Dirk KnemeyerUnited States
I've long considered myself a "wargamer". I owned Squad Leader as an eight year old; I've played my fair share of "monster" wargames over the years. But despite calling myself a wargamer, and despite buying Case Blue and other wargames in recent years, I realized that it had been a long time since I had actually played a wargame more complex than Command and Colors: Ancients. Despite continuing to act like a wargamer in terms of identity and buying choices, I did not choose to spend my time playing wargames. Ever. At all.
Thinking about why, the world has just changed. In the gaming hobby, fast-playing Euro games have introduced mechanics and game structures that deliver a tight experience in what can be an order of magnitude less time than the wargames I used to play. In the broader world, the rise of the Internet has conditioned me to expect to wait mere seconds when jumping between very different content, games or other experiences. The pace of those games I used to love now seem glacial. Whereas I used to say "when I retire I'm going to break out World in Flames and have a great time!", now I find myself with no interest in those games. The world has changed and, as a result, so have I.
That was a long-winded way of leading into our mindset when designing map construction and unit movement in the War Stories system. The old tropes of tactical wargames that I know so well from years gone by - consulting movement ratings, applying terrain modifiers, and inching my units forward hex-by-hex - instinctively felt that it needed a reconsideration. Of course, that is easier said than done: the system was created by smart people because it worked.
In traditional tactical games, the least fun and most cumbersome part of the process is going from "game start" to "getting my units to the positions I really want them at, and/or being interrupted from doing so". Yet many scenarios in traditional games first require you to traverse thru relatively meaningless hexed terrain in order to reach your destination, or enter an opposing unit's field of fire. We wanted to cut that, what I would call "boring", part of the battle out.
In traditional tactical wargames, the hex is the base unit of measure. Along with the geometric benefits of hexes from a mapmaking and field of fire perspective, they also help to regulate both movement and firing range. Representing a particular distance, and each being further governed by the "terrain" that they represent, hexes allow a variety of complex rules to be layered on the action in relatively lightweight ways. The challenge, in innovating from the hex, was to preserve the benefits conferred by the shape into any new solution.
Three things were quickly obvious:
1. Maintaining hexes or a near 1-to-1 equivalent was important for regulating combat. Particularly at the scale we were planning - 50m "per hex" - this level of granularity was necessary to allow realistic battles and determining results across a wide variety of weaponry.
2. Our solution had the opportunity to take many factors previously governed by charts, map symbols and unit modifiers and bake them into the terrain solution itself.
3. Not only did movement not need to be regulated per the hex, it probably shouldn't be regulated per the hex from a realism and playability perspective.
So, we needed a new system for movement, that supported the old solution for combat, and also solved for the myriad of terrain modifiers and movement allowances at the same time. At its core, our solution is to replace hex-based movement with area-based movement. This accomplishes a few things:
- Have "areas" be varied in size and shape, each representing one "full" movement inclusive of terrain and other factors
- Enable units to get thru "irrelevant" terrain more quickly, clipping across entire areas as opposed to hex-by-hex
- Because there are substantially fewer "areas" on a scenario map than there would be "hexes" on a comparable map, we can integrate unique fog of war characteristics (these will be discussed in a subsequent article)
The way area movement works is pretty simple. Here is a plain, base "map section" for War Stories (all graphics are simply prototypes):
A plain, generic base map section is made up of seven "open ground" areas (indicated by the larger lines), each area made up of seven hexes. Open ground does not have to be seven hexes in size, but that is the "typical" open ground area. While that is the base for our map sections, in most cases the sections used in scenarios will already have other terrain built into them, like this:
Individual hexes remain recognizable - a requirement for measuring fire range - but the larger lines regulate movement. There are thus only eight areas for movement on this map section: the five "open ground" areas around the top, right and bottom edges, and the three fields in the center-left. The pond is impassable. If you are in one of these eight areas, to move to a different part of that same area, requires one of the two actions that a "ready" unit has. To leave your current area and enter an adjacent area on the shared side it is also one action. To leave your current area and cross the adjacent area, it costs both of your actions.
That's the extent of it. Units do not need movement ratings or allowances. The areas, by their very construction, regulate the correct uniform distance a unit should require to traverse that type of terrain. This allows us to also ignore terrain modifiers, as the terrain size and shape itself represents the modifier. It allows unit movement to shift from:
"This infantry is going to move. It has a base movement of 4. The first hex is open ground but after that it is trees. What is the modifier for trees? OK, so it will cost me three to cross the open ground and the first tree hex. Can I get into the next tree hex since I still have one point left, even though it costs two to move into trees? No, OK well I will stay there, then."
"This infantry is going to dash across this open ground and get to the edge of that field."
This prototype map section, like all of our pieces of base map terrain, only contains terrain that does not block line of sight. If it is on the map - if it is "flat" - then you know you can see or shoot over it. As such there is absolutely no need for a player aid or rulebook section to cover terrain. The map, in its essential state, communicates the movement regulation and line of sight.
So, what about trees and hills and buildings? Stay tuned...
PS [from Michael W. Tan] We'll post images that illustrate movement more clearly once we get the latest files from our artist Heiko.