Thursday, January 12, 2017

Wargame Design: The Basics- 4Ms

Some would argue Kriegsspiel was the first true wargame.  
You can still purchase Kriegsspiel over 100 years later! 
Talk about a "dead" game.  
This blog was initially set-up to do more than just share reviews of wargames, share battle reports, and show-off my work.  It was intended to actually dig into the process of game design and provide the reader with some insight into the process.  Game design is a combination of art and science, but in order to master the art you need to understand the foundational science of it.  To help with that process, I want to start with a series of articles with some of the fundamental ideas of wargaming.

However, before I get into those I want to start with this bit of advice for all of you aspiring game designers.  Start down the path of game design because you want to do it. Do not make games for anyone else but yourself.  Along this path you will encounter many people who will not see eye-to-eye with what you are doing.  That is okay, everyone does it differently and there are no right answers.  However, if you are trying to please everyone you will fail.  If you are trying to build a better X, you will fail.  If you are cynically looking to make a quick buck, you will fail.  Make games because you ultimately WANT to make games.  So make games for yourself first.      

Secondly, the idea of designing a game can be overwhelming!  There is so many moving parts, so much to do, and so many voices involved in the process.  It is much easier to never do it.  However, there are several old sayings that address how to go about designing a game:

·         What is the best way to eat an elephant?
·         How do you boil the ocean?
·         How do you start the longest journey? 

That is how you build a game from the ground up.  If you can answered these "Koan of Game Design" you are ready to begin the process.  Let us begin with the fundamentals of the art.  All arts are built on a strong backbone for support.  For painters it is color theory, for gamers it is probabilities, and for the wargame designer it is the 4Ms. 

The 4M’s are:
1.       Movement
2.       Missiles
3.       Melee
4.       Morale

Movement- Simply put, movement governs how the units get from point A to point B in your ruleset. 

Missiles- In all ages of warfare, one side would try to hit the other from far away with a weapon system.  Even ancient warfare had arrows, spears, javelins, sling stones, etc.  While more modern eras have rifles, machine guns, ATGMs, etc.   All of these ranged weapons are conveniently looped into the broad category of Missiles when it comes to design.  How does unit A hit unit B from far away. 

Melee- This is when the fighting gets up close and personal.  Melee ranges from fist-i-cuffs, to hitting a guy with a chair, pistol shots, to short-range firefights.  Melee is any fighting between unit A and unit B that is considered close combat. 

Morale- Morale is one of the least popular of the 4Ms to deal with.  It focuses on the psychology of troopers in combat, and how they will react to a given situation.  At its most basic form it is at what point one force will stop fighting, all the way to how a unit can interpret their orders.  Morale is often where the famous “Fog-of-War” or “Clausewitzian friction” will play a part.  Morale is determining how unit A will react in combat to what unit B is doing.  Morale is the most complicated interaction.  

All tabletop wargames utilize these 4 key components.  How these 4Ms interact and are resolved is what makes up the mechanics of the game.  As a designer, you choose which of these gains the most emphasis in your design and give the appropriate mechanics and weight to that part of the rules.  However, no matter which of the 4Ms you decide to emphasize, all 4 of them must be present in your design.  If you fail to capture one of the 4Ms you are probably no longer designing a tabletop wargame, but something else. 

Therefore, the first step in game design is to understand the 4Ms and decide which ones you will be emphasizing in your rules system and why you wish to emphasize it.  Then, consider if you emphasize one or two, how it impacts those that remain. 
A lone Greek Hoplite
For example, if you are designing a game revolving around Greek Phalanx combat, which of the 4Ms should be the focus?  Greek Hoplites tended to frown upon missile warfare and instead favored shock tactics.  Therefore, Missile should be de-emphasized.  They also tended to use linear formations and liked to crash into each other across an open field.  I guess that means Movement is not as important to capture the spirit of their warfare.  However, few people were killed in Melee unless they were broken in combat and started to flee, that was when the killing started to happen.  Therefore, the interaction during Melee would lead to Morale issues.  That interaction would need to be a large component in a game about Greek Phalanx combat.  We have identified that Melee and Morale are the appropriate areas to focus our mechanics on. 

In a different example, say WWII platoon combat you might focus on the 4Ms differently.  Movement to set-up or hide from shooting attacks was critical.  Therefore, you might emphasize Missile and Movement over Melee and Morale.  For a Sci-Fi example, you might want to emphasize how warships in space move to get into an attack vector, and therefore highlight the Movement aspect of the game. 

Making the decision of what you are going to emphasize and de-emphasize of the 4Ms is your first start to deciding how to build your game.  Your mechanics should be a natural outgrowth of this decision.  Once you have this foundational decision in mind it will naturally start you thinking about the interactions that matter to your games success.

Good luck with your designs. 

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