Monday, October 23, 2023

Wargame Design: Having a POV


POV.  I see this acronym I see all over the world of Social Media and the Internet.  It usually sets-up a joke with a funny image.  However, when it comes to Wargame Design POV is more than a punchline.  

So, what does POV even mean? POV is short-hand for Point of View.  You may hear this term related to the role a player plays in the military structure of the game they are playing.  I.e. a Corp commander or Divisional Quartermaster is the POV of the game.   However, that is not what I want to address in this post.  In the case of Wargame Design and the theory related to it, POV pertains to the Point of View a designer brings to how the game they are building should be played.  It is through this lens that a designer makes decisions about the nature of the game, what it is trying to do on the table, and what "reality" the rules are trying to reflect.

POV: What Would You Say You Do Here?
A designer's POV helps them align on their Design Goals.  Design Goals are the parameters that a designer has when they make a game.  These act as guard rails so that a design stays on course for what the maker intended.  However, the Designer's POV is the key inputs into what these guard rails should be.

The Designer's POV is how the designer envisions the warfare that is going to be going on the tabletop.  It is the "spirit" of the game and the reality the designer imagines the game is reflecting in the mechanics and the design goals.  The Designer's POV will inflect the game in all of the mechanical interactions of the game, because this is how the designer themselves reflect on the key nature of tabletop warfare itself.  

A game with a strong POV can take a variety of mechanics and bend them to their will and create an outcome.  The players will know and understand what the designer was intended to simulate or recreate on the table.  A game with a weak POV will take a variety of mechanics and the player will be left feeling like they are just a jumble.  It will feel unguided and not clear in the execution.  The tone and feel of the game will not be consistent and have a ton of If-This-Than-That style rules, edge cases, and one-offs that make no sense.

POV: An Example If You Please
This is an esoteric concept, so I will try to illustrate it with some examples.  

I am currently working on the design for a game in which I can play the Battle of Kadesh.  This is a Bronze-Age battle where chariots were considered the highest form of military might.  The problem is, no one is 100% sure how Chariot warfare actually worked!  No chariots are really left from this period, the ancient writers do not talk much about how they were used, and various historians have a variety of theories on how this type of warfare worked.  There is no definitive answer to "This is how Chariot battles were fought".  This is a very common problem with historical wargames, and even well documented periods will have key areas where opinions differ on just how exactly warfare was waged. 

In a place with a grey area like this, it is very important that the Designer have a POV of how they want to answer the question of "How did they fight?".  In chariot warfare, there are several options to choose from!  

1. Chariots rolled around and the crew fired arrows or speared people as they cruised around at high speeds!  Maneuver and speed were the key, and the ability to "reach out and touch" someone with archery fire.

2. Chariots moved fast to an area, stopped and the crew either fought on foot or shot arrows from a stand-still.  They were essentially battle taxis as they moved up and unloaded their crew to fight, or fired and a stand-off distance. 

3. They moved in huge formations and wheeled and maneuvered together to form a large, fast moving force that got there the "fastest with the mostest".  They were used to exploit gaps and flank pinned enemy forces. 

4. They engaged only other chariots in shoot-outs and raced around each other, leaving the infantry to stand around and wait until the chariots needed a place to recover before doing it all again.  

Heck, there are more theories about Chariot Warfare than I can put on paper, and if you read enough books on the topic you will realize that everyone has an opinion!   As the Wargame Designer, you have to decide which theory you want to lean into and your POV about Chariot Warfare.  

POV: But the Emperor Protects!
That's nice and all, but what about games that are not historical?  You know, games that are pure Fantasy or Sci-fi?  Well, these too need a strong POV about how warfare in this game will work so the rules can reflect it. 

Think about Warhammer 40K.  There are some core assumptions built into the game.  The first is that ground warfare and personal combat still matters.... a lot.  In modern warfare, you try and hit your enemy with an artillery barrage where they can not return fire.  Close-combat is not really a thing.  No one runs up and tries to hit the other guy holding a gun with a sword.  However, in Warhammer 40K they can and do!  Why?  Because the game has a POV on how warfare in the 40K universe works, and it is not the same POV as other Sci-Fi universes.  Tomorrow's War imagines the future to be Vietnam in Space!  No swords at all, but it is still a strong POV.     

POV: Your POV Sucks and You Should Feel Bad! 
The sad truth is, you will choose a POV and build your game around it.  This will be a labor of love in which your pour hours, days, and years of your life too.  Ultimately, someone will completely disagree with the entire POV of your game.  Even better, they will be more than happy to tell you all about why your POV is bad and you should feel bad for having it.  

If you get this far!  Congratulations!  Remember, to be a game game designer, you need two things.  A completed game, and people who are willing to play it.  If someone tells you your POV is wrong and you should feel bad, chances are you have: 

1. Completed a game!  Great work! 
2. Someone played it! 

They may not agree with your POV, and that's fine.  You are a game designer now! Congrats! 

People will disagree with your POV and that is fine.  You saw how scholars are deeply divided about the nature of Chariot Warfare.  That applies just as much to wargamers as well.  However, the game can not appeal to all potential POVs for a period or type.  It is more important for a Wargame Designer to have a strong POV and carry it through the game, than a weak POV that tries to appeal to all POVs unsuccessfully, because many POVs are diametrically opposed.  

Final Thoughts

POV: It's no joke.   

A strong POV is the Wargame Designer making a statement about how the game is intended to model warfare in their game.  This may not be aligned with how everyone sees it, but this strong POV will influence the Design Goals and therefore permeate the entire game.  If a Designer does not have a strong POV they will water down their own content and end up with strange mechanical choices, If-This-Than-That rules, and unsatisfying outcomes on the tabletop. 

Therefore, have a strong POV about your game. 

Bonus Content
My local club has been starting to come together a bit more.  We are actually putting together a name, some branding and regular club nights.  It is almost like a real thing now.  Considering it started as literal nothing, this is a big deal to me.  I am immensely happy with the progress and success we have had recruiting folks to play.  

Now, the main game that has driven a lot of the growth of our local group is public and semi-frequent games of GW's Kill Team as well as a monthly mini-painting class.  These in tandem have really been helpful in growing our little game group. 

So, today I am bringing a bit more Kill Team to the table.  This battle was my Eldar Harlequins from 1988 vs some of the new Ork Kommandoes.  Suffice to say that the 3AP of the Harlie's was super helpful.  

I was able to rush out early and grab all three objectives for a strong early lead.  From there it was a matter of contesting and holding as the game went on.  Some careful target selection of key enemy units and some good rolls when I needed them helped me survive the counter-attack.  The Prismatic Colors Strategic Ploy, the Death Jester, and the 4+ Invulnerable saves helped alot! 

By the end of the 4th Turning Point, Ork numbers told.  My Harlie's were in a rough place and had lost two of the three objectives.  However, it was just enough to barely hold on for a 1 VP win!  One more Turning Point and I would have been toast. 

My models were all Citadel Miniatures from 1988 that I repainted earlier this year using Army Painter Speedpaints V1.

I hope you enjoyed the extra content!      

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  1. Hola
    Leyendo lo del punto de vista, recordé que antes en los juegos aparecía una sección llamada "notas del diseñador" en las que se abordaba el punto de vista de éste. Ya casi no veo estas secciones...
    Creo que los diseñadores actuales deberían volver a esta sección, los juegos nuevos son mecánicas repetidas , parcheadas o refritas (en muchos casos son mecánicas que se pensaron para algo totalmente diferente a lo nuevo) y cambian mínimamente la pelusa y poco más.
    Una opinión totalmente subjetiva y personal.

    1. I also miss Designer's Notes. For space issues and due to cost, these get cut out far too often.

    2. Yo creo que al eliminarlas, eliminaron también muchos puntos de vista.
      Soy ya mayor (nací en los 70s) y creo que la gente más joven (nacida en este siglo) no valora esas notas. Quizás por haber crecido sin ellas

  2. I always try to add them, so the readers know my goals and biases with a game. However, sometimes space limitations or word counts means they do not make the final cut of a game.