Saturday, December 29, 2012

Campaign System December Updates - Part 2

Continuing this small series of on the current additions & plans for the campaign system, this post will pick up where I´ve ended yesterdays entry. I recommend you to read Part 1, if you haven´t already done that.

The third addition and improvement that will be implemented is a mechanism to provide an incentive to capture and pacify villages apart from their role as objectives to win the campaign. Right now, controlling a settlement has no obvious utility. Though it is one of the objectives for the Coalition player to control them all, even this objective was rather fuzzy, as there was no special definition of what “control” means. It didn´t matter much yet, as we are still far from taking all the areas. But still, I wanted to address the complaint that taking settlements had no effect on the campaign (apart from controlling the district center, which is needed as a prerequisite for some COIN-actions, like utilizing Governance Experts).

Right now, there´s no real reason to seize villages and establish a strong position there. But this is a major objective in modern COIN-Operations, as only securing settlements and winning over the local population will bring any progress in a strategic sense. 

So the question was: How to implement strategic boni/mali to securing settlements without either bloating the campaign system with further features no-one needs, but without making it so shallow that it is boring and repetitive. Taking settlements in a guerilla campaign should not be a decisive factor on the short term – but controlling settlements for a long time and swaying the local population is key to winning. Continuity and security is very important, while short periods of capturing and leaving the area shortly after has no effect whatsoever and potentially worsens the situation as the attitude towards the foreign troops becomes one of “they come only to destroy and then leave us alone again”.
The first ideas I came up with where unimaginative and within the boundaries of the current system. Controlling a settlement could earn COIN-Points or guerilla cells (or a sub-currency that has to be saved until enough is accumulated to earn COIN-points). But that was only more of the same, with the potential danger of causing an “inflation” of these values, which would require further balancing of costs & effects and adds no strategic depth to the game.

The second idea was that Tactical Assets (CAS, Arty, UAVs, etc.) could be separated from the strategic COIN-options (Reinforcements, Strategic mobility & INTEL, strategic investment, etc.), as those two categories didn´t mix too well and need some further love until I´m satisfied. I liked this second approach better then the first and explored the idea further. I thought about how it might be possible to implement this in conjunction with taking cities... This resulted in the idea to set up a deck of cards with these special tactical assets. These cards would be drawn according to the number/importance of the cities that you control and could be applied to missions. One could even add a set of strategic special effects to some cards, to add further boni...
The last step was an easy one:
Tactical assets for the insurgents are limited – if you want to implement this system for both sides, you´d invariably come up with something like IEDs - Now... there´s already something like this.
It´s called Fog of War-Cards and we´re currently not using them as we´re dissatisfied with how they distort the balance within our campaign game (with tanks or SF-teams popping up as free resources, which are not even there on the campaign map...). Time for re-introducing Fog of War in conjunction with an incentive for holding cities! The idea is simple, elegant but nonetheless deep enough to provide some additional challenges and (most important of all) Choices for die Players! (Gaming is all about choices)

The system I envision works as follows:
Every city or settlement area gets a marker that indicates its disposition towards either the Insurgency or the Coalition troops. The value of this marker has a certain range, e.g. -2 (insurgency-friendly) to +2 (coalition friendly). The value on the marker is influenced by the ability of the coalition troops to provide security in the area. Guerilla cells in the area and fighting in the region are bad for stability, which influences the opinion of the locals. Only if your forces are able to maintain enough presence and keep the insurgents in the defense they will succeed in winning hearts and minds. 

The local support-value on the marker allows the respective side (Guerillas if negative, US if positive) to draw a certain amount of cards from the card pool, which contains all potential Fog of War-cards for the side (the card pool consists of two separate stacks, one for the guerillas and one for the US). These are gathered in the player pool. An alternative way to obtain cards could be to buy a bunch of cards for a certain amount of COIN (and by sacrificing insurgency cells from the forcepool?).

Example of how its going to look (roughly)
In our Example picture above, the US are still on the back burner. They have secured Mayasaf (one Region with +2, and one with +1), are working on improving the Situation in Mul Qasr (but the Interference from the Insurgents is making things harder there). The other relevant areas are still controlled by the Taliban. If every point of local support lets you draw one FoW-Card (which will not be the case, but more on that later in Part III), the Coalition player would be eligible to draw 3 FoW-Cards into his player-deck, while the Taliban could draw 11 cards into his player pool. 
Before conducting a mission, both sides now have to build their FoW-Card mission deck, which can include any card available in the player pool. 
Within the mission, FoW-Cards are drawn as usual by a 1 in reaction tests. You draw your own cards - which are positive for you, because they´re from your deck. It has to be this way around because the chances of rolling a 1 is not equal. Its usually 1/6th for the Insurgent but 1/8th for the Regulars – so the probabilities would be distorted if a failed reaction test should trigger a “bad” event for you. As most of the FoW-cards in the standard book seemed to be negative for the US player anyway, it´s only fair to give the Insurgent some advantage with slightly better chances to draw a card. Apart from that, losing a reaction test with a 1 is bad enough ;-)

So, you draw the card and apply the effect (or keep the card until you want to apply the effect if the card allows that). If you don´t have any cards left in your deck, your opponent draws a card instead. If he doesn´t have one left either, nothing happens. 
All cards in the mission deck are lost after the mission and go back into the card pool. It doesn´t matter if they were drawn (and used) or not.

This adds some interesting choices when building decks: On the one hand, your cards are lost if you put them into the deck, so you want to put only those in that are going to be used. Of course, you only want to put in relevant cards that are useful to you according to the mission. A vehicle repair probably won´t be useful to you if your mission setup doesn´t contain a vehicle. On the other hand, you don´t want your opponent to draw cards once your deck is exhausted (because this gives him the opportunity to utilize his cards and get an edge over you), which means you´ll have to bolster your deck with more cards then you´d normally put in - or maybe its better to risk giving a free lunch for your opponent than potentially wasting cards...?

It´s your choice and there is no perfect way! Excellent! A simple game mechanism that adds more resource-management, strategic depth, player interaction (he things that I think he thinks....) and re-introduces Fog of War-cards without unbalancing the game, as they have to be earned with investment (to control cities & increase local support).

Now, after introducing you to the basic aspects of this mechanism, I´ll use this opportunity to make another cut in the text. Tomorrow, I´ll talk about the balancing & the more technical aspects (with numbers & calculations!) of this feature. Stay tuned!

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