Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Case Study 3: First Playtest Feedback!!!

Intrepid playtester Keith Tracton has set up the game and completed the first few turns of an Approach to Battle playthrough as I talked about in the last post. After posting that article, I was contacted by Bruce Weigle who is designing a set of mini's rules for the battle. Bruce had an insight into the battle that reflected a serious years long study of the conflict (Whereas I have only been studying it for about half a year) and he made a couple of suggestions. The main one being that not all leaders need to be put to sleep, only Mac Mahon.With the nature of the mechanics however, the desired effect of the french being unable to retreat or maneuver is accomplished by putting the commanders to sleep. I believe units should be able to roll for initiative nonetheless and act on their own accord ignoring the official orders to stand and fight. Bit of a tangent here but this is at the core of what we are trying to figure out at this stage.

Approach to Battle tentative setup (again from Keith), map from Bruce.

One extra awesome bonus we got from Bruce was a better understanding of the approach to the battle, which helped our team to work out  the scenario rules and placement. As you can see, the Prussians have an inherent advantage towards encirclement given the entry locations of the 3rd army (lighter grey.) Most of the sources I was using were only from Prussian staff which had made several errors in explaining the action. Bruce gave me bits of info from a french army source (incredible that he found it) and we worked on the OOB and placement to reflect history accurately.

All the markers aren't printed yet so Keith gets creative with markers.
My initial conversations with Keith seem to indicate that the game is working as intended. To paraphrase Keith, he owns and has played Zucker's Napoleon's Last Battles (The granddaddy of the system my game is based on) and that my game plays similarly to it and just as quick, which was a major design point for me in the process of development. Given the drudgery of the battle I was concerned that it would be a slow boring affair, but so far things have turned out otherwise. Making things more exciting is it actually seems like the french have a chance to survive in the Approach to Battle scenario. if able to throw up a pontoon over the Meuse before the Prussians prevent the french from doing so, it becomes a real fight with the french in a defensible situation.

The french and the Prussian 4th Army engage.

The Whole Board

Prussians on the move
Quick recap of the game so far from Keith

Quick recap: depressions are advancing quickly between being able to command for core and also the two movement orders. The un commanded corps are moving minimally. The French just got lucky on turn two and threw up a pontoon bridge across at sedan, also 12 corps moving and has reinforced its line to oppose prussian first Bavarian and a scores. The French plan might be to get across the bridge at sedan and fight their way through but we'll see how that goes.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Case Study 2: Counter Design

While I eagerly await your playtest reports, I figured why not talk about the thinking behind some of the counter design, and give some advice for making your own copy. Counter design is something that often fails to receive the attention it deserves given the amount of time we spent staring at and groping the counters.

Playtest counters in progress courtesy of Keith Tracton, check out his awesome custom warhammer game map under the counters!
First off, what do the counters exactly represent? The units represent either divisions, brigades, or regiments of men, horses and guns, anywhere from hundreds to thousands of gem generally. Other counters depict historical leaders, supply depots, and various status markers that depict things such as Disruption or No Supply. Historically, an infantry brigade in this time period had a frontage of about .3 miles, hence the map scale of .3 miles per hex. Division counters represent the concentration of the unit's firepower (strength points.) (A common misnomer is that counter stacking limits has to do with how many men can fit in a hex, but this view is incorrect. It rather reflects the command capacity of the generals/officers leading the troops in that hex.)

Kevin Zucker published a series of magazines on game design through OSG and in one of these magazines is a detailed article about counter design. The counters for my game were made with the following paraphrased guidelines established by Zucker / OSG:

*Make important information clear and readable
*Make counters pleasant to look at
*Hierarchy of information
*Function & Form

Crude counter diagram by me. 

The first thing you are meant to notice is the counter's background color which indicates the nationality. Second is the name of the unit, and along with the name of the unit we get its corps attachment making it clear to see which commanders command which units, & we get a division stripe below that to make it easy to locate subordinate units to a division. Breakdown units are also featured prominently to remind the player of their possible usage. Then we receive all the relevant information top to bottom, left to right, from unit type, to strength, to initiative, and finally to movement points. The counters give one all the information they need to know about the units without having to reference any outside information, and are functional and if I may say so, nice to look at.

Keith has made counters I believe at 5/8ths of an inch, the game counters will be 1/2 inch, nonetheless feel free to make them whatever size is easiest to read, though you may run into some counter density problems.
 To make your own counters, I recommended printing out a counter sheet and gluing it (or whatever) to some cardstock (dont forget both sides of the counters. Use a craft knife and a metal ruler to cut out pieces (carefully.) A cutting board is necessary to protect whatever surface you are doing this on. there are individuals out there with die cutters who can make you counters as well. For a map, you can either print it out yourself and tape the sections together, or go to a kinkos and have them print it out. Do so to the dimensions specified in the rules. Happy gaming!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Case Study 1: Scenario Making

  The first thing I must do in terms what the game needs, is design several set scenarios. Staring at tons of maps of the Battle of Sedan for some reason has not made any sense to me as to where to place the opening positions of the present forces. Reading passages from the battle, one can see that the Prussians literally had a whole day to encircle the French, while the French did absolutely nothing.

The mean lean two army Prussian fighting machine. These two armies are organized for efficiency as you'll notice there are about 2 divisions to a corps.
  There is a good reason that the French did nothing, and were in Sedan in the first place, exhaustion. The troops loudly complained about lack of food and the constant marching. There was a very strong chance of mutiny unless the army could be rested.

The french army is large and blubbering, their corps are very packed with units resulting in a inferior scaling of their initiative capabilities.

  This still put the French in a tough position. The French had been cut off from Metz at the battle of Beaumont so there was no hope of joining up with that army. In addition, supplies were coming from the west, so Sedan seemed like a natural place to rest the troops. There were several fairly defensible position, but Sedan ultimately had too many open approaches outside of the city which allowed the fresh Prussian to completely encircle the French.

Image from Black Powder games. This map shows the positions of the day of the battle sometime between the afternoon of August 31st to the morning of September 1st.

  This produces a conundrum in terms of game design. To do an approach to this battle, it would require basically the french player to do nothing for a bunch of turns while the Prussian player completely encircles them. Here is my proposed solution:

1. All of the French leaders are "asleep." Meaning none of them can do anything until they roll a 1 on their turn. This is done to simulate the exhaustion of the French troops and the commander's reluctance to stretch them any further.

2. A sleep marker is placed on all the french commanders indicating none of their formations can do anything till they make this roll.

Self explanatory.
  I would be very interested to hear what would happen if this was playtested. The German objective should be to completely encircle the french army and cause heavy casualties, while the French when activated should attempt to stage a fighting retreat towards Mezieres.

A. Start the game at Noon of August 31st (remember, each turn is an hour) The french army should be encamped in the positions shown above spread out in brigades. Exchange De Failly for Wimpffen on the map. I was mistaken as Wimpffen apparently replaced De Failly shortly before the battle so figure De Failly will be exchanged for Wimpffen in future versions of the game. (If anyone can point out any more errors in the order of battle, i would appreciate it, this is a stupid one I missed) 

B. The Prussians 2 armies should enter corps by corps from all the way on the east of the map. Prussians can write 2 march orders to start and of course enter in road march. The 4th army enters from the northeast while the 3rd army enters from the east. The Prussians all enter as divisions.

C. Ignore supply for now as there are no reliable supply counters or rail lines on the board. If you feel you can manage it, great. I was able to do so with an overlay.

D. Night turns start at 9PM  till 11PM

E. Weather rolls are 1-3 Fair, 4  Fog, 5, Rain, 6 Thunderstorm.

F. Please feel free to put your own input into Demoralization numbers. Figure that a different corps gets demoralized for every 4-8 SP the total army loses, with the guards becoming demoralized last.

Please let me know if you have any questions! I look forward to hearing about your games.

Game Preview and Playtest Participation.

Hello! And welcome to my temporary home for information in regards to Le Pot De Chambre: Sedan 1870.

The Main Commanders of the battle

This game covers the seminal battle of Sedan in the Franco Prussian war that ultimately decided the fate of the Second French Empire. While overlooked in most circles of military history and wargaming,the battle features the advent of "modern" artillery and a preview of the operational and tactical considerations of World War One.

The game borrows most of its core mechanics from Kevin Zucker's The Library Of Napoleonic Battles series from Operational Studies Group. Zucker's games effortlessly emulate the mechaincs of early 19th century warfare, and I tweaked them a little bit to cover the differences by late 19th century warfare. I can't go any further without thanking Kevin Zucker for permission to use his system and for invaluable advice and direction in regards to game design.

Le Pot De Chambre plays out on the 'Grand Tactical' scale, somewhere in between the operational and tactical scales. The players take the roles of the leaders of the various armies and are allowed to focus on concerns of maneuver and placement disregarding the minutia of smaller scale tactical concerns. The game engine takes into account things such as Millatreuse fire, ranged Chassepot, improved Prussian artillery, cavalry charges, and command friction.

The Playtest Map
About Me: Hi I'm Ray Weiss. I am an amateur game designer with one or two games under my belt. One of them being the Role Playing Game Everything Is Dolphins. I conducted thorough research for this game using both primary and secondary sources. To the best of my knowledge, this is the most accurate simulation at the Division/Brigade level of the Battle of Sedan. The game is ready to playtest but we are still waiting on some final components.

How you can help: I would really appreciate it if anyone can help me play test this game. Please leave your email address in the comments to this post if you are interested in receiving materials to print and play your own copy of the game in it's current state. You will need to print out your own copy of the maps, charts, counters, and other materials to play the game. I can offer some advice into making a nice home copy. Right now I am focusing on the scenario designs, would love to have help from people familiar with the period.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions. Thanks so much!