helps me with my design work) and while I know showing playtest art can create negative impressions, I wanted to risk it to better illustrate this article. Those of you familiar with the work of GMT and VPG will know that the finished product will look amazing!
The new game in the Revolt and Revolution pack is Cruel Necessity. The title of the game comes from the purported response to the beheading of King Charles I by Oliver Cromwell who said that the execution of the King was a "Cruel Necessity". When I approached my design for a game on the English Civil War, there were existing elements I wanted to use. Series creator Darin Leviloff introduced a political track in his game on the Russian Revolution, Soviet Dawn (one of the three games included in Revolt and Revolution) and I borrowed that concept using three tracks to model the struggles between Republicanism, Monarchy and Despotism in Levee en Masse (the second game in the Revolt and Revolution pack). The English Civil War (or more accurately English Civil Wars) was a complex set of struggles that included not just Civil War in England but Ireland and Scotland as well. In order to capture some of this historical complexity, I expanded the political tracks to include religion and the diplomatic leanings of Ireland and Scotland - more on that element of the game in my next installment. While doing my research on the English Civil War, it hit me that any design on them must include some grand tactical element - my game just had to have the 'push-of-pikes' and charging cavalry.
The question was how to integrate a tactical game into one on grand strategy. My original design was completed in December of 2009 and the blending of game play on two scales was something I had explored in Keep Up the Fire! - a design I completed in October of 2009. At that point, I knew I wanted to include a tactical game-within-a-game as part of Cruel Necessity. As great games like Unhappy King Charles highlight, English Civil War battles were often indecisive and relied on levied troops of marginal quality. Once armies were assembled, keeping them in supply was a nightmare. The Royalists began with an early advantage as they had troops that were better trained and equipped - and in some cases, like Royalist cavalry commander Prince Rupert of the Rhine, even had battlefield experience. As the Civil Wars dragged on, Parliamentary leaders like Oliver Cromwell expended the time, resources and energy to train a more professional army - the New Model Army. Soon both Cavaliers and Roundheads could field elite units; however, this was never a guarantee of success. Although battles were often indecisive, there were the occasional 'deadly outcomes' when entire formations were decimated. With these considerations, it was time to create mechanics that would simulate them.
Only when a historical battle event card is drawn, can the player elect to fight a Grand Tactical Battle.
This models the difficulties keeping large armies in the field and adds to the decisions that will have to be made in the game - to risk the fight or not. When the choice is made to fight, the player then randomly draws Royalist cavalry units, then Parliamentary cavalry units and then draws Musket and Pike units to fill out the Royalist and Parliamentary lines in numerical sequence. This mechanic allows the game AI to assemble its army in a way that is a unpredictable and means no battle is ever the same as the previous one. The original Musket and Pike draw pile will include a number of Elite Royalist units - in game terms the Elite units are named and have a higher combat value than the average levy draw. As the game progresses however, the player will begin to receive through the event card draw deck Parliamentary Elite units beginning with the London Trained Bands.
Soon the player will have the Ironsides formations, the New Model Army and ultimately Cromwell himself to deploy on the Grand Tactical map. Beyond the higher combat values and the ability to deploy them as desired, Cromwell brings the special ability (if victorious in the initial cavalry clash) to use his cavalry strength and add it to the Musket and Pike units on his flank of the battle line. This nicely models Cromwell's historical ability to so discipline his troopers that they could be used in the 'push-of-pikes' and not just to charge into the enemy's baggage train. Grand Tactical Battles may also include tactic cards that can both help or hurt a player's plan for battle. Combat is resolved in sequence (the cavalry wings battle first and then the musket and pike squares) and Parliamentary units are moved into the 'Victory', 'Draw' or 'Defeat' boxes as appropriate. Whichever box contains the most units at the end of the battle determines the outcome. Named units that are defeated also risk 'deadly outcomes' and can be wounded (they will not be available for the next battle) or killed (they are removed from play). This means that although the game can play out historically, it is possible to lose units that historically survived the wars - in playtesting, I've seen a player that was winning the game lose both Cromwell and one of the Ironsides units as a result of 'deadly outcomes' - he was much less eager to engage in Grand Tactical Battles after that :-)
As you struggle to impose Puritan theology, legislate Parliamentarianism, support Scottish Covenanters, suppress the uprisings in Ireland, drive back the forces of Catholicism and destroy those allied with King Charles I - you can also lead your armies into battle and win the victories that will secure the future.
In the next installment, I will talk about the use of tracks to model religion, politics and diplomacy. Be sure to let me know if you have questions and thanks for reading.
February 5, 2012
Revolt and Revolution is the first States of Siege pack and the fourth collaboration between GMT and VPG that seeks to bring VPG titles to a wider audience and includes upgraded components. The three-pack will contain Soviet Dawn by series creator Darin Leviloff, Levée en Masse and Cruel Necessity by John Welch...that would be me :-)
One of the great things about the States of Siege engine is that it carries a lot of basic game design weight and that allows the designer to focus on mechanics particular to the events they seek to model. As I worked on my game on the French Revolution, the system provided the foundational mechanics for combat, movement and the use of cards to carry the narrative and provide the 'game effects' of that history for the player. My intent was to model as much of the history of the roughly thirteen years of the French Revolution without sinking the game with so much detail as to make it a marathon to play. This involved beginning with what I felt were the key outcomes of the Revolution itself - the battle of competing systems of government (for the purposes of the game this would be Monarchy, Despotism i.e. the forces that would ultimately bring Napoleon to power and Republicanism from its moderate to radical forms), the military campaigns against the enemies of the Republic (both without and within), a reflection of the quality of the armies arrayed against France (and in the case of England, the quality of the Royal Navy vs the Republican Navy) and the true test of the French Revolution - could its ideals be 'exported' to 'sister republics'?
In most States of Siege games, the number of actions a player can perform in a given turn are determined by the event cards (I should note that this will not be the case with Cruel Necessity as it will have a dynamic approach to actions - or Zeal points - as determined by the number of key cities controlled by the player at the beginning of each turn). In Levée en Masse, actions represent a variety of factors rolled into what are called 'actions' - these would include money, political will, military strength, the will of the people, governmental priorities, etc. Therefore, the historical events on the card yield a number of action points commensurate with the impact of those events on the factors listed above. For example, card number 27 "Levee en Masse" provides the player with five actions for that turn to reflect the patriotic fervor that gripped Paris when the National Assembly chose to put France on a total war footing.
Actions are the currency of the game and as anyone who has played a States of Siege game can tell you, there are never enough of them :-) The design question for me was how should 'actions' be used to model the exportation of the Revolution outside the borders of France?
Step one in the process of creating what I eventually called a 'Liberation Action' was to clearly delineate which spaces where part of France and which were not (in this game, square spaces are French and circular spaces are not - historians continue to debate whether France's neighbors were liberated or invaded but as the game puts the player in the role of the Revolutionary Government of France, I went with liberation). Because it took years of internal struggle to solidify the revolution, the ability to attempt a 'Liberation Action' does not come early in the game. Once the player has the Liberation counter available, then additional modeling was needed to mirror the difficulties of exporting enlightened republicanism and the cost/benefit such an action could provide. The cost was simply the spending of the game's currency - 'actions'. To attempt to Liberate a neighboring territory, the player first expends an action. This action represents the commitment of resources and political capital to stirring up the people in (for game purposes) Prussia, Austria and Piedmont. The resolution mechanic is the same throughout the game (to keep things simple and consistent) and thus the player needs to roll greater than the value printed on the Liberation counter.
Success means that the people have risen up and the Liberation counter is placed in that space. If the dice roll fails, then attempts to create 'sister republics' were crushed by locals loyal to the occupying power. There are two Liberation counters in the base game (an additional one in the expansion which will be included in the Revolt and Revolution box) one with a value of two and one with a value of three. Once the Liberation action is successful, then an enemy army advancing on that track must destroy the new revolutionary force before it can continue its advance toward Paris. This difference in numeric values presents yet another challenge to the player's strategy for victory - does the player go with the lower value attempt which is 'easier' to roll but provides less resistance to advancing enemy armies or go for the 'harder' roll to put out a stronger blocking republic (the advancing army must roll greater than the value on the Liberation counter or be thrown back by the newly liberated republicans)? Successfully spreading republicanism is one way to earn points at the end of the game while presenting the player with one of the primary goals of the French Revolution that they must try to accomplish in order to earn at least a historical victory level.
I hope this short look at a few of the design elements of Levée en Masse was interesting - if not, be kind as I'm new to this. It has been a real treat getting to know some truly great game designers over the years by attending GMT West Weekends and working with VPG. Like most things - golf, tennis, engine repair - once you've tried it yourself, you REALLY appreciate those that do it well and in that sense, I'm still very much a game designer work-in-progress. If you'd like to read more stuff like this, please let me know.