Rich Walker, designer of the new HPS Civil War computer game Campaign Chancellorsville, was kind enough to answer a few questions about his work as a designer and the new game via email. Rich has designed multiple Civil War games for HPS Simulations at this point, including Campaign Franklin, Campaign Atlanta, Campaign Shiloh, Campaign Antietam, Campaign Chickamauga, and the new Campaign Chancellorsville. I was involved as an uncompensated playtester on quite a few of these games. The full interview appears below.
BRS: Rich, it’s good to speak with you again. It has been awhile since I last worked on an HPS Simulations’ Civil War game.
RW: Hi Brett, it’s great to work with a fellow American Civil War Enthusiast. And it’s certainly a pleasure to participate in this interview. I hope to have you helping with the next title. Hint Hint <g>
BRS: For readers unfamiliar with you or your work on the HPS Civil War games, can you go into a bit of your background? How did you get interested in the Civil War?
RW: Military history has always been my passion. With a BA in History and a MA in Education, war gaming was simply a natural progression. Though I have been playing wargames for many years, my involvement with John Tiller began with a play testing offer for Talonsoft’s BG9 Chickamauga. Once that project completed, Mr. Tiller offered me the title of Campaign Franklin. Since I live in Tennessee, I was glad to accept a battlefield title in my backyard, and I haven’t looked back since.
BRS: The name of the new game is “Campaign Chancellorsville”, but just like some of the other games in this series it covers much more than just the title battle. Can you give us an idea of the scope of the game?
RW: Campaign Chancellorsville begins with Lee’s famous defense of Fredericksburg. There are many variants including a scenario that begins with a Union occupation of Fredericksburg and Lee’s counter-attack. In addition, there are many battles that cover the approaches and aftermath of both Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.
BRS: I recently released a complete scenario list for Campaign Chancellorsville here at TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog. In studying this list, I see a lot of interesting items. It looks like you provided players with the option of using full batteries or dividing these into sections. Can you give readers an idea of why this was done?
RW: After each game is released, I try to encourage constructive comments. And certainly, players are very vocal when discussing artillery compositions. So I try to provide players with options. This is especially important since buyers do not have the capability to alter the game OOB.
BRS: Likewise, in some cases players are given the opportunity to use “small map” version of scenarios. What are the advantages and disadvantages of giving this choice to players and why was it done?
RW: Again, players have are given the option of using large or small maps for a given battle. As you know, many games become unhistorical and gamey. Using a small map option, confines players to using historical map limits and forces a more historical battle. Also, it cuts down on scrolling and the looking around for units. And lastly, using small maps helps the jump map window. When using a large map, units displayed in the jump map cannot be distinguished. But, players need not feel forced to use one map or the other. Both are provided.
BRS: It looks like you’ve added quite a few interesting though non-historical scenarios to the total available in the game, including a “King of the Mountain” fight between nearly equal Union and Confederate corps. Other scenarios are labeled “AI Challenge”, “Equal Fight” or “Blind Meet” scenarios. If you wouldn’t mind, could you go into the idea of including these particular scenarios?
RW: I love making these types of scenarios. Only ones imagination (and time) is the limit. The idea behind my King of the Mountain scenario is a simple one. Slap a hill in the middle of a moderately sized map, place a flag on top and whoever owns the flag wins. The key is using a balanced opposing force. My AI Challenge games are designed to provide players a game that when played against the AI, the result is not a forgone conclusion. To achieve this result, I tweak existing scenarios or design specific scenarios. A player must pick a specific side and carefully read the scenario description for best results. More careful AI scripting is used as other tricks I’ll keep to myself.
Equal fight scenarios use a specially designed OOB. Every unit on both sides start with the same number of men, and the same quality. Only skill will decide the outcome. There are no excuses for defeat!!!
Blind Meeting engagements use the same engine upgrade introduced with Campaign Antietam. Every game is guaranteed to be different every time it’s played. Neither side will know when or where there units will appear. However, these arrival areas are designed to make sense, so no need to worry that enemy units will appear magically in your rear.
BRS: There are also 56 “weather scenarios” included with the game. How does the weather feature work within the Civil War Battles series?
RW: Though the weather feature was originally introduced with Campaign Atlanta, it has remained popular and used very frequently with experienced players. This feature is designed to provide percentage chances that the weather will change at certain prescribed times. And depending on the severity of the weather, movement, visibility, melee, and ranged fire will be affected.
BRS: Although there are a lot of scenarios included, I noticed a distinct lack of “What-Ifs” included for the December 13th attacks at Fredericksburg. Was this because there were really no alternate tactical “what-ifs” to include, or did you do this for another reason?
RW: There are always alternatives, and certainly this is an area that should be revisited. Perhaps an energetic player/designer will remedy this oversight and post several new scenarios. Otherwise, stay tuned, a patch may also try to introduce new scenarios. However, I did include two “What-if” Scenarios that cover the Union occupation of Fredericksburg on November 21st, forcing Lee to counter-attack.
BRS: I’ve thought for a long time that Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg are two of the most difficult battles to recreate in a wargame. Fredericksburg, as I already mentioned, doesn’t offer a lot of tactical flexibility once the two armies square off where the battle historically took place. The sheer improbability of recreating a battle like Chancellorsville, in which a severely outnumbered Army of Virginia splits itself several times and launches an audacious flank attack versus an opponent well over twice its number, seems even more difficult. Any gamer who has read about the battle knows to expect Jackson’s flank attack and will try to prepare as best they can. Would you care to explain how your team attempted to work around these types of features concerning the two battles?
RW: Too often, people only consider the popularized portions of the battle., the stone wall on Marye’s Height, or Jackson’s flank attack. By doing so, they lose sight of the bigger picture of each battle. A battle is not won by numbers, if that were true, the name Hannibal would not be a military household word, and Alexander the Great would have been a mere footnote of failed military adventures. My game seeks to force players to use their skill of battle, and not throw walls of infantry at a “stone” wall. Having made that statement, Campaign Chancellorsville isolates the focus point of each battle, and offers the big picture. Both can be won be either side. Learn to expect the unexpected and be prepared to find an enemy hiding in the woods.
BRS: There are several new features in Campaign Chancellorsville, including:
A new Proportional Opportunity Fire Optional Rule
A new Parameter Data value that controls when artillery crews are killed
A new Alternate Fixed Unit release Optional Rule
Improvements to AI bridge crossing, and firing
Several of these strike me as needed for some of the unique features of these campaigns. The new alternate fixed unit rule seems to be specifically for the Union XI Corps to determine just when these units can move after Jackson’s flank attack starts. The bridge crossing and firing AI routines seem to be geared towards the Union efforts to cross the Rappahannock into Fredericksburg on December 11, 1862. Could you go over the new features and comment on the reasons they were added?
RW: As you know, each new game introduces new enhancements. I would be happy to explain these for Campaign Chancellorsville.
1) A new Proportional Opportunity Fire Optional Rule: The may seems a bit complex, but has a simply concept. Imagine a small rebel regiment firing during the rebel turn. This unit will be less likely to trigger the A/I opportunity fire, then say a larger rebel unit firing during the rebel turn. And the opposite is true. A large rebel unit firing during the rebel turn will be more likely to trigger a heavier response of opportunity fire from the Union A/I.
2) A new Parameter Data value that controls when artillery crews are killed: In short, the likelihood of a crew killed result can now be controlled by a pdt value. A value of 100 is the default value for normal kill results. A higher number will reduce the kill result and visa versa. I use a value of 150. This will reduce the normal kill result.
3) A new Alternate Fixed Unit release Optional Rule: Without this option, a fixed unit can only be released if an enemy unit moves with 5 hexes of a fixed unit and has LOS (line of sight). This allowed units to use terrain and sneak up on fixed units. This new rule will make the sneak attack of 5 hexes or less and thing of the past. Imagine an enemy unit firing on your unit positioned in the woods, and all the friendly near units remaining fixed because they have no LOS to the enemy unit. No more!
4) Improvements to AI bridge crossing, and firing: In most cases, the A/I will be able to cross rivers using bridges without being trapped on one side. Also, in the past, the A/I would usually firing only on artillery, now the A/I will more heavily focus on available enemy infantry.
In addition to those you mentioned, patch 1.01 includes a few more:
5) AI firing is now by stack instead of by unit: Most players fire in stacks. This reduces opportunity fire and can cause (IMHO) more loses on the enemy. Now the A/I will do the same.
6) Activate AI when under Manual control now only activates AI Firing and not AI Movement:
And don’t forget the toggle button for Command Control. Look for the “HQ” button on the new toolbar.
BRS: You utilized Kris White, one of the Chancellorsville National Battlefield historians, as a resource for the game. Was Kris able to provide you with sources not readily available to the public which helped the historical accuracy of the orders of battle?
RW: Kris is a great asset, he was able to point out many items that needed correcting, but I didn’t ask him for specific sources. He also providing me with maps that were, at the time, out of stock.
BRS: You have been developing Civil War games for HPS Simulations since 1998. What are some of the things which have worked well for you in the game design process, and what are some others you have tweaked over time?
RW: The design process has a learning curve that was initially difficult for me (as you know from Campaign Franklin), but over time I have learned a lot. Having made that statement, I will refrain from a long list, but I like to provide options. For example: weather/no weather, Consolidated artillery/ sectional artillery, A/I challenge scenarios, large map/ small map scenarios, etc…
BRS: Although there has been no announcement by HPS, the games are approaching the end of the major campaigns left to cover. By my count, the 1864 Overland Campaign, the Red River Campaign, Petersburg and Appomattox are the remaining major battles and campaigns which could be given the HPS treatment. Has there been any thought given to releasing some kind of map editor with the final game in this series or as a standalone product?
RW: You’re missing a couple campaigns, but the simpe answer is, NO. But John Tiller will make that decision. When the time comes, I will certainly advocate opening the OOBs and map editors.
BRS: Sticking with the theme of this series coming to an end at some time in the future, has HPs considered an entirely new game engine to cover Civil War battles?
RW: Officially, I can neither confirm nor deny a new ACW game engine, but…. I have heard rumors!
BRS: I guess the final question is, “where do you go from here?” I know the standing policy of HPS is to not announce a new game until it is ready, one which is wise considering the inevitable delays and setbacks in publishing any computer game. With that said, are you working on any new projects in the series? Is anyone? I know you cannot go into details here, but I thought it might be interesting to see how much life is left in this particular series of games.
RW: Well, speaking for myself, yes, I have another one in the works. But don’t be surprised if others are also at work.
BRS: Thanks Rich for taking the time to field my questions today. I really appreciate it, and I hope TOCWOC readers got a better sense of what this series is about.
RW: Brett, thank you for this opportunity. I hope players will enjoy Campaign Chancellorsville and I will be listening to them for future ideas. May God Bless one and all!