How To Play WDS Games

Today we’ll delve into details on how our games can be played. We often post about what our new content is, but how you can interact with it is often left to the player to discover by digging in, reading the documentation and/or talking to others. Hopefully this post will open some doors for you that you may not have been aware of previously.

Based on several past surveys we have roughly 70% of our customer base who only play against the computer. There's a variety of reasons for this I'm sure ranging from a lack of free time, not knowing how to find opponents or just what options are open to do so. We here at WDS are aware of this and are continually making adjustments to make the AI a better opponent. We also have a lot in the works to continue those improvements...but it's complex and takes a good bit of time to implement. Additionally, due to the complexity of our games (especially when using a huge map) the reality is you will never be able to beat the experience of playing against another human. This blog will cover both Solo play and play against other people, so content for everyone!

Our games break down into two basic categories for starters:

  • Turn based
  • Real time

Todays post will primarily be dealing with the turn based games as they comprise 90+% of our product base. I will have some notes on the real time games towards the bottom of the post however.


A word on the demos we publish. The purpose behind them is two fold – primarily they are a vehicle to give you exposure to a game system. How the controls work and the general “feel” of the engine. They are also used to cover topics that would not necessarily make it into a full game. With that said, some times the demos aren’t a “great” representation of the rest of a series. We understand that and frankly it is difficult to provide a comprehensive “snap shot” in a tiny free program offered up. So please keep that in mind when going through them…the full games offer an exponentially larger amount of content and more options for replayability as well.

You can see the current line up of Demos here… 8 as of this writing and work is progressing on at least 2 more currently. If you happen to be reading this and are not familiar with our games then a Demo is definitely the place to start.

This is also a good place to make mention of our free Menu Program which once installed allows you to access all your WDS games from a single interface… and not only the main game, but all supporting programs and documentation. Note: It "sees" games installed up to two levels deep, so in the image below you can see that I have my games grouped by series - so the entire Napoleonic series is listed together, then the next series and so forth.

You can grab a copy here.

There are a variety of methods in which to play our games. A broad breakdown is:
  • Solo
  • Head-to-Head
  • Cooperative

I will break each of these sections down further as we step through this. There are also further break downs in how the games can be played when it comes to phases, turns or a combination of the two. This applies specifically to the Civil War Battles, Napoleonic Battles and Musket & Pike games. Details on this including the optional rules you need to select to make it happen are included in the appropriate User Manual.


Human against the AI - This method is most everyone's first introduction to our games. A Getting Started scenario is usually at the top of the list of scenarios that ship with each game and we have an accompanying PDF file to walk you through the basics. Getting to know the User Interface (UI) which includes the Menus, Toolbar, game map, Hex Info Area and Status Bar. We generally write these documents to cover things at a high level to give you exposure, and if you need further information we direct you to the appropriate document to look at for more details. This document also tries to find a balance of sharing info and personal experience of the writer in recording events of their play through as well as handy tips they have learned over the years when playing. It is intended that it not be completely granular, looking through every detail and every possible event. That's half the fun of playing, is to have variety and learning through experience. But also, why we have more in-depth documentation included.

Most tutorial scenarios are designed to give you some challenge, but generally be winnable from the players point. We don't want the intro bar set too high after all. As far as scenarios as a whole within the game, we do attempt to design them for play against the AI as one side or the other, but some times there are situations that are only meant for Head-to-Head play (more info on that soon). There are certain design methods that can be used to make a scenario play well against the computer. As a general rule of thumb you want to play the attacker in a scenario against the computer and you will get a more challenging opponent playing on smaller maps where there are less options for the AI to try and handle. A further feature that is available to you when playing against the AI is to use the Advantage slider bar when you begin a scenario. If you move this towards the AI side then combat calculations will be weighted in its favor.

There are two methods a scenario designer can use when making settings for an AI scenario. Flags and Scripts. Flags are general "high level" directives given to the AI in how it should conduct itself during a battle. This can encompass Attacking with a portion of it's forces or an "Extreme Attack", throwing everything into the offensive. Likewise, there are options for defending. Scripts also have these style of over all commands but in addition to that there is very specific paths and objectives set for the computer to aim towards. On a smaller map with limited maneuver options this can produce a solid challenge - and if the designer created more than one script it allows for good replayability. However, on large maps and long scenarios this method breaks down - as once the script objectives are obtained the AI will stay put and hold the ground it is at. Additionally, with a script, the AI would not react to a wide flanking maneuver, for example, but press forward to its set objective. So, there is no one size fits all solution.

Commander Control - an option when playing against the AI is to use the Commander Control. This has you issuing high level commands to various commanders - say all Divisional Commanders - and then allowing the AI to execute those commands as the game unfolds. This method only applies to the “Musket” type games from the pre-twentieth century titles. As we continue to refine AI performance we will do a more expanded post on this method of play, possibly within the next 6 months or so. This dialog is reached by choosing New & Normal from the opening File Selection Dialog, and then you can choose the control method for each side.

Solo Hot Seat - This method has you playing both sides in a battle - but you can use FOW, so unlike trying to play a board game solo, you can't see the opposing side. This can be good for playing large scenarios - especially if you only come back to it every few days... easy for you to forget the details of what is happening with the opposing side.

Scenario Design - then there's the scenario design tools. Many people simply enjoy creating their own scenarios, modifying the OOBs or graphics, etc. By and large our games are very customizable - you can make them look the way you want - and if you don't agree with the values we have set you can change them.

Best practice if you are going to do things like this is to make a backup copy of the stock files and then work on that. For example, if you want to alter a scenario that comes with the game to change the positioning of some units, or alter some reinforcements you can do so. Load the file up in the Scenario Editor then go to the File menu and choose "Save as..." and give it a new file name. This way you can make any changes you wish and it not impact the base game. Then, when a new update is released you can safely apply it and you know it won't impact your modified files. The same concept applies to graphics, but in that case you need to have a copy of your modified files in another directory - as to be useable by the game they must be named the exact same as the stock files and be located in the same place. I'll hold off on further details of graphics modification (or modding) as that could be an entire blog post on its own...

As we continue our improvement of the games we are refining and fleshing out the documentation as well. If you explore the Napoleonic or Musket & Pike Scenario Editor Manual you will find all sorts of details relating to designing your own and / or customizing the existing files within the games.


PBEM - The most popular way to play against another person, and my personal favorite, is Play By Email (PBEM). This method is ideal for many reasons such as flexibility on time schedules, limited to no technical difficulties, no need to coordinate time zones, and it is platform independent.

You can fire up a match, complete your turn and send the save game file (which has a .bte file extension) to your opponent and then move on with your day. Depending on your arrangements you could get a turn back in short order or several days later. Some people don't want to wait for turns that answer to that was always "have more games going". Not that I'm recommending it, but at one point I had 22 PBEM games going at one time. I *always* had a few turns waiting on me to conduct my turn. So, if you are retired and have an abundance of time keeping 5 or 6 games going should allow you to play a turn when you want to.

The majority of the games now have a \Saves folder where all of your in process game files are stored. Be sure to give your file a name you can easily identify with... as the default "battle.bte" is not too descriptive.

Also worth noting are file extensions:

  • .btl - game against the computer
  • .bte - PBEM game
  • .btt - Hot Seat game
  • .btx - DirectPlay game
  • .cpf - campaign game
  • .btc & .bto - supporting files for the campaigns
  • .xxx & .yyy - temporary working files. Can be deleted if the game is not running.

The only real technical difficulty that I have experienced when doing PBEM is occasionally a file will become corrupted when being sent. When we have zipped the turn and resent it the problem was resolved. What is meant by Zipping is – putting it in a “compressed folder” or state. This can be done with the built-in software from Windows, or a third party program such as WinZip, 7-Zip, Win RAR, etc.

The following methods are for those with more discretionary time...

Two Player Hot Seat - if you are lucky enough to have a family member who is also interested in the games, or a buddy that can come over periodically and enjoy a match or two, you can use the Hot Seat mode. As mentioned in the solo section, this allows a game to be played on a single computer - once one player completes their turn the screen blanks out and prompts for the next just change seats and the other person can do their turn with no FOW compromise.

LAN - then we have LAN play...if you have two (or more) computers in your home or business, people can easily connect with each other for a "Direct Play" match - meaning everyone is connected real-time and can watch things unfold as they happen. We used this method at the three Tiller Con's in the past and it is very enjoyable! You can have two or three people assigned to a side, only commanding certain aspects of the army, and all players on a side conduct their actions simultaneously. This really gets things rolling and large battles can be played at a pretty rapid pace. And being on a LAN there is no lag or connectivity problems. The opposing players can scroll around to different sections of the battlefield and watch the fight unfold...and the cannon fire can really reach a crescendo when the action is hot. Its great fun!

The same interface is used to set these games up whether you are playing on a LAN or WAN. One player is the Host, all others are the Callers. See the User Manual for further details on connecting and setup.

WAN - similar to a LAN setup you can use the same method to connect via a WAN (Wide Area Network), or more realistically the Internet. This method is best done by using a third party application like Hamachi - - to establish your connection. This prevents the need to know details about various networking technologies. We are exploring new ways of addressing this, but it is still a ways down the road.


This format uses the same basic play styles mentioned above, but with a further layer. Generally, this plays out something like this:

One player is assigned as the over all commander of a side. They may, or may not, have actual troops to command. Sometimes the side might split things evenly and you discuss a plan and execute it - other times the CO will issue orders/objectives and the sub-commanders execute the plans. Depending on the level of "depth" you want you can institute delayed orders with a random die roll - it takes "x" amount of time for the message to get through with a 4-6 roll, with less there are degrees of delay. It really boils down to how much complexity you want to have and how much record keeping you want to do. You can even have an Umpire that governs the over all game...

This can be played out in any of the formats... it will happen as a matter of course in the LAN/WAN setup as you are already grouped as a team - but it can also be done via Email...with Email you just need to be committed to turn the game file around as quickly as you can to ensure the game does not stall out.

So how do you go about finding someone to play against you ask? There's a variety of ways...

First you have to make a choice. Do you want a single game, only here and there? Or are you looking to keep regular games going most of the time? Then, are you interested in a single genre or multiple ones?

If you only want an occasional game here and there you can use one of the following resources:

The Opponent Finder section on the WDS Forums, with a sub-section for each series of games -

Or, one (of many) Facebook groups -

To get something going simply make a post. Both of the above options require registration or for you to join in order to post. If you have problems with either simply shoot use an email and we'll help you get going -

When posting for a match here's some rough guidelines:

  • Expect to play on the latest version of the game from the WDS site. If you don't want to for some reason you need to make that very clear up front.
  • Both players must be using the same files, so like the patch level, if you have any modified files you wish to use then both players must have them installed, and it is also good form to clearly define what changes have been made - so both players are in agreement.
  • Set a realistic file turn around rate in your initial game wanted post. Personally, I'm only good for 1 or 2 turns a week on a consistent basis. Other people want no less than a turn a day commitment. Setting this expectation up front - and adhering to it - will earn you some dedicated opponents. Most people are of course understanding if real-life commitments come up - just communicate on any delays.
  • Rule sets. The easiest thing to do is offer to play your first games with the default optional rules for the game system. Once you find some people that you enjoy playing against you can branch out a bit. Not only can you alter optional rules, but some people also like to use "House Rules". I'll leave comments at that for now as that can become a rather lengthy discussion.

Ok, let's say you want a more consistent gaming experience - then likely one of the clubs around the web are best to explore. Some provide a "period specific" flair with, if you choose to participate, a certain "role playing" aspect worked in. Others are competitive Ladders where games are recorded, but they aren't necessarily focused on any one series of games. Most of these environments are good for people that want to keep one game or many going at all times. Several of them have "Training Commands" setup as well to help new members get up to speed quickly. By being a member of one of these clubs you can pretty much guarantee you will be able to find the amount of games you want to play at any time. There are 8 different clubs listed on the WDS website here:


Then we have content within the games. I'm painting with a pretty wide brush here as there are 99 titles covered by this post. If you have any interest in digging further in a future blog post please say so in the comments section below or on the forum thread setup for feedback.

Single battle scenarios - This is the core of most of the games. Covering specific battles in a single scenario so that you can try your hand at the situation. Some people want to play out both sides and replicate what happened historically as closely as possible. Others want to play using historical methods but then attempt different tactics than the original commanders, and still others don't want to have any constraints at all. By and large the games are designed to allow any "type" of player to utilize the game - but are setup that if you choose to Not use historical doctrines or realistic actions then you will be penalized by disorder and rout, leaders and troops being out of command, etc. There are certainly consequences for trying to conduct a Blitzkrieg on an 18th or 19th Century battlefield, for example.

Most scenarios are labeled as to what they represent.

Historical - We tend to include a Historical scenario which is the beginning positions and arrival schedule we have determined based on our research. If a commander let part of his army sit out the first half of a battle then those units will be Fixed to replicate that, for example. The design techniques used will vary from title to title so it is worth your time to read the Designers Notes included with the game. Generally this document will include a historical overview of the content covered by the game and then specific notes by the scenario designer(s) which will tell you what certain units are rated as they are, or various weapons assigned, etc. A bibliography is also included so you can do your own reading on the topic. We have these documents linked from each product page on the website. This one is from our most recent game published, Great Northern War. The length and depth of these documents vary from game to game…ranging from 3 or 4 pages to well over 100.

Hypothetical/what if - Then we'll often include one or more Hypothetical or "What If" situations to explore a well know major variation that could have occurred but didn't. For example, what if it hadn't rained the night before Waterloo and Napoleon hadn't delayed the attack? Or what if Grouchy had been able to pin the Prussians and keep them out of the fight? The list is virtually endless when looking back over the years. The number of variants included could be one or two or a half dozen – just depends on the situation.

Meeting, no historical basis - and then sometimes we include some random meeting engagement, balanced forces, or some other randomized battle for players to engage in that has no real historical basis other than the forces involved. Sometimes this can be setting up a battle with the armies in reversed positions from what they actually were in, for example.

Sub battle scenarios - these are snippets of the larger engagement that can provide good gaming situations. From Gettysburg, the "Wheat Field to Round Top" scenario comes to mind. This allows players to play certain key points of a battle without having to manage the entire thing - these are often much shorter scenarios with far less units to command.

Full campaign in a single scenario - This is a core element of many of the series - Panzer Campaigns, Modern Campaigns, First World War Campaigns and (in some cases) Napoleonic Battles. These tend to be absolutely huge battles with often hundreds of thousands or troops per side. While certainly possible for single player, these scenarios are excellent for multi-player (per side) battles. For several series you have extra added features that are used in these situations. Strategy Decision Points where you make a high-level choice that then controls your reinforcement schedule or unit placement. This can add significant variability in a scenario from one play through to the next.


Then we have the "Campaign" feature in several of the series.

Character based campaigns - this is the style the Squad Battle series uses. In this you have a core character represented by a unit on the map - you then play through the scenarios until you reach the end of the campaign or your character is killed - which will immediately end the campaign.

Linked battle campaigns - these are included to "string" the major battles of a war together in order to play them in chronological order, but no losses carry over. These are commonly found in the titles that represent conflicts stretching over a period of many month or years - where the forces involved had prolonged periods of time elapsing between engagements and therefore conducted reorganizations and refitting between – so that the order of battle changed significantly and resolves any losses that had taken place.

"True" campaigns - losses carry over - these campaigns are generally used to cover campaigns that didn’t have much time in between battles, so that essentially the same forces were fighting in each battle. For example, Campaign Waterloo - there were only 4 days between hostilities opening and the climax of the campaign. In that time 3 significant battles were fought (Ligny, Quatre Bras & Waterloo) and several smaller actions (Wavre, etc.) – so it is natural for losses to carry over in this situation.

Decision only campaigns - this format is used as a "gateway" to a large map battle to provide multiple choices to the sides involved so that there is a maximum amount of Fog of War going into it. Each side will have multiple choices for the deployment of their forces. Additionally, in this particular example, there is further variability with multiple copies of each scenario being included with different chances of arrival in each, and the program randomly chooses which one to use. So, not a true "Campaign" per se, but it uses the campaign front end to present it. Below is one such example:

Real Time

As I said, I’d throw in some comments about real-time. Our Naval Campaigns and Modern Air Power series of games are real-time. Once a scenario is started everything is moving and does not stop until you either Pause the game or the time allocated for the scenario ends. This is 1:1 time, but you can also use time compression, up to 10x so that periods of search or travel pass more quickly, then once contact is made you can return to normal.

These games are only designed to be played against the computer AI or on a LAN/WAP connection. There is no provision for PBEM due to the way the game engine executes.

As mentioned previously, using a service like Hamachi can enable solid connectivity to play this across the Internet. In times past there were significant club games involving these titles as well.


If you would like to ask questions or discuss this post further head over to the forum, and this specific thread created for this topic.

Well, that about covers it for today...hopefully this has presented some information you were not aware of or entices you to explore a new element of our games. Until next time...



  • Jason Rimmer

    WOW that give order to Commanders I’d love to see in all your other game series from Squad Battles to Panzer Campaigns. Why hasn’t it been implemented?

  • Dave Fisher

    This is a fine article, I’ve been a long time solo player, but there is much here that I havent really looked at or tried. You have given me lots of food for thought.

  • nick howard

    Thank you for back ground information. I am a solo player. Panzer campaigns and modern warfare by preference. Danube Front combined game is my favourite. So two suggestions:

    1) With Danube Front as my example, why not provide additional scenarios by way of starting points at say Day 3, 5 even 20 or thirty. That way the A1 would be strong later into the game? The Normandy game would also benefit if this was done.
    2) A free suggestion for a game. The big what if. That is, Stalin’s Red Army purge did not happen. Tukhachevesky takes the offensive in Poland in the summer of 1940. Just see the map page 248 and accompanying text in Germany And The Second World War Vol 4 (Oxford).

    One last word, war gamers like every thing to happen too quickly. But bunkers are boring. Build in a degradation process to allow for the effect of continuous attack/bombardment. And field troops surrender when encircled in their bunker?
    Thanks for your games

    Nicholas Howard

  • Ernie Exner

    Thanks for the article, even as a long time solo player, there is still much for me to learn. One persistent question I’ve had on scenario design and playability is when a scenario is recommended to be played as one side human versus the AI. How rigid is that? I understand and appreciate that it is far easier to program an AI opponent to defend rather than attack. However, there have been so many times that I have been dying to play the other side. For example, can I play as Wellington at Waterloo, the armored cav holding the line against a massive Soviet attack, or horrors of horrors, the French in the 1940 campaign? How badly would that mess up the AI? Are these games reasonably playable? Thanks for any advice and insight, Ye Olde Forte

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