January 5, 2020

GCACW vmod Summary

An overview of the modules I've made for GCACW.

I've always taken a learn while doing approach. I wanted to learn how to make VASSAL modules so I started making modules based on a favorite game series.

The biggest playability down-side to the GCACW system is counter clutter. In the board game each combat unit almost always carries two markers (strength and fatigue) and can often carry several more (demoralized, out of supply, entrenched, and an attached leader).

When two-thirds (or more) of the counters on the board are status markers, maneuver planning is confusing and physical handling is cumbersome. So my solution was to create roster sheets to hold all these markers off the board where they are arrayed (unstacked) by unit and viewable at a glance. 

Aside: I lay claim to the invention of roster sheets back in the early 1990s: MS Word documents in three columns, with a 1 x 3 table for each combat unit to hold strength, fatigue, and one other marker. I would not play the boardgames without these rosters.

They are still found today as BGG file downloads using the same basic layout. My original roster for Cedar Mountain is still shown on the MMP website (clip at right).

First Generation Modules

All of the existing modules for GCACW go to great lengths trying to duplicate the marker handling of the board games. But why duplicate the biggest downside of the system? These modules specify that each unit must own its fatigue marker (which is ostensibly generic) in order for the automated recovery methods to work properly. The myriad of prototyping and triggering necessary to accomplish this just makes the module buggy, and the user experience frustrating if a game gets off track in its fatigue marker handling.

A Different Way

There are two Best Practices listed in the VASSAL 3.1 Designers Guide that apply here: 

  • Limit Automation
  • Leverage Programmatic Efficiencies

VASSAL has two features that are ideally suite to handle games with lots of status markers, i.e. Game-piece Layers and Dynamic Properties. My approach to the GCACW modules has been to replace each type of status marker with a Game-piece layer that is keyed to a Dynamic Property (leverage programmatic efficiencies). A side effect of this is to greatly simplify the Global Key Commands of the recovery phase vs existing modules (limiting automation).

These are my resulting no-markers modules, all using a common system of right-click menu commands for unit status layers:

Yes, I include Lee vs Grant in the GCACW series. It has all of the core design elements - zoomed out from division level to corps level. It is ideal for learning the basic system and you can play the whole campaign in a day.

Remaining Titles

All Green Alike: Not particularly interested in this as a campaign. I'd rather play Bull Run, which is actually a very solid Rich Hamblen design with bad box art. I don't own SJW2 so not having access to the campaign rules is an issue.

On to Richmond: Recently re-acquired this. Interested in the campaign, but not a fan of the map. The only available module uses low quality scans and possibly a patchwork image. When trying to overlay a hex grid you can't get alignment in all parts of the map.

There is a rumor that the next (and last) eastern theater GCACW game will combine OTR, GTC and a new Petersburg campaign. If that gets published in my lifetime, I'd make no-markers modules for all three. It would also be the first wargame ever to cover the Petersburg and Appomattox campaigns, too.

Stonewall in the Valley. Interested in the campaign but the three staggered maps of the campaign game are quite expansive for a VASSAL module. I've got a one in the works that will eventually see the light of day. Just a matter of applying the nuts and bolts of my other GCACW modules to another set of maps and counters.

Battle Above the Clouds and Atlanta is Ours: Not interested in the western theater.

January 2, 2020

vmod: 1812 Scorched Earth

Conflict Simulations Ltd is a new company (as of 2018) that sells print-to-order wargames designed in the tradition of SPI and GDW. Their games typically have 17 x 22 inch maps, compact rules, and fewer than 200 counters. Their WWII Russian front and North Africa trilogies have maps that can be combined into a micro-monster.

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December 16, 2019

vmods: Victory in the West

It started with an SPI subscriber feedback survey. The resulting game from SPI was Operation Typhoon (OT), and if you read just the first half of the designer's notes in OT you might think it turned out an unplayable mess.

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December 12, 2019

vmod: Fighting Sail

A minimalist module of less than 150 KB. Fighting Sail is Joe Balkoski's look at the age of sail, geared for ship duels and small fleet actions.

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December 11, 2019

vmod: The Kaiser's Battle

World War I's Battle of the Bulge in a solo-friendly game. Designed by Joseph Balkoski using an unusual, table-less combat resolution. Emphasis is on the various types of artillery barrage supporting the German infiltration tactics of Operation Michael in 1918.

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