Sunday, October 12, 2014

Code Red - Dev Diary 3: Command and Control

Today we´ll be going into the details of developing the Command and Control Mechanics that form the core of activating units in our new Modern Rules.


I´ve covered the reasons for designing this mechanic in Dev Diary #1, so I´ll not repeat the details here. As a reminder, I didn´t like certain aspects and had the following vision in designing the mechanic:

  • The number of units that can be activated per turn should be restricted to raise the question of prioritising and a decision over scarce ressources.
  • Squad and Platoon Leaders should become important elements of the game
  • Units operating together should be encouraged to do so on the tabletop (i.e. fireteams in the same squad operating close to each other in mutual support). 
  •  Morale Effects of Units should restrict their ability to act or react. 

A lot of research and experimenting followed.

At first I just meddled with the Initiative rules to switch Initiative more often, trying to break up the situation when one side had initiative all the time. To do this I just made regaining initiative easier by bringing initiative in line with the FoF Basic mechanism of pairing off results against your opponents die rolls. This meant that rolling high on a single initiative die could turn the table and give you the upper hand in the engagement for a turn.
It did what it was supposed to and the initiative changed more often - but there still was a fundamental problem as pinning/suppression still lasted just until the end of the turn and you couldn´t really exploit the results of the previous turn.

It was at this stage that I discovered how units could just mix and match all over the board without paying any attention to their squad structure - it didn´t feel like you where playing 3 squads, it felt like playing 6 independent teams.

A little later, Chain of Command was released and, intrigued by its command and control system I thought I could create something working towards the same end. Unfortunately Chain of Commands System seemed a little too inflexible to me, as the command pool was designed around a platoon level game with only small deviations - reducing the game size too much would inevitably damage one of the aspects of decision making by reducing the command pool to less than 4-5 dice.

Furthermore I don´t like copycats, so I´m not striving to be one, even if the solution presented by someone else is ingenius. So I started working on my own Command and Control rules draft and quickly figured out a way to do this while retaining a certain flexibility for the game size.

Instead of giving every unit an activation every turn, the units would be activated by their leaders. Furthermore, a single leader would not automatically be able to activate all units under his authority, but he´d have to take a quality check to see how stressed out he was, how confusing the situation is and all the other random factors on the battlefield.
Starting with a Rifle Squad of 2 Fireteams, you suddenly had 2 uncertain potential activations. With a standard troop quality this effectively played out to an average of 1,2 activations, so you´d usually only activate one out of two fireteams.  To keep things simple the dice would be pooled at the beginning and re-distributed later on, so you have some real control over which part of the battlefield you want to prioritise.
Furthermore it quickly became obvious that you didn´t need to activate all units using your own command dice - units would always return fire when shot at, guaranteeing that most of your units would be able to participate in combat even if you failed your command rolls miserably.

So having a good command roll would essentially just allow you to dictate the layout of the fight. It boils down to having the initiative, so you can force your opponent to fight you where you want to fight.

Of course your opponent is not restricted to sitting by and watch you do your bidding. He can always use his own activation pool (both players roll their dice at the beginning of the turn) to initiate reactions to skew the fight into their favor by interrupting your activations.

 The next step was evolving this system further by integrating it into the Morale mechanics. Apart from commanding their troops by giving orders, leaders are very essential for keeping your units in the fight by rallying them. A unit shouted at by their NCO can perform significantly better than a unit left alone. So I increased the duration of morale effects, made them last several turns and gave the command system another twist:  Leaders can remove Morale effects (to a certain limit) by sacrificing command dice before even rolling them. So suddenly there´s an interesting trade-off:  Do you rally your units, risking a potential activation you could use both as a means of retaining initiative AND to activate another unit somewhere on the board?  Or do you roll it to achieve those ends, possibly wasting the die as it turns into a failed roll and just let your unit suffer the morale effect for longer?

Ah, and keeping the units together - well. You are not forbidden to disperse your units all over the place. It´s not a hard cap, but a penalty. Units in command range of your leader can be activated more easily, as soon as you leave the range the activation just costs twice the dice. The idea is that estabilishing radio communications just takes a little longer than shouting and waving at your team leaders at close distance. It´s still a bit artificial, but it works the way it´s supposed to by keeping the squads in mutual support in a realistic fashion.

And that´s it - tried, tested and almost unchanged except for nuances, since it´s introduction. The fun part is that different unit organisations require different decisions and playing styles

The initial feedback was very good, so I´ll just conclude this entry with a nice quote from one of my earliest (and one of the most helpful) playtesters:

The iniative and activation rules are a blast. They force you to care for the chain of
command and the lives of your officers and their position on the board. In the original
rules, officers were just another guy with a rifle who would go down to save that RPG-7
toting soldier.

Mission accomplished, I think!
And I also have rules for Insurgents of course, that integrate very smoothly with the regular rules.
But I can´t give everything away in these dev diaries, can I? Who´d bother reading the actual rules then? ;)
Next time we´re going to talk about Infantry Firefights and their evolution towards their current state, I think. Stay tuned!

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