wombat_socho (wombat_socho) wrote,

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From cardboard and paper to the CRT

This post has to do with my long-standing obsession with adapting the old SPI folio game Dixie as a scenario for the computerized wargame toolkit The Operational Art of War, so if you're not really interested in alternate history or wargaming, this post will be of little or no interest to you.

TOAW is an awesome toolkit for creating wargame scenarios, but there are two things that make it a real pain in the ass when you're trying to adapt boardgames. One is the map.
SPI's graphics department, run by the genius Redmond Simonsen (RIP) for most of its history did a wizard job of distilling geographical and political information into an easily-read hexagonal map. TOAW, on the other hand, defaults to a more precise, chrome-laden model with all manner of terrain features, and does not allow many deviations. This becomes a major problem when adapting the Dixie map, which has all the rivers running along hexsides, while the software requires rivers to run through hexes. Also, TOAW doesn't allow hexes any larger than 50 km (vs. the original game's 70km) or turns longer than a week (vs. the original two weeks) so the map is going to look a little bit weird - fortunately, it appears that everything comes out in the wash anyway as the movement allowances of the units in the scenario are roughly similar to what they are in the game. Building the map, though, takes a LOT of time even for a small map like this one; I opted to conform to the original map and leave the Mountain and Pacific states out, as well as Cuba and Central America.

In addition, TOAW requires you to be a real gearhead. You can't just make all the infantry divisions 1-6 and combine them into 3-5 corps while 1-8 armor brigades zip around the country side. You also can't easily distinguish between reinforcement and replacement divisions in the scenario...well, that's okay, really, because I monkeyed around with the order of battle anyway. My scenario background has more similarity to Harry Turtledove's Timeline-191 books, with the South winning the original Civil War and rematches in the 1890s as well as during the Great War. So, even though the scenario starts in April 1935, we're seeing a fusion of American designs from the late 1930s/early 1940s so that the standard aircraft are P-26s (upgrading to P-35s) and B-10s (replaced by A-17s*) and the standard Union tank is the M3 Buford. The Union also has motorized all nine of the Regular Army infantry divisions, semi-motorized the National Guard, and has the structure in place to activate up to ten Negro divisions. All the Northern divisions are triangular (three-regiment), the armored cavalry and armor brigades look somewhat like the WW2 armored division combat commands except without the medium tanks, and there are a pair of airborne and mountain divisions as well as a pair of "heavy" National Guard divisions optimized to crack the fortifications of Northern Virginia.

The Confederacy, on the other hand, being more traditionalist, has stuck with the square infantry divisions of the Great War (two brigades with two regiments each, and a LOT of machine guns) as well as horse cavalry divisions; only in Texas are the infantry motorized and the cavalry in the process of transitioning to armored cars. Since Britain, France and Russia have been barred from researching combat aircraft and tanks by Imperial Germany, aspiring designers emigrated to the CSA, where the various state governments soon have I-5 and D.500 fighters flying cover for Amiot, Bloch and Tupolev bombers; introduction of H-35, R-35 and BT-5 tanks takes a little longer. The Confederacy's Mexican allies, on the other hand, purchase Japanese Type 82 tankettes and the Type 89 medium tank. Both sides have fairly lightweight antitank weapons, with anti-tank rifles being widespread in the CSA.

After ironing out all the order of battle headaches (assembling an army squad by squad, gun by gun, and vehicle by vehicle takes damned near as much time as making the map) the last headache is assembling the event engine, which handles a number of things such as first turn surprise effects (not included in the original game) as well as air/rail transport, replacements, and so on. There's no good way to just transfer Dixie 's original Administrative Point mechanism to the scenario; the parts that aren't already handled by the order of battle (which controls deployments, reinforcements, and such) it has to be built into the Event Engine. So each side starts with an Air Movement capacity (more expansive for the North than the South), Rail Movement capacity (ditto) and a replacement rate that gets affected by events. For example, when the North captures major Southern cities, this decreases CSA replacements due to the loss of the factories and workers in them, while some of the newly-liberated Negroes will wind up in the expanding number of Union colored divisions.

While TOAW does have some ability to simulate sea battles, I am keeping things relatively simple by avoiding any blue-water navy action, assuming that the CSA has enough of a navy to allow relatively easy transit between Cuba and Florida and that the USA sees no point in diverting resources into pointless amphibious invasions along the Atlantic coast.

We'll see how it all works out.

*This is not a typo; unlike the Army Air Corps in our timeline, the Army Air Force is influenced by German studies which concluded that strategic bombardment was not merely inhumane but a waste of time anyway. No B-17s, B-24s or B-29s in this timeline.
Tags: wargames
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