Monday, October 5, 2020

Wargame Design: Deployment is a Choice

As I continue to think about Wargames, I realize that the pre-game has a number of opportunities to drive choices for the player.  Choices and decision making are important to make a game "fun: and replayable.  We have looked at Movement can be Cool and we have also discussed Terrain Placement as commonly overlooked segments of the rules that can help create more Tactical Game Play in your games.  A related, but often overlooked piece of the puzzle is how a game allows you to set-up your initial pieces.   

For a long time, I was blinded by a "Line 'em Up and Shoot" mentality in my wargames.  I like to think it was because that is what I initially was raised on.  However, as I go back to those early games, I have come to realize that it was more of a self imposed sanction.  Many of the games I was playing had other ways to deploy than that.  I was just choosing not to look at them as I barely had a grasp of the basics of wargaming at the time.  Therefore, the nuances of deploying tactically were beyond me.

As my skills advanced, my interest and desire for alternative deployments grew.  I was looking for new ways to shake up games and keep them interesting.  I was also interested in recreating actions I read about in history, saw in other games, or to just tell a interesting story on the tabletop.  Deployment of my forces changed the tactics available to me and how my own units interacted with each other.  This became much more interesting to me than the actual resolution mechanics themselves.

For some reason, when I made the jump to designing game myself, the nuances and interest in deployment did not follow suit.  Perhaps because games themselves had gotten better at integrating alternate deployments into their rules and scenarios.  Skirmish games especially seemed to excel at these alternate deployment models.  Larger scale battle games seemed slower to adopt these alternative ideas.  Either way, my early games designs focused more on the mechanics to resolve actions and less on how armies were arrayed for battle.

After being exposed to a number of games and systems, I am now realizing that deployment options and what you provide is an interesting way to help Create Balance and differentiate Historical Scenarios.  

Deployment can be broken down into two broad categories:

1. Where you can put troops
2. When you can put them there

Both of these key considerations have a big impact to how the game flows.  Think of Chess for a moment.  Imagine if the pawns were not placed in the front rank, but were on the flanks?  What if instead of setting up both sides across from each other at the same time, you could place them anywhere you wanted in the two rows by alternating placement?  I think you can all ready imagine how such simple changes to the rules of Chess would completely change how the game is played.

Your wargame design is no different! Simple changes in these types of mechanics change the entire flow of the game.  Remember, the simple maxim; the more choices the more decision points.  The more decision points the more replayable.  All of these lead to more fun in your design.

So, let's talk a bit about how it is done.  As always, be sure to go out and research a bunch of games so you can build your own tool box of ideas for your own designs.

Where to Put the Troops
In this case, we are mostly talking about deployment zones.  This is where your troops set-up to start the game, and where your opponent can deploy troops to start the game.  There are a variety of ways to go about it, but here is a selection of some of the most common, the pros and cons, and a game example that I can think of.

Long Edge to Long Edge
One player has one long side of the table, and the other has the opposite table edge.  This is the most common example you see.  There maybe some fiddlying around about how close you can get to the side edges, but overall you are looking across the table at the opponent with room to maneuver on the flanks. 

Pros: Long edge to long edge is very common, as the dynamics of the table are well known and allow you to get into the action early.  If your average move rate is 6 inches and shooting is 24, you know you will have one round of maneuver followed by a decent firefight in the center area.

Cons: Games with long ranges or poor move to shoot ratio can be compromised in a long edge to long edge scenario.     

Game Example: Warhammer Fantasy Battle/Warhammer 40K for many editions, Bolt Action.

Short Edge to Short Edge
Both players are set-up on opposite sides of a long table.  They are on the shorter board edges with a longer distance between the two sides.   

Pros: This disrupts the normal "flow" of a Long Edge to Long Edge battle.  However, there is more time to close the distance, but less actual maneuver space.  This works better for games with fast moving units or where you need to see attacks develop in advance. 

Cons: As mentioned, there is actually less maneuver space than the traditional Long to Long lay-out.

Game Example: Aeronautica Imperialis  

Square Side to Side
Very similar to Long Edge to Long edge except the table itself is a square surface.  Both players take opposite sides of the table and can deploy either along it or up to X space inwards.  Since the board is square, all distance between points on the board is the same.

Pros: Quick and easy to set-up.  Everything is about the same distance away.

Cons: A very traditional set-up that can get a bit repetitive and samey after a while.

Game Exampls: Most skirmish games use this as a default

Corner to Corner
Instead of deploying along a board edge, you deploy in the corner of the board.  Typically, you can go so far in up the corner edges and then across from those two imaginary points.

Pros: On a Rectangular board this really changes up the normal move and range calculations used to break up a game.  On Square boards it is similar to Square side to Side only edges.

Cons: Setting up and explaining the deployment zones can be a bit more complicated.  Pictures really help.

Game Example: Often a variant in Skirmish games

Corner vs. Edge
One player gets to deploy in the traditional "edge" zone, while the other starts in the Corner zone.

Pros: Can be used to set-up specific scenario rules or add flavor to historical scenarios.

Cons: Getting all of the a large warband or army into the edge zone in a compelling way can be a challenge.

Game Examples: Men of Bronze- Scenario Specific

Instead of a straight box, the deployment zones are inverted T shapes, allowing penetration into the center of the board.  This could be a special rule for some units, or for a specific purpose.

Pros: Good for setting up early confrontation with follow-on forces afterwards.  This could represent a Spearhead or a tripwire defensive installation.

Cons: Typically best when used in a specific scenario.

Game Example:

Center vs. Edge
In this case, one force has a deployment zone in the center of the board.  Then, enemy units are placed on opposite board edges or any board edge.  Allows enemy forces to mass against the center forces weak spot, while the center force must use interior lines of communication to move to the threats. 

Pros: Great for Ambush scenarios and similar situations where escape is the order of the day.

Cons: Scenario specific is the best use as opposed to everyday game play.

Game Example: I can only think of scenario specific examples in various games.

Anywhere Plus X
Units can be deployed anywhere as long as they are X distance away from enemies or objectives.

Pros: Allows free form deployment that gets to the action quick.

Cons: Leads to scattered and piece meal forces.

Game Example: Of Gods and Mortals

Jump off Points
Each player has a "jump off" point where they can deploy units within X distance into the game.  Often this is combined with reserves and other "timing" related deployment rules.

Pros: Used , this can add an element of force management to a game as the player needs to get his troops where they can do the most good in a timely and coordinated way.

Cons: Forces can be piecemeal and deployment can be seen as chaotic.

Game Examples: Chain of Command

When You Put The There
The next key element of a deployment rules is the timing of placing your models.  The order you can or can not put models on the table also drives a great deal of choice and the flow of the game.  A unit not in the battle influences it differently than one on the table.  Knowing a powerful unit is waiting to deploy will change how a player thinks about how to use their own units to prepare for that units arrival.

Here are some common timing related elements of deployment:

All at Once! 
Both players can put all of their models on the table at the same time in any order.  Often, deployment in such a method maybe set to a defined map or historical set-up.

Pros: Quick and easy to explain.

Cons: Player choices are made in the vaccuum of their own army list or model counts.

Game Example: Many Historical rules

Side A, Then Side B
Once side fully deploys, the other side can then deploy based on how Side A deployed.

Pros: Can be useful to give Side B an advantage and works good in attacker/defender type scenarios.

Cons: Side B is seen to have the advantage in deployment.

Game Example: I can not think of one

Players take turns placing models.  Player A puts one down, then Player B.  They continue until all models are deployed.

Pros: Players have to make choices about the order they place their models.  Does it make sense to put down the heavy hitter in the center to influence your opponents deployment, or to wait until they can not react to where it goes?

Cons: The longest process for deployment.

Game Example: Most Skirmish games

Restricted Alternating
Like Alternating above, except there is some arbitrary restriction to the order you can place a model down.  For example, Cavalry, Infantry, then Artillery; Or Units with the "Scout" special rule first.  This puts limits on what can deploy when.

Pros: Allows you as the designer to build some advantages for units into the rules as "chrome" or force a certain "deployment" method.  I.e. Destroyers first....

Cons: Takes the longest, similar to Alternating but with an extra layer to explain.

Game Example: Many editions of Warhammer Fantasy/Warhammer 40K

Some units can not be deployed until after the game has begun or at a different time in the game.  This can be after a number of game turns, when the player chooses, or by a random dice roll/card flip.

Pros: Allows you to add "Chrome" to some units.  Also, adds an element of force management as the "right" units need to get to the board at the right time to accomplish their mission.

Cons: Again, a complicated approach to explain and balance in the rules.

Game Example: Jovian Chronicles

The Right Tool for the Job
Like most of the decisions a game designer needs to make, you are really looking for the right tool for the job.  What are you trying to create on the battlefield?  What fits your Design Goals?  There is avast array of options to choose from, which fits what you are trying to do?  As the designer, it is our job to make that decision.

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