Battle Captains Development
Shaping the Battlefield
In my continuing series of reports on the development on Battle Captains I want to now talk about a feature of the rules of which I am particularly proud. I have had the opportunity to play Chain of Command by Two Fat Lardies many times over the past couple of years. One of the first aspects of this wonderful game that I latched on to almost immediately is the patrol phase. If you have not had any exposure to CoC I highly recommend looking into it. What struck me as interesting about this aspect, beyond the intriguing game play it creates, is the concept of game play that takes place before the battle itself. Having pondered this for some time I came to the realization that this is interesting because of both its lack of representation outside campaign gaming and its possibility for expansion. Applying this thought process to Battle Captains I decided that I wanted to expand the players decision tree to include many of the aspects that lead up to a battle and have them influence the battle itself. In doing so I have found that Battle Captains creates an experience for its players that comes far closer to the framework of real battles but does not get bogged down in detail or minutia, plus its great fun, almost a mini game in and of itself.
Battle Captains is split into two distinct phases, nominally titled pre-battle and battle. The subject of this report is the development of the pre-battle phase. The pre-battle phase is split into nine distinct steps the first of which is called Time Allocation. In this step a single D10 is rolled with the result being the number of Preparation Points allocated to both players. This roll represents the amount of time that the players have to ready their forces and their efforts for the coming battle. Both players must decide how they wish to allocate their points and therefore affect the coming battle in different ways. Players can decide to allocate points to improving the readiness of their forces, the allocation of reinforcements, recce efforts, and battlefield shaping, among others. The allocation of these points is kept secret until the steps in which they are relevant. After choosing how to spend their preparation points, both players will determine the quality of their CO (and associated HQ assets). This determination is affected both by the ratings of their army but also any allocated preparation points.
The third step is perhaps the most interesting, titled Battlefield Shaping. This is a catch-all modern buzzword for methods of influencing the behaviour, disposition, and capability of your enemy in order to swing the balance of future battles in your favor. In this step both players will, using any preparation points allocated to shaping, decide on which shaping efforts they wish to use. The more points are spent on a shaping effort the higher the chance of success and the following effect. A number of possible efforts are available to the player ranging from Logistics Disruption to Deception. Each effort has a unique effect upon the opponent in the coming battle. The efforts themselves are deliberately vague as to the method of their execution as the players are primarily concerned with the result of said efforts.
With the success or failure of the shaping efforts determined, both players compete in a die roll, determined by the quality of their CO. The winner of the roll gets to choose from a number of scenarios based on their margin of success. Each scenario provides slight modifications to each force and deployment restrictions. The player who lost the die roll sets up the table, declaring the types of terrain and cover, and then the winning player chooses the base table edges.
At this point the quality of each players CO has been rolled for, the various shaping efforts determined, the scenario chosen, and the terrain setup with corresponding deployment zones. The last four steps involve the players determining their force composition and reinforcements, recceing the battlefield, building a plan, and dispensing that plan to their forces. To determine their forces the players are required to compare the value of their companies. The selection of support options and rolls on reinforcement tables balance out any inherent difference in the value of the companies as well as compensate players based on their positioning in the relevant scenario.
To recce the battlefield both players will choose a platoon to act as their recce component (which might not actually have any recce elements within it). The quality of the leader of the platoon as well as the presence of any recce elements within the platoon will factor into the success of this recce effort. The relative success of the recce force will feed into the ability to develop a plan for the coming battle. With the plan developed the ability of the CO, as well as the quality of the HQ, will determine how effective they are at briefing the platoon leaders and dispensing this information to the troops. With this complete the pre-battle phase is finished and players move on to the battle phase.
Each of these steps is a discreet and easy to manage mechanism that gives the player more choices than just which flank to hit or which tank to shoot. In total the pre-battle phase accounts for approximately 25% of the length of a game but as a game requires only two hours this is not a great burden. In fact play testers have remarked that the inclusion of an expanded decision tree has enhanced their enjoyment of the following battle and frankly makes for a more diverse spectrum of games. Two players can play many games using only the same basic forces and get many unique and interesting games. Ultimately I hope that the inclusion of these mechanics both excites potential players and maybe gets some of us stuck-in-the-mud type gamers to think outside the box.