board games

The Dragon of Magdeburg – Designer Notes


Steve Jackson Games incorporated an Ogre scenario I created into one of their publications recently, so I thought I’d add a few words as to why I put it together the way I did. Why would I do that? Amethyst knows!

In this scenario, my aim was to add a few new elements to an entertaining game in order to make it even more enjoyable. While one of the draws of Ogre is its simplicity, it doesn’t take many easily implemented new rules to significantly change the experience it provides. Here’s some of the ideas I added in:

  1. Description. While not part of a unique scenario rules set, the description is still an important aspect of providing color to a scenario. It should outline the factions, the setting (place and time) and the reason for the battle that’s about to occur. In DOM, I step outside of the usual Combine/PanEuropean rivalry in order to focus on a situation occurring as a result of the war’s aftermath. A well-worded intro adds color to the game and can even add an aspect of role-playing.
  2. Factions. This complicates game play without the need for additional rules. While it’s difficult for one faction to coordinate its units, it’s much more difficult for two or more, especially when they have competing agendas, which in turn increases the chance of treachery.
  3. There can be only one winner. While two (or more) of the factions are nominally allied against the Dragon, only one party in the game will end up seizing the amount of city hexes required for victory. This brings a social element into the game as each player attempts to manipulate the others into attacking each other instead of themselves.
  4. Losing points for friendly units lost instead of gain points for enemy units destroyed. This easily implemented rule will likely make this scenario a very different experience as the players attempt to conserve their forces. The idea for this rule came from the behavior of warlords past and present, in that the army was not only used for conflicts abroad, but to guarantee and enforce their power at home. Given their lack of resources, the armies also represent a large investment of scare resources that could not be easily replaced.
  5. City hexes worth less if destroyed or damaged. This may make commanders hesitate to use their heaviest ranged weapons against city hexes, and instead choose to use their infantry to seize the valuable resources they represent since the latter, via another special rule, have no chance of causing their destruction. This provides a greater role for the infantry in what is traditionally an armor heavy game, leading to more realistic combined arms tactics.
  6. Combat Engineers. To facilitate the taking of town hexes, I gave the game’s engineers a combat capability in the form of a close combat bonus that they were lacking in the original game. This adds another layer to the combined arms picture, giving commanders another tool to take precious city hexes. As aside, SJ Games has since adopted a similar close combat role for engineers into the official rules set, albeit in a modified form. I like their version – it’s concise, well written and easily implemented, but I think my version works better for DOM.
  7. Command Posts. Ever since I started playing this game, I’ve had a problem with the way CPs are implemented. They are immobile (or very nearly so), unarmed and serve no purpose other than determining who the winner is by their destruction or survival. Given the highly mobile and destructive nature of the conflict being simulated, their vulnerability seems to be a recipe for disaster. To address this, I gave the Warlord faction the option to secretly record a Mk1 or Mk2 Ogre as being their CP. There are also consequences if it is lost in the form possible temporary immobilization for units due to loss of command and control. This raises the status of CPs from mere target to a vital element in its faction’s forces.


There is a downside to the extra rules I’ve added to give my scenario flavor. Playtesting revealed the rules were easily digested, but there were still consequences. The problem lay in the fact that one’s units were no longer expendable – that, combined with the inevitability of factional cross-fire led to caution and analysis paralysis among the Warlord players. This may or may not be a problem with your group of players, but if it is, a 2 – 3 minute limit could be imposed on turns, with any units not yet activated forfeiting their fire and move.