Five Wargame Design Tips

Picking up from Monday, the practical fact for game designers is that there is a vast history of ideas and designs to draw upon.  With Wargames, every era of warfare is amply covered and span easy to play games to games with over 600 pages of rules.  These are all ideas and components that you can use when creating your games.

Panzer_GeneralPanzer General, produced by SSI in 1994, can be regarded as one of, possible THE most successful computer wargame to date.  It went on to spawn Allied General, Fantasy General, Star General, Panzer General II, and more.  It was easy to play, intuitive, had a decent “computer opponent” – suited perfectly for the mass market.   Twenty years later, it still has a loyal fan base along with a number of Open Source projects of a similar nature.  Slitherine’s Panzer Corps has been touted as the spiritual successor of Panzer General, adding enhancements from later versions, better graphics, and has been made available for the iPad.

Dozens of other games deserve mention like Campaign Series with East Front, Decisive Battles, Gary Grigsby’s War in the East, etc.  There are the various Real Time Simulators such as Dune II, Command and Conquer, Age of Empires with Hearts of Iron 1-3 and Europa Universalis (among others) as hybrids of a sort.  Add to this the First Person Shooters like Castle Wolfenstein, Doom, Medal of Honor, World of Tanks, etc.  Add tactical operations games like X-Com, Jagged Alliance, the Tom Clancy series, and others.  There are games for every scale – from the individual soldier up to all of the units in an entire war.

This is a quick fast forward of almost two decades of computer wargames leading us into the era of mobile wargames.  Not all of the PC-based wargames created are made to fit mobile.   Screen size is a major obstacle to overcome.  One day screen-size will be solved – and our definitions of Mobile vs. PC will change dramatically as a consequence.

AmericasArmyRealism is increasing – from near real-life graphics to modeling physics, better modeling of weapons, better handling of command and control, line of sight, supply and logistical components.   The difference between “war games” and “real war” is decreasing steadily in every regard except lethality.

The United States Army created its own game, America’s Army, as a recruiting and training tool.  From discussions I’ve had with others in both civilian and military education programs on LinkedIn, there is an interest for apps/games/utilities that can be useful for military training, instruction, decision-making tools, etc.  Military, military academies, potentially even paintball and laser tag parks represent another market beyond regular gamers.

Wargame Design Tips for Mobile:

  1. Computer Opponent – Call it the AI or an “programmed opponent”, a poor computer opponent is most often the #1 reason why people stop playing what is otherwise a great game.  “Empire of the Fading Suns” is one case in point, well ahead of its time in concept, complexity and sandbox-ness, this true futuristic, strategic space-land wargame had all of the design elements of the day to make it “totally awesome”.  The computer opponent was practically a pacifist and games would play out for potentially hundreds of turns making play by email impractical.  That’s by no means the only game with a bad AI, it just goes to show how perfect a game could be, but fail on this one thing… and be a total disappointment.  The more time you spend developing a solid AI, the more you and your players will be rewarded.
  2. Simplify the Interface.   Some wargames are notorious for having too many buttons to try to account for the whole “rule set”.  Simplify, simply and simplify some more.  The common denominator for almost all wargames involve movement and attacking – that’s likely to be the majority of the game play.  By keeping that very easy, you can introduce additional complexity in other portions of the game – where players can select their load out, production orders, upgrade paths, and other options.
  3. World_of_TanksBreak-up the Monotony.   Almost every wargame leads to a measure of monotony… move and attack, move and shoot some more.   Periodically, but with fair frequency, you want to let players make more important decisions – as noted above, with load outs, production orders, upgrades.  MMORPG’s and World of Tanks do a really good job of this.   It can apply to any game scale – FPS, Tactical, Operational or Strategic.  By breaking up monotony, you increase replay value.
  4. Lots of Equipment Upgrades.  Again, MMO’s have this down as an art and science – with upgrades coming from a variety of different sources — warbooty directly from the battlefield, crafting, special rewards from factions, items that can only be purchased, hybrid crafting from the likes of Star Wars the Old Republic, Diablo, Path of Exile, Torchlight, etc.   The idea is for there to always be something “better” – even if it situation specific.
  5. Economy.    Perhaps the hardest to implement and properly balance – there needs to be a limit, and a few special ways of being able to exceed the limit.  However you define it — by points, by number of units, by command ratings, or even by supply, players should never feel as if they have unlimited resources.   Emphasis is placed on the particular combination of resources, a matter of quality, quantity and specialized functions.  Keeping the feeling of “always wanting, but not necessarily really needing more”  alive in your game is critical to keeping it a challenge.

These are all relative to your game concept.  People stopped playing Space Invaders a few years ago because of the monotony.  Other games offered less monotony.

If you can achieve these five things, I’d really like to see it and I imagine many other players would, too.  This is not all specific to wargames, functionally the same extends equally to Monopoly or Mario Brothers, Angry Birds and many, many other games.   The aim is to look at what makes all of the games that we really like, “FUN”.

On Friday, I’ll present the mammoth World War II Project that I’ve been working on for the past seven years that is now in its final stages of playtesting.

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Project Manager at the Opera Mobile Store providing Sales-Marketing support. Content development and research.

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