I think that on the subject of “special attacks” (e.g. archers raining a volley-fire, or knights creating a defensive line… although shouldn’t that be more of a footman job?); it would be interesting to have those things set up as “military tasks”. So the UI works like it would with normal tasks such as harvesting; you click and drag to select a zone and then the attack/special action is applied to that zone.
For archers, it could be as simple as designating a zone into which they’ll volley-fire, effectively turning that whole area into a DoT field. For added effect, equip archers with spiky arrows to create a slowing DoT field.
As for footmen, I’d think that it would make more sense to have a “man defensive lines here” order, which would cause them to wait behind solid structures with their LoS to enemies blocked. That forces enemies to come to the footmen, allowing for some very interesting strategies when combined with other classes. It could perhaps be added to the existing guard order; however I like the idea of making it specific to footmen – knights rely on their armour to ward off arrows and such; clerics have faith that they’ll be ok, but footmen are pragmatic and will take cover where they can find it!
As for a knight’s special attack/zone, I’d say a counter-charge zone would fit them well. The would hold their ground in that zone (much like the current guard zones), but the zone would be divided into two parts: a narrow section where the knights stay, and a larger section into which they will counter-charge any attacking enemies. So, there’s a minimum width – I’d say 3 tiles wide for the “hold” zone, and then 5 tiles wide for the “charge” zone, but if the player extends it wider then all the extra space goes to the charge zone – and probably also a maximum width, but the whole point is that it’s the length that really matters in a tactical sense. Ideally you want the knights patrolling/defending short zones rather than long ones, otherwise enemies might slip past while the knights are outside LoS range; or it could simply take too long for the chargers to catch up. The ideal use for this strategy is at a choke point; but in an emergency just setting one up in the path of attacking enemies will work well. The whole point of this counter-charge is that it’s a single powerful attack with all the charge momentum behind it, so it stuns the target/s and deals serious damage to them. Against low-level enemies it could easily wipe them out with a single hit; and it’s supposed to stagger high-level opponents like Kobolds or Ogres. Basically, charge your knights in to clear a path through the meat-shields, and follow that up with footmen for a one-two blow.
As for clerics… they don’t really need a zone; but one idea could be a “blessed ground” area in which allies take (further) reduced damage and have extra courage. The cleric would need to maintain the blessing every 30 seconds or so; so it’s a massive AoE version of their normal abilities but with less targeted effectiveness… a trade-off to gain quantity over quality.
Fitting all this into the military UI panel could be tricky; but one option is to put all these new buttons to the left-hand side of the big Town Defence Mode shield. That way, you have orders to the left, the Big Button (for Emergency Use Only) right in the middle, and individual party control on the other side. This emphasises the two different approaches to controlling your troops – either control the parties directly on one side, or give standing orders for the whole force. This would mean that each zone would need to have a button to assign defenders to it; allowing players to set up multiple zones and assign or move defenders as needed.
I feel that a system like this would fit into Stonehearth’s current macro-management focus best, and still give players a lot of flexible options to get creative with their defences. Plus, it allows for dramatic and cinematic moments – the attackers rush headlong for a gap in the wall, but they’re peppered all the way in by archers firing over the wall; when they reach the breach they’re met by footmen stepping out of cover, and then a cohort of knights lead a glorious charge to scatter the attackers and take the fight to important targets like enemy clerics.
Of course, the practicalities of adding such a system are another matter altogether… but I’ve tried to stick to pre-existing tech and concepts; so the engine should already be able to handle most of that stuff already. Assigning defenders to particular zones might be tricky; but if it can be managed then I’m sure modders will take that capability and have a field day with it.
I think the most important thing, though, is that these abilities need to tie into the existing macro-management – otherwise they risk bogging down combat and forcing the player to either focus everything on them or ignore them altogether.