This is the first of a series of blog posts about the forthcoming game that provide some background into its design and development. The game is not complete but there is enough of it there already to for me to begin a conversation, confident that it will turn up on your doorstep one day, dressed in it’s finest, sporting a cigar and a big silly grin.
Lock up your daughters.
I was given free reign by Vic as to what period/campaign/genre I would like as the basis for a new game with the Decisive Campaigns III engine. While I considered many alternatives, in the end I chose Barbarossa. Personal favourites such as the WW2 North Africa and a raft of other, more obscure conflicts, failed to pass muster because they either weren’t suited for the engine or were a niche within a niche.
In the end the deciding factor was the popularity and awareness amongst gamers of the Eastern front. The game has to sell.
Luckily there is a significant body of literature, war diaries and other source material covering the campaign and it was, fortuitously, one of the more fascinating ones. You could argue that the start of Barbarossa was also one of the 20th centuries great ‘roll of the dice’ moments, on par with Pearl Harbour.
Unfortunately it’s not all roses as there are sizable challenges that need to be overcome. One of those challenges is generic to historical wargames and the other is specific to the chosen campaign.
Challenge 1: How to make an historical game replayable?
Historical games, are by their very nature, games strapped firmly into straight jackets. People buy them to recreate a major military event and to gain an understanding of the various factors that were in play. Historical buffs love them for their attention to detail. Moving a game away from it’s historical roots is fraught with peril and protests.
These constraints are typically dealt with by providing a range of scenarios and the occasional ‘what if’. The replayability comes from providing multiple variations of the main theme. There may be some game mechanics that enable the player to ‘mix it up’ a touch, but generally this is only tweaking things on the margins as anything more risks losing the ‘historical’ description and having the game being forced to turn in it’s uniform and being gonged out of the army.
A title such as Decisive Campaigns III : Barbarossa is firmly in the historical camp. It can present arms and drill with the best of them. The amount of historical detail contained within is at a higher level than most. People who buy an historical game for the history will be pleased.
Does it contain the usual breadth of scenarios? No. It makes no pretense to do so. The focus is on the main campaign. Granted, it is playable from both sides but this is a case of smoke and mirrors as the nature of the campaign is such that the Soviets had a pretty miserable time of it. Taking command of the Red Army in the face of an overwhelming onslaught isn’t much fun other than for those who enjoy being beat up (a significant effort is underway to make the Soviet side enjoyable but even with this the majority of players will opt for the German side).
Which leaves a single campaign and a single, preferred, side awash with historical detail. Not a lot of variety here and limited scope for replayability.
If you’re the type of player, like myself, that enjoys a ‘build your own world’ type of game, for example Civilization or ATG, there isn’t much, if anything, in the above description to entice you.
Definitely a design challenge.
Challenge 2: How to bring something new to the table?
There are numerous games covering the same campaign at all levels of detail and scope. Each is different. There isn’t any point in making another also-ran. How many games are there that deal with the invasion of Russia in WW2? I did a quick web survey and came up with a list going on fifty.
That’s a lot. Each has their own theme. Many are different variations of the same theme.
Perhaps it’s like writing a novel in that there are only so many plots to choose from?
Maybe everything that could be done, has been done from detailed tactical combat simulations all the way up to monster strategic time sinks?
You could ask does the game even need a fancy new approach? What’s wrong with an well executed game using a proven engine (DC)? It might not be a ‘wow, look at that!’ car but there are plenty of people still buying and driving around in everyday commuter vehicles.
Well that’s certainly doable but it’s not going to get anyone excited. More likely it will have them nodding off with ‘not another game about…’
So there is a requirement for a new approach. A new angle.
This, in itself, isn’t hard. There are many things you could do which haven’t previously been done. Nobody else has tried them, however, for the very good reason that they don’t add anything to the gaming experience. In most cases they detract and distract. Who wants more micromanagement, more decisions that have little impact or excessive amounts of decorative chrome?
Once again, a challenge.
DC3: Barbarossa has taken on both challenges.
Will it end up triumphantly goose stepping across Red Square or is it destined to expire, crawling with lice, huddled fetal-like in a frozen ditch, in some nameless field?
Till next time…