Sunday, January 6, 2019

Rules Design Objectives and Approach

When designing a rules system the really big question is what am I trying to achieve?

With the rules for All Hell Let Loose there were a number of objectives;

We wanted a game where players controlled multiple battalions, regiments or battlegroups. We wanted to be generals controlling a battle, not captains in charge of a company.  These formations needed to reflect the range of units you’d expect including mortars, HMGs, engineers and recon options.

We wanted to simulate the feel of the period without getting bogged down in the detail. No general has perfect knowledge of the ground and enemy, battalions react too slowly or not at all, threats are over or under estimated. The management of platoons by lieutenants and sergeants, such as unit facing, would not really be our concern.

Players always needed to be involved in the game, and always feel under pressure. Every turn, every action should involve decisions, choices and compromises.

The battlefield needed to fit on a reasonably sized table, 6ft by 4ft for a small game with one player a side, and be scalable for larger games with larger tables and more players per side.

The game durations needed to fit in with our family and work life. Essentially it means we have 4 hours on a Friday night, with games that could carry over for two or three game nights, or could be managed on those golden days that dad’s get off once in a blue moon.

These aspirations dictated or guided the approach to the rules and game.

The table size constraint combined with the desire to fight large battles dictated many of the games principles. Providing a battleground that covered miles along with the need to place a range of different unit types pushed us to the smaller scale figures. 6mm figures seemed to provide the appropriate balance between size, detail and range, although the rules will work equally well with 3mm or 10mm figures.

Forces are organised by formation - a battalion, regiment or battle group. Each formation made up of a number of units, either a stand with infantry or a gun or a vehicle or tank, each representing an historical platoon. Play testing resulted in a limit of 12 units for each formation with larger historical battalions split into two or more formations. This enables sufficient flexibility, figure and unit type representation without threatening to overwhelm any opposition it might encounter, or taking too long to move and adjudicate actions.

The game is intended to be a simulation. Lots of factors are subsumed into a single dice roll to aid speed of play but without losing the feel of the period. Troop quality is split across 3 basic quality levels, command similarly split. Fire effectiveness is aggregated from 0 to +7 with different values for attacks against infantry than against vehicles. Range modifiers are simple and consistent. Turns can represent anything from 15 minutes to an hour of combat. This enables turns to be completed in 20 to 30 minutes of game time and for battles to be fought in a reasonable timeframe.

In order to keep players involved and to add pressure whilst removing control formations act according to the order dice are removed from a bag. Formation activity is further constrained by the result of an activation dice roll based on command and troop quality. Players can never be really sure when a formation will move or how effective it will be. Attacks can start late, be interrupted or never even take place at all. At key points in the game players will be worrying about the colour of the next dice out of the bag whilst trying desperately decide which of their three most critical formations they need to activate first.

Next time I’ll talk more about the order and activation system.

Happy dice rolling!

Charles the Modeller

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