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Subject: Designers thoughts rss

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Laurence Cutner
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Designer’s notes will follow, but I feel that my thought processes (such as they are) would provide a background to the game design. To start with, H. G. would probably be horrified that someone would take an idea from a short story and treat it seriously. As with most of his stories, H. G. Wells was trying to illustrate his thoughts on physical and social Darwinism and not to predict future technological breakthroughs. Well, he’s not around to complain – so, tough!

I’ve been knocking around ideas about alternative 20th century history for a while and after reading ‘The Land ironclads’ and ‘The War in the Air’ for the umpteenth time, the ‘light’ went on over my head. What would it take for the land ironclads to be real and what effect would it have on war and politics. Taking my immediate inspiration from the short story, I postulated the development of the land dreadnought (minor change there) for use in ending the Boer War and then its subsequent development by other nations – Imperial Germany, Russia and the US. The result was a slightly different WWI and a wildly changed post-war environment. A fascist France and Russia positioned against a socialist Germany and Italy. Sounds nuts, but it wasn’t entirely impossible to imagine.

Once the background was in place, the actual design of the game was next. I know that I wanted an easy, quick game that would be simple yet challenging. After my many years wargaming, I think I know what process work and what don’t – also I knew what I liked to play. The basic player turns were about as boiler plate as you could get, with the move-fight alternate turns being a staple of wargaming. I did, however, add in the little wrinkle of the opposite player ‘reaction phase’ just to throw off the moving player’s rhythm.

When it came to the counters and artwork, I decided that I wasn’t a good enough artist to create fully graphical counters, so I didn’t even try. I can’t draw people, so the use of just the steel helmet worked great; especially as I didn’t specify how large each unit was. The initial dreadnought designs took a while, but I just persevered and the initial counters seemed good enough. I actually went a bit crazy and created counter sets for several time periods between 1903 and 1945 – way overkill now that I look back.

The ideas behind the rules were that I would go for effect rather than detail the process of combat. This shows in the morale rules for infantry. Typically, few units are wiped out to the last man and they tended to run before fighting to that last man and that last round. So the three levels of morale emerged. First, a unit under fire tends to go to ground in place, next they will move away or into nearby cover and, thirdly, they will just ‘leg it’. The overrun rule was much the same; units would try to get out of the way of a 100 foot long behemoth bearing down on them – I would. Rules for terrain and line of sight were arrived at in much the same way; effect rather that detail. Common sense rules rather than pages of exceptions and long words. Luckily, a friend who has been involved in the playtesting has a military background and provided little snippets of information that enhanced the game enormously – if only he would shake of the ASL level of rule making!

The biggest issues I had were in the creating of the combat result tables and, in particular, the melee results. It took a lot (I mean A LOT) of playtesting to get the CRT’s to a stage where I felt that they were ‘right’. Again, I was guided by the principle of effect and by the time honoured idea of KISS (keep it simple, stupid). So, infantry using firepower against enemy infantry in a built-up area is pretty useless – to shift that pesky enemy, you need to go hand-to hand and literally push them out. Once you bring in the artillery, then you have a different state of affairs. Witness Stalingrad if you want a good illustration of this. To be honest, melee combat was a real pain to sort out. Ultimately KISS was the answer. An attacker can initially add more units to the assault and with attacks from multiple directions and with heavy machine gun support can really cause some damage.

The final change was after working with those wonderful folks at Lock ‘n’ Load –Mark is a great guy (no, I wasn’t paid to say so). On his advice, I changed the focus of the game to WWI, added in the proto-mech unit and rewrote my history to reflect the new ‘reality’ that gave us the current Steam and Steel.
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