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Mark Herman's Wargaming Blog
Saturday, 25 April 2020
COVID Diary #1
Mood:  don't ask
Now Playing: Pacific War
Topic: Design Diary


It has been a long while since I used my blog as a design diary, but with the COVID sheltering in place I find my self on another step in my life's journey. While I never thought I would be in this circumstance, I suspect I am not alone here. 

 For this reboot of my blog I thought I would begin by focusing on Pacific War. Pacific War was originally published by Victory Games in 1985. I was 31, a new father, and running a game company in NY. Now I am 65, a new grandfather, and running my game design company in NY. When you think about it that is a long way to go just to republish Pacific War.  

 Here is a few key moments in the Pacific War reprint saga that began on 6 February 2009 when Kurt Shilling signed a contract to bring this back into print. For a variety of reasons this relationship ended amicably and I moved on with my life. Then NUTS approached me to pick this up and we duly signed a contract on 20 December 2013 that recently terminated for reasons unknown. Truth be told republishing Pacific War was never a priority for me, but after 11 years of messing around with it I decided that I needed to bring this chapter of my life to a close.

 I called up Gene Billingsley and asked him if GMT was interested. He instantly responded yes and to make a long story longer, on 23 April 2020 Pacific War went up on the P500 and in less than 6 hours it made the cut. So, thanks to all that supported this old design of mine and now I know what I am doing for the remainder of my COVID shelter in place phase.

 Of course I was instantly asked what is going to be different and this is what I wrote: 


Map: In the internet world someone will be unhappy about anything. The sample map is the actual map that will be printed with some minor corrections and typos.

Counters: The art for the counters is mostly complete. I have to make an inventory on the markers (several new ones) and sort all of that out.

Rules booklets: There will be three rules booklets. While the original rules were set up for a learning process they are annoying to find stuff in once you know how to play. This time there will be an Engagement Rulebook for beginners. A Battle Rulebook and a Campaign/Strategic rulebook. Each booklet will be complete and not reference the others. Right now I am reordering the Campaign/Strategic Scenario rulebook to conform to the Sequence of Play with a proper index. I am reworking all of the words, not changing the design, but once you reorder you have to reconnect everything. This is about half done, but that will take a bunch of time. Once this is done I will send it over to Markus to evaluate and then create the other two booklets along the same model.

Changes: The game comes with two mounted boards and one smaller unmounted map that covers what use to be the A map extended scenarios. This should make almost all of the Campaign scenarios one map affairs.

Rules: I foresee no changes to the charts and tables. After 35 years of playing it I think they generate repeatable historical results. However there are a few systems that are being amended.

Subs: Now uses patrol areas and allocated submarines based on a historical movement model. Think Torpedo Alley, the more subs the more chances that something will happen. ASW is also revamped into this new system.

Ground Activation: When you activate ground units you get a number of moves equal to the number of weeks of the offensive. So a two week operation gives you two land moves per unit. Of course any poor combat results still deactivate the unit.

Penalty Time: This is still in there, but once you go beyond a few cycles all units are sent back to a base with penalties, so no more extending an operation indefinitely.

OB: Revamped OB as I might have read another 100 books on this topic in the last 35 years. All of the air units now will have historical designations. I had a detailed air command system that was just too much work so, you still have 1E, 2E set ups at least the counters are less generic looking.

New Scenarios: Each scenario is being looked at for accuracy. The big change is I have a stronger idea of what was happening in China. There will be new China scenarios which I am working on right now. I now have a Nationalist Chinese OB that is less wrong than what I had in 1985, but its getting there. In addition Markus has created a number of one year strategic scenarios, so while I believe that the entire war is a once in a lifetime experience that is worth missing, at least you can see it set up in all its operational glory.

When? Please do not ask when this will be available (...are we there yet?). I will finish all of the work this calendar year to include art production etc. At that point it is up to the COVID situation to reopen supply chains, backlogs cleared and such, so I have no idea when it will actually get printed, just that I will be done by the end of this year.

 There will be much more to come, my plan is to write update this diary once a week so I and whoever reads this can track this projects progress.


Be Safe... 

Posted by markherman at 10:24 AM EDT
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Thursday, 2 November 2017
Design Diary 2017
Topic: Design Diary

I realized that I have been so busy that I have not posted in a while. I will try and be more regular, but I thought I would catch up on things in what has become a very busy schedule.

 Since Churchill was published I have gotten a few other titles out there.


in c3i magazine I have published with Rodger MacGowan

Plan Orange (

South Pacific (

My major release in 2017 was Pericles ( that I am very excited about as I find that I really like playing it solitaire with the included Phormio 'Bots. 

 I also currently have in production Fort Sumter ( which should see the light of day in the 1st Q of 2018.

 Of the many designs that I am working on the next up is an expansion for my COIN co-design (Volko Ruhnke) Fire in the Lake, tentatively titled: The Fall of Saigon.

 That should catch things up for now, I will make a more substantive post after I get back from an out of town trip.

 Thanks for reading,



Posted by markherman at 12:30 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 29 March 2016
What is Victory, or when does the race not go to the swiftest?
Topic: Churchill Design

One of the my recent design choices that has caused quite a stir amongst some gamers is the notion that having the most victory points in Churchill only confers victory sometimes. The two most frequent comments that I hear are if the Axis do not surrender the game is decided by a die roll or the guy in second won. 


The purpose of this blog post which I believe I will expand in my next Clio's corner is what is victory in a game of alliance politics? 


Churchill is about my 65th published game design, give or take a couple. I look at each game as I send it on its way into the world like a parent who only wants what's best for the new born. Each design is imbued with its structure that will be tested in the market and opinion is rendered. Churchill has been a success from all of my usual metrics. It has sold so well that it is not available at the time of this writing and it has begun to garner awards for excellence, most recently it won the Golden Geek for "Best Wargame for 2015", despite the fact that the first four words I wrote for box copy say that, "Churchill is not a wargame". I guess few if any have turned over the box as I cannot imagine how I could have been clearer about my view on this design.


What I have found more interesting is that the game has generated a fair amount of "Nerd Rage", a term that I have heard that perfectly describes the tempest in a teapot that is the gaming hobby when someone touches a third rail issue. For those who are not familiar with the term the third rail is the high voltage rail that powers the New York subway and to proverbially touch the third rail is to get burned. I intentionally touched the third rail in Churchill to create a design that was both cooperative and competitive. From the gamer feedback, most have not only gotten what I was going for, but have embraced it. Then there are those who ran the spectrum from its boring to outright rage that a game would propose victory conditions where the person with the most points does not always win.


For those who are not familiar with the game it is a game about fighting a war as an alliance. The game's victory points offers historic incentives  that reflect the national agendas at work during the war. There are three conditions that determine the winner.


-If the Axis Surrender and the difference in score between the leader and the player in last place is 15 points or less, the player with the most points wins.

 -The condition 2 variant of this condition is if the Axis Surrender, but the score is greater than 15 points (plus variable die roll), then the player with the second highest total of victory points wins. 

-The last condition, three, is if the Axis do not unconditionally surrender, then the players in first and second take a VP loss due to a 1d6 die roll whereas the player in last place has their score increased by a 1d6 with the highest modified score the winner. 


The two main points about the victory conditions that I hear and no amount of logic or explanation can resolve are first, why does the person with the second highest number of points win and not the side with the most points (condition 2: Axis Surrender, Broken Alliance)? Second, why did I play for three hours and the winner was decided by a die roll? I will now take these questions on so I can record what I have said before and to have a place to point folks when I get asked the question the next time.


These victory conditions stand in stark contrast to the accepted industry norm of the person with the most points wins. I have written enough words in the rules to explain the logic, so I will not repeat what I have already put in print, but I would like to answer the questions and how I see what is written differently. In regards to the first question around why does the person in second win sometimes I would offer that this is a simplistic way to look at what is being depicted. It is an artifact of math to say that the person with the most points does not win. The person with the second highest individual score  is really in first place as they are the leader of an alliance. The player in the mathematical first place has broken the alliance and has set their nation up for a two on one post war world where they are the weaker faction. The mathematical proof is if you add up the scores of the second and third place players they almost always exceed the individual score of the player with the most points. Hence, the stronger player, the one in second place wins in the post war world. Not sure why that is so hard to understand, but there it is again.


The situation where the Axis do not surrender unconditionally whereby a die is used to modify the final scores is also a Chimera. This is the lane for the crowd that wants to win by having the most victory points. If you go your own way you have opted out of the historical alliance. In this winner take all version of World War II, you are willing to sign a conditional surrender with one or both Axis powers in a bid for global hegemony in the post war world. In condition 3, if you have a lead of 13 or more points, you win, full stop, as no combination of two dice can produce more than a 12 point change in score. When I see people complain that the game was decided by a die roll what it really says is, "my strategy failed to achieve the required level of victory to win". Now if you play more than two games where this is the outcome and you cannot figure out why you have not won the game I refer you to Einstein's definition of insanity. Just for the record I supplied in the published game an alternate method for determining victory that does not require die roll, but somehow this also is lost on the confused.


So, there it is in a nutshell. That said, as the game is moving toward a reprint I have begun testing the game with a slightly modified set of victory conditions to hopefully improve the enjoyment of folks who just cannot get past the idea of using dice in a final victory determination and refuse to use the supplied tournament scoring that takes the dice out of the equation.


Alliance Victory: (Revised Condition 1 Victory) If the Axis surrender and the score differential between first and last place is 20 or less victory points, the player with the most victory points wins.


Broken Alliance: (Revised Condition 2 Victory) If the Axis have surrendered and the score differential between first and last place is more than 20 victory points you compare the score of the player with the highest score against the combined score of the players in 2nd and 3rd place. If the score of the player in first place EXCEEDS, not equals the combined score of the 2nd and 3rd place scores, the player with the highest score wins. If the first place score DOES NOT EXCEED this combined score the player with the second highest score wins. In case of a tie, then the final tie breaker procedure is used to determine the winner.


Global Hegemon, Axis Conditional Surrender: (Revised Condition 3 Victory) If the Axis have not surrendered then the player in first place subtracts 5 VPs, the player in second place subtracts 3 VPs, and the player in last place adds 5 VPs. After adjustments the player with the most VPs wins. In case of a tie for first, both players subtract 5 VPs and the player in last place adds 5 VPs. If there is a tie for last, then the player in first subtracts 5 VPs and the players tied for 2nd and 3rd add 5VPs. If the adjusted scores, very likely, result in a tie, then the final tie breaker procedure is used to determine the winner.


This takes all die rolls out of the final equation, but has the downside that they can be precisely calculable. I will leave the originals in a designer note who liked it the way it was, but hopefully this will let folks enjoy the game more after a long session. It is likely that these will find their way into the reprint and the reprint rulebook as always will be available to everyone via a free download.


Well that is all for now... back to Pericles.


Mark Herman


Baxter Building

Posted by markherman at 12:48 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 29 March 2016 4:33 PM EDT
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Monday, 14 December 2015
Political Control of an Area Thoughts
Topic: Washington's War
Brien Martin wrote:

Joel explained it elsewhere, but let's see if I can paraphrase:

As long as a space is "open", its leanings in the matter are still open for debate. Once a space leans Tory or Rebel, that crystallizes locals. When you have a large cluster or chain of PC markers that cannot chain to an open area, then that cluster or chain is so crystallized that it now draws military and political attention, especially that it is now surrounded by those of an opposite opinion.

The isolation process, then, is the simulation of those crystallized clusters or chains "going underground" for fear of reprisals.

In other words, it was okay to admit to being a Tory ... unless you were absolutely surrounded by Rebels ... and vice versa.


This is a reasonable rationale, but I would also add that a community of like political minds needs to be supported. If you have a large group of PC markers that is unsupported by any combat or political figure, it is at risk of folding if assailed by the enemy. The empty space does represent, albeit very abstractly, a situation still in flux, but once hard lines are drawn that community needs to be linked into the rest of the rebellion (counter-rebellion) or its morale collapses due to being isolated from its political leadership.

The way I was thinking about it is similar to Joel's well stated view, but I would put an additional spin on this concept. The American Revolution is at its core a war of ideas. The PC markers are an abstract way of taking a Revolutionary War gallop poll. A group of PC markers in a colony represents this war of ideas and a low level conflict that is pitting neighbor against neighbor. The side that is dominant in the colony has sufficient residual energy to generate a militia on occasion. The political energy of a group of PC markers is either expanding, stagnant, or contracting. If it is still expanding, as represented by additional populace open to the political war of ideas (as represented by an empty space), it continues to gain energy. Once it can no longer grow because it has run up against a wall of political opposition, the issues begin to change. The group needs to begin to govern and protect its community, which requires the trappings of government. This is where many local revolts falter and collapse. Once the exciting moments of protesting and public debate have passed the issues change. The new revolutionaries now have to become a governing body, which at its core is ensuring domestic tranquility and providing for the common defense (you might recognize that last phrase from somewhere). Failure to do so drives the situation in the other direction and morale collapses and the situation is once again up for grabs as simulated by the fact that isolated markers are removed, not converted. 

Looking at it from a game risk-reward perspective, a one PC investment that is isolated is probably not worth the investment to save, but a multi-colony sized grouping starts to represent a major constituency that is clamoring for support and represents a sizable investment in political capital. The value of the investment should draw enemy attention and at this point the investment is at risk unless you invest in actual military forces to support it. For example a 10 PC marker now requires a one card investment to garrison. Failure to do so is a calculated gamble on your part.

Given this is the big picture of the hearts and minds war you have two main tactics to protect your community of political allies. As the Continental Congress or the British Parliament you need to show your constituents that you care about them and support them. This means troops, so sending even one CU solves the entire isolation issue or for the British connecting them to a port and the British navy. Failure to support your 'political capital' as represented by the PC markers puts your people or said another way your level of political support at severe risk.

The other important tactic is the discard for the removal of a PC markers. This is meant to show, as cited in my design notes, the low level combat that was the essence of the war. The ability of a surrounded cluster to put the situation in flux again by attacking adjacent spaces puts the group back into a potential expansion mode that generates another wave of revolutionary energy. 

So remember, especially when playing your last card; make sure that the battle or maneuver that you are planning is more valuable than just removing one enemy PC marker and preserving a large concentration of PC markers. Another similar tactic for the Americans is saving the second reinforcement for a late turn play and just stick a 1 CU army in the middle of a key PC concentration.

Posted by markherman at 1:47 PM EST
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Churchill Victory Conditions Thoughts from BGG
Topic: Churchill Design
I like Robert's answer and the commentary around it stand as a great answer. The question that keeps getting asked is 'why doesn't the guy with the most points win, like all the other games. I just did a rudimentary search on BGG and there are 50 electronic pages of games (5000 titles) that play this way, so if folks want their regular experience, lots of choices and I did not want to add one more to the list.

First and foremost I am an historical boardgame designer. Not a historical themed boardgame designer. If you are in a military alliance and all you do is run over your Allies the historical precedent is your former partners will ally against you. Review Napoleon's modis operandi to see what I am talking about.

The victory conditions are designed to reflect this historical alliance attitude and structure. You are not held to it as you can just go for the get the most VPs, and extend the WWII struggle for national gain that would create the narrative for WWIII. So, its included as it was a serious possibility if some of the Big Three fell off of unconditional surrender which is an American not a European concept.

Last night I played in a really interesting Churchill game where I was the US and won by 2 VP in a condition 1 victory. My goal when I play is to have a good time, so at the beginning of Potsdam the Germans had surrendered where the Western Allies won the race for Berlin with the Soviets in East Germany, so Roosevelt and Churchill had gained a net four VPs over the Soviets who had been in first place the entire game by less than 15 VPs. Churchill was now in first by 10 points over my last place US with the Soviets sandwiched in between. So, the war would likely be a VC1 or VC3 (conditional axis surrender) outcome.

The discussion was around how the USSR conditional issue should be resolved from the perspective of each side. It was our view that the UK wanted the war to end to win a VC1 as being in first in a close VC3 game is usually a defeat, which on my part is intentional as you avoid chaos when you are in a close game. As the US I had my late game Pacific VP opportunities as a way to climb back into first, so I wanted the war to end.

The Soviets had no opportunities for any additional military VPs and calculated that he would be in last place, but close enough that the chaos favored him, so he did NOT want to declare war on the Japanese. The USSR needed to win the agenda segment to make that happen. As it turned out it almost happened as the British had no 5 or 4 cards on their last draw and played a 3 card for the Agenda segment. Since both the USSR and the US anticipated a 5 play we both played our Chief of Staff cards hoping for a 6. We were stunned by the UK three play and as it turned out Zhukov tied with a 3, but the Imperial staff plus 1 carried the day and the UK won the agenda segment. 

We then discussed that the Soviets needed to win the Global issue (the UK had two in their corner for +10), but the campaign card was 10C and the British had the global issue on their 6 space. I wanted to divert my two Allies, so I helped the USSR get the Global issue onto their track and I quietly won three issues and the conference for 3 VPs that ultimately gave me a 2 VP win once you calculated in my successful advance into Iwo Jima.

The point of all of this detail is the victory conditions are a major strategy point in Churchill beyond having more. It is not only how many points but the character of the post war world that determines the winner. So, when the OP (what does that stand for?) asks, "So my real question is why was the normal "trailers cooperate against the leader" mechanism not sufficient for this game?" That is why...

Posted by markherman at 1:45 PM EST
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Wednesday, 2 September 2015
What do Churchill Military Victory Points Mean?
Topic: Churchill Design

Based on several discussions on Boardgamegeek over the rationale for this or that decision made by me in the design I have chosen to write a blog post. This will let me reference it more easily in the future. I have done this for my other designs and it helps answer new entrants that renew an old discussion.


 There are several situations that players in my Churchill design receive victory points for (hereafter VPs). They fall into four basic categories. Political, Performance, Technology, and Military. This blog post will deal primarily with the military VPs, but for completeness I will define the other three.


 Political VPs are awarded for influence as represented by the position of Political alignment and Clandestine network markers plus the state of the Global issues. Performance VPs are a surrogate for how you used your historical team to manipulate the course of the war and subtle advantages this conferred in post war crises that followed. Technology is primarily the A-bomb, but also includes the capture of Nazi technology at the end of the war. With this as preamble, what does a military VP represent?


 I thought about military VPs as comprising six basic components: how your military impacted Axis surrender, how the former Axis power perceived your victory, territory conferred by occupation, domestic opinion on your military’s performance, how your military is perceived by your opponents, and how your military is perceived by the world community. Now there is no absolute standard for how to quantify these things, so I represent it in Churchill as different scenarios for how the war ends.


 To start off with, failure to cause Axis surrender (Germany and Japan) equates to less VPs and a chaotic view of the outcome. It assumes that one or more of the Allied powers have cut deals with successor governments (e.g., Hitler is dead in all such outcomes) and in some respects the Cold War, which I believe had already started by Potsdam (Conference 10) is more pronounced and aggressive.


 Beginning with Europe the historical outcome is both the Western and Eastern fronts cause German surrender with an even split of 9 VPs each. In addition, the British and the US have gained additional points for Northern Italy that represents not as has been suggested making them surrender twice, but Allied occupation of Northern Italy keeping the Soviets out (slight edge for UK prestige). The Soviets occupying more of Germany gives them additional benefits in geography, prestige, and how the Western Allies see the situation that would likely have redrawn the occupation zones. The opposite situation pertains for the Western Allies whereby beating the Soviets to Berlin would have resulted in significant benefits. In this category would have been the avoidance of the first Cold War crisis (Berlin Airlift) and it would have change the character of the conversation over the fate of Polish borders and elections.


 This creates three VP scenarios for Europe whereby the scores are centered on the 9 VPs for each side in the historical outcome, with an alternative outcome being who wins the race for Berlin. The race for Berlin is modulated by how far the other front gets so if the Soviets win the race for Berlin they receive 15 VPs minus Western Front final position of Zero, 2 or 5 VPs for a net differential of 15, 13 or 10 VPs respectively. The opposite situation has the Western Allies scoring less of a differential due to Soviet dominance over Eastern Europe with the Western Allies receiving 9 VP for a net differential of 9, 7, or 4 VPs.


 The Pacific is handled in a more complicated and nuanced manner as it represents more of the world population and resources and its post war history witnesses several power vacuums due to the loss of colonial power prestige. In fact many issues raised by World War II are still being worked out even today (e.g., South China Sea).


 The historical outcome for the Pacific is the Western Allied fronts occupying Okinawa, Philippines, and Malaya with the Soviet Far East in Korea. The Emperor surrender conditions end the war in the Pacific yielding for the US 10 VPs, UK 0 VP, and the USSR 8 VP for a net differential between the Americans and the Soviets of 2 VPs. This sets the center point around which other outcomes array themselves.


 First I will cover the lesser Emperor surrender cases that all assume the Soviets are in Korea. The two main scenarios represent the US has recaptured the Philippines and does not suffer ISR, which places the Central Pacific in the Mariana Islands or Iwo Jima. In these cases the US receives either 7 (Iwo Jima) or 5 (Mariana Islands). In both cases the UK suffers an 8-point differential with the Soviets and 7 or a 5 VP differential with the US. The US differential is a one or three point deficit versus the Soviets representing reduced US military resolve.


 Soviet perception of US military resolve is an important piece of my thinking on how the post war world initially unfolded. Stalin’s thinking was to ignore the US A-bomb monopoly in his dealings with the US as he believed that by being aggressive he would force Truman/Marshall to either go to war, which he did not believe was possible, or yield to superior Soviet ground power. This is the basis for Stalin’s thinking when he precipitated the Berlin crisis of April 1948, only three years after the end of the war in Europe. My point is anything the West does during the war that shows conventional military prowess has a modulating effect on Stalin’s behavior.  So, in the other scenarios that follow any Western Allied act that shows increased military resolve over the mean is a net advantage to the West in the eyes of Stalin/ world minus that impact on domestic opinion.


 Now there are several scenarios for Japanese surrender that yield more points than were gained historically. The major theme for these is that some portions of Operation Downfall (Invasion of Japan) have occurred.  Operation Downfall had two major components, Olympic (SW Pacific front captures Kyushu) and Coronet (Central Pacific front forces Japanese surrender by invasion). If we look at the Western fronts in Okinawa and Kyushu with A-bomb use both shows US resolve (Olympic) plus technological prowess. This scenario has the US gaining 15 VPs due to the invasion of Japan’s impact on Soviet perceptions and the A-bomb monopoly for a net differential of 7 VPs. US domestic opinion without the historical reference point is neutered by the view that additional casualties were avoided by the A-bomb.


 The next scenario has either the Central or SW Pacific fronts invading Japan to force its surrender representing the full execution of Operation Downfall, resulting in a score of 13 VPs for the US and 8 VPs for the UK. This outcome is inferior to the Olympic only case as the increase in casualties is a minus with US domestic opinion with no offsetting A-bomb monopoly.  If we take this example to the extreme and have both the Central and SW Pacific fronts invade Japan the US and the UK receive 8 VPs reflecting extreme Allied casualties reducing US military prestige with a further penalty from domestic opinion.


 The last cases are extreme cases where the US has the Central and SW Pacific fronts in Kyushu and Okinawa and the invasion of Japan is conducted by the CBI front or potentially the Far Eastern front. In this situation, the US would maximize its military impact, as Operation Coronet would be a joint US/UK venture and increase the UK VPs from 8 versus 5 VPs to represent their alt-history participation in the occupation of Japan. In this scenario the US would gain 18 VPs for the reduced domestic impact on lower US casualties. The flip side is if the USN ferried the Soviet front into a joint attack on Japan, there is in my mind a zero sum impact, as the extraordinary and unnecessary casualties incurred after losing 20 million citizens would offset the Soviet participation in the occupation of Japan. Even Stalin could not entirely ignore Communist party opinion regarding an unnecessary loss of life. If you disagree just look how the Soviet public responded to subsequent quagmires.


 So if you look at the various Pacific cases described as a spectrum where on one end you have a poor US military performance emboldening the Soviets beyond what led to the Berlin airlift to Stalin being more circumspect about US political resolve. This spectrum runs from the US garnering from 7 to 18 VPs with the Soviets and British scores varying the net differential points gained or lost. In all of these scenarios where the A-bomb does not cause Japanese surrender, the A-bomb remains a super secret military program that continues as an undemonstrated capability into the early Cold War.


 It is the combination of how the war ends in the two theaters that cumulatively portrays how the respective player's military performance impacts the games victory conditions. I know that my view on how I treated the military VPs will garner its share of disagreement, but that’s why I get paid the big bucks. Anyway I hope that more insight on how I thought about the military dimension of the Churchill design will increase your enjoyment with my game.


 Mark Herman

Baxter Building


New York City  

Posted by markherman at 8:27 PM EDT
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Monday, 10 August 2015
Post Publication Musings on Churchill
Topic: Churchill Design

Well Churchill has finally hit the market and I am very pleased with the production values and the initial reception. Only time will tell if this one becomes a cross over design, but I could not be happier with how it came out.


I was at the World Boardgaming Championships (WBC) in its farewell to Lancaster PA and I never saw less than four ongoing games of Churchill being played in open gaming. A new phenomena for me was in most cases there were at least one if not two females playing in each session (three person game). This is the one game that I have done out of over sixty that my wife will play, so it hopefully will be a more accessible game to the most important part of the human race.


For those who have not followed my earlier blog posts I wanted folks to experience a different narrative of World War II. Don’t get me wrong I am a sucker for Third Reich and the multitude of big picture strategy games on the war, but I have been there done that and I have over 50 games in that category. Churchill’s genesis was based on his World War II memoirs and his big picture perspective. I wanted to sit in the big chair and win a global war not drive tank divisions across Europe. 


I used the periodic Allied conferences as the main mechanism for players to metaphorically debate issues and decide the strategy for prosecuting the war. The winner of the game is the player who can work cooperatively to defeat the Axis, while prosecuting their national agenda to gain leverage in the Cold War that follows. The primary mechanic in the game is you are dealt a hand of staff cards. Each staff card is a named personage who was directly involved in the discussions leading up to a conference or who actually participated in a conference. Each conference has three segments: agenda nomination, meeting discussion, and decision implementation. 


Each conference opens with the play of the conference card where historical events and agenda items offer some shape to the discussions that follow. A player may find that he has to use some amount of production in a particular theater of war or an Axis offensive such as Kursk is initiated. Each session plays with one variant of three for every conference to keep the events fresh.


Agenda nomination is where the players put a subset of the available issue categories on the map board conference table. The British have an advantage based on their imperial staff structure for determining the order of play. The winner of the agenda segment also gains a bonus on the first issue picked.


The heart of the game is the meeting segment where players in turn use one staff card to advance an issue. Advancing an issue has you move it toward your side of the table. What is being simulated is the personage used has made a compelling argument for how that issue should be resolved. the strength of the argument made (strength of the card) is how far it moves toward your side of the table. Each staff card also has an attribute which is their historical area of specialization, so if you play a staff card on an issue that they are an expert on you get a bonus to their strength.


Once you have played all of your staff cards the player whose staff dominated the conference (won the most issues) gains some victory points and then you implement all of the issues at the conference. Issues directly impact the war which comprises support for partisans, governments in exiles and the military fronts whose inexorable advance wins the war. If you can add and subtract the number two you will have no problem with the military mechanic for how fronts advance on the Axis. Prior to each advance the Axis reserves deploy and try to retard the Allied military advance. Once the Axis surrender or the Potsdam conference is completed the game is over and the winner is determined.


Churchill uses a different sort of victory determination. Unlike the majority of multiplayer games the person with the most points only wins if its close. If you build up more than a 15 point lead over last place the player in second place wins the game (known as condition 2). Condition one is the Axis surrender with the score differential to 15 or less points is victory for the player with the most points. As already mentioned if the Axis surrender and the score differential is more than 15 points (sans some die rolling) the player in second place wins (condition 2). And if the Axis do not surrender by Potsdam (condition 3), then the player with the most points wins with several die roll adjustments to determine the final winner. The antidote for a would be global hegemony (conditions 3) is for the other two players to force Axis surrender and have that player lose in condition 2. The point is the end game calculations and card play should ensure an infinite level of re-playability.


But what I was going for was a different narrative of the war. What follows is a narrative of a specific situation that was written in response to the question, why would I ever make a double move. I find that when a new game is released amongst the initial interest and such, people want to understand their options and interesting strategy threads begin. This one was around the strategy for when to debate an issue during a conference. To answer the question I had to relate some of the richness of a specific  situation which I think is instructive on how the game plays and what considerations you may be faced with during a session.


Question: Why would I ever want to make a double move, it makes no sense as it is no different than advancing an issue on my turn?


Answer: If you are looking for a rule of thumb in the situation it does not exist. If you are saying that it never makes sense then there are more examples of how this impacts the game than those presented that are beyond the mechanical examples cited above in this thread. Factors such as what staff cards are available, or is there a staff bonus for the debate that overrides the loss of a card, or you want to block the guy to your left from debating (he has no leader) or your leader cannot advance only debate an issue, etc.


I will offer one example, but all examples of double moves are based on specifics that go beyond the mechanical dimensions mentioned in this thread. So, here is one story that I once experienced, but if you want to say that this is rare, well there are many rare situations that add up to it happens once every couple of games. I will say that it usually occurs at the close of a conference when players are down to their last couple of cards. It is in the design to create that extra bit of uncertainty and hopefully excitement.


For example, let's say the US won the agenda segment and let's say that Churchill/Stalin are inactive (previously used). Let's say its Potsdam and the US (Truman no A-bomb) wants to freeze the political situation, but Churchill and Stalin each have captured a Pol-Mil issue with none remaining. 


Now we pick up the action where Churchill has one card (already played second to last card), Stalin has two cards remaining and the US has two cards. Stalin plays Budonny (five when Stalin is inactive) on the Global issue (US 3 space), US debates to keep it on the 3 space, then plays Truman to ensure capturing the issue (cannot be debated). 


Why did he debate and not wait? Well Budonny would move it to the Soviet two space and the US is holding one strong and one very weak card. The US on its next play could have moved it back to the US three space. However, the US is afraid Truman without the A-bomb might be a four not a seven and if the British or the Soviets play on the Global issue with their last cards the US may not have enough juice to win this issue. 


For example a British 4 play on Global followed by a debating Molotov would put the issue out of reach with a 4 strength Truman (its a 2 to 5 and I never roll dice well when it matters by the way). Since winning the Global issue is essential for a US win this double move sequence auto captures the Global issue. In addition when I did this, with all three leaders now inactive, I knew that I would win the conference on a tie using my Arsenal of Democracy national characteristic, so I did not need to go last. The US characteristic is a nuanced but powerful capability.


The US then used the Global issue to create the UN blocking either player from removing any US political alignment markers as they now have insufficient resources from the already won Pol-Mil issues to do so.


The main point is there were two different outcomes based on a number of unique factors and how you could use a double move to lock down the one you wanted.


That is a lot of detail, but there are lots of unique situations like this. Another is you are also assuming that you always want to play efficiently, so a double move might allow you to run out of cards or change who goes last to allow another player to win the conference. 


It is just not a simple this makes no sense and I would never want to do it so why is it in the game. The reason is it is another tool in the Churchill tool box that I intentionally put there.


If you have not read the rules or played the game the above sequence may not make that much sense, but all of those interactions are based on 5 pages of rules. Churchill uses a few simple concepts and rules, but can still generate a very complex narrative with decisions to match.


I will leave it there for now, but more to follow as the Churchill saga continues.


Mark Herman

Baxter Building

10 August 2015

Posted by markherman at 3:47 PM EDT
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Saturday, 11 July 2015
For The People and Simulation Verisimilitude
Topic: For The People Material

Periodically friends who really like FTP as a game raise there concerns on some simulation elements in the design. What I continue to experience is people make points and I use statistics and analytics to make my simulation case. It was how I was raised by Dunnigan. What has been the case almost without exception is no one changes their mind, yet I also never get any analysis in reply, just a restatement of the original point, still not supported by any data. It is the way of the internet and all of the people in this discussion are friends, so it was at all times a gentlemanly disagreement.



I am posting this here so I can keep the information for future purposes. If you want to read the entire thread hit the link. Here are my responses to the salient points, so you can judge for yourself.


Great posts...


most of the counterpunches Lee pulled off in Virginia were in the hopes that the North would just get sick of all the dying and withdraw.


This is a case where we see the same things, understand the same history, yet see it differently. Taking just your one remark of many well stated ones, that is the point of SW and the invasions.


1) Smith's and Bragg's invasion of Kentucky, meant to "liberate" Kentucky (they even installed a temporary pro-CSA government on their way to Perryville) 2) Antietam, arguably meant to win Britain and France over 3) Gettysburg, arguably meant to do the same thing.


Using your succinct points, which I agree with...


1. Bragg is trying to liberate KY, this to me is a KY border state still not controlled by either side with the outcome being KY becomes a Union state. If Bragg is successful KY becomes a CSA state, which was its intent as evidenced by them trying to put a CSA State government in power. KY is also represented by one of the 13 stars in the CSA battle flag.


2. Antietam campaign: intent was to bring in Foreign Intervention which can occur if the CSA can get their SW to 110+ as simulated by the raid raising CSA SW value.


3. Installing a CSA army in the North was Lee's intention for both his invasions. If you read the OR (Official Records of the Rebellion) he states this exact thing to Davis. So, I can only conclude according to Lee's statement that he intended to put his army on Northern territory to cause the Union to sue for peace. This would be moving toward doubling the Union SW for the auto win.


As far as raiding being the main CSA path to victory, it was in all three cases how FTP handles them. As far as the Davis strategy of defense only, all I can do is cite recent Pettus and Docter CSA defense victories that have been on the rise over the last few years now that the metagame on how to properly defend Washington seems to have taken hold.


CSA players denuding the West to attack in the East are extreme strategies that you can argue could not happen. My response is the Union has more SPs and should be able to more than match a CSA asymmetrical buildup and still have sufficient forces to wreck the South in the West. I note that the Union has twice the CSA strategic transport capability, so they can always place more SPs in the East than the CSA. While I could have legislated various strategies out of the game, I feel that if they can regularly be defeated with appropriate response that should stop the activity. You should check out Dockter's and my CSR winning article on how to defend in the East, with a sidebar from the Master. I also note that there is a Crisis in the West card that can wreck this strategy. I must confess that I put this in the game in 2006 and nicknamed it the anti-Pei card.


An interesting sidebar to the CSA goes East strategy and why it should not work is the 1863 scenario. Watch James Pei play the Union. He gets a modest force into the Trans-Missippi and converts MO, AK, TX, and LA then the Union knocks the South down 15 points and 3 SPs plus gains the Union 10 (25 point swing). In the end FTP is won by the side that gets and holds the initiative. I do not fear a CSA build up if I am hitting them with where they ain't.


Anyway, as you can see we see and understand the same history, but I am unclear how FTP handles it with SW is not directly tied to the history vice other games with VP systems that are design for effect. Regardless, my point is this is what I call simulation verisimilitude. The CSA debated the defend versus attack strategy. In the end they flip flopped between the two and both are available. It is up to the players to refute a strategy, its always artificial and easy to do with garrison rules, etc.


Good discussion, others... I love this can of worms...


A games historicity is a function of many factors, but one of them is my responsibility that I believe that I have executed to the highest standard I am capable of. I also believe that there are many myths about this war that have been created by the games that we play on this conflict and upon which I have written about when I talk about psychological history. If a Union player is not worrying about Washington because his fortresses are impregnable then you are not experiencing Lincoln.


The other responsibility falls upon the player, just because a thing can be done does not mean it should be done. If the CSA player wants to play an all out offensive strategy to win the game by turn 6 and fails to a better Union strategy, whose responsibility is it that this does not look like the war in the books. As you note:


Gosh darn it, I always forget about New Bern.


To get a more historical game, the Union has to play like the Union or they reap what the sow. FTP can generate the historical starting positions for each of the yearly scenarios. I would argue that a weak Union player allows the South to gain advantages that were possible if Lincoln played like Davis. Not only is New Bern an important way historically to begin the isolation of Virginia, but it is a necessary move to shut down the South's ability to send offensive levels of forces to that region.


I would also note that one of the most significant victories in the West was the fall of Forts Henry/Donelson. Once this fort is taken out the South's ability to do anything in KY is neutered. I rarely see this move taken on. This means the Union has to invest in AA... Dockter's AA Cartel image would be good here. The play of one AA card (e.g., Fox) neutralizes the impact of the fort. Get Foote or Porter and the Union attacking the fort that usually has one SP garrison gets a +4/+5 drm, which is almost a guaranteed win. Once this historical move is made then the West opens up. Knock out New Orleans, historical, and the MS river is opened up and the South cannot easily send reinforcements to the Trans-MS, etc. If you let history be your guide FTP will reward you.


So, in the end, the designer and the players have a dual responsibility for historicity. As long as I do my job and create the environment where playing historically is correctly baked into the game and is a solid strategy to follow it is up to the players to use that history to their advantage. As I am not a fan of scripted history, I design history to be an emergent property. Players can and do run off the rails, but in a plausible manner. As I said history is in the eye of the beholder.


An addenda to this last point occurs in my Empire of the Sun game. Most Japanese players as they run short of air units often denude Japan of all aircraft. At some point the Allies figure out that this vulnerability can temporarily shut down all Japanese reaction and does so. Then the novice Japanese player writes in big letters this is a-historical and could never happen. I agree, who said you should take all of your planes out of Japan. The Japanese never did that. I of course could have written a rule that says you cannot take out all of your planes from Japan, then it never happens...


As the Riddler told Two Face (Harvey Denton) when he was about to kill an unconscious Batman... "Don't kill him. If you kill him he won't learn anything."


Then a new thread begins in the discussion…


Thank you Gilbert for your cogent remarks about FTP. I appreciate that you are a fan of the game but less so of the simulation. I have been waiting for this opportunity to have this discussion once again. I would offer that if you listen to Dockter's excellent podcast, Guns Dice and Butter, I cannot remember which episode we discuss this very topic. I will make the same point I made there, but with more statistics. You will note that Eric Lee Smith agrees with my point. I have also had this discussion with James McPherson and got similar agreement. This goes into the bucket of 'for what it is worth'.


I will use the following statement as a point of departure for my answer. This out of context comment is not meant to minimize the detail that is behind it as folks can read the full text above.


How could a Confederate army hundreds of miles from it supply bases sustain itself for months AND be able to control the local populace? Live off the land you say? How? Where would a confederate army get their ammunition from? In particular artillery ammunition. The only evidence we have for Confederate invasions of the North are from the historical record itself.


I will begin by taking the view that I have always had, if Sherman (Union) could do it, why couldn't Lee/Jackson? The evidence that cannot be demonstrated historically is that Lee made a 300 mile march off of his supply line as Sherman did. That is true because in both invasions he lost the big battle. What would have happened if he had won? I cannot believe that Lee and the AoNVa known for being a tough army that marched and fought on limited rations was inferior to the abilities of Sherman's army. I see no evidence for that and the substance of my analysis is based on the distributive property that if Sherman could do it, then any well led Civil War army could do the same. I am not sure what the argument would be against it, but I will continue with some statistics.


Sherman's march to the sea was 250 miles in length. His second and as significant next march off of a supply line was 300 miles (Savannah to Bentonville). So, it was done twice and I conclude that a march of 250 to 300 miles was not only possible, but a proven fact. The distance from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati is around 280 miles, but it works for any march inside of Ohio. Therefore what can happen in an FTP game when Lee goes through Pittsburgh to anywhere in the mid-West is an equivalent event.


Sherman's army consisted of 62,000 men, which includes a cavalry bde, so in FTP terms this is a 10-11 SP army with Sherman, McPherson, and Scofield plus a Cavalry brigade general.


During the course of the march Sherman requisitioned, foraged, stole, you pick which term you like best:


5,000 horses

4,000 mules

13,000 head of cattle

9.5 million pounds of corn

10.5 million pounds of fodder



Ohio had a population that was twice that of Georgia and from what I can see had probably 3 times the agricultural capacity, so Ohio would generate at least twice the amount of material for a foraging CSA army of equal strength.


The last point that comes up is ammunition, especially artillery ammunition when you are off a supply line. Well for starters Sherman managed two long campaigns without access to these materials, so unless you are fighting a big battle this is not much of an issue. For a benchmark the AoNVa over the three days of Gettysburg expended 80% of its artillery ammunition that it could not replenish and was certainly a factor in Lee's decision to withdraw. Using this as a benchmark a 62,000 man army off of its supply line could fight either the largest longest battle of the Civil War or many smaller engagements similar to the skirmishing encounters that Sherman encountered during his march and not be ammunition depleted.


I conclude from this that a CSA army once it had broken into open country after taking the surrender of Pittsburgh would be in the same situation except each city has an armory and unless it was destroyed would offer some opportunities for ammunition forage and capture of Union ordnance. This situation was a regular feature of Civil War battles. A large portion of the AoNVa rifles and a proportion of their artillery train were captured Union issue.


So, to summarize my thoughts on why I respectfully disagree and make the claims that I do is I have done a great deal of research on this topic and this is my conclusion that is baked into FTP. Any well led Civil War era army could march at least 300 miles off of its supply line. Sherman did it and Lee certainly could have done it. The difference between the two is Sherman won the battle of Atlanta enabling his march, Lee lost his battles and was prevented from doing what he told Davis he was going to do, operate and subsist his army on Union territory.


Gilbert I do not expect you to fall down and acclaim that you have now seen the light, but I wanted you to know that if I did not think this was an important historical simulation element in FTP, it would not be there. I did not haphazardly allow for this possibility, it was well researched and considered.


Thanks for the opportunity to debate...


Thanks Jeff... I will note that this kind of discussion can go on forever without resolution since no two events during the war are exactly the same and since it is based on a simulation model of what is possible, you can always introduce another factor and so on. That said let me take your two points on this way.


I would note wonder about how much of Shermans "raid" was in fact supplied by the Union, and how much it worked because he knew he was moving towards a eventual supply source - the port of Savannah, *and* he had good intelligence that there simply wasn't any southern force of note that could possible engage him, hence ammunition was not of particular concern to him.


Sherman could not carry more than about 3 days of food with him, although he did have 20 days of hard tack. This has been an historical fact since the beginning of time due to the fact that the animals collectively pulling the wagons consume the contents beyond this period. See Alexander the Great and the logistics of the Macedonian army for the details. Since each march took more than a month, Sherman was living entirely off the forage that I spoke of.


As far as the intelligence goes, Lee would have equivalent information, usually gleamed from reading Union newspapers and cavalry. If Lee had won the battle of Gettysburg, where was there another Union army? There was none and he would have been in a similar circumstance. Historically Sherman's march to the sea works because Grant aggressively pinned the AoNVa and its units in VA with his advance on Richmond. Put McClellan in that position and a Corps is dispatched. This is more or less what happened in the Chickamauga campaign and Sherman now has a problem. Remember in FTP even a lousy Union general gets a +2 drm when the enemy is out of supply.


As I said, Lee's army in the Gettysburg campaign had at least four days of artillery ammunition in its trains. And there was no battle during the war like Gettysburg for length, size, or intensity. So, while circumstances would differ I think artillery ammunition is important but not a show stopper. As I also note he would have foraged some amount of captured ammunition if he had won the battle.


One thing that Gilbert mentioned that does both me is the very gamey tactic of spreading your troops all over the place to control spaces, then sucking them all back in - it just feels rather ridiculous from a simulation perspective


First off the notion of 'gamey' as a derogatory verb is just nonsense. No insult intended but what the heck does it mean, its a game.


Anyway, what you describe as 'ridiculous' was a standard feature of how 19th century armies operated. This is true for Napoleon through the ACW. Lee regularly detached forces in exactly this manner because he could not keep his army concentrated over the winter or even a long march.


Many people forget that a Civil War army was larger than most cities of the era. The AoNVa was the second largest city in the South after the fall of New Orleans. Any Civil War army, to include Sherman's during his march, especially if they are off of their supply line, marched in parallel columns.


If you remember the Gettysburg campaign Lee's army occupied the Harper's Valley, Chambersburg, and Harrisburg spaces prior to concentrating at Gettysburg. At the beginning of the Gettysburg campaign (battle of Chancellorsville), you will note that Longstreet is not present. The reason is Lee is using the 'gamey' tactic of moving a Corps to Suffolk to subsist his army to avoid attrition. So, if 'gamey' means simulating exactly what was done historically, then guilty as charged.


The danger of spreading our your forces in the game is they can be defeated in detail. In order for the South in FTP to do what more or less occurred regularly requires a proportion of its 7 strategic transport. So in the game if you use your last card play to spread out to avoid attrition, the next turn you either pull them in expending most of your strategic capability and forgoing any reinforcements being brought up OR you stay spread out and you are a target for being defeated in detail. Its not a free lunch, and as Chancellorsville shows it has an historical downside.


Anyway, I think I have made my point and I do not want to appear argumentative, but I am very passionate about historical simulations and what I put in my designs always has facts behind them. You do not have to agree with my facts and my interpretation of history, but I rarely see any statistics or facts that make me think I missed something. So in the end, simulation verisimilitude is in the eye of the beholder.


Thanks for your support...


It ended as it began, respectfully with everyone right where they started. But I leave it to others to make up their own minds.


I hope you are enjoying the game… the reprint is top notch.



Cape Cod

Fortress of Solitude

July 2015

Posted by markherman at 8:25 PM EDT
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Saturday, 20 June 2015
Studiolo Designs Update: June 2015
Topic: Design Diary

Studiolo Designs has just completed its first year of operation and I find myself at a good transition point. I thought it would be a good time to review the recent past and talk about what’s next.



My very enjoyable collaboration with Volko Ruhnke yielded gold, well at least it looks gold, from Boardgame Geek when Fire in the Lake won best 2014 wargame. Thanks to all who supported this title.


I also am very appreciative for the support shown by the tribe in getting all of my GMT CDGs back into print. While Washington’s War and For the People are more or less straight reprints, Empire of the Sun 2nd Edition is the same design, but with significantly upgraded components and concepts such that it is the next evolution of this design. Folks should be receiving this one at their doorstep soon as it is being organized as I write this for the P500 orders in Hanford.


Then there is Ribbit: the jump, move, and block game that I self published and produce with my wife. I would have published this through GMT but it is such a departure from anything else that I have ever done, I thought it would be easier to self publish this little design of mine. Check out this 4 minute video where you can learn how to play the game:


It takes about 1 minute on your own or 4 minutes watching the video to learn how to play and the rules, all of them are printed on the plastic board (yes plastic). The pieces are wooden meeples and discs, so it is quite durable for outside play. I have found that it is like a Disney movie. Kids like it and the adults also like it, but for different reasons. Many of my friends kids (7 years old, some younger) will go off for an hour and play amongst themselves without any adult supervision instead of using the internet or watching TV. Consider that the next time you are looking for something to do with your kids on vacation or a quiet weekend afternoon.


Lastly, there is Churchill. I have one of the few copies available, which I will be bringing tomorrow to the Consimworld convention in Phoenix. I am very excited about this title, but as always it takes a village. As many may know there were two versions of Churchill that beyond the title and time period bear no resemblance to each other. I would like to acknowledge John Leggit and his group of testers, whom I do not have names, as more than a year has passed since I scrapped that version. I will of course send them free copies, but I thought it would be appropriate to acknowledge this group publically.


Then there is the game that has been published. Check out the credits in the back, but particular mention goes to Wendell Albright, Gordon Pueschner and David Dockter plus their entire 1st MN crew out in Minneapolis who were the bulwarks of the testing plus my rules editor Steven Mitchell who raised the rules to the next level. As always I am truly advantaged to have the talents of Rodger MacGowan, Mark Simonitch, and Charlie Kibler to make my crayon drawings into works of art.

One interesting dimension of the last couple of years has been my effort to supply instructional videos for my designs. Upon review I was surprised that my feeble efforts had risen to a dozen videos covering a range of strategy and instructional topics. Of course there are also the unboxing videos where you get to hear me act like a kid in a candy shop when I get a game shipped to me from Hanford.

In case you missed any of my videos here is a list, with links:

Churchill Unboxing Video


Empire of the Sun Solo Tutorial


Empire of the Sun 2nd Edition Unboxing


For the People Strategy Video


Fire in the Lake Unboxing Video


Churchill Tutorial


Fire in the Lake Tutorial


Empire of the Sun Wargame Opening Hand Analysis


Empire of the Sun December 41 pt 2


Empire of the Sun December 41 pt 1


Empire of the Sun Opening Strategy


Ribbit: the Jump, Move, and Block Game


So, what’s next?

Right now I am working very actively on several games. First up is Plan Orange, which is Empire of the Sun set in a 1932 scenario. It is going to be published in c3i magazine with artwork by Mark Simonitch. This one is almost finished and I will be turning it into production next month.


The next major design is a sequel to Churchill, titled Pericles: The Peloponnesian War. While this new design uses the conference/issue mechanic from Churchill, it is a different beast in most ways. Those who know me know that I make the design fit the situation and not the other way around. The genesis of this design goes back to an unpublished variant of my earlier Peloponnesian War by Victory Games. If you want to see the first draft of the playtest map, check out the Churchill Unboxing video and you will see it in the background.

In this retelling of the war the game pits two teams of two against each other representing the Athenian and Spartan,  governments plus there are ‘Bots controlling Corinth, Thebes, and Persia. The two player teams each represent two factions from the respective cities. For a player to win, his city state (Athens or Sparta) must win the war AND you must be the player in charge of the government that turn. The two player teams interact using the Churchill conference mechanic with some interesting twists that make it a very different experience from Churchill. Of course there will be an option to play solo, two, three, or four player. Anyway I will publish more on this title as I move closer to a full up prototype.

The next title is the War is Hell a four map American Civil War operational game. This one is in active development, but it is a huge undertaking and it will take a while until I have gotten this one into playtest shape. The good news is I have solved all of the design issues that I was wrestling with, so now it is a matter of research and rules writing until I have things ready for testing.

Last on the list for now is Sun Tzu a CDG set in the Chinese Warring States period. James Pei has finished the basic research and I am significantly revising the design, so this one is on the horizon and should move faster than War is Hell just due to the smaller size and time investment to get it up and running.


Well, I think I will leave it there for now… more to follow later this summer. Until then…


Mark Herman

Baxter Building




Posted by markherman at 5:58 PM EDT
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Thursday, 9 April 2015
What is history?
Topic: Empire of the Sun

I have written on this topic before in my c3i Clio’s corner, but the conjunction of an interesting thread I found on line and the release of the 2nd Edition of Empire of the Sun moved me to want to write up some of my thoughts on ‘historical realism’ in my Empire of the Sun design. As a disclaimer I believe that it is a truism of the Internet that facts and data never change anyone’s opinion once publically stated. I write this for my own purposes as an archive of my thoughts and for the few people who read this blog. I also do not want to embarrass anyone or make these comments appear personal, so I will not state the source of various comments other than to say that I post them without edits exactly the way they were posted. They are there not to start an argument, but as a source for discussion.



First off for those who do not know me here are some of my bona fide’s as an historian. I have an undergraduate degree in History and a Masters in National Security Policy from Georgetown University that had a strong emphasis on Political-Military history. Beyond that I have taught Military Strategy and Policy for the Naval War College and Georgetown University. As an historical simulation designer with well over fifty published designs (see my Bibliography on this site), I have done decades of original historical research that I have published in books, in games, and on this website. As a gamer, historical verisimilitude is extremely important to me in any design that I play often and I play Empire of the Sun continuously. My point is if I did not think Empire of the Sun was an accurate simulation of the Pacific War I would have changed it before publication and certainly would have done something about it over the last 10 years. Truth be told, EotS meets all of my personal standards for historical accuracy that I contend are a high bar.


Empire of the Sun (hereafter EotS) is not a beginners game, so it automatically plays to a small segment of the wargame market. That said, the biggest hurtle to playing EotS is it is not a game that is easy to play well. What is the point of playing a game often if skill does not matter? As most gamers these days do not play a game more than a couple of times it can appear inaccessible unless some desire to play regularly is engendered by ones early experience with the design. This is an important point as some of the comments that follow fall into two buckets. Comments attributed to bad history but are really poor player skill with this design and those that directly challenge the game’s history based on incorrect statements of historical fact. The 2nd edition of EotS comes with a new solitaire system that I believe will act as an interactive tutorial on how to play well. Hopefully this will lower the barrier for early enjoyment of this design.


To be fair some of the commenters while tough on the design said very flattering things about me, so I know that their views are not personal and I do not take them that way, so no acrimony should be implied from my commentary.




I have attempted to integrate comments from a long thread into a shorter coherent set of comments that capture the intent, although I did not edit any of the words to include various misspellings or sentence structure, I just co-located pieces of the same point from different commentators into one place.


Comments are in italics, my response is in non-italic type.


A Cylon who attempted to learn about the Pacific War, by watching game of EOTS would learn:


- The Japanese were very careful to avoid taking more Allied objectives than absolutely necessary. This would lead to a high chance of Allied war weariness.


This first point is not an historical one as much as it is a lack of experience with the playing the game. This comment came out soon after release and continues to be discussed as if it’s a fact. My reply is based on over a decade of public online gaming and tournament play at WBC where this has been tried. This strategy with even a modicum of skill always fails. In fact the Japanese lose the game quicker. So, this comment is not an historical comment as much as it’s a lack of game knowledge comment.


The interesting historical point is the conquest of the Solomon’s and New Guinea beyond Rabaul and Lae were based on a series of Army-Navy conferences that began on March 7th and continued through June of 1942. This outer perimeter defense concept (invasion of New Hebrides, Fiji, and Samoa) was a compromise after the Army blocked the IJNs plans for the conquest of the Hawaiian Islands and occupation of Northern Australia. The main point is my research for a game has to go beyond what is written in a narrative history, but has to captured what are plausible ‘what ifs’. A ‘what if’ for me are those options that were historically discussed and not executed. The IJNs defeat at Midway caused the cancellation of the offensive into Fiji and Samoa. So, not extending the Japanese perimeter beyond Rabula was a path discussed but not chosen.


- The operational tempo of the Japanese fleet had little to do with their own fuel supplies or maintenance resources, but was instead determined by the Allied fuel and logistical capabilties.


EotS is not my first Pacific rodeo. Some may recall my earlier Pacific War game where I also did extensive fuel and operations tempo analysis. That experience gave me a rich body of data and experience upon which to draw from when I designed EotS. What may not be well known is the first thing I did when I began designing this game was to play my third Pacific War campaign game (the first two occurred when I did the original). Based on that play through I reviewed all of my original research and supplemented it with additional data based on new books and material that had been published over 15 years, not yet available in the early 1980’s.


The Japanese fought six major offensives with high operations tempo in the Bismarck barrier throughout 1942 and 1943. In 1944 the Japanese were prepared to throw the fleet at any USN attack on their inner perimeter. They had developed numerous options, but the key-planning feature was a shortage of carrier air not fuel. This resulted in two major sorties (Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf) that resulted in the destruction of the IJN. I also discovered through research (Prados) that there were several fleet sorties, to include the BB Yamato that did not lead to battle. In these situation the fleet put to sea but it was too far away from the invasion to intervene, hence the operation was cancelled, but not before lots of fuel was used. All of these factors went into a model.


One of the interesting facts is while the Japanese suffered extreme fuel shortages; the major impact was felt in the civilian economy. The military always had first call on fuel resources and while they were always a consideration in their planning I can find no instance where operations, especially counteroffensives, were curtailed or cancelled due to fuel shortages. The reality is there was a fuel shortage in Japan due to the loss of oilers to US submarines, but not in the amount of fuel available at its source. This is why the Japanese fleet eventually moves closer to the source of fuel in the Dutch East Indies, something that occurs naturally in the game as augmented by an event card. While using unrefined crude oil levies a maintenance penalty on the ships, the Allied air-naval die roll modifiers for the late war in some part account for this performance penalty.


The result of this analysis was a model of historical operations tempo as a collective metric for sortie rate, historical fuel consumption and maintenance capability. I ran this model through a Monte Carlo set of simulation runs and the result was that the Japanese consistently ran out of forces before they could exceed the bounds of their fuel constraints or historical sortie rate. This was confirmed by game testing and a decade of matches that demonstrated if the Japanese player attempted a higher than historical tempo of operation they ran out of navy faster than occurred historically naturally capping the number of sorties and fuel required. If the Japanese player played more of a guerre de course strategy they were using fuel at a lower than historical rate across a larger number of small sorties. If they husbanded their assets for a late war showdown, again they were using less fuel than they did historically. My point is the EotS model in the aggregate captures the Japanese sortie rate bounded by combat attrition and historical operations tempo.  


These points aside, some folks like to micro manage fuel points and the like. My design goal was to create a strategic model of the Pacific War that integrated most of the key operational factors in a more streamlined manner. For some this is too abstract and for them I designed Pacific War where you keep track of this stuff.


- Japanese military capabilities included seizure of the Hawaiian Islands, Northern Australian, and Ceylon as well as creating enough political unrest in India to cause them to successfully revolt against the British


One area of WWII history that continues to fascinate me are the minutes and commentary on the big strategy meetings such as the one held in Japan on March 7th, 1942. The Japanese navy wanted to invade the Hawaiian Islands and Northern Australia. Plans had been drawn up that were logistically challenging, but at least on paper were considered feasible. The Army would not support either of these operations, but that was a matter of inter-service politics not capability. For an extensive history of Japan’s plans for invading the Hawaiian Islands a recent book not available to me when I did this game confirms my earlier conclusions (John J. Stephens, Hawaii Under the Rising Sun). So to make the point that this was beyond Japanese capabilities stands in opposition to the view of elements of the Navy staff. Hayashi’s ‘Kogun’ makes the case that an Australian campaign required more logistics than the Navy thought was required and the Army could provide. The fact was those logistics were available to the Army, but they would not release them from what they considered higher priorities. This makes my point that this was more an issue of military politics than logistic potential.


As far as India is concerned there are a host of books that I read that go into great detail on how the Army viewed the value of Bose and Indian unrest in achieving their goal of closing the last supply route supporting Chungking. So, not much to say on this point other than there is a significant body of literature that I read in the Georgetown library that is the source of how this is treated in the game.


- Japanese ability to strategically deploy hundreds of thousands of troops and their equipment was not hindered by the fact that virtually their entire merchant marine was destroyed by Allied airpower and submarines.


I have a table taken from the US Strategic Bomber survey that shows with some precision the amount of merchant shipping possessed by the Japanese for every month of the war. Broadly the Japanese started the war with 6 million tons of merchant shipping which was augmented by 1.2 million tons of captured Allied shipping. The Japanese had sufficient merchant shipping to move their ground forces around until 1945 and even then they were able to reinforce Okinawa, Luzon, and Formosa. In one month a merchant ship can generally get from anywhere on the map to another location. In a four month turn, even accounting for attrition there is sufficient shipping to administratively move forces around. This does not say that the civilian economy was unaffected, but the Army controlled their own shipping and they set the priorities. The short pole in the Japanese tent was less merchant shipping but oil tankers covered in my earlier remarks. 


-       The pre-war Japanese military was able to establish very large, high capacity, navel and air bases throughout the Pacific from which to combat Allied efforts to seize the islands upon which those bases were to be built by the Allies once the Allies seized them.


One thing I avoided in this design was extensive engineering rules. Even the Japanese could build an airfield within a four month game turn and the Seebees do not even break a sweat to accomplish the same thing. Another consideration is I integrated the US mobile fleet train into my infrastructure model. So, while the capture of Ulithi gives the US a base it is more a function of the anchorage in combination with the large number of auxiliary ships that make this possible. As far as the Japanese side goes, a large amount of the Japanese bases existed before the war or were captured fairly intact (Rabaul). In the end I chose to simplify this dimension of the game. The key is how I treat the auxiliary ships and US underway replenishment groups, floating dry docks, etc.


-       Really? It is exactly my issue with the game. In all the games I've seen, the US routinely suffers failed amphibious invasions, and the Japanese fleet retains operational and strategic mobility until the end of the war.


This issue has two dimensions, game play and scale. It is more or less mathematically impossible to fail an amphibious ground combat in EotS. If it occurs it is poor play and has nothing to do with the design. The simple rule of thumb is one Marine division will defeat a brigade, two Marine divisions will defeat a division, and three corps plus any size unit will defeat 2 divisions (full strength army). The only issue is not success or failure but how bloody the battle will be. So, the notion that this is a regular feature of the game is just not true if you have any idea how to play the game. So when somebody says that the majority of invasions succeeded in the Pacific this is true once you establish forces ashore and is fully supported by the design.


However, EotS is a strategic simulation. At the strategic level and the way EotS models offensives there were several failed invasions during the war to include Coral Sea and Midway. In both cases the intent of the attack was to culminate in an invasion, but in these two cases the transports were turned back when the naval battle was lost. These were major strategic failures and the rule whereby losing the air-naval battle precludes a landing captures the strategic nature of these failed invasion offensives.


-       If the major Allied operations cards come out wrong, the Allied player may have to run more risk, because simple math will not allow sufficient operational intensity. It is this part that I find worst about EOTS, because it simply makes no sense. What does it mean that "the major Allied operations cards come out wrong"? Those major operations were planned because they were seen as the key stepping stones on the path to victory, and therefore they were given the resources needed to succeed. The cards we find in the game were the things that were built to fit the order in which the cards were needed historically, not the other way round. (I'm aware that the official explanation is that "the cards you get represent the constraints that someone like Nimitz worked under" but having read extensively on the strategic planning in the Pacific, the constraints imposed by the cards do not seem to reflect that style of planning at all.)


One thing that I wrestled with was whether or not to name the cards for historical operations instead of labeling them large offensive, medium offensive, and small offensive. In the end leaving off the historical source of the card is like cooking without spices. As I have said innumerable times the cards are logistics and you can ignore the names if it bothers you, although that is like telling a jury to ignore the inadmissible evidence they just accidently heard. This is one of those if you do not want to see past the titles there is nothing I can say or do at this point that can change it other than to say I like it.


On the other hand the card decks are mathematically constructed. The order of the cards has no impact on strategy except in a fun way. There are times you may have to solve a military puzzle, but the Allies can have the cards come out in just about any order and they will have sufficient logistic resources to do anything they could do historically. The same goes for the Japanese in the opening. This has been demonstrated in numerous public online games under what are considered the worse conditions imagined by novices, such as over half a game with the Allies under ISR and the A-bomb still got dropped.


There are over 5 billion seven card hands possible in the 84 card Allied deck, so no amount of play testing could ever confirm this so I had to calculate all of this mathematically. The acid test that I got it right is I have played this game for over a decade online with a large crowd of participants, collected data on 11 years of WBC tournaments, ran one two-year online tournament and at no time has an experienced Allied player had insufficient resources over the course of any game turn to accomplish what needed to be accomplish. If you have not played this game more than once or twice you likely ran into a problem, but that is inexperience not a design issue. This comment is made often despite its inaccuracy, so it is what it is.


-       An EotS abstraction that threw me for a loop is the possibility of the Japanese shipping an entire army by sea to reinforce an invasion target during the invasion operation. IIRC, Mark explained it as US intelligence underestimating the size of the garrison. Well, um... I don't count that as an abstraction, but a distortion, in particular since the Japanese ship that army when they know the operation is already happening. Mark explained it as US intelligence underestimating the size of the garrison. Which, not to belabor a point, but as far as I know never happened during the actual War..... I mean, really, missing a Corps+ (!) on a island <10 mi^2?


There are two pieces to this comment. First, you can only react with one division (~15,000 soldiers), never a Corps or Army.  This is an important factual error for what follows.


One of the important features of the EotS design and my earlier Pacific War is I treat intelligence as a central feature in both games. While most games usually only look at the Midway phenomena that is seen as an Allied advantage there was a flip side of notable failures. I researched how many Japanese defenders were believed to be present for all of the major invasions during the war, such as Bougainville, Peleliu, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the Philippines. In all of these cases the intelligence estimate was off by at least 15,000 soldiers, one division. In the case of the Philippines the estimate was off by 250,000 soldiers. This data is not hard to find, so it is easy to validate.


The Japanese were very competent and it was not hard for them to anticipate the likely locations for the next US offensive. In most cases the reason that the intelligence estimate was off is the Japanese reinforced the island proximate to the invasion. The Allies for the most part relied on photographic intelligence to estimate troop strengths based on a formula of visual clues. The problem was the Japanese got very good at overhead cover discipline and they were excellent tunnel engineers. This made estimating the size of the garrison an art more than a science. There is a reason that Peleliu and Saipan were estimated to be 3 day operations and instead took almost a month.


The one fly in this ointment is the method by which I chose to incorporate this intelligence feature. The reaction move of a division while the invasion force is already at that location is a mechanistic abstraction that can be visually tough to reconcile. I did not want to have people writing stuff down on paper, etc. and the method chosen works quite smoothly with the other elements of the design. This is one of those that you either buy the abstraction or play another game.



I think that covers the main points I wanted to cover. I want to reiterate I appreciate the commentary and the fact that the individuals played the game to form an opinion and stated it so I could continue to refine my thinking on this topic. I hope that I have protected the anonymity of the commentators for it is not my intention to start a feud. They are only saying what others have said before, but I had the time and the inclination to write my thoughts down. As I stated in the opening this is being posted in my blog so I can archive my own thoughts and what I have written will not change any opinions that already exist either for or against this design of mine. All I can say is I am really looking forward to continuing to play this design with the new 2nd edition.




Mark Herman


Posted by markherman at 9:46 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 9 April 2015 10:15 PM EDT
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