BARBARIANS AT THE GATE
Undated July 2002
I'd like to run a few ieas past you to try and break the deadlock that exists in the Barbarians at the Gate game. Some (or all) of these ideas might be impractical (or even downright dumb) but hopefully it will give everyone some food for thought as to how best to develop the game in future.
1. COMBAT EFFECTIVENESS
Due to their reliance on large formations of heavily armed/armoured infantry, Roman armies suffer suffer one additional loss during each battle round (both attack and defence) when fighting in "broken" terrain (uplands, woodlands, wetlands and mountains). For the same reasons, they inflict one extra loss in each round when fighting in "open" terrain (lowlands and plains).
2. CAVALRY ARMIES
All non-Roman kingdoms can convert standard armies to cavalry (cost 1 BP, working the same as the viking LAND action). All armies in an area would be converted. Cavalry armies would not be stuck when moving into difficult terrain (wooldans, wetlands, mountains). Cavalry would inflict one extra loss each round in atack, but suffer one extra loss in defence. Mixed forces would suffer losses from cavlary first. There would probably need to be separate ations so as to move cavalry and infantry separately.
The Huns would be all cavalry, all the time. All other cavarly armies would convert back to infantry prior on disbanding or dispersing or at the end of the turn (but not sooner, so as to prevent cavalry being used to place infantry in places they otherwise couldn't reach).
Romans may use the BUILD action in lowlands, uplands and plains to build roads (at the usual cost of 10 BPs). Roads would generate trade income in the same way as trade levels in cities and be treated the same when the area is captured, but they wouldn't generate income in raiding/pillaging. Movement into an area containing roads would be free, but they'd add to the maintenance cost (so the clculation becomes Armies+Forts+Roads-Pop).
The building of roads is is designed to encourage those Roman commanders not in direct contact with the barbarians to "bankroll" those who are, while encouraging the infighting that was common among Roman generals as they become jealous of the military/economic strengths of the others.
23rd August 2002
I think the idea that there's a stalemate in the current game is wrong. There's been a few turns with little activity, but the situation is completely unstable. It will not be long before the Romans start to fight amongst themselves. The Germans have had little impact because the players made little effort. When they did anything, it was to fight amongst themselves, and even when one of the Roman commanders over-reached himself and lost his army it was another Roman that took advantage. In Barbarians at the Gate, alliances are not optional.
The next game might be completely different if the German kingdoms work together and get stuck in.
There are several different ways of keeping track of different army types on the map and moving them around together. One is the system used in Spaceplan II, which has proved quite complex and expensive to operate (there's an extra box for each action, to say which ship type it refers to, along with options for ordering different combinations of ships together). Another is the one that will be tried in Napoleonic Empires where mobile forces will be separate from "garrison" forces, and orders to move or attack always apply to all the mobile forces. But that's the module that Napoleonic Empires is held up waiting for. It means taking away a lot of the simplicity.
I like the idea of introducing different army types as national characteristics or options for each kingdom. Or by using different actions. The options really should cover heavy cavalry as well as heavy infantry, as the later Roman armies were based around a combination and heavy and light cavalry. Using cavalry to get around the difficult terrain is a bit dubious, as cavalry is usually less effective in terrain and most useful in the open. You don't normally use cavalry in mountains and forests.
My feeling is that the point of light cavalry is to skirmish: to hit and run and be disruptive and never be around to be forced to a decisive battle. Heavy cavalry is what you use for decisive battles. Light cavalry (horse archers, especially) should be able to inflict losses before retreating, and disrupt movement by making opposing armies sticky. There could be a simple rule with an initial cavarly skirmish round (before deciding retreats). An army that loses the skirmish round gets to be sticky. Cavalry gets to run away from infantry at will, but infantry doesn't get to retreat from cavalry.
The ability of cavalry to strike over longer distances is probably more a consequence of greater speed and better endurance. In a game like Barbarians I think this means having them less liable to dispersal, but it's difficult to do that when existing armies disperse very little anyway. But diserpsal is another possible outcome for battles that we've never really used (in the real world you don't have to kill opposing troops - just break up their formations and scatter them). If we add a distinction between infantry and cavalry then we probably want to have the infantry disperse more (especially in multiple moves) and cavalry less.
Rather than changing loss rates and adding bonus stengths etc, which make the battle routines and reports more complicated, I'd prefer to use things like dispersals, supply costs, stickiness, extra actions and extra defence modes to distinguish between different troop types. These affect the outcome of battles indirectly, by influencing how many troops get onto the battlefield, or how much it costs to get them there, without making the battles and battle reports more dificult to follow.
A very simple and workable rule would be to vary the dispersal and supply costs between different army types and terrain, according to the different nations. Experimenting with defence modes is already on the current work list for Spaceplan, although I don't think that's going to be something I'll be working on very soon.
A way of mixing different unit types for a kingdom, if the main type is decided by nationality, might be if the household is a different type to the forces on the map. And it probably wouldn't be too difficult to add a second household-type unit that would be specifically cavalry, that could be used in attacks as well as in defence. Or maybe instead. That'd match up well with later periods, when the "companion" cavalry would be mounted knights (and the rest would be the PBI).
I'm not keen on the roads idea. In early versions of Dark Age you could build anywhere, and no-one did anything until they'd built everywhere. This makes for a longer game, but a dull one, which is the opposite of what you're hoping for. At present the Romans get a fair chunk of their income through their alliances: it already pays to support your ally. I know a feature that would be popular (in this and other games) would be if it was possible to loan armies, and I can see how to make that work and be worthwhile. But I've never had time to put it into practice.