Next War Series Design Notes

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This article started as an attempt at some design notes for Next War: Taiwan (NWT), but it quickly also became somewhat of an essay on my general take on game design with the bits of how it affected the Next War games woven in. It’s long and a little rambling at times. Hopefully, you get your money’s worth…

Comanchería: Designing For Feel

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One of the challenges of designing a game that depicts the vast sweep of Comanche history was how to model the phases of their history without a host of special rules and exceptions. In short: how do you put the player into a position from which he or she can get a reasonably realistic perspective on the challenges that faced the Comanche people without forcing certain behavior upon the player? Or put it this way: How do you enable the player to feel the history without destroying that feel with the rules?

As it turns out, one solution I’ve set upon happens to also be something I wish I had thought of when I was designing Navajo Wars. If there’s one mechanic about Navajo Wars that I’m not really happy with it is the Victory Check Procedure. When I began designing Comanchería, I wanted something that would be much more streamlined and easier for the player to look at-a-glance to see if he or she was winning or losing. The solution is to use cards in Comanchería in a different way than I did with Navajo Wars.

A GMT Weekend at the Warehouse with Örjan Ariander (April 2015)

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    Designer - Liberty or Death

    The GMT Weekend at the Warehouse offers gamers an opportunity to play their favorite games amongst the shelves of thousands of GMT games.  For me, the best part is the opportunity to meet designers and other notables that created and love the games.  Now that I am designing Liberty or Death it gives me the rare opportunity to meet face to face with those working with me.  COIN Series Developer Mike Bertucelli and I enjoyed playing head to head, trading smack talk like we have known each other for years, all the while working the kinks out of the game.   Gene Billingsley is the master facilitator, and in fifteen minutes with him I complete 6 things on my to-do list.  This year was a rare treat with Mark Simonitch and Tony Curtis in attendance.  Mark and I talked about the Republic of Texas and he gave me advice (and a deadline) on working with the artists engaged in Liberty or Death’s production: Terry Leeds and Charlie Kibler.  Tony helped me nail down piece types and colors – the final production version is going to be fantastic! But, I must say the highlight was spending time with the Bot Master – Örjan Ariander visiting from Stockholm, Sweden!

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    Some of the GMT/COIN Brain Trust – Series Developer Mike Bertucelli, GMT President Gene Billingsley, Bot-Master Örjan Ariander and Liberty or Death Designer Harold Buchanan

    Anatomy of a New Map for Silver Bayonet

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    When I decided to do a 25th Anniversary Edition of Silver Bayonet, I knew that I had to commit to doing a MAJOR revision of the game map. There are artistic reasons to want a new map because the maps that Mark and Charlie are capable of creating today dwarf what we were able to create in the pre-digital-game-map days of 1990. But as a designer, the biggest reason I wanted a new map is because I was a little embarrassed by that original Silver Bayonet map. I knew that the original map was my “best attempt,” based on very limited map resources back then, but frankly, it wasn’t a very good representation of the operational area southwest of Pleiku in the Republic of Vietnam. I knew that we could now get access  at least to 1:250,000 Topo maps of the region (most were still Classified back in 1990), which should get us a much better base game map than the one that was in the original game.

    At left is the 1990 map. To the right is a cobbled-together shrunk-down version of nine 1:50,000 base maps i was using to test size and scale

    At left is the 1990 map. To the right is a cobbled-together shrunk-down version of nine 1:50,000 base maps I was using to test size and scale. (I ended up using only those top six; that’s the Chu Pong Massif – which defines the bottom left of our game map – at the bottom of the middle map on the left.)

    Next War: Korea – Scenario – Modified Tactical Surprise

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    Dan Stueber has been a long time proofreader, playtester, and supporter of the Next War series. He has completed and posted several solitaire game session reports on Boardgamegeek including one for the scenario he’s designed for Next War: Korea which is presented for your use below. Hope you enjoy! – Mitch

    This scenario postulates a slow buildup of DPRK forces through the use of war games, training, and other deception means. Assume the North Koreans, with the PRC assisting, conduct massive training and war games over a six to eight week period. Each time the training is completed a few units don’t make it back to their home areas. A tank battalion or two has some “maintenance problems” and has to stay in their forward deployed areas. An infantry division disappears into some tunnel complexes. A forward deployed artillery unit does not fire off all of its live ammunition. A local emergency requires an infantry division (or three) to help out the population. Now, the Allies are not blind to what is going on, so over the eight weeks or so that this is occurring they constantly call up their troops and ready their aircraft and then nothing happens. This occurs so many times over the eight (or maybe longer) weeks that some politicians and military leaders begin to think the North Koreans are just blustering as usual. Soon some Allied units become complacent to what is happening across the border. When the balloon does finally go up the ROK troops are caught somewhat by surprise, thus they are slow off the mark in deploying. The good news is the ROK replacement system is up and running and their air force is ready to go. The bad news is any forward troops are going get hurt by the tunnels and infiltration, and they will probably be destroyed. The PRC is assumed to want to solve the South Korean problem before taking care of Taiwan. To do so they commit a large portion of their air force, with most of their new hi-tech units, in this battle. The forward PRC air units that were taking part in the “training exercises” are used to help maintain air superiority over Korea until additional air units can be shifted into the theater. The Chinese mobilize several Group Armies and all of their marine and airborne troops for commitment to the battlefield. At Daegu Airbase the Captain of the Watch is stunned when the airbase is hit by several SCUD missiles. He hits the warning klaxon just as the door is kicked open by a North Korean Special Operations commando…

    Designing Artificial Intelligence for Digital Dominant Species

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    Hey everyone! My name is Matt Brand. I work at GameTheory in Burlington, VT, and I am the primary developer on the digital version of Dominant Species by GMT Games. I am finishing up the Artificial Intelligence (AI) portion of the game right now, and wanted to give a little window into the creation of the AI. I’m going to give a little summary of the complex nature of the AI for this game, and then some of the strategies that Kai Jensen (Developer of the Dominant Species boardgame ) and I came up with in order to facilitate an interesting and fun play experience.

    DominantSpecies(RBM)Dominant Species (DS) is a game with a lot of complex decision points. It may not seem that way when playing the game as a human, but the ways in which some decisions are made as a player involve a lot of underlying logic and assumptions that need to be taken into account when making an AI come to similar conclusions. Even some seemingly simple moves take layers of analysis in order for the AI to arrive at a similar decision that a human player will make.

    The main reason for the deep complexity in DS is the breadth of types of actions that the game involves. For example, choosing and placing an element in Abundance, which really comes down to what elements can support the player the best on the board, is relatively simple, while moving animals around during Migration in order to maximize different results gets way more complex. Both involve a basic goal of maximizing the amount of tiles on earth that the AI desires to dominate, but the ways that is accomplished in each of those 2 types of actions are very different. And those are only 2 actions out of the 12 types, not to mention the Dominance Cards, which involve another entire range of different types of behaviors and decisions.

    Another reason for the complexity is the turn structure. DS is unlike most other games. Generally in a game each player takes one turn, does an action, and the game advances to the next player. There are the same number of turns per round per player, and the actions done in each turn are relatively similar. DS is very different because it has varying amounts of actions per player, which changes over the course of the game. It progresses in Initiative order in the Planning Phase, each player taking a turn to place an Action Pawn on the desired action. But then once it gets to the Execution Phase, the turns are made in the order the players have designated, so the same player could take 2, 3 or even more turns in a row. (This also presents a big challenge as we design the multi-player functionality we’re adding to the game later this summer, but that’s another article.)

    Lion of Judah Units, Part 2

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    lojp2_1   Italian Guerrillas: the Guillet Detachment (1942-1943 What-if Scenario)

       The History

    From the Allied liberation of Ethiopia in 1941 until late 1943, the Italians mobilized guerrillas to fight in the former Africa Orientale    Italiana. They were organized into mobile guerrilla ‘bandes’ or detachments and were armed with Italian and captured British       weapons. Often they received the support of local tribesmen who were traditionally hostile to the Ethiopian Empire, such as Eritreans, Somalis, and Galla tribes from southern Ethiopia.

    Twilight Struggle Kickstarter Update

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    Hi Everyone!

    This update is to let you guys know that we are making good progress on both the digital and the physical rewards for our Twilight Struggle project! I know last month’s update might have been a bit of a downer, as you read about delays on both the digital and physical fronts. So I’m happy to report this month that we’re going full steam ahead again! Here are a few specifics, to give you a sense of what we’ve accomplished of late:

    Inside No Retreat!: The Italian Front

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    Coming Soon!

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    No Retreat! The Italian Front will be released soon! I have been very busy with the details of the design work and haven’t been able to spend much time online telling you all about its peculiarities and qualities. So please, let me correct this lapse today.

    Why This Game?

    This is the fourth game in my “No Retreat!” series, which premiered with No Retreat: The Russian Front, my favorite WWII topic. This was followed by the North African Front (1940-43) game. The third was about the French Front (1940), published by Victory Point Games, and currently on GMT’s P500 list as No Retreat: The French and Polish Fronts, with the Polish campaign added in for this version. My initial goal was to make just the first NR! game, but things got out of hand and I was somehow goaded into adding more and more titles to the list. My goal right now is to make five games total, the final one covering the West Front (1943-45). This series is a tribute to the old Avalon Hill “Classics”: NR1 = Russian Campaign, NR2 = Afrika Korps, NR3 = France 40, NR4 = Anzio, NR5 = D-Day. We now are at number four: The Italian Campaign.

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    Time of Crisis Design Diary #3

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    As mentioned in previous articles (Design Diary #1 and Design Diary #2), I believe that one of the most distinctive aspects of any card-driven game (CDG) is the set of historical events that are featured on the operations cards used in the game.  Not only should the events provide players with interesting alternatives to the standard operations points offered by the cards, but they should also evoke the correct historic setting for the game as a whole.  These points equally hold true for deckbuilding games as well – the events on the cards players choose for their decks must be interesting in play and must also fit the game’s theme.

    Designing the events for a card-driven game can be a very difficult balancing act.  Of course it is important to make sure that no event has a disproportionate effect on the game, and it can take a great amount of playtesting effort to properly exercise candidate events.   However, the events in a deckbuilding game can be an even greater playtesting challenge.  While events in CDGs tend to be a) unique and b) drawn randomly, events in deckbuilding games are frequently purposely selected by players in multiple copies.  This means that the relative effect of events in deckbuilding games can be greatly magnified, and any issues that may exist with combinations of certain events will most assuredly be found and exploited.