Development Diary 1 – No More Wipeouts!

noob-3363_previewI am diving right into some of the changes to the system we’ll be making for the new game. Please ignore that the game still hasn’t been properly announced, that there are no screenshots yet, and that this is the first time I’m writing a dev diary. Just bear with me, okay…

The Problem

The combat system in Unity of Command was actually alright (I’m speaking in scientific terms here, you see). I wanted to take the focus away from individual, unit-on-unit combat results, and distribute some of that attention to movement, supply etc. Turns out, it was possible to simulate quite a few salient features of mechanized warfare with surprisingly lightweight mechanics.

The downside of the simple mechanics was, well… something had to give. As time went by and scenarios accumulated, some outstanding problems with the system became obvious.

One particular issue is what we term “excessive bloodiness”. To explain, combat losses in UoC come in two flavors: KIA and suppressed. Since we’re talking operational-level units (German divisions and Soviet corps), the term KIA is actually misleading: an attack that kills two enemy steps does not represent 4000 or so dead. Instead what it means is that two steps worth of enemy unit strength just stopped being a coherent military force. The sub-units in question might be disorganized, in retreat, or you could have just plain chaos. Either way, the enemy commander is not going to wring anything out of them anytime soon.

When I was designing Unity of Command, this seemed like an ideal thing to abstract out of the game. Instead of dealing with the chaos, I just made these steps KIA. Sure, historically commanders were able to reconstitute a lot of this strength over time, but in a typical scenario where the issue gets decided in 5-6 turns, it didn’t seem to play a big role. Only much later, when we attempted really long scenarios such as “Taifun”, did we run into real limitations coming from this.

We did, however, run into a problem that I hadn’t anticipated: in quite a few scenarios, it is possible to wipe the enemy off the map completely. You may, for example, get the wrong impression that Barbarossa was a series of complete wipeouts, and that Germans from time to time just stopped, for no particular reason other than to let the Soviets put up yet another defensive line in front of them.

The Solution

So what’s to be done about this? The obvious change is to make it possible to reconstitute a good portion of these steps that would otherwise be KIA. I’m not going to give a lot of mechanical detail on this right now, as it plays into some other new stuff that would need to be explained. But the general idea is that, if you lose steps in combat, roughly half of them will become available again after a few turns, provided that:

  • you remain in control of the battlefield hexes
  • your staff is not otherwise busy with reorganizations etc.
  • your units are in supply

Combat Result Table will be tweaked for high odds, to give more retreats and less defender losses. On the other side, strong armored units will suffer more attacker suppression – this plays into our overall agenda but also I think is more representative of how any sort of combat quickly affected armor strength, through mechanical failures if nothing else.

The repulsed attack hack from rules version 1.1 will go away. This was mostly intended to lower attacker losses for low odds situations, e.g. Soviet infantry going against a strong German unit entrenched in a city. There will be a new deliberate attack mechanic which simulates an attacker commited to longer term assault on an entrenched position. This type of attack can produce results even at low odds, though limited (e.g. reduce entrenchment, or 1 sup to defender). On the flipside, attacker suffers very high suppression, leaving the unit vulnerable to enemy counterattacks.

There are a few other ideas on the table, which I’m just going to leave out there as teasers:

  • limit the number of attacker steps used based on terrain: 3 in ruins, 4 in city, 6 in hills etc.
  • further smooth the CRT regarding that e.g. 2 sup is often a better result than 1 kia
  • experienced armored units counterattack immediately after retreat (during enemy turn!)

The Loose Ends

I feel that between reconstituting steps and the CRT being tuned more toward unit survival, we’ll be able to achieve a realistically messy endgame situation on the battlefield (as opposed to frequent wipeouts).

A possible problem with retreats being more likely is that, sometimes, you really really want a unit to hold its ground.  To make that possible, there will be a no retreat mechanic, which is conceptually similar to what the NKVD specialists currently do, except there’s a limited number of uses.

One final comment: in a real battle, defender will normally retreat and preserve their forces even when facing a defeat. In a Unity of Command scenario, there is no incentive to do so: once all objectives are captured there is nothing to play for. At the very least, we need changes in victory conditions that would motivate the defender to preserve their forces in the endgame (for example by falling back on supply sources). But that’s a topic for another post, eh?




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11 Responses to Development Diary 1 – No More Wipeouts!

  1. Alex says:

    Brilliant, Tom. Please keep us posted on the progress.

  2. Jesse says:

    Interesting commentary! One concern I have about unit preservation relates to prestige. Having played a few hotseats, is the natural thinking to draw units away from the frontlines as fast as possible back towards the ‘latest’ objective? I’m always reminded of the BT Army Group North scenario where the German has to throw all mobile units forward as fast as possible, but as the Russian, if you just focus on defending the last objective, and chokehold river crossings, and supply lines through forests then it’s much easier to prevent capture of the final objective. Again, I don’t have extensive multiplayer experience, but considering that strategy, and now potentially being able to reconstitute units ‘behind enemy lines’ as this post seems to suggest – well a dangerous combination for the Germans indeed! Here come the partisans.

  3. tom says:

    Jesse –

    to be clear, this is not about partisans. I’m not giving up on partisans (where historically appropriate) but this is about reconstituting units behind your own lines.

    The tactic where “enemy is throwing his mobile units forward as fast as possible” will now be doubly dangerous: not only will he cut your supply but he’ll also prevent you from reconstituting units.

    On the other hand, a cautious opponent, advancing slowly, will allow you enough time to reconstitute your units, because you will be still in control of the battlefield.

  4. nikdav says:

    It would be simple to recreate in a connected supply depot the destroyed unit with only one step suppressed and every turn in supply add a new step. (as SSG Kharkov game)

  5. Richard says:

    Interesting post, personally I always rationalized the “wipeouts” as the enemy forces are still present but insignificant on this scale. Still now that you mention it this change would greatly add to the feel of the battles for little player thought overhead.

    I imagine there are many ways to implement this improvement mechanically, I’m excited to see how you do it. My thoughts are that after steps are destroyed some portion could be represented on the hex they retreat to, if territory&supply are maintained, they join the force pool. Another way would be a third status of step beyond “suppressed” that takes longer to recover.

  6. Kampfgruppe says:

    Consider unit steps as remnants to be used two turns later or more solid remnants the longer you wait.

    You might want to add combat elements that are similar to veteran status, including unique units differentiated by capabilities, mobility (the more you move the more mechanical break downs). The longer a unit stays in place the greater the refresh rate. Ever so slight tweaks, a .5% change to 3% change for constant attrition.

    Supply and reinforcements should never be known…a variation by a turn vs exact turn, supply of the opponent should only be revealed as time goes on. Not knowing the actual opposing force strength as a type of hidden unit designation and strength (which might be true and might be false info).

  7. Kampfgruppe says:

    Within scenarios, consider putting scenario conditions like not being able to strip down units, or recycling units for steps immediately on turn one. Another variation would be a scenario rule 1 would be used to make the game more challenging by creating conditions or limitations, and scenario rule 2 would be make it easier, and the like variations.

  8. tom says:

    @Kampfgruppe mechanical breakdowns are something we’re definitely looking into.

    Varying the refresh rate based on unit activity is problematic from a usability standpoint – because refresh happens first, before anything else in a turn.

    I’m looking at introducing a deployment phase, a turn zero if you will. We would then have many options to limit, or allow, what the player can do during deployment based on the historical situation.

    Normal turns, on the other hand, would not have any special rules, so hopefully the ruleset remains tight and simple.

  9. Greg says:

    give us more expansions for existing games so we could transfer you more money for future work 🙂

  10. salsaman says:

    I’d like to see things modernised a bit more – perhaps some more powerful air attacks, ship/submarine units, artillery and maybe even electonic warfare to cut off units from command.

  11. zach says:

    If units are to get wiped out, there should be a remnants/trickle back system in place. Especially as the German’s divisions would be completely crushed and usually remnants from that division would serve as a nucleus for a new division or scratch units put together. Would add flavour to the combat especially if there’s a breakthrough, I really appreciate the idea of a fire brigade situation.

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