Decisive Campaigns III design blog #2
What determines if a game is enjoyable? Well that depends on the type of game. For a Shooter you are after adrenalin, tension and action. For a strategy game, which is more of a slow burner, there is a different set of criteria. These differ from person to person but immersion and decisions would be on most peoples lists.
Immersion because nobody wants a dry, mathematical based exercise in counter shuffling. You want to, ideally, put yourself in the shoes of the commander of the day and breathe the smoke and worry in the room that comes from a group of concerned subordinates, fretting, huddled over a situation map.
If mechanics are the bones of a strategy game, Decisions are the meat. They provide the muscle that propel it forward.
There are games out there where you can toggle a few switches, crack open a beer and sit back and watch it all unfold, doing nothing, deciding little. More of a movie than a game.
Then there are other games where you find yourself in a veritable snowstorm of decisions. But just like snowflakes on a sunny day each decision melts into insignificance leaving nothing but a wet dribble on your hand. You might as well get your dog to bang the keyboard and make them for you.
The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle. Decisions that are both interesting and meaningful.
The whole design of Decisive Campaigns III: Barbarossa pivots around this concept. Vic has extended the engine to accommodate the strong emphasis on decisions.
Decisions need a context. Ask somebody to choose red or green and you’ll get a question straight back, ‘red or green what?’.
In Decisive Campaigns III: Barbarossa the context is the player as the Operational Commander. You are in charge of the conduct of the Eastern front but you aren’t an omnipresent God. You have subordinates and you have superiors.
Imagine yourself – mid morning, a murky mug of ersatz coffee in hand, staring as junior Oberleutnants mark the latest updates on the big operational map smeared across the wall of your drafty headquarters. Squinting suspiciously at the growing pile of reports on your desk. There is another pile, equally as big, full of requests. The phone rings constantly. Your staff are spiking teletype printouts ever higher and Colonel Rat Face, currently in dispute with your Quartermaster-General, is impatiently waiting for you next door, demanding that you intervene.
That’s the game. Right there.
Each turn you are presented with a number of decision that cover a broad range of topics. The kind of decisions that an operational commander would face. Every decision impacts the game in one form or another. They matter.
You have limited time and command resources. There will only be so many decisions in a given turn that you can deal with. The rest you’ll have to delegate. Deciding where to spend your command resources and which decisions you’ll have to handball across to your Chief of Staff are key elements of the experience.
You’ll be dealing with people. Strongly defined personalities. People under pressure. They can be difficult and demanding. You aren’t going to be able to please everybody. This has consequences.
Once you’ve dealt with all that you can get down to business and happily shuffle some cheery looking Divisional counters around the hex map that comes with free chocolates and the most detailed climatic model this side of the Urals.
But some of those Divisions aren’t going to want to move. Perhaps you shouldn’t have delegated that particular decision. Damn.
AND CAN SOMEBODY PLEASE TELL ME WHY THE HECK MY PANZERS HAVEN’T GOT ENOUGH FUEL?
Because there is a shortage of signals on the Army Group North rail network it appears that there has been a collision. Deliveries have been delayed. Because you chose to allocate the limited Signalling supplies to F.M von Rundstedt’s Rail Construction Battalions way down South several weeks ago. Because it was easier to do that than send them North when the Führer had shifted his priorities to the Ukraine. Because you have a better working relationship with F.M von Rundstedt than the overly cautious whinger who is holding down Armeegruppe Nordwärts.
Above all you are in COMMAND. It is this gnarly, gritty experience of front line operational command that the game seeks to capture.