As I have scoured the P500 offerings over the past several months, I have been amazed at the quality and depth of the games on the list. Many of the games do such a great job of representing the historical period or battle so well with various and unique mechanics. One game that caught my eye was Hitler’s Reich designed by Mark McLaughlin with Producer Fred Schachter. It is no easy task to address the entire European Theater of World War II in a 2 hour game but that is what the game is being pitched as and that excites me. After adding it to my ever-growing P500 list, I reached out to Mark for an interview as I wanted him to be able to explain in depth a little about what makes the game so unique.
Grant: Mark, tell us a little about yourself. How did you get into board game design? What do you love most about it?
Mark: I started making games as a kid. I read Cornelius Ryan’s Last Battle when I was 11, and made a simple grid map based on the one in the book and put my Airfix HO scale soldiers and tanks on it as pieces. In college, I wrote a set of house miniatures rules for the Seven Years War and started painting soldiers for it. Then I designed a game on the Lord of the Rings and, thanks to the local hobby shop guy, sold the design to Citadel. Unfortunately, that was when SPI won the rights from the Tolkien estate to do their games, so Citadel just gave me $100 for my trouble and called it there.
As for more professional designing, well, my wife and I got married in 1978. When we came back from our honeymoon in London we found ourselves suddenly unemployed! As I was in Maryland at the time, I sent a letter to Avalon Hill asking if I could see their offices. My visit turned into a lunch with Don Greenwood and Tom Shaw, who ran the place. During our meal, Tom asked me if I had any ideas for a game. Before the coffee was served I had on the fly come up with the idea for War and Peace – and went home with a contract in my hand!
Right place, right time, right people, right idea. That game sold 50,000 copies – and it is now being redone, updated, upgraded and prettied up by One Small Step – you can see it on their pre-order page.
I have had 17 of my designs published since then, and have three more currently in the production process at publishers – one of them, of course, is Hitler’s Reich.
Grant: What is the Card Conquest System use in the design of Hitler’s Reich and how does it work?
Mark: Imagine a combat system based on the old card game “War,” but adding dice and Event Cards that modify the total. Not only are there no Combat Results Tables, there are not even any units. There is a map of the European Theater, and when you want to attack someplace – Suez, Paris, Moscow, the North Atlantic, you just point to it, play your combat card (Supreme Commander, which is like a King, down to Private and a lot more in between), add in any Event Cards, roll the dice and total it all up. Winner takes the space – which you mark with a wooden disk in your color.
Grant: Hitler’s Reich is the first game to use the system, what other games are planned with the system? Why does this system work well with a game covering World War II?
Mark: I have been working on a Hannibal game using that system, but have set it aside until Hitler is done (I like saying that for so many reasons) to concentrate on other games I had contracts for. After Hannibal, I might take it to the Napoleonic era – an era which has been very very good to me.
As for Hitler’s Reich and WW2 – This system makes for an elegant ebb and flow of battle lines. You can really see the “Big Picture” – and without having to go through what players of more traditional war games have to go through.
It is simple. Sets up in five minutes. Plays out in about two hours….and because of the cards, is ALWAYS a different game.
Grant: What was your overarching design goal for the game? Do you believe you have succeeded? Why?
Mark: “World War 2 for 2 players in 2 hours” – that was my goal from the start. A simple, quick to set up strategic game of the war in Europe and the Mediterranean that you could play with not only old-school wargamers but people who are more euro-game oriented.
It works and does just what I wanted it to – as everyone who has played it has told me and my developer/editor, Fred Schachter, these past four years.
“‘World War 2 for 2 players in 2 hours’ – that was my goal from the start. A simple, quick to set up strategic game of the war in Europe and the Mediterranean that you could play with not only old-school wargamers but people who are more euro-game oriented.”
Grant: I know the game was designed for two players but there are solitaire, 3 and 4 player variants. How do the other variants work? How does it create team play?
Mark: The two-player game is obvious. There are solitaire rules – and we have a guy in Finland who volunteered to develop a far more sophisticated “bot” system as he calls it where the game challenges the solitaire player.
As for the 3 and 4 player games, that worked out easily. There are two mini-decks for each side: the Axis has 13 German and 13 Italian combat cards; the Allies have 13 Western and 13 Soviet combat cards. If there are two Axis players, for example, they can either come to a joint decision on what to do – or, if there is a disagreement, the highest card in the Axis hand decides. So, if you are the Italians and I am the Germans, and the best card in the Axis hand is an Italian Field Marshal, I as the Italians make the decision. Of course, if I play that Field Marshal to make things happen, and the next highest card in the hand is a German General, well, guess who’s in charge for the next play?
Same goes for the Allies. You can also have one player as the Allies vs. two Axis or vice versa.
Grant: I love it when games pit allied players against each other with their competing nationalistic interests. How is hand limit set using economic power? How does a player change their economic power?
Mark: Each side begins with a set hand size, with the Axis having a slight advantage of 8 to 6 in 1941 (it changes in the 1944 scenario). As you take enemy production centers, their maximum hand size goes down (yours, however, does not go up – the exception being Paris, if the Allies get it back, since that represents the Free French).
You can also knock down their hand size with Wolfpacks and V-Rockets for the Axis or Strategic Bombing for the Allies.
If a side’s hand size drops to zero – they lose right there and then.
You can also build up your hand size with Convoys (for the Allies), War Production (both sides) and some special economic cards for the Axis (like Swedish Ore and Synthetic Fuel).
The maximum hand size is 12. If one side hits that and the other has 3 or less, it is also ‘game over’, as one side has such dominance economically that it is all over except for the shouting.
Grant: Why does the Axis hand start seeded? Does this give them an early advantage? When does it begin to change?
Mark: It is “Hitler’s Reich” and it starts when the Axis is truly riding high – March, 1941. The British are on the ropes, but far from finished, and the Soviets are still in their non-aggression pact with Berlin. So of course the Axis starts with not only more but also better cards – they are guaranteed four of their six best cards, and four random draws. The Allies get six totally at random.
The Axis also start out with more Event Cards than the Allies…and that initial blind draw can greatly alter the starting position, as Wolfpacks could knock the Allies down below 6 even before they get to play, or Convoys could give them a boost before the Axis gets to hit them. They might also get a solid defensive general like Montgomery or something else to give them courage.
When does it begin to change? Well, sometimes it doesn’t (if the Axis get their way that is). The longer the game goes on, however, the stronger the Allies get. Their hand size goes up each time when the Axis reshuffles. That can help make up for losses – or shift things their way.
Also, if the game gets to 1944 – and most don’t – the Allies get a tremendous boost in the “Overlord/Bagration” rule. Basically, that represents the years of build up for D-Day and the mobilization of Soviet reserves and resources for their big offensive of that time. Now it is the Allies who’ll get a seeded hand of cards for 1944. If the Axis is not in the lead or at least at par with the Allies by 1944, it is a matter of them trying to run out the clock before Berlin (or their hand size) goes down.
Most games do not get to 1944 because either one of many sudden-death victories occur, or because one player decides they cannot win and concedes. The Allies, by the way, can and have won games in 1943, thanks to Strategic Bombing, Convoys, War Production and holding their own centers – and taking out Italy.
Grant: Talk about the reroll ability of higher valued cards. How does a player make sure to have enough high value cards or is it random which cards are drawn?
Mark: The game is initially played with a deck of regular cards. Axis spades (German) and clubs (Italian), Allied hearts (Western) and Diamonds (Soviet). Kings, Queens, and Jacks counted as 13, 12 and 11 points, and had three, two or one re-roll of the dice, respectively. You played a card face down, flipped it up, rolled three dice, rerolled any you were allowed and cared to. The Ace and Jokers also had special abilities. These have all been translated to Field Marshals, Captains, Saboteurs, Spies, etc.
Each side has its own deck of 27 cards (two suits of 13, plus a spy). The initial Axis hand (and the Allied hand in Overlord/Bagration) is seeded, but otherwise, they are drawn at random.
Grant: What are the Saboteur cards and how do they work? The Double Agents?
Mark: The Saboteur is worth one point – but knocks down the other side’s card to 1 point as well, which can be nasty when they have played a Supreme Commander which is normally worth 13 – but is now only a 1. The Supreme Commander, however, still has three rerolls.
The Double Agent is worth 10, and causes the opponent to forfeit their rerolls. The Double Agent, however, not only loses ties, but if they lose, the card goes to the winner’s deck.
Grant: What are some of the other more notable cards and their special powers?
Mark: That is it for the main combat deck. Now we’re getting to the game’s Event Cards: each of which have their own special powers.
Grant: What cards are included in the Event decks? How do they affect Strategy and game play? I heard the Stukas are powerful. What do they do?
Mark: Some Event Cards add a die to combat – so you could have 4 or even 5 dice to your opponent’s three. Others allow you to reroll – or force your opponent to reroll a die of your choice. (That is what Stukas do, for example). Some let you see the card your opponent is playing before you have to commit to the card you will play.
Grant: How do you handle the weaknesses of several of the countries involved in the card design such as the Soviets and the Italians?
Mark: I simplified it. The Italian cards lose ties. Believe me, more than one game has turned on an Italian general losing a tie to his Western Allied counterpart.
The Germans, on the other hand, win ties. So yes, if that Western general comes up against a German general and the dice are tied – the Germans win.
The Allies neither automatically win or lose ties – but when defending or attacking from a Soviet space – or Soviet marked space – the Allies must play a Soviet card, if they have one. They can not use the Western Allied cards for combats involving the Soviets, unless that is all they have.
That can really hurt the Allies in the East (for the Western Allies can use their own OR Soviet cards – thus showing the economic might of the United States as well as the deep resources of the British Empire).
Grant: How much does bluffing play a role in the battle card system? Can you provide an example of how this works?
Mark: Bluffing is KEY to the game. Let’s say you are the Allies and are going for a Strategic Bombing card from the Card display. You know how powerful that can be (knocking a card out of the Axis hand and taking their hand size down). So does the Axis player. The Axis can not really afford to lose that contest – but the Allies can. So do you play a strong card to ensure you get it and hammer the Axis – or a weak card hoping to draw out one of the top Axis cards?
The Axis player also has to think, is this a bluff to draw out my best card, in which case I can win with a mediocre card, or is the Allied player going for broke?
The same goes if there is a contest over Paris, Leningrad, Rome, Suez or any of several other score areas of the map, some of them key, others less so – but which set up an advantageous situation for the next play.
“Bluffing is KEY to the game….The Axis player also has to think, is this a bluff to draw out my best card, in which case I can win with a mediocre card, or is the Allied player going for broke?”
Grant: What are production centers? What happens if a country loses most of their production centers?
Mark: There are six Western Allied, six Soviet and six Axis production centers. If all six Western or all six Soviet fall, the Axis wins. If all six Axis are conquered, the Allies win.
Each production center which is lost takes that side’s hand size down by one (or more for London, Moscow and Berlin). Fewer production centers means fewer cards to draw and choose from – and of course, brings that side a step closer to defeat from either a military or economic victory (hand size reduced to zero or where one side has a hand size of 12 and the other 3 or less).
Grant: Talk about the Generals cards? How many are there? How do they work?
Mark: As I noted above, in the conflict card decks there are two suits of 13 plus a joker (Double Agent) per side. The cards are worth 1 to 13 points, with the top three having rerolls.
In the event decks there are also named Generals who give more specific bonuses when they’re employed. But only one Axis and one Allied General may ever be involved in single land conflict resolution.
Grant: How does a player build up to be able to launch amphibious assaults? How do the specific Weapons of War cards work? Who has the best cards?
Mark: To launch an amphibious assault, the Allies need to win the Higgins Boats card, and the Axis, on their part, need to win the Landing Craft card. (The Higgins Boats are reusable from turn to turn, as long as the Allies win their invasions; the Landing Craft are a one and done card, which has to be won again to use. This shows the Allies superior amphibious capabilities).
To launch an amphibious invasion the player also has to have control of the sea zone (yes, you do fight at sea in this game). If they have a fleet marker there, it also helps the invasion.
As for who has the best cards, well, I tried to make it even. The Allies have a few more cards, and they have more naval, economic and espionage assets. The Axis have slightly fewer to choose from, but more of those are ground-game oriented. Both sides have Generals who can add dice in attack or defense or both, or who can force the opponent to reroll. Each has their own specific power.
Grant: I’ve heard a lot about the Waffen SS card. How is it used and explain some of its strategy for use?
Mark: The Waffen-SS, which can also be referred to as “Panzer Tactics”, add a die in combat either in defense or attack. That card, especially, if coupled with a General (like Rommel who gets rerolls or Guderian who allows it to be used again for a blitzkrieg attack at no extra cost the same turn) can be a killer. The card, however, has its limitations (as there was a limit to the number of elite troops even in the mighty German Army). If the Axis use it on their turn to perform an attack, it is then flipped over and is not available for defense when the Allies attack.
Grant: What about strategic weapons? How are they used and what types of cards are there?
Mark: Strategic Weapons knock down the enemy hand size and cost them cards (including Strategic Bombing, Wolfpacks, V-Rockets). Others boost a side’s hand size (Convoys, War Production, etc.)
Grant: How is politics and intelligence handled in the game? Do they have specific cards? Examples?
Mark: Iraqi Revolt, Franco, Turkey Declares War, Vichy and others place new control markers on the map and/or increase a side’s hand size. Turkey declaring war can turn the tide in the east or Middle East, as it outflanks the Allies on both fronts, gives them a launching pad to make attacks and can gives them an advantage in the battle (if the attacker controls more land and sea areas adjacent to the target than the defender has adjacent to it, the attacker gets an extra die – up to a maximum of five).
Grant: What are the victory conditions for each side? Which side has the simpler time reaching their victory conditions?
Mark: There are many paths to victory. Knock the enemy down to zero hand size; increase yours to 12 and theirs to 3 or less, take out all Soviet, or all Western, or all Axis production centers (each has six); take London and Moscow; take Berlin and hold it at the end of the Axis turn…or, if it does go until the end of 1945, the Axis win by not losing.
The game is called Hitler’s Reich for the same reason other games of mine are called Napoleonic Wars, Wellington, etc. That leader set the course for the era, and as such, they have the best chance of winning, provided they win early. If they don’t, they will usually lose. The same goes for the Axis here. They have a lot of advantages – and one of the biggest is being at peace with the Soviets.
That means they can concentrate on attacking the British without having to worry too much about defending on the eastern front. On the other hand, doing so means giving up the big advantage of Operation Barbarossa – the surprise attack on the Soviet Union. If the Axis launch that they have to do so in 1941 – and they get four guaranteed attacks. (Usually if you attack and win, you get a second, and that is it; if you lose, your turn ends). Win or lose they get all four – and more if they “Blitz” – which means pushing on from a successful attack by giving up a card from your hand. That lets you reuse the event cards you won the last fight with, e.g. Waffen SS and Tiger Tanks, instead of flipping them over until your next turn.
Then again, if the Axis does not win early – they probably won’t win at all…probably.
Grant: What optional rules are included in the playbook?
Mark: So many. The Playbook is actually bigger than the rule book. It includes so many themes and ideas that play testers (and Fred) came up with that I felt deserved recognition: but only as features to add or modify the game for players who want more options, more complexity, and/or more historical paths.
For example, one rule alters the availability of certain cards until the general, technology or event they represent were brought into the war on a more chronological historical basis. Other rules degrade the Axis hand as the war goes on….there are just so many…
Grant: What major changes has the game undergone since being initially play tested? Are there elements you are still working on?
Mark: The core of the game has not changed – I have been very solid on that aspect of the design. We have, however, tweaked the Event Cards a few times – but not a lot. Almost everything that could change the game went to the optional rules, as I tried to stay true to the “World War 2 for 2 players in 2 hours” motto.
Grant: Are you pleased with the reaction on P500? I have ordered the game and look forward to its release.
Mark: It was an agonizingly slow climb – until we convinced GMT to loan us Charlie Kibler for a weekend to do a professional prototype map — as opposed to my home-made amateur design. That boosted sales considerably once we could show people that map…it made them realize that GMT had invested real time and money, and that this was not vapor-ware, and was going to come out eventually.
Orders jumped again when Charlie did the Cards, and again and again after every article Fred or I wrote, each of which was illustrated with the professional card and map art.
Grant: What is the schedule for the game?
Mark: GMT told us that the game is on the schedule, and will come out in the third quarter of 2017 — or maybe the second quarter, depending on how fast the games ahead of us get made.
Grant: What is next for you Mark? Any other designs in the works?
Mark: Many games in the pipeline. Turning Point Simulations is doing my The Invincible Armada game. (one of their 20 Decisive Battles series) Mine is on the Spanish Armada; a game that more than one other designer they approached gave up on as undoable. Then they asked me if I could do it – I was thrilled. I told them it would be easy – all it is is basically a WW2 convoy. The Spanish sail up the Channel, load an army in the Spanish Netherlands and take it to England. The English must stop them – Drake and Hawkins and the others are in the role of the commanders of the U-Boats, Stukas, Condors and Battleships that tried to stop the convoys to Britain and Murmansk.
One Small Step just redid Holy Roman Empire (for which I did two tactical game expansions: Battles of the 30 Years War, and Battles of the English Civil War) and No Trumpets, No Drums, my Vietnam design from The Wargamer done right. All four of those came out this year!
One Small Step also has War and Peace on its pre-order page, and plans to redo my Army of the Potomac and Army of the Tennessee games, and maybe even Princess Ryan’s Star Marines.
Finally, I am working on a very simple Civilization-type euro-ish game Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea.
Fred, once again, is my developer and editor, and GMT sent us hundreds of little colored wooden disks to use for the game. It is a solitaire as well as multiplayer (2 to 6) game of expansion in the Mediterranean in the ancient era. There are many scenarios and starting points (from starting with no pieces on the map up through the Trojan and Punic Wars, Roman Civil Wars and the Fall of Rome).
The game has NO DICE. It is all done with wooden disks and event cards (to build great wonders, unleash floods of Biblical proportion, cause earthquakes, open the gates to barbarians, etc.)
The initial idea came from one of my oldest friends, Chris Vorder Bruegge, whom I met 45 years ago at Georgetown, and who has been a play tester and contributor to every game I ever did (and was co-designer on our Pacific WW2 game, East Wind Rain 30 years ago).
I took it from there to dress it up, but Chris is involved in every step of the way – and now that Fred is in the Washington DC area for a year on a job, he and Chris (who lives across the river in Virginia) have begun playtesting it together.
Grant: How about your long-time friend and game developer/editor partner Fred, anything to add?
Fred: I’ve had the pleasure of working with Mark on a number of games over the years since we first met at a Historicon Miniatures gaming convention in Lancaster, Pa. where he was promoting The Napoleonic Wars (first edition).
An updated gaming biography is attached at the conclusion of this contribution. It would seem given enough decades as a gamer, a retrospectively interesting amalgam of work can result… and was it fun to do so! Mark and I are both fortunate in that. We get to generate games and learn of our fellow hobbyists enjoyment of them…and that, ultimately, is what makes all the many hours of effort worthwhile.
Hitler’s Reich is the next step in a progression Mark and I seek to design/develop fun and fast-to-play games. The Nappy War system games (The Napoleonic Wars, Wellington, and Kutuzov) are “classic” card driven games designed for the traditional grognard war gamer.
We moved our game system efforts down a notch or two towards greater simplicity with Rebel Raiders on the High Seas and then still further with Hitler’s Reich. That’s not to imply these games are not valid simulations…they just take a different design approach towards achieving their goals.
An initial design never survives initial contact with the play testers… particularly “shark” players who’ll seek any flaw in the rules to achieve victory. My son Michael, a valued Hitler’s Reich play tester, is a good example of this…he not only likes to win…but to beat his dad in a game is just an added bonus making victory all the sweeter.
Here’s an example of where play-testing revealed a need to change a rule. One of the Actions a Hitler’s Reich player is a “Reorganize Action”, which allows a player to exchange one, more, or all of the conflict cards in his hand for new ones. If he takes back the same number of cards discarded, his opponent’s card hand size increases by one. If one less card is taken, his opponent’s hand stays the same.
This is a good alternative to have if one possesses a “stinker” of a conflict card hand. It’s a way of dumping a garbage hand and, hopefully, getting a better quality one.
However, since a turn of Hitler’s Reich ends when both sides reshuffle their decks, the Reorganize Action had the unintended consequence of allowing one side a kind of “temporal weapon” to artificially accelerate the passage of time and place their opponent at an unfair disadvantage.
The fix was an easy one. Now each side is limited to but one Reorganize Action each turn (year).
Well, that’s my “two cents”. Hopefully, you readers of The Players’ Aid Blog, have been encouraged to read more of Hitler’s Reich: A Card Conquest System Game and, if you’ve not yet done so, place a P-500 order for it. For those of you who’ve already ordered, Mark and I thank you for your patronage and support!
Fred’s first “war games” were RISK and an 1863 Civil War game appearing in Life Magazine. However, it was stumbling upon a cousin’s un-played copy of Avalon Hill’s D-Day game attending a 1961 family Thanksgiving celebration that Fred’s fascination with the hobby truly commenced.
Throughout the sixties Fred and his Bronx buddies anxiously awaited each new Avalon Hill game’s release and played them for hours on end, devising those “perfect plans” which so fascinated us and to our parents disquiet seemed to seriously impinge on “normal” activities such as sports and dating.
In 1969, Fred became a play-tester and then Office Manager of SPI during the halcyon early “Skonkwerks” days initiating a relationship with the gang there lasting through that legendary company’s demise.
Design/Development game credits include: STALINGRAD III (an SPI variant of AH’s game now republished by AHGeneral.org), amateur published THE SIEGE OF JERUSALEM 70 A.D. (with Steve Weiss) and its successor AH edition simply entitled THE SIEGE OF JERUSALEM, JULIUS CAESAR: THE GALLIC WARS (Rich Berg- designer), CONQUEST OF PARADISE (Kevin McPartland – designer), and with good buddy designer Mark McLaughlin: THE NAPOLEONIC WARS (2nd Edition), WELLINGTON, KUTUZOV, REBEL RAIDERS ON THE HIGH SEA and the P-500 listed HITLER’S REICH and forthcoming ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS OF THE INNER SEA as well as, the P-500 listed ILLUSIONS OF GLORY (Perry Silverman – designer), and THE SEVEN YEARS WAR: FREDERICK’S GAMBLE (Greg Ticer – designer).
Mark, thank you for your time, even in the face of working on many projects. I also am grateful for Fred’s input as the developer as it is good to get that side of the coin. I am very excited about this game and cannot wait for its release in 2017. If you are interested in ordering Hitler’s Reich, you can do so on GMT Games website at the following link: http://www.gmtgames.com/p-444-no-retreat-the-russian-front-deluxe-ed-reprint.aspx