I was really struck by the stories of sacrifice and heroism that occurred on D-Day reading through the awards and commendations. It is a travesty that each division was limited to only 1 Medal of Honors for action on that day. When looking at Victory conditions in Airborne Commander I have tried to balance the US army’s goals of achieving their objectives while also keeping a viable force for continued operations. While originally planned to be withdrawn quickly, the paratroopers continued fighting for almost a month in the bocage terrain of Normandy. This is why for scoring you add your victory points and subtract your disorganized cards (force viability). For the actual victory points, of course objectives were the primary mission, but stopping Axis units from reaching the landing beaches was also critical which is why neutralizing them gains points. Of course for the Medal of Honor Victory, some things are worth sacrificing for regardless of the cost.
So I was really torn with which paratrooper group to use for this first release of Airborne Commander. I greatly admire the sacrifice and determination of both the 82nd and 101st (as well as the British 6th, but except for Pegasus Bridge, they were less recognizable at least in the States). My apologies to the 82nd, but watching band of brothers sort of cemented the deal for the 101st to be the first unit. My hope is to honor the remaining units in expansions. So, assuming success with Airborne Commander look to see the 82nd and the 6th in the future, D-Day or maybe at Arnhem? Max has been to the “Bridge to Far” battlegrounds but I missed that trip and Bastogne. The Fallschirmjager also had some interesting drops and went head to head with the allied paratroopers at D-Day and elsewhere…
Part of the problem with game design is creating balance for players. If the game creates too much of a feedback loop it is easy to have a runaway leader which the other players can’t catch up. Unfortunately real life is full of feedback loops and runaway leaders. Which makes trying to model that in a fun fair game extremely difficult. This is the main reason I have focused on a solo game experience for Airborne Commander. (Although I like to actually play is side by side with friends to see who does the best). In Airborne commander there are definitely positive and negative feedback loops. As your disorganization increases it will get harder and harder to accomplish your mission. You can manage to limit your disorganization but that is going to hurt you on recruiting and grabbing objectives when they present themselves. This feeling of things spiraling out of control and racing the clock feel are at the core of the small unit commanders woes and the solo game format gave me the opportunity to explore this without creating arbitrary ways to assure game balance in a multiple player game.
What really attracted me to building a deck building game to represent the airborne mission at Normandy was two things. First is the building part. Each paratrooper dropped alone through the dark. Gathering dispersed troopers together is critical to the mission success. Deck building creates this feeling well while also representing the lack of complete control of your forces. Even when a larger force had been gathered the local commander had to respond to the threats or opportunities with the forces they had at hand. Since the force could be strung out along multiple fields separated by those damn hedgerows, who was at hand was frequently who was in range of the sound of your voice. As forces become engaged they then move out of your control while they are engaged or recovering. But become available again later. Second is the disorganization. As the Axis split your formation or wound and capture your troops you add disorganized cards. Adding disorganized cards to your hand which are of no use is a really effective way to create chaos and tension; disrupting your carefully laid plans. The paratroopers on D-Day were probably the most highly trained troops ever for one specific mission. But no plan survives contact with the enemy. I hope the Deck Building mechanic brings this to life for you.
I go to the Essen game fair every other year with Max and we usually go on a side trip to historic battlefields beforehand. In 2012, we went to the Hurtgen Forest of which I knew little about. While I consider myself well versed in 18th century history, if an amateur, I would have to yield (although it kills me) that Max is the better World War II historian. Our tour guide really made the battle and the war come alive and I embarked on a World War II obsession for the last couple years. My son and I had also embarked on a Halo obsession and as part of that I had designed a Halo based card game prototype (still waiting to hear back from you Hasbro). At that point we started planning our 2014 Essen trip and D-Day was definitely on my agenda (of course I had to sacrifice and also go to Paris for my wife, the trials of being me).
So the D-Day research began in earnest. Of course, I had to relieve on of my favorite movies, “The Longest Day”, and read voraciously (which hopefully my wife doesn’t ever count up the number of books we now own). Looking at after action reports, it was interesting that the Allies viewed the paratrooper drop as not a huge success, since they did not capture all their objectives and it was chaos. The Axis view viewed that chaos as a huge success because it really hindered their coordination, communication, and movement. As a war gamer it is very hard to model the chaos of war. We all like to move our counters and have complete control. As a military reenactor, I have found that trying to command even a small group of men to do even simple tasks, even when we know we are not under real fire, is incredibly difficult. And just getting them to all line up on time can be a challenge. I really wanted to capture this effect in a game and look at the challenges of the small unit commanders who have to split their effort between gathering their forces, scouting their enemy, and achieving their objectives. I hope I have done that in Airborne Commander in a way that honors those who were there.