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Wednesday, 14 August 2019

A simple campaign system (Part 1): Exploring ideas

I want to include a simple campaign system in my forthcoming PORTABLE COLONIAL WARGAME book, but experience tells me that campaigns usually flounder after a few moves if and when players begin to get bogged down in the minutiae of how the campaign works. They rapidly lose interest, and move onto something else. It therefore follows that any design I come up with MUST be simple and easy to use, and require the absolute minimum of record keeping.

I therefore set myself the following parameters:
  1. The system must be able to be used solo or for several players without access to an umpire.
  2. Campaign movement should be area-to-area or point-to-point rather than anywhere on the map.
  3. It should be possible to include unforeseen events into the system so that players have to contend with the unexpected.
On the face of it, these seem simple parameters to meet ... but when you begin to try to meet them, you soon discover that they are not!

The system must be able to be used solo or for several players without access to an umpire
As I do most of my wargaming solo, it would be relatively easy for me to devise a simple, solo campaign system ... but most wargamers are more sociable than me, and like to fight an opponent that they can see across the tabletop. Trying to devise a simple campaign system that is suitable for use by solo and face-to-face wargamers therefore has an added layer of complication for the designer, especially as you have to assume that players will not have access to an umpire who can 'run' the campaign for them.

Campaign movement should be area-to-area or point-to-point rather than anywhere on the map
I've taken part in campaigns where ordinary maps were used, and it very quickly became obvious where the 'good ground' was and therefore where the battles were most likely to take place. As a result, I have tended to favour simpler maps that use either area-to-area movement or point-to-point movement between the likely sites where fighting will take place, and I cited examples of these in DEVELOPING THE PORTABLE WARGAME.

A simple area movement map, as used in the game SAVE GORDON!
A simple point-to-point map of the area around between Brussels and Charleroi.
A simple area linear track map for a South or Central American revolution or civil war
It should be possible to include unforeseen events into the system so that players have to contend with the unexpected
A simple way to achieve this is the use of Event Cards or an Events Table, but unless one is very careful, it is possible to generate problems that don't seem to fit the campaign.

So where to start?
Having toyed with one or two ideas, I decided to go back to basics, and looked at some game designs that have been around for a long time ... in some cases, a very long time. I started with ludo.


Despite its Latin name (ludo = 'I play'), the game known as ludo probably originated in India, and is thought to have been brought to Europe in the sixth century. It is a simple, strategy board game for two to four players, where each player tries to chase and 'take' their opponent's pieces (i.e. return the piece to its starting point) and prevent them from reaching safety in the middle of the board.

The game has simplicity, but I thought that using it as a basis for a campaign system might not appeal to many wargamers. In addition, it did not seem possible to include any unforeseen events into the game without creating a completely new game.

I then looked at snakes and ladders as a possible model for my game design.


Like ludo, snakes and ladders originated in India, and the two games probably share a common ancestor. It is also a chase game, but with 'events' affecting movement (i.e. the snakes force players to move their piece backwards and ladders propel them forwards). In some ways this looked like a better starting point for a campaign design than ludo ... but as the players were all going in the same direction, the only potential for a conflict between players was when opposing pieces landed in the same square.

I also looked at Monopoly as a possible game design model.


The origins of the current game are generally accepted to have been a development of Lizzie Magie's 'The Landlord's Game', which she created in 1903. Charles Darrow took the design, developed it, and published it in 1932. It was subsequently bought from Darrow by Parker Brothers in 1934.

It is also a chase game, but with the added advantage of including Event Cards (i.e. 'Chance' and 'Community Chest') and a level of resource management (i.e. the purchase and development of property which generates additional income). Perhaps this type of resource management might not be applicable to a wargame, but the inclusion of something that requires players to manage what is available to them does appeal.

Ideas were beginning to form in my head as to how I could meld the various game designs into a simple campaign system, and my recent cruise gave me the opportunity to play around with them.

Please note that the photograph of the Monopoly board is © Hasbro.

30 comments:

  1. It will be interesting to see were your campaign ideas take you with the possible repurposing of ideas from some very successful games.

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    1. Peter,

      I've been thinking about this for some time, and have a notebook full of sketches and ideas, some of which were becoming so complex that I stopped developing them. I eventually decided that many old chase games had mechanisms that were worth looking at, if only to reject them. However, looking at the mechanisms that they did use helped me to develop the ones that I intend to use.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. I look forward to seing how your ideas progress as a mainly solo player, they hold a lot of interest. Rich Clark of Too Fat Lardies has some nice simple campaign ideas in Chain of Command and Sharpe Practise II. Essentially ladder campaigns, they are easy to use and are well worth a look IMHO.

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    1. Steve J.,

      I've used ladder campaigns (or something very similar) in the past, and they are ideal for solo play. However, I want to develop a system that can be used by several players at the same time, and when I looked at them, ladder campaigns did not seem to fit the bill. That said, the ideas I am working on do incorporate concepts that are very similar.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. Hi Bob,
    I think that Campaign Rules would reflect the Era being played- Horse & Musket would be very different to say WW2 Europe...I've had the idea for American Civil War that opponent Armies move by Map Reference according to type of troops- with 'Scouting Cavalry' such that if the Union Army scouted Map reference 'B4' the player would put his Scouts in a Matchbox Labelled 'B4'...and when and if the Confederate scouted the same area ('B4') then both scouts would meet and an Umpire/ Mutual Agreement would decide the outcome. This system would require a 'cabinet' of Match Boxes to be built...I think it would work. Regards. KEV.

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    1. Kev Robertson (Kev),

      I'm hoping to develop a generic campaign system that can be adapted to different historical periods.

      Your matchbox grid system sounds very similar to a system that Donald Featherstone proposed. The problem is where to get hold of matchboxes these days,

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. Just a thought in absence of matchboxes - There are these type of Really Useful multiple boxes around, hopefully not all see through. The other things like it are advent calendar boxes with drawers / pockets.

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    3. Mark, Man of TIN,

      I think that REALLY USEFUL BOXES make small opaque draws/boxes that fit into a large storage tray. Likewise, THE WORKS sell something similar that is constructed from wood.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  4. KEV Don Featherstone did something very similar and it is described in one of his early books!

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    1. Dick Bryant,

      I had exactly the same thought.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  5. I am really looking forward to this. Wouldn't resource management equate to supply and supply lines? This is too often given short shrift in campaigns, yet is the reason most campaigns are fought, won or lost.

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    1. Dick Bryant,

      As yet, I'm not quite sure how to include resource management/supplies into my campaign system ... but I have a few ideas that I want to try.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  6. Great start Bob. I'm also looking forward to see what develops here.

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    1. Maudlin Jack Tar,

      Cheers! I intend to write relevant blog entries as my ideas develop.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  7. There is a bizarre but charming Edwardian fantasy variant on the race game / snakes and ladders called the Princes Quest with lots of random loops back and lucky / unlucky squares. 'Recently' reprinted 10 to 20 years in board game book form.
    https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/19/the-princes-quest-board-game/

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    1. Mark, Man of TIN,

      Thank you for the very interesting link as I'd never heard of this game.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  8. A fascinating posting, bob, not so much in what you've said, as where what you have said might lead. I was at first inclined to dismiss the 'Snakes and Ladders' concept, but if the ladders can somehow represent flank marches, stealing a march, marching to the guns, or some successful strategem; and the snakes some failure of the staff, attacks by irregulars, interdictions of supply lines, or other reverses - intriguing!

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    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      I took a long, hard look at Snakes and Ladders as a model for my campaign system for similar reasons to the ones you outline in your comment ... and it has potential, particularly for a solo campaign.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  9. Having looked at the Prince's Quest' board game put me in mind of a game I used to own: 'Formula One'. It was a simple race track divided into oblong or 'curved oblong' spaces. But there were potential hazards on some of the curves, and in places one might take, at greater risk of coming off the track, a shorter course around a bend. Dribing at speeds higher than the nominal maximum riwsked crashing, but even without that led to wear on tyres and brakes. Once they had worn to a certain point, then any excess of speed on the corners, or anywhere having to decelerate faster than the system allowed would have you spinning off the track. They could be restored by a visit to the pits (and make sure you could EXACTLY reach your own pit stop without spinning off.

    It was a great little game in its way, requiring a certain amount of skill. You determined your own speed, and made your own decisions. Dice came in only when drivers took risks going 20mph (some risk) or 40mph (bigger risk) on corners.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=formula+1+board+game&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjuocmWzYPkAhVQWH0KHZZAArMQ_AUIESgB&biw=1920&bih=937#imgrc=pgbGDvmMmgMChM:

    Can such a system be adapted to a war games campaign? I don't know. I have a few half-formed ideas, but they might tend to take the form of Space Crusade (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Crusade)
    - a game system I have played and enjoyed; or say the British invasion of Zululand in 1879. These would involve several players on one side and maybe only one on the other.

    Each 'driver' had a cardboard 'dash panel' to monitor brakes and stearing

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    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      I remember playing Formula One with my mates during lunch break in the sixth form at school, and recall the dreaded spinning off the track!

      Because it incorporates an element of resource management to achieve your goal, it dopes have potential for development as a campaign system ... and now that you have reminded me, I must see if I can get hold of a copy to remind myself as to how it works.

      The campaign grid that I designed during our recent cruise and that will be featured on today's blog entry is not that dissimilar to the Prince's Quest board ... a game I had not heard of before yesterday! An interesting coincidence that convinces me that I might well be on the right track.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  10. Fascinating thought processes Bob. Being someone who never seems to come up with radical ideas (I'm more of an adapter type) I'm always impressed by those who find inspiration elsewhere. If you'd said to me 'look at boardgames for inspiration' I would automatically think of war-related games like Strategos, I would never have dreamed of Monopoly. But now you've mentioned it the 'little grey cells' are starting to light up.

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    1. Nundanket,

      Cheers! Being a member of Wargame Developments has 'exposed' me to looking at non-war games and asking myself 'Does this have wargaming potential?'.

      Years ago I took part in a game about the Fire Brigade during the London Blitz ... and it used the Monopoly board to represent the centre of London. If you didn't get your fire engines to the right place at the right time to stop the blaze spreading, it had the ability to spread to adjacent squares on the board. Add to that the fact that you had to minimise the damage costs (i.e. the value of the property) and to protect the infrastructure (i.e. the Waterworks, the Gasworks and the stations) with restricted resources, the players had lots of problems to solve.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  11. Hi Bob

    I can only admire your courage in taking on such a project. I found it difficult enough to develop a simplified campaign system just for my own use, plus for PBEM campaigns. But to take on a commercial project is really brave.

    Difficult enough to develop a wargame rule system which will be acceptable to most wargamers. However you have already done this with great success.

    So I will be really interested to see where you go with this.

    I would only offer one suggestion.

    Try to make the finished product look as close as possible to what wargamers imagine a map of the period would look like. I realise that this will greatly add to the difficulty of coming up with a new concept. But I do feel that most gamers will want to use a campaign system that looks familiar.

    I think you are quite right to go back to basics and consider all options. But you also need to keep in mind what the finished product has to represent.

    Good luck with the project

    regards

    Paul

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    1. Thistlebarrow (Pail),

      I'm not sure whether trying to develop a simple campaign system is brave, but it's certainly fun ... and even if it doesn't work, at least I've tried.

      I fully expect that other wargamers will think 'I can do better than that' ... and I hope that they will give it a go so that I can learn from their designs.

      I like your idea that I ought to try to make my design look as much like a map as possible. If you have a chance to read today's blog entry, you'll see that my design for a campaign map of the Sudan follows the basic outline of a simple map, and it wouldn't be too difficult to place the grid over the map.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  12. Hi Bob

    Yes, campaigns are great fun. And designing maps even more so.

    I like the progress in Part 2. It is really taking shape.

    Whether it will work or not will soon become obvious once you start to play test it.

    My own maps, which are quite simple compared to yours, have changed shape many times over the years. I started out with a very simple grid system, but soon found that I longed for a "proper" map.

    Of course it all depends what your objective is. The further from actual maps the harder it will be for players to find fault with. They will either accept it whole or not.

    I will follow your progress with great interest

    best regards

    Paul

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    1. Thistlebarrow (Paul),

      One off battles can be fun, but one that forms part of a campaign - in other words, forms part of a bigger narrative - are much more enjoyable. It's rather like seeing a single episode of a TV series rather than watching the whole series. The former provides an hour or two of enjoyment, whereas the latter has a completeness that the former lacks.

      I have always loved drawing maps and looking at them. Many old maps are so beautiful that they are works of art. In fact, my wife and I have several on display alongside our collection of prints and watercolours.

      I'm not sure whether my campaign grid concept will work, but my initial play test indicates that it has possibilities.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  13. Like this .. I will be interested to see where it goes

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    1. Geordie an Exiled FoG,

      I hope that you won't be disappointed.

      All the best,

      Bob

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