A Designer's Introduction
by Steve Jackson
The hovercraft jumped and bucked as it made the transition from river surface to shore. Then it was off, speeding across the grassland at better than a hundred kilometers per hour. To the west was river and dark forest; to the east, the sun was just coming up, dim and red in an unnaturally dusty sky. To the north, closer every minute, was the target area: depots, communication centers, bridges – still dreaming in the red morning.
Asleep, but waking fast. To the north, alarms buzzed, orders were given, machines growled to life. In a buried command center, an officer cursed and ordered a call for reinforcements.
G.E.V. is the sequel to Ogre. In a way, it's a game of Ogre, without the Ogres . . . a straight infantry/armor game, set in the future. In terms of complexity, it's a step up. The map is bigger; more counters are involved on each side; movement is considerably more complicated. But anyone who's played Ogre will recognize the game.
I've wanted to do a game like this ever since Ogre came out. I enjoy Ogre – but it only covers one type of situation. The idea of interactions between the "little stuff" fascinated me: are GEVs good against anything except an Ogre? Are infantry good for anything at all except sacrifices? What's the best defensive "line" you can put together with Ogre units?
Working out the answers was fun – and, in the process, a new game was developed. As I'd hoped, the addition of terrain effects and detailed overrun rules made a big difference. G.E.V. allows both players a wide choice of tactics – and the system is flexible enough to fit all kinds of scenarios. One thing didn't change, though. G.E.V., like Ogre, has a role-playing element. As the attacker, you get to smash, pillage, and burn – but you have to conserve your force. As the defender, you're trying to hold the line with a grossly inadequate force... but the reinforcements are on their way!
Even inside the howitzer's cabin, the sound was deafening. Outside? It didn't bear thinking about. Captain Vanetti returned his attention to the screens. He had ten attacking units to deal with – five of which were concentrated on his own position – and that was just too many. Sword One was not only a worthwhile target in its own right; it was the keystone of the line the attacking units were trying to breach. Vanetti reflected that he really ought to be frightened.
The gun's thunder let up momentarily. In the sudden silence, Vanetti's gunner grinned. "Two down – ten to go!"
"Make that nine," replied Vanetti. Unless his screen lied, one of the attacking hovercraft had just gone to a fiery death – and the nuclear shells that killed it could only have come from one place. "You just got another one!"
But the Combine units were reforming and coming in. "Sword One to Shield One. Pull in a bit; they're coming back." Because the infantry screen was three kilometers in front of his own howitzer, he was still here – but it was time to draw them in. The terrain here was better for GEVs than infantry; the patches of woods were small and far apart. But his men were holding – so far.
"Shield One to Sword One. Pullback accomplished." Good. The infantry could not chase hovercraft – but they could wait under the umbrella of howitzer fire, making a rush impossible. The GEVs could hit them – but only by coming within howitzer range. Twice they'd probed at his position and at Sword Two to the west. They'd killed some infantrymen... but their own losses had been higher.
Then the thunder began again, and more shells sought the foe. Vanetti's eyes went back to the screen. He had eight squads left, ranged in a semicircle around his own position. Sword Two had only six – but Sword Two was a mobile unit. Its range was less, but it could move toward – or away from – the action. Vanetti and Sword One would have to sit still for whatever the Combine could dish out.
The Combine units were doing their best. Nine globes of light – estimated enemy positions – moved toward the defensive line. Two... three... suddenly shrank to pinpoints – confirmed sightings. One of his own screening units died, then, and the enemy points slowly diffused again. One suddenly winked out, and another began to blink. Good!
Vanetti shot a look "westward" at the lights representing Sword Two's area. He blinked. Then, suddenly, he understood... and sweat trickled down his forehead. While his own units had stopped their side of the attack, Two had not been so lucky. Only two squads of infantry were still reporting. Sword Two was intact and pulling back – but there was no way it could escape. At least four enemy GEVs were alive over there, and looking for blood.
His own position was better – for the moment. Two active enemy units on his side of the map, one more crippled. And they weren't moving fast enough to escape. Vanetti barked orders into his mike, sending his remaining infantry into action – toward the enemy hovers.
"Sword One to Sword Two. Get back this way." Even as he said it, he knew the order was futile – tracks were just too slow. But it was worth a try. "Leave ours to the iron men. Help Two," he told the gunner.
It almost worked. The "iron men" of Shield One climbed all over their three target GEVs. Sword Two hit one of its own attackers. Sword One crippled another. And three other Combine hovers closed on Sword Two, blew it to superheated gas, and buzzed off toward the north. Seconds later, the "cripple" followed them.
"Sword One to Shield One and Shield Two. Get back here. Form up for defense, centerline 240. They might be back." Then switching frequencies: "Sword One to Alpha. They're past us. Sword Two bought it. At least four live ones, coming your way. Good luck."
Then, his duty done, he slumped in his chair. Sword One had accounted for three enemy GEVs and had come through unscratched. But it couldn't follow the battle. Even if the hovers turned south again, they wouldn't come this way – not with an open spot just to the west.
Vanetti began to allow himself to hope. He might just live to see tomorrow...
Vanetti was very lucky. The scenario could have been Breakthrough or Raid – each starts out with a force of Combine GEVs moving north – but, either way, the defending screen is in deep trouble.
There's really no way to build a secure defensive line with a handful of armor and 20 points of infantry. But it's interesting to try. One of the best ways is the one just described – a couple of howitzers, situated to take advantage of streams and forests, with the infantry in front. The invading GEVs can't get within firing range of the howitzers without overrunning the infantry. They can't go around the infantry without taking unacceptable losses from the howitzers. And they can't snipe at the infantry unhindered; the howitzers' range is too long. What they do, of course, is concentrate on one point, overload the defenses locally, and break through – but it takes a while, during which time reinforcements will keep coming.
Of course, the armor in the screen doesn't have to be howitzers. Either heavy or missile tanks will work – and you get twice as many units. However, it becomes absolutely vital to make good use of terrain in setting up your defensive line – otherwise the GEVs will get in the first shot and cripple you.
The treatment of terrain in G.E.V. is abstract – though certainly not more so than in most wargames. Terrain affects both movement and combat in a fairly standard fasion. GEVs are the most strongly affected by terrain; favorable types (roads or water) speed them even more, while bad terrain (woods or swamp) slows them drastically and can even disable them.
Terrain effects for Ogres are also given, so they can be used in G.E.V. scenarios. For the most part, Ogres ignore terrain. Swamp, however, is anathema to Ogres; they can get STUCK. Heavy tanks have most of the same movement abilities as do Ogres – reasonable, since the Ogre is just a highly-evolved Heavy. One provision – the ability of Ogres and Heavies to totally ignore woods and streams – is definitely unrealistic. There would be some effect, even though "woods" is taken to mean fairly light forest and streams are small. However, heavy and super-heavy armor ought to be able to treat such obstacles fairly lightly – and, for game purposes, the best way to show that proved to be the simplest. As a result, heavy tanks (and Ogres, if you have them) are most effective behind streams and in woods, which is just where the GEVs are least useful – which can have a number of interesting tactical ramifications.
Towns slow movement but provide defensive bonuses for all units. Demolished town hexes (and there are a lot of those, especially in the Raid scenarios) have the same effects on both movement and combat – another inaccuracy in the interest of simplicity. Actually, an area of demolished buildings should provide slightly less cover (for armor, anyway) and impede movement more. The added complexity didn't seem worth it.
One of the most depressing features of Ogre (realistic, but depressing) was the way infantry units died, and died, and died. Sometimes they made all the difference (to me, one of the marks of a good Ogre player is the way he handles his infantry), but even when they saved the day, they were cannon fodder.
It doesn't work that way in G.E.V.. The reason? Simple. In Ogre, the infantry were in a very bad position – terrain with few hiding places, and a very thick-skinned opponent covered with AP guns. G.E.V. gives the infantry the benefit of some "traditional" infantry abilities. To me, this makes sense. A lot of things will change in a hundred years... but if we're still using infantry, we'll still be using them to take and hold ground. Infantry aren't fast; they don't have long-range weapons. But they can go nearly anywhere, and they're hard to kill.
G.E.V. simulates this in two ways. First, the infantry can enter absolutely any terrain on the map... even water, though they can't fight while "swimming" in their suits. Furthermore, they get the best defensive bonus for terrain: doubled defense in woods or swamp, and tripled in towns.
Second, of course, is the overrun rule. This cuts two ways, and both are good for infantry. In a defensive role, the infantry can spread out in a line to stop enemy movement; any unit which tries to move through (overrun) that hex will be fired upon before it can fire. In an offensive role, two or three squads of infantry can move onto a single enemy armor unit; the enemy unit will fire first and get some of the infantry, but the infantry will almost certainly finish off the armor unit (unless it's a Heavy Tank) when they fire... and since overrun fire takes place during the movement phase, the attacking infantry will get a second chance to fire, afterwards. In either case, the attack strength of infantry is doubled in overrun attacks, reflecting the increased utility of infantry weapons at close range.
We toyed with the idea of increasing the range on infantry weapons – allowing the infantry to open fire on all non-Ogre units at a two-hex range, while retaining the one-hex range against enemy Ogres. However (though this satisfied everyone who enjoyed seeing the infantry clobber tanks), it took some of the flavor out of the game. With the present rules, infantry has to keep cover and do its fighting at close range. When it does, it's deadly.
One other rule that didn't make it into the final G.E.V. package was "specialist" infantry: engineer units and heavy-weapons teams. The engineers would have the ability to blow bridges (or construct pontoon bridges) at need; the heavy-weapons teams would probably have had the ability to act (once) like missile tanks, as far as attack ability went, after which they would be replaced by regular infantry counters. Either type would also have the ability to take over enemy installations under certain circumstances (though, if a heavy-weapon unit which has expended its missiles is replaced by a regular counter, it shouldn't lose its special knowledge! Small problem). However, we simply couldn't work the special infantry types into the counter mix without taking out too many of the other units – so this idea was knocked out fairly early. It may surface again, in an expansion set.
The New Units
Three new unit types are presented in G.E.V.: the Light Tank, the Mobile Howitzer, and the Ogre, Mark IV.
The Light Tank was originally developed for Ogre. It didn't survive the first few rounds of playtesting, though; it proved to be the least successful unit type, and there were enough different kinds of units without it. However, by cutting down its defense slightly and making it cost only half as much as other tank types, it became a viable unit for G.E.V..
The Light Tank has a movement of 3 – the same as a Heavy. In all other ways, it is like a GEV: its attack strength and range are 2. However, a player can take two light tanks instead of one "armor unit." Thus, the strategies based on large numbers of relatively cheap units become possible.
The Mobile Howitzer was definitely a case of "popular demand." Practically everyone who wrote to comment on Ogre suggested adding a long-range unit with some movement ability. As first playtested, the MHWZ had the same defense (D1) as the howitzer. After playtesting, its defense was increased to 2.
Since the MHWZ gives flexibility to a defense, and can be used in an attacking role if necessary, it is generally more useful than the regular HWZ; the two cost the same. Occasionally, its two extra hexes of range make the regular howitzer the better choice – i.e., when enough other units are available to guard the howitzer's own position.
The Ogre Mark IV specifications are listed in G.E.V.. Rules for playing Ogres are not given, except where they interact with new rules (such as terrain). Thus, G.E.V. does not duplicate Ogre, but builds on it. However if you already have Ogre, and use Ogres in G.E.V., the Mark IV specifications will make sense to you.
The Mark IV is a "raider" type unit. A Mark IV, though fully as expensive as a Mark V, would not be able to stand up to the V in a slugging match. The IV's advantages lie in speed (it starts with M4 movement) and range (it carries 20 missiles, fired from "missile racks").
"Okay, Beautiful. Do your stuff."
"Beautiful" – more formally known as Unit 11, 22nd Armored, Third Army Paneuropean – didn't respond. Heavy tanks don't talk. Her commander had never seemed aware of that. Nobody was likely to criticize him, though. A man who had been through a dozen firefights without serious injury was a man deserving respect. The fourteen silhouettes in a neat row on the turret elevated him to near godhood. Even if he did talk to the damn tank.
"All right. Get us behind that wall." He was addressing the driver, now. Corporal Paskos didn't question the command. If the commander thought that little wall would help, he could have it.
"Are they in range yet?"
"Not yet," replied the gunner, "visual any second, unless these are ghosts here... NO! Commander!"
But it was too late. The two GEVs bounding madly over the top of the hill had been firing for a full half-second before they cleared the crest. Certain of the tank's position to within a hundred yards, they sprayed the entire area with death. Standard operating procedure. Out of a dozen shells, one was well-aimed. Beautiful disappeared in a gout of red fire.
On board the lead GEV, eyes and machines reported the same news. Definite visual contact with an enemy heavy. Then, a fireball. The two hovercraft skidded down the hill, their paths diverging slightly. The lead gunner turned his scope on the spot where the heavy had been, to see if a mopup was required.
Aboard Beautiful, the gunner's cry had been the last word spoken. Then the enemy shell had hit – not the tank itself, but the wall in front. Two meters isn't much... but the difference between a contact nuclear blast and one two meters away was enough. Beautiful's BPC hide was blast-burned and rock-pelted, but unbroached. Her crew, though...
Inside, no one moved. BPC armor and cast circuitry can take more punishment than a man. A long time (to the tank) went by with no new orders from any of the three crewmen... no perceptible action at all. A second after the shell hit, an orange button lit by each of the three men. None of them punched it. None of them did anything at all.
With the mechanical equivalent of a shrug, Beautiful took matters into her own hands. A pressurized tank jetted stimulants into the ventilation system. As for the situation outside...
Seventeen units were within sensor range; an additional twenty-three were included in the latest data pulse from CP Beta. Eleven were known hostiles. Two were immediate targets; Beta's pulse listed them as hostiles, and they didn't respond to Beautiful's own IFF. They were, in fact, the two attacking GEVs.
As the GEV's gunner focused on the blackened Heavy, he muttered under his breath. The armor looked intact. Better put a couple of rounds into it, just to be safe. As his hand tightened on his firing control, he realized that the "dead" tank's main gun was tracking him...
The other GEV skewed to the side as its companion fireballed. None of the crew had seen what happened, but the enemy heavy was once again putting out a whole spectrum of jamming. The GEV's side gun opened up and her turret swung around.
Beautiful rolled to the side. Her short-range radar showed an obstruction to the left; she was programmed to take advantage. Her jamming devices went on and off in random patterns, sending messages and images designed to fool every type of sensor up to and including the human eye.
The surviving GEV was in full flight now. Whether its gun was being controlled by human, computer, or both, it wasn't hitting. Shells exploded in all directions, but none came within twenty meters. Even the humans inside could have taken that. Beautiful hardly noticed. Her own gun came to bear, fired, fired again...
Inside Beautiful, the commander woke and shook his head. "Paskos! Ferguson!" He looked at his screens, and shook his head again. No enemy units within six klicks? "Paskos, make for 1412. We may still be able to do some good." He hit switches to transfer gun control to his own position; Ferguson had a concussion, or worse.
Back at base, he would order the maintenance men to put the new kill-silhouettes in a new column, just as though the tank had had a different commander. Beautiful had gotten those two on her own.
Stacking and Overruns
One of the basic simplifications (read: shortcuts) in Ogre is the one-unit-per-hex rule. I felt (and still feel) that this is justified, especially on a nuclear battleground. However, it's not physically impossible to get units closer together. So stacking is allowed – up to five units per hex – with the provision that, if one unit in the hex is fired on, other units in that hex also suffer an attack at reduced strength and effect. It's not illegal to stack – but it's often unwise. If you have to concentrate your force into a small area you'll do so – but just like a real field commander, you'll be biting your nails at the thought of what a concentration of nukes could do to your units.
Of course, if you can stack with friendly units, you ought to be able to move in on enemy ones. I threw out the Ogre concept of "ramming" here, thus occasioning the only real discrepancy between the games. (Everything else in Ogre can be taken as a special case of the G.E.V. rules.) The result was a somewhat complex, but realistic, set of overrun rules. (However, if you think they're complicated, you should have seen the first draft! Alexander Epstein, one of the playtesters, suggested a better way to do it; the final rules are a cross between his suggestion and Lynn Willis' Close Assault rules from Olympica, with further simplifications.)
Basically, any units can move onto any other units, thus occasioning an overrun attack. Combat occurs immediately. All defenders fire once; all surviving attackers then fire back... and so on, until only one side remains. Because of the deadlier nature of close-range combat, all "D" results count as "X" (no units are disabled, they're destroyed instead) and both infantry and Ogre weapons fire at double strength.
Overrun combat has one further aspect – which I'm really pleased with, because it adds another science fiction element to the game. If an already-disabled unit is overrun, it is not automatically eliminated; it attacks at half strength and defends normally. This is because every vehicle is assumed to have an on-board computer. Not intelligent, not an Ogre, not smart enough to maneuver or fire over long distances without a human commander. But smart enough to take control of the vehicle and attempt to defend itself while the crew is out of commission. (I imagine that the tank designers of 2085 would tout all their armor as being capable of "fully automatic," unmanned operation; I also expect that, under combat conditions, relatively inexpensive computer "brains" would perform only about as well as the rules reflect. If a little computer could replace a man, there'd be nothing out there but Ogres.)
John DeVries was no soldier, but his reflexes were excellent. When he heard the explosions behind him, he pulled the car off the road, slewed it around, and killed the motor almost without thinking. Then he cursed himself bitterly. "Ceasefire," indeed. He had probably just gotten himself killed – and his family, too.
From the back seat came a chorus of questions. "What's happening, Papa? Are we there yet?" His wife, white-faced, soothed the children.
Then a plume of dust appeared on the road, moving the way they had been traveling, and growing. "Look! A convoy!" cried the older DeVries boy, excited. Military convoys were great fun for the eight-year-old; sometimes the soldiers were friendly.
The "convoy" whipped past, ignoring the little civilian vehicle canted on the roadside. Six hovercraft, with Combine markings. It wasn't a terror-raid, though, or they would have fired on the car... Minutes passed.
Then the sky lit to the north, toward town, and DeVries understood why the GEVs hadn't bothered to shoot at them. They had had bigger game in mind.
"Quick, love, get the kids out of the car. We'll head for those trees over there."
She stared at him, uncomprehending. Leave the car?
"They'll be back."
G.E.V. underwent the most thorough pre-publication playtesting of any of my games to date. In addition to the local (Austin) group of playtesters, copies were sent to about twenty individuals or groups around the country for "blindtesting" – that is, playtesting without the (dubious) benefit of personal contact and discussion with the designer. Most of these were people who had written articles or comments about Ogre, of such a nature that we thought they could make worthwhile contributions to a new game in the genre.
The playtesters, almost without exception, did an excellent job. They had been given a mass of material to work with and examine (the first packet sent out contained a complete draft of the game; a supplementary packet about a month later contained changes, additions, corrections, and suggestions from the playtesters themselves). I was pleased (and relieved) when the letters began to come back in, and it was clear that most of the rules were being read the way I had intended. In some cases, they weren't – and that indicated where to rewrite.
However, the playtesters did more than just point out the weak spots in the writing. They were also quite up-front whenever they felt something ought to be changed. Quite often, I found myself in agreement. (Occasionally, of course, I thought they were nuts.)
On the whole, though, this experience left me sold on the merits of detailed playtesting. Certainly the playtesting added to the time and expense of finishing the game. On the whole, though, I think it was worth it; the efforts of the playtest groups made G.E.V. a faster, cleaner, and more realistic game. I appreciate it.
G.E.V. includes four scenarios, each with several variants (including Ogre variants, naturally!). Each of the four is different.
Ceasefire Collapse is a straight slugging match. The players have equal forces; the objective is simply to do as much damage as possible to the enemy. This game could easily be adapted to a much bigger map – say a PanzerBlitz or Strategy I hexsheet – or a do-it-yourself terrain map. This is a good scenario for sharpening your general tactical ability.
The Train is also a slugfest; typically, it starts with an incredible hammerblow attack against a heavy defense, and the rest of the game is mopping-up by one side or the other. Since the important question is the survival of the train, though, neither player can afford to spend too much attention on the wholly military objective of destroying enemy armor. The attacker needs a good balance between heavy units (to smash the defender's combat capability) and GEVs (to harass the train, cut the track, or both). The defender needs to be everywhere at once; if he is willing to accept heavy losses, he can win.
Raid got the most playtesting here in Austin – probably because it's a lot of fun. Originally, this one was titled "Atrocity." The name's changed; the game is the same. Basically, a force of GEVs enters on the bottom of the map. Their objectives: destruction of bridges, town hexes, command posts, and any enemy units that get in their way. The defending force is pathetically weak... but reinforcements come in every turn. Typically, a Raid game goes through the following stages:
- The attacking units enter the board, pick up a few easy targets, and begin probing assaults against the defending screen.
- The defending screen is bypassed, or collapses, or both, taking a few GEVs with it. More town hexes get blown away. If the attacker handled his units well enough, he can retire at this point with a marginal victory – but usually greed will overcome prudence.
- The defender begins to organize his reinforcements. Since both the type of unit and the place are randomly determined, he never gets what he wants – but sometimes, as the song goes, he gets what he needs. You may wind up with a few infantry units far away from the action – but, once in a while, you'll get a missile tank in just the right place to waste a GEV that was miles away from any other defender. It evens out.
- At least half the attacking units are gone; the defender has whipped his random reinforcements into some kind of shape. The GEVs are going after a major town complex somewhere on the board, and the defender is sweating blood.
- All of a sudden, there are only a few attackers left. They still have superior mobility (unless the defender picked up and kept a number of GEVs himself), but to attack any further targets is to court destruction. This is the point where a wise attacker runs for it.
Raid scenarios are the longest, but probably the most challenging.
Breakthrough is an interesting situation. The attacker's objective is not combat – it is simply to get as many units as possible through the enemy lines and off the board to the north, as quickly as possible. Thus, the attacker can win by avoiding combat. This is a good game because it teaches an important lesson: a military operation does not necessarily call for immediate, bloody confrontation. It's important to be able to pick your time and place – which is what Breakthrough is all about.
If you have two game boards (or take careful notes about what units leave the map and when) you can combine Breakthrough and Raid. Use the Raid victory conditions only. Use the Breakthrough setup with 16 GEVs. GEVs (and defending units) leaving the map to the north immediately enter the Raid scenario.
The Raid defense is set up as for the 12-GEV game, and reinforcements do not begin on the Raid map until turn 8. Thus, the sooner the attacker can get his units onto the northern map, the more damage he'll be able to do.
The maps should be arranged so that one is directly to the north of the other, with the roads connecting. The river will not connect; no matter. The Breakthrough defensive setup is placed on the southern board, and the Raid defensive setup on the northern one. All units may move freely between boards. Defenders may escape from the N, E, or W side of the northern board. Attackers may escape only from the S side of the southern board.
Of course, any number of other scenarios can be concocted. One letter I received suggested a scenario in which a damaged Ogre is moving slowly back toward enemy lines; a relief force is coming out to escort it in, and an enemy force is coming to finish it off. That can be interesting. We also had fun with a Raid variant using Heavy Tanks, instead of GEVs. A force of Heavies makes a bad enemy, grinding across and through the streams and forests toward your vulnerable areas. Interestingly, where the best tactic for a GEV group is to bunch it up and hit one weak area, a Heavy Tank force seems to do best by coming in along a broad front and smashing everything in its way. Look out for infantry, though; a Heavy can sometimes live through an overrun, but it can't dodge it. Hit the infantry, before it hits you!