Decisive Campaigns III design blog #6
Before we return to the Wehrmacht’s continued advance through a deserted Russia, as a way of seeing how far we can stretch the logistical systems, we need to talk about information.
Nobody likes to play a game where the underlying mechanics are opaque. You make a decision and something happens but the game won’t tell you what or why. It’s frustrating to find yourself poking around in the dark.
The cornerstone of any decently designed game is that it provides ample feedback to the player. If you are going to provide a decision space you need to also provide the necessary information that enables players to make those decisions in an informed, educated manner.
Decisive Campaigns 3, as already mentioned, is striving to be micromanagement free as possible. It also has a fairly high level approach – divisions, 30 km hexes – to it’s chosen subject. Does this mean it there will be straightforward and simple game mechanics?
Half right. Straightforward yes, simple no. The underlying mechanics are involved and detailed.
Which creates a dilemma. In order to provide the player with adequate feedback there are all manner of reports. Squillions of them. Add to this a variable number of decisions that need resolving each turn. The end result is the player having to wade through an awful lot of reading each turn to find out what’s happening.
Clearly that isn’t workable. Who wants to spend twenty minutes each turn reading endless reports on this or that? Some of us, perhaps, but not all.
To bring some order to the raging torrent of information flowing through the game there are a series of ‘Daily Logs’. These act as summaries. There is one for each theatre, one for staff matters and one for game related items, making a total of five.
The intent of the designer, that’s me, is for the player to imagine themselves pacing up and down their headquarters, staring at the latest updates on the operational map. Before them on the desk are a big pile of reports compiled by their staff from information provided by the various components of the forces under their command. There’s another pile of reports that are decisions needing the player’s input.
The headquarters staff have put together summaries, daily logs, that highlight everything they consider important. Everything they think the player should know in a concise, short form.
The player can scan these each turn and has the option, if he wants, to then delve deeper into the big pile of reports to get further information on a particular item.
None of the matters highlighted in the daily logs will resolve themselves. It’s up to the player to deal with any problems. Which isn’t easy as there will be, as time progresses, more and more of them. He has tools and resources at his disposal to resolve various issues but these don’t include the ability to handball the important stuff over to a minion.
The other pile on this desk, all those decisions needing his approval, or otherwise, can however, be delegated. The player’s Chief of Staff is on hand to deal with any decision that are sitting in the pile. But that’s all he’ll do. He won’t run the war for you and his judgment isn’t always going to coincide with yours.
The game presents the player with a few, key, pop-up messages at the start of each turn. Need to know stuff – Weather, Panzergruppe status, pending decisions.
Once the turn begins the player can click on the report tab and have everything available to him in the one spot. Right at the top is the ‘Decisions’ pile. Followed by the Daily Logs. Below this are all the detailed reports.
A typical turn would have the player scanning the list of pending decisions, dealing with some, delegating others. He’d also look at his Daily Logs. Doesn’t have to, but he can expect a short command if he chooses to remain ignorant of what’s happening. The detailed reports are there to be dipped into at his convenience. The player can choose to be a ‘big picture’ or a ‘tell me everything’ commander.
The information flow is layered. You can play the game by interacting with the outer layer only or you can start peeling away, Shrek-like, and go deeper. It’s up to you.
An additional aspect of the games approach to information management is how it deals with individual units. Each division can have a wide range of factors influencing it (ammunition shortages, command problems, fatigue, counter battery artillery support, cold weather preparations, postures, interference from the Führer are some examples to give you an idea of the scope of these) and there are multiple ways of accessing this. But that’s a topic for another blog.