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Subject: Design Notes Part 3: Combat and Sieges rss

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Scott Moore
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'This War Without an Enemy'
The mechanism for resolving battles in traditional block games is an aspect of the block game system that I particularly like. Rather than just rolling one or two dice and consulting a chart, players can become more immersed in battles as they are protracted and involve an element of decision making. However, essentially the same set of mechanics have been repeated no matter whether the battles involve Athenian triremes, Roman legions, medieval knights or Napoleonic riflemen. From the outset, I wanted to tailor the resolution of battles to the mid-17th century and my focus was on developing specific rules for the three main types of arms: artillery, infantry and cavalry. As time went on, it occurred to me that the usual block game mechanics, while making for a great gaming experience, did not simulate 17th century battles very well. For example, each round a player can choose whether a block 'fires' or 'retreats' and yet the piecemeal retreat of parts of an army during a battle would have made little sense in most historical situations. Therefore, I reviewed each aspect of the mechanics and tried to strike a balance - bringing them closer towards simulating mid-17th century battles, and yet not losing the playability of the block system.

Most block games are unusual in that a player can force his opponent into battle simply be moving his blocks into an area or space containing his opponent's blocks. On the other hand, card-driven games based on the 'We the People' system often allow for the possibility of avoiding battle. There are numerous examples during the English Civil War of armies trying, and succeeding, in avoiding the attempts of an opposing army to bring them to battle. However, it could be risky to do so - often generals chose to stand and fight in a defensible position of their choosing rather than be caught potentially unprepared and in unsuitable terrain by the enemy. Therefore, I thought it important to introduce into my game the possibility for a player to withdraw an army before battle, using a rearguard to delay the enemy's pursuit. When a battle has begun, then players cannot retreat individual blocks out of the battle. However, either player can announce a general retreat for his entire army, potentially mitigating the effects of a battle that he is going to lose anyway.

In order to accommodate differences between the types of blocks (Artillery, Cavalry and Infantry) I have modified the usual 'A', 'B', 'C' order within a round of battle. Artillery blocks fire first but, reflecting their typical role in an ECW battle, they can usually only fire in Round 1. Cavalry engage before infantry, reflecting the shock value of a cavalry charge. However, in each round infantry blocks have the option of firing or engaging, which is a way of accounting for the double nature of an infantry unit (musketeers who fire at a distance but are relatively ineffective in close combat, and pikemen who can be very effective in close combat if well ordered). If they fire then they do so at reduced effectiveness but before cavalry engage. Or they can engage at full effectiveness but only after cavalry roll to hit.

In other block games, siege combat it treated in a very similar way to field combat, but with an inherent advantage for the defenders. While I did not want to create a completely new system of mechanics for siege combat in This War Without an Enemy, I did want to reflect the nature of siege warfare in the ECW, particularly as the capture of cities is the main victory condition in the game. So, while siege combat follows the same basic format as field battles, I introduced specific rules for sallying and for the role of artillery in breaching walls prior to storming a city. I did, however, create a new set of rules to simulate long-term blockades, as I wanted to reflect the difficulties of besieging ports that could be supplied by sea, and also to introduce a simple but realistic mechanic for the surrender of defenders.
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