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Subject: Map art, scenario design questions and ramblings... rss

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Håkan Lundgren
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Hi everyone,
first off, let me just say that I’m a total newbie at wargaming, the only “wargame” I’ve played this far is Thunderbolt Apache Leader (TAL for short) which I suppose lands in the light section. This is a fairly long text about me and my relationship with MBT. It's very boring but may provide some background as to my motivation on scenario design. You may skip ahead but I'd be real happy if you could leave me some feedback as I have some questions further down.

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Since a few years back now I’ve had my eyes on MBT as I was very intrigued by the data cards. I felt like I was treading in deep waters just by looking at those monstrosities, but intrigued I was none the less!
Although TAL is a nice and tense game that may be very hazardous to you fingernails I felt that already after a few plays there wasn’t enough variation to the enemy units in the game. I came up with a bunch of new features and units but in the end I found that the game mechanic was too obtuse and didn’t allow for enough variance. So, I started to look for other games that featured both air and ground units, preferably on a tactical level. My only criterion was that it had to be set during the Cold War. For a moment I was going for LnL World at War but then I read on a forum by the guy that did the Operation Garbo expansion that he was more or less given free hands (units strength-wise) while creating the new units. I found that very off-putting and inconsistent.

After a short while of snooping around the net and BGG I came upon the article MBT - Helicopters In Action which immediately tingled my curiosity. So, a new (and improved?) edition of MBT was on the way. Sure it was some months (year?) away but that gave me some time to read up on the old edition as well as reading the Panzer rules (a game that is supposed to be using the same game system). The more I read the more I knew that this is the game I really need to buy! I was particularly interested when I came across Nadir Elfarras’ Airfield and First Clash maps with his accompanying rules for Airborne Operations.
Wow, all of a sudden I had run into a game system where one could easily (with a good portion of hard work) implement new rules without breaking the game or its core engine. I felt that this game would clearly satisfy my creative needs now that someone else had already laid the groundwork (and not to mention he’s built a palace on top of that).
Now, I don’t know about you but my use of MBT will be that of a military sandbox and not specifically a tank game. I feel that the rules should allow for just about any kind of warfare, be it armoured warfare, straight infantry or CAS missions. Simply put; a sandbox where you could play around to your hearts content and maybe recreate those cool movie moments you saw in a hollywood flic.

However, when I saw the maps for Panzer and got learned that MBT would utilise the same map design I felt somewhat disheartened over that fact that these maps didn’t do anything to entice my fantasies. I don’t mean to be rude to whoever designed them it’s just I find them rather empty and bland.
I should be mentioned at this point that I’ve had a long fascination for maps. As a kid I used to collect all those hand drawn computer game level maps that I found in various computer magazines. I could sit for hours and study maps of games that I’ve never seen, much less played, and fantasise about those strange worlds. Later, the computer game maps gave way for the fantasy book genre maps. Maps have, to put it simply, been a big part of my whole upbringing.
I don’t care whether the maps are mounted or unmounted or printed on very flimsy paper just as long as the are evocative and help me imagine the situation at hand, which I’m afraid that these maps won’t.

Anyhow, I feel that this is the game that I should spend my precious free time (of which I have very little as a father of two devil spawns) playing, collecting scenarios, units, articles and whatnot that would come in handy whenever I felt like trying to make my own add-ons.
Speaking of add-ons; one of the things I’ve been thinking of doing is a swedish “expansion” for MBT.
Sure, as we all know Sweden is not a member of NATO but I guess not as many know that Sweden was – by NATO – considered a secret ally. Sweden, as an allied buffer state, was so important to NATO that many times we got access to information and new technology BEFORE member states such as Norway and Denmark and, on occasion, even England. One other aspect was that Sweden accounted for a big part of the NATO/WP front and a Soviet attack through Sweden was, according to a lot of initiated people, the most probable scenario should the cold war go hot. In light of this I think there ought to be ample space for scenarios using the swedish armed forces defending their “neutrality” on home ground.

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So, to wrap this rambling incoherent mess up I have some questions for you (if there are anyone reading still).
It all started with me wanting to draw new maps that I’d use as northern swedish (lappland) terrain. It kind of snowballed on me so now I have new terrain like quagmires (very common in the northern parts) as well as new rules for different water depths. To cut things short, here are my questions to you all and I really appreciate your answers.

1. What constitutes a good scenario?
Does a scenario have to be balanced 50-50 or would it be terribly boring if one side was hopelessly outnumbered but where the skill would be to last as long as possible and maybe, juuuust maybe, last so long so the reinforcements could arrive?
It just seems to me that all scenarios in ASL aim to be as evenly balanced as possible. In my opinion this goes against everything that those generals are trying to do, namely outmanoeuvre and outnumber their opponents…

2. What makes a map good and/or fun to play?
There are a number of paths one could follow in order to create new maps. One path is to plan the map out to its smallest component and really construct a landscape where every bit and piece is considered and placed to ensure it will maximise its tactical value. This paths would be VERY time consuming and would demand massive amounts of playtests.
The second path would be the exact opposite, just draw the landscape and sculpt it to resemble real terrain as close as possible and let the players themselves – while playing the scenarios – find the best tactics. After all, this is the way all battles are fought, man has to adapt to the environments not the other way around. Being really lazy I feel like I would go with path number two but I’d still want to hear what you have to say.

3. Thematic maps or specific maps?
By thematic I mean the way that ASL went; every new map has some new dominant terrain on it (one map with hills, one with a lot of woods, one with water) and they are all very generic and could be used in virtually any scenario.
The specific maps on the other hand would be designed for a specific scenario. Kind of like, one map = one scenario. It would be somewhat of a wasted effort to design for just one scenario but of course there could be new scenarios designed that would utilise that same map again. This is kind of like the maps created by Nadir and he was smart enough to make the maps cover a wide area to allow some extra mileage.

Finally I’ve been tweaking the way I draw my maps and I appreciate some feedback.
This is by no means any map I’m working on, it is merely a sketch to see how it would look.
 
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Juhan Voolaid
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1. What constitutes a good scenario?
Usually tactical level games scenarios come down to be:
- Player A is outnumbered defender and player B is attacker
- Recon scenarios - balanced forces and must secure target location

I am ok with both of them, but it usually means defensive player is more static and that is not so exciting. So that's why I prefer recon scenarios.

Sometimes there are some other type missions like securing a convoy or something, but to me these are the least interesting.

2. What makes a map good and/or fun to play?
As you said - I like to play in sandbox too. So there should be multiple ways to apply tactics. There should be possible to create diversions and apply flanking or something.

3. Thematic maps or specific maps?
I am a maps freak as well and I often am baffled how unrealistic maps usually are in small scale wargames. They look like military training ground with dummy objects rather than real life location.
For example I have never witnessed so small towns (few hundred km across) that appear on gaming maps. Also, there are hills and small woods that I find hard time to imagine without thinking the fighting takes place somewhere in Teletubbies land.

So I want my maps to be realistic. They can be geomorphic - not a actual locations, but they should look like a real place.

It's a nitpick, but I don't like how artistically hexagon maps look like. The worst are the rivers and hedges that run along the hexagon edges. This kills the immersive look. We are all grownups, we can agree, that which hex crosses the river for example.
 
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Fernando Sola Ramos
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Quote:
1. What constitutes a good scenario?
Does a scenario have to be balanced 50-50 or would it be terribly boring if one side was hopelessly outnumbered but where the skill would be to last as long as possible and maybe, juuuust maybe, last so long so the reinforcements could arrive?
It just seems to me that all scenarios in ASL aim to be as evenly balanced as possible. In my opinion this goes against everything that those generals are trying to do, namely outmanoeuvre and outnumber their opponents…


You have to differentiate between a balanced force and a balanced scenario. The first one refers to the fact that both sides have an even matched force. The second refers to the fact that both sides have an even chance of winning the scenario. A scenario may have even matched forces and be unbalanced. Balance depends on scenario winning conditions, forces given to each side to reach the victory conditions, length of scenario, etc. It is rather difficult to create a 50-50 balanced scenario. You have to create a draft, play the scenario, rebalance the scenario, replay it, re-rebalance it... And so on until you decide the scenario is balanced. The more playings, the more easily to create a balanced scenario.

So, you can create a scenario with uneven matched forces and it can be a balanced scenario. If you stick with the scenario formats proposed by the Panzer rules (and the upcoming MBT rules), the counterattack scenario gives the opportunity to attack and defend for both forces. It is rather interesting.

Quote:
2. What makes a map good and/or fun to play?
There are a number of paths one could follow in order to create new maps. One path is to plan the map out to its smallest component and really construct a landscape where every bit and piece is considered and placed to ensure it will maximise its tactical value. This paths would be VERY time consuming and would demand massive amounts of playtests.
The second path would be the exact opposite, just draw the landscape and sculpt it to resemble real terrain as close as possible and let the players themselves – while playing the scenarios – find the best tactics. After all, this is the way all battles are fought, man has to adapt to the environments not the other way around. Being really lazy I feel like I would go with path number two but I’d still want to hear what you have to say.


Maps in Panzer are, as I see it, a tribute to the Panzerblitz maps. They are really functional, with easy to distinguish terrain, but very simple and bland graphics. I understand why you don't like them, but they are really functional and easy to read.

About map creation, you can create some generic maps and use them to represent a variety of environments, or you can create scenario-specific maps. This is up to you. The secret of map creation is that the map serves the game, not the other way around. Don't forget that this is just a game, not a simulation, so maps have to serve to the enjoyment of the game. If players have to deal with map special features at every moment, then the game breaks. I prefer to have the key elements that determined a battle (a bridge, a village in the middle of a woods area, a hill, etc.) than to have every little terrain feature present in that battle. In the second case, the game tends to concentrate on the map, not on the game itself. But that's my point of view.

Quote:
3. Thematic maps or specific maps?
By thematic I mean the way that ASL went; every new map has some new dominant terrain on it (one map with hills, one with a lot of woods, one with water) and they are all very generic and could be used in virtually any scenario.
The specific maps on the other hand would be designed for a specific scenario. Kind of like, one map = one scenario. It would be somewhat of a wasted effort to design for just one scenario but of course there could be new scenarios designed that would utilise that same map again. This is kind of like the maps created by Nadir and he was smart enough to make the maps cover a wide area to allow some extra mileage.


Following the previous answer: I prefer a number of generic maps capable of representing a variety of terrains and usable to create a great number of scenarios; AND specific maps representing the actual battlefield where a battle was fought on. Again, the key to the second type of maps is to choose a place where you can create a number of scenarios.

Examples (in this case, about WW2):
-You can create a generic beach map to represent different beach landings (Omaha, Gold, Juno, Sword, Dieppe...) Or a generic steppe map to represent many Eastern Front battles. With only one or two maps you can create several scenarios.
-You can create a very specific map, like the Pegasus Bridge map, where only a couple of scenarios can be played on. This is your example of waste of time and effort.
-Or you can create a map where several scenarios can be played on, like a Stalingrad map. In this case you can add a lot of flavour to your scenarios if you use a historical map, and you can create several scenarios for your map.

I hope you like MBT. I have playtested the game and I think you will love it. Maps are still in the Panzer style fashion, but they do offer a bit more variety of terrain features. The scenarios are very interesting, and helicopters are really cool to play with. At a scale of 100m per hex, it is in MBT where these maps shine. Although you may not like the terrain art, I would suggest you to stick to the MBT style and to create MBT-like maps. They will be more compatible and usable by other players, and they will feel more "official". If you want them to be prettier, then you can create some historical ones...

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Joe Steel
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Håkan Lundgren
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Jux_ wrote:
I want my maps to be realistic. They can be geomorphic - not a actual locations, but they should look like a real place.
I totally agree, for the sake of my own imagination the map has to look like a stretch of real terrain. Otherwise it just feels like some contrived paintball battle zone.

Jux_ wrote:
The worst are the rivers and hedges that run along the hexagon edges.
I know, I’ve always found the bocage or walls to look REALLY unnatural when they follow the hex sides. Unless there are some strict rules about I think that 90 deg square forms on a hex map is totally acceptable.
All those 60/120 deg road turns just bugs me to no end… :-)

Gustav6 wrote:
Don't forget that this is just a game, not a simulation…
You’re absolutely right about the game not being a simulation, but it seems to me (note that I say this without ANY game experience whatsoever) that this game is as close as you may get being such while not loosing the fun.

Gustav6 wrote:
If players have to deal with map special features at every moment, then the game breaks.
Well, my intent wasn’t to introduce more features than the original maps already contains.
I did, however, wish to create new graphics that is easy and fast to draw and at the same time make the maps look a little more convincing.

SteelVictory wrote:
Specific (real) maps are difficult to make playable, the LOS issues on real maps can be very complex.
I can see the problems that would come from an overly detailed map mirroring real terrain. The example you showed is - although very nice to look at - clearly way too cluttered and would probably bog the game down to a crawl.
I'm sure there are hundreds of compromises to be made before you’d have a map that was anywhere near playable not to mention enjoyable.

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Besides to play MBT solo (lack of FtF play and I’m just way TOO new to war-games to dare play against anyone on VASSAL) and to sandbox all kinds of different situations I intend to tinker with this game and try to add in stuff to my hearts content.
How about an entire island made up of smaller map sections and each section would provide you with somewhat varied terrain such as; coasts/beaches, villages, hills and valleys etc (anyone played Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising?)...
It’d be fun to create a really big map and then just chose a section and come up with a scenario that could fit that part of the map.

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Fernando, seeing as you’ve created a number of scenarios I’d be very interested in how you go about creating them. Like; what amount of research you do, how to choose the forces etc.
Care to elaborate?


Thank you all for your precious time!
 
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Gotthard Heinrici (prev. Graf Strachwitz)
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts Hakan,
I LOVE the Original MBT, especially the maps. Indeed a pitty to read the new edition does not use the map colors of the original.
 
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