Enemy Coast Ahead: Evoking the Story

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Jerry White has been attending our GMT Weekends at the Warehouse for many years now. A few years back, as I greeted him at one of the events, he mentioned that he had a game design that he wanted to show me. This happens a lot at GMT Weekends, and it’s kind of “hit and miss” as to whether the design is both  a) a good fit for GMT and b) in good enough shape to be ready for development. I had my doubts about whether a game covering a single historical mission would be something we could get enough orders for on P500. On the plus side, it was a solitaire game, which always helps sales, and Jerry is a very detail-oriented guy, so I went into that demo “wary but hopeful.”

What I found was a game featuring systems designed by an engineer that somehow worked together to quickly immerse the player in a tense, ever-evolving story. I kept looking for things I didn’t like (because that’s what we DO! :-) ), but I couldn’t really find any. I started to say “Wow, it’s pretty much ready for P500 now,” but before I could, Jerry said that he was still working on making the game better and would have something to show me in six months, at the next Weekend at the Warehouse event. So, I smiled, thought “I really like this guy,” and immediately put Enemy Coast Ahead into my “Future P500 Games” tracking spreadsheet. It was a beginning.

Six months later, the game WAS better, and it soon made its way to our P500 list, steadily rising and Making the Cut. Jerry supported the game online and proved to be excellent at handling customer questions and providing interesting historical perspectives and examples of play. Now, as the P500 process is coming to a close, I STILL “really like this guy!” Components for Enemy Coast Ahead are arriving in our warehouse now and over the coming week, and it should ship to our P500 customers right around the end of the month. So, to give you a sense of what this game is all about, here’s Jerry’s first post for InsideGMT. Like his game, this article displays the fingerprints of its creator: the “engineer with the heart of a storyteller.” I hope you like it! – Gene

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ecacoverJohn Steinbeck began the novel Cannery Row by explaining that flat worms are so delicate “that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle.” That advice for writers, penned in 1945 just as the war was ending, applies well to game design. Enemy Coast Ahead (ECA) attempts to tell a story, just one of thousands, that could be told about the war.

I wish I could boast that as a designer I have done what Steinbeck advised: “to open the page and to let the stories crawl in by themselves.” But a game is not a novel, and yet, it manages to tell stories nonetheless. A good historical simulation has the potential to evoke the time that it depicts, as well as the events that took place. ECA is intended to evoke the RAF raid on Germany’s dams in May of 1943, and it does so not by a linear narration of events but with a decision tree.

Games inherently allow stories to happen. They unfurl before a player, but that player is not a passive audience. He moves the story along by engaging with it. Perhaps it is this engagement, unique in these type of games, that allows the story to “be set down alive,” to borrow again from Steinbeck.  A game can tell a story in ways no other medium can match.

Triumph and Tragedy: Outside the Box

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I guess it’s been six or seven years now since I got a call from Rick Young asking me if we’d be interested in publishing games from a proven block game designer. I was a little hesitant, as we didn’t have many block games in the line back then, although Rick and Jesse had done a great job with Europe Engulfed and Asia Engulfed, both block games that were very successful for us. But when I learned the name of the designer who was asking, my own interest skyrocketed. Although he’d never done a game for us, I certainly knew the design work of Craig Besinque. In my mind, he was the “king of block game design.” My response was of course really reserved, something along the lines of “Craig has a game for us? Heck yeah!!!” So let’s just say I was “pretty excited” to get an opportunity to work with him.

Even though Craig was “new” to GMT, a bunch of our insiders knew him and some had worked with him before, so the working relationship was pretty smooth from the beginning. And then he and Joel Toppen gave us this beautiful re-creation of the Peloponnesian War that was elegant in its simplicity, yet dripping with historical flavor, game tension, and replayability. Hellenes is a game I REALLY like, so I couldn’t wait to see what Craig wanted to do next, but then again I didn’t really care that much which topic he chose. I knew we’d get a thoughtful, insightful, and elegant game.

I was a little surprised that he chose a 3-player WWII game, as I kinda thought we had plenty of WWII games in the hobby. But then I looked closer and saw that it’s a REALLY different take on the WWII period, and in some ways you wouldn’t even call it a WWII game. But I was right about the “thoughtful, insightful, and elegant” part. Triumph and Tragedy is that, in spades.

I hope you guys share in my excitement that we have Craig Besinque designing games for GMT, and that you’ll join me in welcoming him to the blog, as this is his first design post to InsideGMT. And I hope you enjoy this inside look at Triumph and Tragedy. Here’s Craig! – Gene

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I find GMT’s embrace of “different” games like Leaping Lemmings, Mr. President and Thunder Alley an exciting development. While innovative new designs on more well-covered themes are also introducing creative new ideas, I for one am glad to see a broadening of game topics.

Triumph and Tragedy (TnT) was conceived as a different look at the most well-covered wargame topic of all: World War 2.  Basically, it is a block game with cards and an area map.

Fall 1945

Hitler’s Reich: A First Look Inside The “War” Deck

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Hitler's Reich Banner 3

Conflict in Hitler’s Reich: A Card Conquest System Game, henceforth referred to as Hitler’s Reich,  is resolved much like the classic card game “War” – but with dice and event cards added in.    The principal deck has four suits, but instead of Spades, Clubs, Diamonds and Hearts, the suits are Iron Crosses, Fasces, Soviet Russian Red Stars and American/British etc. White Stars.    The first two suits plus a Double Agent (the “Joker”) make up the Axis deck.  The other two suits plus a Double Agent make up the Allied deck.  The cards range in value from 1 (the “Ace”) to 13 (the “King”).   Players are dealt a number of cards from their deck equal to their economic power – which is referred to as “Hand Size.”   The Axis begin the game with Eight Cards, the Allies with Six. In addition, the Axis initial draw is “seeded” with more of the higher ranking cards to show their initial advantage at the start of the game – which begins during the Spring of 1941, just before the Axis invaded the Balkans and Rommel went to North Africa.

Telling the Story of Another People

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Comanche_Osage_fight

When I set out to design Navajo Wars, I had a couple goals in mind. First, I wanted to tell the story of the Diné (“the people”) in a way that was faithful to the historical record, honorable, and from the perspective of the Diné. When I was finishing up Navajo Wars, I knew already that I wanted to design a follow-on game which told the story of a different people. My research into the Navajo had led me to read quite a bit about the Comanche, one of the implacable enemies of the Navajo. And so it was that before Navajo Wars had even hit the shelves, the work on Comanchería had already begun.

In many ways the Comanche game has proven far more difficult to design than Navajo Wars was. There are a number of reasons for this: First, I don’t know any Comanche personally. Never doubt the tremendous value of person-to-person contact when researching a people! With Navajo Wars, I had only to pick up the phone and talk to one of several friends who were fluent in the language and culture of the Diné. Not so with the Comanche! The second challenge has been that the Comanche are so very different from the Navajo. Their culture, their religion and taboos, their style of warfare all differ considerably from the Navajo!

And Now For Something Completely Different ……

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HS Article 1 - Cover

…. Hammerin’ Sickles, a regimental-scale Gettysburg game!

What? You say you already own a dozen Gettysburg games? And you currently have a multitude of games with all sorts of different tactical American Civil War systems? I suspect that a lot of gamers think this idea is ridiculous – why would a designer waste his time spitting out another game on probably the most-gamed battle ever? But in all honesty, we feel Hammerin’ Sickles is a truly different breed of Gettysburg game and a different species of wargaming animal.

I’m well aware that almost all designers claim they have a unique take on things, and for the most part I think they are all absolutely right. There are many fine Gettysburg designs out there – most unique in their own right and darn fun to play. But what makes Hammerin’ Sickles a singular experience is its focused subject matter (Longstreet’s attack on the second day of the battle) and the way we’ve incorporated tactical ACW combat, command control issues and “fog-of-war” into one fairly easy system. How did we do all that? Well, I’m glad you asked!

Designer’s Journey: Beda Fomm to Hellfire Pass

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    Publisher, Consim Press

    cp-logo-badgeHellfire Pass is the latest entry to hit the GMT P500 from Consim Press. This release pays tribute to the classic Beda Fomm game design by Frank Chadwick, and covers not one but two separate battles — Operation Battleaxe and Brevity. As publisher, Beda Fomm will always hold a special place in my heart — it was our initial Consim Press release back in 2010 and reflects our brand focus to release games that model the Redmond Simonsen (SPI) approach to physical systems design.

    bf_front_smallSince many are familiar with Beda Fomm (the original 1979 GDW Series 120 release or our edition), we’d like to share how the game system has evolved to cover the protracted nature of combat during the Battleaxe and Brevity operations. What follows is a preview of Designer’s Notes from Frank Chadwick. I asked Frank to summarize the key design challenges and highlight game concepts he is refining or introducing to best capture the historical nature of the battles.

    We hope you enjoy Frank Chadwick’s inside look into Hellfire Pass and we hope it will entice you to preorder this game with confidence!
    – John Kranz, Consim Press

    Interview with Developer Fred Manzo

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    One of the highlights of my trip to WBC this year was meeting Fred Manzo.  Fred introduced himself to me on my first day in the GMT demo area.  He was sitting with the maps and promotional material for the two games he is developing (both designed by Hermann Luttmann), Hammerin’ Sickles– Longstreet Attacks at Gettysburg and At Any Cost: Metz 1870 from the Franco-Prussian War.

    Hermann, himself, came by a day later.  In the meantime Fred was a great neighbor, stepping into a play-test when we needed a fourth for GMT’s upcoming Liberty or Death COIN game and grabbing me a bottle of water when I was busy teaching the game.  He told me about how he met Hermann Luttmann and the two began their working relationship.

    It seems a few years ago Fred was at ConsimWorld Expo in Tempe Arizona when his friend, Dr. Harvey Mossman, introduced him to Hermann saying “Hermann is from long Island too!”  It turns out they live only 30 minutes apart. Fred and Harvey then invite Hermann to their Wednesday Night gaming group and the rest is history.

    Fred Manzo

    Fred Manzo

    Inside Our Digital Game Strategy (Part I)

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    We’re rolling out our new Leaping Lemmings for iPad app this week, with thanks to the good people at GameTheory, who programmed the app. Thanks to all of you who have helped us by downloading the app and giving us your feedback already. To everyone else, please DO support us by downloading the app – it’s a whopping $2.99 – and let us know what you think of our latest digital product.

    LL Collage

    While we’re thinking about the fledgling digital side of GMT, I want to give you guys an update on where we are and what we’re planning as we begin to really get rolling with our digital games. As befits a blog called “InsideGMT,”  I want give you all a look deeper inside our digital effort, basically “how Gene thinks about this stuff.” As you might imagine, that includes good, bad, even ugly, but I’m not going to hold back because I want you guys to understand the challenges we face as well as the opportunities that are before us.

    Early Efforts – In Search of Good Partners

    First off, I think it’s important, in business as well as in life, to understand what you do well and where you could use some help. At GMT, what we do well, due to  some outstanding teams of designers, developers, testers, artists, and support staff, is designing and producing  boardgames that our customers enjoy playing. That’s our core competency and, over 24 years, has become our identity in the game marketplace. Every person we bring onboard to work with us – from those early days of “just Jewel and me,” to bringing on Rodger and later Mark, Tony, and Andy, and all of the designers and their teams – every one of them brings their considerable skills to the GMT family for the purpose of helping us continue to create games that bring enjoyment to our customers.

    Design Background – Panzer and MBT

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    Jim Day has been a respected designer in our hobby going back to the 1970s. When Andy told me a few years back that we had an opportunity to work with Jim on completely retooled versions of his terrific tactical wargames, I was thrilled, as I knew his systems were first-rate and was impressed at the major effort he was making to simplify those tactical systems while retaining the immersive game play that was their hallmark. What I didn’t know at the time is that Jim is a dream to work with. He’s a perfectionist when it comes to his systems, lavishing great time and much attention to detail on his creations, but he works well with others and shows great appreciation for the efforts of his team members. Those traits fit in really well with the way we approach things here at GMT, and they represent more than just the “Standard Designer Skill Set,” in my experience.

    So I’m very thankful for the opportunity to work with Jim, and am really pleased that our first print run of his new Panzer was so well received that it quickly sold out. (Please go order the P500 reprint so we can print MORE! ) His next game, MBT, just passed 500 on the P500 list, so we’ll be prepping to give it a production slot over the coming months. 

    The design background piece that Jim presents below is the kind of insight into the design process that I enjoy, and I very much appreciate Jim creating it for InsideGMT. By the way, my two cents on the new GMT versions, as a player, is that Jim “nailed it.” Less complexity, less time to play, but I get bigger battles, same historicity, and lots of scenarios for high “bang for my gaming buck.” But I have admit, I am just ever-so-slightly biased. :-) I hope you guys enjoy Jim’s article, and the games! – Gene

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    Panzer CoverWhat is the relationship between the new GMT Games versions of Panzer and MBT and earlier versions of those designs? What follows is some historical perspective on the designs, as well as my VERY subjective arguments on the reasons for the new “GMT” version of the game system.

    In its day, the original Yaquinto Panzer’s, and its successors, detail was quite in-depth while supporting a high degree of playability. Although certainly not the first game on the topic of tactical combat, it was probably one of the first to translate miniatures style play to a board game format. Because the game system was originally designed as a miniatures game, that wasn’t too much of a leap.
    panzeryaquinto

    Although it is often a struggle to determine what represents a reasonable balance between realism, complexity and play balance, the game elements and level of complexity of the Yaquinto version were right in step with the games of its day. The use of simultaneous movement (written orders) was not common in all games, but on the other hand was not an oddity either. As in the current game, each vehicle, gun, aircraft, leg unit, and others had their own specific data card that summarized all of the necessary information to play the game. panzer data card yaquintoThe system worked very well on a small force basis and was better for modeling vehicles than infantry. The morale rules were a little simplistic, but worked well enough as most players did not want that level of complexity.

     

    The Great Leap from Wargame Design….

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    …. or what the heck got into Rick Young’s head,  designing Leaping Lemmings?

    Hey guys, I have often been asked, what’s a fine upstanding Wargame Designer like myself doing making a game like Leaping Lemmings? With LL coming out for iPad soon, I thought I’d fill you all in on what went on with that fateful decision.

    Title Screen of Upcoming iPad version of Leaping Lemmings

    Title Screen of Upcoming iPad version of Leaping Lemmings

    It all happened at WBC several years ago, when my annual roommate, John Poniske, and myself were staying about 20 minutes away to save a few bucks.  It was a bad decision, as we were sleeping in the attic, and it was the year of the stifling 100+ degree heat wave, and there was no a/c in the attic.  That was the last year we didn’t splurge on a Hotel.