Author Topic: Platoon Command Design Diary  (Read 4216 times)

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Offline skirmish_tactics

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Platoon Command Design Diary
« on: May 12, 2016, 04:21:51 PM »
Greetings all. Sometime soon (an official street date hasn't been set yet), Lock n Load will be releasing a game I designed called Platoon Command. I thought it would be a good idea to start posting a design diary to show off some of the background info, design decisions, art, and more for the game. If you have any questions about the game, please feel free to ask here.


In 2014 I moved from the US to the UK. Just before the move, I started brainstorming the idea of combining elements of deck-building card games with the spatial elements of a board game. I knew I wanted the game to be a skirmish-level game, with the cards tied directly to counters on the board, but I wasn't sure what the exact theme would be. While I was working through some of the initial mechanical concepts, I went on my first vacation after the move - a visit to Normandy. My first stop was Omaha Beach, where my grandfather landed on D-Day +4 with the 30th Infantry Division (ID). Instantly I had my theme. The game would focus on the exploits of individual rifle platoons within the 30th ID as they made their way through France.


My son and me and Omaha Beach.


My grandfather

The 30th Infantry Division arrived in England in February 1944 and trained until June. It began landing at Omaha Beach, Normandy on June 11, secured the Vire-et-Taute Canal by June 16, crossed the Vire River on July 7, and spearheaded the Saint-Lτ break-through of Operation Cobra on July 25. The 30th relieved the 1st Infantry Division near Mortain on August 6, the same day Germany launched a massive counterattack called Operation Lόttich. From August 7 – 12, the 30th clashed with elite SS Divisions around Mortain, frustrating enemy plans and breaking the spearhead of their assault.

Game Overview
In Platoon Command you take the role of a platoon leader in the 30th Infantry Division, guiding your platoon into combat in order to capture critical battlefield objectives. Platoon Command is a quick-playing game that uses cards for combat, command and control, fog of war, and attrition. The goal is to gain Objective Points by controlling areas of the battlefield. You accomplish this by issuing orders to your command group, three rifle squads, and specialized personnel.

Upcoming Posts
• Part 2: Modeling the Rifle Platoon
• Part 3: Command Cards
• Part 4: Combat Cards (Riflemen, Scouts, Machine Gunners)
• Part 5: Combat Cards (Sniper, Mortar)
• Part 6: From Design to Development
• Part 7: The Campaign

Offline Ubercat

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Re: Platoon Command Design Diary
« Reply #1 on: May 13, 2016, 10:17:46 AM »
Sounds like something that's definitely worth keeping an eye on.

It looks like a younger Matt Damon would have been perfect to play your father in a movie!

I don't know if you're looking for suggestions, but I'd go with feldgrau color for the Germans. If/when I finally get heavily into ASL, it will be an adjustment playing with the blue Wermacht forces. They look like they're all either poorly trained Luftwaffe troops or else elite Fallschirmsjager!
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Offline skirmish_tactics

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Re: Platoon Command Design Diary
« Reply #2 on: May 13, 2016, 02:17:11 PM »
Thanks for the interest, Ubercat. I'll talk to the good folks at Lock n Load, but it's almost certainly too late at this point to change the color of the German counters. I gave my final approval to the graphic design of the counters not long ago.  Regardless, I'll ping them with the idea.

Offline skirmish_tactics

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Re: Platoon Command Design Diary
« Reply #3 on: May 13, 2016, 02:25:12 PM »
Part 2 – Modeling the Rifle Platoon

Platoon Command is a thematic abstraction of skirmish-level engagements following the Allied invasion of occupied France in WW II. To that end, a core part of the game is modeling gameplay around the rifle platoon construct. The US rifle platoon model from June 1944 was used as a reference. German rifle platoons follow the same composition as the US model, which was due to two factors: inconsistency in the composition of German rifle platoons during this period and a preference for gamplay over historical accuracy.

Rifle Platoon
The rifle platoon consists of a command group and three rifle squads.



Command Group
The command group consists of the platoon leader, platoon sergeant, platoon guide, and two messengers.



• Note: Platoon Command does not include representations of the command group's two messengers. That is because the primary role of the messengers is to allow for communication between the platoon leader and his upper echelon commander in the rifle company. Interaction with the rifle company is beyond the scope of action in Platoon Command.

Rifle Squad
Each of the rifle platoon's three rifle squads consists of a squad leader, an assistant squad leader, an automatic rifle team (automatic rifleman, assistant automatic rifleman, and ammunition bearer), and seven riflemen, two of whom are designated as scouts.



• Note: Platoon Command does not include an antitank grenadier with an M1903 and M1 grenade launcher, as antitank combat is beyond the scope of action in Platoon Command.


Platoon Command models the Rifle Platoon by providing US and German players with decks of command and combat cards. The cards will be covered in depth in later posts. However, it is worth noting that the cards are not designed to reflect a 1:1 correlation to men in the rifle platoon. For example, the three Scout cards in Squad A exceed the number of actual scouts (2) in the squad. Instead, the cards serve as a high-level abstraction of the efficacy of each element of the rifle platoon.

List of card breakdown in the decks:

Command (5)
• Platoon Sergeant (1)
• Platoon Guide (1)
• Squad Leader - Squad A (1)
• Squad Leader - Squad B (1)
• Squad Leader - Squad C (1)

Combat (39)
• Mortar (3)
• Sniper (3)
• Scouts - Squad A (3)
• Scouts - Squad B (3)
• Scouts - Squad C (3)
• Riflemen - Squad A (5)
• Riflemen - Squad B (5)
• Riflemen - Squad C (5)
• Machine Gunners - Squad A (3)
• Machine Gunners - Squad B (3)
• Machine Gunners - Squad C (3)


In the next post I'll talk about the command cards in greater depth.

Offline Ubercat

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Re: Platoon Command Design Diary
« Reply #4 on: May 13, 2016, 07:40:17 PM »
Thanks for the interest, Ubercat. I'll talk to the good folks at Lock n Load, but it's almost certainly too late at this point to change the color of the German counters. I gave my final approval to the graphic design of the counters not long ago.  Regardless, I'll ping them with the idea.

I hope it works out. They already have feldgrau Wermacht troops in Lock 'n Load Tactical as well as pale blue Fallschirmjager in the same game. It's weird that they varied from that standard for your design.

Edit: For wider exposure, you may want to join The Game Box as well. They're not as big as Grogheads, but they focus more on board wargames than GH does. There are several of us who are members of both forums.

2nd edit! :) : My grandfather was in the USN and served on the New Jersey BB62, in WW2 and Korea. Like yours, he had movie star good looks. They could have used him to model for recruiting posters!
« Last Edit: May 13, 2016, 07:54:17 PM by Ubercat »
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Offline GJK

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Re: Platoon Command Design Diary
« Reply #5 on: May 13, 2016, 11:42:58 PM »
If/when I finally get heavily into ASL....<snip>


It will consume you.  Feel the force young Jedi! 


I've been playing a TON of ASL lately (every weekend).  You just can't beat it...so awesome.


More on topic- good luck to the platoon level skirmish card game.  Hope that it works out for you!
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Offline skirmish_tactics

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Re: Platoon Command Design Diary
« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2016, 02:27:16 PM »
Part 3 – Command Cards

Command Cards represent members of the platoon command group as well as the squad leaders for each of the three squads. Command cards are not used in direct combat. Instead, they are responsible for command, control, communications, and support. Command Cards share the same attributes as Combat Cards, but they do not have associated combat counters on the board.

Each Command Card offers a player a choice of two actions. One of these actions — Bolster Force — allows players to add extra Combat Cards (e.g. Scouts, Machine Gunners, Snipers) to their deck, either supporting existing units or adding new ones. Managing the cards in your deck lies at the heart of Platoon Command.

Platoon Leader

Quote
The platoon leader is the first fighting man of the platoon. He is responsible for the training, discipline, control, and tactical employment of the platoon. (FM 7-10, par. 101a.)

Because the players take on the role of the platoon leader, there is no platoon leader card. Rather, the platoon leader's actions are reflected by the gameplay choices made by each player.

Platoon Sergeant

Quote
The platoon sergeant is second-in-command. He assists the platoon leader in controlling the direction and rate of movement of the advance. During all operations he takes post as directed by the platoon leader so as best to assist in the control of the platoon. (FM 7-10, par. 101b.)

The Platoon Sergeant is the single most powerful card in Platoon Command. The Platoon Sergeant allows a player to either add 3 Combat Cards to their deck (Bolster Force 3) or to take additional actions by drawing and using the top 2 cards from their deck (Command 2).



Platoon Guide
Quote
The platoon guide prevents straggling and enforces orders concerning cover, concealment, and discipline. His position is usually in rear of the platoon, where he observes the situation on the flanks and the rear. (FM 7-10, par. 101c.)

The Guide is an extremely versatile member of the Platoon, allowing a player to add an additional Combat Card to their deck (Bolster Force 1) or to take an additional move action with any unit (Guide).

Squad Leaders

Quote
The squad leader is responsible for the discipline, appearance, training, control, and conduct of his squad. He leads it in combat. The squad leader must train his squad to use and care for its weapons, to move and fight efficiently as individuals, and function effectively as a part of the military team. (FM 7-10, par. 134a.)

While critical to the success of the platoon, Squad Leaders are less versatile than the Platoon Sergeant and the Guide. They can be used to add new cards (Bolster Force) or perform additional actions (Inspire), but only for the units in their Squad.


Offline bayonetbrant

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Re: Platoon Command Design Diary
« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2016, 03:05:37 PM »
that's a dirty-looking squad leader ;)
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Offline Crossroads

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Re: Platoon Command Design Diary
« Reply #8 on: May 20, 2016, 10:17:16 AM »
Following this with a great interest. Thanks for posting here and keeping us up to date how it all pans out!  O0
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Offline skirmish_tactics

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Re: Platoon Command Design Diary
« Reply #9 on: May 21, 2016, 02:53:14 AM »
Thanks for the interest. Let me know if you have any questions about the game.

Offline skirmish_tactics

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Re: Platoon Command Design Diary
« Reply #10 on: May 21, 2016, 02:57:04 AM »
Part 4 – Combat Cards

Each Combat Card is associated with a counter on the board, representing an element the platoon. Combat Cards are used to move these counters, attack with them, or perform other special actions. In this entry, we cover the three core teams elements of the platoon – Riflemen, Scouts, and Machine Gunners.

Riflemen

Riflemen are the core of the rifle platoon. In Platoon Command, this pivotal role is encapsulated in the Rifleman's Control Objective action, which no other unit possesses. This action is used to claim control of objectives on the battlefield, the core goal of the game.


US Squad B Riflemen token


Scouts

Quote
A leading platoon covers its zone of reconnaissance with scouts. They act as a screen to investigate possible danger areas, seek out the enemy, and prevent surprise hostile fire. The distance the scouts precede the platoon is governed by orders of the platoon leader and varies with the ground and with the probable position of the enemy. (FM 7-10, pars. 106f and 142d.)

Scouts play a pivotal role in the platoon's advancement across the battlefield. Each tile must be explored with the Scout action before it can be entered by other units. However, with each newly scouted tile, a player must add a Fog of War card to their deck, reducing the efficiency of their platoon. The Scout's Recon action can be used to remove these Fog of War cards, but at the cost of slowing down the advancement of the platoon.


US Squad A Scout card


Machine Gunner
Quote
The automatic rifleman supports the rapid advance of other members of the squad from flank positions. (FM 7-10, pars. 144b.) The assistant automatic rifleman and the ammunition bearer also carry ammunition for the automatic rifle. (FM 7-10, pars. 139a.)

The Machine Gunners' Suppressive Fire action can be used to neutralize a key opposing unit before it has the chance to act. Other units in the platoon can then seize this opportunity to advance or attack, free from interference. Machine Gunners are also more effective in combat than both Scouts and Riflemen. They roll two dice instead of one, doubling their chances of successfully hitting an opposing unit (Attack 2 vs. Attack 1).


US Squad B Machine Gunners token

Offline skirmish_tactics

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Re: Platoon Command Design Diary
« Reply #11 on: May 21, 2016, 06:23:22 PM »
I realized that it's probably a good idea to post what the game looks like for those who didn't get a chance to playtest the prototype.

Huge caveats: These are screen grabs from Tabletop Simulator, which is what I use to playtest the game online. Also, the graphics are the in-work prototype graphics from Lock N Load, so they are not final and include stuff like bleed areas, etc.










Offline skirmish_tactics

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Re: Platoon Command Design Diary
« Reply #12 on: May 26, 2016, 03:17:27 PM »
Part 5 - Combat Cards (Sniper and Mortar)

In this post, we continue our discussion about combat cards. Now, however, we turn our attention beyond the core elements of the rifle platoon and expand the discussion to snipers and mortars.

Sniper

Quote
A sniper is an expert rifleman, well qualified in scouting, whose duty is to pick off key enemy personnel who expose themselves. By eliminating enemy leaders and harassing the troops, sniping softens the enemy's resistance and weakens his morale. Snipers may be employed by platoon leaders in either offense or defense. The mobile snipers act alone, moves about frequently, and covers a large but not necessarily fixed area. He may be used to infiltrate enemy lines and seek out and destroy appropriate targets. (FM 21-75, par. 165.)

Note: Typically one sniper rifle (either the M1903A4 or M1C by mid-1944) was issued per rifle platoon.

The Sniper does not have any unique actions in the game. Instead, the Sniper benefits from the highest Attack ability (Attack 3) and the best Defense in the game. Players seldom begin scenarios with Snipers in their starting deck. Usually players use their Platoon Sergeant to Bolster the platoon with Snipers.

Mortar

Quote
In the approach march, a 60-mm mortar squad frequently is attached to a leading platoon. This not only provides additional fire power, but enables the platoon leader immediately to engage defiladed targets, or small areas believed to contain the enemy. (FM 7-10, par. 12d(3).)

Note: The Mortar is the only element included in Platoon Command that is not organic to a rifle platoon. Instead, Platoon Command includes the abstraction of a mortar squad from the rifle company's weapons platoon attached to the rifle platoon.

The mortar uses a unique attack mechanism in Platoon Command. Rather than targeting a specific counter, the Mortar targets an entire area. Any counters in the area – including allies – are targeted. To execute an attack, the Mortar must first designate a target area with the Target action. The Mortar can then attack the designated area with a Lethal Blast action.


Offline skirmish_tactics

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Re: Platoon Command Design Diary
« Reply #13 on: May 30, 2016, 04:11:14 AM »
Part 6 – From Design to Development

By late 2014, I had completed the initial design for Platoon Command and had prepared a sell sheet in preparation for pitching the game to potential publishers. I posted the sell sheet on Board Game Geek and asked for feedback. Brant Guillory ("Bayonetbrant") noticed the sell sheet and posted it in the "Intel Dump" thread here on Grogheads (as a matter of fact, it was the first ever post in the Intel Dump thread). Thanks to Brant's post, David Heath at Lock N Load noticed the sell sheet and reached out to me. By December 2014, the contract for Platoon Command was set, the initial design work was complete, but there was a ton more work to do.

I had already conceived the campaign arc for the game (the 30th ID's actions in France following D-Day). I had also sketched out some ideas for the first few scenarios. But to properly develop the scenarios and ensure the game was solid, I needed two things: a dedicated blind playtest community and a developer.

The blind playtest community emerged primarily from two places: Board Game Geek (where I continue to post about the initial design of the game) and on a dedicated playtest page that I created on my website. Blind playtest reports began pouring in. Although some contained feedback on the core of the game, most of the reports provided invaluable insight about the scenarios that were being developed.

At the same time I reached out to Trevor Benjamin (the designer of Dice Heist). He and I had collaborated on other projects and developed a great relationship. It also helped that we were both part of a game designer and playtest meetup in Cambridge. While I thought the majority of our effort would be solely dedicated to scenario development, Trevor brought with him a fresh perspective and fantastic ideas for improvements to the core of the game. So it's perhaps best if he picks up the story here...

Offline skirmish_tactics

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Re: Platoon Command Design Diary
« Reply #14 on: June 25, 2016, 05:37:43 AM »
(From Trevor Benjamin, co-designer/developer)

Part 7 - Development

David was kind enough to credit me as a co-designer, but the bulk of my work on Platoon Command was developing and testing scenarios. That being said, in the course of that process, we uncovered a few problems in the core of the game that needed addressing. Here are some examples.

Fog of War: When you scout a new area on the map, you must add a Fog of War card to your deck. This gunks up your deck, making it less efficient. In the original system, the core actions in the game offered no way of removing Fog of War cards from your deck. There was a special Command Card (the Guide I believe) who could do it, but you first had to recruit him into your deck, assuming he was even available in the scenario you were playing. What this meant was that players' decks got unwieldy as the game progressed, slowing things down considerably. Our solution was to give the Scout a core action (Recon) which removed Fog of War. Not only did this fix the problem, it made sense thematically and it set up a nice tension between advancing your scouts and using them to thin out your deck.

Control Objective:
When a Rifleman controls an objective, the card used to perform this action is removed from your deck. This simulates the resources the unit spends solidifying and defending the new location. In the final version of the game, the lost card is placed back into the supply. In the original system, it was removed from the game instead. This caused problems in the end game. As tiles were controlled, lost and recontrolled, players were burning through their supply of Riflemen cards, and so unable to secure enough control points to win. Far more often than we liked, games were were ending in attrition Shifting the destination of the lost card (from out of game to the supply) addressed this nicely.

Snipers and Mortars: There are no differential card costs in Platoon Command. The Bolster Force action can be used to add any Combat Card to your deck. This is an extremely lean and intuitive system, but it comes at a cost. If the cards aren't extremely balanced, those which are overpowered become instant buys. We struggled with this at various points in the game's development, but probably no more than with the Sniper and the Mortar. Originally, these units were much more powerful than they are now. The Sniper had an even stronger attack and the Mortar did not need to "target" a space before attacking. To compensate for this, the Sniper and Mortar had only one card each. So they appeared infrequently, but were extremely potent when they did. The problem, though, is that they were (pretty much) instant buys. Players would grab these cards at the first opportunity, leading to rote openings ("I'll use my Platoon Sergeant to grab the Mortar and the Sniper"...). The solution was to nerf their power but increase the number of cards available for each. In other words, to bring them more in line with the other units in the game.

I am extremely happy that David gave me the opportunity to get involved in Platoon Command. A few years ago, I played around with a deck building war game myself. The game failed, but I knew there was something there. Deckbuilding, I felt, provided an elegant mechanic for both controlling units and for allowing players to customise their army in game. I believe the system David has created in Platoon Command delivers on this promise. And I hope you think so too!