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Design Challenge #1 Charlie Wilson's Advance Wars

Charlie Wilson's Advance Wars (referred to as CWAW from here forward) is the name of a game that is built into a sort of matchmaking service using the online muliplayer functionality of Advance Wars: Days of Ruin. This game merges elements from the turnbased strategy, ARG (alternate reality game), and communication genres of videogames. Inspired by the major motion picture Charlie Wilson's War, CWAW creates an environment where politics, money, and power is free to circulate between the involved players, and a world where one player can covertly turn the tables of a war.

In order for such an elaborate set up to function, the necessary elements of war and politics must be set. These include choosing sides, picking one's battles, and obtaining and distributing wealth of any kind.

Choosing Sides:
CWAW can function optimally with 10 participants. Though the engine can support more than two warring factions, for the purposes of this write up I'll keep things simple by only using 2 even teams. The armies of 5 can be gathered in number of ways. Random teams can be selected from a group of 10. The groups can come as a clan of 5 members. Or teams can be assigned to balance the sides based on online rank/skill level. The assigned teams are permanent.

Picking One's Battles:
The battle maps for CWAW are not chosen at random, nor are they selected and agreed upon by the players. Instead, individual battle maps are linked together to create a "world map" or more specifically a large section of land. On this map, each side has a square that represents their capital building. This square represents a map that is a heavily guarded against enemies. Besides the Capital square, there are a variety of other types of squares. One type of square contain balanced pre-deployed maps that came with Advance Wars. Another type features the most balanced makes where players have to build their own units. Each team takes turns picking battles on the map.

It may sound complicated. But, just think of the world map like a normal Advance Wars level except each square on the world map zooms into a a level in Advance Wars. The world map set up is very similar to the campaign mode where each step represents a battle that determines how you progress through the game.

Obtaining and Distributing Wealth:
This feature of CWAW is the most important feature. In order to turn the tides of the battles that are unbalanced for the attacker (ie. the capital and adjacent squares), the attacking side must secure and assign additional support for those battles. Support can come in a number of forms.

  • Additional Units
  • Additional Buildings (cities, factories, etc.)
  • Land Deformation (ie. destroying bridges and roads, or cutting down woods)
Generally, in order to obtain support, a player must win a battle on one of the balanced map. To keep things as simple and streamlined as possible, after the a player wins on a balanced map (and their victory is reported), they get 1000 funds. The player can then decide to do one of several things with the funds. They can save it, or spend it, or donate it. When the player saves their funds, after enough wins, they can collect enough money to enter a match with additional support. A player can buy specific units to start the match with or, with significant funds, they can buy additional factories or captured buildings to help them turn the tide of a stacked battle. If the player has no need for any amount of the money they've earned, they can choose to throw their support behind a teammates' battle. It's easy to see how with a simple set up like this, the skilled players will quickly become influential and pivotal in determining how their army proceeds and the success of their actions. In order for the army to secure success, they may have to collaborate, vote, and pull their resources together. But if a particular player has a different plan, and this player has never lost a battle, then they might take matters into their own hands. From the three simple actions of save, spend, and donate, a world of negotiations can occur.

More Complexity:
I have just described the simplest version of CWAW. From such a simple idea, the rules of CWAW can become much more deep and complex with elements that can shape the strategies of individual battles instead of just looking for a clear cut winner and loser.

What if a player could earn more than just 1000 funds from a particular battle? There are a number of options for adding more variety and bonuses to each individual battle in CWAW. Each map can have special winning conditions that would add to the funds given to the victor. For example, a possible bonus condition could be something simple like, if the player goes out of their way to capture 3 additional buildings, then they get an additional 3000 funds if they win. This bonus would be available to both players and would be best suited in a pre-deployed map where the number of capture-able infantry units are fixed. In such a situation, it is possible that the losing player might sacrifice more powerful pieces to eliminate all of their enemy's infantry so that they don't receive the bonus upon achieving victory.

What if the funds for winning weren't fixed at a minimum of 1000? What if the funds were determined by the players overall performance based on the set of statistics displayed at the end of the game? These stats include the number of days, units left, funds spent, loss value, properties captured, how many of each individual unit was used or produced, and how many of each individual unit was lost in battle. By crunching these numbers, it is possible to determine and reward the more swift and economical player.

Using funds to establish additional properties is a powerful option that would only be balanced by its expense. An alternative to doing this could be to build units elsewhere and drive them, ship them, or fly them to the battle field of choice. There are several missions in the previous Advance Wars games that require the player to protect specific units for a number of days in order to achieve victory. This idea is very similar. In CWAW, players can move special units from map to map. In order to move a unit safely, the player has to keep the unit from being destroyed in addition to winning the battle.

Coming up with interesting ideas is easy. The world map can be modeled after real world places, or reflect real world battle sites. The map could change climate depending on the real world weather conditions for that particular day. CWAW is quite flexible and can be as complex as you want. What's most important is that the battles have a sense of place that connects to a bigger picture, and that each player participates in the war through three simple actions. Save. Spend. Donate.

To run and maintain CWAW can take very little time and energy depending on how complex the rules are. All the information can be maintained by a single person without coding anything. A simple spread sheet or even pencil can paper can get the job done. And this job isn't any more involved than being a banker in a the board game Monopoly. In fact, CWAW is very much like a board game like Risk. Furthermore, CWAW is not that different from Mario Party if you substitute the mini games with Advance Wars matches, squeeze the spaces closer together, add more players, put those players on teams, and place it all on a map instead of a colorful Mario theme board and you pretty much have CWAW.

Hopefully, I'll be able to find 10 or so participants to try CWAW out. If I do manange to pull off a demo run of CWAW, I'll let you guys know.

Till the next design challenge.

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Reader Comments (1)

I first read this post back in 2008, but read it again just today. I really like this idea a lot. As you say, you can squeeze a lot of possibilities out of the three simple functions. If this were made today, it'd probably have asynchronous online multiplayer and you'd be able to track a war in progression through a smart phone app.

Hmm..I wonder what happens if you added another layer on top of this. So, let's say one war was over one country, and there are several wars going on around the world at the same time. In this way, it'd be possible to simulate a real war with, say, 100 players.

March 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Primed

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