Monday, October 30, 2017

Design notes from Operation Dauntless

I love design notes in games. When I’m working full-time on my own games, I admit there are times that I end up reading the designer’s notes in new games in more detail than their rules, particularly with wargames that I’m not likely to play in the next few months.

The design notes I’ve enjoyed most recently appeared as a 48-page booklet in the GMT game Operation Dauntless, designed by Mark Mokszycki. It’s a grand-tactical simulation of battles in June 1944, during the British offensives in Normandy. Not the same cup of tea (or even the same meal!) as the roleplaying games and card games I’m usually involved with as a designer, but this is work I appreciate as both stellar design and as a thoughtfully-described process.

The game’s mechanics are deceptively simple. Let’s call them elegant! They’re adapted from an earlier game by Mokszycki about the Finnish/Soviet war, Red Winter. In fact, Mokszycki’s design notes mention that he originally expected Operation Dauntless to be a simple conversion of mechanics from the earlier game. Eight years of design and development work later, that was patently not true, but it was too late to turn back the tanks, he was committed to this labor of love.

I’m sure that’s part of why I enjoy these notes so much. Hearing about multiple detailed and heavily playtested approaches to a close assault system, over a period of years, certainly reminds me of game mechanics conundrums we faced during 13th Age in Glorantha, when a system we thought would easily flow into a different world had to be revised to do the new world justice. 

But the appeal of these notes goes beyond my own process-identification and my fondness for WW2 grognardia. If you’re any type of wargamer, or a game designer, there’s a lot to learn from Mokszycki’s detailed discussions of iterative attempts to simulate specific elements of historical battles. What makes these process notes pay off in the end are elegant and approximately-correct abstractions that both solve his historical-simulation problems and help create a gameable experience.

I may end up playing Red Winter before I play Operation Dauntless, especially since a member of my gaming group has married into the Finnish way of life! If there’s more to say about how the game mechanics match the design goals, I’ll speak up after rolling the dice.

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