Scenario Design

Over recent years I worked on the development of a Scenario Generation System for use with the Spearhead and Modern Spearhead rules. Interestingly there still seems to be some perceptions on what the aims of the system are. I therefore thought a short post may be of interest to those people that have heard about the Modern Spearhead Scenario Generation System but who do not understand the background.

Modern Spearhead is a rules systems that is designed for scenario based play. That is, players are encouraged to play scenarios where a certain tactical situation is outlined and players then allocate their resources to achieve the outcome. In the Modern Spearhead rule book three scenarios are outlined. This concept is very different to rule systems that are designed to produce evenly balanced games for competitions, often found for example in the Ancient period.

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When I began playing Modern Spearhead I almost immediately found myself developing scenarios for my games. In part as I could not fall back on a published scenario books, as there were none for Modern Spearhead. In addition I did not have an experienced Modern Spearhead non-playing umpire, indeed I was often both organiser and one of the players.  As a result I found myself developing scenarios and playing. Frustratingly this meant that I had significant knowledge of the forces available and therefore there were few surprises for me.

A good scenario should provide challenges to the participants. It need not be perfectly balanced, as individual player ability will impact scenario balance, but both players should have a number of decisions to make where poor ones will result in defeat and good ones success. Therefore to provide an interesting game, and to model a military training exercise, a scenario should have a degree of balance. Further, just as actual commanders do not have a full understanding of the enemy composition, or its dispositions, neither should a wargamer. Further, wargame scenarios should have a basis on historical situations, much as military training operations do, or likely operational siuations. Not surprisingly I tried to model aspects of my study of historical engagements into the scenarios I was developing.

Interestingly, I soon realised that the scenarios I was developing were based on a formula. Indeed, if you look at the scenarios on this site you will see some of these formulas in action. As an example the defender is typically tasked with covering a number of objectives with a limited force. The attacker will have a number of possible avenues he can approach these objectives from. His forces will be limited, though he may have an ability to concentrate his forces. Victory conditions where defined in each of my scenarios, but often they too had a degree of similarity, another formula.

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So why did I use a formula? Well firstly it was not a deliberate action on my part, but rather I was nervous I would put together a “poor” scenario and as a result provide an uninteresting game for my opponent. Of course I tried to introduce variety, as without this the tactical problems would become limited. But it was always a balancing act.

Once I realised I was following a formula it occurred to me that I may be able to formalise the process. If I could, I could perhaps build a scenario on the fly. As I explored this one of the interesting aspects was the increased variety I found in the scenarios produced. Indeed an early success was developing the battlefield, such as the one below. Rather than the battlefield being limited to my own “restrictive” mind I had two players working together to produce a different battlefield that had more variety than those I had produced myself.

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However, perhaps the most significant success was in the force structure variation. Players were no longer aware of the enemy force structure. Now both players may have an idea what their opponent was likely to have but they needed to consider other possible situations and how these may be countered. I felt I was on to something and continued to invest time in expanding expanding the formulas.

One of the formulas that I needed was a means of calculating the forces capabilities. For Modern Spearhead this meant the development of a points system. However, more importantly was the development of a points budget with which to provide attack and defence ratios. Some people seem very negative about points systems. To me they are just a tool to quantify some basic differences between different force capabilities. That said I was not interested in equal points based games. So while any  scenario designer makes these calculations, I mealy formalised them. So while points values feature in my formulas they are a small part of a much larger equation.

Putting all the formulas together has resulted in the Scenario Generation System which can be found on this site. If this system provides you with an interesting tactical situation on your wargames table then I will be immensely pleased. It certainly has provided many enjoyable games for my opponents and I.

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19 thoughts on “Scenario Design

  1. Keith’s Scenario Generation System has been widely used by a large number of players in New Zealand (and else where) including being used in National competitions. The games produced have always been interesting. The forces used, terrain and situations commanders faced have certainly been more varied and interesting than those in most made up scenarios.

    1. Thanks for your comments Paul. It is pleasing to hear the forces, terrain and situations have been varied and the the resulting games the equal, or even better than some scenarios developed using traditional methods.

      I recall, with much pleasure, some of the Modern and World War II games we have played in the past. Hopefully we will have more in the future.

  2. Hi, I was looking at the points values for modern spearhead and I wondered if you had priced the Abrams series based on the reduced armour stats (10/4 for M1 11/4 for IPM1 and M1A1) or on the ones given in the data cards in the book. Thanks for clarifying.

    1. Thanks for your note. The stats used were those on the rule book datacard, updated by the official errata published on the official website. However, I will need to check the formulas to answer definitively as I can’t recall the armour values off the top of my head.

    2. Checking my notes the M1 points are based on a frontal defense of 10. The M1A1 and the M1 Improved Abrams are based on a frontal defense of 11. I hope that helps.

  3. I truly hate to sound like the one complainer, but I am confused by the points system… The suggested points total is 850, but a full strength battalion of Leopard 2A5s, as an example, with 10 stands, appears to be 440 points BEFORE modifiers. I feel like I must be missing something? Aside from that, I’m quite excited to give it a try. My dad already has a fair sized collection, and I’m just starting mine, and your generation system already looks like the way to go.

    1. These Leopards are rather efficient vehicles and their capabilities are significant compared to say a Leopard 1. I have used earlier model Leopards in 80s conflicts but struggle with force density, but they are deadly against T55s. Consider under strength units or taking options, with a victory point penalty.

      1. I suppose I picked the wrong vehicle to make my point, 2A5s are pretty bad beasts. It still seems, that overall, it’d be a struggle to get 3 or 4 battalions of modern equipment into a game? I suppose my question is more is that by design? Would there by any recommendation regarding using your system for using the newest equipment, without having to cut the battalions to the bone?

      2. There is a question of balance which is not so evident in WWII Spearhead.

        If a modern force is fighting a low tech opponent then I feel it needs to have challenges on force density. An example would be Americans fighting in Iraqi which can easily become a turkey shoot. Even with the points budgets as they are some nations can field massive forces of rubbish. Increasing the points budget will make this worse.

        However, if both sides have technology advanced forces then perhaps the points budgets can be increased. This is illustrated by changes over time in the budgets. Too many points make for a boring game. My thinking was that after the Cold War the balance has more likely to be high tech vs low tech.

        I believe players need to make hard decisions with their choices. West Germans even in the early 80s have small forces. My own Germans never seem to have enough kit. To make them work I need to move. I feel this produces a better game and creates command challenges.

  4. Thank you. That does provide insight for me. Part of my issue, given what you said, is that my group tends to modern ‘what its’. I will definitely be using your system soon, and will try to bear your advice in mind.

  5. And, if I may impress upon your time more, I was browsing earlier, and had noted your rules for the Czechs. I would be interested if you had ever had any consideration or opinion for the Polish, and more specifically the PT-91? I think it’s a very interesting vehicle, and kinda wanna put some on the table. Is there any specific variant of the T-72 that you believe I could use to represent it, using your points system? I have been digging around on the net for a few days, and so far haven’t been able to find anything MSH related on the topic.

    1. Sorry, I know little of the Poles or Czechs. The data cards and TO&Es were completed by Luke. I just ran up some points based on his stats.

      1. Fair enough. Appreciate it. Perhaps someday I’ll finish researching and ask for your help one more time!

      2. By the way, months later, I figured I’d let you know that my dad and I got a couple of interesting games in using your system. The first was a small American unit vs my Russians. I forgot how it went, besides that Abrams are bad mojo for Russians. Our second game, a few months back now, was Russians sporting t-90s in support of a motor rifle regiment against some Challenger 2s and supporting infantry was a much closer run thing. We took your advice, and if I recall correctly upped the base points to 1000. When we ran out of time, the Challengers had shot up the T-90s quite impressively, but the Soviets had outflanked and were threatening just about every objective and might have been able to get a battalion offtable (with some luck against the mech infantry blocking the road). We thoroughly enjoy your rules, and it’s our standard if we decide to play moderns now. Sadly, schedules don’t allow many games these days. I wanted to thank you for the brilliant work, and just let you know that you did a fine job!

      3. Very glad to hear of your games and that they are working out.

        It is very satisfying to hear that the Scenario System, when combined with Modern Spearhead, is producing some enjoyable games.

      4. Oh, and one of the other things we did, specifically for Western nations, was allow units to break up. Rather than controlling the battalions as a whole, which grossly limits what such small forces can do, we allow the tank units to split up. So you can assign orders and change them at the company level, rather than the full battalion level, which gives more flexibility with the limited armor available to those Nato 1 nations. Just for random thoughts on solutions for anyone else reading. Thus far, it appears that it doesn’t unbalance the game, and it gives what we feel is a more appropriate feel to those forces.

  6. The point cost for an Belgian AIFV Infantry team is 14 points, but upon what stats is the point cost based? I want to know which stats you use for it, I can’t find the AIFV in the Data Cards

    Thanks

    1. The points costs are based on a data card that was developed by Jake Collins and previously available on the web. I suspect the author removed the site for some reason. I’m not sure if I have a copy of the data card or not. I will look when time permits.

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