Behind the Lines Campaign for Squad Battles Advance of the Reich

Hello everyone,

Who doesn’t like additional (free!) content for a Wargame Design Studio title?

Today we are making available a new campaign for the Squad Battles Advance of the Reich title created by Mark ‘Embis’ Bisson. Mark has been part of the core team updating and improving Squad Battles and decided to build a new campaign utilizing a range of features for the first ever campaign in Advance of the Reich.

We asked Mark to share his campaign creation experience to both highlight what was involved as well as hopefully inspire any modders that might want to try it for themselves.

The following is in Mark’s words.

Creating a campaign game for Squad Battles.

The ability to produce a campaign game for Squad Battles isn’t available for all titles just yet, but as the 4.01 update is rolled out it will be available for all titles.

Creating a campaign game is not particularly complicated. If you have designed a scenario, then you can design a campaign because all a campaign game really involves is designing several scenarios that follow on from one another and then “linking” those scenarios together by creating a .cpd file.

First Steps

When you are designing a campaign game for Squad Battles essentially you are writing a story. So, you need all the elements that a good story has, a good subject, a cast of characters and a plot line.

Most of the characters are probably already there for you in the games existing Orders of Battle, the subject, and the plotline are the scenarios, that’s what you need to create. The timescale a campaign covers can be anything you like, it could span several years, and cover multiple operations, or it could illustrate a series of actions over a single day. The key thing is to weave them together to tell the story.

The scale of Squad Battles lends itself to a bit of creative license when it comes to scenario design, the historical record often doesn’t record the fine grain of detail that a scenario at the scale of Squad Battles covers. So, you could create a scenario which has the flavor of a particular operation without needing all the details. You could create a perfectly entertaining scenario based on the Normandy landings using a map with a beach some landing craft, infantry, and some pillboxes. It doesn’t need to be a carbon copy of what happened on the day, its representative of what happened and, in that sense, its historically accurate. So don’t be under the impression you need to be an historian to create a good scenario. If you have a reasonable knowledge of a particular operation or a broad idea about an engagement you can create a scenario that will be convincing. Wikipedia will probably give you all the background you need and point you in the right direction for more detail if you need it. And don’t forget the community of the WDS boards, there are plenty of people there who can help you answer a question you are struggling with. Soon you will have the foundations of a scenario and if you can build one scenario you can build a campaign.

I chose Partisans for the Advance of the Reich Campaign game because I thought that, considering how significant their contributions were to the defeat of the Nazis, they had been under-represented in existing scenario’s.

I did some research to make sure I could produce something which would stand up to the historical record and give me an idea of good subjects for the scenarios and decided I would just cover a couple of months from the beginning of “Barbarossa” at the back of my mind I wanted to give myself chance to add to this in the future and a couple of months seemed a good starting point that would leave room for expansion later, It also gives me the possibility to carry the main character over into Red Victory, a possible future project.

The Order of Battle

You don’t need to do a massive amount of research for your OOB, each game has a huge selection of stock OOB’s written by people who have already done that hard work for you. So, you can probably just copy and paste whatever you need and then make a few minor edits to get what you want. The OOB editor is well designed for you to do that.

Once I had the Core OOB finished. I changed the names of most of the officers, I didn’t want it to be so obvious I had been borrowing someone else’s work! Because my scenarios were set in Belorussia, I Googled “Belarusian Surnames” and found a few websites that gave me some good lists. I then went through my OOB and edited all the Partisan officers’ names to ones that were, apparently, Belarusian sounding.  I changed many of the German officers’ names as well just to put my own mark on the OOB. As I built new scenarios, I added to my OOB. You can always add new items to an OOB but be careful about removing them. If you remove something from an OOB that you have placed in a scenario, you will generate errors which can take a long time to untangle. Leaving in something which you later decide not to use is fine. If you do decide to take something out of an OOB the safest way to do that is to edit the scenarios where that item appears, delete it from those scenarios, and then remove it from the OOB. That way you won’t get any errors.

Once you have your OOB it’s time to pick out your hero, the main character. You will usually feature the main character in each scenario, if this character gets killed then your campaign will end, however, the more your character engages with the action the more campaign points he will score and this gets displayed when the last scenario is done… or when your hero dies, whichever happens first! so use him with caution. Before you get too disheartened at the prospect of losing your hero halfway through a campaign, remember that you can start a campaign game from any of the scenarios that form that campaign, so if he dies in scenario 3 you can start a new campaign at scenario 4, call his death “temporary incapacitation” and then play on.

So, you have your plotline, and you have your cast of characters, the next stage is to write your chapters, design your scenarios, this is the most time-consuming part.

In my scenarios I wanted to showcase two of the features that we introduced to Advance of the Reich, Red Victory, and Winter War in the 4.01 update. These were Civilians, and Demolition charges. Both these items were available in some of the later Squad Battles titles, but they had been relatively recent innovations to the series and so were not included in these earlier games. I had annoyed David regularly for these to be added so when he agreed, I was honor bound to make sure they got used! Civilians and demolition charges were Ideal components for a game that focused on Partisans and that was set behind enemy lines, and so “Behind the Lines” was conceived!

Civilians had previously only been available in a few titles and had never been used very much in scenario design. They also hadn’t been documented very fully so the first stage of deciding how to incorporate them involved finding out a bit more about how they worked. So now as well as a campaign to design I had a research project to work on.

And so began many weeks of testing. I built many, many scenarios to find out how the civilians behaved under different conditions, and I gradually discovered all those undocumented intricacies. A lot of them were interesting and some were puzzling,

but I thought they could all be used to good effect in scenario design if enough imagination was applied.

The characteristics of civilians in Squad Battles and my additional findings are summarized below.

A civilian unit:

  • Has only 12 movement points.
  • Cannot use weapons.
  • Can be captured by the opposition.
  • Once captured they can be moved by the opposition.
  • Are only visible to either side if that side has LOS to them.
  • Can only be controlled by the “Owning” side when they are in LOS.
  • If they enter a scenario equipped with parachutes, then they are visible whilst they are in the air, but once they land, if they are out of line of sight, they will disappear.
  • Similarly, they can be loaded as “passengers” on horses and will disappear when they are out of line of sight.
  • They can be captured and are worth 10 victory points per strength point to the captor for as long as they remain captured.
  • If they can be removed from the map using a valid exit hex, they are worth 10 victory points per strength point to the owning side.

I decided to try not to think about the civilians in black and white terms, so not to think of them just as refugees, or villagers, but to focus on the qualities listed above and think how I could be creative with those.

Disappearing civilians

The parachute thing probably makes you scratch your head. That probably wasn’t a design decision, but it was in the game, and it was something that I could use.

My reading told me that during Barbarossa the Soviets resupplied Partisans behind the lines by air. On occasion this included parachuting in personnel. I also knew that paratroopers in WW2 had a habit of getting lost, particularly at night! I saw that I could recreate this situation by having my paratroopers set as civilians. So, they would be visible on their first turn in their parachutes and then if I placed them out of the visual range of a friendly unit, they would “disappear” from the map once they hit the ground. So, now I could build A scenario around some lost paratroopers. This became the scenario “Simerov: Arrival; The Security of the Night” the scenario is a race to see which side can find the paratroopers first.

Giving civilians a reduced movement allowance was a thoughtful design decision. It means that combat units can outrun them, they can be caught as they try to flee. In “Arrival” once the Soviet player finds the paratroopers, he must fight a delaying action as he tries to move them off the field.

I used civilians in another two scenarios, in “Simerov: Liberate; Safety Off” where I have “civilians” arrive as prisoners of the Germans in a convoy.  The Soviet player plans to ambush the convoy, free the prisoners, and get them off the map. The same delaying action from the Soviets ensues as the Germans chase the prisoners and partisans into the forest Again, the low movement points for civilians makes them hard work to get away from the advancing Germans, and if you as the Soviets try to let the prisoners find their own way out of the ambush,  They  can disappear from the map if you lose sight of them , and you have to send someone back to, literally, look for them.

In, “Simerov: Traitors; Taking the Price in Blood” I used German civilians to represent traitors that the partisans wanted to capture. I added a couple of German police patrols, and one “traitor”, who wasn’t flagged as civilian so he could be armed. I then gave the Soviets a very small force of just six men and had them search a village for the traitors. As they do this, they have to dodge patrols and its game of cat and mouse from both sides as the partisans try and evade the patrols, and the traitors try and evade the partisans. A very small scenario but fun to play and enough randomization to make it very re-playable.

Demolition Charges

There are two sorts of demolition charge in Squad Battles, Timed and Remote. Two scenarios make use of Demolition Charges in my campaign game “Simerov: Demolition; Trusting in Popov.” Is one where they are used by partisans sabotaging a railway bridge in the standard demolition charge role and one, already described above, “Simerov: Liberate; Safety Off” where the charge is used to represent a command detonated mine.

With the timed charges the owning player can set a timer to detonate the charge on a particular turn. The team sets the timer, drops the charge, retires to a safe distance... and Boom! For variety we added two different sizes of charge. A small one, with a blast radius of “0” which you might use on those “standard” jobs, and a larger one with a blast radius of “2” that you might use for… something a bit more spectacular!

The command detonated mine in “Simerov: Liberate; Safety Off” uses the remote demolition charge. To detonate this requires a team carrying the detonator (Plunger) to be within LOS of the charge and within range, 5 hexes. In this scenario the charge begins the game already placed but this can be done during the play of a scenario where the team carries the charge to the desired location, retires to a safe distance and… Boom!! Do be careful of that large charge though… you don’t want to be caught in the blast radius!!

Both the charges can be used for the attempted demolition of bridges and rail lines, as well as for clearing obstacles and mines, although it should be noted that the chances of demolishing bridges are low. Hardest of all is a rail bridge where the probability of demolition is only 5%. You will have more success with rail lines, although even then, the probability is still only 40%.

Unreliable Reinforcements

There really is a lot of flexibility in the design of Squad Battles scenarios, and there are mechanisms within the game that can be used in imaginative ways. Even though this game is more than 20 years old there is still room for scenario designers to come up with new twists on how we use the tools we already have without needing new code to be written. Of course, it’s always nice to have new features added, and who knows what’s in store, but there is already a lot to play with here and this series has some hidden depths which still haven’t been fully explored. I am sure there are things yet to be discovered. You just must spend some time digging below the surface and using some imagination. That is how the concept of “Unreliable Reinforcements” first arose.

This is essentially a method of randomizing some elements of an OOB using the reinforcement schedule as the randomizing device so when you play the scenario part of the force you are facing, or the force you are playing, can be generated with a degree of randomization.

Firstly, a quick recap of how reinforcements work in Squad Battles. Reinforcements can be set to arrive on a particular turn with a probability of arriving on that turn set by the scenario designer. For example: a reinforcement that has a 25% chance of arriving on turn one will turn up on turn one 25% of the time, if it doesn’t arrive on turn one then there is a 25% chance it will turn up on turn two, and so on. It may take some time but eventually the reinforcement will show up. In addition to randomizing the time of arrival the location of arrival can be randomized too.

I wanted to create randomization of a different kind. I wanted to randomize the elements of an OOB. So right from the beginning of the game some units might be in the scenario, or they might not be. So, these aren’t reinforcements in the accepted sense, they will either be present on turn one or they aren’t coming at all. These were my “Unreliable Reinforcements”, and I used it quite extensively in the Advance of the Reich Campaign game.

This mechanism enables scenario designers to add another level of uncertainty to their scenarios and increase re-playability. To set up unreliable reinforcements you need to be familiar with the map editor and the scenario editor.

The process is best described using an example: Let’s take a situation where I want to randomize the occupants of a Pillbox. Sometimes, I want the pillbox to contain a Rifle Team, sometimes I want it to contain an HMG, sometimes I want it to contain both, and sometimes I want it to be empty.

The way to implement this is by first opening the map editor and creating an “isolation area” on the map separated from the main map using impassable hexes and “blind” with no line of sight onto the “Game Map”. I tend to use the corners of the map, but you can set this wherever you like along the edge of the map. You can then “blind” the unit is by setting the elevation level of the impassable hexes to be higher than all other terrain on the map and the isolation hex to be at elevation “0”.  Anything that gets allocated to the isolation hex is effectively out of the game, they can’t shoot at , and they can’t be shot at, because they can’t see, or be seen and they can’t move because of the impassable hexes.

Next, I move onto the scenario editor I set the rifle team as a reinforcement with a 100% chance of arriving on turn one. Then I select the isolation hex as a possible “arrival hex” for the Rifle Team and the pillbox as another.

I want the rifle team to be the usual occupant of the pillbox, so I give them a probability of arrival at the pillbox of 90%. That means that 90% of the time the pillbox will be occupied by the rifle team, but 10% of the time the rifle team will be in the isolation hex.

Now I can add the HMG team as another possible occupant of the Pillbox. I want the presence of the HMG to be rare, so I set the probability of this arriving at the pillbox at just 10%. Now I have an HMG team that will be absent from the scenario 90% of the time and the pillbox occupancy can be in one of four states:

Add a second pillbox as another possible arrival location for both teams and the number of possible variations goes up again. Do this with just a handful of elements and locations and you soon have a very wide range of possible setups each time you open the scenario.

Using this technique, you can introduce many randomized elements into your scenarios.

You could even do this with a single piece of equipment such as a radio simulating its possible failure; if the radio ends up in the isolation hex you can’t raise battalion on the net so you can’t call in artillery support.

A couple of points worth noting. First, don’t randomize ALL the units in a scenario, you could end up with an empty map! Just randomize enough to make it interesting. Secondly If you use this technique on both sides you will need to use two entirely separate isolation areas one for each side, otherwise you might find your unreliable reinforcements fighting an engagement of their own off map!

Campaign and scenario design is a lot of fun and once you master a few simple tools can add a whole new element of enjoyment to the game.

I thoroughly enjoyed writing this campaign and I plan to do more. Perhaps I will expand Simerov’s, there’s plenty of scope to do that. And then there are always those games which don’t yet have a campaign game. So, if you like the idea of writing a campaign, now’s the time to do it, new content is always popular and new campaigns are few and far between.

A big thank you to Mark for both this write-up as well as the new Behind the Lines campaign for Advance of the Reich.

You can download the Behind the Lines campaign from here: Campaign Package

The campaign notes are included but also available here: Campaign Notes

Notes on creating a campaign are here: Campaign Creation

A supplement to user manual is here: User Manual Supplement




  • Brett Kolcun

    thanks. plays well.

  • Anonymous

    A campaign game, what a great idea. Extends replay-ability.

  • Kara

    Very nice! A great addition to the newly updated Squad Battles catalogue. Embis did a great job. Now I can’t wait for the remainder of 4.01 updates, especially for Eagles Strike.

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