Ultimate Viking: A Hebridean Odyssey
What: A strategy game (in the style of Ultimate General) based around the Norwegian conquest and Scottish reconquest of the Hebrides and related territories.
How: Players will engage in a diverse array of activities to advance their agendas both at the tactical and strategic levels of warfare—but primarily at the operational level.
Why: I have felt that, while there are many great Grand Strategy and Tactical Combat titles, there are very few that connect the two well. While Grand Strategy is not within the purview of this proposal, the connection between the “battle” phase and the “campaign” phase—the latter of which is often subject to strategic considerations, is crucial.
The Specifics (More or Less)
Scope: The scope of a game is an intricate and complicated issue to tackle, especially when examining it from an outside perspective. So let’s start with the spiritual predecessor to Ultimate General: the Total War series. The tactical combat is excellent, and while (as the success of Ultimate General has proven) it could be improved on, the real shortcoming of the series has always been its turn-based campaign phase. Oftentimes (without spending too much time on this section in the proposal) while it feels like there is sufficient complexity to it; the different numbers, sliders, and things to manage are more distracting and frustratingly-out-of-control rather than an interesting and important contribution to the strategic process of the player. Because of this, TW pretty much always boils down to “just keep winning battles”. Not only is there no room for players to fail, but eventually the battles themselves lose any sort of meaning or context, and that’s when the game stops being fun.
(I will omit any discourse on UG:G here as I think that UG:CW is simply a better and more relevant next step)
Ultimate General: Civil War (from what I have observed playing through the campaign several times) improves upon the TW formula in a few ways:
1.) The combat is a lot smoother and a good outcome is more reliant on your ability as a tactician rather than elite units or overwhelming firepower (although those things can make the difference).
2.) The campaign has been abstracted entirely. In a sense, it’s a big improvement over Total War in that you are rewarded for doing well and as time goes on you see that impact on the size of your units, their equipment, and your ability to finance larger armies. Most importantly, it is especially pleasing to see how the smaller battles affect the larger battles—or being able to chart your own course through the military campaigns of the Civil War. On the other hand, the removal of what emergent gameplay and replayability that did exist in TW feels like a huge step back in terms of potential.
But therein lies the rub. War (especially in the modern period) is so vast, so complex that it is nearly impossible to simulate even juuuuuust enough factors to make it truly dynamic, and to take that dynamism and transform it into something less random and entirely within the control of the player without making it feel too easy or too hard is next to impossible. The games that have attempted it, like EUIV or HOI3, are so inherently dense and in some cases unapproachable, that simulating individual battles not only becomes irrelevant, but that they lose that sense of player control entirely. Our interest is lost and our itch for battle is not scratched.
A Solution: Scale everything down, starting with the geography.
The 9th century Hebrides is a great starting point, with rocky, treacherous islands, narrow channels, and many small fortifications—it’s just a great location to stage a large number of smaller engagements/raids with plenty of opportunity to still have those larger set piece battles. It’s even scalable, with the optional inclusion of:
—The Isle of Mann, Northeastern Irish Coast, & Western Scottish Coast
—The Northern Scottish Coast & The Highlands (for bigger land battles)
—The North Sea, Orkney, & Shetland (for bigger naval battles and two large strategically important islands)
—The Eastern Scottish Coast, The Lowlands, and Northern England (for endgame threats and even larger land battles)
At this scale, with armies probably only numbering 100—2000 men (and larger armies reach into the 5k and 10k range during desperate times on the mainland) things become a bit more personal. You may have noticed earlier that I briefly touched on the fact that one of UG:CW’s improvements was having a military campaign represented as a series of battles. Hell yea.
“The campaign” is an awesome unit by which to measure military operations, it involves strategy, tactics and the handling of logistics in pursuit of a larger goal. And as raiding vikings who are looking to secure wealth and enough supplies to one day stake a claim in the area, successful campaigning beyond merely killing as many people as possible is of huge importance. While there’s sure to be plenty of simple and clear-cut raids, the multi-battle campaign system should be not only kept but improved upon.
Gameplay: What do you actually do in this game? Well let me first divide the gameplay loop into different levels:
Strategic: The overworld map. Political territory, resource production, villages, cities, armies, navies, etc. etc. This is where you make big movements and manage your estates (if you have any). Eventually, you’ll need to go raiding for supplies or assault a town or castle, that will lead you to:
Operational/Campaign: A series of battles based on the locations of your army and any defending armies, with engagements occurring at or between important sites like towns, ports, farms, and fortifications. You can decide what battles to fight, what to pillage, what to forage, who to ambush, etc. etc. You have to keep your army fed, equipped, and mobile. Eventually, you’ll encounter a:
Battle: Your standard Ultimate General masterpiece, with whatever changes and improvements have to be made to make swords, axes, spears, and bows feel right.
The whole point is to make every battle feel important and engaging, you’re never risking your beloved troops and armies for nothing—but every action has a bloody price. And with that in mind, let’s further break down the generic resources/goals that every faction/leader in the game will be striving for:
Food: Your armies have to be fed to fight, how you get that food is up to you. Particularly successful lords in possession of large tracts of land might farm their way to a livelihood*, animal-husbandry in the form of crofting can be cultivated on nearly any strip of grassy land, and everyone can fish (all industries built and performed in the strategic level of the game). The more warlike or desperate can steal or pillage these goods for short term-consumption.
*large scale farming appears to have been quite rare in the Hebrides, making the areas that do support it—or the mainland, very valuable (and risky) targets.
Wood: Ships are worth their weight in gold, and asides from scavenging those of enemies defeated on the high seas, the only way to acquire more is to build them. Wood can be scarce in the outer Hebrides, so it is important to either control a source yourself or maintain stockpile of lumber.
Stone: The rainy, storm-heavy shores of the Hebrides demand steady homes and castles, and quarries in the isles can be hard to come by.
Iron: Weapons, Armor, Tools—all these things require iron, without it your industry efficiency and combat effectiveness will begin to stagnate, and at an alarming rate. Mines are rare.
Manpower: You need men to fight, and should you not not have enough or fail to keep them alive, you will find your settlements becoming depopulated or in rebellion. To grow your population, you need more and bigger cities, and the foodstuffs to support them. Population swings also occur, both naturally and as a result of warfare, overpopulation, famine, and flight.
Ultimately, through the accumulation of these resources, and the inevitable exploitation of the military power they provide, one can eventually claim dominion over the region.
In Summary: A Hebridean Odyssey could be a strategy game in the style of Ultimate General, that learns from the various campaign/strategic portions of other strategy and grand strategy titles to give the player the tools to create their own incredible military histories by providing the context and framework for expansive, multi-stage campaigns that reflect the needs and goals of armies and their commanders.
*to be super clear, this is mostly a suggestion that deals with the campaign side of things. Honestly, I really wouldn’t change anything about the combat or unit management aspects of UG:CW
~some other cool ideas~
(which may not be realistic)
The Province Problem: I think one of the most limiting factors in Total War is its reliance on large, fairly static provinces. Considering this period in the Hebrides was marked by constant settlement, resettlement, destruction, and rebuilding—it would be interesting to see A Hebridean Odyssey take a different approach to territory. That said, there is a certain convenience to provinces—it really cements the game board, so to speak, and is probably a lot easier to other alternatives. A cooler, but less efficient approach, would be to separate settlements and “provinces” strategically—where any number of villages or cities can theoretically exist in any region or island, but are limited by the local resources (or those imported), and in turn whomever controls the most settlements in a region controls the region itself. Providing some advantages to your own settlements. All regions, settled or unsettled, can of course be pillaged or scavenged from.
Diplomacy: Alliances, trading, vassalage and overlordship. These things have done many times over, to considerable success—obviously any kind of campaign that has factions probably needs diplomacy as well. I wouldn’t say TW has bad diplomacy, merely that it is unrealized in its potential. Of course, there are also much more in-depth systems, like those presented in Europa Universalis—but those manner of interactions may not be fitting for the scale, region, or time period. What im saying is—I’m not REALLY sure how best to implement diplomacy here.
Ship Combat: Ultimate Admiral (both of em) looks baller, and while I’m sure there’s a boatload of potential (*ba-dum ts*) for mixing land and naval warfare via longship, I think it would also be quite impressive to see the ships of two navies come together in a titanic boarding action (spear-chucking and archery also being historically accurate).
Gold/Taxes/Loot: I’ve left out taxation and loot in my suggestion/proposal/whatever because I’m just not sure what to do with it—frankly, I think tax systems are really rather burdensome. Not that they’re not important, but that they’re not very fun at all. However, there is an interesting dichotomy in the viking invasions of the British Isles in that they came for the loot and stayed for the land, so loot would be an interesting early-game goal to build up forces and resources to make or take a more permanent settlement in the region. The Scots (from my VERY LIGHT research) had no standing taxation system at the time, other than perhaps some porto-feudal obligations regarding military service and farming.
So after proofreading this here document, I realized I haven’t given much info on the historical situation of the time, so to perhaps make things a little clearer, I’ve snipped this section…
“Prior to the Viking incursions the southern Hebrides formed part of the Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata (or Dalriada). North of Dál Riata, the Inner and Outer Hebrides were nominally under Pictish control although the historical record is sparse.[Note 1] According to Ó Corráin (1998) "when and how the Vikings conquered and occupied the Isles is unknown, perhaps unknowable", although from 793 onwards repeated raids by Vikings on the British Isles are recorded. "All the islands of Britain" were devastated in 794 with Iona being sacked in 802 and 806.[Note 2] Various named Viking leaders, who were probably based in Scotland, appear in the Irish annals: Soxulfr in 837, Turges in 845 and Hákon in 847. Another early reference to the Norse presence in the Irish records is that there was a king of "Viking Scotland" whose heir, Thórir, took an army to Ireland in 848.
In the 9th century, the first references to the Gallgáedil (i.e. "foreign Gaels") appear. This term was variously used in succeeding centuries to refer to individuals of mixed Scandinavian–Celtic descent and/or culture who became dominant in southwest Scotland, parts of northern England and the isles.
According to the Orkneyinga Saga, in about 872 Harald Fairhair became king of a united Norway and many of his opponents fled to the islands of Scotland including the Hebrides of the west coast, and the Northern Isles.[Note 3] Harald pursued his enemies and incorporated the Northern Isles into his kingdom in 875 and then, perhaps a little over a decade later, the Hebrides as well. The following year the local Viking chieftains of the Hebrides rebelled. Harald then sent Ketill Flatnose to subdue them, which he did quickly, but then he declared himself an independent "King of the Isles", a title he retained for the rest of his life.[Note 4]Ketill is also sometimes equated with Caittil Find, a reported leader of the Gallgáedil fighting in Ireland in 857, although this connection is far from definite.[Note 5]Ketill left no successors and there is little record of the succeeding four decades. However, Woolf (2007) suggests that his appearance in the sagas "looks very much like a story created in later days to legitimise Norwegian claims to sovereignty in the region".
There are similar problems with the provenance of Gofraid mac Fergusa, the supposed 9th-century ruler of the Hebrides and ancestor of Clan Donald. It has been suggested that his appearance looks "very much like the product of fourteenth-century propagandists from Clann Donald".”
… from this wikipedia article:
Which should give some much-needed historical background on the situation, which is, creatively, very much carte blanche.
Some Anticipated Questions
1.) Why don’t you just make this game yourself?
I really do not have the skills. I am a trained and competent writer, and a very shitty artist, but outside some very rudimentary knowledge of programming, I have no truly relevant experience or training in anything like video game development. (Other than playing like 1000 games lol)
2.) Why are you posting this?
I had an idea, I wanted to share it! That’s it. This’ll probably never get picked up, and possibly ridiculed, but I feel like I did an okay job putting words to a lot of things players kind of want, but either don’t have the language or are too young/inexperienced to express.
3.) Why did you put so much effort into this?
I dunno, I have ADHD—and I really love Ultimate General! I was just struck with a vision of the way things COULD be.
4.) Who are you?/Think you can come on to my forum?/Making Suggestions…
Yea. I admit I’m pretty new to the forum, but I’ve been a fan and supporter of UG:G and UG:CW since they came out and just wanted to speak my mind. Sorry!