Friday, May 30, 2014

How Metagaming Could Have Interwoven Their Games

(Apologies for the long delay in writing - I've been busy with taking classes and recently got a job, so I've been awfully busy. I will try to get a bunch of posts out over the next week or two, however)

A basic theme featured in a few proposed and realized Metagaming releases were sequel or parallel games. For example, Chitin: I was merely the tactical combat module for Hymenoptera, which was intended to be a grand level strategic game of insect warfare. WarpWar was intended to have two other follow-on games, WarpDuel and WarpLords (the former being a sort of one-on-one ship combat system, presumably with detail akin to that of, say, Starfleet Battles, and the latter likely a grand strategic level type of game). In the end, it was only The Fantasy Trip/Lords of Underearth/Dragons of Underearth,* OGRE/GEV, and Helltank/Helltank Destroyer that ever were made to work in this manner.

Note that while the Air Eaters series games were also along these lines, the two published games were not very closely integrated in terms of rules and scope, and really shared only the background (though in the context of the games it made perfect sense to do this).

However, there were a number of missed opportunities to expand on this basic idea. The most obvious concerns the games Rommel's Panzers and Stalin's Tanks. Though having the same designer, theme, and top level rules, the details are too different to allow interchangeability between the two sets, as both have different scales in terms of time, space, and the rating scale for firepower, armor protection and similar. While there were reasons for this, (outlined in the Designer's Notes article in Interplay No. 2) I think in the end a golden opportunity was missed.

Had the two games been designed to have the same scales and thus be "interchangeable" not only would one be able to take units from one and use them in the other (useful since M3 Grant tanks did see use on the Eastern Front as part of Lend Lease, and conversely Tiger tanks made an appearance in North Africa late in the campaign) but also the games could form a sort of sequence, with Rommel's Panzers being an introductory module that teaches the basics of the combat system, and Stalin's Tanks expanding upon this by adding infantry rules, and so forth, which could be used for expanded scenarios in the first game. The interaction between the two would have created a sum greater than the total of the parts.

Such an approach could have been expanded much further. At minimum a third game would have been called for, that would add rules such as Air Strikes, AAA, supply shortages, mechanical breakdowns, and so forth, thus allowing for a complete tactical simulation at all levels, with more advanced rules that, again, could be tied back into scenarios for the earlier games. As an aside, I would suggest this third module be called Patton's Armor, covering the battles in northwest Europe from 1944-45, providing rules for Sherman tanks, M-10 Tank destroyers, and maybe even prototype or early production vehicles such as the Pershing, Maus, Panther F, and so forth.

Other modules could have been released for all years and theatres of the war. A Pacific War module could have been “Tojo’s Samurai” while an early war one might have been “Guderian’s Blitzkrieg”, each adding rules, vehicles, and scenarios. For example, in addition to introducing Japanese tanks, Tojo’s Samurai would also provide rules for offshore naval bombardment, amphibious assault, “Banzai” charges, and so forth, while Guderian's Blitzkrieg could have provided units and scenarios for the invasions of Poland and France in 1939-40.

But perhaps the biggest “missed opportunity” has to do with some of the other rules sets that Metagaming put out, or at least proposed to put out, such as Hitler’s War (MetaHistory #1, above), Command at Sea (MetaHistory #3, above) and Iwo Jima (never released). The idea being that perhaps these varying tactical and strategic simulation levels of games could have been linked in some fashion to allow moves in the higher level game to be played out at a lower level, with the actual combat results “fed back into” the higher level game. For example, at the highest level, two “grand generals” using the Hitler’s War rules could move forces into and attack a given hex. The forces used are then fed to multiple folks at the division/corps level, who use their separate rules set (such as Iwo Jima) and smaller scale regional maps to conduct moves and notate conflicts, which are then transmitted to still lower levels, until finally the actual combat is resolved through several wargaming clubs at the tactical Stalin’s Tanks or Command at Sea level. Realistically, of course, going down more than one level is probably going to be impractical, and even just one level involves a fair amount of bookkeeping, but there is no reason that the games could not be designed for that very sort of play. Think of the possibilities such an approach would have opened up!

Another possibility involves some of the less well received offerings; Dimension Demons comes to mind. Suppose this game had been rewritten to be linked as a squad level game to Starleader: Assault! Granted DD would have required some expansion to work in this capacity, and it would have helped further had my observations here been considered and implemented, but it would have enhanced both games and been well worth it.

As can be seen particularly with the possibilities inherent with Rommel's Panzers and Stalin's Tanks the ability to expand in a wide range of directions becomes obvious, a fact that Steve Jackson took to heart with all his published world books for GURPS. It is to be noted, though, that the idea to do that seems to have originated with Metagaming - in Interplay campaign books were solicited for various historical cultures for The Fantasy Trip, though in the event nothing came of it. Too bad - it would all have been GLORIOUS!

* Had Conquerors of Underearth been released, it too would have been part of this grouping