Monday, November 17, 2008

Quatre Bras Fog

Took some time to design some new counters for Quatre Bras and to jazz up the map a bit. This game will focus on that old rules spectre, Fog of War. I've included a unit called "NEY" for Marshall Ney, the cautious commander of the French forces. In fact, Ney will be the player (commander) on the battlefield. The idea is that enemy units not seen by Ney are not shown. Enemy units can be in cover (woods, tall rye) or just too far away from the Ney chit to see seen. Certain distances from Ney will produce identity as to type of troops (2000 yards) or number of troops (500 yards). Units that engage friendly forces in combat can be discovered but may quickly move out of sight if they retreat into woods, for example. Even friendly units may become unclear as to identity if too far away from Ney. As the player (Ney), you can send staff to locate enemy units but they may not report back soon (shot by the enemy) or the returning staff member may not have his information correct. You may have to go look yourself. Doing so, you may come under enemy fire. But, one thing we know for certain, Ney was the bravest of the French.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Terrain Movement Calibration in Shiloh

One of the decisions a game designer must make when developing a new game is what value to assign each terrain type for cost to enter (movement cost). Usually woods terrain gets assigned a movement cost of three but in Shiloh I made woods two movment points to enter. At the same time, I gave infantry a total of 6 movement points to spend each turn and made each turn represent about a half hour.

The battle (and the game) started at 5 AM when Powell's patrol discovers massed Confederate units, which starts off the Rebel attack. At 6 AM the Confederates reach the first Union camps. From 5 AM to 6 AM is three turns, including the 6 AM turn.

When I test played the game, the Confederate units hit the Union camps exactly on the third turn (6 AM).

What this exercise did was confirm that my selection of two as the Movement Cost for woods was correct (most of Shiloh terrain is woods). Otherwise, a higher value would put the first Confederate lines reaching the Union camps later than the historical event. Or rather it confirms the relationship between the three variables: terrain cost to enter, turn game time (half hour), and unit movement allowance. Change any of those variables and the results would not be as historically accurate for gameing purposes.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Shiloh Woods

Most battlefields have more open space than woods. Some have their share of woods. But Shiloh (American Civil War 1862) was fought over an area chiefly of woods and swamp with a few fields or clearings sprinkled about. While game map creation is always a time-consuming task, the Shiloh map is even more problematic as the important clearings in every case do not perfectly transform to a hex-based map at the scale being used ( 1 hex = about 250 yards).

As gamers understand, a heavily wooded battlefield slows troop movement and makes unit cohesion more difficult. Woods also offer defenders (in this case primarily the Union side) the advantage of cover. Shiloh offers plenty of opportunity for these game issues to be represented.

The game map for Shiloh is based on the 1993 Shiloh Battlefield map by the McElfresh Map Company, which used two primary sources: the Atwell Thompson map completed in 1900 and the Edwin C. Bearss historical base map prepared in 1972 for the National Park Service.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bull Run Map Scale

Researching ideas for a print-and-play game, I came across a small publication of the American Civil War Notebook Series on the first battle of Bull Run. It has excellent maps at different scales. Noting that both sides were trying to outflank each other, I thought it might be interesting to simulate the battle on a scale large enough to capture the flanking possibilities. After all, these were the important decisions made by Beauregard and McDowell.

The largest scale battlefield map in the publication offered excellent proportions for an 8 1/2 (north-south) and 11 (east-west) piece of paper. In fact, I was able to overlay a letter size sheet of paper and pretty much trace the major features. This is game design gold!

The scale is about 8 by six miles and brigade level. I guess this makes it a grand tactical game. There are eleven Union brigades and 12 Confederate brigades.

The Confederate side starts off guarding the fords across Bull Run leading to Manassas while the Union side has as a goal to capture the important railroad junction there. Battle-winning opportunities are for McDowell to flank the weak west side of the Southern army and roll them up; for Beauregard the idea is to cross the fords on the east and capture Centerville, which would cut off the Union army from its supplies and communications.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Baseball Manager

When I was a boy, I invented several games. One of those games was a dice baseball game which I played for hours and hours. Baseball Manager is a more fully developed version of that boyhood game and uses the computer to manage this game's more sophisticated play-generation statistics. The objective is to earn "managerial points" by playing a three-game series with the powerful New York Bombers of the new Continential League. As manager of the New Orleans Hurricanes, you can employ tactics like steal, hit and run, bunt and walk the batter. Each three-game series, you will be given a different team to manage and test your managerial skills. You will have to set your batting order and manager your pitching changes. One of the most interesting aspects of the game to model was the batter versus pitcher contest. Who would win? I gave each pitcher a starting "power" of 650, which represented being fresh. For each walk or hit and inning pitched, the pitcher's power was reduced. A random number from 1 to 1000 is generated. If the number is greater than the pitcher's power, the batter wins that at bat; otherwise the pitcher wins. Whichever wins uses the winner's player's stats with another random number to determine the play result. Pitcher stats have lower hit ranges and higher strike outs, ground outs and fly outs.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


When my PSA went up again after this year's physical, Dr. William Burnett, my GP, strongly encouraged me to get a biopsy. The fact that my Free PSA had dropped from 25 to 16 percent decided the issue for me. I made an appointment for a biopsy at the UT Southwestern Medical Center.

At the physical with Brad Hornberger, Dr. Claus Roehrborn's Physician's Assistant, I agreed to an office procedure. But later, at home, I had second thoughts. A urologist had done a DRE (also known whimsically as a "finger wave") on me last year and said I had a "huge" prostate (nice to know that something down there is huge). An office prostate biopsy would take maybe 12 core samples. If my prostate was very enlarged, wouldn't it make better sense to take more samples to reduce the risk of a false negative. Many men have successive biopsies when the first 12 sample biopsy is negative and I didn't want to have to turn around next year and do it again should the results turn out negative. Plus, the thought of not being sedated while a mini-nail gun was inserted in my bottom and fired off 12 times made me a little queasy. So I emailed Brad with my concerns and he asked the staff to make an appointment with me for a saturated prostate biopsy to be done by Dr. Roehrborn in the operating room of Zale-Lipshy Hospital on the UT Southwestern campus.

The procedure went very well. I had a little bleeding afterwards but in the normal range and that stopped within a day. I was up and down the night of the biopsy because if I didn't drink lots of fluids it burned a little to urinate but that also ceased by the next day.

Everyone, from the nurses to the valet parking guy, were friendly and kind at UT Southwestern Zale-Lipshy Hospital; it's a very well run and professional organization from top to bottom. Dr. Roehrborn, the head of urology at UT Southwestern, came in and gave me a short briefing. One of Dr. Roehrborn's assistants, who came by before Dr. Roehrborn, spent a lot of time with me explaining what would happen (he said they would take 30 samples) and answering my questions.

Before the procedure, a nurse gave me an injection to numb my hand and then when she put the catheter in I didn't feel a thing. When the time came for the procedure, I was told they were going to give me something to "relax" me. As I was being wheeled down a hall on the gurney at what seemed a rather excessive, possibly even dangerous clip (had the drugs kicked in??), I remarked to the nurse guiding the gurney next to me that I was feeling something cool in my hand where the catheter was. She said that was normal. (I never did feel euphoric or relaxed, darn it!). We turned a corner and started down another long corridor, presumably heading to the operating room, and I noticed one of those iconic bright red coke machine on the left. That coke machine was the last thing I remembered; the next thing I knew I was awake in the recovery room and two cheery nurses were asking me how I was. I said I felt great, like I could run a hundred yards. (Always the jokester, that's me.)

The anesthesiologist had said I would be kept awake long enough to turn over on my side in the op room but I was asleep flat on my back still moving on the toboggan-gurney run before we even got there. I didn't even make it past the soft drink machine, which was a shame because I could have used a cold coke at that point, not having anything to drink since 8:30 PM the night before.

My sedation cocktail included versed and propofol (sedatives which induce sleepiness, reduce anxiety and cause loss of memory of the procedure) and fentanyl (a pain killer). This is a very similar mix to what is given for a colonoscopy as far as I can tell.

Before the biopsy, I had been particularly concerned about the possible complications: infection, bleeding, and acute urinary retention. But I needn't have worried. They kept me at the hospital unitil I could urinate, and as I mentioned, I had a little bleeding but it stopped in a day or two. I was given levaquin, an antibiotic, to take before and after the procedure and had no infection. The burning on urination stopped the next day.

The pathology report came back negative which was a great relief. Since 30 core samples were taken, the chance of a false negative should be pretty low and I wouldn't think I would need to undergo successive biopsies unless my PSA takes off or I get a positive DRE on a future physical. At this point, all I am sure of is that I have is an enlarged prostate. Recently, I became aware of a drug called finasteride, which not only shrinks the prostate but studies show it reduces the risk of getting prostate cancer by 30 percent. Finasteride was originally marketed under the names Proscar and Propecia, the latter being the hair-growing product for men, so I might get some of my hair back in the bargain.

Men over 50 or with prostate cancer in their family should get a prostate cancer exam every year.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Crecy 1346 (In Progress)

Current projects include a revitalization of Isandhlwana and a new game, Crecy 1346, about the One Hundred Years War battle between the English, armed with those wicked longbows, and the Genoese crowsbowmen and armored cavalry on the French side. Crecy looks like a real puzzle for wargaming the battle: the English took a strong defensive position and had the advantage of archers.

Still, historically the French made the perhaps fatal mistake of attacking piecemeal. They might have coordinated their attacks and/or tried a flanking move, not impossible with all that mobile cavalry. One gets the feeling they were supremely over confident. A gamer playing the French side might not be so reckless and could possibly broker a different outcome.
The morale of English troops seems a game design factor; what would be the chance the English foot would break when faced with a cavalry charge? Another factor, this one favoring the English, is the terrain: the ground the French had to cover was uphill and rough, possibly muddy.

Below is the Crecy 1346 map in draft form.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Anzio Rules Revision

The rules to Anzio: The Fight For The Beachhead have been revised. Anzio remains the same basic game but should be easier to play.

An Anzio battle report game replay was made using the revised rules.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Fighter Command: The Battle of Britain

Fighter Command is a solitaire, computer-based game set in World War Two. (Click then image above to see a full screen shot.) The Player is commander of 11 Group RAF, responsible for defending London and the surrounding area. The German Luftwaffe has started a program of bomber raids to bring England to her knees in preparation for an invasion of Britain. The game display shows the commad room map table and the wall board showing squadron status. Credit to the boardgame RAF August 1940: The Battle of Britain by West End Games for inspiration and borrowed game ideas.

High Solitaire Play
Quick Play and Campaign Play Options
User's Guide
Single-Click Patrol Allocation Commands
Selection of German Bombing Strategy of Let Computer Decide
Messages On/Off Option
Squadron Status Report
Color-Coded Squadron Status

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Alessandro Barbero's The Battle, A New History of Waterloo (2003) is an excellent narrative of the battle of Waterloo. Although lacking detailed maps of troop placements and an order of battle, it gives a vivid account of perhaps the most famous battle in history. Lots of Little things pop out such as the surprisingly lethal superiority of Jacquinot's lancers against British sabers. And how, more importantly, when the French cavalry had the Allied infantry pinned down in squares, Napoleon did not send in the infantry reserves. Had he done so, the battle would have likely been won by the French. Why didn't he? Most likely, because he couldn't see what was happening on the other side of the Allied ridge. So he waited for news of the French cavalry attack and it came too late. Some aspects of this account may compel a revision of the Waterloo game, particularly in showing more woods terrain around Fichermont and the east side of the battlefield. Had Napoleon occupied those woods, it would have likely slowed the arrival of the Prussians for hours and may have given the French time enough to win the day.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Fighter Command

Published Anzio, the third print-and-play minigame. Current project is Fighter Command (tentative title)about the Battle of Britain. This is a resource-allocation game the object of which is to defend the area around London (Sector 11) from German bombing. The player plays the British side and, based on imperfect information, must assign limited resources (fighter squadrons) to patrol and intercept German bomber raids. A computer-based game, the computer plays the German side, determining the size and frequency of raids and the raid targets. Weather and rest and repairs for active squadrons are factors in the game.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dark Ages Game Series

The American Civil War (ACW) Game Engine is being used to make a Dark Ages Game Engine. Similarly, the Units File Builder for the ACW is the basis for a Dark Ages Units File Builder. Obviously, this saves a lot of programming and builds on working code. For the Game Engine, some new rules reflecting combat in the Dark Ages will be implemented. For both the Game Engine and the Units File Builder, new unit types (Spearmen, Axemen, Slingers, Archers, Swordsmen, Leaders, etc.) and some new data items (Melee Factor, Missile Factor, etc.) have to be added.

The first game in the Dark Ages game series will be Clontarf, 1014 A.D., the 11th century battle battle which helped remove the Norse from Ireland.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Antietam and the Units File Builder Development Tool

Antietam is the current project under development. One of the tools being used to develop Antietam is the Units File Builder, which facilitates the creation of units, placement of units on the map and assignment of paths to units among other things. This is handy because often units need to be rearranged as part of the process and a simple click moves the unit on the map and the result is seen immediately. It is also easy to edit paths.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Greek Revival

A game first developed in 2003 has been updated and put up. The main improvement to Phalanx: The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC was the addition of a ZOOM feature to be able to view the entire battlefield on the screen, a feature all new games have. The game is a quick-play tactical exploration of ancient warfare. Greek units are mainly phalanxes, which have a shock factor (a bonus hit roll) when attacking. Due to fatigue, the shock bonus roll is allowed only once per game.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Pickett's Charge

Pickett's Charge is a print and play microgame and was fun to develop. Having only done computer games until now, it was interesting to note how easy it is to add game design features to a tabletop game versus coding game design elements into a computer game. Much easier. You just write the rule! No programming to do which can add days or weeks to a computer project. What freedom and fun!

Also microgames are smaller scale so you don't have 150 counters and a large game map. This makes such a project both easier to develop and faster to play.

There are some quirks to work out when doing a paper game, however. Like getting the right map size and scale to print out on an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper. Finding a solution for aligning the back and front sides of the unit counters was a bit tricky.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Combat Phase

The American Civil War game engine (Second Manassas: R. E. Lee's Greatest Victory) employs the following sequence of play:

Union Movement
Condeferate Movement
Union Artillery Fire
Confederate Artillery Fire
In the combat phase, any unit with "attack" orders can initiate combat with (attack) an adjacent unit. Any unit attacked becomes a defender as does any enemy unit adjacent to an "attacking" unit. Each attacker and defender attempts to "hit" an adjacent enemy unit a number of times equal to its Strength Points and can attempt to hit only one enemy unit per turn. A hit during the turn results in a end-of-phase Strength Point Loss and Morale Checks.
This approach seems a more realistic model of combat in an interval of time (a "turn") than allowing both sides to conduct combat (igo-ugo) in the combat phase, which is a traditional approach, and by modeling "simultaneous combat" a bit better, may not overstate casualties.