Greg's Design Blog

A collection of posts by game designer Gregory Carslaw, including mirrors of all of his blogs maintained for particular projects. A complete index of posts can be found here:
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Skirmish Strategy

United Kingdom
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I'm alive! I'm sorry that there wasn't a weekly update last week; I was pulled away at the last minute to join a war. I'd believed that would happen Friday morning rather than Thursday evening and that I'd have time to post, but somehow things never work out that way. In particular I was at Empire again, fighting for the glory of Urizen.

Empire was great as a whole, but I've already done my frothing about that, so I'm just going to talk about the battle, since it raises some interesting ideas in boardgaming. Our mission was to go in and find an altar that was creating a malign aura due to sacrifices that had taken place there. We had a group of priests ready to perform the exorcism, but most were either lightly armed or entirely noncombatant. Putting them all together seemed risky so instead we spread them out among combat groups and arranged a cry for them all to come together. As we'd been told to expect fear magic and enemies with poison we'd put a lot of effort into acquiring various protections against these things.

The plan was to move as quickly as possible to the target destination, Urizen sentinels heavily supported by our battlemages and healers pushing the centre forward while Highguard heavies held the flanks. Once there we'd form a square, let the priests do their thing and bug out.

We marched through the portal as a column with Highguard at the front and Urizen at the rear. Scouts were sent out and we quickly located our target and began moving towards it. Some players have disparagingly referred to the formation we ended up in as a 'defensive blob'. We'd accepted that we were going to be defending an objective against attacks from unknown directions and I think we went in with a mentality that we were going to be surrounded, which prevented us from trying more dynamic or aggressive tactics that would have stopped this from happening. That being said, with our superior support and healing and with the objectives in mind a well organised defensive blob might have done very well, even if surrounded. Sadly this is not the formation we wound up in.

We were hit on the march and every quickly ended up as the "Somewhat suboptimal defensive blob". At some points the pincer was so effective that in stepping back to dodge a blow I'd find myself back to back with someone also engaged with a target to their front. Not only did this deny any second row support I was hoping for, it also meant that neither of us had room to dodge and any healers nearby were likely incapacitated as few of them can stand on the front line for long (with some very notable exceptions).

It was an exhilarating fight, the problems at the strategic level made the tactical fighting more interesting. I don't normally place much value on fighting in such a way as to be able to take three steps forward, but in this battle every chance to give a little space to the people behind you was a godsend. We took some avoidable losses, mostly due to healers not being able to move through the mess or people at the back of the column getting left behind. Eventually we reached the altar, the priests were summoned and quickly came forward and did their thing. Objective complete!

Wait, what? The generals didn't correctly communicate the objectives of the battle to the men on the ground. Most of us found out in the middle of that battle that there was not one, but three shrines to exorcise. We'd not planned on that and had no real idea how we were going to send out more scouts or turn the formation to face whichever direction we had to go in next. The defensive blob continued its slow progress into a disorganised blob as we struggled to manoeuvre towards the subsequent objectives.

The fighting continued as we struggled through to the second and third shrines. Increasingly I found myself opposed by archers with no archer or shield support, I lost count of how many times I needed to be healed after that sort of position. Healing became harder to come by as herbs and mana ran short. Increasingly it was necessary to engage in desperate efforts to reclaim fallen companions from the enemy in order to give them a chance to survive. Eventually we reached the third site.

This was the messiest exorcism as the priests ran out first to start their ritual, with little to no combat support. A few opportunist orcs saw it and charged, a few warriors saw it happening and tried to intercept before they reached the priests. We were just about in time, with only a few of the priests being wounded, but it was a close run thing. We struggled to form up defensively around them as the rest of the column had run into difficulty and was slow to catch up, but after a few tense minutes of fighting a holding battle the rest of the army arrived to bail us out.

Finally we were able to withdraw, having completed our mission (The only fully successful mission of the event I believe). There was some disagreement as to which way the exit was, eventually one of the generals cut through the chaos and yelled "For better or for worse we're going that way." and got everyone moving. Once we were going someone worked out where we were and we could turn towards the exit. It was at this point that the constant harrying finally caught up with us and turned us from the "Somewhat suboptimal defensive blob" into the "The bad thing that should not be allowed to happen." with a couple of units at the back of the withdrawal entirely cut off from the retreating forces. They were quickly surrounded and butchered.

At that point, as we were rallying a group to rush in and get them back, hopefully in time to heal them, the orcs offered a truce: We could recover our dead and wounded if they could do the same. It was an unexpected, but welcome gesture. There were fears over whether it was a trap, as they'd limited how many warriors could go to reclaim the fallen (and it was easily enough that they could all be slaughtered).

Fortunately the orcs held to their word, which is better than I can say for our side, as one lone hero was cut down attacking the entire enemy force alone during the truce. In the end we won the battle, but suffered fairly heavy casualties. It was exciting, interesting, tough and loads of fun. So to get to the point (a thousand words in) it made me wonder how some of these things might be captured in other types of game. Miscommunicated objectives, formations that collapse because the individual soldiers can't see what's happening on a larger scale, armies getting lost, bad intelligence (we faced no fear or poison effects) and a host of other things played into how the battle went. Some of those are very hard to capture in a game, but tomorrow I'll start to play with some ideas in this area.
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