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Friday, 6 June 2014
Studiolo Designs in Progress Report
Topic: Design Diary

Here is a quick rundown on the goings on in my current designs.




This one is really looking good. I have had a number of playtest sessions, most of which have been posted on the web. At this point the design portion of the story is more or less complete. The rules are complete and things are ready to roll forward as soon as I get in the professional playtest map that Mark S. is working on. Once that has happened  I will be going into public testing with a few select groups. 


At this point it is about game balance and generating the solo version of the game. My plan is to use some of the tricks I learned from doing Fire in the Lake with Volko whereby each of the three sides will have a solo persona. When you play solo or with 2 players, the non-player sides will use the solo personas.


The players represent themselves in the guise of Churchill, Roosevelt, or Stalin. Based on your persona you have a special ability, a vulnerability, and a national characteristic. For example Churchill and Roosevelt are better than Stalin on Global issues, such as the U.N., but Stalin is better at clandestine issues. The British have superior staff work, the US Arsenal of Democracy wins all ties, while the Soviets are good at being disagreeable in debate. When you use yourself you have to check against your vulnerability. Roosevelt may die and be replaced with Truman, Churchill can have a heart attack, and Stalin might get paranoid and intimidate his staff. These characteristics are based on your personas historical narrative. You are supported by a staff of personalities as represented by your staff deck. Each card represents an individual senior leader with a value, 1-5 and an attribute. A staff attribute increases or decreases their base value as determined by the issue you engage them on. So for example Bill Donovan of OSS fame is normally a 2, but a 5 when he is used on pol-mil (clandestine) issues. Some attributes are situation specific and sometimes like Admiral Pound, they die of natural causes or in the case of Vatutin from a partisan ambush. Beria sometimes executes one of his comrades that should make the point that these are not just cards with values but personalities with quirks and abilities that need to be considered for maximum efficiency. At the beginning of each conference the player draws a hand of seven cards from a deck of 21 staff cards. Before you ask you start every conference with your 21 cards.


The game play breaks down into four basic segments. For each conference the players first generate the agenda by picking issues that will be discussed at the conference. The historical conference often puts an issue on the table, such as during Quadrant the historical discussion around Yugoslavia puts a pol-mil issue onto the table. The players each conference will  generate an additional seven issues, so a big piece of your conference strategy is around what do you want to talk about.


Once the agenda is chosen play proceeds literally around the conference table display with each player playing a staff card and advancing an issue toward their position as represented by the chair you and your meeple equivalent are sitting in. Each player in turn can debate the issue by playing a staff card that either reduces your argument or could be strong enough to reverse it. A key Soviet tactic is to be disagreeable (debate). 


Once per conference your persona can weigh in directly. As a head of state you cannot be debated, but one of the other heads of state can take you aside in a tete-a-tete and neutralize you. Given its a 3 player game, having two leaders neutralize each other is often an opportunity for you to carpe diem on an important issue.


Once all of the staff interaction is concluded the player who won the most issues is awarded some VPs and the post conference implementation portion of the game begins. For each issue won by a player there are actions that are taken that directly impact the war (offensives and naval support) plus clandestine support for partisans that directly impacts the political alignment of countries and colonies. Off to the side is the US-UK Manhattan project and Soviet efforts to penetrate its secrets. Winning a Global issue alters the rules of the war. 


The last portion of a conference is deploying Axis reserves to the various fronts and then determining how the war is going. This is done with a simple mechanic that equates the current strength of a particular front based and how much Axis resistance it is encountering. Play proceeds until either the Axis surrender or the players have completed the tenth conference with victory awarded to the player with the best overall conference performance, military performance, and political position on the map, plus a few situational bonuses that reflect national priorities.


The game has three scenarios. The short scenario is the Race for Berlin and comprises the last three conferences, playing time seems to be around an hour. The medium scenario is D-Day covering the last 5 conferences with playing time around 2 hours. Then their is the Road to Victory covering all 10 conferences.


As I said earlier I am really addicted to playing this one, but due to sportsmanship I keep having to play Stalin and its making me cranky and in character. The players are reacting very favorably to the conference mechanic metaphor and my long term plans for this system is to do a series of Power Politics designs along these lines. You can expect to see Versailles: 1919, Metternich (post Napoleonic era), Lincoln, a real ACW political game, King George III (American Revolution), and Pynx (Athens and the Peloponnesian War) plus I have a Science Fiction version in mind. More to follow as playtesting proceeds.


Sun Tzu (the Warring States Period in China): This one has been in design for over 4 years, but I finally have the time to devote to pulling the seven versions of the game into the one that I have currently on the table. I am fortunate to have several wingmen on this one to include Robert Ryer of VG fame, Rich Phares an experienced commercial designer, and James Pei all star gamer but more importantly the native speaker who is doing all of the primary research in Chinese. This will be my fourth CDG with some new mechanics focused on delivering a great deal of historical narrative on a subject that is poorly documented in English. You will learn who the Robert E. Lee's of China was and the origins of the famous parables as you try to unite China under your rule. The game will come with  2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 player scenarios covering all of the major portions of the Warring States period in China. 


War is Hell (aka Big ACW): This one has also been kicking around for a while. I finished the basic design on this one over 5 years ago, but it is now back in my court for the duration and I am taking a fresh eye to the whole project. Do not expect this one for a bit as a great deal of research needs to take place while I beat the design into shape. More on this at the end of the summer.


Pacific War: This one is moving along nicely. I have seen many examples of the new art and I must say that the new map will blow people away. Playtesting continues mostly in Europe, but expect this one to stay on schedule.


I think that is where I will leave things for now... more to follow.



Posted by markherman at 4:59 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 10 June 2014 - 9:35 PM EDT

Name: "Glen Oberhauser"

Churchill is soundng great.  Anything going on with campaigns of Napoleon with OSG?


Saturday, 5 July 2014 - 12:13 PM EDT

Name: "Jeff Vandine"

I've been a huge fan of yours ever since the old SPI days, and I was stupidly unaware that you even had a blog!  (I presume that comes from the fact that I just don't think in internet terms, not having been "raised that way.")

 I stumbled across this while looking for information on the upcoming reprint of PacWar (about which I can only say; YAAY!!!!!), and will now be following your thoughts on that and anything else you care to write about.

 As far as the return to full-time wargame design goes, allow me to reiterate:  YAAY!!!!!

 The recent redevelopment of so many of the old classic games has been almost like a return to my long lost youth -- you know, that "golden age" everyone is always talking about (which probably had more to do with my youth than anything else, but I DO miss the old SPI and VG glory days).  All I can say is that I'm extremely happy that I will once again see a surge in games with the name "Mark Herman" on them in the design credits. 

Thursday, 10 July 2014 - 10:52 PM EDT

Name: "M McKenna"

I just listened to your interview on Guns Dice and Butter from a bit back.  Fantastic.  Thanks for all your work for the hobby.

I am a retired Colonel (Guard) who joined the Army in 1976.  I really enjoyed your origins story and Churchill's bunker.  wow.

Best regards.

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