Welcome to our new section: The Designer’s Journal. Peek behind the curtain with us. What is going through a designer’s head? How did the idea come about and where is it leading in the future?
We were able to get Wolfgang from Assault! Games for this project. He’s right in the middle of play-testing and fine tuning Assault Red Horizon 41, but nevertheless found some time to talk about the game’s background
In Part 1, we learn how Wolfgang came to wanting to design a wargame in the first place.
My name is Wolfgang. I am 38 years old, a father of three sons, and married to a very, very patient woman. I come from a small town in Niederbayern, down in the Bavarian Forest. Red Horizon 41 is the first module in a new tactical wargame system (Assault) that simulates battles on the tactical level during the beginning phases of Operation Barbarossa in 1941. We are primarily concerned with depth and scalability relative to the length of play.
After concluding my military service in 2003, I was in the USA for an extended period of time and spent a good deal of time playing Panzer Grenadier and Lock ’n Load Band of Brothers, among others. For a time I also had a nice collection of Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) modules at home. I have to admit, I liked the theme of ASL, but it was hard finding opponents for this game, mainly because of the effort required to learn and understand it. And the acronyms alone were enough to drive you crazy. So in the end, I sold off all of my ASL gear.
For a time, we were playing Band of Brothers regularly. A good and solid game, but after a while the scenarios included were always the same setup. The fact that infantry without anti-armor weapons didn’t stand a chance against tanks, was a bit of frustrating game mechanics to us. And the one game mechanic, whereby a tank’s crew would exit the armored vehicle when being fired upon so that they could themselves be shot, was less than satisfying. Needless to say, the tank was left without a scratch. Regardless, Lock ’n Load is a solid and very good tactical-level wargame that kept us deeply occupied.
Since the scenarios included with Lock ’n Load got boring after a while and we found that we’d rather stage battles with units of our own choosing, I started to develop a “Battle Generator” for Lock ’n Load in 2013. I came came up with a method to calculate a point value for a unit based on it’s abilities and with this, I was able to create a “Point List” for the units in all the Lock ’n Load modules.
Choosing the units was just half the battle; it needed to be played on a randomly created map as well. So I made a list of the individual maps boards, provided standard objective hexes, and put together the first Lock ’n Load Random Battle Generator. Now my friends and I could finally play battles that we created with units that we ourselves had selected.
What can I say? That was not the end of our customization. It didn’t take long for us to come to the conclusion that a long cohesive campaign would be a lot of fun. We looked back to the old computer game era: Panzer Strike (C64) and Steel Panthers (PC) left a lasting influence on us and thought about something along these lines, only in board game form. We said to ourselves “The Lock ’n Load system could really work for this!”
That was the beginning of the creative process and after a short time, the framework for the Campaign system was finished. We wanted the players to be able to take a small group of troops from a pool of selected units through a series of scenarios, where they would take losses and damage from battle to battle. But these troops would also gain experience and they could also get replacements and be brought back up to strength. There was the logistical side to deal with as well, for example attrition, morale, combat readiness, supply, etc.
One turn in the Campaign consists of a Morning, Evening, and Night phase. The players need to activate their troops with hidden order markers in every phase. Then a matrix will determine what happens. The objectives of the Campaign were either to eliminate enough enemy units that their morale collapsed or to break through the front line.
Now, I hear you asking the question: “What does any of this have to do with Assault – Red Horizon 41?” Well, at first, nothing! But we found that the Lock ’n Load system did not give us enough creative room. For one, the units included in the module were too restricted. Secondly, parts of the game mechanics did not work very smoothly from our point of view. During this time, I came into contact with the the owner of Lock ’n Load Publishing and now, Random Battle Generators have been published for nearly all Lock ’n Load modules.
In 2015 I started to think: “If I were to design my own system, then I could make it exactly like I want!” A thought whose consequences I have not yet been able to clearly assess. I dropped the campaign module for Lock ’n Load and began to create a new wargame system. The foundation for “Assault – Red Horizon” had been laid. My partners, Erich and Michael, were ready….
That was part of The Developer’s Journal. In part 2, find out how the design process progressed and how the first playtest went.