The Fourth Funnel

During the opening months of World War I, a lone German light cruiser, the SMS Emden pulled off one of the most daring and successful raiding sprees of all time. The story of the Emden’s amazing feats, captain and crew is a great read. Operating in the India Ocean, the Emden used Fear and Surprise to great effect. Because no one expects… Anyway, surprise was a key element in the Emden’s success in raiding British commerce. I’ve been thinking about the Emden because of my ongoing work on Brimstone. The Emden used a very old operational deception trick of changing its appearance to gain a temporary but often decisive advantage when stalking its prey, namely British Commonwealth merchant ships. It did so by adding a fake fourth funnel to make itself look like a British warship. It also sometimes flew the British Colors. Remember that wireless was an infant technology at the time of the war. Visual identification played an important role in discerning friend from foe in an age before reliable radio communications, radar, tactical data nets and prop signatures. It was the classic ploy of Captain Blood and 16th Century pirates but it worked brilliantly.

This false signaling is something that I’m going to try and include in Brimstone. Since the game is a high level strategy/diplomacy game it calls more for the Maskirovka approach. Maskirovka is a Russian term broadly meaning military deception but operating on a variety of levels from changing road signs around to fabricating Potemkin armies. My goal in Brimstone is to set up a house of mirrors where every action taken by players can have multiple strategic/tactical interpretations. What I want to do is foster paranoia. I’m building mechanisms to do this throughout the entire framework of the game. I’ll be writing about many of these mechanics in the future but one of the most basic is to allow players to mess with the known information on the board.

In stark contrast to Armageddon Empires, the board in Brimstone is completely revealed and any agents deployed by a player to the board are visible for all to see and inspect in detail. Well, almost all information is available. I’ll explain in detail later but a player can modify an agent on the board to have some information obscured or withheld or even faked. But the presence of the agent is clear cut…mostly. There are no observation rules. It’s like playing a game of Diplomacy and noting that a region has an army. Or does it? A player in Brimstone plays through an Avatar that he or she develops as the game progresses. Improve that Avatar’s attributes and you gain additional powers. Some of these powers are designed to allow a player to mess with board. Perhaps you can create phantom duplicate agents. Perhaps an agent appears in one location but isn’t really there. The idea is to allow the players to manipulate the information gained by observing or not observing the agents on the board to their own advantage.

There is a course a limit to how much deceptive signaling you can do on a fixed map divided into hexagons with finite numbers of agents. The idea of players making good use of deception, false signaling and bluffing is built into many other aspects of the game as well. I’ll address those in future entries.

SMS Emden

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