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Old March 26th, 2013, 19:51   #1
Brian McIlmoyle
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Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: Toronto
Game hosting and design notes

Game Design and Hosting Notes

I’ve been involved in the Canadian Airsoft Community since April of 2005, and started out as a Venue owner and Game host. I had talked about doing a game host and design workshop, but I just never seem to have the time to do it, so I thought I would put a few notes together. Not everyone will agree with my approach, I’ll let my record speak for it’s self

I have hosted literally hundreds of games, some small with 10 - 20 players and some as large as 100 or more.

Operation Smash and Grab. Operation Hotbox, Dusk to Dead, the Deadfall Series, and now Several WWII re-enactment games. Most games I designed and executed on my own with no staff. Some I have had one or two helpers. Some I was able to design, and launch and also play in. All of my Field games would be classified as “military simulation” in that sides are organized with a defined chain of command and the game is focused on achieving objectives

The key to a good game is preparation and contingency planning before the game and flexibility and good communications on game day. If you have done it right, you should be able to pretty much sit down and watch it all play out on game day with little more than the odd “poke” to keep things on plan.

From a game design standpoint there are in general just a few basic elements that can be put together to form the framework from which to build a good game.

Building intensity:

There is one element that has to be created in order for players to get the thrill they are looking for. Stress, players have to be under pressure and need to have to make choices that will affect their success. Without this element the game will be little more than a shooting match and body count skirmish, which can also be fun, but is not worthy of the term “Milsim”

Ammunition must be limited, very limited:

The key element to create stress for players is limited access to ammunition. Ammunition is the fuel for all fights in an airsoft game. Some of the best received games I have offered involved very tight ammunition limits. When you have to count every shot, you are cautious about fights you get into and you don’t stay in fights you can’t win.

Strictly limited ammunition is the key to a good game. It is my preference to strictly limit ammunition to real cap loadouts carried , generally not more than 300 rounds for a rifleman and not more than 1000 for a LMG. Often this limit will be for the duration of the game, and often that duration is 24 hours.

Some of the best remembered games were games in which players started out with little to no ammunition at all and had to fight to get these resources. At Dusk to Dead, which was a zombie game, players started out with no guns or ammunition at all,The did not even have flashlights, they were forced to move through zombie infested forest in the dark to find hidden resources. out of 60 starting players 2 had pistols, one had no ammunition and the other had 10 rounds. and 2 people had flashlights. This game was very high intensity, and ended up with 6 survivors fighting back to back in an open field with both guns and melee weapons against a horde of 50 zombies. No one who was there forgets that game.

Hotbox is also remembered because of the limited resources available to players.. they had to not just play, but they had to think as well.

The other element that can be limited in an airsoft game other than ammunition is “lives” unlimited respawn permits players to treat their “lives” casually Limiting the number of available respawns also adds stress. The most intense games I have been in had the loadout carried , realcap, for the operation, and ONE life, hit , you are out for the game. Admittedly this is extreme and few players want to take it that far, But those that do are rewarded with a very intense experience.

Kill Cards need to mean something:

The use of Kill Cards must be tied to the total lives available to each player. At the beginning of the game each unit commander should be issued a specific number of cards which represents the total human resources available to the faction for the game. If you run out of kill cards you run out of people. This also serves as a means to make up for numerical differences on a side. A side with fewer players may be given more kill cards increasing the available reinforcements. While a numerically superior force may have the number of respawns curtailed.

What I have done in some games to increase the stress on both commanders and players is to permit players found on the field without cards to be captured and held by the opposing side. This way a commander low on cards may still commit forces but risks losing them.

This makes Kill cards mean something and rather than being a hinderance become a focus of action. Players will work hard to get the opponents cards because it reduces their ability to fight in a very real tangible way, Commanders must pay attention to casualty counts and card losses, to many rash assaults could result in the loss of his ability to bring force to bear.

These factors coupled with limited ammunition results in real stress for both players and commanders, a heightened intensity and a demand for decisive thought and actions. It is what everyone wants when they come to a “milsim”

Why “ easter egg” games just don’t do it for most people:

I have seen a trend in many games billed as “milsim” to have a series of objectives being the finding of various objects, or possession of items. I would include the gathering of “kill Cards” to be in the same class. Most players don’t care about such objectives, if the possession of or loss of the objects don’t create stress they are meaningless to the game experience of the players. In addition players generally don’t care about “scores” in games. Tallying objects found and kill cards acquired is absolutely meaningless no one cares who wins the tally. What everyone remembers is how the felt, what they saw, and what they did themselves. If objectives don't result in increasing the intensity of those experiences they are meaningless to players. you want players to have experiences like this.

“ I was out without a card, and on my last mag, I knew if I did not evade the enemy I could not fight my way out and I would probably be captured.. so I became one with the swamp”

Objectives need to really matter:

Objectives in a “milsim” need to be real military objectives. Such as taking and holding ground. seizing or destroying resources ( ammo and lives as these are the only resources there are in an airsoft game) or the capture of prisoners, or the defense of or destruction of a specific installation or location. All of these objectives will consume resources ( ammo and lives) and will require planning and effective execution to make the risk to the attackers resources worth it.

Searching areas to find “easter eggs” that have no real impact on the game other than for some end of the game “score” that no one cares about is how to assure some payers will feel disconnected from the game, get bored and either leave or start their own skirmish within your game.

Once you have lost the engagement of the players in your game, it is very difficult to get it back. Once one player leaves because they find the game uninteresting or pointless it will be a cascade of quit after that. You want people to leave your game because they can’t take it, it’s too intense or they came to skirmish and you are not offering an opportunity for them to do so. Or they are just so wiped out from the game they have to go home. Often it works out that exactly the right people leave, and the right people stay.

If you craft the objectives of the game correctly you will be afforded opportunity to inject new resources into the game. Making an objective to Capture medical supplies ( more kill cards for whoever is able to capture or defend the resources ) or Destroy an enemy ammo dump ( more ammo for your side less for the other) then people will fight for these objectives because they really have an impact on the game right now.

Choosing Commanders:

This is a critical element in hosting a successful Milsim. Each unit commander has to be capable, organized and respected if not liked. Also, they must be willing to take on a quasi game control role. The first objective of any faction commander at an airsoft game is to ensure everyone is taken care of and no one is left out. The second objective is to see to it that everyone has a good time. The third objective is to assist game control in the management of the game. The fourth objective is to plan missions to objectives and execute the missions to the best of their ability.

The game should not be about maintenance or growth of the commanders personal Ego, nor should it be about “taking down” the opposing Commander. Commanders must be permitted to select their own sub unit commanders and structure their force as they see fit. You pick the boss, but the boss decides how to run the outfit.

Finding Commanders is always a challenge, the really capable people get asked to do the job so much that they start to dislike it. They want to just slip back into a section and be a shooter.

As a game host you have to take a chance on new guys to lead sometimes. Sometimes it blows up in your face sometimes you find a great new leader who was just waiting to be given a chance.

Chain of command enhances immersion:

This is a significant element to the running of a successful Milsim. There must be strict adherence to the chain of command, rogue units can not be tolerated, everyone must be in communication with their commander. I generally deal with rogue units harshly, I declare them hostile and deny them resources, to more kill cards no more ammo until they either leave, are all captured or choose to re engage in their chain of command. In extreme cases rogue units should be ejected from the game.

At the top of the chain of command is the game controller/Host. place yourself as the next unit up commander in all the factions on the ground. You are in overall command of ALL units on the field. This affords you the opportunity to serve as both a key game element and as a monitor and influence on the actions of the units in the game. Keeping in mind that the overall goal is to ensure that the players have a good time and also keeping in mind that the commanders all work for you. In this role you can be a hidden hand in the game, setting objectives and seeding opportunities to both sides to manage game balance and keep needed resources flowing. In this role you have no need for artifices like “spys” and “traitors” you can introduce new information in the game at any time through the relevant chain of command without breaking role. This enhances the immersion for all persons in the game.

As game host, you need excellent comms gear and the ability to monitor and respond to 3 nets at the same time.

Game in game elements:

Over the past two seasons I have been experimenting with game in game elements.

The concept of a Game in game element is an operation by a group with a specific objective of their own using an ongoing game as the operational backdrop and environment within which the unit must operate. Usually this plays out as a small “special forces” unit deployed to the area to achieve a specific objective, such as capturing or Killing a specific person. or delivering specific intel. In some cases the ongoing game can be used as a training environment for a small group of players wanting to practice E&E actions or looking to practice Recce operations. I have done this in a few games often without the foreknowledge of the unit commanders or anyone else at the game for that matter. This can add an exciting element to the game and can also provide a venue for people whose interests lie outside of traditional airsoft gaming.
Gamein game elements should be operating under no resupply, no respawn rules. The either achieve their objective, abort the mission or are eliminated trying.

Control the exit from the game:

Set up a procedure that all people leaving the game before it is over must check in with game control before they leave. Ask everyone why they are leaving, and get an answer. You want to know if players are just tired, Sick or upset. If they are upset find out why.

After action on the field:

Once the game is over, gather everyone that is still on the ground and conduct your after action in the field. Ask what people liked, what they did not like.

Ask if there were any issues that needed to be addressed but were not.

Ask if there were any issues with sportsmanship.

Resolve all issues before people leave the field, that way you won’t have a crapstorm in your online AAR.

Rules should be simple:

complex medic rules, different FPS for different guns, Minimum Engagement Distances /Mercy. The more “rules” the more likely it is you will have issues with interpretation. The more arguments you will have

I keep my rules simple.

Field rules are.

No Mercy, don’t take a shot you would not want to receive.

Maximum 450fps for any gun.

Fire for effect, if someone appears to not be taking a hit, give hi the benefit of the doubt and shoot him again.

No one is hit till they call hit. do not call other’s hits, it’s grounds for ejection from the event.

When hit fall where hit pull out you kill rag. and put it on your head. stay put for 5 minutes unless someone comes to take your card. then give up your card and head to respawn. Pick up a new card from your commander when you report in.

if you find someone without a kill card you may take him prisoner place both hands on the person and state you are searched, you are bound, you are my prisoner.

Concerns and issues that can’t be resolved on the field between the parties affected will be resolved by game control.

If there is structures present on the field and the the chance for very close engagements a Semi only in the buildings rule will apply.

AMMO rules are game specific.

Final Thought

Have fun, if you don’t genuinely enjoy hosting games more than playing them, then don’t do it.
Brian McIlmoyle
TTAC3 Director
CAPS Range Officer
Toronto Downtown Age Verifier


If the tongue could cut as the sword does, the dead would be infinite

Last edited by Brian McIlmoyle; March 26th, 2013 at 20:03..
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