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How I Write Skirmish War Games: Multiplayer Problems

Traditional table-top wargames tend to set up as one on one versus competitive games, if they allow for more than two players it furthermore leans towards splitting them into two teams and setting them on opposite sides of the tabletop and essentially playing a one on one game with several people. This is for very sensible reasons; traditional battle line combats generally consist of two opposing forces coming from two opposing directions and meeting in a middle ground. However, this rational makes very little sense in relation to skirmish games, most skirmish encounters whether representing western shoot outs or modern squad based urban fire-fights involve combatants coming from various and unknown directions and will often involve multiple ‘sides’ often unaware of the motives or even existence of other sides. As such skirmish games make sense being set to allow multiple players and forces. Despite this even most squad-based skirmish games assume one on one combats. Whenever I write a skirmish game, I assume the game to be for multiple players until circumstances suggest otherwise. As a writer this widens the potential for the game’s appeal, gaming groups often have odd members looking for a game to pick up on, and pushes writing in interesting directions since moving away from traditional deployment frees designs from many basic assumptions. Sometimes this process is totally natural and makes the writing of the system much easier (in Gaslands the game is more balanced and fair the more players there are playing), sometimes it offers up serious problems that require intense investigation (in A Billion Suns the multi-player set up was the last thing to find its balance). I’ll try to look at some of the advantages and disadvantages (or problems, and hopefully their solutions) of multiplayer design in this blog.