Guns of the Americas Design Journal
Note: Right after my last post I found out one of my longtime best friends died unexpectedly which is why I was quiet for about a month, sorry about the delay and I appreciate your understanding patience during this difficult time. Some releases may be pushed back a bit (Slogball was pushed back longer) in order to account for the missed time.
Guns of the Americas was my first attempt at deliberately designing a AAA game with lots of chrome and innovation. This is what is now probably the antithesis of my current design philosophy but a year and a half ago, I was desperately trying to find a home for the pile of games I had finished. It has a bit of a humorous history.
My first choice of publisher to release the game initially refused to even consider it given the subject matter. This probably wasn’t too long after Charlottesville and anything where the CSA was somewhat successful was going to be difficult to sell in the current climate. Indignant, I sent some choice words to the publisher in classic NYC jerk musician style eventually apologizing later after realizing I was being an idiot. Graciously, and to their credit, they accepted and actually came back a month later interested in the game. In Between that time, I had showed the game to a smaller publisher who had loved it, but lamented that it was too big with too many components for them to publish.
So eventually, the company that eventually expressed interest in the game gave me a contract for it and we were set to go. Not much later though I started CSL and the company graciously gave me back the rights to the game without me having to even ask, very good guys. I say all of this to get it out there, publishing this game is a big risk for me as a small publisher. It’s going to cost me a fortune to produce each copy given we do print on demand and GotA has a lot of components. The subject matter is both taboo right now, and requires somewhat of a willful suspension of disbelief in order to appreciate. Finally, what-if games (unless nato/wp) and ww1 games to some extent, are notoriously low-selling subjects.
All of that said, I am undeterred. First off, while many 2nd US Civil War games have been done, only 1 has done so (Mason-Dixon by XTR) during the first world war, and it's only one year most of which is bogged down in trench warfare. So it's a fairly unexplored idea in terms of wargaming, which is something I’m always into. Secondly, North America is gigantic. Its easily bigger than the Eastern Front in WW2 and even most US Civil War games leave out large portions of just America by itself. Finally, I had an idea about making the main thrust of the game the difficulty of commanding large groups of troops. Large formations during both the US Civil War and WW1 sometimes performed poorly mostly because they were administrative nightmares. All of this came together with me wanting to work all of these ideas into a massive game that would be immersive and dense.
In order to tie all these themes together, I wanted to explore what a conflict in the US would have most likely looked like during WW1, if it were to ever happen at all. I began the outline of the game with one thing in mind, the difficulty of coordinating large groups of forces during wartime. Now with a game with a shit ton of chrome, this would be difficult because the idea would be competing for the player’s attention with the chrome itself. The solution to this problem was 2 fold, 1 was to build the chrome around my thesis, so that the two were conceptually inseparable. 2 was to tie the thesis to movement mechanics. The reason for this is because movement is ubiquitous in wargames. It is hard to imagine a wargame without movement, as all wargames are in their most abstract sense is a game of positioning men, guns and horses (or tanks, planes etc.).
The result of the gestalting was this March Table:
Now you can maybe see where I am starting to go with this, or not. This table determines the number of movement points a stack (also called a force) receives based on the number of infantry SP present. The more you have in a stack, the harder it is to move. This is a constant tension with the game, you will need numbers in order to overcome enemy obstacles, but the more numbers you start to add the less reliable and maneuverable your forces become.
This goes hand in hand with the combat system. The defender is automatically assumed to have what i term Tactical Advantage which forces the attacker to add another die to their combat roll, the higher your result in combat the worse result you generate. Other situations on the CRT will add or subtract dice to the roll, along with DRM to further make combat more unpredictable, but predictable enough with a more than occasional bell-curve with 2-3d6.
The game is further broken down into a variable number of pulses within a set number of seasons each year for 5 years, 1914-1919. Twice a year, both sides get a production phase where they must manage their resources in a way that still leaves them with resources to use during the turn along with producing enough materials to win the war effort. Each player receives a variable number of build points each turn influenced by the number of enemy cities they have captured. The North starts off with an obvious bonus here but the South isn’t all that far behind as they were in the first ACW. Plus the addition of Mexican, Canadian and possibly French + Japanese forces make victory well within the scope of the CSA.
The game features a fully developed, but not overly complex air/naval system. Air support in combat will reduce the number of dice thrown in combat and can be assigned to individual forces or based in cities. Naval combat is a major feature as any war in the states during this period would have likely included a fierce naval clash over blockades and trade. Naval units can be positioned around the map to support ground combat, provide supply, or to engage on raiding/bombardment missions on their own. All naval units have an Interception Range which allows players the chance to disrupt their opponent and initiate a naval combat, which essentially uses the classic “War at Sea” style mechanics to resolve combat quickly and realistically.
Finally, I’d like to discuss some of the changes I think are necessary in order to improve and streamline the game. First being right now, units (see first photo) display an Attack Strength, Defense Strength, and Maneuver Rating. The first 2 being fairly obvious, the latter being a Movement Allowance for exploitation after combat, along with unit designations loosely based on American Army and National Guard recruitment records from 1914-1919. I propose changing this to a simple Strength Point (SP) system with the same unit types. Other than Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery, you’d also include Tanks and Stormtroopers. Each of these unit types would have their own attributes that would be listed separately, but this will cut down on the amount of information a player needs to process outright and simplify combat calculations. Naval units will retain their 3 ratings which are firepower, defense threshold, and interception range.
Next, I’d like to add an economy of resources to the game. Infantry units would require some number of Grain hexes / points whereas cavalry/tank units would require Oil hexes etc. This creates a new layer of depth in terms of player strategy without adding to the complexity of the game. Decisions to move or reinforce certain areas over others will become more important than they are right now, especially given however a player wants to develop their strategy in terms of winning the war.
Another thing would be reducing, if not eliminating the ability of land units to react to enemy movement. As of now, there is a Zone of Influence (like in DAMOS) mechanic that allows stacks to react to one-another. I think this is ultimately too distracting and fatiguing for the bulk of the game. In testing with/without reactions the gameplay time went down dramatically so I am currently debating how to either limit or eliminate this mechanic in the interest of play-ability. I don’t really think it added enough to the game to warrant its inclusion overall.
The last thing I’m at least willing to discuss here is how supply/logistics currently work. I believe as of now there is a generous range of 3-4 hexes to a depot or railway to a supply source, I think this should maybe be drastically reduced to up to 2 hexes to either a depot or friendly controlled rail network (which would in turn lead to a supply source). First reason being that the scale of the game is gigantic, the way I had it before was frankly unrealistic in terms of what could have been possible. While US infrastructure was at this point as good if not better than that of in Europe, Americans were just as incompetent with organization as anyone else (minus the Germans). Unless a source of supply would have been close by, it easily could have gotten misdirected or end up somewhere where it shouldn’t be.
So now you probably have a better idea of what the game will look like. If you’d like a copy of the original rules and vassal module just ask, I’d rather not post it with so many ideas I want to change. Hope you are all doing well and healthy.