The Seeds of Disaster– (part of the Against the Odds Annual 2015 called Four Roads to Paris)
The set, displayed at a Washington-area game store in July 2017, is a further example of ATO’s novel formula of selecting some particular historical event and then asking four different game designers to craft their own vision of a game on that subject. In the case of Four Roads to Paris the subject was the Germans’ 1940 invasion of France and the Low Countries. The assignment led to some novel approaches, including one where two players represented the British and the French, while the German invaders are represented by an automaton. In another the French/British are the automaton and a solitaire player is the German. In Seeds of Disaster I thought that what would really have made a difference in 1940 was the evolution of military power on the two sides, and their ability to create and deploy forces reflecting new technological visions. Therefore what I did was to fashion a game that is really two-in-one–a prewar phase in which the players build up armies from very low levels, and then a novel military campaign game. The prewar game builds a new narrative of the history of the 1930s, in which crises may play out differently and Event Cards further alter conditions under which the story develops. This card-driven phase is swift and very exciting. All that play affects national resources–used to procure the military forces–and the Technology Level–used to determine how powerful the forces can be. The players also accumulate Command Points and Intelligence Points, which can be used in various ways throughout the game. Play moves through a sequence of Crisis Levels to “Armed Belligerence,” which corresponds to the historical “Phony War,” and then to “Active Hostilities.” Once war comes the players have ten turns (weeks) to duke it out with the forces they have created. Command and Intelligence are both important–indeed I think this game has the best-integrated treatment of intelligence factors in war that is available in a boardgame today. The military action has airpower, breakthroughs, reserves, and builds on the combat-dice mechanics I have used elsewhere.
Set Europe Ablaze: The Resistance War 1939-1944 (Against the Odds Annual 2014, June 2015)
Ablaze emerged from a request for a card-driven game on a novel World War II intelligence subject. Long ago I had done Spies, which centered on getting and keeping secrets, and more recently (though still a long ways back) Bodyguard/Overlord, about the Allied invasion of Europe and the deceptions surrounding D-Day. The French Resistance suggested itself for a game that could be about what help the Nazis might be able to get for their war economy from their occupation of France and the Low Countries. Cards are played for Events, to fuel Actions, or to break up the opponent’s Actions. Players represent the Resistance (with its British, American, and Free French allies) or the Nazi security forces. The Resistance carries out Actions ranging from sabotage to collecting intelligence and the Germans try to stop them and collect economic points for victory. Game turns are interactive and center on activities occurring in specific regions that are represented on the mapboard. This is a fast-paced game that rarely goes on for more than two hours.
The Victory of Arminius: Teutoburg Forest, IX AD (Turning Point Simulations, February 2015)
This turned into a honey. Turning Point had a concept for small, high quality games, with mounted mapboards and only a half-sheet of pieces. It was also part of the scheme that the game be a subject drawn from a renowned survey of combats, Sir Edward Creasey’s Decisive Battles of the Western World. Publisher Steve Rawling specifically asked me to do the Teutoburgerwald engagement, which happens to be chapter 5 of Creasey’s book. Roman history had long been an interest of mine. As far back as the 1970s, designer Al Nofi and I had collaborated on a strategic game, Imperium Romanum. Now I’d have a shot at battle tactics in a small simulation. The Victory of Arminius was a perfect platform to display my deployment mode-system for unit disposition and I devised a novel combat system that adjudicates battle without the need for any tables and charts. The result is very dynamic, but still an intricate game. This one is a real players’ game!
Beyond Waterloo: Napoleon’s Last Gamble. (Against the Odds Games, 2012.)
I had always been puzzled at game designers’ fixation on the singular Battle of Waterloo when it came to simulating the climactic final campaign of Napoleon’s career. It seemed to me that the French side in 1815 only had a chance if the war was conceived as a totality—i.e. the French were not limited to Waterloo. Still, I was by no means sure that a campaign game built around Waterloo could work. Stephen Rawling deserves credit for convincing me to give it a shot. Once I had decided to go ahead there were several things I wanted to accomplish with this game: craft a set of combat mechanics that would give battles a feel and a texture (much like one could talk of the progress of a battle fought out in a tactical game or with miniatures); create a mechanism to permit an area-type mapboard to represent terrain in a fashion similar to what we do with hexagons; and insert sub-systems that relate an army’s disposition (deployment mode) to its ability to maneuver in space and fight in combat. I think Beyond Waterloo did accomplish those things. In this game I built on the basic operational maneuver mechanics I designed for Campaigns of Napoleon, the army command structure arrangements that I first used in Campaigns of Robert E. Lee, the Fire Exchange Results Table (FERT) I introduced there also, the crisis scale that I crafted for Codeword Barbarossa, and the basic principles for creating strategic games I pioneered in Third Reich. I also innovated mechanics featuring Grand Tactics and Battle Tactics but crafted in a way so as to minimize the danger of players being able to optimize, reducing the incidence of gaming the system. (Winner of the Charles S. Roberts Award for “Best Magazine Wargame of 2011.”)
Bradley’s D-Day. (Against the Odds Games, 2011.) Current!
When I did Monty’s D-Day in the 1980s I chose the British beaches in the Normandy invasion primarily there was a high proportion of armor engaged. Not only did the Commonwealth forces utilize a variety of specialized armor units but the Germans mounted a first-day panzer counterattack and might have managed an even stronger one. Many fans pressed for a companion game to cover the American beaches and I gave way to popular acclaim. On the American side paratroops were a much more important element of the invasion force and I refined the paratroop rules for this game. I also took the opportunity to put in artillery units and insert a set of mechanics, first modeled in Fortress Berlin, to facilitate solitaire play. Bradley’s D-Day permits a hard-fought struggle for Omaha Beach and it enriches the German side with several alternate-history scenarios.
Codeword Barbarossa. (Against the Odds Games, 2011).
Stephen Rawling, the captain-general at LPS, conceived the idea of publishing a game “family”—four games on the same basic subject by different designers. He selected the German invasion of Russia in 1941 as the theme and asked me to do one of the titles. I thought the family idea a nifty one but I wanted to do something that would be different. I hit on the notion of a pre-war deployment game—a wargame without warfare, in which the victor would be the player whose final deployment and force composition would afford her/him the best chances in the coming war. This became Codeword Barbarossa. It is a pure strategy game, with no CRTs or detailed combat systems, but an interesting interplay of intelligence and diplomatic developments with a “crisis scale” that enables players to do certain things only as war approaches. This is a simple, quick game that can be played in an hour.
Panzerkrieg (see below)
Khe Sanh, 1968. (Against the Odds Games, 2008, 2002.)
This is the second edition of a game first published in 2002. I had wanted to get back to Vietnam. For some time before then I had toyed with the idea of a game that focused in on the northernmost provinces of South Vietnam. The publisher wanted a design more oriented to a particular battle and within that region of Vietnam the siege of Khe Sanh offered the obvious choice. This also gave me the opportunity to take the World War II-era game system first designed for Monty’s D-Day and bring it into modern times. Allied units are at battalion level with some regiments, North Vietnamese and Liberation Front units are represented as regiments and guerrilla bands. We had great fun with the air assault and helicopter rules. This was a dynamic game with excellent Vietnam flavor. (Winner of the Charles S. Roberts Award for “Best Modern Era Game of 2002.”)
Look Away! The Fall of Atlanta, 1864. (Against the Odds Games, 2007.)
I had long since done a simulation of the Western theater of the American Civil War in Vicksburg, one for the East in Campaigns of Robert E. Lee (CREL) and more recently a game of the Middle West in Army of the Heartland (below). The logical next move was a design on the Federal move into the Deep South, specifically the campaign for Atlanta. Look Away! became that game. It uses the CREL system with the same principles of multiple scenarios and a campaign game. Federal units are divisions with some brigades, Confederate units are at brigade level. Look Away! had the delicious feature of abutting on the Heartland mapboard so that it became possible to couple those two games for a more extensive campaign experience. I also designed linking rules to enable cross-influences between these Middle Western boardgames and the Eastern theater CREL.
Fortress Berlin. (Against the Odds Games, 2007, 2004.)
Cityfights were under-represented at this time. Earlier, in the 1980s, I had done Warsaw Rising which had been a fine game and very well received. In World War II the ultimate cityfights are Stalingrad in 1942-43 and, of course, Berlin in 1945. Stalingrad had been wargamed on a massive scale but the only games on Berlin were frontal games at operational and even strategic levels. A true Berlin cityfight game did not exist. I already had the ideal design mechanics—crafted for Monty’s D-Day—which I had also used in Warsaw Rising. Soviet units are represented at the division/brigade level, German ones in regiments/battalions. Berlin offered a great opportunity to innovate an “automaton,” a set of design mechanics to regulate solitaire play. Plus there were wonderful alternate history possibilities—all those assorted German relief contingents that Hitler thought would save him. Folks got so excited about this game that Steve Rawling volunteered to add a “character game” module putting the Nazi political leadership on the board, and designer Paul Rohrbaugh, Steve, and I collaborated on a companion game On to Berlin (published in the magazine Paper Wars) that substituted an Anglo-American force battling for Berlin in place of the Soviet one. A great game! (Winner of the Charles S. Roberts Award for “Best Magazine Game of 2004.”)
Toppling the Reich. (Against the Odds Games, 2006.)
It seemed a fine idea to extend the operational game system designed for Panzerkrieg to the Western theater of World War II. In Italy the terrain was too restricted for broad maneuvers and mobile warfare. But the Battle for France, with the Normandy breakout, the chase to the German frontier, the Bulge counteroffensive, and the Battle for the Rhine, had rich possibilities. So Panzerkrieg came to the West for 1944-45. The Leader rules in the original game had broadened in Crisis Sinai to encapsulate a complete command structure with Leaders at every level exerting their influence. I brought that provision forward into Toppling the Reich. In the West, also, there was the element of the Allied intelligence advantage with ULTRA, so rules to model that were added. More extensive airpower rules were also inserted. Unit representation is at the corps/division level with some smaller special units. There are multiple scenarios and a campaign game. This is a classic game system brought to a fresh subject.
Panzerkrieg: Von Manstein & Heeresgruppe Sud, August 1941-March 1944. (Six Angles Games, 2013; CoSi, 1994; The Avalon Hill Game Company, 1983; Operational Studies Group, 1978) New!
Russian Front has always figured among my interests. I had not been completely satisfied with the publication of Von Manstein (below) and was thus eager to perfect that game. It is now available in a in a revised edition from the Japanese publisher Six Angles. Panzerkrieg examined the campaigns in the Ukraine from 1941 to 1944 at the operational level. Units were divisions with armored corps on the Soviet side, plus some smaller formations. Turns were weekly. Eight scenarios covered all the action. Excepting the “Rommel” counter in the AH game Afrika Korps, this became the first game to make wide use of Leaders and leadership capabilities. Panzerkrieg focused on creating a good simulation platform for mid-20th Century mobile operations, to include armor superiority and air support, in addition to leadership. This game further refined the combat result concept of the “Breakthrough,” carried over from Third Reich, which had given that game a huge dynamism. The new Six Angles edition is a beautiful rendition of the game. It features a fresh introductory scenario, a modern treatment of the counter art, a re-drawn mapboard, and new designer’s notes, among other things.
Army of the Heartland: Campaigns of the Army of Tennessee, 1862-1863. (Clash of Arms Games, 1996.)
Fans expressed great desire for a game that extended the Campaigns of Robert E. Lee (CREL) system to the Western side of the American Civil War. One of my very early games, Vicksburg, had been on the war for the Mississippi basin, and that theater did not seem suitable for this kind of treatment because for a long period the main Confederate army had been holed up and under siege. In Kentucky and Tennessee, on the other hand, there had been wide-ranging maneuver, a wider panoply of major battles, and leadership problems on both sides. Army of the Heartland was born. The design development process for this game proceeded remarkably smoothly, especially for a game that was a sort of “mini-monster.” The later addition of Look Away! gives this game the additional scope to extend down into Georgia.
Out of Print or Not Commercially Available
Cuban Missile Crisis Political-Military Simulation in course “American Foreign Policy in the Cold War,” at New York University, Spring 2002.
John Prados’ Third Reich: The Second World War in Europe, 1939-1945. (Avalanche Games, 2001.)
Avalanche Games approached me with the proposal to craft an updated edition of Third Reich. Boardgame production standards had improved considerably since that game originally appeared, and I jumped at the chance to present the game with state of the art board artwork and counters. Unit representation is at the corps level. Unlike the early editions of this game, good corps had reduced-strength faces. In addition a lot of impedimenta had been layered onto the rules in the successive editions of the game. We stripped down Third Reich to basics, then added such refinements as random events that added to or subtracted from players’ capabilities or put particular portions of the mapboard into play. This was Avalanche’s best-selling game (Nominated for the Origins Award in the category of “Best Board Wargame.”)
Vietnam Peace Negotiation Political-Military Simulation in course “The United States in the Vietnam War,” University of California Washington Center, Fall 1999.
Crisis Sinai: The Yom Kippur War, 1973. (GMT Games, 1995.)
This game represented Panzerkrieg moving to the desert. I wanted to do a modern-era boardgame and the Arab-Israeli wars seemed the right subject. Within that field the Yom Kippur War appealed because both sides had a chance to win. But short of doing a monster game or a coupled pair of games, a design offering a tactical terrain representation was not possible. The solution was to choose the Egyptian front. That was also better from the chronological standpoint—on the Golan there was the initial burst of the Syrian invasion, its blunting by the Israelis, and then a long hiatus while the latter assembled their forces for a counteroffensive. In the Sinai there was a continuous campaign which broke down easily into back-to-back scenarios. The Egyptians were represented at the brigade level and tied to their division commands. The Israelis were at battalion level. I developed an extensive command/leadership structure which for the first time permitted the representation in a game of formation boundaries. Because recovery of burned-out vehicles was quite important in this war, replacements were affected by “harvesting” tank wrecks. The game also has an air warfare sub-system to regulate air support available to the ground forces.
Bodyguard/Overlord: Deception in the Normandy Invasion, 1944. (Spearhead Games, 1994.)
The D-Day invasion is a classic boardgame subject, but I wanted to contribute a design that presented a broader vision. Histories had emerged which furnished a much fuller picture of the intelligence and deception activities that surrounded the D-Day invasion. Instead of a detailed simulation of the invasion my goal was to present a very simple set of combat mechanics and put the modeling effort into the intelligence aspects. The publisher, John Vanore, had a military background in the intelligence field so he was on board with this idea from Day 1. Unit representation was at the division level. I borrowed the Avalon Hill D-Day device of invasion areas with specified quantities of forces that could be landed in each. There were “secrets” of D-Day—the Allied player chose a time, a place, and messages to be used to alert the Resistance–and the German could discover them. Spies, aerial photography, random events all figured in the mix. This was a dynamic, exciting, and fast-paced game.
Campaigns of Robert E. Lee. (Clash of Arms Games, 1992, 1988.)
A gem of a game. Ever since reading Douglas Southall Freeman I’d wanted to do something on the American Civil War. Leadership was an important factor in accounting for the ability of smaller Confederate armies to beat the Federal forces on many occasions. The “Lincoln finds a general” theme shows the same feature on the Union side. For Campaigns of Robert E. Lee (CREL) I devised a system that emphasized leaders—their movement capabilities could vary each time, they could benefit from the superior capabilities of top commanders, and more. From Campaigns of Napoleon I took the mechanic of allowing forces to intervene in nearby battles. From Third Reich came the notion of changing initiative, though it worked differently—in this and a number of subsequent titles using this system, players had a certain number of initiative “points” each turn that they bid against the opponent and which determined the range of their movement ability. Unit representation was Federal divisions versus Confederate brigades. In combat I sought to have the forces on each side determine a result against the adversary based on their own capabilities, not any comparison with the enemy, and for this purpose innovated the Fire Exchange Results Table. This feature also eliminated the annoyance of calculating an odds-ratio versus the opponent. Multiple scenarios represented all phases of the war in the Eastern theater. The second edition of CREL featured improved counters and a nicely re-drawn mapboard. (Winner of the Charles S. Roberts Award for “Best Boardgame Graphics.”)
Kanev: Parachutes Across the Dnepr, 1943. (Strategy & Tactics Magazine, no. 112, January/February 1987, Peoples’ War Games, 1981.)
The Battle of the Dnepr became a crucial passage for the Soviets in opening the series of offensives which expelled the Germans from Russia and led ultimately to Berlin. A scenario in Panzerkrieg modeled this action at the operational level but it was desirable to increase the granularity. Jack Radey published the first edition of this game. Being a Russian specialist Jack was well aware that Kanev offered a very novel situation. Not only was it the largest Soviet airborne operation of the war, it was an instance where German forces were retreating behind the river while the Russians were already beginning their crossing. The German player therefore has to use retreating forces to block a Soviet offensive already threatening his rear. Soviet units are represented at tank/airborne brigade and infantry division level, German ones at regiment. This small, nicely-contained game plays very fast and has wild twists and turns.
Warsaw Rising: The Uprising, 1944. (Strategy & Tactics Magazine no. 107, March/April1986.)
I wanted to take the Monty’s D-Day system to the Eastern Front, but there were also other aspects that made this subject attractive. One was the sheer heroism of a people, erupting with practically nothing against a trained army with tanks and artillery, and for a moment nearly winning. On the German side, it was so rare for a battle against an enemy who were neither Russians nor Western Allies. And there was the cityfight element. If these kinds of games remained uncommon around the turn of the century, in the 1980s they were exceedingly rare. The idea actually arose while I was doing Monty’s D-Day, and coincided with the 40th anniversary of the Uprising. The game has the interesting twist of regulars fighting partisans in an urban setting. Polish friends tell me it became part of an exhibition in a museum to the Uprising in Warsaw, and I know it has been emulated by Polish game designers doing the same subject.
Pentagon, The R & D Game, and Last Days at Saigon, all in John Prados, Pentagon Games. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.
The publisher came to me with this project: to do a pamphlet-size book on the origins and use of wargames, particularly by the military in the real world, not by hobbyists; that would have several games in it. The games were intended to reflect the book’s theme. Pentagon was a racetrack game in the style of Monopoly and was about amassing the biggest military budget. The R&D Game was a decision-tree design—its structure similar to some of the game-book “histories” that appear today in which the text prompts the reader to select an historical choice, and then the book sends her/him to a chapter with a new (alternate history) path the real events could have taken. In this case the game tried to illustrate some of the vagaries involved in the design and production of weapons systems. The third game, Last Days at Saigon, was a conventional wargame covering the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Vietnam was the most-studied, most-analyzed conflict around but all that brainpower, not to mention U.S. military power, could not produce an American victory. Last Days served as a cautionary note. It originally appeared just a few months after the events themselves, in the magazine Bridge: An Asian-American Perspective, November 1975.
Cold War: The Game of the CIA in Global Politics. (Victory Games, 1984.)
This game was pure power politics. Think Risk on a global scale with modern techniques of political influence, covert operations, economic aid, and military force. The Cold War raged then and it was the obvious choice if you wanted to situate a game like this in a real historical setting. It afforded me the opportunity to employ some of my knowledge of international relations and meld that with gamemaking skills. This game utilized the kind of action/reaction mechanics developed for Spies, and it had a number of similarities to the contemporary game design Twilight Struggle.
Monty’s D-Day: Normandy, 1944. (Strategy & Tactics Magazine no. 102, May/June 1985.)
This game proved seminal in many ways. The subject was a good one: the heroic D-Day invasion, the key question of whether British General Bernard Montgomery could have captured Caen on the first day, the use of the British special armor, etc. But the subject got me to thinking about the nature of commitment of troops—how combat power changes with units on the move versus those arrayed for battle. This resulted in an entirely new combat system for tactical games. Unit deployment mode determined strength and also vulnerability. In turn vulnerability was modified by types of terrain as well as the kind of combat. I created a new style of CRT to go with these mechanics which dispensed with odds-ratios in favor of a simple subtraction of protection factors from attack strength, moderated by the type of engagement (close assault, direct fire, bombardment, etc.). Units were portrayed in battalions and companies. The game system worked so well I used it in several subsequent designs, including the award-winning Fortress Berlin.
Spies: The Games of Espionage in Europe, 1933-1939. (TSR Hobbies, 1984; Simulation Publications, 1981.)
Redmond Simonsen of SPI asked me to do this game. He had tired of “vanilla” combat games and wanted something different. I suggested spies. Looking at the innovations of weapons, communications technology and so forth that proved crucial in World War II, the idea of a competition for “secrets” suggested itself right away. Secrets were distributed on the board, which represented cities in Europe where one might reasonably expect to uncover them, connected by means of a route-path network. Players moved agents to capture secrets and police forces to defend them. A set of “tiles” replicated events, influenced secret “capture” and could disrupt the opponent’s play. Spies was actually designed using cards. Simonsen, pleading high production cost, made the decision to go with tiles rather than cards. While others have laid claim to the innovation of the card-driven game, there is a fair argument to be made that Spies was the forerunner, perhaps even the first card-driven design. Some of these principles were used again in Cold War. When TSR Hobbies bought out SPI, Spies was among the games they were most interested in, but the rights had reverted to me and my co-designer, Lenny Glynn. TSR reacquired the game from us and republished it. (Winner of the Game Designers Guild Select Award for 1981.)
Campaigns of Napoleon. (West End Games, 1980.)
The “cockpit of Europe,” roughly the area from the Rhine to Eastern Poland, represented the nexus of the Napoleonic wars. With certain (sad) exceptions (Russia, 1814, Spain, Egypt), virtually all the campaigns could be modeled at the strategic level in a one-map game. I had wanted to do a Napoleonic Third Reich and this became the vehicle. Using many of the strategic model concepts I had designed for the earlier game I created a dual- or multiplayer simulation. Unit representation was at the corps/division level. Leaders were crucial in play. Scenarios covered all the major actions. For Campaigns a major innovation was a 19th Century operational system for the maneuver of forces across the board. This worked so well I extended it later to Campaigns of Robert E. Lee and my subsequent designs covering events of that century. This became a dynamic, nicely-paced game.
Pearl Harbor: The War Against Japan. (Game Designers’ Workshop, 1979, 1977.)
The success of Third Reich naturally suggested an equivalent strategic game to cover the Pacific theater. However, thinking of the nature of the war in those different regions led me to avoid a straight remake. Airpower remained important but the role of land forces became much diminished and that of navies came to the fore. I had deliberately abstracted naval warfare in Third Reich but in the Pacific naval operations became predominant. On the Japanese side, cooperation between the Army and Navy was important. With places for up to seven players, in the multiplayer format I recommended separate players for the Japanese Army and Navy. Naval tactics were developed to a much higher level of complexity. In this system I prioritized the order of certain kinds of combat (air first, including carrier warfare; naval, ground, etc.) to reflect the inability of forces to operate under conditions of enemy air superiority. Carriers could conduct counterstrikes. There was much more. One scenario covered the first year of the war when Japan ran wild, another the Allied advance. A campaign game completed the possibilities. Gamers actually complained of not enough complexity (for example units with different factorization for assorted mission roles), but the single combat factor was an attempt to retain the flavor of Third Reich and was kept.
Cassino. (Strategy & Tactics Magazine no. 71, December 1978.)
This game simulated the 1944 battles for Monte Cassino in Italy. Designed at the battalion/company/platoon level it was highly tactical, down to the requirement to trace line-of-sight for unit firing. This was a hard-fought, intricate game that featured opportunity fire, bombardment, and close assault. I had wanted scenarios for the various attempts to wrest Cassino from the Germans by New Zealand and Indian troops, Americans, and Poles. The limitations of a magazine-game size countermix, however, restricted the final product to the New Zealanders/Indians. The fun story about this game concerns the map art. I had crafted the mapboard using terrain elevations separated by hexside (crest) lines, from ground level through shades of beige and increasingly darker brown. Redmond Simonsen dispensed with most of the crest lines (except for the mountaintop and ridges, places where minor heights loomed over the ascending terrain level). But SPI did not have a full four-color process, as I recall, and that complicated providing for all the shades of elevation. One small valley amid the heights then showed as sea-level terrain. We joked about the drain in the mapboard.
Von Manstein: Battles for the Ukraine, 1941-1944. (Rand Games Associates, 1975.)
This was the first publication of what became Panzerkrieg. This design proved a delight from the beginning. It came together at warp speed. Rules were done and design development completed—multiple playtests of no fewer than eight scenarios—in just one month. Now I may not remember this exactly correctly but it can’t be far off. The company I briefly had at that time put out four games within less than a year. In any case the drawback this game had was on our production side. There was a certain style of box, a fold-out thing that opened like a book, with the leaf containing rules and map and all components inside the main box area. With a counter tray in there was little space left—one counter sheet only. And we had a limited die-cutter. Von Manstein provided for forces that varied greatly over four years of war. To make the countermix fit our limited capacity we were obliged to cut back. I was very glad to regain the rights to that game and publish it in full scope with Operational Studies Group (above).
Vicksburg: The War for the West, 1982-1863. (Rand Games Associates, 1975.)
Though Vicksburg also had scenarios and covered years of war, the forces involved in that campaign for the Mississippi basin were such that everything fit comfortably within the Rand Games format. The scenarios started with the Forts Henry-Donaldson campaign and ended with the siege of Vicksburg. This game had a more straightforward gestation. In fact my recollection is that Vicksburg was in development testing when I began work on Von Manstein and that both games appeared very close to each other. Land combat was straightforward and pretty conventional for the time. But the center of gravity along the Mississippi lay in the river, and in this game the gunboat rules I innovated were vital to gameplay. Later I adapted those gunboat rules for Army of the Heartland.
Third Reich. (The Avalon Hill Game Company, 1974.)
I even won’t try to list all the editions and adaptations of this game. It wrote the book on strategic design. The creation story is amusing. At SPI Jim Dunnigan was working on a European-theater wide strategic game that eventually appeared as World War II. At one of their Friday-night playtest sessions I saw the game in play. It seemed mechanistic to me, and with army-size counters and a basically fixed order of appearance robbed the players of true strategic decisions. On a subsequent visit to SPI, meeting with Jim, I advocated changes that would open up the game. Dunnigan told me that if I wanted something different I should go design it myself. So I did. The central idea is that players are national leaders, run their economies, and choose the forces they build and how they conduct operations. Across the span of Europe there are different conditions and considerations, so I divided the board into “fronts.” My cardinal point was that the complexity of the game should be in the gameplay, not the mechanics of the rules, so I tried to keep every game subsystem simple. Naval and air forces were abstracted and conducted missions. Land units had a single combat factor. On a front the player could decide to restrict operations to Attrition (simply adding up factors, rolling a result, and extracting losses from an opponent) or to conduct an Offensive, carrying out actual operations. Offensives cost resources, making them a strategic choice to balance against building forces. Offensives on multiple fronts were especially costly, and different types of units had distinct costs as well. Armor units had special properties and in battle could obtain a “Breakthrough” result. Under some circumstances the order of play would reverse, so a side might obtain a double-turn. There is much more. It is in the nature of a strategic game like this that many different issues can arise, and much of Donald Greenwood’s development work at AH concerned trying to specify various things, in effect complexifying the game. The subsequent editions of TR had the same goal. I tried to keep the complexification from overshadowing the basic game structure. I believe the popularity of the game speaks for itself. (Winner of the Charles S. Roberts Award for “Best Professional Game of 1974;” Winner of the Campaign Magazine “Game of the Year” Award; Winner of Campaign Magazine “Best Game of All Time” Awards in 1977 and 1978.)
Year of the Rat: Vietnam, 1972. (Strategy & Tactics Magazine no. 35, November/December 1972.)
This was my first published wargame. It resulted from SPI’s desire to do more current subjects, and a North Vietnamese offensive in South Vietnam was going on at that very moment, one that became the subject of the game. It was at that very time that I visited Simulations Publications and met Jim Dunnigan and Redmond Simonsen. Dunnigan, who used to say that everyone had at least one game in them, was interested to learn that I had a guerrilla warfare game system—I had for some years been refining a game on the French Indochina war (I’d taken it through seven iterations of the original design), based on regional zones within which there was guerrilla warfare and conventional tactical action, with general reserve forces intervening from afar. I ended up with the freelance assignment to do Year of the Rat. Unit representation was at the division/regiment level. North Vietnamese and Liberation Front forces moved in a hidden fashion, revealed by combat, with dummy units to fool the US/South Vietnamese side. There were B-52 Arc Light strikes and powerful tactical airpower, plus airmobile intervention forces for the Saigon player. The game provided a fascinating picture of history in the making.