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DevBlog: The Art of War I

You have asked in countless comments and forum posts for more details on the military aspects of Anno 1800. As announced earlier this month, our Creative Director Dirk Riegert will tackle this topic in an in-depth DevBlog. In fact, it ended up being so in-depth that we decided to split it up into two parts! Today’s Part 1 looks back at the history of the military across the various Anno games, while next week’s follow-up will explain how we will handle it in Anno 1800. Enjoy!

The military aspect of Anno games and its interesting history. It was only a few years back that I learned, during a lovely chat with one of the original Anno creators at Max Design, that Anno 1602 was originally not even supposed to have any combat elements whatsoever. It was only shortly prior to release that they changed their mind and ended up integrating a trimmed down real-time strategy (RTS) aspect into the game. Even then, they were not sure if they would bring combat back for any of the eventual sequels. But of course, they did, what started as a last-second addition turned into a series regular.

This anecdote helps to illustrate two things: firstly, that combat was not part of the original idea for Anno, which helps to explain some of the conceptual challenges with it that every game in the series has since faced. Secondly, it shows that despite all these challenges, combat has still managed to become an important aspect in every one of the Anno games.

Why is military important for Anno?
At its core, Anno is a rather peaceful and serene game, with an optimistic and upbeat outlook. While the world seems familiar, it is also idealized; you could easily be forgiven for thinking that combat feels out of place in such a world.

Whether in the past or the future, the art of war has always been a part of Anno

During several surveys, we identified three major ways how players approached combat, each of which questioned tens of thousands of Anno players at various times (ranging from all the way back to the development of Anno 1701, to shortly after the release of Anno 2070).

And indeed, the majority of our players (between 45-55%) prefer an ostensibly peaceful approach to playing Anno, with very few skirmishes at sea (those pesky pirates…), while avoiding any planned-out warfare. Another big group of players (35-45%) prefers a more flexible approach, where things can be resolved peacefully or turn to war, depending on the situation at hand. Finally, we have a small group of players (5-15%) who feel that large-scale warfare is that extra something and who prefer to permanently get rid of their opposition.

A policy of deterrence
Things get more interesting once we take a closer look, however. While we had some players who wanted to avoid any kind of conflict via game settings (an option that will once again be available in Anno 1800), the military feature in general seemed to be of importance for many of our players, despite their stated playstyle preferences. In other words, even those players who preferred not to use combat in the game feel that warfare is an important part of Anno. But why is that so?

The answer to that question lies in the overall “feeling” of Anno. The presence of the military and warfare in the peaceful Anno world increases the realism and believability, topics that have always been very important to Anno players. Even many of those players, who would never declare war themselves and who prefer playing with more passive AI characters, like the notion that war could be a potential consequence of their actions. These players view peace as an active process; the direct result of their behavior towards other players, be they human or AI-driven. The knowledge that war could break out is a deterrent to many players and AI alike, as it puts additional importance on their actions. Just as in real life, it asks players to consider what the possible price of their behavior could be, and if they would be willing to pay it. For these players, the threat of potential war is a more important aspect than the actual warfare itself. If they decide to build any military units at all, they mostly do so as a deterrent to their neighbors.

I decide about war and peace!
Things are of course very different for those players who like to actively use their military in the game. In the below diagram, you can see some statements that we polled players on.

How much do you agree with these statements? That is what we asked our Anno 2070 players, with the diagram showing the percentage of those fully agreeing.

From these results, you can see that while gameplay freedom (”I decide on war and peace“) reigned supreme, some concrete actions (“It is fun to sink ships“), confrontational aspects (”I enjoy fighting AI opponents“; ”I am motivated by strong opponents“) and frustrating moments (”I do not like losing everything at once“) are also important factors.

Surveys like this one show that the same gameplay experience can be rated very differently by players when it comes to concrete military action. One player’s trash could be the next player’s treasure. While some players dread the risk of losing what they carefully built up, other players cherish this very risk as an extra incentive. The only factor that pretty much all players could somewhat agree on: the ability to decide whether it was time for war or peace and the strategic freedom tied to it (do I want to help my allies, or should I break my alliance etc.) is the major interest of war in Anno.

The military across the Annos
Armed with this knowledge, we have tried many different things to find the perfect military implementation for Anno. This is not an easy task, given the very specific game design requirements for warfare in the Anno world.

Most classic RTS games primarily use their buildings to build up an army, turning their worlds into real-time battlefields. This classic RTS gameplay collides with the core principle of Anno, which is to build as many buildings as efficiently as possible on a limited island space (see the green areas in the next diagram). Such densely developed cities leave little room for glorious open battlefields.

Land is for building; the sea is for trade and combat. Harbors are the intersection between both.

Things are very different out on the high seas (see the red areas). Apart from harbors, players can’t really build anything here, so they are the perfect stage for both smaller skirmishes as well as massive naval battles in the various Anno games. But, the seas become really meaningful, once you take into consideration its function as a link between the islands, thanks to harbors and trade routes.

The first three Annos (1602, 1503 and 1701) opted for a classic RTS-like (Real-Time Strategy) approach, which allowed you to use land-based units in addition to your fleets. This approach had the advantage of players being familiar with it thanks to its implementation in other games. While some players cherished the direct control and the slow, methodical advances against heavily fortified islands, other players were annoyed by the need for too much micro-management, troops getting lost between buildings and the perceived need to build walls and towers all around their islands. With Anno 1404, we tried to get the military gameplay closer to the core Anno loop. Land-based units were no longer directly controllable, as players instead had to build defensive structures and field camps. This made combat both slower and more strategic. While we again had some players who highly welcomed these changes, others found it too indirect and complex, with some fights turning into an explosion of overlapping circles and colors, as seen below.


Red circles, green arrows… the indirect combat of Anno 1404 led to a cascade of visual aids for the player

With Anno 2070, we returned to directly controllable units, but replaced land-based troops with flying combat units and submarines. There was also fuel as a resource, further adding complexity. Some players liked this new approach; others felt that we had not gone far enough in revamping the combat.

In Anno 2205, we went one step further, removing combat from the core gameplay and instead moving it to special conflict maps. Later on, we considered this for the game’s final DLC, which broke up the strict separation by somewhat reintroducing combat back into the main sessions. A move that was highly welcomed by most players.

So what is next?
For Anno 1800, we have spent a lot of time discussing which previous military aspects we wanted to carry over, and which new elements we wanted to introduce. That’s why I hope you look forward to Part II of this DevBlog, when I will explain the concepts of military gameplay in Anno 1800, including some early details on some of the systems.

But now I want to turn the mic over to you: Which of the three main groups I outlined earlier would you played yourself: those who actively seek war, those who want to avoid it, or those rules to prefer to be flexible and decide on war and please as required? I am looking forward to your thoughts.

See you next week

Dirk ”Cart Pusher“ Riegert

26 Comments

  1. Steinhauzer Steinhauzer

    The long, slow sieges of 1404 are my favourite, and the one I feel fits the pace of Anno the best. I liked creeping forward with my camps, trying to find the best spots for attack while simultaneously trying to keep the seas safe and providing supplies and fresh manpower for the war effort.

    I also agree that although for me war is a very small part of any particular Anno game, the threat of it is important and improves the immersion.

  2. ruuti0 ruuti0

    I have played all previous Annos and I hope we get similar war type as we had in 2070. It was just superior, old style wasn’t bad either, new was just better in my opinion.

    Thought old one could work too if it is modernized.

  3. Buillermozh Buillermozh

    I have played all Annos up to 2070 and loved them up to 1404 which I still play now.
    I’ve never been into war for Anno games as it feels like it doesn’t fit into the gameplay. I think no good solution has been found in the different iteration of the game, and as the game core is I don’t see what a really good one can be like.
    The good thing is I almost allways been able to play peacefully, even against hard AI, so no problem ! (I want challenging AIs !).

    I think what have been introduced into Venice expansion (possibility to “buy” islands) should be develloped. More economic war than real wars. Maybe introducing something like stock market.

  4. banan1996.1996 banan1996.1996

    I prefer to decide whether I want to fight or keep the peace. I am a rather peaceful player so I rarely start wars, I usually also play with only one or two AIs because I like to have whole map for myself and my huge cities.

    I also feel motivated when facing a strong opponent. Usually my empire grows slowly as I like planning and placing every building in a perfect spot so I efficiently use all the space available. But for example when there was a hard AI in my game in Anno 1404 I had always been motivated to build fast and be prepared for the possibility of war.

    What really annoyed me about hard AIs in Anno 1404 or 2070 is that it was usually extremely difficult to maintain peace even when you did everything they wanted. There always should be at least one warmonger among AIs but they shouldn’t want war at all cost.

    So I don’t mind wars (in games of course), but I prefer to be able to decide whether I want to play peacefully or not.

  5. TerraCrab TerraCrab

    I didn’t enjoy how story progression was gated around military in 2205. It always felt like more a nuisance to do a military quest to unlock rare materials. I hope the player is given a choice to complete the quest either via economic or military progression.

  6. Arkenophas Arkenophas

    I prefer flexible rules ^^ I prefer to begin peacefully (with an eye on the ennemy island, will there be a spy system ? ), but, if I see the ennemy prepare an army, I will prepare myself for war. Or, as most of the time, I play with AI, I prefer to decide when I can begin a conflict with AI

  7. Mr_Boatyface Mr_Boatyface

    In terms of war and peace, I only waged it in the late game, when I knew I could build a navy that was strong enough to protect my trading ships. War on land was a lesser business and I only waged it if I actually needed space for production facilities. The concept of conquering cities never appealed to me, since I prefer to manage one city. Also, as mentioned before, if you play the game to relax a bit, it might be a better idea to implement some opponents in the game that only work defensively. That way, one can have the diplomatic aspect of the game without the need for any kind of conflict (pirates are the exception).

  8. derwrisi derwrisi

    Although I’m a big fan of classic RTS titles, I enjoyed playing Anno so far, the 1404 iteration atop. While I cherish micro-managing troops on maps that were designed for it, I think the Anno setting provides a perfect base for a more strategic and I dare to say “realistic” approach, in which you have to establish a bridge head, make camp along the way, supply your troops, plan a route etc. which would of course lead to a real and ongoing fight for any isle, but can thus be engaging and rewarding. War isn’t a quick thing after all. From there you are also able to extend your poltitical options, as in real life, warring nations wouldn’t usually erase each other, but fight to a certain point and declare a treaty.. I can see potential there.
    Summa summarum I’d say: build on the Anno 1404 system, add more variety, like field encampments or some larger, individually controllable units, maybe multi-unit squads.. dunno, those are just quick idead, but focus on supply, medication, attrition, you know.. the economy of war, which Anno can do a pretty job shot at, I think.

  9. CaCl2_ CaCl2_

    In general in a game like this it’s nice to be able to choose when to go to war, but I think that one or two of hardest AI opponents should be agressive, you make the choise to go to war when you choose to include them in the game.

  10. Suibaku Suibaku

    I was so disappointed by the military system in Anno 2070 that I didn’t even try the expansion, Deap see or the next opus Anno 2205.

    The best military system for my own taste is the system in Anno 1404, you have the ability to land your units directly, you build defensive structures that can be used for offence. Specialists to destroy the defensive structures, buildings to protect your cities ect

    For my play style, I like playing defence for most of the game but I don’t dislike going on offence when I need to expand for a new resource.

  11. Boldzmann Boldzmann

    I want to see flexible rules.

    There is one problem:
    I met players who built up military strength under the pretext of self-defense. And then they suddenly attacked, dealt a crushing blow.

    The problem is that I do not know what goals the player is after. And what kind of military policy he leads. I myself was a victim of such deception and military encroachment.

    I found a solution based on military doctrine. Military doctrine uniquely determines the type of military behavior of the player. Other players can see it. And now they know what to expect.

    Military doctrine describes three types of military behavior for players. The player chooses his type before the game starts. I have defined the following types of military policy.

    For aggressive players:
    Aggressive military policy – focused on achieving a decisive military superiority.
    – excludes any compromises, proceeding from the need to conduct military operations with the most determined methods until the enemy (and its allies) is completely defeated and the seizure of its territory.
    – the construction of military forces is unlimited.
    – does not support the settlement of the conflict through diplomatic means.
    – forces to end the conflict on conditions that meet the interests of an aggressive player.

    For players who want to avoid war:
    Defensive military policy – a set of measures aimed at prevention of war. Proceeding from the task of protecting our own territorial integrity (the interests of the Allies).
    – the use of military forces to repel aggression in return, mainly, defensive actions.
    – excludes preparation for aggressive wars and encroachment on territorial integrity of other players.
    – the construction of military forces in a reasonable defense sufficiency.
    – supports the settlement of the conflict through diplomatic means.
    – the use of military forces is permitted to assist allies.

    For players who want flexible rules:
    “Flexible military policy” – this is what is described in this blog. What most players like. This can be called a “free regime”, all options are available in it. Here, each player decides what to do, based on the situation.

    Here I just gave examples. It would be good to have any system for determining the type of military policy of the player. Just to know what to be ready for. Perhaps you could come up with your own solution? Or did someone face the same problem? I would be happy if you comment on something to solve this problem.

  12. palemale53 palemale53

    Wow! What an impressive gun!

    One RTS feature I missed in the Anno naval fighting was boarding actions, and actually being able to capture enemy ships. I understand that this is not possible in games set in the mid-1800s or later.

    Show answers to the comment
  13. Soulridder Soulridder

    I’m more the player who sometimes activly seeks war while on other times I’m more the flexible one (if Thor Strindberg wants his war, he can get it xD).
    I’m also for micromanagement in times of war. I mean, you have to manage all your ships, why not manage all your units aswell???
    Thought I also like to play RTS games like C&C (Command & Conquer) and Ashes of the Singularity etc., so I feel infantry as a requierement for a real war. In Anno 2070 I always feeled limited with the war system. I could attack from the sea with ships and (U-Boote/submarines) and from the air, but not with infantry. To me this feeled like somehow the Game does not want me to destroy the islands of other players.

    Like I’m not the fan of not having infantry which can freely move I also don’t like how it is handled in Anno 2205 where the military aspect wasn’t on the ‘real’ map with your cities. The system in Anno 1404 also didn’t really play well with what you described above: “developed cities leave little room for glorious open battlefields”.
    Think about it, you still got your infantry troops which should attack the island, but the island if full of buildings. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but when your infantry troops also have to build a building in order to attack other buildings you immediately run into space problems.

    As I can understand the problem with micromanagement when controlling all aspects of war and having infantry, how about giving the player the choice to form armies and battalions in order for them to give one large group of units the order to attack a target instead of managing thousands of small units seperatly while you still have the option to handle units seperatly. Thought this would also add the need for formations in order for stuff like support units not getting killed immediately as they are in the first line…
    How do you think about this idea?

    A few more questions:
    – Will Anno 1800 support HDR?
    – Will we be able to let trees in Anno 1800 regrow? It is a bit annoying when you want to build a great looking city or are at war in Anno 1404 and everything destroys the trees and when you remove the building, those are gone and will never come back until you place trees which you bought into there, but it will never look the same as before or even close to the same as before.

    Guess I’ll leave the rest for the next part. 😉

  14. BlueBreath BlueBreath

    I wanna order 10 of those coastal defenses. And I want the 30% range upgrade on them.

    Hope this covers your question :).

  15. Swimming-Paul Swimming-Paul

    I have never ever played military or war style with Anno. I think there are other games out there for those who seek real time strategy conflicts. I personally don´t like them, and I think the core of Anno and the reason why a lot of us love it is the city building and complex resource management aspects.
    But I always complete the military production chains because I think the buildings are very pretty!

  16. RotS-Targe RotS-Targe

    2070 player. I prefer to avoid war in my games, but I generally kept a small fleet on hand for quests.
    Of the island taking routes, I think the 1404 route was best for an Anno game. It’s a bit slower, it’s harder to go completely overwhelming, and it’s building based.
    For me, I want direct control of my ships. The sea has always been one of the main factors in my love for these games. The buildings have always had a hands-off feel to them, you build them, and other than fixing any inefficiencies with how you designed them, there’s little to micromanage. I like that the 1404 island combat held to some of that. There was certainly more to manage than just building the camps, but it doesn’t turn the islands into full micromanaging of naval combat.

  17. clesius clesius

    I mostly use army as dissuasion force.
    Being strong does not mean to be violent. I can affrod an army, a big army, because my economy is even more stronger …
    That’s why, you, the other player, should leave me this juicy island …

  18. Olinater Olinater

    Nice blog!

    I’m on the side that likes to decide whether I want to go to war or try to avoid it. I’m also on the side that likes to micromanage all of the aspects of war (all my troops, or regiments like in 1701).
    I really liked the combat systems of 1503 and 1701. Planning for war by deciding how to approach the enemy and which islands should be taken is something I really like.
    I can, however, understand some players do not like to micromanage such things because it distracts them from building a nice city. As said, they tried to compensate that in 1404 by reducing the micromanagement and the speed. I didn’t dislike the system, I did consider it a bit ‘dull’ (for my standards). While I don’t mind slow progression, I didn’t find the combat action interesting enough to ‘watch’.
    2070 was a step in de right direction by reintroducing single units. There were however some things that could have been better (according to me 🙂 ).
    – The lack of land units was something I really missed (no tanks or troops/robots).
    – In my memory, it took quite some time to destroy (or take) certain buildings. The fact that the AI cheated (and didn’t build along the same rules as the player did) forced you to completely destroy them in order to wipe them from the map, instead of sabotaging their economy (which could cause them to go bankrupt).
    I can’t wait to find out how the devs have decided to implement combat in Anno 1800 and what kind of balance you guys have chosen.

  19. Hannover8 Hannover8

    I play Anno 1404 the most. Main reasons why I could call for wars was over territories I want under my possession. Resource fertility was the main cause though I recall fighting over my fav island formations 😛
    It would be awesome to have your army march around the main streets whenever a war or battle is won!

  20. AmpeImann AmpeImann

    Flexibility is the most important thing in any ANNO game play loop. Combat should be available at all times, at the discretion of the player.

  21. AgmasGold AgmasGold

    I am definitely part of the “want to be flexible” camp. I prefer being able to declare war when I want, and not being forced into a conflict.

    I think I quite liked the Anno 1404 system. Moving conflict away from the main world in Anno 2205 felt very disjointed and would not be something I’d enjoy seeing happening again. War and naval battles need to happen in and around the world you have helped to shape and form.

  22. CorsairUplay CorsairUplay

    I like warfare in anno, but not too early on when i can barely produce enough ships.

    Show answers to the comment
  23. FHackner FHackner

    I think the 1404 aproach was really good with the focus on strutures.

  24. iruet iruet

    I love to have in my own hands when I want to fight, so that if u have a rough/long day at school u can still play the game without the need to fight 🙂

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