I've decided to do some game design posts with a series of shorter sections with different topics, labelled "Discussions", rather than one big, in-depth article. This is because sometimes I change my ideas or adjust slightly over time, and it isn't worth a major update or post in itself. Or, it's just a simple concept that isn't worth the effort of a major post.
The following is a bunch of concepts that have been prompted by playing Mechwarrior:Online. A PC game, sure, but the concepts definitely apply to tabletop wargames.
Victory Conditions - how to avoid "Kill Em All" (MWO examples)
Often we have many varied scenarios, but in the end the best way to resolve them is to kill the enemy faster than they can kill you. They can't complete their objectives while they are dead, right?
Most of MWO game modes are just deathmatch. First side to lose all its mechs, loses. This results in "deathballs" where sticking in a big blob and overwhelming the other side = victory 99% of the time. The side that stays together inevitably beats the side that trickles in one by one. Simply sticking together isn't very deep tactics.
There is a very complex mode where you have to conquer the enemy base. You collect battery cells, return them to your base, and you can choose to power-up base defences or give your side buffs like radar boosts. This sounds cool except... ...no one ever bothers to.
It's far easier just to blob up, kill all the enemies while they are scattered doing busywork, then you just have to roll up to their base unopposed with your remaining mechs, and do a single point of damage to the base. Playing the mode the way it is intended to be played is a recipe to fail. Deathmatch blob tactics win again.
The only mode which avoids this is conquest mode; you capture 'bases' by standing in a designated area. Once you have 'captured' a base it accrues points for your team; once a set amount of points are accrued, your side wins. While the deathblob can roll from base to base, it's possible to defeat it by delaying/avoiding it and capturing bases instead. The battle usually devolves into 2-3 smaller fights with far more maneuver and decision making involved.
Implications for Wargames
So.... implications for wargames are - there has to be a victory condition independent of killing enemy troops. There has to be a sort of time limit (or mechanism that works similarly) - to stop enemies from focussing on killing then accomplishing the objectives at their leisure. Objectives need to be spread over the map to prevent focussing firepower to always be the best tactic. It has to be a trade off - focus firepower (local success) or gain more map control (strategic success).
Time limit should variable and unpredictable, to avoid players 'gaming the system.' It a battle always ends on Turn 5, then you can do a silly, risky move on Turn 4 to gain that lead in victory points, knowing the game ends next turn and you don't suffer for it. If the turn is variable, you don't know if you'll have to stick around on Turn 5-6 and be annihilated.
Here's an example scenario:
(A) There are 3 'capture zones' in the middle, left and right of the map. Each is blocked off from the other by either LoS blocking or impassable/rough terrain to force players to choose to split their forces. If one capture zone can easily fire into/access another one, then there is no reason not to 'blob' the dominant position. The zone could be a building or simply anywhere 6" from a nominated area like a hilltop.
(B) You 'capture' a zone by being the only one with troops within it, or the last person with troops inside of it. (We want to avoid having troops glued to a specific spot). For example, if you have troops between enemy troops and the objective you also control it; so you can capture a base and move on to a better position. If both have troops within the zone it is 'contested' and neither benefit from it.
(C) Once a zone is captured it accrues points. This could be wildly random - say d6 every turn, or more predictable - perhaps roll d6 and 1=0pts, 2-3-4-5 = 1pt, 6 = 2pts. Once a set amount of points are gained, the game ends. The amount could vary - a "recon" scenario might only need 15 points while a "take and hold" might need 40... You could base this on the average points/turn to give an idea of how many turns you'd expect to have.
Devaluing Death: Respawn aka Reinforcements
In short, killing enemies needs to be devalued vs accomplishing an objective. A real battle (from almost nay period of history) averages 2-5% casualties. Amounts higher than this tend to occur during the 'mop up' stage - after one side has lost/routed. Many wargames, however, don't even bother morale check until they take 50%+ casualties!
Another idea to help devalue killing is to allow respawning. OK, that's a videogame term that may make old farts twitch a bit - let's call them reinforcements instead. Losing a unit is not the end; you may get more units later. It may even be worth sacrificing a unit for an objective.
Actually, reinforcements/respawning could lend itself well to a resource-management mini-game (perhaps even tied into victory points - i.e. reinforcements are triggered every 5 VP gained by conquering objectives, or maybe can even be sacrificed directly to get a unit of your choice or seed up the process).
Devaluing Death: Pushback vs Removal
I'm not going to go too far into morale, as this is another can of worms entirely, but morale rules tend to be very loose and flimsy in most wargames. I mean - 50% casualties is a bloodbath but sometimes we don't test until then...
Also, the majority of 'casualties' IRL are not dead, but merely out of action/nonfuctional. Victory tends to be couched in terms of movement and location: pinning enemies in place (modern suppressive fire or heck even longbows) or pushing them back (shieldwall Greeks, Vikings etc) and ultimately driving them off/breaking them (fleeing for their lives, pulling back and leaving the vicinity). Generally, battles are in terms of 'seized the objective' or 'pushed back the enemy from x'. I.e. movement or position orientated. The casualties taken/inflicted tend to be a afterthought or addition to this.
"A squad tests once it has taken 50% casualties, then every casualty thereafter. If it ever fails a roll it counts as routed and the remainder of the squad is removed." <- this is a bad rule - well, the opposite of everything we have just discussed! It's pretty common though!
In short, morale rules may need to trigger much sooner for most wargames, and result in movement - involuntary pushbacks/fallbacks - much more readily.
"Any hits (even non-wounding) on a squad triggers a test. If it fails they are Stressed; they cannot move towards the target, are harder to hit (better defence) but also output less damage (worse attack). A second failure while Stressed results in the unit falling back towards the closest cover." <- this is a better rule; it is more about movement options and may occur without a unit even taking any casualties!
Hmmm. This section probably can be a standalone article as there is enough here. I'll put the other ideas together elsewhere. As usual, others' thoughts appreciated:
What game do you think does a good job of promoting maneuver and tactics vs deathblob 'kill em all?'