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Posted on Jun 7, 2004 in Stuff We Like

Anatomy of a Game System

By Tom DeFranco

Anatomy Of A Game System

Some sixteen years ago, coinciding with my own re-entry into the board wargaming hobby, a game company from East Central Illinois was forming. Their idea was to create various series’ of games using a set of constants that would carry through from game to game, and thus reduce the learning curve for each individual game. Therein lies the beauty of the series concept. After reading one set of rules and playing your first game, say, In Their Quiet Fields (the company’s first game release, about the Battle of Antietam), you could, theoretically, play their next release, Thunder At The Crossroads (their second game, about the Battle of Gettysburg) without too much more reading. The extra reading between games covers items unique to a given battle. This extra reading normally covers another two to four pages and is usually about special terrain features, unique units in a given battle, and leaders who stood out in a given battle (for better or worse).


The series concept spilled over into the battlefields of World War I, World War II, Korea, and the Napoleonic period with an occasional trip to the modern battlefield. There are now six gaming series’, ranging from tactical to operational levels of warfare in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These are: the Tactical Combat Series, the Civil War Brigade Series (and the Regimental Sub-Series), the Napoleonic Brigade Series, the Operational Combat Series, and the Standard Combat Series. Each series has an "engine" which drives the action. The Operational Combat Series and Standard Combat Series are driven by supply. You can be gifted with very good units, but if you don’t have the supply you need, you won’t go very far. The Tactical Combat Series, Civil War Brigade Series, Napoleonic Brigade Series and, most recently, the Regimental Sub-Series of the Civil War Brigade Series are driven by written orders. It is with the Civil War Brigade Series (CWB) and Regimental Sub-Series (RSS) with which we’ll be dealing in this article.

As I mentioned above, the first two Gamers’ releases were In Their Quiet Fields and Thunder At The Crossroads, respectively. Ironically, the orders subsystem was not used in the first game. All subsequent Civil War game releases by the company contain this subsystem. In total, there are three subsystems with which one must be concerned in these series. These are the aforementioned orders, combat and morale. They all mesh to give a Civil War enthusiast the utmost in reality given that they are sitting across from one another in their basement or dining room and not really in the midst of a fight themselves. At the same time, there is a relative ease in play that seems so logical as one performs the steps of the sequence of play, but for a first time wargamer, performing those steps may seem a little daunting.

In the average move-your-mice-and-roll-your-dice wargames, a whole brigade may be shot up and removed from the map in a single turn representing twenty minutes to an hour. The CWB and the RSS attrit units at a slower, more natural pace. Units gradually lose firepower by way of actual casualties and stragglers. Hard (actual) casualties cannot be recovered – stragglers can. Between hard casualties and stragglers, at a certain point, every unit faces the possibility of wreckage. From that point on it is a slippery slope, as the unit will start receiving some really adverse morale modifiers.

Speaking of morale, each unit in the game is rated by the designer according to their performance in the actual battle. When fired at, there is an excellent chance that the unit will need to check morale. The results of the morale chart range from Blood Lusted to Routed. A unit in a blood lusted state may be induced into engaging in close combat because it is exempt from morale rolls, its only concern is whether or not it remains blood lusted. A routed unit runs six hexes away from any enemy unit and remains in that state until a successful die roll saves it from oblivion. More likely morale results range from no effect to shaken to shaken with a retreat, to shaken with a retreat and straggler loss to disorganized with a retreat and straggler loss. Both adverse results, shaken and disorganized are temporary and the representative markers are removed after the player’s turn is completed. The recovery is gradual with a shaken unit going to normal and a disorganized unit going first to shaken and then normal. As might seem obvious, there are more stringent punishments for disorganized units versus shaken units. A shaken unit’s only penance is its inability to initiate close combat and a single modifier for future morale checks. A disorganized unit functions at one half of its normal capacity in terms of fighting and moving, in addition to not being able to initiate close combat and has more a punitive morale effect than shaken.  Okay, so I briefly explained the nature of combat and the possible morale results. How did the units get to the point that they are shooting at each other and scaring each other off the field? Orders.  Orders which were possibly the initial orders as directed at the start of the scenario, or even likelier, as the game progresses; orders you wrote. This is how this game series really differs from every other board wargame system of which I’m aware.

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