The core loop of Tactera is the individual battle: a 5-10 minute fight for control of every base on the map. The quickest way to get to a battle is through Skirmish mode, which players got to see in the demo. The full version of Tactera expands on these battles by adding new units and new mechanics and new maps, but that still didn’t seem like enough. I wanted Tactera to offer hours of entertainment, and doing skirmish after skirmish didn’t sound like it would satisfy for very long. If you’re going to battle time and time again, there needs to be a higher purpose. Hence: Campaign mode!
There are lots of other RTS games with campaigns. Most of them follow a fairly linear format (sometimes with branching), with a sequence of carefully designed scenarios. That kind of thing is not my style as a game designer; I tend to prefer dynamic systems rather than pre-written narrative.
Instead, I took inspiration from other game series like Total War or Heroes of Might and Magic. In these games, there are a lot of battles, but there’s a higher level of turn-based gameplay that takes place on a world map. The player builds armies and moves them around the map, and when they clash with enemy armies, it produces unique settings and meaningful stakes for each individual battle. The same principle governs Tactera’s campaign.
The campaign map presents itself sort of like a board game. And like most of Tactera, the rules are deliberately kept simple. Your goal is to capture all of the regions on the map, each of which can contain a certain number of armies. Each turn, you gather reinforcements from the regions you control, which can be used in turn to deploy new armies.
Each army can be moved once. Whenever armies clash, a battle takes place at the end of the turn. You get to choose one of those battles to command personally. The number of armies decides the difficulty of the battle by changing the number of bases you start with. Afterwards, regardless of the outcome of the battle you commanded, the other battles on that turn are decided based on a roll of the dice, with the probabilities determined by the number of armies on each side.
The rules are pretty straightforward, but they produce some interesting dynamics. Most importantly, you can only command a single battle per turn, while the others are decided by chance. If you pick an easier battle (where your armies outnumber the enemy’s), you’ll have no trouble reaching victory, but you’re more likely to lose the dice roll on the other battles. Conversely, if you pick one of the more difficult battles, you’ll be hard-pressed to win, but you’re more likely to win elsewhere. In essence: you’re incentivized to push your limits and take on the hardest battles you think you can handle. As you gain skill, you’ll be able to win battles against overwhelming odds, and that will give you the edge you need to conquer the whole map.
There are other twists that help to keep the game interesting. Per usual, you get to pick 3 units for each battle. However, in the campaign mode, you can’t pick any units that you’ve already used in the previous two battles, so you’ll be forced to constantly mix up your strategy. On top of that, each region in the campaign has its own map assigned to it, so the terrain will be changing from battle to battle.
This is the kind of campaign that fits my tastes as a designer: dynamic, strategic, and minimalistic. It fits in nicely with the rest of the game, and I hope that it will serve its purpose well, adding meaning and variety to the core gameplay.