Why I love stacking and dropped it

One of the things that Shadow Empire will not have (much) is: stacking. For the uninitiated: stacking is the ability to put more than one unit in a hex. In my Decisive Campaigns and Advanced Tactics titles you can stack for example up to 16 units in 1 hex.


Above is an example of stacking. It cost me a lot of emotional effort to drop this mechanic. But I am pleased with the result. A game without stacking is much easier to play by non-grognard players and allows for nicer graphics. And.. as I will argue can provide the same gameplay. Also it is nice to get some diversity between my new engine and existing engines. I never did a game without stacking rules.

First I was resistant to dropping this mechanic, but when I took the time to analyse why I loved stacking I found a design method around it. The thing I found is I do not love stacking in it self, but rather the type of thinking stacking rules allow me to do. It is mainly two things: It allows to keep continuous frontlines and it allows to put a focus point (or schwerpunkt if you like) on a specific part of the front. Actually an important third thing is that it allows mixing units, but that is beyond the scope of this blog post.


Initially I figured if I abolished stacking rules and subsequently would want to focus my power on a specific part of the front I would get this pile up of units behind the frontline.
And that would feel wrong. (as you can see above)

However I arrived at the obvious solution after some time: reduce the number of units, but increase their area of effect. By introducing opportunity fire units do not need to be on every hex in a frontline to keep that line. You can leave a hex open every hex and the enemy will have a hard time penetrating that line. You could even leave two hexes open every hex to have the same effect.


As you can see in the example above an enemy unit trying to break through the line will suffer opportunity fire in two hexes on its path of advance. Probably the opportunity fire in the first hex will already stop the unit in its tracks or boots, but even if not there still is a second hex with opportunity fire to move through.

A determined enemy with lots of units could force a breakthrough, though not in 1 turn. Well.. unless they have really superior equipment or are supported with artillery and bombers of course :)

Now if I really would like to keep my line I would add more units to it.


As you can see in the example above a breakthrough is really impossible in such a heavy line. Any attackers will first all suffer opportunity fire just moving in and making contact. Then they will still have to attack and break a unit in the line. And then they’ll have to consolidate the hex and suffer opportunity fire from the neighboring defenders.

Essential for this approach is of course making sure that the unit count is in balance with the size of the map. So the player will not be able to have full frontlines on all fronts. In my test games so far I am not missing stacking at all. The ability to choose between different densities of frontline occupation works well for me with Shadow Empire.

And yes of course I have to admit that the level of subtlety and micro-management stacking provides in for example Decisive Campaigns could not be replaced by this approach. But that is a different kind of game. For starters it is historical. Sometimes you just need 10 divisions to be in Stalingrad. Shadow Empire is a post-apocalyptic era game aimed at a slightly less hardcore audience and for it I think I struck the right balance.

Next time I’ll discuss some other mechanics. For almost all battle design decisions my aim is to simplify gameplay but keep the core decisions of more complicated games in there.
In a few months time there might even be some graphical sneakpeaks :)

Best regards,

Posted in Game Design, Shadow Empire | 10 Comments

And we will name you: Shadow Empire

Just a quick note. I finally can stop cautious talk about ‘Workname Empire’. I have decided on a final name. The name for my new engine is ‘Shadow Empire’.

Like it or hate it… names are like that. Most important thing is probably that I like it myself and that it is a flexible title concerning time periods. If the first game works well I can use the same name for different settings as well.

As you will find out in the future the name is actually tied in with the story for the campaign.

And as you may have noticed I have switched my development updates to Twitter. But planning to write a few articles on mechanics soon.

Best wishes,

Posted in Shadow Empire | 1 Comment

Art director/artist wanted for 2D hex based postapocalyptic strategy game

Artists wanted at Slitherine/Matrix/Ageod

Specifically looking for a talented Art Director/Artist to lead on the look and feel of an upcoming strategy game.

The game is a 2D hex based post apocalyptic strategy/4X game. We are looking for someone to provide concept art, art direction, plus generating all in game art assets.

The game universe is situated on a distant planet in the far future. After a huge interstellar war and a nuclear apocalypse this planet has dropped back in to the dark ages. The player is leading one of the resurgent forces trying to re-establish order, technology and civilization. Tech level starts at savage mid 20th century level and ramp all the way up into early sci-fi stages.

It’s a turn based game with influences from classic games like Civilization, Empire and Advance Wars. Game features include among others: random planetary maps, shroud & fog of war, research, morph able map and construction, multiplayer support, leaders with stats and skills, story driven campaign, logistics and a supply system.

This will be a substantial multi-month project. It is possible that the role may be split into a number of roles with a concept artist guiding the style and other artist/s creating the actual in game content but the ideal candidate would be able to fulfill all roles.

Interested applicants should send an email to career@slitherine.co.uk with a link to their portfolio.

Here is the link to the original job-add:

Best regards,

Posted in Jobs, Shadow Empire | Leave a comment

November, December and January development progress report

Its about time for a news update on workname Empire.

Summing it up I finished the whole framework for the AI in November and the screen layouts in January. December was partly given over to both and partly out due to a trip with the girlfriend to New York and the seasonal celebrations.

While being in the Museum of Modern Art in New York I actually bumped into one exhibit that had a running version of Dwarf Fortress. I hope Bay 12 Games got paid as much as the artists who supplied the MoMa with their paintings. :) I took it as a good omen to bump into DF by chance at such a place.

Anyway lets get back on topic!

The AI is now playing the simple rules version of the game quite ok. It will definitely need some fine tuning but it is already enjoyable to fight it. It is amazing how much more fun it is to playtest a game when you don’t have to move the pieces for both sides.

Already with the simple rules there is a lot of sub tasks I had to teach the AI: attacking, defending, artillery use, reshuffling forces, garrisoning (is that a word?), pulling back mechanized units for repairs, reinforcing and merging infantry units, using transport units, spreading to different continents using cargo ships, using the military ships to either escort the cargo’s or attack the enemy navies, etc…

Actually I am for a big part writing this post in response to a post on PocketTactics.com and on the Matrix forums. People are wildly guessing what the topic will be of the next game and I decided to reveal it to stop all the wild speculations :)

There is a lot of people expecting VR to come up with another hex and counter-based historical game. They are not wrong since Decisive Campaigns 3 is in development as well, but the new workname Empire engine game is quite a different beast:

Workname Empire is set in a post-apocalyptic era on a distant planet.

Bazinga! I said it. Its a turn-based strategy game with exploration, research and intricate combat and logistics rules. It has hexes, but not counters. The initial tech levels will be reminiscent of mid 20th century technology, while the higher tech levels will be more in the science fiction era.

The post-apocalyptic setting is not chosen by accident. The game is in some ways not unlike my previous Advanced Tactics (or the original Empire) and I reasoned that this setting was best to explain an initially shrouded planetary map and owning a single city that can start cranking out world war II era-like forces like infantry, artillery and tanks.

Also VR went for a post-apocalyptic setting because it provides a lot of design space to create a unique game universe, story and player experience. Not saying there is no space for another world war 2 game, but there are already so many…

I prefer to make my more hardcore wargame engine Decisive Campaigns focus on simulating history and the new midcore engine on a more fantastic setting.

However don’t get me wrong: workname Empire might be a bit more simple concerning interface, flow and play than Advanced Tactics, it will very much be a blend between a strategy game and a wargame. There are frontlines there, entrenchment, supply bases, panzer encirclements, air support, concentric attacks, combined arms, landscape considerations, road networks, airfields, intercepts, opportunity fire, ambushes: everything that is necessary to create a game that rewards decent planning and outsmarting your opponent. Do not expect an infantry-only assault with twice the number of troops to break easily (or at all) through an entrenched enemy infantry line.

Still a lot of work to do. Next big tasks up are the map and units graphics and writing the full campaign story and designing all the scenarios for this campaign. Other two big tasks remaining after that are finishing up the AI and fine-tuning the gameplay, rules and stats (beta testing). Also I should mention that the game is planned to be released for tablets as well, but that those will come after the initial PC release. I just really prefer a PC release first approach since it allows me to focus on one platform at a time.

I’ll keep you all posted about the progress and although the near future probably will not reveal any specifics on story, units and graphics i’ll try to make some small posts the coming months talking about some specific new game mechanics like for example radiation, possible enemy presence (PEP) markers and the logistical nodes.

Best regards,

Posted in Shadow Empire, Upcomming releases | 5 Comments