I ordered The Last Hundred Yards on P500 a few months ago because I love small unit, tactical combat games set in World War II and this one definitely seems to take a different angle on the genre. After ordering, I reached out to the designer Mike Denson to discuss the game with him and get some insight into what makes it unique. The following is our interview. I use some pictures in the interview from his most recent Example of Play Article on InsideGMT, which you can read here for a better understanding of some of the game’s mechanics: http://www.insidegmt.com/?p=13173.
Grant: Mike, please tell us a little about yourself. What are your interests? What games do you play? What is most important to you?
Mike: I’m 67, and grew up in Palestine, Texas and attended Texas A&M University in Engineering Technology. I’m married with 3 grown children and 3 grandchildren. I worked in heavy industry prior to entering the Executive Search (Headhunter) business in 1978. In 1985, I started my own Executive Search business specializing in the recruitment and placement of Petroleum Engineering professionals and still do some occasional consulting. I returned to Palestine 6 years ago, we owned property (we live in the country) there, to be near my elderly mother. My primary interests today are reading, (primarily history), wargames, golf and hiking. As for games I play. I have been playing wargames since 1963 but for the last 6 years it has been mostly The Last Hundred Yards. Otherwise, American Civil War, Napoleonic Wars, WWII and some Ancients. Some of my all time favorites include Empire in Arms, the Napoleon at Bay series, SPI’s Terrible Swift Sword series, Dean Essig’s OCS series, GMT’s Glory series, ASL, Sword of Rome, and Republic of Rome. What is most important in life… family, learning new things, being the best person I can be. I see the LHY as an opportunity to give back to the hobby.
Grant: What Theater of World War II does The Last Hundred Yards cover? Within that theater, where do a majority of the scenarios take place?
Mike: The plan was that at least initially the majority of the missions occur late 1944 and 1945, mostly in Eastern and Southern France through Western Germany. If the game is well received additional missions in Western Europe from D-Day till late 1944 will be included. Outside Western Europe, I can see North Africa, Sicily and Italy, the East Front and even the Pacific Theater. This is all pretty typical of games of this genre (think ASL).
Grant: On the GMT Games website, I see the following statement: “The Last Hundred Yards is unlike any tactical wargame published to date”. What is it that makes LHY so different?
Mike: It would be much easier to demonstrate than explain. I will provide you with an Example of Play. One point that is unique is the scoring system. It takes into account traditional scoring points such as casualty difference and objectives taken but also looks at the time it took to accomplish the mission.
Grant: How does LHY differ from Combat Commander? (Be careful, as I absolutely adore CC!) Do you feel it is better than CC?
Mike: I like Combat Commander and personally own 3 modules. It’s a fun game but a poor simulation. LHY is a much better study and simulation of small unit behavior in combat during WWII.
Grant: Tell us about how initiative works and what difference this makes in the game. How did you decide to use this mechanism?
Mike: Initiative– Honestly the mechanism just evolved over time. Many games use some type of initiative. Typically, each game turn includes two equal player turns. In LHY, it is not equal, as there is only one player turn in each game turn. The player winning the initiative (the Active Player) is in essence the only player turn. The Active player with initiative can activate all his units, but the non-active player cannot. The player without the initiative (the Inactive Player) is limited to reactions only and only those units with LOS to an Active players’ unit that conducted an action. Initiative is very important. This represents the fact that life is not always fair…
Grant: Talk about advantage and how it changes tactics. How did you decide to use this mechanism?
Mike: Advantage and Initiative are basically the same. The Advantage term is no longer used as it now is included as part of the initiative. In Missions, usually the attacker, but sometimes both players have an initiative DRM. It is only applicable when a player had the initiative on the previous game turn. Therefore, at the time of the initiative die roll, the player having an initiative DRM and having the initiative on the previous game turn would have the advantage in winning the initiative. This mechanism simulates the momentum/initiative swing in combat. Also, the mechanism offers flexibility in mission design. For example: You could have a small attacking force with a +3 or +4 initiative DRM against a larger force with no initiative DRM. Couple this with the fact that the player without the initiative can only react against enemy units that conduct actions in LOS of his units, it makes for interesting play. An LHY attacker would maneuver in a way to minimize the number of enemy units having LOS to his maneuver. This allows an attacker with a smaller force to gain local superiority as if the enemy units without LOS would not be able to react.
Grant: How does the use of simultaneous vs. sequential turns change the tactical gaming experience?
Mike: In real life, everything in combat is happening at once. Everyone is firing and maneuvering at the same time. This is simulated by an action/reaction mechanic. In most current tactical games, maneuver and corresponding opportunity fire is sequential and is typically represented by the phasing player moving a unit or stack of units one hex at a time, giving the non-phasing player an opportunity to fire. This gives the phasing player an unrealistic advantage as he gets to see the results of a fire or maneuver and can then adjust his next move accordingly. In real life terms this is known as committing units piece meal, which in combat in not a good thing for obvious reasons. In LHY, you do not know the results until the Fire Resolution Phase which occurs after the Activation Phase has been completed.
Grant: Why do you consider the Action/Reaction cycle to be at the heart of the game? How does this change the tactical experience?
Mike: Combat is all about action and reaction. In real combat situations units did not generally fire unless they had something to fire at. Fire was almost always in reaction to either enemy fire or maneuver. Combatants didn’t like being fired at and when you fire, you risk giving away your position to enemy small arms, artillery fire or worse. In the LHY, you cannot react if no enemy unit fires or maneuvers in your LOS, you just sit there. Imagine, you’re in a foxhole on the far right of the line and your orders are defend your position and then you here all hell break lose on your left. Although you can hear the gunfire but can’t see it, you’re not going to leave your foxhole until instructed to do so. The thing with most board games is you can see that enemy attack coming on your left before it ever gets there and have plenty of time to respond. Not in LHY, if you can’t see it, you don’t move. There are a few exceptions such as if you are stacked with a Leader you can conduct an optional reaction allowing you to maneuver.
Grant: How are DRM markers used and how has that affected Fire Mechanics? What type of DRM markers are represented in the game?
Mike: There are separate DRM markers for small arms (SADRM – green), Indirect Fire (IFDRM – red) and Anti-Tank (ATDRM – yellow). When a unit fires at an enemy unit, he calculates all applicable die roll modifiers, selects the corresponding DRM marker and places it on the target unit or hex. These makers stay on the target units even if they maneuver until resolved in the Fire Resolution Phase.
Grant: What vehicles are in included in the game?
Mike: In this module, the LHY includes only the most common vehicles in use during 1944 -1945. For the Americans, this means the Sherman tank mounting the 75 or 76L Gun and the M10 (76L) Tank Destroyer. The German armor consists of the Pz IV (75L) Stu IIIg (75 short, 75L and 105 mm), Tiger I and the Panther. In addition, there are a few Flak vehicles and carriers including Halftracks and Trucks.
Grant: How have you modeled tank combat into the gameplay?
Mike: In Tank vs. Tank combat, the veteran knows that the one who fires first usually wins, that if your not firing you should be moving and it’s the tank that you didn’t see that kills you. The major difference in LHY vs. others is focus on the decisions of the tank commander in combat vs. the physical capabilities of the tank such as armor thickness and penetration, etc. The Anti-Tank fire values, although abstracted, are about as accurate as any other tactical game, just not as detailed. Tank combat in LHY is more of a cat and mouse game. It’s more about maneuver and getting in position to get an advantage over the enemy. Tanks have several maneuver and fire options including normal maneuver, reverse (used when avoiding enfilade), shoot & scoot, halt & fire, overrun, armored assault, split fire and enfilade fire. In a case of Shermans vs. a Tiger or Panther, it’s going to be about somehow maneuvering to get in a position for a flank shot. A good analogy might be in the teamwork required for a pack of wolves on a moose or bear.
Grant: Talk about the field of view for vehicles and how this is dealt with in the game.
Mike: First, in LHY, a vehicles maneuver allowance is only 5 MP, roughly 1/3 of typical vehicle movement allowance of most tactical games….therefore things happen in much smaller increments. Also, as previously discussed, there is no opportunity fire in each hex the vehicle enters. Instead, a player maneuvers all the vehicles of a tank platoon and once completed, Calls for Reaction from the other player. The other player may now fire (or maneuver) at vehicles in his LOS in the hex they ended their maneuver. For an example, a vehicle could move across an opening in view of an enemy unit but ending his maneuver in a hex out of sight of the enemy unit. The enemy could not fire at the maneuvering unit because it can now longer see the unit. In this case, either the enemy unit wasn’t looking as the maneuvering unit passed through the opening or did not have time to react quickly enough to get off a good shot.
Grant: How can a hunted vehicle turn the tables and become the hunter?
Mike: Yes, if the hunter has the initiative and maneuvers into a position where he wins the initiative on the next turn, he would then fire first. But, if he does not win the initiative he may all of sudden become the hunted as now the player with initiative will have the first option to fire or maneuver.
Grant: What are the victory conditions? Are they different for each scenario? Also how does the passage of time affect a final score?
Mike: Once the Mission ends, the Attackers Final Score is determined. Attackers Final Score = Total Time Lapse +/- the Casualty Differential. Each Combat unit’s step lost = 3 Casualty Points (CP). Example: The Total Time Lapse = 25 minutes, the Attacker lost 2 more combat steps than the Defender. In this case the Attackers Final Score = 31 [25 minutes +6 (2 steps x 3 CP each)]. If the Defender had lost 2 combat steps more than the Attacker the Final Score would have been 19 [25 minutes -6 (2 steps x -3 CP)]. Once determined, the Final Score is compared to the Mission Victory Level. Example: Attacker wins if his final score is < 20, results in a draw if 21-30, and loses if > 30.
Grant: What do you mean by the statement simple to play but difficult to master? Can you give us examples of what is most difficult to master in the game?
Mike: The Action Cycle is a simple loop. The active player activates a platoon, conducting actions (fire, maneuver or recover) with these units and Calls for Reaction. Then beginning with the Non-Active player, both players react to each other’s actions until neither player has any further reactions. Then, the Active player activates the next platoon and repeats the cycle.
First, there are a lot of variables in the game, i.e., initiative, fate, mortar support, heroism, and random reinforcements. Timing and coordination of the combined arms is challenging due to the variables stated above. Also, there are lot of tools in a players tool box, i.e. maneuver, withdraw, Shoot and Scoot, Halt and Fire, Enfilade, split fire, assault, Encircle and close combat. The challenge is knowing when and which tool is best for a given situation.
Grant: What is the Do Your Own (DYO) Mission generator? How does it work? Does it work well?
Mike: It’s currently a work in progress. Basically maps and their orientation, set-up and point of entry are all randomly generated. The Base force for each side is based on the Mission’s size which is based on the frontage of the defender and map orientation. Each player has a base force and a number of support points he can use to purchase support units such as mortar, MG or Tank support. This is very similar to SASAL (Solitaire ASL). The system so for appears to show great promise.
Grant: What is the “Me” counter? How does this work and how does it allow players to create their own personal narrative?
Mike: It’s now the “Skin in the Game” optional rule. This is an optional rule for more immersion into the game. Each player begins his journey as a Lieutenant commanding an Infantry Platoon. Your Lieutenant, depending on your success, can earn promotions to positions of higher rank provided you survive the journey. First to a Captain commanding an infantry Company and then to a Colonel commanding a Battalion.
Grant: How is leadership handled in the game? What levels of leadership are present? Which side has the best leadership and how does that play out in scenarios?
Mike: The only Leaders in the game are Platoon Leaders. They assist in the recovery of disrupted or regrouping units, provide a DRM in Close Combat, coordinates Indirect Fire and a beneficial DRM to a unit under fire provided their Cohesion is > the Cohesion of the Combat. But, if a Leader is out of play temporarily due to combat or sniper, his subordinate units are limited to reaction only. Leaders are similar for both sides but vary between platoons.
Grant: Have you enjoyed the design process to date? What have you not enjoyed?
Mike: I have enjoyed the process to date. I see it as an opportunity to give back to the hobby that I have enjoyed for the last 54 years.
I never intended to design a game… edit maybe, but not design. It came about more out of necessity due to lack of players where I live. It’s a long story. Overall it has been fun. The writing has been the most difficult. I’ve always had difficulty in expressing my thoughts through words. It been a real challenge, but it’s been a good experience in that its taken me out of my comfort zone.
Grant: How has the game changed over time through the playtest process? Can you give specific examples?
Mike: The game has changed several times since the beginning. It started out as squad level, then a platoon level and then squad level again, but the mechanics have always been pretty much the same. The best example of innovation would be the creation of DRM markers. Originally, each combat unit had it’s own target/acquisition marker (like ASL) that was placed on the target unit when the combat unit fired. Then during the Fire Resolution Phase, a player had to identify the firing unit by looking at the target marker, lookup the fire value of the firing unit, calculate any DRM and then make a die roll for a result. This was a lot of work and took time. By creating a DRM marker with the DRM listed on the marker one only has to determine the final DRM and place the corresponding DRM marker on the target. Then during the Fire Resolution Phase a player only makes a single die roll for each DRM marker adding or subtracting the DRM listed on the DRM marker. Much faster and less die rolls.
By the time I approached GMT, the game was pretty well complete. The official playtest is really just getting started and there has been very little change to date other than rule clarifications.
Grant: What was the hardest part of the design? Why? Did you get it right?
Mike: It’s hard to say, as I’ve been working on it for so long. I like the problem solving aspect, I guess because I’m good at it. You take one problem at a time and work it until you have a solution. Yes, I think I got it right because after 6 years I still enjoy the game and with help from all the LHY team hopefully it will even be better.
Grant: Will there be expansions in the future for LHY?
Mike: Yes, provided there is further interest in the game system. Like many other tactical game systems out there it could easily be expanded to include most all theaters in WWII or even Korea.
Grant: Do you have any other games in design now?
Thanks for the great information on the game Mike! I really have enjoyed working with you on this interview and can say confidently that you did a good job with your words. This game does look unique and definitely has my interest. If you are interested in ordering The Last Hundred Yards from GMT Games, here is a link to the P500 page: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-592-the-last-hundred-yards.aspx
I am looking forward to this one very much. Like its concepts regarding initiative and limited intelligence. Hope it goes up the P500 quick smart.
Is 8.3 optional reaction a standard rule used all the time?