19 September 2014

PC Game Preview: World in Flames PC - the Gamers Questions

Questions about the PC version posed by players of the original World in Flames boardgame answered by Steven Hokanson

Published on 6 NOV 2013 6:04am by Wargamer Staff
  1. world war ii, air combat, ground combat, turn-based, western front, north africa, north america, central and south america, pacific theater, strategic, europe, naval combat, asia, eastern front, mid-east, advanced, pc, top down, english, moddable data files, printed - color, operational

Following our exclusive interview with Harry Rowland (http://wargamer.com/article/3457/interview-world-in-flames-exclusive-wargamer.com-interview) a number of World in Flames players got in touch with further questions about the upcoming PC version and other topics. Here are a selection answered by Steven Hokanson.

 

There are lots of "optional" bits of World in Flames - which do you enjoy the most?  Is the PC implementation the full blown game, or a particular set of options? 

The Matrix Games computer version of World in Flames (MWIF) encompasses most of the World in Flames board game.  I hesitate to say “full blown” because the World in Flames board game family has numerous add-ons, and while MWIF includes most of them, it does not include all.  And Australian Design Group is routinely coming out with new add-ons.  Here is the list in MWIF, as described in the Players Manual.

 

            Included Add-ons: 

  •             Ships in Flames (integrated into MWIF and not optional)
  •             Planes in Flames (integrate into MWIF and not optional)
  •             Asia Aflame (map replaced by the unified scale global map; optional rules included as such)
  •             Africa Aflame (map replaced by the unified scale global map; optional rules included as such)
  •             Mech in Flames (as optional rules)
  •             Carrier Planes in Flames (as optional rules)
  •             Cruisers in Flames (as optional rules)
  •             Convoys in Flames (as optional rules)
  •             WiF 2008 Errata (integrated into MWIF and not optional)             

 

Excluded Add-ons: 

  •             Days of Decision III (pre-1939)
  •             America in Flames (post 1945)
  •             Patton in Flames (post 1945)
  •             Politics in Flames (adds complexity); units that do not need new rules are included (e.g., Guderian).
  •             Leaders in Flames (adds complexity)
  •             Factories in Flames (a new addition in 2008)                                                                                                                       

 

There are 54 optional rules included in the November 7th Release.  I expect to add some more in the next couple of months.  Here is the full list.

 

            Included optional rules (in parentheses is the numbering from Rules as Written):

 

  •             Divisions (2)
  •             Artillery (3)                                                     
  •             Fortifications (5)
  •             Supply units (6)
  •             Combat engineers (7)
  •             Construction engineers (7)
  •             Flying boats (8)
  •             Territorial units (10)
  •             Limited overseas supply (11)
  •             Limited supply across straits (12)
  •             HQ support (13)
  •             Emergency HQ supply (13)
  •             Synthetic oil plants (14)
  •             Off city reinforcement (15)
  •             HQ movement (17)
  •             Bottomed ships (18)
  •             In the presence of the enemy (19)
  •             Surface combat ship transports (25)
  •             Amphibious rules (26)
  •             Optional carrier planes searching (27)
  •             Pilots (28)
  •             Food in flames (29)
  •             Factory construction (30)
  •             Saving resources (31)
  •             Carpet bombing (32)
  •             Tank busters (33)
  •             Motorized movement rates (34)
  •             Bombers as air transports (35)
  •             Large air transports (36)
  •             Railway movement (37)
  •             Defensive shore bombardment (38)
  •             Blitz bonus (39)
  •             Chinese attack weakness (40)
  •             Fractional odds (41)
  •             Allied combat friction (42)
  •             Two 10 sided dice land combat results table (43)
  •             Extended aircraft rebasing (44)
  •             Variable reorganization costs (45)
  •             Partisans (46)
  •             Isolated reorganization limits (47)
  •             Oil rules (48)
  •             Night missions (52)
  •             Twin engine bombers (53)
  •             Fighter-bombers (54)
  •             Outclassed fighters (55); renamed as Backup Fighters
  •             Carrier planes (56)
  •             Internment (58)
  •             Kamikazes (60)
  •             Offensive chits (61)
  •             Ski troops (65)
  •             The Queens (66)
  •             City based volunteers (67)
  •             Siberians (68)
  •             Naval supply units (69)
  •             Guard banner armies (70)
  •             Chinese warlords (71)
  •             Cruisers in Flames (75)
  •             Rough seas (75)
  •             Convoys in Flames (76)

 

           

            New optional rules with MWIF: 

  •             Scrap units (the rule for scrapping units is not optional in WIF FE; it is in MWIF)
  •             Add Chinese cities (to accommodate the increased number of hexes in China)
  •             Unlimited breakdown (since there is no printing constraint on the number of unit counters)
  •             Extended game (a commonly used house rule in over-the-board games)
  •             Breaking the Nazi-Soviet Pact (makes it somewhat easier for Germany to declare war on the USSR in 1941)

 

 

 

I’ve highlighted in blue my personal preference in the list above.  As you can see, I like almost all of them.  But then I had over 10 years experience playing the game before I started on my 8 and half year quest to program it.  A player who is new to World in Flames should begin learning the game using 6 or less optional rules. 

Click for full image

 

Which do you think is the hardest and easiest side to play?  Axis or Allies?  (and any particular countries within those?) 

In my opinion it’s a toss up as far as which side is more difficult to play well.  But once you change the focus to the eight major powers, a few stand out as exceptionally challenging. 

The Commonwealth is undoubtedly the most difficult.  They have worldwide interests and not many land units available.  Mostly they are on the defensive for the first few years of the war and have to use all branches of their armed forces (air, naval, and land) to prevent the Axis from invading hither and yon.  A false step can lead to disaster. 

Playing Germany requires a lot of skill throughout the war - from 1939 to 1945 - although most of their decisions concern land combat. 

Japan and Italy are quite hard too.  Timing when to declare war isn’t obvious for either of these Axis major powers.  Both have overseas possessions to acquire (i.e., conquer) and later defend against imposing Allied counterattacks. 

Russia has the task of fending off the German onslaught, but they have the enormous expanses of Asia available if they decide to retreat, retreat, retreat.  The Russian player must know when to hold ‘em, and know when to run away. 

China is also mostly on the defense, and the problems are similar to those of the USSR, albeit with a shorter front line and fewer units engaged. 

With France the player does his best but is soon overwhelmed by Germany. 

The US must plan, plan, plan, for if his production schedule is wrong, the units needed to retake Europe and the Pacific won’t be available when the US eventually enters the war. 

 

Given the quality of current video games, are you surprised by the continued interest in a board game format? 

Not really.  Chess seems to have aged well over the centuries.  Board war games have a fairly long history, with an ancestry going back to miniatures.  The current video games are fast and colorful, with explosions and other dramatic effects, but the demands on the player are more physical (e.g., vision, coordination, reflexes) than intellectual.  Board games require the player to plan strategically and execute his plan both operationally and tactically.  All of which requires quiet thinking.  When the player succeeds, his reward is an affirmation of: (1) his understanding of the subtleties of the game’s simulation of the historical conflict, and (2) his ability to both devise a good plan and then execute it well.  I think there will be an interest in both types of products for the foreseeable future.


Do you worry about the loss of the social aspect of games with such a long duration being played on line rather than face to face? 

To some degree.  However, I find Skype to be a big help in bringing back the social aspect, especially if cameras are used.  Maintaining visual contact with the other players while conversing about the game in progress is pretty much my definition of the social aspect of games.  After college, travel time was always a burden on playing board games, and that disappears when you play over the internet.

 

Can players customize the special rules they want to use or not? 

Only in the sense that they can select which of the many optional rules they want to use. 

 

Is there any potential for players to make House rules? 

Not really.  Of course they can always have a “gentleman’s agreement” about what they will or will not do.  But as for changing the rules themselves, that isn’t possible within a computer game.  If there isn’t an optional rule explicitly coded for the “House Rule”, then the program won’t be able to implement it.  However, if the desire is merely to modify unit characteristics, then that can be done.  MWIF gives the players access to the data files for the 3000+ units, and edits can be done to those pure ASCII text files if the players want to make them.  The definition for each data file structure is provided in the Players Manual appendices.

 

How does the game handle things like air interception where one player’s turn can be interrupted by another player. 

That is all done according to the same rules that are used in the board game.  MWIF is very precise in following the board game rules, with very few exceptions (which are listed as such in the Rules as Coded manual).


The images I saw of the game in the manual all seemed to only have one counter in a hex. WiF is famous for stacks, does the computer game still have stacks? 

Stacking limits are the same as in the board game.  You were likely looking at some of the pages I created for the picture and text tutorials.  My goal there was to display a lot of different unit types for the reader to be able to see their diversity and learn about the capabilities of different unit types.  In actual game play, a Flyouts form can be toggled on/off which provides a zoomed in view of up to 9 units in a hex.  Stacking limits for land units are 3 and for air units 4.  The Flyouts form dynamically resizes itself depending on how many units are in the hex under the cursor.  So if you want to examine a frontline of, say, 12 hexes long, with units from both sides stacked pretty high, then the cursor can be moved over the frontline with the Flyouts displaying all the units in each hex as the cursor moseys along. 

Click for full image

 

For naval operations, which often have dozens of units in a hex (50 is not an unusual number), MWIF has two advantages over the board game.  First, there are separate sea area section boxes for the two sides.  This lets the player tell at a glance which side has units in each sea area.  Secondly, I created a new form, the Naval Review Details which presents the units in a sea area, sea area section box, or port, grouped into 4 columns: Carriers, Battleships, Cruisers, and Transports/Submarines.  Within each column are displayed the unit counters for the given naval unit type.  Any transported units (e.g., carrier air units on carriers, land units on transports) are shown alongside their transport, so it is easy to identify the carrier air capability and invasion capability for the port or sea area being examined.  I’ve always felt that the naval aspect of many war games was given short shrift.  For MWIF I wanted to rectify that omission. 

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There is also a Naval Review Summary (NRS) form that works hand in hand with the Naval Review Details (NRD).  The NRS lists summary statistics for 8 ports and 8 sea areas.  Clicking on a port or sea area in the NRS form refreshes the NRD form so it shows the actual units in the port or sea area, from which the statistics were derived.  In practice, players use the NRS to view summary statistics on the naval units (friendly or enemy) in a given map area (e.g., North Atlantic, Western Pacific, Indian oceans) and then click through the listed sea areas and ports to bring up the NRD for each to see what units can be brought to bear to make invasions or attack convoy pipelines. 

 

Given that the internet is everywhere and you can play remote opponents, if you were designing the game from scratch what would you do differently and how might this affect the game?

I don’t think I would change much.  I’ve been programming since 1968 and writing code for telecommunications since 1978.  So when I started on MWIF in 2005, I had a good idea of what was possible.  The main reason MWIF won’t be a lot of fun using a handheld device is the size of the map (360 hexes by 195 hexes = 70,200 hexes) and the numerous forms used to review game status and implement decisions.  From a programming perspective, I don’t think there is a design solution for getting around that requirement.  MWIF has an absolute minimum of 1024 by 768 pixels for screen real estate.  A bigger monitor and extra monitors are really nice when playing MWIF.  Working with the small screen on a handheld device would make playing the game more difficult.  But the resolution on tablets keeps getting better, and there is a slow but inexorable growth in the size of displays for handheld devices.  Perhaps playing MWIF on a future handheld product will someday be delightful. 

 

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