I'm not talking here about breaching enemy front line trenches, but rather the flashes of insight which have allowed To the Last Man! to be such an unusual design. Usually, these inspirations only come to me after some aspect of the game has proved unworkable...
• Focus: As I stated in an earlier Staff Briefing, in the beginning this was a monster game which covered every aspect of World War 1 in way too much detail. We're talking divisional level and week long turns -- not that it took a week to play out a turn (although nearly so). Turns were ponderous affairs involving moving and attacking hundreds of small cardboard squares stacked up to three high...
Over the decades I've changed the focus of this game quite a bit. However my main design goal -- World War 1 from start to finish -- never changed.
The big insights here occurred gradually for me, not really a flash at all. I simply continued to move the scale of the units up a notch. Units on the board went from being divisions to corps and finally to armies. Of course, the space & time ratios had to be modified upward as well; turns changed from being a week to an entire three month season.
An impulse system keeps the action going longer during 'active' seasonal turns, while 'inactive' turns fly by.
However, I moved the focus the other direction with the map. Rather than show every single battlefront from 1914-18, I chose to narrow the focus to just the Western Front. This was a big innovation for me which posed an even greater challenge -- Make the Western Front Fun!
I believe I've accomplished that.
• Uncomplicated: I dislike using the word 'simplicity' when describing To the Last Man! That can imply 'simplistic' which is not the case. I prefer the word 'uncomplicated' as a description of basic game play.
Way back when, this game was very complex. Lots of exceptions to rules and special cases. Lots of complicated combat choices. Over the years, I found that this complexity impeded both learning about history and having fun.
So I worked to stream-line the rules -- making the rules systems-oriented rather than exceptions-oriented. This allows the game to be uniquely accessible and exciting.
I have used this game to teach teenagers about World War 1. What more need I say?
• Templates: At one time, about a decade ago, TTLM! was a block game. Each block represented an entire army, or a detachment. Army blocks could break into individual strength point detachments at the drop of a hat, but these detachments could not form their own armies. Blocks worked pretty well, except that there were just too many of them in the game to make it economically feasible to publish. So I had to use something other than blocks.
This "back to the drawing board" moment brought a flash of insight. I could use surrogate blocks -- cardboard army units on the board would represent the forces kept off-board on individual army sheets. This allowed for a lot more versatility than the four sides available on a block of wood.
A separate section for auxiliary units (e.g., artillery, tanks, biplanes, etc.) on each army template also made it possible to stream-line the deck. Originally all auxiliary units were card-based assets that only came into play when you played the card. With the use of army templates, this abstraction could be dispensed with, reducing rules-overhead and special case considerations. Win-win.
• The Real Battle: One of the main complaints of early versions of this game was that the front line never really moved much. After several hours of gaming with no discernible effect on the front line, some players would begin to grumble.
That's when I got that flash of inspiration I've been talking about. Since there wasn't much going on on the mapboard, "the Real Battle" had to occur elsewhere. Over the years, I've tried to implement this insight in so many different ways I've lost count. However, a few bear writing about.
At one point, combat was played out on a battle board, somewhat reminiscent of Titan. Each battle lasted a set number of impulses and then the forces were placed back on the board. Really this type of set-up was a non sequitur in terms of World War 1 and it's distinct lack of mobility.
Eventually, I realized that the Real Battle had to occur between your ears. Only by using bluff and uncertainty, mixed with lethality, could combat become exciting. So battle moved from the mapboard to the card play between opponents. The Real Battle is now in the minds of the players.
• Unity of Mechanics: After experimenting with so many combat and production systems over the years, why did I opt for such a straight-forward and uncomplicated approach? Easy, because it allowed for a much smaller rulebook. Suddenly all the exceptions flew out the window and I never worried about them again.
The heart, the essence if you will, of TTLM! can be summed up in one simple equation:
1 Build Point = 1 unit = 1 card = 1 hit
That structure allowed me to "factor out" so much of the noise associated with combat/production systems. It made decision-making more understandable as well. For example, the determination of which is more important a unit on the board or a card in the hand is fairly unambiguous now.
Furthermore, it allowed me to view the game as a series of economic engines rather than just a straight-up wargame. This was exactly the approach I was looking for in modelling the economic aspects of a Total War.
Finally, it allowed players great latitude in planning. Placing the economic fate of the nation in your hands at the same time you're conducting military operations is a wonderful way to simply provide the experience of Total War, industry backed by manpower.
I could go on, but you get the idea. 20 years of thought has gone into the design and development of To the Last Man! and I think it shows.
August 7th 2012
other Staff Briefings
- Last edited Wed Aug 8, 2012 1:26 am (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Wed Aug 8, 2012 1:07 am
Another great posting, Tim.
Now that you have me thoroughly Geek'ed on on TtLM and WWI.
I went to Utube.
If this isn't hijacking your thread to much ,,,
I suggest a BBC vid -
A video on the 1918 ' Kaiserschlacht '
( opening 'trench' scene should throughly Creep you out !!!)
I then referred to your 1918 Scenario.
I can see myself enjoying many hours of replay using your standard 1918 scenario, then Historical cards, Free Set-up and Semi-historical variations.
Magnified by the other years/scenarios available in this game...
_To the Last Man _ will be giving me endless hours of geeky game goodness !!!
C'mon guys, lets get this game ordered and into production!
Link is dead