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.

The new Decision system interface (click image to enlarge)

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.


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.


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  1. Jafele says:

    Interesting ideas Cameron! Innovative concepts are neccesary nowdays. Wargame developers tend to repeat the same old scheme and take no risks. What makes a game classic? Simplicity, fun, nice graphics and replayability. Furthermore, simple rules make the AI more challenging. Quality is a good balance between realism and simplicity.

    It´s important to spend most of the time of gameplay thinking about important decisions for war: supply, tactics and strategy. That makes you feel like a real commander.

    Sometimes we all forget games (and movies) main target is fun, they´re no history books. Deafinitely we need something new in the world of wargames. I´m sure you and Vic are able to make it real.

    Best wishes

  2. Rasputitsa says:

    Well Cameron this certainly is a different approach, so far very interesting, at first when you said it could be played in a few evenings, I got worried the game would be too shallow.

    I like the command approach, with decision and implementation shared with AI subordinates, a God-like total control of all units and in-depth information data on everything is not realistic and also time consuming to manage, taking you away from the main purpose of the game – Strategy.

    The main task of any commander is to plan and set up logistics, just shoveling counters around the board is a pitiful representation of what actually happens in reality.

    Can’t wait for the next installment, really hope that you can hit the ‘sweet spot’, or give enough preferences and options to allow players to adjust it for themselves.

    PS : My headquarters needs to be a well equipped chateau, don’t go with the drafty HQ, not with all the braid my commander will be carrying.

  3. Rasputitsa says:

    ‘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.’

    One of the main issues in the implementation of ‘Barbarossa’ was the command conflict between Hitler, as Supreme Commander and Halder, Guderian and others, as Operational Commanders. Hitler’s Directive 21 sets the initial objectives for Barbarossa as : Leningrad and clearing the Baltic Coast, Kiev and obtaining the productive areas of the Ukraine, with the intention of destroying the Soviet Army close to the border. Halder and others want Moscow to be the main objective of the operation and this conflict causes the German command crisis of July/August 1941, as the Smolensk pocket is being eliminated and there are several weeks delay, as the commanders try to change Hitler’s mind.

    I very much like the process of having superiors and subordinates, but how much does the superior control the player’s actions and how much variation can the game give in directing the strategy that you are able to use. Can the game have Hitler/Stalin change their minds, either during a game, or from one game to another ?

    You want the game to play in an historical way, but not always hit the same predictable historical roadblocks.

  4. Cameron Harris says:

    Hi Rasputitsa,

    Regarding Superiors it’s easy to make a system that is too deterministic (you’re told to DO THIS) or one where your Superiors are just an afterthought in the background.

    How the game handles Superiors is the topic for another Blog post but suffice to say it’s a fairly innovative approach that weaves victory conditions into the mix as well.


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