Dec 282014

Siege warfare. When you speak those words a myriad of images comes to mind: walls, towers, tunnels, projectiles, and waves of men; climbing, fighting, dying. Those are our first impressions and popular movies support those images.

But Siege warfare is complex and varied well beyond the basic elements we commonly think of. Many commanders and armies of the past would do their utmost to avoid it due to the inherent complexities in successfully executing a siege, particularly when it involved advanced and established defenses, difficult terrain, or poor supply. A broken siege often meant disaster for the besieger potentially costing them not just the city but reversing all of the gains of the campaign.

The subject of siege warfare has fascinated me personally for many years both as a student of history and a wargamer. My first real exposure to siege games was the classic SPI title The Art of Siege, which I have borrowed for this posts title. It is imminently appropriate to describe how an army commander would approach a siege. As an art.

In electrical engineering, there is an old adage that digital design rests on a solid foundation of principals and procedures, while analog design is an art form. The roots of this tongue-in-cheek maxim is the level of uncertainty dealing and accounting for all of the unexpected elements in the analog world: a Radio Frequency wave reflecting in an atmosphere is messy, an electron on a conductor, much less so.

And that is what the term, art, really represents when applied to siege warfare: It’s messy, the unexpected can and will happen, the unaccounted for events that will plague you as a military commander will be more frequent than in an open field battle. There is more time for the engagement and therefore more opportunity for those unknowns to arise. By comparison, a battle on an open and flat plain is simpler, men will only be able to fight for so long in an open pitched battle, but behind those walls it could be weeks, or even months, before the capitulation.

It may be high time to readdress siege warfare in terms of a wargame format. The genre has never spawned the volume of works like Napoleonics or World War 2 strategy, and I think following this reasoning, the opportunities to explore the possibilities have been limited. Not by lack of talent of the designers, but more a rarity of opportunity to evolve.

Siege warfare will be the genre I will be focusing on in 2015. As I mentioned in my last post I’ve been doing a lot of thinking in this area and I think it’s time I take it a step further. Let’s see what comes of it.

Aug 092014

The vaporous tendrils of design run deep in all we do. Every gamer at one point or another smells it, breathes it in. Sometimes it’s the quick sniff while other times it is a deep inhalation.

When you momentarily see a way to improve upon a game mechanism, that’s when it comes to you. When you play a game and have an overpowering desire to throw out the entire rules set and write your own, there it is again. Different measures of intensity, but from the same source: the innate desire to make things better.

By large and small, from decades of gaming experience, I find that hobby gamers are creators. They want to tinker, construct, test, watch it fall apart and watch it work. I think, it’s an element of why we play games to being with, to be a part of it all unfolding and get that satisfaction of a conclusive end to a series of decisions and events. Game play in itself is an act of creation.

And from those basic shared elements, there is a bit of a designer in all of us. From the earliest days it peeks out. My first wargame, Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign, a block game, inspired my young self to use red and blue legos to represent British and French infantry lines. The more pips on the block the more troops in the unit. I came up with my own rules to fight the battles. Those rules, as primitive and unpublishable as they were, were the earliest manifestation of an innate design gene.

Over the many intervening years I have designed for myself and my friends, a few times I put in the extra work to create something others could play. One example being my Print-and-Play (PnP) title Doubloon Lagoon. The amount of additional work to move from a personal design to a quality product other gamers can enjoy is not trivial. This is fact: to publish a quality product is a lot of work in comparison to a homebrew design. This includes PnP as well. Knowing the nature of the work involved in moving a design from its initial stages to final product, I held off any further attempts after Lagoon. I am now ready to dive back in.

About ten months ago I began researching material for a game in a genre I have long loved. Wargaming is at the core of my being, from those early days onwards, regardless of all of the other types and forms of games I have played and come to love, wargaming is where my heart lies. I wanted to wait a while before I said anything publicly about this project for a couple reasons. I wanted to make sure I could keep up the effort on it; and secondly, due to the very large scope and size of the project, I wanted to get a certain way through the initial stages to grow confidence it could be accomplished.

I feel I am at that point now. My plans, as optimistic as they are, will be to publish this game under my own label for reasons I will expound upon in the coming months. I am excited and growing more so as I see design, art, and graphics come together for this game. As I go through the process I want to share my experiences, thoughts, trials and challenges. I want to establish a rationale for what I will attempt. I hope it will be interesting and enlightening to others who will follow.

Jul 032014

There is nothing as fun and nostalgic as bringing out an older game and gazing upon it with fresh eyes. Recently, I had such opportunity, and not only to bring it out for play, but to play it with the same opponent I faced off against thirtysome years ago. It’s an interesting experience opening up the rules after so long, looking back on what we could remember and comparing those shadows of memory to the text before us.

The game summoned from its long slumber is the GDW classic Double Star, designed by the master of Sci-Fi gaming Marc W. Miller. When a gamer in the late seventies and early eighties wanted to get into Sci-Fi, a reliable source was GDW and one of Marc’s designs. Imperium, Triplanetary, and Belter are among some of the solid and fun games produced by GDW in those early days that reflect Marc’s approach: an interesting story to tell, a fantastic situation to be placed in, and interesting mechanics to resolve it all.

While I still have a copy of Imperium, we had long ago lost my friends original Double Star. Recently, in a determined and emphatic attempt to restore our originals, we’ve gone on a bit of a hunt to recover some of our lost treasures. Double Star was one of our first recoveries and thus one of our first old-schools to be played.

The premise of the game is intriguing. Two earth cultures, the Chinese and Islamic, have ventured to the stars and colonized two adjacent star systems: Chin and An-Nur respectively. These nova-humanitas, are now in conflict and have launched their armadas into space. Major worlds contain population (in millions), factories, bases, and defense systems. Fleets are composed of transports, destroyers, cruisers and battleships. An interesting concept revolves around the use of command cruisers, which permit the creation of fleets. These fleets have the inherent ability to train new formations which are then selected during inter-ship combat to enhance attack and defense power.

Destroying the opposing civilizations ability to fight includes devastating their production capability and annihilating the non-combatant population. If that sounds like the classical warfare of a bygone era then the classification is right-on; Miller strove for a feeling of barbarism and genocide with this title. One of the novel aspects of the game is the ability to break moons and smaller planetoids out of their orbits and send them hurtling towards your opponents planets. Needless to say these can cause devastating damage if they achieve a strike.

We played the short “raid” scenario just to get our feel for the game back. Next play will be the full game and the interstellar struggle for ruination or survival will be rendered to conclusion. Look for a piece on that experience in a future installment.

Two Islamic Cruisers have broken off the main fleet action for a raid while the planetoid Al-Akhir hurtles towards Chien.