My Dear Mr. Duk:
Attached is the long-promised mockup of the attachment closeup window. I have tried to place clumps of attached and unattached pieces in a way that raises a number of important issues. You may want to print out this message and study it with the PICT displayed on your screen.
In this scene, we are the slate pieces and are opposed by red plastic. The battle map shows a scene on the outskirts of a neutral port city. The main battle map shows our transport about to unload troops, our carrier with (non-escort) submarine beneath and spyplane overhead, and a downed helicopter refueling at a fuel dump just created by one of our engineers. We also have a heavily-laden bomber with one fighter escort and another fighter preparing for a mid-air refueling. We occupy only four squares, so the enemy can only see four pieces: a transport, a fighter, a downed helicopter, and either a carrier or a another fighter (depending on whether his currently selected piece is an air or surface piece).
We can only see three enemy pieces: a battleship, a fighter, and an infantry unit. The mockup shows what would be displayed if we double-click on our downed helicopter. The window shows the downed helicopter with the eight surface cells immediately adjacent to it, and also the airspace overhead with the eight air cells immediately adjacent to that. Double clicking on a piece in the closeup window brings up an info dialog box for that piece. Surface pieces can be dragged to other positions in the surface grid, air pieces can be dragged to positions within the air grid, and special pieces (like the helicopter and the ranger) can move from one grid to the other. We can perform a number of interesting activities within this one closeup view.
Our first decision is how best to use our spy. Like any other piece, the spy is allowed two attacks per turn. The enemy fighter is already adjacent to our spyplane, so the spy can "attack" the enemy fighter without the need to first move its fighter. If we select the spy and then click on the enemy fighter, any AIR pieces "underneath" that fighter will be revealed. It may be a lone fighter, or it may conceal a squadron of bombers.
We could also move the fighter one unit southeast into the airspace over the enemy infantry. The spy could then penetrate the infantry unit directly below it and determine what pieces it may be hiding. Notice that the spy cannot easily probe the enemy battleship because of the enemy fighter overhead. In order to probe the battleship, our spy would have to position himself over the battleship, but he can't do this unless his fighter first attacks and destroys the enemy fighter. In any event, with only one spy we can probe only two of the three enemy pieces during this move.
Unloading our transport is easy. We can drag any or all of the four land pieces onto any of the three adjacent land squares (although an infantry piece can occupy a neutral city, only an army can capture it). Once the city is captured, we can move the transport into the city as well.
Our carrier contains a helicopter which, in turn, contains a unit of infantry. If we wish to move that infantry on shore, we much drag the helicopter, NOT the infantry piece. A land piece cannot directly disembark from a carrier; but if we drag the helicopter to any land piece within ten units, the infantry will tag along automatically. Once the chopper is on the ground, the infantry can safely detach. I think even rangers should NOT be allowed to detach (jump) from helicopters that are in the air; I say they can only jump from bombers.
If we drag the helicopter to a sea square, it (and the infantry) will automatically pop up into the air grid. We can also drag the helicopter directly onto any of the nine air grids. This is unusual: most pieces cannot move from the air grid to the surface grid or vice versa. Of course, if we try to move the chopper into an occupied air grid, this would constitute an attack (and if the chopper is destroyed, the infantry is destroyed with it).
With an enemy battleship so close, it might be wise to move the chopper up into the air, but this might leave it vulnerable to the enemy fighter. If we move it straight up over the carrier, would our spyplane protect the chopper? And can a chopper attach to a fighter? In any case, we cannot move the helicopter into the lower right airspace square, because that airspace is already maxed out.
In this representation I have dropped the idea of a four piece limit for air pieces. Our heavily-laden bomber tests even a nine piece limit. As you can see it is carrying one bomb, two rangers, and three units of fuel. Should we allow bombers to carry all three types of cargo at once? If so, this particular plane is simultaneously a bomber, and air transport, and a mid-air refueler.
I presume mid-air refueling should require both the fuel-er and the fuel-ee to remain motionless for one turn, so if we wish to refuel the unattached fighter we much first attach him and then wait until the next turn. Could the rangers jump during a mid-air refueling? Once fueling is complete, our eight piece air clump can move ten units a day for many days.
We have a number of other options. We can attack the battleship with our sub, but we could also attach the sub to the carrier and then both carrier and sub could retreat together. If the sub had already been attached to the carrier, we would have had to detach it before we could use it to attack the battleship. If the sub WAS attached to the carrier, and if the carrier then attacks the battleship, what do you think should happen? In that case the carrier would fire the first shot. But would the attached sub AUTOMATICALLY fire a second shot, or would the player have to open up the closeup view and then specifically select the sub for a separate attack? I presently favor the automatic attack as this further enhances the power of attachment: not only do attached pieces automatically move together, they automatically fight together as well. The player would only need to detach the sub if he wanted the sub to fire FIRST.
We can also move the engineer and use it to attack the enemy infantry (NOT a good idea) or move into the neutral city. I propose that any land piece can effortlessly move into and thus "occupy" a neutral city; the enemy would have to destroy any occupying pieces before it could occupy OR capture a neutral city. Sea and air pieces (except the helicopter) could NOT land in a neutral city until it was captured and only armies can actually capture a neutral city.
There are many more issues raised by this scenario, but that is enough for now. What do you think of the twin surface and air grid approach? I think it solves several problems, both the sometimes complex forms of attachment, disembarking, refueling, etc., and also some of the issues you raised earlier about the distinction between air pieces on the ground and in the air. Under this scheme, when a player flys a fighter into a city, that fighter LANDS in the city and is a sitting duck for any enemy fighter that can fly into the airspace OVER the city. If the player anticipates an enemy air attack, he must expend an additional movement to send the fighter up into the city's airspace before his turn is over.
Several other unsolved issues...
How should we distinguish (visually) between neutral, captured, and enemy cities in the closeup view? I could simply display the city marker piece (for either captured or enemy cities), but would that take up one of the nine slots? (Actually, there is enough room to bump the limit up to 12 if we want.)
Should we provide a means for the player to scroll around the map from within the closeup view window? And if so, how? (One method would be simply dragging a piece to the edge of the window until it starts to scroll.) Should the closeup window be modal (that is, should the player be forced to put it away before returning to the main battle map), or should we allow the closeup window, the main battle window, and the floating world palette all to be active (and updating) at once (for those with football-sized screens)?
In addition to raising many new questions, I hope this mockup also answers some of the questions you raised in recent dispatches. Is the concept of the twin-grid closeup window now clear? Are you comfortable with the strict (and sometimes counterintuitive) limit it places - by its very nature - on the number of pieces that can occupy a given square?
I look forward to your detailed reaction!
Yours in haste,