Designing Out Loud

I'm opening up a new page for a new project here...

I'm looking at opening up the design process here for people to watch as I work through stuff - rules, ideas, counters, cards, etc.

A few notes: People who make actual contributions to the design will be credited as such if/when this ever sees the light of day being published anywhere. That said, anyone who makes any contributions here surrenders any legal claim, in any nation or on any planet, to any material contributed through this blog. I'm not going to have someone throw out an off-the-cuff idea in an open discussion, and come back 6 years from now and try to sue me for something they think is inspired by a blog comment they once made.

With all that said, everything here is copyright 2011 and beyond to me, Brant Guillory. This includes the art, design, rules, comments, inspirations, and smart-ass remarks. I'm trying to be careful about this - I want to open a dialogue here, but I don't want this idea to come back and haunt me. So the basic rule is three-part: Have fun, contribute, and don't be a douche :)

The First Set of Notes

6 Feb 2011

Modern Ops card game

Players are attempting to win a ground battle over a 4x3 card grid, executing various missions that are chosen at random at the beginning of the game. Players may choose from 2-3 different missions, each of which will specify some part of their force mix, as well as an initial allocation of command points.
Once their force mix is established, and their mission chosen, players start the game. The first part of the game includes planning for subsequent operations and their plans will be developed as the game unfolds.

The cards represent the missions as planned by the players. The cards are stacked up in order of phases, specifying the tasks the player will execute as the game unfolds. These tasks can be changed later in response to the unfolding battlefield situation, but at a cost of command points (of which there will *never* be enough!).

The units available within the game are break down into several basic types:
- Armor / direct fire, with a picture of vehicle on it
- Mech / mounted infantry, with a picture of a vehicle + dismounts on it
- Dismounted units, with a picture of one or more people on it
- Indirect fire units - both mounted and dismounted - have an artillery shell icon
- Recon units - both mounted and dismounted - have an icon of binoculars
- Command units - both mounted and dismounted - have a flag icon

terrain = cards w/ 3 'areas', one on each side + 'key terrain' in the middle. limited attacks from area to area w/o going thru key terrain.

multiple phases of the operation for prep battle, main battle, and recovery/follow-on ops

units selected / deployed based on METL tasks and proficiency with those tasks
missions executed based on cards played and when missions match proficiencies then units get bonuses to action

unit markers (counters? blocks?) enable some incremental FOW w/ varying degrees:
- unit type (dsmt / whl / mech)
- unit size (small / med / large)
- dummy counters for counter-recon and deception

4 types of missions:
Assault (Blue)
Fire (Red)
Defend (Green)
Recon (Yellow)

Missions give mods to unit stats based on these types of missions, so some units are better at Assault than Defend, and some missions need Assault rather than Defend, so that mission bonus would do better for units suited to that type of mission.
Some terrain types also mod particular types of missions, and those bonuses apply, too.

3 "colors" of dice for combat: black/white/orange (or something)
Unit counters noted for type of dice they provide.
Each add'l unit in combat w/ same color die gives +1 to roll.
Each add'l unit in combat w/ diff color die gets to roll that die also, not just addition to existing die roll.
Designed to encourage combined arms synchronization.

Commanders give different abilities for units/missions, and number of command points regained each turn.
-1 command point when commander moves away from current unit
-1 command point if TOC jumps
Cost in command points to change orders from the plan (ie, the stack of cards, by phase, for units

Command points used to deploy recon, plan missions, change missions, re-route units, re-supply units, add assets/reinforcements, etc

Limited EW/ISR play
Recon assets need to ID certain types of units in certain locations by certain turns to score bonuses, but still not sure what bonuses look like (add'l actions? bonus to combat? regained command points? free change in mission stack?)

FRAGO cards allow for cheaper mission changes if planned for early in the process. Limit to number of FRAGO cards in each units mission stack. (Cost up front + cost later, but cheaper than just cost to change later)

First draft of a potential command mat on which you plan and track your ops.

Click to enlarge - if you scale it properly for printing it should come out to 1/2-letter size (8.5 wide x 5.5 high) at 150dpi

OK, so we don't have traffic around here like, say, DC or Houston or San Jose, but it's still enough that I have time to mull over ideas within this project. Here's what I'm currently putting together for some of the overall concepts...
Click on images to enlarge

Game Setup
Each player will have a mission briefing (roughly 1/2 page) that will have stand-up tabs to allow each player to see their side with their instructions. It will also give the opponent an intel briefing with some facts about your forces - estimated disposition/composition/capabilities and some expected missions based on this information. This gives him the ability to replicate some higher intel knowledge without simply looking at your forces.
The mission briefings will be tagged with letters A-? so that you can pair up potential scenarios. A card might have more than one letter on it, indicating that it could be used in multiple scenario combos. So a "Hasty Attack" mission might have letters A, C, D on it, indicating that it could be paired up with an opponent's missions with an A, C, or D on it, which might be A-Hasty Defense, B-Flank Cover, or C-Movement to Contact.*
Now, if you're doing a Hasty Attack, you've got certain parameters that your opponent will know about. They'll know that you're not expected to be in a defensive posture, so they're not likely to have any breaching assets given to them. They will have have some intel missions to ID certain types of your units by a certain point in time.
There might also be other specified tasks in your briefing, such as "seize a bridge" or "eliminate enemy recon".

Intel and Recon
I've been struggling with this one for a while now. So here's what I think I've come up with. Each phase, you can establish certain recon objectives. You do this at a command point cost, and you mark it on the command mat with 3 things: location, unit, action.
You mark the location in which you expect to find the certain enemy assets with an NAI counter placed face-down in a phase box. That location is keyed to the recon/maneuver grid. So the counter being placed on the grid has "NAI"** on the background and the letter/number combo on the front. With this counter is also a counter indicating what you expect to find, so some sort of generic unit type/echelon counter. Finally, you add a counter with a specific order/action, which can be anything from an artillery mission to a command point bonus to an additional movement for a specific unit.
So in your phase II box on your command mat, you might have an NAI counter designating B3 as a location you might find a tank platoon, and a +2 movement to a tank platoon bonus. That means that during Ph2, if you can get eyes on a tank platoon in B3, you can give a tank platoon a +2 move bonus somewhere on the map (either to react to the guys you just found, or elsewhere, freed to act by having located a threat somewhere else).

The game will play out over 4 phases, with each phase lasting until both sides have exhausted their command points for that phase. During each phase the players will have a designated mission for their different formations from a deck of cards. These missions are set out at the start of the game, but can be altered later for a command-point cost. You can build some FRAGOs*** into the missions for later, allowing you to pay a small command point cost now to avoid a much larger one later if you need to radically shift the mission.
Each type of mission will give bonuses to certain stats based on the type of mission.
You plan out your missions for each phase by sub-unit, and multiple sub-units can share a mission (you spend fewer command points doing this) but then are all working off the same set of numbers, even if their stats are modified differently (see below).
So on your command mat, you need to place, for each phase, your units and their missions as you order them. These need to be planned out well in advance, for changing them in the middle of the battle can be expensive.
So when Phase I is over, and combat is resolved, and the command points are reset and broken units are recovered/removed, and we're ready to move to Phase II of the battle, you'll pick up your Phase II cards and assign the relevant missions to your units on the battlefield.


Each card has 4 colored blocks on it that modify one of 4 things:
Fire (red) - Shoot from a distance
Assault (blue) - Close and destroy
Defend (green) - Shoot from set pieces
Recon (yellow) - Constantly moving
Units are rated for 3 different things:
Combat - primarily modified by the colors on the mission cards. Note that just b/c a unit has a bonus to "defend" doesn't mean it's an automatic bonus to "protection". It means they get a combat bonus when defending.
Protection - How hard units are to kill, significantly modified by terrain and orders.
Movement - very simple combination of how far / type (mtd/dsmt)

* Note that we're not constraining ourselves strictly to US Army doctrine/terminology, although it'll be loosely based on it.
** Annnnnnd, as soon as we say that we include a US doctrinal term: Named Area of Interest, a specific recon objective.
*** FRAGO = FRAGmentary Order, or a partial order that changes some aspect of a previous order.

So I've been thinking about the way missions and operations would get allocated, both friendly and enemy.

Each player will pick a operations card, from a set of matched cards.
Player 1 chooses a card that could match up with Operations Profile A, C, D, or F
Player 2 has to choose a operations card that matches up with one or more of those.
One of the key constraints here will be map layout.

Each operations card will have 2 sides, one that faces the player and one that faces the opponent.

The side facing the player will specify the available forces, commander options, maneuver options and constraints (can't leave a gap in the lines, must deploy scouts/recon in "x" direction, etc) that replicate things such as doctrinal constraints and the mission/instructions from higher HQ. This side of the operations card will also specify VPs for hitting certain objectives, such as recon objectives, or terrain/enemy-focused objectives. It will also specify the starting command point allotment, and may even specify certain command point costs for particular missions/tasks.

The side facing the opponent will offer some general facts about the unit, such as general profile of what your battalion would normally have per MTOE, and some basic known doctrinal expectations. This allows your opponent to put his recon/intel focus to use by having a doctrinal template against which to plan.
This is a normal practice in the military, but almost never replicated in tabletop gaming because there are almost never doctrinal constraints put on the player to behave in accordance with the way commanders in those armies are trained. Although these forces are loosely based on real unit types, they are *not* attempts at full doctrinal accuracy.

So, during Phase I, you may have specific constraints on the numbers of units that can move, or where they can move, while your recon gathers info to complete your preparations.
During Phase II you may have some requirements to execute, such as taking a piece of terrain, or a killing a particular combination of units. You can adjust your planned tasks/missions based on the info you developed during Phase I and move forward from there.

It always seems like the "good idea" bug bites when I'm walking my daughter to sleep at night, or driving in the car - two times that are not conducive to capturing the thoughts. This time, though, I'm trying to get them down quick...

Two key ideas that I'm trying to get through as I work out the bugs in this game/concept:

1. The idea that you have a plan, and everyone knows what the plan is, and if you want to change it, you have to expend some effort changing it, and it's not instantaneous. You can't suddenly turn 2 companies left to face a new threat you never knew was there, without some delay / confusion / significant effort.
And in a game, I want to do it without written orders.
The way I'm trying to capture this is by having players lay out their sequence of orders/missions with a set of cards that specify what type of missions and when they shift from one to the next. To change from that mission costs some form of effort (command points, probably) and depends on what you're changing to/from. It keeps the game moving by not bogging down into written orders, while still committing players to a plan, and keeps the relevant modifiers in front of them at all times.

2. Leaders have varying traits/qualities. There are different ways these are put into place currently. ASL has morale modifiers. LnL has morale modifiers, and skill cards. PG allows for activations, but little else. The new leaders in the W@W series allow for some powerful modifiers of *any* stat, which to me seems a bit too wide-ranging, but I've yet to play it to know for sure.
I want leaders that have strengths and can be put in a position to play to them. Some are aggressive, others meticulous. Some are very demanding trainers, and others are very creative. I want them to have the ability to not just modify something within their units, but to have an effect on their execution of certain missions as well.

That's all I've got tonight. It's been a long day...

No comments: