I play wargames. Emphasis on “games”. So when I design a new scenario I look for three things. The scenario must result in a game that is fun, fair and has flavour. The 3Fs of scenario design. For this post I’ll use Crossfire examples but the same principles apply to any game system.
Firstly I want my games to have flavour. That is where history comes in. I pull as much as I can from historical accounts to flesh out my scenarios. Specific units, terrain, times that activities happened. All provide flavour.
When I start a new scenario I collate the background material available to me. Sometimes this is very detailed. For example I wrote quite a lot of background for the Battle Krasny Bor in preparation for my Krasny Bor Crossfire campaign. At a more modest level, but still pretty extensive, I wrote 830 words for the “Historical Section” of my Papa Eicke Crossfire Scenario. Compare that to something like 2 Companies a Side – A Generic Crossfire Scenario. About the only flavour there is that the setting is World War II.
Here is an example from Moroccan Knives – A Crossfire Scenario in the Spanish Civil War:
Setting: Guadalupe mountains; Aug 1936
In late Aug 1936, in the Army of Africa’s drive on Madrid, Yagüe turned east into the Guadalupe mountains (Beevor, 1982; H. Thomas, 1986). The government’s army of Extremadura awaited him under General Riquelme. Riquelme has 9,000 men, including 2,000 anarchist militia.
This scenario simulates a Nationalist attack on Republican militia in a wood. It is essentially a Search and Destroy mission. The attackers are Moroccan Regulares; good troops but lacking heavy support. The defending militia are green and also lack heavy weapons.
Not much detail but enough to get a feel for the situation.
The point about this background material is that key features find themselves into the scenario itself. For example the background to Papa Eicke defines the orders of battle, the Russian reinforcements (lots), some aspects of the terrain (villages), the victory conditions (secure crash site, recover bodies, recover insignia from village) and associated special scenario rules.
I want my games to be fair. Competitive social games, like wargames, should also be fair. I want an equal chance of winning against my opponent. That doesn’t mean equal forces. It doesn’t assume an open field of battle. It doesn’t mean we have the same victory conditions. It just means I have a good chance of winning and so does the other bloke. If the other bloke is always going to win, then I’ll lose interest and stop playing; he probably feels the same way.
“Game balance” is one of those things that will set people off. Many people seem to object to the idea of “balance” because war isn’t fair and two sides in a historical battle were never equal. When people rant against balance they seem to be objecting to points based pick up games. This is the “balance” that competition organisers aim for with rules sets like DBM and Field of Glory (FOG). In these games both sides have a fixed number of points and then construct their army from an army list. The armies then fight in a more-or-less open field. The player that can both select a killer army and utilise it effectively will win. That is balance of a sort, but not what I’m talking about.
I think these anti-balance people are missing the point. “Game balance” for me is about both players having a equal chance to win the game. Note: “player” and “game” in my statement, not “historical battle”, “forces available”, or “historical outcome”. For me history provides the flavour of the scenario. It is up to me to make a balanced game out of this historical battle.
Points and Forces Available
Some people are very keen on points – see my point above about competition gamers – but other people are very anti points. Nikolas Lloyd, who is generally an excellent guy and huge proponent of Crossfire, thinks the points system in Crossfire is a waste of time.
No, the chances are that they [the Crossfire points system] are not excellently balanced. I have never known anyone use them, though. If CF2 ever sees the light of day, I think it could use the pages for something more useful.
Nikolas Lloyd on the Crossfire Yahoo Forum (13 September 2014)
As I pointed out to Lloyd at the time, this isn’t true. I use the Crossfire point system all the time. Determining the points total of each side is part of my process to “balance” a scenario.
Of course you’ll use what figures you have, but we are also looking for some kind of game balance. Real commanders aimed for 3:1 odds in attack to be sure of victory, but this won’t make a good game. In fact in Crossfire experienced players can have a “balanced” game with 1:1 force ratio.
But 1:1 doesn’t mean parity in actual numbers, it means parity in effectiveness. Veteran troops are, for example, more effective than Green, so in a balanced game a small number of Veterans can face off a much larger number of Green troops (about twice as many). That means I almost always use the Crossfire points system as the starting point for my Orders of Battle. This system isn’t perfect but it is near enough.
The standard Crossfire point system, however, isn’t great for some things (tanks and fortifications) and ignores a few factors which I like to take into account for scenarios:
- I use my own points for armour and fortifications.
- Using the standard Hidden deployment rule, the hidden troops count for 1.5 times their points. .
- Using the Hidden troops revealed on any one rule, hidden troops count for 2 times their points.
- Off table reinforcements count as half points – after all, they might never arrive.
- A novice attacker will need 2:1 or 3:1 advantage in numbers.
By the way, if you’re using armour then ensure the opponent has appropriate weapons (ATG, Armour, IAT) to counter it.
After doing all that maths you need to adjust for any scenario specific weirdness. And scenarios can be quite weird.
Some of my scenarios do not look at all balanced – at least in relative force compositions. Here are four notable examples:
- Krasny Bor Crossfire campaign: Four Soviet divisions attacking the equivalent of four Spanish battalions. Nominally odds of 10 to 1 but in reality each defender battalion is facing three attacking battalions.
- Village P: Two German companies and three StuGs attacking into a battalion of Soviets. The Soviets are constrained on where they can deploy offsetting their apparent advantage.
- Papa Eicke Scenario: Two German platoons (yes platoon) and eight armoured vehicles attack into a battalion of Soviets. Although the forces are staggeringly unbalanced, the Soviets arrive in dribs and drabs and the Germans do not have to hold territory, just get what they need and leave.
- Race Through Normandy: Two US or Canadian battalions (more or less) attack a German battalion. This includes the possibility that each German platoon only has two squads so the allies can have odds of 3 to 1. But the victory conditions do not necessarily encourage total conquest so light defenders can still threaten massed attackers.
Despite these large differences these scenarios produce games that are fair. That, for me, is balance.
Finally I want my games to be fun. This isn’t work. This isn’t a chore. This is a game. And games are meant to be fun. The flavour adds to the fun. Being fair also adds to the fun.