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Battle Mechanic - latter Han Dynasty

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Joined: 06/07/2012

A little background info is needed on this one. I’ve been working a bit more on the game I intended to submit to the Korea Games Competition.

The game itself is based on the Three Kingdoms period of history. In order to do justice to the richness of the historical accounts, and the high degree of affection that the Asian people accord to it, I had to develop the game mechanics and the game theme in a symbiotic fashion.

The core game is complete, play tested and rock solid. I’ve learned a lot more about the historical period in question over the last few weeks and made a few tweaks. Such as the inclusion of advisors in the core release in place of the shamans – the advisors where already done, along with nobles and officials, so it was simply a matter of switching an expansion element with a core element.

In respect to a general game play outline, the core game I based around these premises. At heart it is a card game with a board, split into 4 phases with modular elements in the design to permit the players to add in extra phases or remove core phases – in order to change the aspects the game play focuses on.

The initial card play element is a quick and simple card game which results in the resource allocations for each round. This provides a central point for governing the influx of resources which are then used in the subsequent phases. The parameters of the card game can be changed to alter the flow of resources into the game – which in turn affects the opportunities for actions in the other phases. More resources available, more things can be funded.

The card game also initiates the general mechanical theme that runs through the game. In normal card games the ‘pips’ remain on the cards during the game. My intention for this game was to deconstruct the card ‘pips’. The players play the card game, winning cards each round.

The pips on these cards are then exchanged into tokens which are used in the other phases - where they are slotted into new cards to form new value patterns. In essence the card ‘pips’ are deconstructed and then reconstructed into new forms.

Anyhow, the core elements all work very well. I’ve also developed a number of modular expansions which highlight important parts of the history and build upon the simple game forms in the four initial phases. The key objective for the expansions is to add depth while retaining the simplicity of the core game and preserving its elegant balance.

The game mechanics for the various elements have to be simple, quick to play in isolation and commensurate with the theme. Naturally, developing simple game play that makes the players feel like they are actually engaged with the history, key characters and events of the time is a hard thing to pull off.

The problem I’m having is in relation to the expansion that deals with large scale battles. Small one-on-one bouts have been done and that game mechanic works very well. However, I can’t find much of anything about the formational forms used in large battles from the time, despite the extensive historical records available.

The best account, along with some information in the Art of War manuals, is this account I found on another forum.

However, it only deals with very basic elements and throughout the linked threads it is frequently stated that nobody knows what the formations where or how they worked. So I have to design the whole thing from scratch in order to create a general flavor that accords with the information that is out there.

Apart from the sparse formational information these factors seem to be referred to frequently.

The formations named, but never described, are linked to cosmological or natural elements – in much the same way that martial arts fighting styles are often associated with animals or other indicators.

The battle fields weren’t viewed as fixed places of happening. They where viewed as a flux between chaos and order where everything was continually changing. Again, this mirrors the martial arts of hand to hand encounters in that fluidity and flexibility are key components in strategy.

The combat elements on the battlefield have various strengths and weaknesses in relation to the other combat elements - which ties in with other military strategies from other ages and regions. Archers are strong at a distance and weak close up, cavalry are strong against light infantry, less effective against heavy infantry and weak against pike bearers. That’s a very simple account, and not wholly accurate, just to give a round idea of where I’m heading.

Formations of the era I’m concerned with didn’t obey strict compartmentalization – ie all pike bearers in one unit, all archers in one unit and so on. The minor formations employed different types of troops, which lent them the flexibility to alter their formational shape to provide the most suitable response to changing circumstances in attack and defense encounters.

I’m guessing that the overall army formations further reflected this approach. So the various units had the capability to flow into and out of each other in staged movements. This would lead to new formations within the greater whole (the availability of more troops in the shifting equation multiplying the options available).

So, this is what I have so far.

The general mechanic will be a variation of rock, paper, and scissors (but with four elements to boost the interaction numbers). Rock covers paper, cavalry stomps archers at close distance.

So the units would be cavalry, foot soldiers, constructs (artillery, chariots and so forth) with four variants in each - and with each variant having a success value against the others. The players would place their armies in a 3x3 grid, setting up their formations in relation to the troops they have available.

This 3x3 grid would operate as a venn diagram. So the placement of the units would flow into each other creating shifting strategic options for rapid formation redeployment.

The idea I’ve come up with to represent this is to give each unit a card with an associated number. So the infantry would have 1 for archers, 2 for light infantry, 3 for heavy infantry and 4 for pike bearers. In respect to this a unit containing heavy infantry and pike bearers would be defined by the secondary number 0034 (no archers present, no light infantry present, heavy infantry present, pike bearers present).

To tidy this up, a stack of cards would represent the formations with the relevant numbers on the back. This is further split to show the placement of the combat elements in the formation. So if the formation is a wedge, the number placement on the back of the card would look like figure 2 – showing a v formation of pike men with a centre pool of archers.

If the player has these troop types available they would draw the relevant card to show that their troops where placed in this formation. It also tidies things up because a single card can then show a number of units – instead of having multiple troops scattered about on the gaming table.

Following on, the minor formation cards would be marked on the 3x3 grid to give an overall battle formation for the army. If the venn circles intersect then the elements on the two or more cards can be interchanged rapidly to create new formational outlines.

So if the player has formation card 0034 intersecting formation card 1200 they could quickly change to formation cards 1004 and 0230 – which would offer different strengths and weaknesses for defense and attack against other formations (to be detailed on the front of the cards).

This information would then be used to calculate the outcome of encounters in a simple rock, scissor and paper fashion. It should also convey a mechanical/thematic representation of the formation fluidity required to give a flavor of the battles of the time.

Naturally, commanders would also be present, along with environment conditions and advisor input. These would act as overall modifiers to unit/formation effectiveness.

If the sun is shining in the eyes of one army then they can’t respond to troop movements they can’t see at distance. If the terrain is boggy then chariots can’t be used. The commanders and advisors will determine the complexity of the formations (card formation changes possible) and their solidity – in combination with troop morale and troop training.

This link is to a 15min segment of the TV series Romance of the 3 Kingdoms. It isn’t historically accurate, but it is the popular view of events that a large number of players will be used to. And in the absence of any detailed information of how the battles actually played out it’s probably the only way to go.

This short clip gives a very good idea of what I’m trying to achieve – the TV series is an excellent watch by the way.

Any thoughts on this outline would be very much appreciated, along with any ideas for doing things differently.

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