WarPlan Dev Diary #2 - Land and Air System
The land system for a wargame is one of the most crucial parts of the game. Land units allow you to control territory which is how you win the game. Nothing generates as much excitement and a healthy level of anxiety than seeing a Russian front stretched from Leningrad to Rostov with both players desperately trying to achieve their goals while feeling they don’t have enough resources just as the weather turns to mud.
I wanted to add flavor to the operational level of WarPlan without overwhelming the players with information or actions. I tried to take what was important and incorporate it as simple decisions for units grouped in as few categories as possible. This way they can make quick decisions without overwhelming procedures. This is also incorporated into the fog of war system which is based on inaccurate and incomplete information instead of being completely blind to what is happening where. Play like a general not a calculator.
Each unit has general information which they all are created upon. When a player selects a unit they will get the standard display. This shows their combined strengths and weaknesses with minimal intrusion to the game map. Each unit has 2 modes, some secondary abilities, a details button, and a prioritize button that allows this unit to receive reinforcements first and upgrade now above all other units. The oil stockplike shows how much oil the unit’s country has saved up.
As like in most classic wargames WarPlan uses a multihex attack. This is where multiple units attack a single hex at the same time representing a concentration of force. In a board game this is an easy implementation just by calling out the units you want to attack with. In a computer game it is a challenge. It took me a lot of experimentation to come up with a system that is efficient and swift for players to use. This is one of the key features of the game. The system is designed to use the a minimal number of physical actions to yield time to thinking actions while letting players choose the delay of information.
After testing a multitude of implementations I settled on using the left mouse key to select, right mouse key to perform an action, and the shift/control keys to choose the units to do perform the actions. This is not traditional for most games and applications which are always left click oriented for all actions, but it created a much faster interface. I saw an implementation of this function in War in the East/West and I liked the way it worked. In WarPlan players can hold the shift key and hover over an enemy to select all units next to it to attack or hold the control key and hover over a friendly unit then the enemy to setup an attack with specified units then right click. Units selected would be clearly marked so players knew exactly who was involved in the attack. If you made a mistake it is as simple as letting go of all keys and re-left clicking the unit you want to reset it. Left click selects and right click performs the action, Simple. To accommodate gamers who are limited in their functionality I added 2 keys on the top bar to hold the shift or control key down for them so you only need one hand to play. The unit interface drastically sped up the player turn to my satisfaction.
Land units have a variety of actions. They can hold a position or be set to delay. They can embark, invade, disembark, receive extra supplies, or rail. Land units also have specialties that can add a little more functionality to the unit. Specialties are listed below. Each land unit has operation points it uses to move and attack other units. It is possible to attack more than once during a turn. So players have to pace their units not to over exhaust them attacking. They have to think ahead on their offensives not to overextend their advances. So far in Beta the testers are having a fun time with the land system. It creates a lot of operation decision points.
As part of the appeal of functionality I had to make the air system equally simple with options for players who want more control. WarPlan uses more air counters than other games when considering the scales of land, air, and naval forces. I needed an equally simple system for its implementation.
Getting my idea from Strategic Command I implemented a two mode system for aircraft that players can decide on. Air units in full support mode automatically escort, intercept, and support land attacks. A player may set an air unit on mission only mode which means it does nothing unless the player manually makes the air unit do something. This is best used when resting air units to replenish them.
So players have the option of manually using all their aircraft or allowing a good portion of it to be automatic. A handful of early ideas were tossed around with wargamers I knew about manually intercepting naval and air units on the opponent’s turn. In a board game it is easy to do as the player is there to react to the action but in today’s PBEM computer games passing wait for me to act turns becomes tedious. So full mission actions on the opponent’s turn are limited to ground support and interception. The naval system was built to compensate for this.
Air units can select from a number of mission types to attack land units, air bases, production, or navies. With full support they can act on the opponents turn lending support vs enemy air units and friendly land units. This gives a lot of flexibility to players. Yet still I felt there were too many planes to manage so I added one more feature to Headquarters, calling an airstrike. Call airstrike will fly all available bomber types to attack all land targets within a 5 hex radius of the HQ. This gives a little extra functionality to HQs and lets players easily hit many land targets at once without the tedious task of clicking every single air unit.
So now imagine it is 1944 and the Allied turn. There are over 4,000 allied combat aircraft in England waiting to strike (13 counters). With just two headquarters, one British and one American, a player can strike all the German land forces defending the coast. The hard part now is invading. Players can individually strike different targets, automatically support land units, and call massive airstrikes from an HQ. After play testing many games myself I was comfortable and satisfied at the pace of the game with land and air force interface. It was also fun to watch all these air strikes happen at once on the map.
A land combat system can be created in many ways that are creative and unique. Ultimately no matter how ingenious the system is there are two simple questions to ask, is it fun and does work. Successful games have included combat systems involved with throwing many dice to determine hits, incorporating a chart, complex mathematic system in stages, or just a simple mathematical calculation adding all factors. I focused on the basic concepts from wargames: odds, defensibility, logistics, and position while manipulating data in a variety of ways that add a little flavor and no complications to the players.
After attacking units are selected, hovering over an enemy gives the approximate odds of the attack. A 3:1 attack is considered fairly break even. A player can only estimate the retreat chance by the apparent number of armored and mechanized units involved in the battle. Anytime a player hovers over a hex the information panel gives a description of the area and a generalization of the defense and spotting. This is part of the fog of war which relies on incomplete and limited information instead of the traditional complete fog of war where units don’t appear and information is exact.
Units have the following attributes that affect combat:
Artillery – Fires 1st in a round.
Guns – Defenders fire 2nd while reducing chances of retreating, attacker guns fire 4th.
Tanks – Fires 3rd in a round and affects the chance of retreat. Is less effective in urban areas.
Firearms – Fires last in a round.
Defense – How well they resist taking damage.
Experience – Increases their firepower and reduces the chance to retreat.
Strength – How much damage a unit can take and deal.
Effectiveness – Incorporates many things including: moral, damaged equipment, supplies, and fatigue.
Unit Supply Level – How long they can be without any supplies before suffering bad effects.
Entrenchment – Affects the combat odds.
Specialty – Affects different aspects of the combat such as lowering entrenchment, extra retreat bonus, extra gun bonus, winter fighting, river crossing, and elite unit status.
Generals – Headquarters have generals. If a general isn’t assigned a default subordinate commander will be automatically used. In combat generals have 3 attributes that impact how the battle will turn out.
Combat – Affects how well each general is at inflicting damage on the enemy and reducing damage on their forces.
Mobility – Affects the chances of retreating.
Tenacity – Affects the intensity of combat and the chance a defender surrenders in low odds attacks with a retreat result.
USA infantry corps large: +1 tanks, +1 oil use, +1 operation point
USSR infantry corps: -10 strength, -1 artillery, can’t be build
USSR infantry army: +6 strength, -1 artillery
Germany: starts with higher default experience and average statistics
Italian infantry corps: -1 firearms, -1 artillery, Can’t build large corps
Land units come in a variety of configurations broken down in sets which are easy to remember. Looking at the basic infantry unit players have divisions, small corps, and large corps (or armies). Each basic infantry unit has 2 advancements: assault for attacking, anti-tank for defending. Each unit has 2 status settings: active in which they function normally, and garrison in which most motorized vehicles and offensive firepower are removed giving back production and logistics. Less supply and equipment means less cost to operate. Garrison status allows a unit to keep its defensive firepower at the sacrifice of attacking firepower and mobility. Units also have specialties. There are 6 specialties which give them some advantage in certain situations.
Battles are not replayed like in some games. Actions of your opponents are shown from the previous turn on your screen. This allows you a global view of the situation you don’t have to remember. It looks more like a military map of combat actions. This idea was taken from Commander Europe at War and improved. I show where units came from and battle locations. A player can click the combat logs and a battle icon to see what happened in that hex.
The specialties are:
Tank Destroyer – The unit gains a self-propelled gun attachment of assault guns and tank destroyers increasing their anti-tank values +2
Engineer – The unit gains a specialized engineer battalion that reduces the penalties of attacking across a river by 50%.
Elite – The unit is composed of highly trained and experienced veterans. The unit gains a permanent +10 experience.
Heavy Artillery – The unit gains a battalion of specialized artillery for offensives. Removes 1 entrenchment from a unit when attacking. An attacker may only benefit from one heavy artillery per attack.
Infiltrator – The unit specializes in mobile combat tactics of infiltration to penetrate enemy defenses gaining +5% bonus to forcing a defender to retreat. An attacker may only benefit from one infiltrator per attack.
Winter Combat – The unit is trained with special winter combat tactics and equipment that allows them to fight better in snow or blizzard weather. They gain +15% in combat during these weather conditions.
The strategy part of the land system is realizing how and where to deploy assets with the right functionality to accomplish the task you need. For example if the Germans are at Leningrad they should have mostly large infantry corps assigned the assault advancement with one heavy artillery specialty and a reserve panzer corps for counter attacks. If the Russians are attacking in 1944 across the Dnieper River they need strong armor units with an engineer specialty. When running out of logistics realize which infantry units are not in important parts of the front and set them to garrison status returning some much needed production and logistics to the pool. While this level of complexity is not required to play the game it creates a level of deeper thinking and planning for offensives and defensive lines without overwhelming the player.
With the simple interface and complex depth to units this should lead to a robust intellectual game or resources, units, and positioning. In WarPlan you should never have enough of what you want.
The fog of war system for the game relies on incomplete information and deception. Players get some information on units depending how far they are away from the front line. This allows for players to setup situations where they can
Air combat in WarPlan is based on attrition over the time using supply, technology, experience, and numbers as the modifiers. Players need to watch that their air units don’t get so depleted and worn that they are ineffective. Air units with effectiveness of under 50% will not fly missions in full support mode. I tried to represent the accurate scale of air forces in WarPlan with each strength being 15-25 operational combat aircraft per air counter.
Most air to air combats inflict little damage to each air unit per air battle but the deterioration on effectiveness can be readily seen. Late in the war when the Allies had a vast superiority of numbers they could fly, repair, and rest at their leisure. The Germans had to fly constant missions to reduce the Allied bombing threat against their factories. The German air force during D-Day was almost non-existent. This can be reflected in WarPlan. For example in mid 1944 the Allies use 10 bomber units to fly one mission per air unit over France. The Germans have 3 air superiority units defending. The Germans are flying twice as often expending more effectiveness to fly, taking more effectiveness in combat, and recovering less per turn relative to their effectiveness drop even though their physical losses aren’t a lot initially.
The effect of air forces on land and air units is less than what is traditionally expected for many computer wargames of the type. It also mimics history more accurately. The effects of bombers vs ground troops was vastly exaggerated from Allied airmen reports in 1944. Air forces were not nearly as effective as most had hoped. For example the Western Allies had complete air supremacy over the skies of France and Germany in 1944-45. Examining the casualties on that front from June 1944 to the end of the war doesn’t show that the Allied air forces had any significant impact on ground troops. It took the Allies 6 months just to get to the German border.
Air forces mostly impact enemy ground units’ effectiveness and movement and a small percentage of the actual damage is applied to strength. The only place an air unit has full effect on land units is if that land unit is on the beach where it has no cover and is most vulnerable.
Air forces are devastating vs naval forces. A naval fleet operating close to shore vs 500-1000 land based aircraft (3-4 air counters) of equal experience with no air cover is sure to take serious damage and lose ships. This will impact the Mediterranean more than any other place.
Air units in full support automatically interdict supply convoys at a port within its move range or upto 8 hexes if it has remaining operation points at the end of the turn. But supplies can never be brought below a minimum of level 1.
Air units can’t be attacked and instead are overrun by land forces if they are alone in a hex occupied by an enemy. When an enemy land unit overruns an air unit a set number of air strength is destroyed based on the air unit’s effectiveness and the air unit is placed on the production queue to come out a few turns.
Air units have a variety of factors that impact different types of units. It is the most effective way to accurately represent their abilities vs different targets.
Most country’s air units have the same values in the game. Only advancements affect better equipment and abilities. Some countries might have slightly different attributes representing specific aspects of their own air force.
Having a superior air force means a player has more flexibility and control in the area where the air force is. When attacking they can weaken specific areas to exploit. When defending they can reduce strong units from being as effective. During invasions a strong air force can drastically impact the success or failure of the invasion. Air forces are a tool to be used that give versatility to a player.
That's all for now! Stay tuned for further updates!
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