Tag Archives: Survey

How Will You Play General Staff?

Every wargame that I’ve designed allows the user to adjust important variables such as leadership and morale and how they affect combat. Usually included is the ability to design your own armies, maps and scenarios as well. However, with the General Staff Wargaming System we’ve added a new feature: the ability to control the realism level before playing a scenario.

The General Staff Wargame has two basic levels of play:

Simulation mode uses HQ units and a chain of command that passes orders down from the General HQ to the sub-commander to the individual unit. How fast the unit responds to the orders are affected by the distance that the courier must travel and the Leadership Value of the HQs.  Simulation mode also employs a more detailed combat resolution model and tracks the actual number of troops in every unit.

An example of Simulation Mode: the path (red line) and time (16 minutes) it will take for a courier to travel from JEB Stuart’s HQ to Munford’s cavalry with orders. Click to enlarge.

Kriegsspiel mode does not have HQ units and friendly units are moved directly and immediately (no transmission of orders via couriers). The combat resolution model is simpler and units have a value of 1-4 displayed by the number of unit icons on the map.

Antietam in Kriegsspiel mode. Notice that there are no HQ units (so no couriers to deliver orders) and units are represented by 1-4 icons. Units in column have a ‘tail’ that indicates the unit strength. Click to enlarge.

In addition to the two game modes (Simulation and Kriegsspiel) there are three Scenario Options:

Order of Battle (OOB) displayed / not displayed. Enemy units with known positions appear dark; enemy units ‘on the map’ but with unknown locations appear grayed out. This, of course, gives the user complete knowledge of the enemy’s OOB and, more importantly, knows when units from certain formations are not directly observable.

A mock up of how the Order of Battle option will appear (note this image was created from screen captures of the Scenario Editor and the Sand Box). Click to enlarge

Only friendly units directly observed by the General HQ are displayed. All other friendly units fade at their last known location. Couriers bring in unit location updates, but they are outdated by the time they arrive.

Only enemy units directly observed by the General HQ are displayed. All other enemy units fade at their last known location. Couriers bring in unit location updates, but they are outdated by the time they arrive.

If both of these above options are selected (only friendly and enemy units that are directly observable by your commanding General HQ) you will be simulating the Fog of War that field commanders of the age of gunpowder experienced.

What General George B. McClellan could actually see at Antietam. Screen shot (General Staff Sand Box). Click to enlarge.

We would like to hear from you and get your opinion on what realism features you will use in General Staff:

What 18th and 19th Century Battles Would You Like to Receive with General Staff?

We have decided to reward backers of General Staff on Kickstarter with thirty (yes, thirty!) battles / scenarios for the General Staff Wargaming System. They can be any battle, skirmish or detail of a battle (think the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg, for example). The only restrictions are they should be battles with a limit of about thirty units per side (the map just gets too crowded with more than 60 units running around) and there should be two superior levels of command (e. g. if we were to do Gettysburg there would be the  Army Commander and the Corps Commanders with divisions being the units represented on the map).

Let your imagination run wild! What battles, scenarios or skirmishes would you like to see? Please post in the comment section below, or use this handy Contact Us email form or write to me directly at Ezra [at] RiverviewAI.com

Screen capture of a scenario using a map of Trenton and General Washington’s Continental Army. Click to enlarge.



Gameplay Survey 2: Army Structure.

This week’s survey will wrap up our questions about units and armies and after tabulation work can begin on the Create Army Module. General Staff is a simulation of 18th and 19th century warfare. We hope to use the same engine for an Ancient and Modern wargames as well.

We have just three survey questions:

What unit types should we include in the Create Army Module? Armies will be created by clicking and dragging unit icons from a pallet; consequently we need to know in advance what the ‘pre-designed’ unit types will be.

Will the armies have a hierarchical structure (e.g. Division → Brigade → Regiment) or a ‘flat’ structure (i.e. units do not belong to a superior command structure but, rather, can be given orders without consideration to other units).

What is your preferred screen resolution? We’re thinking of writing for 1440 x 900 resolution. Does anybody have a problem with this?

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Gameplay Survey 1: Unit Complexity.

When I first started thinking about designing General Staff I envisioned a simple game that was almost chess-like in parts and that was designed to introduce novices to wargames. I thought that the Xbox would be the ideal platform.

After talking to two major digital wargame publishers I was told:

There is absolutely no wargame market for the Xbox and it was idiotic to even think that there was.

Traditional wargame buyers want more complex games; not introductory games.

Wargame buyers (can we just say Grognards?) still fondly remember UMS, UMS 2 and The War College (UMS 3) and would certainly support a major update.

Consequently, I have had to readjust my thinking about the gameplay and design of General Staff. Maybe the wargame you want to buy is different from the wargame that I was planning on making. To better understand what exactly customers want from General Staff I’m going to be posting a series of surveys about very specific gameplay and design issues. I’m going to lay out the pros and cons of the various options and then I’m going to ask you to please vote and give me feedback.

Simple unit details:

My original design called for a very simple unit structure. Other than a number of bookkeeping variables (such as location, facing, speed, orders, etc.) the only values that we would store were the unit’s type and strength.

The screen captures below show examples of this design.

Screen captures of various unit types and facings in General Staff. Note that unit strength is obvious (1,2,3 or 4). Click to enlarge.

The rules on unit type and strength are:

  1. In any given square there can be a maximum of 4 artillery units, 3 cavalry units or 2 infantry units.
  2. Different unit types cannot occupy the same square.

Advantages of a Simple Unit Structure:

There is a very appealing simplicity to this system. The user can immediately see the strength of forces at any location. As a unit takes losses the number of symbols displayed in the square are decremented until the unit, itself, is removed.

Less data is required to create a scenario.  But, the real problem is trying to assign values to variables like ‘morale’, ‘experience’ or ‘leadership’. Inevitably, these are just value judgments.

It presents a simple and less intimidating interface (no names, ‘strength bars’, etc.) for beginners.

Visually it fits right into the Napoleonic and Victorian topographical battlefield map engravings style that I want to emulate. I, personally, am greatly enamored by this style and would love to maneuver units on these incredible contoured maps:

Bataille de Molino del Rey : 1ere Position [y] 2éme Position (1820) .From: Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonio Bibliográfico. A superb example of 19th century battlefield map engraving. Click to open link in new window.

Complex unit details:

How much information can we store about every unit on the map? The only limit is the size of available storage; in other words, on modern computing devices, there are no real limits. Below is screen shot (with explanations) of the variables used to calculate combat results in UMS II: Nations at War.

Unit variables used for combat resolution in UMS2. Click to enlarge.

Among the most likely variables to be included in the unit structure are: unit name, leadership value, morale level, strength, fatigue and unit type.

Advantages of a Complex Unit Structure:

Theoretically, the more data you have the more accurate the simulation. Obviously, this depends on the accuracy of the data but as long as the variables are relevant to the simulation and your model is good, the more variables the better.

Simply having a more detailed model with a lot of unit variables may help to sell more units to Grognards.

Disadvantages of a Complex Unit Structure:

More data has to be researched, compiled and entered into the Create Army Module (see here).

This data needs to be displayed in a way that doesn’t overload the user. Below is a screen shot of some tests that I did for an earlier version of General Staff:

Screen capture showing one method of displaying information about a unit. In this case the stored values include Melee attack value, maximum range, ranged attack value, strength, unit quality, formation, morale and fatigue. Click to enlarge.

Screen capture showing one method of displaying information about a unit. In this case the stored values include Melee attack value, maximum range, ranged attack value, strength, unit quality, formation, morale and fatigue. Click to enlarge.

Inevitably, at some point the scenario designer has to make some very arbitrary decisions about a unit’s morale and leadership values.

What is the maximum strength of a unit? Remember we’re talking apples (artillery) and oranges (infantry divisions) here. What does the value ‘strength’ actually mean? Is it the number of men in the unit? Clearly 50 men in an artillery battery have more ‘strength’ than 50 men in a line infantry company. Is there some other modifier (perhaps ‘unit type’) that is necessary to convert a unit’s strength to its combat power? And, what if a scenario designer creates a unit with a strength of 1,000 while other units have values of, say, 10? Will this be an unstoppable behemoth on the battlefield?

So, now it’s time for you to make your feelings known about these issues. Simple or complex unit data structures? What information should be stored about each unit?

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You input is very important to us. Please feel free to give us more feedback either via the online form or by emailing me personally at Ezra [at] RiverviewAI.com

First Survey Results!

The results of our first survey about what kind of wargame you would like to see are now available and there were plenty of surprises. The first question that we asked you was: did you prefer a 2D or 3D game. I had been previously assured by the, “largest digital publisher of wargames in the world,” that only 3D games would sell. But, that doesn’t seen to be upheld by these results:

Survey question #1: 2D or 3D wargame? 29% said 3D, 39% said 2D and 32% said 'It didn't matter."

Survey question #1: 2D or 3D wargame? 29% said 3D, 39% said 2D and 32% said ‘It didn’t matter.”

Surprisingly, 71% of respondents said that they would either be happy with a 2D wargame or that it didn’t matter to them. Those are pretty overwhelming numbers. It should be no surprise that it takes a great deal more time and money to create a 3D wargame than a 2D wargame so these results are quite eye opening and also reassuring. While this flies in the face of what we were told by the ‘largest publisher of digital wargames in the world’ it nonetheless, comes directly from the consumers themselves.

The next question was, “How important is the ability to create new scenarios?” Two of the last three games that I wrote (UMS and UMS2) provided the ability for users to create new scenarios. Creating a suite of scenario editing utilities is not trivial. Frankly, as a game designer, you normally just cobble some system together that will allow you to create scenarios for your game. Often these include XAML files and using PhotoShop or some other paint program. Frequently this system is buggy or you have to do something in a weird order for it work right. But when you create an editing suite for the public it has not only be bug-free but it has to have an intuitive and easy to use interface. Based on the your responses, below, it looks like I’ll be creating an editing suite for you to create your own scenarios.

How important is the ability to create new scenarios? 25% said "Very important," 48% said "Somewhat important" and 29% said, "Not very important."

How important is the ability to create new scenarios? 25% said “Very important,” 48% said “Somewhat important” and 29% said, “Not very important.”

The next survey question asked how many scenarios you would like to see ship with the game. The overwhelming favorite was ’20’ and so we’ll make sure that at least 20 scenarios are included.

The overwhelming favorite was 20 scenarios.

The overwhelming favorite was 20 scenarios.

Since 1986 every game that I’ve designed and written has been published by a ‘big’ computer game publisher. Game publishers traditionally give the game developer an advance against royalties and are responsible for distribution and promotion of the product. In return, they take between 50% and 85% of the gross receipts. Yes, that is correct.

The alternative to going the publisher route is to use Kickstarter to self fund and I am very gratified to see that the overwhelming majority of survey respondents said that they would, indeed, support this wargame via Kickstarter:

Respondents to the survey overwhelmingly said they would support a Kickstarter campaign to fund this wargame.

Respondents to the survey overwhelmingly said they would support a Kickstarter campaign to fund this wargame.

The final question in the survey was the all important, “How much would you pay for this wargame?” It looks like a list price of $50 seems not unreasonable. Early backers in Kickstarter always get a price break for their support. I’m thinking $40 on Kickstarter, $50 after.

$50 was the most popular price for this wargame.

$50 was the most popular price for this wargame.

Many thanks to all who participated in this survey (N = 168). The results were surprising and very helpful. Unfortunately, I realized that there are more questions that need to be asked about gameplay and distribution, so expect another survey shortly.