Game Design Theory: Benchmarks for Other Skirmish Games?

Having proposed the Collateral nightclub shootout as a benchmark for modern skirmishes, I’ve started to think about what might be an equivalent for ancient/medieval/fantasy games.

I’ve got a few ideas kicking about, but before I prejudice your thinking too much, I was wondering if you guys had any ideas.

Battle at Lanka Ramayana UdaipurThinking back through the films I’ve seen and books I’ve read, there’s a number of strange fights that would make good games. However, I’ve not yet dug out one that is so wonderfully convoluted as Collateral. Also, given the top-down view we have of most of history, it’s unusual to have the detail we’d need to reconstruct an ancient skirmish as opposed to an ancient battle. Unusual, but not impossible.

Ajax defends the shipsFantasy is obviously easier as they are made up, and can contrive whatever they like. I could obviously make up one of my own, and I may do that anyway. I just thought the mirror of the Collateral idea might be a worthwhile mental exercise.

So I’ve got my ideas.

Can you think of one?

Extra points if it’s not fantasy or a Norse saga 🙂

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27 Responses to Game Design Theory: Benchmarks for Other Skirmish Games?

  1. edenchanges says:

    Hmmm isn’t the issue with doing this for Ancient battles going to be that we will have to invent the detail? Contemporary accounts are thin on the ground and often contradictory. However accepting that limitation I guess you are looking for suggestions of certain things…

    Can’t remember the name of the event but a better historian will know… that account of the Romans holding a bridge against a large force. The Romans had a handful of men and had to hold the bridge whilst it was being cut down. It was the entry to the city if I remember correctly.

    You have the bridge cutting and the large force vs small force and getting your men back to the City once the bridge has been cut… although it doesn’t quite sound as complicated as the Nightclub scene in Collatral.

  2. Not quite a medieval example but the Western example would be a cattle drive or stampede.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Someone pinching livestock is a theme from many old cultures, and is a good starting point for a scenario. The heroes of the Iliad were partial to it, being a bunch of Bronze Age equivalents to Viking raiders. The Táin Bó Cúailnge is (sort of) about a cattle raid, so there’s plenty of older precedent for trouble with cows. I’m also from Border Reiver country, so that’s another lot who spend their lives rustling cattle (and anything else that’s not nailed down).

      The problem with all these is that we’re still dealing with only two sides. Three at a push. Nothing like the complexity of the nightclub fight.

  3. The Duellists
    Kingdom of Heaven – Directors cut
    Seven Samurai
    Rob Roy
    Spartacus Series
    Black Sails Series
    Vikings Series

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Which specific bit (of any of those) were you thinking of as a complex scene?

      • Sam says:

        When Ragnar and his warband attack Britain the first (or perhaps the 2nd) time, whilst there are two sides (the Vikings vs. the Brits) some Viking character’s have different objectives during the raid and relationships with each other. Ragnar’s out to prove what spoils there are and to gain information, others are there to rape and pillage, one of the guys is there to basically throw ragnar under the bus or to at least keep an eye on him, and plenty of villagers running about in fear.
        There’s lots of scenarios that I’ve seen where a large battle has been used to cover up people being betrayed by those around them.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          “Under a bus”? Those Saxons were more advanced than I thought. Assuming you mean a Saxon bus, and he didn’t bring one from Denmark for the purpose.

  4. gamesmeat says:

    There are a lot of ancient small unit actions in Spartacus: War of the Damned (oo-er). It’s the third series, and the slave/gladiator rebellion is in full swing, so there’s lots of ambush and infiltration, and asymmetrical warfare.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      You’re right, and it’s very entertaining. It’s been a while since I watched it, and I can’t remember much of the endlessly entertaining back-stabbing turning up in the context of the skirmishes. By the time you’re in a fight it tends to be two sides having a go at each other.

      Am I forgetting something? Do I need another reason to rewatch it 😉

  5. nobbla81 says:

    I vote for a skirmish game where battles are objective based – to capture your opponent’s base at all cost. In terms of army creation points are spent on your base as much as your soldiers, equipment and supporting units. Your base will benefit in size, armour, weapons and supporting resources etc. I figure a game fought over an area of 2ft by 4ft (2 Deadzone mats). The one end your base, the other your opponent. In between terrain, additional objectives that benefit your war effort and such as equipment and other buildings. With your force of 30-50 models you need to defend but also attack and capture your opponent’s base. The game would have 6 factions: x2 that are attack heavy, x2 that are defensive heavy and x2 that more balanced.

  6. nobbla81 says:

    Theme? Is Steampunk too sci-fi? Otherwise – How about fantasy but without dragons, orcs and elves but a mix of ancient kingdoms based on the myths etc of Celts, Greeks, Zulus, Thai, Persians and Incas.

  7. Chris says:

    My old head is struggling with detail, but I have read of many situations where the battle was a bit complex. From proclamations like kill every newborn/first born son (centurion – what, you want us to go into the old city, figure out where the babies are hidden, deal with rocks and harrying attacks and just kill the male babies if we can find them above the din?), to going into a city but trying to get the troops to not kill royals/priestesses/whoever it is you don’t want to kill to appear high and mighty while engaging in street combat and trying to stop lots o your men disappearing to loot and rape, to the simple problems of dealing with loot and rape by soldiers when you would prefer them to remain in formed units to follow the plan they probably have no idea about.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I think the politically correct brigade may be a little peeved by baby-slaughtering scenarios. Of course, if you contextualise them by saying it’s based on the Bible, then that’s OK…

      The whole command/control thing is an intriguing area worth exploring. What I think muddies these waters is that most skirmish games (in fact, most games full stop) never really really follow through on placing the player in a specific role., even when they bother to define one in the first place (not common). Are you the general, the individual, or some nebulous power floating above the battlefield? If your role is undefined, working out how the command/control relates to that is never going to be more than nebulous too.


  8. Walter W says:

    The shoot-out at the OK Corral. Some of the scenes from the two Young Guns movies, which if you believe the legend that Billy the Kid survived could be viewed as a historical record.
    Also, the assault from the Dirty Dozen might fit the bill.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Thanks Walter – they’re both good starts for scenarios. Still not up to the level of intricacy of the Collateral fight, though the Wild West does feel like it should be fertile ground for something like that. I’ll have to ponder on that one.

  9. Sam says:

    I’m sure that Game of Thrones has had several scenarios that could make great skirmish style chaotic games.


    We haven’t seen it on the TV show, but hear a lot about the Sack of King’s Landing. You have the Baratheon’s attacking, the Lannister who switch sides, and Jaime Lannister the king’s guard who ends up killing the King himself. The large battle could be the meta game, happening in the background almost as some kind of timing mechanic, whereas the game itself more focuses in on a group of guards (players) protecting the King from waves of attacking Baratheons (another faction/player), trying to help the King escape, but secretly you have one guard/player at random who’s secret objective is to kill the king them self. It’d be great if it was at a random point that a guard get’s fed up with the mad king and decides to turn against him to keep players on their toes – you can trust everyone at the start, but can you trust them throughout?
    Couple this with a tonne of civilians who are running about, getting caught up in the siege and you’ve got yourself a very exciting environment!

    • Quirkworthy says:

      GoT is based on medieval French royal houses, so there’s probably an archetype lurking in there somewhere too.

      Hidden assassins are a nice idea for introducing tension and skullduggery. I’m writing a board game with a similar sort of underhandedness at the moment. Very entertaining 🙂

  10. Antony says:

    Thieves and guards will fit most settings. It allows for objective driven scenarios from raiding wagons to sneaking into villas. Multiple sides can come from rival brigands after the loot and guard teams competing to look best for the boss. Nice thing is you can swap it round with the law forces performing a raid on criminals to retrieve stolen goods.

  11. Some ideas though not fantasy or medieval:
    7 samurai – defending the town with one professional accompanied by farmers..
    Last of the Mohicans- the ambush where Hawkeye has to defend the Col. and his daughters.
    Cowboy movies- train and stagecoach heists… even cattle rustling have the confusion of livestock civilians etc.

    I think most of the scenarios are crime based because most ancient battles occurred on clearly defined battlefields or areas where civilians were absent or at least knew to get out of the way. Raids, sneak attacks, Guerilla actions etc. are the most likely for confusion- in fact most of the time the attackers are counting on it to get to their objective while everyone’s distracted by the mayhem!

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