Morale: A Mechanism

EDITORIAL

The following article is a personal opinion, and in no way represents the position of the Planets Magazine. It is merely a suggestion, presented as a seed for discussion. -G

All the literary masters of the military arts, from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz, Machiavelli and Vegetius, Patton and Guderian and Stormin’ Norman Schwartzkopf, write extensively about morale as a factor in warfare. Guns are fired by men, and if the man has broken, he won’t fire. It’s a simple equation, and it has driven innovations in tactics since the dawn of modern warfare.

The primary purpose for formations and battle lines is so each soldier can keep watch on his neighbor and make sure he doesn’t retreat (or, perhaps, advance in the wrong direction). The sergeants are in the rear to catch shirkers and turn them back around. And, while the famous “charge” scene in “Enemy At The Gates” is completely, absurdly fictitious, it’s not unknown in history for deserters to be shot en masse.

Machine guns are for deserters, not the enemy!

Morale is certainly a factor in Planets here at Nu, but far less so. Individual soldiers couldn’t run away if they wanted to (space is remarkable for its lack of places where running could take place), and ships can’t desert. Revolts tend to be over taxation or R.G.A., and they’re restricted to a single world at a time. The only person who can actually flee battle is on the other side of the screen, sitting at a keyboard and probably swearing at your clever move.

Nu has introduced a very few elements that acknowledge this real-life factor. There’s a new “homeworld destruction” impact to happiness, and the Empire’s “Destroy Planet” mission also has a deleterious effect on your tax collecting. The AFoF mechanism simulates battle fatigue on the part of your society. Other than that, the only time a ship will mutiny is when the Host program misses your order.

It’s my opinion that all of these factors should be combined and used in-game for each race, and that other events — military victories or disasters, the gain or loss of planets, Colonist jettisons, and so on — should contribute to the overall morale score of your empire. When morale dips below a certain level, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for riots to spontaneously break out on isolated outposts, or for the occasional ship too long without shore leave to mutiny, either deserting to a nearby enemy or just vanishing from the war.

The idea is to turn what are now easily quantifiable mechanics into a single, partially concealed factor which would eventually come to replace Fight Or Fail.

Similarly, it would be used to discourage certain behaviors which, in today’s Planets, actually harm the play environment and yet are all too common: clogging the Queue with useless hulls, slave ships, Merlin Build Control, and entire races becoming unpaid vassals. If this seems extreme, remember: It’s to address these very factors that the one-point hull construction penalty was assessed in Standard, that AFoF was established, that diplomacy settings are severely restricted, and that the recent Crystal nerf was perpetrated on an undeserving Echo Cluster.

So it’s not at all a farfetched concept. In fact, I’m simply proposing a lifelike skin on things we already do right now as arbitrary game mechanics.

Shut up and go and change your armor!

Here’s a list of things that could negatively impact morale:
– A ship that doesn’t move for several turns
– A planet that gets conquered, depending on how many colonists die
– A military loss without an offsetting gain in PBP (or Kill Points, as they once were called)
– A decline in planet count or military score relative to other players

Here’s a list of some positive things:
– A new planet is colonized
– One of our ships or bases destroys an enemy vessel
– A friendly Glory Device is activated (GLORY TO THE EMPIRE!!!)
– A ship gets repaired at a starbase, permitting shore leave for the crew
– A new ship is constructed

And here are some things that could happen at low morale:
– In your Reports, news will come of demonstrations at a planet, but there’s nothing in-game
– Individual crew will get shot for disobeying orders
– A ship might spontaneously disobey an Intercept order, or fail to engage a vastly superior foe; a Merlin might go on strike
– At very low morale, there’s a chance that an otherwise happy world will spontaneously riot
– At very low morale, individual ships, particularly those with small crews, or isolated or behind enemy lines, might mutiny, either vanishing entirely or going over to the enemy
– At extremely low morale, your entire empire has a random chance of revolt, causing you to lose the game

In the absence of events, an isolated empire that’s not at war, keeps its ships in motion, and never gains or loses a planet will gradually trend downward in morale. If it occasionally builds a ship or starbase, that should offset the decline somewhat, but over time, even the most patriotic populace will reject a state of never-ending emergency. We presently see this in AFoF; this would merely add a certain random factor.

Similarly, a vassal race that aids in another’s victory will swiftly decline in morale unless it somehow gains the occasional planet and warship. It needn’t be much, but the laborer is worthy of his hire. Nobody can survive solely on vicarious wins.

One can imagine certain racial quirks relative to morale:
– The Cyborg will never have a ship defect, choosing suicide instead
– Crystals gain morale from having enemy vessels lose fuel in webs
– The Empire, Fascists, and Birds, thanks to their secret police, are less likely to suffer from low morale, but still collapse eventually
– Cloaking vessels and line-of-battle ships almost never mutiny

Conclusion

This is hardly a comprehensive analysis, but the concept itself isn’t new or even unique. I merely suggest a reasonable mechanism to help us suspend disbelief while improving the roleplaying aspect of the game. As well, it will offer an honorable way out for the commander who has lost hope and is forced to fight a losing battle: Eventually, your empire will tell you when it’s ready to quit.

All of these things seem good to me. How about you?


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1 thought on “Morale: A Mechanism

  1. VGAP is a turn-based strategy, it need you to think many turns ahead. Random effects make it harder, sometimes even impossible. It will be extremely dissapointing when you perfect attack plan was ruined by core ship decided to mutiny.

    So at least there should not be chances. Adding instability is not good. Better to think about regular effect like decreasing taxes rates a bit, decreasing fire speed of ships (hello phost experience) etc.

    Like

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