Gameplay on the "grand tactical" level
One of the main reasons why vanilla battles felt so dull to me was because they didn’t force you to make a lot of decisions. All you had to do was to move forward your whole army and then maybe try to turn a flank with a single unit of cavalry. But wasn’t that what 18th century battles looked and felt like? Well: no! It’s not history that provides us with boring battles, it’s the game. Reading accounts of actual battles gave me much more exciting pictures of 18th century warfare than playing the game did. I came up with many reasons of this mismatch and I tried to tack in my mod as much as the engine would let me.
The most important issue is the complete lack of a grand-tactical level, which is a real pity given that the grand tactical aspect is where a computer game could surpass even the best tabletop game. Basically speaking, vanilla battles begin at a point at which an 18th century general would have already done his job. Once the opposing armies were “locked” in combat, a general had very limited means to affect the further order of events – instead, he had to rely on the competence of his subordinates. The generals’ main task was located on an earlier stage of the battle, namely to bring about favourable situations for his own troops, which puts a big emphasis on what I call manoeuvring. It is this aspect that decided battles and that makes 18th century warfare so interesting for me.
As it is, the game doesn’t provide us with means to represent manoeuvring. Every movement of your troops is visible to the enemy who can react directly – without any delay of time! – by a simple click. In reality, a general would be unable to overlook the whole battlefield and he would depend on information being brought to him by aide de camps. He had to make up a picture in his head of what was happening, where the main force of the enemy was, etc. If he found himself in the unpleaseant situation to change the plan, he would need to send out aide de camps to his brigades – which, of course, took time. To sum it up, in reality battles were characterized by restricted lines of sight, a huge delay of orders and (sometimes contradicting) information of any kind (the aide de camps also needed to find their moving recipients in the chaos of battle), and by unrelieable subordinates (misinterpretation of orders, positions,…).
Due to the precarious communication conditions, the outcome of battle depended quite a lot on the “initial plan” (the “dispositions”) that the attacking general and his subordinates designed before the battle. Flank movements like in the battle of Leuthen or at Brandywine were decided upon before the battle, they were not “ad hoc” decisions and were something completely different from the common “let the single cavaly unit charge into the flank” that we get in ETW.
I think it is obvious that hardly any of the points mentioned can be modelled in ETW. For example, we would need multiplayer battles with fog of war (you shouldn’t even be able to see your your allies’ units!) and players shouldn’t be allowed to communicate with each other during the battle. Players should need to make up a plan before the battle – for example, a player could have the task to move to this or that position and then attack in this direction at 4 o’clock. Alas, we can’t have that.
What I’ve done is, first, to scale everything down to 4:1. By this, maps become 4 times bigger, which means that there is more distance between the armies at the start of the battle (more time/space to manoeuvre), and we can actually bring in a “fog of war”, which would have been unrealistic if we kept the scale to 1:1.
The fog of war means that all units are basically hidden from the enemies’ sight. You will not know the whereabouts of the enemies’ position from the start. How/at what ranges can you discover the enemy? First I thought about “realistic” distances, so that an enemy unit would be spotted with the plain eye at about 1400 yards (350 ingame yards, according to the scale). But this didn’t lead to satisfying results. The game does not take into account hills and other terrain that would block lines of sight. And then, I didn’t like the fact that the general (you!) could instantly see an enemy that one of your units could see. As I’ve said before, if the discovery of an enemy came as a surprise, the respective commander would have to send out an aide de camp to the general, which would take time. So what I’ve done is to further decrease spotting ranges for individual units, so that enemies will only be discovered when they’re comparatively close. Thanks to the scale, this doesn't lead to a lot of stress for the player. You will still have enough time to see the enemy before he strikes you, it’s just that even if you react to it, your units won’t be there in time! I have to admit however, that the close spotting ranges do not feel very "intuitive". You will have enemy units appear in the middle of a plain out of nowhere. Blame it on the games' lack of any kind of sight-obscuring haze, not on me. You can also see it differently: whereever you move a unit to a position, this unit will be supposed to hold that position. According to its orders to defend, the unit will hold its position during the time that the aide de camp is on his way to the general (and back). This should also make scouting a bit more risky and it will increase the importance of cavalry. Maybe we will see some more recognaissance "in force", that is: advance guards.
The decreased spotting range has positive effects: 1) reconnaissance is very important. Send out your hussars and light troops and/or build an advance guard. The low detection ranges also mean that an advance guard is actually capable of screening the troops behind (without having to move too far ahead) so that the enemy cannot see them without pushing the advance guard back. 2) The role of reserves is greatly enhanced because battles become more chaotic and unpredictable. In post 86 and 88 (page 5), you can read an after action report which shows that this system can bring about very interesting situations. My flanking manoeuvre was stalled by my enemy deploying a second reserve line, while earlier, he himself didn’t dare to push forward aggressively against my “demonstrating” wing. Moreover, I first had to make out where my enemies’ flank was.
In general, the fog of war feature means that you as the player are forced to imagine and think much more, just as a general would have had to. Since your “vision” is extremely limited, you have to anticipate your enemies’ movements/plans much more. Questions will spring up: Does he have some reserves there? Is this his flank? What happens if I push forward here? Why isn’t he already attacking me? Does this single advancing unit herald the attack of a larger force, or is this only a distraction? Of course, the whole thing is becoming the more interesting, the bigger the armies and the more the players. 1 versus 1 engagements don’t enfold the full potential of this feature. In games with more units, much extremer local superiorities can be achieved, whereas with 20 slots, you will have to split up your army in a rather predictable manner (some cavalry, some artillery, some eclaireurs, some line units – there’s not much left to form a flanking party of). I really wanted to get rid of the arcade-aspect of the game. Players should win because they anticipated the movements/positions of the enemy, not because they could click faster than their enemy. I tried to put much more emphasis on planning and anticipation rather than on ad-hoc-reaction (but micro-tactical mistakes can still cost you a battle).
However, as this system alone is a bit too restricted, I also allow for “General”-units. These units represent the general and his staff. It is a fragile unit whose purpose lies in its larger detection range. Thus a flanking movement will be discovered earlier if “you” are present on the respective flank. The unit is not supposed to act on its own for it can be caught by light cavalry, and, if unlucky, can be shot down by chasseurs. So it's not neccesarily a good idea to let the general scout ahead on his own. By loosing your general, your army will be virtually blind. It is problematic though that the enemy always gets to know íf he has killed your generals' unit.
Another point of notice: For the fog of war feature’s sake I’m not a big fan of implementing all kinds of uniforms (uniforms on a regimental basis) into the game. If all your units look the same to the enemy, it will be harder for him to gauge the strength of your troops (Is this the same unit as before, or does he have two units here?). Therefore, I plan to keep the roster really small, based on unit types rather than individual regiments. It’s bad enough that players will be able to tell the difference between grenadiers and ordinary line infantry from exaggerated distances.
Apart from the implementation of a fog of war- feature, there are more reasons in favour of the 4:1 scale. It’s hard to explain in detail, but outflanking a line that stretches over 1000 yards (ca. 8 units according to the scale) is something very different from outflanking a line that stretches only over 250 yards (8 units of the same size on a 1:1 scale). There are different effects of scope. A line of 250 yards can realign itself comparatively easily and quickly, a line of 1000 yards certainly can’t. So, to make manoeuvres effective and and interesting option to players in the first place, we need to have an appropriate scale.
One more point to add here is that in mid 18th century battles, the roles of attacker and defender were always very distinct. In most cases, the defender remained idle in his defensive position. ETW doesn’t allow us to distribute roles to players. But I’d suggest that – if both players agree – they can still act according to roles. An interesting approach would be to deny the "defender" a "generals staff"-unit, so that his information on the movement of the enemy will be very restricted, forcing him to act more cautiously and to keep his troops more together.
Gameplay on the "small tactical" level
(wip; Honestly I don't know where I should even begin.) A very simplified provisional list:
- more reasonable (but still a bit too high!) casualty rates. If the looser takes a bad beating, he usually loses about 50% of his troops. This is achieved by more reasonable morale settings in combination with a more authentic effect of musketry and by the implementation of more realistic movement mechanics (you'll need cavalry to shatter a disrupted enemy!). A retreating unit is always faster than an advancing unit!
- There's now much more distinction between troop types (especially cavalry and infantry) in order to give them their historical roles; I had to strip infantry off the ability to form square since the instant square is a game breaker. Basically you'll have to put infantry in a very deep formation so that it can turn quickly enough if threatened by cavalry in order to fend it off with musketry. This is not exactly how squares were supposed to work (firepower..) but it's a better representation than the instant square. Also, the "foot print" of vanilla squares (even the pike square!) was much too large, giving a square a wider frontage than the same unit in line formation. If you play the mod you will see that my solution isn't even that unbalanced.
- Cavalry is much more inflexible than in the vanilla game and can't deploy in the flank of the enemy as quickly as before.
- bigger emphasis on proper deployment. 1) units move much slowlier and are more cumbersome. 2) Due to the reduced firing arcs, gaps in your line are extremely dangerous and flank supports are more important. The reduced firing arcs also give the game a much more realistic feel - keep in mind that the battalions represent frontages of about 200 men, packed closely together, so that it's zone of fire would be limited to it's front only. A battalion can now hardly ever engage more than 2 battalions at the same time and is more prone to threats from the flank.
- As the game is much more morale-driven, the casualties will (and historically should!) be very one-sided in some situations. Shock actions are not attritional in nature. It's more like: hop or drop!
- I've attempted to implement a "cohesion" system (instead of the vanilla "fatigue"), so that a unit's fighting capabilities and morale will be reduced in certain situations. There are now more statuses and gradiations than just "ready" and "routed". For example, the cohesion system is used to make the first fire of a unit (i.e. when it is still "fresh") the most accurate one. Accuracy decreases very quickly after the first discharge.
- The tactical units (battalions and squadrons) should all have their historical frontages (less true for artillery, I'm afraid).
- Complete rework of artillery. I've tried my best to make artillery as realistic as possible. Most importantly, the trajectories should now be flat, so that artillery will have problems with firing down- or uphills. Generally speaking, if you're used to vanilla, you'll be disappointed about the effect of artillery. But you should also keep in mind that 1) units move much more slowly in this mod (crossing artillery's field of fire can take some time...) and 2) when imagining the effect of artillery, keep in mind that one soldier model represents 4 "real" soldiers. Artillery will always need support units if you don't want it to be overrun.
- Shock actions both by cavalry and by infantry are extremely hard to model with this engine. I'm afraid that shock actions still lead to much too high casualties for the looser (very bad for cavalry engagements!!). The overall results (who routs?) are quite satisfying though. Bayonet charges are modeled in a special way. A charging infantry unit will actually gain momentum (represented by fatigue recovery) while charging (from a certain distance on), while the defender will keep loosing cohesion if he keeps up his defensive fire. Now, either the defender's fire will break the charger, or the charger manages to make contact. In the ensuing melee, the charger will rout the defender very quickly because of the cohesion/momentum-difference. This is the only way to model bayonet charges so that the defender can't simply "counter-charge" in the very last moment in order to get the same charge-bonus as the attacker.
new models yet (hopefully I manage to implement the models of "Nec Pluribus Impar" and the "Seven Years War Mod" for version 2.0)
new music (but I can recommend "40 Years in the Family" by the Tippecanoe Ancient Drum and Fife Corps in order to get attuned; example
. Iwas really luck to find this on Itunes because the tunes are short and simple, played by but a few fifers and drummers)