Brant Guillory, 28 January 2022
It’s all over MilTwitter, and you can’t follow GUWS for more about 11 seconds without seeing pop up on their social media feeds. Littoral Commander1 is now on preorder from the Deitz Foundation, and designer Sebastian Bae joined us for a quick chat about it.
OK, big headline up front: Why the name change? What’s different now that it’s a “real” game instead of a personal passion project to share wargaming with the fleet? And how are the Marines able to dictate name changes when there’s 384572034985 other games out there that feature the USMC?
I will not speak to other games and their use of Marine Corps trademarks, but Littoral Commander: Indo-Pacific changed its name and excluded other trademarked terms, like Marines, from all game materials upon request from the Marine Corps Trademark Office. You can find more information about the Marine Corps and its trademark guidance here.
As for the name change, it is bothersome as a designer especially given the amount of work we did with the Marines. However, this does not change the goal nor vision of the wargame.
From its inception, the game was designed to help professional warfighters to think about the tactical challenges of the future conflicts with peer adversaries in contested, multi-domain operations. The commercial version of Littoral Commander: Indo-Pacific retains that vision at its core. The commercial version will include substantial graphic upgrades for the cards and counters, new designs for maps, and some rule changes to make it more accessible and easier to learn. But at its heart, Littoral Commander: Indo-Pacific is and always will be a game aimed at professional military education.
click images to enlarge
Playtesting the game online using Tabletop Simulator. Note that the commercial version of the game will use counters instead of blocks
Two-player out of the box is a given for most wargames, but what about multiplayer, either as teams or true multiplayer? What sort of solo adaptation/variant is either present or in the works?
Littoral Commander: Indo-Pacific is fundamentally a team-based wargame, where individual players serve as tactical commanders working together to fight and defeat a coordinated, thinking adversary team. Resources like access to joint capabilities (in the form of cards) are mostly shared, coordination between teammates is rewarded, and no player wins alone. This dynamic also creates some interesting player interactions where some players will work seamlessly together, while others will produce a lot of friction within a team. And this is all part of the learning process envisioned in Littoral Commander: Indo-Pacific. As for a solo-variant, I want to do one, but whether that occurs remains to be seen.
Plenty of hobby wargamers are conceptually familiar with the practitioner world of wargaming, and plenty of practitioners have pilfered good ideas from the hobby wargaming world. How does this one straddle the line between the two worlds?
When designing Littoral Commander: Indo-Pacific, I wanted to create an ‘in the box educational wargame’ for units to leverage at every level from enlisted to officer ranks. That meant drawing both from my experience as a hobby gamer and my experience designing games in a more official professional wargaming capacity. The original version had blocks found in many games like Hammer of the Scots (Columbia Games) or Conquest and Consequences (GMT) to represent imperfect information. The commercial version of Littoral Commander: Indo-Pacific will have chits instead, but the idea remains the same. The Joint Capability Cards (JCCs), which represent the wide range of modern and near-future capabilities, resemble several card-driven mechanics found in many popular games. The scenario-based system is drawn from games like Advanced Squad Leader to give players a wide range of options to explore in each playthrough.
However, there are some marked differences in the game from other commercial games. For instance, Littoral Commander: Indo-Pacific has very few limited balancing mechanics in terms of allowing players to catch up or recoup from huge mistakes. This was not an oversight, but a specific design choice. When you’re in tactical command in real life, you do not get many chances to ‘fix it’. Sometimes, that means your decision space is limited and you simply have to live with those mistakes or choices. That is a dynamic I specifically wanted for the wargame as an educational tool.
Furthermore, the game aims to be a gateway wargame for many professional warfighters, which means it emphasizes simplicity and accessibility. The goal is to foster iterative learning by enabling players to explore different scenarios, decisions, and plans.
On the table with the Dragoons at Origins 2021
What’s something that a hobby wargamer is going to look at and think “huh, that’s weird” because of the professional inspirations of this game? And flipping that around, what about the hobby ideas that the pros are going to freak out about?
That is a good question. Some hobby wargamers may balk at the unit size and the scale of the map. Traditionally, ‘tactical’ wargames involve miniatures or hex and counter games at the 1-3 km scale. This is reflective of the weapon systems tactical formations like companies and below possess. However, Littoral Commander: Indo-Pacific, a grand tactical wargame, has base units at the platoon and section level – but has 20km hexes. This means the map covers a large piece of real estate. This is reflective of new capabilities and weapon systems that can reach out substantially further than ever before. The notion of a section of naval infantry potentially firing against a destroyer at 200+ km is unfamiliar concept for most. But these are systems and ideas are that shaping the future of littoral warfare.
Unfortunately, commercial gaming and even professional wargaming is largely unfamiliar to most professional warfighters. This is a tragic fact, but it is the reality of the situation. Many amazing colleagues are working to change that, but it is slow and grueling work. Yet, we all collectively believe it is imperative to have our future commanders exercise their minds as much as their bodies.
We’ve been trying to help where we can! Heck, we even have regular podcast episodes trying help bridge that gap.
Wargames can be powerful potent tools for education. If you are interested in how professional educational wargames are being used, I refer you to Major Ian Brown at the Krulak Center at the Marine Corps University, Pete Pellegrino and so many others at the US Naval War College, James Sterrett and Mike Dunn at US Army Command & General Staff College, Jeff Appleget at US Naval Postgraduate School, and so many others.
What’s next for this game system, and when are we going to see it?
Overall, Littoral Commander is designed to be part of a longer and more comprehensive series with the same core system – but different units, countries, maps, and scenarios. Littoral Commander: Indo-Pacific is simply the first in a planned series, with ambitions of a Russian theater expansion and others. This assumes the game is successful and finds a following beyond the military. Currently, the plan is to get Littoral Commander: Indo-Pacific shipped by early next year if not sooner. And pivot to the Russian expansion and potential follow-on games each year.
Thanks for joining us, and good luck with the funding campaign!
Sebastian J. Bae is a research analyst and game designer, focusing on wargaming, the future of warfare, emerging technologies, and strategy and doctrine. He teaches wargame design courses at Georgetown University and the U.S. Naval Academy. He can be found on Twitter @SebastianBae.
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4 thoughts on “5 Questions with… Sebastian Bae, on Littoral Commander”
Interesting to see this new game (from what I have been told title is still under consideration…) going forward. I am all to bridge the gap between professional and hobby wargaming but with some caveats…
My own experience with the British Army is that, weirdly enough hobby wargames are more known that professional wargames inside the institution, but there is an institutional reluctance to really accept wargaming in the Army as a whole despite effort at various levels. One must admit that the British Army has a (quite recent) legacy of bias against brain. As a Major General once told me, when he retired a colleague thought is greatest accomplishment was to have play rugby in the army team. I have been told by a former director of courses at RMAS ‘we do not want people capable to think’. Go figure. And while the British Army is a peculiar institution issues like that are not limited to it.
I always found funny that nowadays people uses ‘professional warfighter’ rather then ‘professional military’ when the bulk of the time is spent in activities that are more or less unrelated to warfighting. As a unnamed serving officer told me operations seems more like the hobby part of the military life rather than the centerpiece.
Said that… I also found the so-called professional wargaming often less professional than the hobby one. A lot of thing we game designer now take for granted are just dawning now to the professional side… also I will probable be the contrarian here, but I feel that more often than not the game coming out from the professional military side are designed to prove the concept rather than explore reality, and too often professional wargaming is pushed down to the top to validate their new pet concept (Commandant Berger anyone?). The “Yet to be officially named” wargame sounds and looks interesting but from the Dr. Bae’s answers it seems literally created to prove the new USMC concept. For example the idea an infantry section can engage a guided missile destroyer at 200+ kilometers could be a bit more than surprising, it can be wishful thinking… if for section we intend an US one… basically 10-13 guys hauling a missile that should be capable to inflict serious damage to a DDG. Let’s say an AGM-84 class missile… so plus of 200kg of warhead (and empirical evidence point to the fact that to really cripple a DDG size target you will need at least a couple of Harpoons) on a 600+ kg missile. That for a single weapon, not even considering the launcher… I hope the game will provide answers to questions like that! Anyway I will crowfound it… at worst I can use it as a base for a redesign.
PS: Dr. Bae, you will find hobby gamers have generally less issues with complex rules than military officers and defense staffs… okay there is always Phil Sabin screaming ‘it is complicated’
You should have a closer look at this design; I had some of the same doubts but Sebastian took the time to walk me through some of them. I’m sure the rules etc. will be available online in time.
A pity you had to lose the blocks… are standees for the counters an option? You know, slotted bases… I’ve seen them on sale for 10 cents apiece, or more. Meanwhile, 20x20x10 mm wood blocks probably cost more than that.
I am eagerly awaiting for the rules, Jim Dietz said they will be on BGG shortly. Otherwise I cannot have a closer look… I also stand by my comment, if my squad is hauling a 600kg missile is not anymore a rifle squad… I am curious about how everything will fall together.
As for the blocks, never been a fan of blocks at all! So for me is no loss.
I’m a fan of wood counter sleds and will use them for this game if/when it is printed with cardboard counters. That’s only because I played the original game with the blocks and so want a similar experience….