BWS (2012) – Command Points and “Act Of Valor”

Command Points

In the original BWS, I used Action Points as the mechanic to give motion to your units. You started off with 10 AP per unit and you spent these in your turn to move, shoot and perform other skilled actions (ex. set and detonate an explosive charge). This provides precise control over your units, but it also slows the game down and makes for lots of mostly meaningless decisions.

For the redesign, I want to broaden the scope of these points to something I’m initially calling Command Points. I like this terminology because it implies that you are commanding the troops yourself. You should feel like you are in the game as well, watching your troops die as you make bad decisions.

Command Points will include actions that your units can perform, but also will be used to control other parts of the game. For example, command points can be spent to regain initiative in a bidding manner. They are also used to “buy” new units, “mod” existing units, and to start battles. Each player will have 5 CPs to spend during their turn on any of the following actions:

+ Move a unit from one Zone to an adjacent Zone (1 CP)
+ Use a unit skill in a Zone (1 CP…maybe this depends on the level of difficulty and the skill being performed)
+ Create a new unit in your deployment Zone (1 CP)
+ Add a mod to an existing unit (1 CP)
+ Add a mod to an existing Zone (1 CP)
+ Create a new Zone (3 CP)
+ Start a battle in a Zone (3 CP)

We’ve already talked some about unit movement and we’ll talk about the others in future blog entries. There are some design challenges to be overcome with using Command Points this way, but I think it will give the kind of kinetic action I want to portray on the battlefield.

“Act Of Valor”

I saw “Act Of Valor” at the movies yesterday and think it has a lot to offer on the BWS design. I’m not a movie reviewer, but I’ll go so far as to say this is not a great movie, but the action scenes are some of the best I have ever seen. The acting and dialog was really poor though and found myself just waiting for the next conflict. Luckily for me, these came pretty quickly. That’s all I’ll say about the quality of the movie in this blog.

Man, but those action scenes were intense! Similar to the post about the action scene in “REAMDE” where I broke it down to see what would help my game design, I want to do the same with the first action scene in this movie.

We have a hostage rescue for the Navy SEAL teams as the first real extended action scene. The SEAL objective is to rescue the hostage and get to the extraction point. The terrorist objective is to extract some information from the hostage. They are unaware that the SEALs are coming, but their camp is well guarded.

A SEAL team paradrops into their deployment zone about 4km from the enemy. They march quietly to within view of the camp and do recon to confirm the threat. The team breaks up into smaller groups. The leader and sniper form one unit a good distance away from the camp. From there, they can direct the others on the move and the sniper is in a good position to fire.

The other team sneaks across a river to the camp in that really freaky/cool way that SEALs do (emerging silently like ghosts from still water). Things go a little sideways of the plan as they are trying to wait for confirmation on their extract team, but hear a scream inside the hostile camp. So, they step up the assault sooner than they planned.

The enemy are still unaware as the assault begins and the SEAL team takes out a few of the outside hostiles before the enemy are alerted of their presence. The sniper takes out most of the outside forces on the perimeter before the assault team enters the camp, but he cannot help other than to cover the outside while they are inside. The sniper takes care of any enemy that comes out of the compound.

The assault team takes over, entering the camp and going from building to building. This is standard room to room clearing tactics. They find the hostage and take out most of the enemy. Then they are hard pressed to escape as hostile reinforcements are sighting coming in fast.

Next comes a long chase where the SEALs are being persued by the hostiles in trucks. This is not interesting in an of itself, really, but what is neat is that the SEALs keep missing their extract zones. Their extract is two assault boats coming down the river for them to take them out of the hot zone. The boats and the trucks are trying to meet up, but the enemy pursuit is hampering this activity.

Finally, in this amazing cool scene, the truck and boats meet up (I really won’t give anything here…you just have to watch it, it’s a fantastic scene) and fire a lot of high-calibre rounds at the enemy. The boats take off with the SEALs for an overall victory.

That’s a very simple overview of the action, but hits the points I want to cover in terms of game design.

Awareness – Again we have awareness as an important element. The SEALs are trying to stay undetected for as long as possible. If they are careful, they can be unseen for a long time, but there is a chance that something bad will happen (like maybe they rolled a “1” and made a sound that gave them away) or when they open up firing they will definitely be heard. In the game design, we will have units able to sneak into a zone and remain undetected until they shoot or do something to reveal themselves. A unit that is unaware will always have a disadvantage.

Improvisation – There are moments where the squad leader (portrayed by you in this game) has to improvise. Even with all the planning, things go askew during battle. While following a path, a new path opens to the side and they might decide to take that one. It was not shown before it was needed, but when noticed a split second decision takes the team on the new path.

In game terms, this is what I am trying to do with “mods” to units and Zones, and also by allowing new zones to be created. Say that you have units in one zone and are trying to get to the other side of the battlefield. Lots of enemy sit in the next adjacent zone between you and your objective. Maybe you spend 3 CP to create a new Zone, something just now noticed, but one that makes sense in terms of the field of battle. You might create a Zone called “sewers” going from one city block to another that cuts out walking through an enemy infested street.

Splitting the squad – We see a large team enter the deployment Zone, but that team breaks down into smaller elements when they assault the enemy. In other wargames, you would define all elements that are in the battle and then take actions (moving and assaulting) with each. With this game you can create one unit which is the larger team and take actions with this unit. When you need to, you can spend a CP or two to split off an element from this group. Now you have two units in the Zone. Further elements can be split off of these as you have points to spend, but with only a limited number of CP and the fact that you need to use them to activate the units, you can only do so much per turn.

Firefights are brutal – I think Act of Valor tried to be as realistic as possible in these firefights. You do not shrug off getting hit by a bullet. Typically an shot which hits either kills or effectively takes the unit out of the battle. I’m not sure if I want combat to be that fatal in this game as it will cause challenges for some of my other design ideas, but it’s something to note. Even the extremely well trained SEALs can be taken out.

Chaos of battle – When soldiers burst into a new room to clear it, there is this moment where they have to take everything in and process. Are there any targets? Are any of the targets friendly? Is there anything I should not shoot (like explosive materials)? For SEALs, this process doesn’t take long, but it’s still a factor. If you are waiting for someone to burst through a door, you just start shooting when they do. If you are the one breaking in, you have to be a bit more careful. Maybe units entering a new zone are at a very slight disadvantage while they process the scene.

Zones – There is not a lot to process from this scene in terms of Zones and how they work except for the chase towards the end. One way to model this is to have multiple Zones (and maybe possible branches) and take actions to move from zone to zone and shoot at each other if you have an CP left to do so. Another way might be to make the chase just one very abstract zone and resolve via conflict rules. I’m not sure about that yet.

Relationships – All of the SEALs are close to each other. That comes from training together and saving each other on the battlefield. They have to trust each other. Two characters in particular are focused on as being close friends. This comes into play in the movie with some of the decisions that each has to make on the battlefield. More than that, it gives the viewer more emotional buy in. You care, just a little bit more if one of those characters dies. I want that kind of emotional buy in. Maybe not every character has a relationship as I don’t want some huge relationship map, but some important characters do. These would be positive and negative relationships with other friendly units (“my best friend”) with enemy units (“my brother is my enemy”) and Zones (“Sergeant was killed here!”). I’m not sure how if and how we will represent this yet, it’s just percolating now.

Timers – Again like “REAMDE”, there are timers. In this action scene we have a timer for the SEALs to rescue the hostage before she is tortured to death or gives up important info. There is also some complex timing going on with the extraction. These timers make the armies have to make decisions on when to react. Timers sometimes cause them to make mistakes. Basically…I love them. Still not sure how we’ll use them yet. Maybe we define some timers initially, allow others to be set via CP and allow the timer itself to be sped up or slowed via other CPs spent.

So, lots to process from “Act Of Valor” and I’ve only discussed the first action scene of the five major “Acts”. Our first playtest to see how everything works so far will use this scene from the movie as it’s basis to test some of the mechanics. This will┬ábe ready in a week or so.

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