Take the objective or fall back to spare your men? These aren’t consequence-free choices, and they’re not added for dramatic effect. In "Burden of Command," a new "World War II tactical leadership RPG," you assume command of a fictional company within the Army’s 7th Infantry Regiment — the "Cottonbalers" — to make life-and-death calls based on actual historical scenarios.
"I don’t consider "Burden of Command" a war game," Luke Hughes, the game’s project lead, told Task & Purpose. No, this is something different, for sure: Think "Band of Brothers," but turn-based.
“We want to put you in a position where making those tactical decisions carries with it a burden,” Fernando Rizo, a Marine veteran and the marketing lead for Burden of Command, told Task & Purpose. “There’s a burden in being that guy who has to make those calls, calls where somebody might die. And somebody dying might be the right decision to accomplish the mission — and we don’t think a lot of games are doing that right now.”
The Cottonbalers likely spent more time in combat than any other regiment in the Army during World War II, fighting from North Africa to Italy and then Germany. That made them perfect fit for the game, Hughes said.
A "leadership RPG" sounds like something the Pentagon would push down the pipe to improve field-grade officers’ PowerPoint skills. But in terms of gameplay, it means balancing gains on the battlefield with losses in morale, and these take the form of "leadership moments."
As a company commander, you have points to spend on abilities — directing fire, moving your men, and rallying them. But each decision brings benefits and drawbacks. Personally leading an assault can boost morale and increase the effectiveness of the troops in a squad, but puts your commander at risk, and also limits your ability oversee the movement and actions of other squads.
In one scenario, one of your officers is hit, and you have to decide between leaving him behind to take out an enemy artillery position, or abandoning the objective altogether to save a friend and a valuable leader.
"We’re trying to be historically authentic and emotionally authentic," Hughes explained. "Being historically authentic is that thing we’re all used to: It means being historically accurate, and respectful to the real people who served and died and what their experiences were, and not BS."
The leadership moments are based on unit records and after action reports of the real-life Cottonbalers, researched by the "Burden of Command" team. History buffs will find much to love here.
"I advise the writers that whenever you can find a real historical moment that nobody would believe, that’s one of our sweet spots," Hughes said. "And then we’re geeky enough to put a little book icon next to it, so you can scroll over and see the real history."
At one point in the game, players get ambushed by an enemy marksman and face a choice: Would you step out do draw sniper fire?
"It sounds very Hollywood, but this colonel in the Cottonbalers, by God, he did it," Hughes said. "He stood up, drew their fire, and his guys shot the sniper dead when he exposed himself."
Are you braver — or smarter — than a colonel in the shit? "Burden of Command" may give you a chance to prove it.
James Clark is a staff writer for Task & Purpose. He is a former Marine combat correspondent and a veteran of the War in Afghanistan. You can reach him via email at James@taskandpurpose.com. Follow James Clark on Twitter @JamesWClark
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