REINVENTING TACTICAL WARGAMES: Game Design Blog for War Stories

War Stories is a squad level combat system that will offer a fresh new take for the genre of small unit tactical wargames. In this blog we will share our design process from initial concept to completed product. War Stories will be published by Conquistador Games in 2013 and was formerly known as Pocket Armies.
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Our failed first attempt

Michael Tan
United States
Los Angeles
California
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Having identified the problem, I could now attack the problem. Introduce meaningful tactical decisions with as few dice modifiers as possible and create a damage system that doesn’t require multiple iterations of rolling dice, applying modifiers, and interpreting results. I wanted ONE base target number, ONE dice roll, ONE modifier, and ONE interpretation of results. Modifiers should encompass:

- Attacker’s Base Firepower
- Attacker’s Situational Firepower
- Defender’s Base Defense
- Defender’s Situational Defense
- Target Range
- Target Visibility
- Target Cover
- Vehicle Target Size

The first thing I recognized was that only using the Attacker’s Base Firepower to determine the base odds of hitting was a wasted opportunity. There had to be a method by which every attacker attribute could be integrated into a quick lookup. The traditional way of doing things would be something like this:

1) Lookup base firepower on counter.
2) Refer to player aid and determine which of the following modifier's apply:

Elite unit, +1
Conscript unit, -1
Aimed fire with basic optics, +1
Aimed fire with superior optics, +2
Veteran or elite unit performing opportunity fire, -1
Conscript or regular unit performing opportunity fire, -2
Performing opportunity fire with slow turret,-1
Performing opportunity fire with very slow turret,-2
Firing while moving (no gyrostabilizer) -3
Firing while moving (basic gyrostabilizer),-2
Firing while moving (advanced gyrostabilizer),-1
Range 0, +3
Range 1, +2
Range 2, +1
Range 3-4,+0
Range 5-8, -1
Range 9-16, -2
Beyond unit's effective range, -2

And this is not even considering terrain or the target. Too much!!! That was the genesis of the unit card. The notion was to have a customized chart on every card for each unit. Instead of modifying a unit’s base firepower with a lengthy list of situational and range based DMs, the card would do the “heavy lifting” for you. This is what the finished product looked like:

The chart allows the player to quickly lookup a "situational" firepower by cross referencing the unit's orders (aim, watch, sprint) and the target's range in hexes. For instance with the above unit, an aimed shot at range seven hexes has a firepower of "4". An opportunity shot (watch) at the same range has a firepower of "2". That lengthy list of dice modifiers I presented above are "baked" into this card. So I managed to combine range, situational firepower modifiers, and base firepower into a single lookup. That was a small victory. I still had to figure out what to do with base defense, situational defense, visibility, cover, and vehicle size.

Again the unit card was the answer. As mentioned previously, I established that all units would have two "hit points" i.e. they are full strength, reduced, or eliminated. The solve was to make the unit card double-sided. The front side had the full strength stats and the backside had the reduced strength stats. When reduced, simply flip the unit card over. "Soft" damage like suppression was handled by printing a "valor" stat on each unit card. Situational defense which if you recall is whether infantry were enfilade or defilade or if vehicles were moving or stationary, was also handled on the card. Infantry on "sprint" orders were easier to hit. Vehicles on "sprint" orders were harder to hit. Vehicle size was integrated into defense as well.

So there you have it. The unit card, with the exception of cover and visibility, combined every single attribute and modifier you needed into three quick lookup stats: firepower, defense, and valor. Pocket Armies now had NO dice modifiers except for cover and visibility. I was satisfied at the time. Looking back now, the unit card is incredibly busy, and quite intimidating for the non-wargamer. But it streamlined the process and is really quite elegant if you are STUCK in the CRT and "to hit" framework. And that's where I was...
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