Illusions of Glory: A Play Balance Challenge

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Genesis of a First-Time Game Designer:

My interest in wargame design began when I was a playtester at SPI’s legendary “Skonkworks” in Manhattan.  Perhaps I’m dating myself, but I recall those days with great nostalgia.  I was bitten by the designer bug there, and wanted to create my own game.

Career, marriage, and raising a family caused me to shelve that desire (although it was never forgotten).  I was then approached by my good friend and neighbor, Brad Stock, who designed the well-received CDG “Pursuit of Glory” with his son Brian. Brad had proposed a WW1 Eastern Front game to GMT based on the “Paths of Glory” and ”Pursuit of Glory” systems.  However, he accepted a full-time college teaching job and was no longer able to design this game.  Brian was also unavailable.  They asked me, with GMT’s permission, to get it done.

Creating the Unique “Illusions of Glory” Design:

After reviewing the kudos and criticisms that other CDGs received, I designed “Illusions of Glory: The Great War on the Eastern Front”.  Its corps/division focus displays the relative strengths and weaknesses of the opposing armies in greater detail than the army-level “Paths of Glory” does.

Illustions Sample Counters 1

Sample Counters – Near Final

Like “Paths of Glory” and “Pursuit of Glory”, this is a card-driven game.  The cards give a player the choice of several actions—move units, make attacks, strategically redeploy, or rebuild damaged units.  Each card also gives the player a choice between these actions and an historical event/capability that provides a more powerful and specific action (or combat advantage). 

Cards give the player Operations (OPS) Points to use in activating spaces containing his units for movement or attack.  OPS Points can also be used to strategically redeploy units.  Separate sets of cards are provided to the Allied Powers (AP) and Central Powers (CP) players. 

Illusions Card Sample

Sample AP Cards – Playtest Art

Each player increases his deck by elevating his War Status from Mobilization to Limited War, and then from Limited War to Total War.  Since quite a few cards are discarded once their events are played, the momentum towards Total War builds as the game proceeds.

There are Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring Turns representing 3 months apiece.  This is where the similarity to the other two games ends.  “Illusions of Glory” is designed for 2 to 4 players.  Unlike “Paths of Glory” and “Pursuit of Glory”, this game can be played by more than two players.  With team play, the dynamics of player decision-making and interaction add an enjoyable social element to the game.

In addition to the 55 Strategy Cards for each of the AP and CP decks, there are 2 AP and 2 CP “Command Cards”.  If there are 2 AP Players, for example, one AP Player controls Russian combat units (also Romanian units when Romania enters the war).  The other AP Player controls British, French, Italian, Serbian, and Montenegrin units (also Greek units if Greece becomes an AP ally).

Game Play Structure for Two Teams (Up to Two Players Each): 


Those familiar with “Paths of Glory” or “Pursuit of Glory” will be comfortable with the two-player version of “Illusions of Glory”.  There is no need for describing their play structure in this article.  Team play is another matter.

To start a game with 2 AP Players (either the full Campaign Game or the shorter Mobilization and Limited War scenarios with their own victory conditions), the AP Player controlling Russian units draws Command Card #1 from the AP card deck and the other AP Player draws Command Card #2.  Each of these cards give the player OPS Points to use in activating spaces containing his units, or for strategic redeployment.

The AP Player controlling Russian units and deals himself cards from AP Draw Pile until he holds a total of 4 cards (including the Command Card).  He deals cards to the other AP Player from the AP Draw Pile until that player holds a total of 4 cards.

Each player starts with the usual 7 cards to play during each Action Phase as follows:  In each AP Action Round, an AP Player may choose to play a Strategy Card from his own or the other AP Player’s hand (excluding his partner’s Command Card), simulating the friction in Allied Powers decision-making and allowing some “interesting” and “exciting” table talk.  In each AP Action Phase, the AP Player controlling Russian units plays a card (or chooses to make a free 1 OPS Point play) in AP Action Rounds 1, 3, and 5.  The other AP Player plays a card (or chooses to make a free 1 OPS Point play) in AP Action Rounds 2, 4, and 6.

Each player controls Movement, Combat, Advance, Retreat, and Strategic Redeployment for his units, and chooses the units that absorb damage from Combat.  Each player controls the accumulation and use of Replacement Points for his units.  Since Russian units cannot stack with units controlled by the other AP Player, this is not an issue.

If there are 2 CP Players, they follow a similar process.  One CP Player controls Austro-Hungarian units, and the other CP Player controls German, Turkish, and Bulgarian units (also Greek units if Greece becomes a CP ally).  To start the game, the CP Player controlling German units draws Command Card #1 from the CP card deck, and the other CP Player draws Command Card #2. 

Illusion CP Sample Cards

Sample CP Cards – Playtest Art

The CP Player controlling German units deals himself cards from CP Draw Pile until he holds a total 4 cards (including the Command Card).  He deals cards to the other CP Player from the CP Draw Pile until that player holds a total of 4 cards.  In each CP Action Round, a CP Player may choose to play one of seven Strategy Cards from his own or the other CP Player’s hand (excluding his partner’s Command Card).   In each CP Action Phase, the CP Player controlling German units plays a card (or chooses to make a free 1 OPS Point play) in CP Action Rounds 1, 3, and 5.  The other CP Player plays a card (or chooses to make a free 1 OPS Point play) in CP Action Rounds 2, 4, and 6.  The CP Player controlling German units also controls any Austro-Hungarian units stacked with German units during his Action Rounds, simulating the friction caused by German dominance in CP decision-making. 

New to a WW1 Card-Driven Game—The Impact of Cumulative Losses:

Illusions General Records Track“Illusions of Glory” simulates the drain casualties have on available manpower and a nation’s officer corps.  As Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian, and Italian casualties mount, the drain on their national manpower reserves and officer corps is reflected in a Troop Quality Index.   Each of these Nations have a Troop Quality Marker that starts at a maximum value, and moves -1 each time a Strategy Card is played to bring reinforcements onto the map, each time Replacement Points are spent to repair combat units on the map or rebuild combat units off the map, and each time that a corps-sized combat unit is permanently eliminated.  Things do not get better—they can only get worse.

If downward movement of a Troop Quality Marker reaches the “Poor Troop Quality” level, regular or reserve infantry reinforcements of that Nation are placed on the map with a step reduction.  Rebuilt regular or reserve infantry units of that Nation are also placed on the map with a step reduction.

This provides a general idea of how a Nation’s armed forces will suffer as losses mount, but that’s not all.

Political Considerations—“National Will”:

Illusions National Will Counters  

“Illusions of Glory” simulates political upheaval in Germany and Austria-Hungary, in addition to Russia.  Casualties, loss of home Victory Point spaces, and Events may cause Rebellion to break out in Russia, Germany, or Austria-Hungary.  These are represented by a National Will Index.   Each of these Nations has a National Will Marker that starts at a set value, moves +1 for each enemy or neutral Victory Point space that a Nation captures (hoorah!), and moves -1 for each home Victory Point space that it loses (woe!). 

When a Nation recaptures a home Victory Point space from enemy control, its National Will Marker moves +1.  When a corps-sized combat unit is permanently eliminated, its National Will Marker moves -1.  The National Will Level for each of those Nations is also affected by Events.

If downward movement of a National Will Marker reaches the “National Demoralization Level”, rebellion may break out in the that Nation.  Rebellion is represented by placing an Uprising Unit in that Nation during the Rebellion/Revolution Phase.  Uprising Units can cut off supply to combat units, cause CP governments to collapse, and trigger the Russian Revolution.

If all of the Victory Point spaces in Germany are controlled by Uprising Units and/or the enemy at the end of a Turn, the German government collapses and Germany is out of the war.  The same applies to Austria-Hungary.  If there is an Uprising Unit in Russia after the “Russian Food Riots” card is played, then comes the Russian Revolution . . . or does it?

Illusions Map Closer

The Russian Revolution—Maybe or Maybe Not:

“Illusions of Glory” does not make the Russian Revolution a foregone conclusion.   The game represents the revolution with a Russian Revolution Track having 4 Stages.  During each of the following Rebellion/Revolution Phases, the Revolution Marker moves ahead one Stage on the Russian Revolution Track.

However, the Russian Revolution cannot advance Stages if Uprising Units have been destroyed.  This places Russia in a dilemma—either divert decreasingly effective combat units from facing the Central Powers or leave revolution back home unchecked.

Illusions Russian Revolution Track

As the Russian Revolution enters each Stage, the following occurs:

Revolution Stage 1: Russian reinforcement cards can no longer be played.

Revolution Stage 2:  Russian units can no longer receive Replacement Points.

Revolution Stage 3:  All full-strength Russian units are reduced one step.

Revolution Stage 4:  All corps-sized Russian units are replaced by division-sized units.

The AP Player can suppress the revolution by playing a “Long Live the Tsar!” card after all Uprising Units are destroyed.  After “Long Live the Tsar!” is played, Russian reinforcement cards can again be played, and Russian units can again receive Replacement Points.

The revolution remains suppressed until the CP Player plays “Fall of the Tsar” when Uprising Units are again placed in Russia.  The Russian Revolution restarts, but still cannot advance Stages if the AP Player destroys the Uprising Units before the next Rebellion/Revolution Phase.

In “Illusions of Glory”, a Russian Collapse does not Assure CP Victory:

The Central Powers must still fight Italian, British, French, and Serbian units capable of capturing Victory Point spaces.  If the CP Player presses his advantage against Russia too far by triggering a Bolshevik coup, the AP Player can play “Treaty of Brest-Litovsk” to end the Russian Campaign, send German units to the Western Front, and weaken the Central Powers ability to fight the other AP armies in the East.

Although “Treaty of Brest-Litovsk” takes Russia out of the war, it still has a role to play in preventing a CP victory.  When the CP Player plays “Russian War Weariness”, the CP receives 1 Victory Point at the end of each Winter Turn that Russia is at the National Demoralization Level and has Uprising Units.  The AP Player can deny his opponent those Victory Points by using his remaining Russian troops to destroy the Uprising Units.

Concluding Notes:

This game takes place on a well-defined and familiar map depicting the WW1 Eastern Front, scaled to “Illusions of Glory’s” smaller corps-level units (as opposed to “Paths of Glory’s” Armies).  I enjoyed designing the map, and had excellent help from European playtesters in getting place-names right.

Taken together, these features create a play-balanced game that is relevant, fun, exciting, challenging, and tense.  You will enjoy “Illusions of Glory”.


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