Sunday, September 28, 2014

Code Red - Dev Diary 1: The Beginning

Alright, where do I start...

Some of you might remember that I´ve been working on a set of houserules for Force on Force a while ago after discovering some issues with how Force on Force resolves things and how that distorts the outcome of the game due to the way the game mechanic works.

After developing and testing several versions of this set of houserules I´ve come to the point where I have to take the next step forward, leaving the base system behind and free myself from the remaining restrictions -  so at this point it is time to thank everyone who participated in Testing the rules and have given suitable feedback, special thanks goes to Evilrobotshane, JP Barriere, Spawnferkel, Beast44a, Zelekendel, and my local gaming club, Kurpfalz Feldherren including our guests from Frankfurt, who endured my playtesting sessions (and still do).
And of course Volker, who is actively engaged in developing the rules together with me. 

But let´s go back a step and take a look at the set ouf houserules.

I started development on those because I wasn´t quite satisfied with the tactical aspects of Force on Force. Firing as too deadly and imbalanced for bigger troops vs. smaller, for a platoon-level game you had to employ very little tactical finesse to overcome the defense of your opponent, the firefight was almost always over before your flanking or assaulting elements even got into position to start doing their work.  With the compressed timescale FoF was using the firefights became a little too deadly and the incentive to apply real fire and maneuvre tactics was very small because killing enemies by infantry fire was far too easy and time was preciously short. Flanking offered very little bonus to your troops, close assault was outright foolish unless you had to do so, because potentially wasting a turn by failing a quality check on your assault attempt cost too much time.

Furthermore, the effectiveness of infantry fire (or rather: all kinds of fire) in Force on Force depended on the relation of firepower vs. manpower in the defense. The more I played Force on Force, the more I was bothered by the effects of large mobs versus small teams. As some of you might have noticed, packing a lot of units together into a large mob does not only improve their firepower, but also their defense – against all fires, from infantry to artillery and airstrikes. The worst part is that shooting with one large group has a distinctly greater effect on the target unit than shooting a unit from several sides at once. Shouldn´t two groups of roughly equal size shooting from different angles cause more trouble for the target than being shot from a single direction? Or at least be an equal threat?
 As a consequence, my set of houserules made infantry fire far less deadly, instead emphasising suppression as the primary purpose of small arms fire.  In effect, the amount of turns increased, as players needed more time to suppress and outmaneuver the enemy, get into their flank or into close assault to finish them of and exploit their breakthrough.
While doing that I also redesigned the defense mechanism in a way that would not favor larger groups against firepower of any sorts - all teams would be treated equal, regardless of their size, more manpower means more ability to absorb casualties but potentially idle ressources when the team gets suppressed. Smaller teams supply more flexibility as it´s harder to pin them all, but even at minimum casualties they quickly run the danger of becoming ineffective. 

The House rules grew organically from that point on and underwent an evolution of sorts. After the first few playtests, I discovered another aspect that did not conform with my view of the things happening on a modern battlefield.

One example is that I noticed how I´ve never quite liked how Initiative was handled. It doesn´t switch that often in normal FoF, it´s very easy to retain initiative due to the bonus die and it is largely influenced by the number of teams, not the Flexibility of Command or the Training and Proficiency of NCOs. Of course the latter was represented by the initiative dice level, but your leaders could be all wiped out and your units would still be acting like normal if the number of teams was unchanged. Only Insurgents suffered from some minor restrictions.
Furthermore, unit organisation was largely irrelevant, due to the lack of a chain of command. When playing a platoon, I always felt like I was controlling 6 Fireteams, not like I was controlling 3 Squads. There was no incentive to keep squads together, your fireteams could be mixed and matched all over the board without consequences. NCOs didn´t play any part in the rules if you´re not using the very very complicated advanced rules section. They´re basically just another infantryman who adds Firepower and Defense. FoF totally ignores how pivotal Squadleaders and Platoon-Lead are for the overall conduct of an operation.

On that observation followed the development of a Command and Control-System, putting the leadership into the focus of the player. The leaders became pivotal in getting troops to act and a proper command & control-system allowed to depict the differences between regulars and irregulars with a new mechanism.

These where the cornerstones of the changes made in the houserules, with some minor changes on Casualties and their effects, alternative Fog of War cards and a few ideas how to handle ambushes better.

That was the stage I had reached until the end of June or somesuch.
At this point I started collecting aspects of the game that could need a redesign to better suit the design philosophy of my house rules.
  •  Close combat didn´t really fit anymore as it still used the FoF-Mechanic which had been erased from Infantry combat. So why confuse people by having two mechanisms in the same area? 
  • Vehicle Combat: After my Storming Kananga game I realised that several aspects of vehicle combat are weird (won´t go into detail here, we´ll cover this in a future diary)
  • Scenario Design was one of the aspects I´d been looking to improve anyway under the guise of my house rules, looking for easier ways to set up roughly balanced homebrew scenarios without huge amount of playtesting.
So the only thing left potentially untouched was Fire Support and even on this front some aspects could be improved, like deviation in fire missions...

Meanwhile I´ve been looking for ways to promote Modern Wargaming in Germany. Even though it´s a touchy subject I felt that there´s a lot more potential for this period - and after some research I got an overwhelmingly clear feedback: It´s the lack of a ruleset in german language that keeps people from playing the period. Some anglophone people play FoF, but with the complexity and layout of the rules that is sometimes daunting even for english native speakers from what I´ve heard it´s a significant barrier.

With all these factors coming together I decided that it was time to outsource the already implemented changes into a new framework that will not have much in common with Force on Force anymore, except some minor aspects and the size of the games.
Having full freedom to develop the rules I can be much more flexible with how to resolve things.
Having full copyright means I can release both an english version and a german version in a standalone rulebook that doesn´t require any further investment into buying and reading FoF only to discard half of the rules and relearn a set of houserules.
Having full rights for distribution means I can think about offering starter sets as an all-in-one solution to newcomers into the modern period, something that has had great impact on other companies.

As of yet, this is still a vision, a plan that might work out or it might fail. The game system is still pre-alpha, many new mechanics have been implemented and a lot of thought has already gone into the system. Getting ever closer into the playtesting stage I think the time is right to start talking about the rules with a set of developer diaries released throughout the next months, supplemented by some reports of our internal playtests.

In the next Diary I´ll start up with some details on the Design Philosophy that compounds the ruleset. Having a clear idea what you want to achieve can help a great deal ;)
And it should give you a good idea where this is heading before we dive deeper into the gritty details.

Thanks for reading

PS: For ns ow, the rulest will be called "Modern Rules" for reference on this blog - we do have a list of potential names but nothing is set on stone regarding the name. I´ve always been working on the premise of "content first" - the layout, naming, pictures, etc. are added on a later stage - I learned that throughout my game development hobby career ;)
So the name will be revealed in due time and I´ll update the diaries and the label.

EDIT: Changed the title and label to the working title that has been selected. The ruleset is currently called "Code Red" and will hopefully carry that name when we release it.

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