Sunday, September 12, 2010

Design: What Is "Then Holler"?

At its very best, no American Civil War system (including this one) can remotely compare to the experience of commanding thousands of men on a deafening, smoke-covered battlefield. The difference between the reality of conflict and the abstraction of a table game is infinite and every game will fail utterly in its abstraction. This was the guiding principle behind Then Holler.

If the purpose of game rules is to provide a perfect imitation of reality, a perfect game would have no rulebook. Faced with the boundless gap between our subject and our design, we concluded that complexity in service of “realism” was doomed to fail at its sole purpose and was thus unnecessary.

Then Holler tries to imitate the mind-state of a Civil War officer. We state the obvious in order to make the distinction: a Civil War officer would not have access to a vast library of charts detailing the precise interactions of specific soldiers and weapons and would not have the time to look at them in the first place. There are very few analogous charts in Then Holler. This is a product of both design and abstraction. Important distinctions (veteran regiments, talented leaders, strategically significant technology and terrain, etc.) are built directly into the main game system as much as possible. Distinctions that would not be important to a man on the field are not important to the players.

All of that is not to say that the system isn’t flexible. Additional complexity can be layered in at the player’s discretion. For example, the system as is involves very little luck. It wasn’t a conscious design decision, but it happened. There’s definitely a case to be made that the chaos of a Civil War battle is well-represented by a little bit of extra dice-rolling. For players so inclined, official variant mechanics of combat resolution, morale evaluations, etc. can be swapped directly into the system with no errant impact on the strategy or course of an engagement.

This is made possible by the core simplicity of the game. Groups of soldiers are defined by two essential qualities (size and spirit, basically), which is combined with a couple of organically significant advantages for cohesive, decisive use of leaders. The amount of analysis that even this considerable abstraction allows would be superhuman for your average brigadier general, but we have tried to refine the system to be most responsive to your average brigadier general’s priorities and doctrines in a highly stressful situation.

We suppose it is primarily a publishing decision as to whether or not to publish Then Holler as a board game or simply a miniatures ruleset. A very light amount of research is required to draw up a map and order of battle for any engagement imaginable, so we would like to embrace and encourage that potential for decentralization and player choice whenever possible.

Over the coming days we look forward to making the basic rules available on our website. This will be paired with the first scenario--the early morning attack on Matthews Hill that kicked off the 1st Battle of Manassas (Sherman and Burnside vs. Evans, Bartow, and Bee). Updates will continue regularly from then on as we try to make our rounds of nearby conventions.

We hope you enjoy the game and hope to see you around the Southeast.

“Run, boys, run! Don’t wait to form! Don’t let them stop! If you can’t run, then holler!”
--Gen. Phillip Sheridan, Missionary Ridge, November 1863

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