What is the game about? (Full Version)

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RobertCrandall -> What is the game about? (1/27/2005 4:11:28 AM)

I have been asked this several times during development and I finally put together some quick notes to orient the testers. It occurs to me now that this might of some use here too. I have edited these notes slightly to bring them into compliance with the game as released but otherwise this is what I was telling people two years ago.

"Question: What is the game about?

1. The short answer to your question is that this game is a revitalization and modernization of the venerable Simulations Canada designs based on the "Main Battle Tank" series of 1980 - 81. These games were the jewels of the entire SimCan catalogue - apart of course from the absolutely fabulous "Storm" series that were the output, cough, cough, of yours truly back then.

2. So what was MBT? The official description was:

"1.0 INTRODUCTION: It is 1100 hours on November 11th, 1996. The area is central Germany, roughly the region bounded by the Harz Mountains, the Ruhr, Frankfurt, and the junction of the East German, West German, and Czech borders. You are the Soviet, West German, or American commander of a regiment/ brigade or battalion. The hypothesis is that World War Three has just broken out.

MAIN BATTLE TANK: CENTRAL GERMANY (MBTCG) is a fast paced, command-orientated game of modem grand tactical combat. Your main manoeuvre elements will be companies, though some specialist units, particularly reconnaissance, will be platoons. Air strikes, helicopters, off map artillery, and even nuclear attacks, may be on call. Your mission will be to hold or to take a geographic local within the combat area while minimizing casualties to your forces and maximizing damage to the enemy."

3. SimCan and Matrix signed a deal in the fall of 2001 to bring the games up to date. The blurb that Matrix came up with was:

"FLASHPOINT GERMANY - Matrix Games overhauls two classic Simulations Canada NATO vs. Warsaw Pact wargames into a full campaign. Originally a high speed, command-oriented, viewpoint style study of the first clashes of a Third World War in Europe, the system has been transformed into a Windows-compatible wargame with high-resolution graphics, expanded Orders of Battle and the option to play over the Internet and by email. Flashpoint Germany covers fighting across Germany in fourteen included scenarios, but the heart of the simulation is the “build your own” system that allows you to design conflicts between British, U.S., West German and Soviet forces."

4. That’s a little more specific but still not too concrete. I wrote this up when the FPG public forum was launched:

"- the game is "grand tactical" (not tactical, not operational or strategic). In practice this means that we are far enough removed from individual vehicles and men that unit facing does not matter. These subunits will either be 'mission ready' or not, there is no tracking of internal state at this level. Weapon ranges still matter though (so it is not fully operational) and logistics just barely matter (so it is not strategic).

- Manoeuvre units are companies and specialist platoons (engineering, supply, recce, etc). Each player will typically command a brigade on the attack or a (reinforced) battalion on the defence.

- The map is a stretch of the German countryside extending about 20 km by 15 km. Position is resolved to within 500m and is handled via a grid rather than a hex map. This is how the original SimCan did it, and indeed how the military actually does it now.

- The game can last 4 to 14 game hours resolved in 30 minute turns (approximately!) but very few will last that long. In most scenarios the two sides will very cautiously try to feel out where the other side is located and then mount a rush to seize key terrain, get into the rear, or whatever. The unit density is too low for a continuous line so the action is more reminiscent, say, of the swirling action of North Africa in 1942 than of the WW2 western front. Given the super lethal nature of modern weapons, this period of close contact can be quite short. Then the players will sort out what happened and if enough force remains try again. The game ends automatically when one side or the other drops below 20% of original strength. In the original game this could often happen within two game hours of first contact!

- The viewpoint for the game is that of the overall commander. He is assumed to have a competent staff and is _not_ burdened with micromanagement of every little detail. (There are other games out there that do a fine job of that already.) We are trying to simulate the command experience in a way that is accessible to non-professionals and indeed makes for a fun and interesting experience for everyone. Anyone familiar with the old SimCan designs will know what I am talking about.... "


- The game is now set in 1989 although other "flashpoint" years will be added after the first release and as research allows.

- I am keenly interested in the air, helicopter, electronic warfare, chemical and nuclear attack rules. They will all be there but at the moment are looking pretty simple. My intent is to get them in and working at a base level, and then ramp them based on player feedback. The viewpoint is that of the brigadier general and we will try to portray it in terms that he would see. This is definitely not a simulator where the player has to micromanage every little detail. There are other games out there I believe that offer this already. We want, dare I say it, to create a fast-moving, fun experience that models these things in an elegant and accurate, but not terribly time-consuming way. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!"

Surprisingly little has changed at this level since that time. It just took for every to write and then rewrite everything 6+ times. I'm still planning to rewrite it a few more times and I expect that it will just keep growing over time. I'm not entertaining public feature requests just yet (my wife would kill me if I didn't take a little time for her now) but I will certainly be watching the posts like a hawk and tracking what is put forward. Supporting editors and such are top of the list.

Cheers all, Rob.




RobertCrandall -> RE: What is the game about? (1/27/2005 4:14:54 AM)

For a little added colour, check out these Notes on Play from the MBT games. A few of the specific details have changed (helicopters are on-map units rather than off-map like the jet aircraft for example) but all the big ideas are still intact. This was written by my old friend Steve Newberg of SimCan.


"Main Battle Tank – Central Germany: This is a game in which to be located by your opponent is often fatal. So you will either wish to stay well hidden or to keep on the move. The latter will usually be necessary. In moving it is well to remember, especially for large forces on roads, that there are stacking limits. You cannot get much more than a single large, full strength company into one location. We have had attacks break down in play testing due to traffic jams. And locating one of your traffic jams is an enemy dream. Every remote delivery weapon (and a few direct fire ones) will end up trying to clear out that traffic problem for you, so keep away from backups. Ideally the main task for your ground units will be to do mop up on such a location, having already had the air force and artillery do all the dirty work. This is more effective and a lot safer than wading into a head on ground engagement oneself. Unfortunately it is not always possible for events to work out so cleanly. So you will probably have to engage your ground forces at some point. When you do so, keep in mind that snoopers tend to get shot at. Determining opposing strength locations with your HQ or main elements is not good practice. That is what the Recce is for, and though you will often find that they merely present you with a flaming datum, better them than your staff vehicle.


Helicopters are very powerful and wonderful. But they are also much more fragile than your other units, and not always around when you need them. Since you are representing a ground pounder, you will not have the doctrinal control over helicopter units that you have over your on‑map ground elements. Air strikes are very much like heavy artillery that can only be used once. But a well-placed strike can turn a game, so do not be afraid to use it. With regard to actual artillery, it is often the heart of both your offence and defence. The Soviets normally will have more on call, but can only provide direct support to HQ units because of their more centralized command structure. Artillery delivered gas tends to be a good tactic for them when other barrages are not effective. The NATO player can provide direct artillery support to all his units and this can be very useful. It provides a flexible system of selectively increasing the combat weight of individual companies. If this tactic is used indiscriminately however, it wastes ammunition. And it can do so at a great enough rate to leave you without any useful artillery at all...


As a command viewpoint game, information is the center of all activity in MBT: CENTRAL GERMANY. It is necessary to manage both the inflow of reports and outflow of orders. It is wise to set frequent reporting doctrine for only a very few units and to rely on specifically ordering periodic reports. Of course, it is a good idea to frequently move your HQ, as this cuts down the chances of enemy shells finding you at home. Your HQs are the central element in managing both reports and orders. As they are perhaps your most vulnerable units, you should try to keep them from being destroyed in silly places like minefields or open fields of fire. That is what engineers and tanks are for, respectively. And keep in mind that soldiers do not fight well when not under firm command. To reflect this, units that have either lost their HQs or are too far from them when engaged, will have somewhat fragile morale. In modern combat you cannot really lead from the front, but you still must lead.”



Main Battle Tank – Northern Germany: “Players should not wait until they engage the enemy before exercising their command. It will be too late. In fact, you should make most of your decisions and give many of your orders before even starting play. Things like combat doctrine and reporting structures cannot be changed during play. This reflects reality. In modern combat a lot of destruction happens very quickly. This means there is no time for battalion or brigade commander to assess the situation, make a decision, and enforce once it the shooting has started.


Likewise, because of the speed and mobility of modern mechanized forces, the necessity that they operate in a dispersed mobile mode, and the inadvisability of radio chatter, any attempted ad hoc control of manoeuvre units once the Battalion and Company commanders have left the O‑group meeting is going to be difficult at best. As a unit left unsupported for a few minutes can be annihilated in that time, this is important. The Napoleonic maxim of travelling dispersed and fighting concentrated is carried to the point of maximum application in modern combat.


However true it may be that plans don't survive contact with the enemy, manoeuvre must be carefully pre‑planned. The operational commander can expect to feel more like a traffic cop than a battlefield commander of WWII vintage once manoeuvring has begun. However, this is as it should be. Victory can depend on units getting to the same place at the same time. Traffic jams (only one manoeuvre element fits easily in one map location) are gifts to opposing air and artillery forces. Hostile helicopters love a large traffic jam and are incredibly effective in destroying them.


Shifting unit locations immediately and keeping units on the move can be crucial in practise, as players of this game system have been 'killed' in the first 20 minutes of game play and can be decisively defeated within 60 minutes should the enemy learn your beginning locations and call in various major strikes.


In addition to the requirement to preplan, players must remain flexible to meet the rapidly changing situations common in modern combat. The reason for this necessity is lack of information. You are unlikely to know exactly where the enemy is, what they have, or what their objectives are during setup while you are making plans. A good plan will incorporate accurate guesses as to these points, will not depend too crucially upon those guesses, and will include methods to improve your intelligence on the enemy while denying him similar intelligence. Field reconnaissance will often result in the loss of the units performing the recon, so it is best to arrange that recon is not performed inadvertently by valuable non‑recce units.


Infantry units perform best when dug in and in areas with plenty of cover. They never do very well against tanks if unsupported. Tank units on the other hand tend to do well against most everything and are highly mobile. Sometimes this is a mixed blessing, as they are a bit fragile if surprised while moving in the open by units firing from under cover. This a particular problem for the rather less speedy British tanks. The British tankers, on the other hand, have good protection and more than a normal allotment of ammunition.


If the British can manage to set up a good ambush, they can milk it for more results than the Germans or Soviets. As, in addition to slower tanks, the British have little attack helicopter or amphibious capability, a British commander is well advised to favour set piece defences. As hinted before, the ideal tactic to use is to locate the enemy units without being located one self and then call the air force and artillery in on them. The next most effective tactic is ambush from cover against moving forces, however, players should be warned not to set doctrine to initiate fire from too long of a range.


Even though modem weaponry can obtain kills at great distances, it will do so only under ideal conditions. Since these do not occur frequently long-range engagements tend not to be decisive while your limited ammunition supplies will be depleted. Decisive effects can be obtained between 1000 and 2000 meters, much closer and not only is it likely that you will not get in the decisive first salvo, but the few rounds the enemy does get off are likely to be very effective against you, even if the enemy is moving while you are still and under cover.


To sum‑up, the best command approach is to devise a general plan before the game starts and to set the doctrines and reporting orders of each unit to reflect their part in the general plan. Units should also be given direct orders during set‑up, even if only to shift their current locations. Yet despite this strong necessity for pre‑planning, it is essential that flexibility not be sacrificed.


As a command viewpoint game, information is the center of all activity in MBT: NORTH GERMANY. It is necessary to manage both the inflow of reports and outflow of orders. It is wise to set frequent reporting doctrine for only a very few units and to rely on specifically ordering periodic reports. Of course, it is a good idea to frequently move your HQ, as this cuts down the chances of enemy shells finding you at home. Your HQs are the central element in managing both reports and orders. Since they are perhaps your most vulnerable units, you should also try to keep them from being destroyed in silly places like minefields or open fields of fire. That is what engineers and tanks are for, respectively. And keep in mind that soldiers do not fight well when not under firm command. To reflect this, units that have either lost their HQs or are too far from them when engaged, will have somewhat fragile morale. In modern combat you cannot really lead from the front, but you still must lead.”




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