(Developer Diary) A Glorious Chance: The Naval Struggle for Lake Ontario, 1813

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"What a glorious chance to have cut him off and become at once masters of the Lakes and all their naval force at one blow."
-- Capt. Arthur Sinclair USN, 4 July 1813

The Naval War of 1812 on the Great Lakes raged for years. But never were the U.S. and British squadrons so closely balanced, or the stakes so high, than in the summer of 1813.

Inspired by Dave Schueler's multiplayer tournament game, Lord of the Lakes," A Glorious Chance is a card-assisted solitaire naval game that puts you in command of the U.S. squadron on Lake Ontario, in the critical period of June through September 1813. Your objective: Control Lake Ontario by the end of the summer campaign, without losing your own squadron. Face a cunning AI British squadron, whose strategic objectives and battle tactics react dynamically to your moves.

Initially, A Glorious Chance will be in a free downloadable Cyberboard format only. But it may eventually be made into a print-and-play physical game, too.

The game features:

A strategic level -- Make decisions about ship missions and assignment zones. Scout and shadow enemy forces to identify them. Intercept detected enemy forces. Make amphibious assaults. Attack and defend supply convoys. The strategic level offers a quick-playing, abstracted combat system that presents you with realistic choices, yet requires no prior knowledge of period naval tactics or maneuvers. This allows the strategic level of A Glorious Chance to be played as a self-contained strategic solitaire game. And for those who want a more detailed simulation and greater immersion, the game also offers...

A maneuver level -- Take the game's generated strategic encounters to any of six authentic nautical maps of Lake Ontario. An innovative system generates all the parameters of your scenario setup by drawing only three cards. Maneuver stacks or individual ships on a 1km grid from first sighting (as far as 19 km) until they enter combat range (adjacent). The AI force has a mission of its own; it may ignore you and proceed toward its objective, or it may seek battle and start maneuvering in reaction to your moves. Since this is a maneuver level, there's no combat -- the sides are positioning themselves to win the weather gauge, bring their forces to bear, and set up an advantageous tactical position. Once the forces are adjacent...

Use your favorite Age of Sail tactical boardgame or miniatures system -- With A Glorious Chance, you've got a constant variety of plausible tactical scenarios that have a bearing on a wider campaign. You can transfer the action to a boardgame like GMT's Serpents of The Seas (which has all the Lake Ontario ships in it already), SPI's Frigate or Fighting Sail, or use naval miniatures at whatever scale you like. The action can start as soon as the Maneuver Level puts the forces at a distance that fits your game board or tabletop.

You don't have to fight all the battles with a separate tactical game. You can pick and choose -- sometimes you might even want to take an encounter to the Maneuver Level, enjoy the runup to combat, and then let the Strategic Level decide the result quickly with a few rolls of the dice.

The modular, multilevel design of A Glorious Chance gives wargamers many ways to use it. Play the strategic level on the go, on your laptop, as a self-contained solitaire game. Set up a multiplayer campaign, giving A Glorious Chance to the umpire to use as the management tool -- as the game generates battles, the umpire can assign them to various players as separate scenarios, with all the setup parameters. You could even skip the Strategic Layer and just use the Maneuver Layer to generate standalone scenarios outside a campaign.

I'll be posting here occasionally as I continue developing and playtesting the prototype. Your comments and constructive suggestions are always welcome.

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  1. Broadsword56's Avatar
    Question on British human vs. AI:
    A: Sorry, no. The system certainly could be adapted for that, and a scenario and rules too. But it would be practically another game. At first, I chose US human vs. AI because -- selfishly -- I just had the most interest in playing the US side in that campaign. But, as I developed the game, I came to realize that if I had to choose one or the other, the choice I'd made works best with the system and probably makes the better game, too.
    Here's why:
    The British squadron is easier to design for the AI side, because it's more homogenous and it trained to fight in standard AoS line of battle tactics. The US squadron is larger and far more diverse, so there are many more strategic/tactical decisions and permutations involved. That also makes the US side more interesting to command. Most of the dilemmas involve how to best use those slow, unstable converted laker schooners, which are a liability in some situations and a vital asset in others. Do you deploy them in small numbers on patrols and risk losing them to storms or combat? Do you take them with the squadron when it sails from Sacket's Harbor out to intercept a sighting report? And, when you encounter the British, how do you get the schooners into battle in a way that makes best use of their long guns?

    Question on human vs. human:
    A: Yes, in theory. I plan to include some optional rules to allow human v. human. Actually, the game is far simpler that way. In a solitaire game, the vast majority of the rules are necessary to make the AI do what a human player would do automatically. But if it's human v. human you want, you could just play Dave's Lord of the Lakes miniatures campaign game now, since that's what he designed it for. His 2012 tournament using the ruleset was umpired, but there would be ways to work around it and just play 1 vs. 1. Solitaire was the chief reason I bothered to design something of my own -- I read Dave's blog, envied the great time all those players seemed to be having, and wanted to make a game that would let a solo player enjoy all the campaign goodness, too.