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Posted on Mar 23, 2004 in Stuff We Like

Scenario Designing Tips – Part I

By Trey Marshall

Map Making

Your map will probably be the first impression that will be made when a gamer attempts to play your scenario. It needs to make sense and be presentable. Restrictive terrain needs to be examined and included, rivers need to follow the paths of least resistance, and effective ground cover included. I would recommend just a little bookwork and research before you start plugging away at hexes. You need one map that is detailed enough with its topography that you can use as the base map. Go through your references (if based on a historical battle) and decide what are the objectives of both the attacker and defender. What are the boundaries of all the units that were involved in the battle?

Good maps and especially tactical maps showing individual companies and vehicles are difficult to find but not impossible. If you are making an operational map, I recommend Michelin road maps as they show shaded relief, towns, roads, waterways, and vegetation cover as well. Keep in mind there is no substitute for a good era battle map as terrain can change dramatically over the years. When I was working on a World War Two campaign dealing with Holland, I pulled out a nice Michelin road map and started plugging away. For some reason the modern map did not look quite right and upon further research, I realized that there was a massive land reclamation project that happened after the war when thousands of square kilometers of land was reclaimed from the sea. I had this land mass in my World War Two scenario and it had not even existed at that time Imagine my embarrassment had I not caught that when I released the scenario.


You can then start to narrow down the size and scope of the map you want to build. If a piece of terrain was critical to the campaign, then you need to include it. If your maps are too constrictive, you will find that the forces are forced into areas that they historically did not occupy. What type of battle are you trying to build as this could be a huge factor in determining the size of your map. Maybe you want a restrictive type map if you are modeling a set piece battle or assaulting a heavily fortified defense to force units in a certain maneuver space like at Stalingrad which would have a high unit to hex density. If the battle is mobile such as delays or movement to contacts, you might want to include more maneuver space so that units on both sides can attempt to gain an advantage over the other such as North Africa and posses a low unit to hex ratio.

Once you have decided on your map boundaries, I suggest that you take your base map and pencil in the boundaries on the map itself. Most scenario maps are rectangular shaped so this will serve as a good basis on where your terrain features are located on your map. If you have an especially large map, you could further divide your map in quadrants and mark them both on your physical map and your online map. Sometimes the task of making a map seems daunting and you are not even sure of where to begin. Dividing the map into screen sized quadrants can help you maintain focus as you work from quadrant to quadrant. You could also mark your online quadrants using the blank unusable hexes ("black" hexes in TOAW) or some other terrain feature to divide up your map.

One last thing to take into consideration before you start mapping hexes is to decide if you will ever want to expand your map into a bigger scenario. For example, I completed a Market Garden scenario once and then decided later that I wanted to add to the map and units later to include the Maas Bridgehead at Venlo. If you feel like you might have an inclination to do this in the future, determine whether you can expand the map later once you are completed. TOAW for instance, has an extend rows and columns option which adds hexes to your pre-existing scenario and is very helpful. Some editors will only expand its rows and columns in one direction like to the north and west for instance. If this is the case you might want to consider making enough room at the start for the entire map in what I call a "Master" copy. Make a blank map with enough room to cover the whole campaign map you may want to include. Then mark the boundaries on your editor map of the area of operations you want to start with using the "black" hexes or other types of visual markers. What you will have is a huge blank map marked with terrain boundaries that mark where you want to start. Start to work within your marked boundaries and leave all the excess blank hexes on the edges alone. When you are done with your scenario, save it to the "Master" and then start trimming off the edges that you do not need for your starter scenario and save it as your normal scenario. You will then have the large Master scenario which you can expand on later and the normal scenario with a map at just the right size.

Now I have a different approach to mapping tactical and operational battles. Tactical battles I can almost always map out in a freestyle form which means I look at my map and make my own estimates on distances whereas I am much more detailed on my operational maps. My philosophy is that ninety-nine percent of the people who play these games won’t know the difference since they have never personally visited Stoumont or the Seelowe heights so being off a couple of meters really isn’t going to make much of a big deal in a tactical battle. Most wargamers are probably more familiar with the rough geography of Europe so I try to be as accurate as I can on the operational maps.

The last step you absolutely have to make and assess before you build your map is what military folks call a map reconnaissance and terrain analysis. The Army uses a term called OCOKA (Observation and Fields of Fire, Cover and Concealment, Obstacles, Key Terrain, and Avenues of Approach) to help analyze a particular terrain problem. I would also add weather to this formula. What I have always tried to recreate is to provide the player the same set of circumstances, factors, and problems that the commander on the ground had to contend with. You have to ask the questions like what were the main avenues of approach (roads or least restrictive terrain) that the attacking force had to negotiate. Where did the defender make his main defensive line or successive lines? This will indicate that there is some key terrain that the defender tied his defenses to. What terrain gave the occupier an advantage over the other side – think Monte Cassino. What natural and man made obstacles presented significant problems to both sides like rivers, swamps, cliffs, etc. How did weather impact the operation? Once you have made your analysis, decide how you are going to implement those factors into your scenario. What you do not want to happen is one of the players finds an easy way around the problem that you did not foresee.

A good example of this was when I designed a World War Two campaign in Southern Holland in 1944. I made the Rhine, Waal, and Maas Rivers as major rivers like they were supposed to be which meant that not just any unit could cross without a bridge. What I missed was that any unit with some engineer capacity could make a bridgehead over these rivers. End result was that any engineer battalion that the Allies possessed made multiple crossings over the huge rivers and the Axis player could do nothing to stop them as the Allies crossed at will. Now, the Rhine is a river that would take multiple bridging engineer units weeks to finish that kind of project and here the Allies were crossing at will whenever they wanted. I had to go back and impose limitations on that situation to prevent the Allies from making those crossings. Eventually, what I did was to place escarpments bordering those rivers so that the engineers could never even get at the rivers themselves. The Axis player now had a firm obstacle that he could plan on using in his defensive plans.

Tactical Battle Mapping

I estimate my maps when I work on the tactical maps and since I have a different philosophy on my maps, I have different methods to mapping. On the tactical maps, I always start with the major terrain features first. I plot out where major and minor rivers flow and the major road networks. Once I have those complete, I work on the buildings and towns and then finish up with the elevations and vegetation. Often times your physical maps will not have much more detail beyond including some rivers and villages. If your map does not include these details, do not leave your map blank. This is where you get to do a little bit of creative editing. Remember, if you are drawing a map of Mogilev at the tactical level, most people have no clue what the geography of Mogilev looks like so be creative and there you have one of my key design tips for scenario creation. If you do not have the accurate historical information, then get creative and make it look believable because most people won’t know the difference anyway. Only use it as a last resort but don’t can a scenario because you cannot find an exact city grid layout of Jimbalya, Egypt. As long as your scenario makes the player feel it is authentic and the scenario plays in the spirit of what you are trying to recreate, then that is enough to be successful.

Basically, tactical map making to me allows for more creativity than operational maps and thus I do not have any hard coded rules that I go by. Some additional tips are to ensure that you include all of the key terrain that influenced the battle. If capturing Hill 227.3 was critical to controlling the flow of supplies along Highway 2 then make sure you have a hill accordingly. Finally, you want your map to look visually appealing and realistic looking. If you have no idea what this means, then go outside to a rural area or even a city and figure out how you would map that in your editor for practice. Download other scenarios and take a look at how they laid out their maps and take particular notice of the small details.In Kansas for example, the only trees you will find are lining rivers and streams. If there is a farm on your map, how are most farms laid out as far as buildings, walls, trails, hedges, etc? How are villages arranged? Are they systematic city grids or disarrayed in a chaotic order? Is your map flat? Even in relatively flat terrain there are dips and rises that can make a significant impact on your battle. An extremely helpful source is to examine pictures of the region and you will also get ideas on the layout and vegetation content of the area. Nothing can replace an aerial photo or even a visit to the battlefield.

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