Recently, I’ve been looking into a few more alternate history games (such as Triumph of the Will from Compass Games) as I am fascinated by the sandbox nature of those games as opposed to the more regimented and static approach for true simulations. I came across Armageddon War: Armored Combat in the End War from Flying Pig Games when they launched the Kickstarter a few weeks ago, which ultimately funded in the first few hours of the campaign. I reached out to Mark Holt Walker to see if he and Greg Porter would be willing to give me the low down on the design of the game. Here follows the interview:
Grant: What was the inspiration for Armageddon War: Armored Combat in the End War?
Greg: The YouTube era of combat coverage, where the participants are strapping GoPro’s to their turrets and uploading the results. We did not really have a game that dealt with the new sort of conflict going on over there and I wanted to do one that was not the same-old-same-old in terms of its mechanics.
Mark: Yeah, that and Greg has wanted to design a near-future game as long as I have known him (10 years).
Grant: What kind of research do you have to do on a game that is alternative history but based on the armies of the region portrayed?
Greg: Well, you have to make stuff up in terms of the who and why for an alternate history, but most of it was figuring out who is using what, and how to model it. Hezbollah is putting ZSU-23 cannon on M-113’s, Islamic State forces have captured Abrams tanks, Rebels are armoring dump trucks and using them as APC’s and pickup trucks have heavy machine-guns in the back. And that’s just the real-world stuff, today.
Grant: How is ‘Geddon War different from other tactical games? What makes it stand out in the crowd?
Greg: Probably Mark’s willingness to take a chance and let me do some things differently than normal. Trimming the stats on the counters down, using color codes and graphics in new ways, the custom dice, special counter shapes, putting unusual things on the maps like a military base or a multi-kilometer chunk of nothing but urban terrain. A whole bunch of little things that add up to a game that will be familiar to tactical players but which may require slightly different approaches to a combat problem. It sometimes took some pushing to get Mark to come around on a few ideas, and a few of them that he shot down were in hindsight, shot down for good reason. But overall, it gets away from CRT’s and threshold numbers and saving rolls and tries to streamline as many things as possible without sacrificing detail.
Mark: Not to mention trapezoidal admin counters that fit underneath units, and the ability to choose your type of attack and defense in assault combat.
Grant: What was the reason for making the game Platoon level? Any preference as to why?
Greg: Afraid I have no radical reasoning. It is a unit, distance and time scale that people are comfortable with.
Mark: Just enough grit without jamming the gun.
Grant: I see that the game has custom dice. How do these dice drive the combat? What are the hit probabilities of the different types of dice?
Greg: There are three basic dice, green, black and red. The symbols are “strikes” and “counter-strikes”. The green dice average .33 of either per roll (2 of each per die), the black dice are .83 (5 of each per die) and the red dice are 1.33 (8 of each per die). Effectively, each 2 dice upgrades gets you an extra strike.
The number of dice you roll is based on your attack vs. their defense. The type of dice you roll are modified by circumstance. So, if you have an attack of 8 against a defense of 4, you roll 4 black dice (black are the default). If you are at long range or they are under cover, some of your dice get downgraded. If you are at close range or they are being less cautious (say like using road movement), then you get a dice upgrade. If you roll 4 dice and have a +2 dice upgrade, you roll 2 black and 2 red dice, so you will probably do more strikes to the target than normal.
Grant: What types of counters does the game have? What about those beautiful tank counters? Tell us more. How do autonomous counters work? I’m just so excited…
Greg: That’s three questions on different topics. Bad interviewer, no cookie. Autonomous units have a simple set of rules they follow for moving and firing, and the player controlling the units simply gets to be the tiebreaker. So if the rules for movement give you a choice of going “this way” or “that way”, the player gets to choose. In effect, the player has partial control of the unit rather than absolute control.
Mark: Types? Tanks, IFVs, APCs, infantry, advanced infantry, drones, autonomous tanks, choppers, civilians, and more. The tank counters are beautiful. It’s 2017, you know. Can’t believe that some folks still use 1/2″ counters drawn by the kid down the block.
Grant: What are the different nationalities represented in the game? What is the pecking order among these factions?
Greg: It’s geared mostly towards the “locals” in the region and its history. In this case, most of the fighting will involve ISIL (Islamic State in the Levant) and its neighbors, which will include rebels and Israel, and with expansions, Jordan and Hezbollah, with US and Russian forces thrown in as allies, but not as the predominant forces.
Grant: I know the game uses blind chit pull to activate units. Why did you feel this was the preferred mechanism in ‘Geddon War? What part of the conflict does it help to portray thematically?
Greg: I’ve used it for years when playing Mark’s designs and I like the uncertainty it adds. The real world does not always go your way in terms of getting to do things when you want to do them.
Grant: Talk to us about Specialized attacks and defenses? What types of these elements are there and why did you include them in the design?
Greg: Attacks are color-coded as having a primary and secondary type, and are more effective in the primary role. For instance, tanks can shell infantry, but are better at shooting other tanks, so their primary firepower is anti-vehicle. Specialized attacks are probably better at the primary role (a higher damage rating), but are less effective against other targets. Specialized defenses give you a defense bonus, but only against specialized attacks. The simplest example would be that reactive armor tiles give you a bonus against ATGMs (a specialized anti-vehicle attack), but not against a solid penetrator (a normal anti-vehicle attack). You can tell a specialized attack or defense by the color of the number and the color of the background it is on. If they are the same, it is a specialized attack or defense.
Grant: How does technology effect combat? What modifiers does it offer? What does this element represent?
Greg: Technology and training give you dice upgrades if you are better than who you are shooting at, and downgrades if you are worse. A poorly trained and disciplined militia might have the same weapons as a better disciplined force, but a lower “tech” symbol. So, even though they may be using the same weapons, one is better than the other. A T-72B1 with a Russian crew will do better than a T-72M with an ISIL crew.
Grant: How does counter fire work? When should you choose it as an action? Under what circumstances would it not be a good idea to counter fire?
Greg: A previous question talked about the dice and “strikes” and “counter-strikes”. When you are attacked, if the attacker is in range of your firepower, you may a) retreat, b) take it or c) take it and shoot back. If you choose the latter option, the attacker gets a dice upgrade on the attack because you are sticking your snout out to shoot back…but the counter-strikes rolled on the dice can hurt the attacker. This means you can’t just roll out into the open and shoot at someone because it’s not their turn or they already used opportunity fire on someone else. If a platoon of ISIL T-72’s opens up on a platoon of US Abrams, odds are that by the time the T-72’s are done with shooting, they’re really done with shooting, if you know what I mean.
Reasons not to use counter-fire are if the attacker is too far away (you have no choice), or your chance of doing anything is not worth the dice upgrade you give the attacker. Sometimes you might be better doing the opposite of counter-fire. You can retreat to give the attacker a dice type downgrade, but you automatically withdraw from the hex as part of it.
Grant: What advanced rules are included in the game?
Greg: Well, it’s hard to call any of them “advanced”. There are simply rules that will be less commonly used. Like the “autonomous unit” rules.
Mark: In short, the game is pretty damn advanced as is. No real need for advanced rules.
Grant: What type of experience do you hope the players get from the game?
Greg: Fun. That and driving your enemies before you and hearing the lamentation of their women.
I also hope players watch a lot of the videos from the area. I think my all time favorite is an assault with tanks and APC’s on an urban position in a Syrian city. Tanks are shelling an apartment complex from a nearby freeway, BMP-2’s are backing up to buildings and letting out troops…and highway traffic is driving through this. Occasionally tanks will pause and swing their turrets to let a couple cars through, or people will just swing wide and drive around a BMP-2 that is bap-bap-bapping someone with its 23mm cannon. But this is not a war-torn city that is shut down because of the conflict. People need to get places and dammit that assault is going to make me late for my doctor’s appointment! It’s absolutely surreal. That’s one of the reasons civilians play a part in several scenarios as something you have to deal with.
Fair warning though. This is a war and a lot of the videos are much more real than surreal. For a lot of people out there, it’s not a game.
Grant: Who is the artist? That big beautiful tank on the rules cover is amazing!
Greg: Zack Smith for the cover. Shayne did the counters/map.
Grant: What has changed in the game throughout the playtest process? Please give a few specific examples.
Greg: The original design allowed for attacking units to attack multiple times, at decreasing levels of effect. The idea was that you could never say “aha, he can’t shoot at me!”, and then make combat-unrealistic moves and decisions. However, in practice what it meant was that people would park their best unit in the best position and just use that unit as many times as they could. So, while you can make several counter-attacks if shot at, you now only get one attack or opportunity fire per unit activation. This is not perfect, but it errs less than the original concept.
Another example is that the counter-fire mechanic was originally a separate die roll, but that doubled the number of dice rolled for any given turn and was a pain in the neck. Finding a way to do attack and counter-fire on one roll is what led me to play around with the idea of custom dice. So, I designed a batch up, 3D printed them and it worked!
Grant: What is the proposed timeline for the game? What stretch goals are included?
Mark: There are new stretch goals all the time. Formation cards, soon a complete expansion with a new mounted map, sheet of Hezbolah and Jordanian units and six scenarios. We have a lot more up our sleeve. How quickly we can get it out depends on the funded stretch goals. We have completed the base game, with the exception of perhaps 5% of the counters.
Thanks Mark and Greg for your time in answering our questions. I can honestly say that this game looks great and I am eagerly awaiting its release. Also, thanks for adding the Alone in the Apocalypse Solitaire Expansion, as many of us gamers like to play alone from time to time.
If you are interested in the Kickstarter campaign, please visit the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1408460255/armageddon-war-armored-combat-in-the-end-war/description