The Quiet Battlefield: offside review by Nick Luft
Jim presented The Quiet Battlefield, via an online CLWG session. He was inspired to make this game after playing The Quiet Year a game we played at the December CLWG Hybrid session.
The Quiet Year is not a wargame, or a boardgame. It is perhaps more of a role-playing game, though the players do not portray individual characters, instead cooperating to create a narrative based on player input that create consequences. It is quite an unusual format. It is simple to prepare, quick to pickup, and challenges the players’ imagination, communication and social skills.
The players in my game were Terry, Rob, Dave B, & Andy H. The only guidance we had was that there were armed forces present in the game, organised into the traditional three arms, 3 infantry units, 1 cavalry unit and an artillery unit. We knew there was an enemy as well. We had a blank map in ConceptBoard.
We decided it was going to be a later Napoleonic Age battle, somewhere in Northern Europe.
Thoughts for developing the genre
I have now played two versions of this game format and I have some thoughts on further development.
As a designer I want to take a little more control. I want to design a game about a scenario I care about. Obviously this requires the players to be interested in it to. However, I do not want to be too prescriptive, but I do want the players to know where they are, historically and geographically, so they can imagine the sort of challenges and conflicts the scenario might bring.
Things just happen
In life things just happen. Your prize bull can get sick. The beach is too shallow and your boat gets stuck. You might stumble over a cache of treasure. I want to plant these in the game, partly to give appropriate colour to the scenario. And partly to provide the players with challenges that life throws at you. This will require careful handling.
More incidents and less player turns
Every game I have played seems to have taken a little too long to progress. Currently the system has a potential 52 turns and a shortened version of about 32 turns. I wonder if having more events, and incidents per turn might drive the game faster. Some of the incidents will be out of the control of the player.
More player interaction
In one turn a card gave allowed me to take two actions, instead of the usual one action. I decided to hold a “debate” for my first action and for the second action decide on a mission. My intention was to sound out the players and see what ideas they had. I was not bound by the debate; but I was influenced by it. I would like to see more of this in the game, probably not every turn, but perhaps some of the card turns could have more of this.
An extended Mugger Game or an interactive Matrix Game
This is really a speculative. Instead of a player proposing a mission and then leaving another player to determine its outcome, why not change this so that the player proposes a mission, and then all the players get a chance to make one or two sentence commentary on the mission. The player might then modify the mission, they might not but it is then committed to the game but with some input from the other players. I don’t think this should be an option for every card play, just some.
More of a sense of who your are
I realise this is taking me away from the core concept of a story telling game, but I wonder if we could give the players more grounding in who or what they represent. I don’t think the format will work with individual characters who have their skin in the game. It will be too easy to kill or injure another player, and it might create invulnerable characters who cannot be harmed as it is a player. I am not sure how to develop this. It is sliding the game into a role playing format, and away from the collective storytelling format.
Possibly give players secret things they can reveal later. Again I am not sure where this will go.
So what I have to do now, I suppose, is put my skin in the game and put on a game.
Post game discussion
I do not want to narrate the story of the game here. In want to reflect some of the ideas from the post-game discussion.
Simple and quick format
There is no need for the designer to prepare maps or counters. A set of rules, some playing cards and some text for each card when played is about it. Jim did say that converting The Quiet Year cards to The Quiet Battlefield took longer than he expected.
It is inclusive
Each game turn a different player takes a lead. The rules encourage each player to talk through their decision making process and also advises the other players to not intervene with suggestions or comments. So an inexperienced player gets their moment in the game.
It challenges other parts most games don’t.
It challenges my imagination, to come up with interesting yet relevant scenarios, incidents, or characters. I have to present cues for other players to pick up. I also need to listen and and develop narrative threads based on other players.
Not so good
Interaction is stilted
There is a little too much waiting for you turn. Even the “meeting” action requires the players to speak only one or two sentences, and in turn, with no discussion. Thus the player interaction is quite limited. The best games for me are when you have to heed what the other players get up to. I dislike the “analysis paralysis” sort of optimiser games where there is an optimal move if only you can be bothered to calculate it.
No real conflict
You never feel like there is a real conflict going on. You care about the story but the conflict, the challenge does not come from player action or even game system action. It’s a difficult feeling to express, but somehow you know you are not playing a game, you are telling a story.
We managed 22 turns in less than 2 hours. Given that we usually only manage 1-2 turns of playtesting this seems like a really good tool for developing narrative and ideas. But probably not great for realistic tactical combat unless everyone has a similar set of assumptions/expectations.
I think the really great thing about this is that designers can use it to crack on with design without having to build systems first. A potentially very valuable tool for getting new game ideas off the ground.
I didn’t manage to take part but from what Nick reports I could see this being used in a couple of ways.
1. As a design tool. Someone puts a basic idea forward and asks the group to build on this. Not everything suggested will be used but it may help clarify the designer’s thinking or add additional aspects. Although using a different medium I doubt it’s much different from what we’d usually do face to face.
2. As a story telling game but with one of the players presenting a starting situation that everyone then builds on. We did this sort of game many years ago after a session I ran at a Wargames Development conference. As players added a development they had to say/explain why/how their proposed development fitted in. There also needs to be the ability to add ‘side-plots’, the usual justification being that they will add depth and complexity to the story even though it may not be clear how they will eventually inter-act. An example of a starting point could be a flashpoint for a conflict of interests between different factions – a sort of ‘Wars of the Roses’ situation.