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Posted on Mar 23, 2004 in Stuff We Like

Scenario Designing Tips – Part I

By Trey Marshall

Chances are that if you are reading this article, you have some desire to try your skill in the art of scenario designing. As you probably know, there are a wide variety of wargames out there and it seems to me that the most successful ones are the ones that offer editing capability for their users to recreate their favorite battles and campaigns. Amateur designers make the genre more refreshing with their many different backgrounds and interests and you will find many designers out there who stretch the boundaries on what these games were originally designed for. It is often the amateur designers out there who even make better scenarios than the ones included in the original program! Scenario designing may seem like a daunting task and indeed it is; however, there are many sites on the internet and usenet that offer guides and friendly folks who will help you on your endeavor.


I think the most important aspect of a successful scenario designer is his desire in wanting to recreate one of his own favorite battles and/or campaigns. For me, this came way back in my college days when I bought an SSI wargame compilation package that included Norm Koger’s "Tanks!" Ah, I remember fondly the Spads and Bristols bi-planes bombing my M1A2s with reckless abandon. Now, I already had the original Tanks! but I was interested in the extra scenarios included in the package designed by a gentleman named Bill Wilder, who became the inspiration for me to try my own hand at scenario designing. What amazed me the most was here were realistic looking maps with recognizable terrain features and units that were named on their historical counterparts. No longer was I playing on unnamed land masses with generic units. I was fighting with the 12 SS Panzer Division outside the fringes of Caen. This added a new dimension of depth as the game was transformed from a random game wargame generator to a snapshot in history where I was thrust into the middle. I began designing my own scenarios using Tanks! while using Bill Wilder’s style. I did not have much reference material so I picked up some World War II magazines and some books at the university library. I started picking up references from bookstores and checking out more library books and began my own research into my favorite battles. After that I got heavily into the Steel Panthers series, Talonsoft’s Operational Art of War, and now Matrix Game’s upcoming Battlefields! I dabbled in many other games including the Combat Missions and West Front/East Front but what I found was that I preferred operational games like Art of War and Matrix’s Korsun Pocket over the tactical games like Steel Panthers and Combat Mission.

Naturally, when I picked up Talonsoft’s Art of War, I wanted to recreate many of my previous Tanks! incarnations and then I was off to the races so to speak. I have spent more time in Art of War then any other game including the summer I spent after high school when I recreated the 1991 Major League Baseball season with Microleague Baseball on my faithful Atari ST. It was during this time period quickly after the release of Operational Art of War that I began serious study and research on campaigns, orders of battles, tables of organization and equipment, and maps where any book with a detailed OOB and map is like a hidden treasure. Anyways, what is my point, you are probably asking? If you are a casual gamer or do not have much free time, then you may want to proceed with caution because once you get deeply involved, it will probably become one your favorite past times. The goal will become to create the perfect recreation of your favorite battle. Be careful because when you find that you cannot play scenarios unless they meet YOUR standards for a good scenario, then you are in over your head, my brother. Welcome to designing.

Initial Scenario Preparation

Before you even get started with your first mouse click, you need to ask yourself some questions so you can prepare. The first is, do I have enough time? Designing a good scenario is going to take some time investment and if you do not have the time, it might be best to wait until you do. A good tactical scenario like Steel Panthers or Combat Mission would take me a week or two to complete as there are not many units and the maps are fairly easy to make. An operational scenario like Art of War really depends on the size of the campaign. In operational scenarios, I have found that my work is never really completed as I have always needed to go back and do "revision" updates because I find new information that I could use. A corps sized battle would take me roughly a month to get the base scenario done and start testing it. A grognard certified "monster" scenario could take me anywhere from 2-6 months to complete but I would not recommend a new designer to attempt this kind of scenario until he has a couple of smaller battles under his belt and learned the system. For comparison purposes, I have a normal job and sometimes spend up to twenty-five hours a week on designing with most of the time being utilized on the weekend.

Second question to ask yourself is do I prefer operational games or tactical games or in other words, do I like being down in the mud with the soldiers watching the action (tactical) or do I prefer to be the commanding general pushing units around the map (operational)? Once you figure that out, you can then narrow down which game you want to use to start your designing or you might already have a game in mind. It is my opinion that tactical scenarios require less time generally than do operational ones as they are normally smaller and designers can be a bit more creative in building maps. My recommendation would be to start with a tactical wargame to build up your general skills before you try the operational ones.

Third question is what campaign or battle do I want to recreate? This is important because you want to pick a scenario that is going to maintain your interest and you will be less inclined to shelve it later. I would also browse the current scenarios that are available for download on the internet to see if your idea has already been done. Download it and play it. Could you do better or has someone else already been there and done that? No need really to overlap someone else’s work unless you think you could do a superior job than what the previous author finished. Other considerations are the scope of the battle. My recommendation is to start small to learn the editing system before you try to recreate World War Three. If your mind is set on a largish scenario, then build a small section of it first and then enlarge it later once you are comfortable with the system. Most editors include tools for adding map spaces to existing scenarios. I would also download scenarios from different authors and compare the differences in their finished products. You may find a certain style or combination of styles that you like best and fits your interest.

Fourth question to ask is do I have the reference material necessary to complete the scenario using the level of detail that I want? Is the battle you want to design a historical, semi-historical, or completely fictional battle? Be careful here because many of the grognards (hardcore wargamers) are going to take this in consideration before they download and play one of your scenarios. Personally, I prefer strictly historical scenarios with a few semi-historicals at times. That is just me though and many other gamers have their own preferences. Point is that when you design the scenario, you need to be able to tell your audience what type the scenario is. A historical scenario is going to require more detailed references than you might have or be able to find at your local library. If you want to design a historical scenario, you will need detailed topographic maps, a good listing of what specific units were involved in the fight, a good understanding of the organization of those units, and a detailed campaign history. If you don’t have all of those, you could easily "fudge" it or give you best guesstimate and call it semi-historical. Finally, you could just make something completely up based on the kind of scenario you would like to play and call it fictional. I will cover reference materials later on as well.

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