I have a supporter on Twitter that always is feeding me suggestions for who to interview. Recently, he sent me information about At All Costs! from designer Tim Taylor and I jumped at the chance and reached out to him. I have a growing fascination with wargames covering World War I, recently having played and reviewed Fields of Despair: France 1914-1918 from GMT Games. So, when I saw At All Costs!, I was hooked.
At All Costs! is a strategic level wargame of World War I covering all aspects of the Eastern Front. At All Costs! is a card driven game that uses cards to allow units to fight, take replacements and affect the course of the game with key technological, military, and political events. Players alternate playing cards and moving pieces. The game sequence is very interactive, with NO down time waiting for the other player to take his turn. The combat system has both players rolling dice in each combat.
***Traditionally, I try to include many pictures of components, cards, the mapboard, as well as art from a game that I am doing an interview for, but At All Costs! currently is in the early stages of art, so all that was available is a mocked draft cover art (I think it looks really good!) and a PDF copy of the rules that was downloaded from Board Game Geek. All text used is from the most recent draft of the rules but is subject to change.***
Grant: Tim, thanks for your time in answering these questions about your upcoming game At All Costs! The Great War in the East. First off, tell us a little about yourself. How did you get into board game design?
Tim: You know, I’ve never really thought about it before. I guess I first got the designing bug when I read the wonderful ‘Pieces of PanzerBlitz’ article in a 1975 Avalon Hill GENERAL. In that same issue was the variant ‘ParaBlitz’ which added paratroops to the game. That started me tinkering, adding my own variant units to PanzerBlitz (e.g., Pzkw I, Pzkw II, T-26, and so on). That inveterate tinkering eventually progressed to the point where I would change major aspects of some games’ rules to accommodate my own personal tastes. The next step of actually designing games came quite naturally.
Grant: What games do you play when you aren’t designing?
Tim: A pretty eclectic mix, really. In addition to some time-travel roleplaying, recently I’ve played T.I.M.E Stories, Kingdomino, Hands in the Sea, Acquire, 1775 Rebellion, Tales of the Arabian Nights, Race for the Galaxy, Thebes, Innovation, Tsuro, and WizWar. Just today, I played Mark Herman’s South Pacific: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier, so I’m all over the place.
Grant: Why do you go by Herr Niemand on BGG? There has to be a story there.
Grant Morrison’s DOOM PATROL story ‘The Painting That Ate Paris’ is one of my favorite comics; the main villain in the story is a notional being called Herr Niemand. That, plus I have had a hand in designing, developing, and playtesting many wargames over the last third of a century, but you’d never know it because I so seldom receive any credit for my work. Hence the appellation, Mr. Nobody seems entirely apropos.
Grant: What do you love most about design?
Tim: Making something that others can enjoy is cool.
Grant: What is your greatest challenge?
Tim: Writing rules that are both concise and comprehensive.
Grant: What games or designers have influenced your designs?
Tim: Wow, this is a big question! For the sake of brevity I’ll just hit the highlights. During my formative years both Jim Dunnigan (1914 and World War 1) and Richard Hamblen (Fortress Europa, Starship Troopers, and Merchant of Venus) had a big impact on me. More recently, I find I enjoy the games of Bruno Faidutti (Ad Astra) and Bruno Cathala (Cyclades), especially when the mighty Brunos collaborate (Mission: Red Planet and Raptor). But the designer who’s had the greatest influence on me has got to be Craig Besinque (Rommel in the Desert, EastFront, Triumph & Tragedy) if only because I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with this gentleman extensively over the past 25 years.
Grant: I too enjoy the games of Bruno Cathala including Cyclades, such a great bidding game with combat, and my personal favorite of his, Five Tribes: The Djinn of Naqala. Enough of that. What is your design philosophy?
Tim: Like Salvador Dali said, “I am a simple man; I don’t like complications.” For this reason, I try to simplify rules to the point where players can focus on actually playing the game rather than leafing through the rules. I want to present players with the sort of situations and decisions their historical counterparts had to face. This allows players to understand why military leaders did what they did (ideally). I call this Design for Experience, as opposed to Design for Effect or Design for Cause. See my articles in BATTLES #7 and WARDIARY vol. 3 #2 if you want to know more.
Grant: How did you come to be connected with Hollandspiele?
Tim: Mary and Tom simply asked if I had any designs I was working on and I said “Yes.”
Grant: Why are you interested in World War I? What about this war has led you to design two games on the subject?
Tim: Perhaps it’s because I had relatives fighting on both sides in that war. Perhaps it’s that the first wargame I ever bought with my own money was Avalon Hill’s 1914. Perhaps it’s that, even as a lad, I realized la Guerre mondiale shaped our modern world.
Grant: What do you feel are the main areas of focus to include in a game about WWI? What absolutely cannot be left out? What experience do you want players to have?
Tim: Presumably you mean in a strategic level game like AAC!. The question of “why” things turned out as they did must be answered, even if that leads to an alternate outcome for the war. I guess what really perplexes people most is why the slaughter had to continue for so long. Why didn’t the Entente Cordiale and the Central Powers simply come to the peace table after the mass casualties coupled with stalemate occurred? I think it’s important for players to want to continue prosecuting the war rather than sue for peace so they can experience that deadly dynamic for themselves.
Operational, grand tactical, and tactical wargame experiences will vary depending on the game’s design focus.
Grant: You have designed another game on WWI in the West called To the Last Man! How does that design compare to At All Costs!?
Tim: At All Costs! is the eastern front companion game to TTLM!. Both games use the same rules and link up to provide a grand strategic game of World War 1.
Grant: Did having designed TTLM! make AAC! easier? Or was it more difficult?
Tim: Incredibly easier. In a way, most of the work on AAC! was done years ago. So no need to focus on whether or not the rules work. Just set up scenarios based on research books, do a little balance playtesting, and Bob’s Your Uncle. You can read more about it in WARDIARY vol. 3 #2.
Grant: What has player comment been about the game, it’s system and the theme?
Tim: Seems quite polarizing. Some think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, while others despise the game (see David Hughes’ review in BATTLES #10). When TTLM! was released as an open source free download in 2009, consensus was that the rules were way too chatty and repetitious. That feedback inspired me to release a revised rule book a year later on BGG. I address this more fully in WARDIARY vol. 3 #2.
Grant: Can you show us the map. Who is the artist? What role does a well-designed map play in a Wargame?
Tim: Early days still. Hollandspiele has not yet determined who the artist will be (to my knowledge), so component graphics have not been finalized (or even existent). A well-designed map enhances a player’s experience, so I’d say it’s at least somewhat important. True, I have seen good games that overcame their garish graphics, but they’re uncommon. On the other hand, a poorly designed map, which actually impedes or inhibits play, can ruin an otherwise fine game.
Grant: How are cards in the game used? What do these cards represent?
Tim: Cards in hand represent a nation’s aggregate economic force (men & matériel) in this game of total war. Cards can be discarded in lieu of losing a unit (Ersatz), they can be used to enhance or degrade some unit abilities (e.g., Poison Gas, Surprise Attack), and they may be played to initiate an Offensive. Every card can be played as an Ersatz, so there are no useless cards.
Grant: As in life, each player’s resources are limited, so players often will not be able to launch large offensives every turn. How does this dynamic effect gameplay? Are there a lot of “wasted turns” building up resources?
Tim: To move all units and conduct combat the player must play an Offensive card. Not playing an Offensive is called Passing, which allows the player to move one unit, but no combat is permitted. When both players Pass consecutively, that means the Seasonal Turn ends. This ‘impulse’ system allows Seasons featuring lots of action like Summer 1914 to go back and forth many times while “all quiet on the western front” kinds of Seasonal Turns are over in a snap. There is no wasted time. Again I cover this more fully in WARDIARY vol. 3 #2.
Grant: What different type of military units are used? What benefits do each type provide? What can be purchased and what are their costs?
Tim: Every unit costs 1 Build Point, except for Tanks and Stoßtruppen, which each cost 2 BPs. Only units currently available may be built. For example, Biplanes can only be bought in 1916 and thereafter.
• Infantry is naturally the foundation of any army: may Entrench for increased defensive firepower
• Stoßtruppen is considered Infantry: may cause enemy to retreat, costs 2 BPs
• Russian Imperial Guard is considered Infantry: replaced with Infantry when taken as loss, costs 2BPs
• Cavalry is an Auxiliary unit only useful in defense: may move two areas instead of one
• Artillery is an Auxiliary unit: fires twice when attacking
• Siege Guns is a German-only Auxiliary unit good at attacking Forts: fires twice when attacking
• Biplanes is an Auxiliary unit: may move two areas instead of one, other special abilities
• Tanks is an Auxiliary unit: may cause enemy to retreat, costs 2 BPs
• The Paris Gun is a German-only Auxiliary unit: Entente loses a VP when near to Paris
• Fort units are immobile: good on defense, cannot be rebuilt.
— and finally —
• An Army counts as only one unit: may contain from 2–10 of the above units (varies with nation)
Grant: How are Armies rebuilt?
Tim: Eliminated Armies cost 1 BP to rebuild and arrive empty.
Grant: What are Army Templates and how do they aid in gameplay?
Tim: Army Templates are off-map displays showing the contents of the corresponding on-board Army unit. When using the advanced rules, these templates are hidden from your opponent until the moment of combat. This helps convey fog of war.
Grant: How does combat work?
Tim: An Offensive card must be played to declare any battles. Limited Offensives allow for only 1–3 battles. The Offensive player declares the battle(s) after moving all desired units. Battles are resolved one at a time. Players roll one die for every unit they have in the battle, hitting on a 1–3 depending on the unit firing. Each battle starts off with a Dogfight Phase where opposing Biplanes fire, then the Offensive Artillery Fire Phase, followed by Defensive Fire Phase where all defending units roll dice (and any losses must be paid immediately by the attacker), next the Offensive Fire Phase where all surviving attacking units roll dice (losses must likewise be paid), finally with combat ended, both players may retreat unit(s) to one adjacent area. If both players still have units in the area it remains a Disputed area.
Grant: How do Ersatz cards work in hit resolution?
Tim: Instead of eliminating a unit to pay for the loss you can play an Ersatz card. Some cards are Ersatz 2 and can be used to cover two lost units. Losing cards instead of units on the board is a big part of the Hand Management aspect of TTLM!/AAC!.
Grant: What cards can be played to enhance an attack or defense?
Tim: Poison Gas and Advanced Artillery Barrage improve Artillery fire. Bad Weather can negate those cards as well as ground Biplanes. Some cards in AAC! even allow for the defender to counter-attack!
Grant: How is a Surprise Attack different than regular attacks?
Tim: Surprise Attack allows the Offensive player to roll first, but at the cost of losing the initial Artillery attack.
Grant: How do Biplanes work in combat? What about dogfighting?
Tim: If your Biplane faces your opponent’s Biplane in a battle there will be a Dogfight; all Biplanes fire only at each other. If Biplanes are unopposed, they can roll dice or even cause your opponent to re-roll hits!
Grant: How are units upgraded to Stoßtruppen?
Tim: German Infantry on the board can be upgraded to Stoßtruppen by spending 1 BP and replacing it. Only possible in 1917 and thereafter.
Grant: How do Forts and entrenchments work?
Tim: Forts defend with F2 firepower (cannot attack obviously) meaning that for each Fort strength point the player rolls a die inflicting a hit on a 1 or a 2. Entrenched Infantry similarly fire F2 defensively.
Grant: How does Retreat work?
Tim: There are actually three types of retreat in AAC!. Cavalry may retreat before a battle begins. The defending player may retreat unit(s) instead of rolling for them thereby avoiding the Offensive Fire Phase. Lastly, being a modern military force, German units may retreat at the end of the battle.
Grant: How is movement handled in the design?
Tim: I think it was Jim Dunnigan who once said, “Always provide the illusion of movement.” This is especially important when dealing with a static front. Playing an Offensive allows movement of all units, but most units only move one area (Cavalry and Biplanes move two areas). You can move from friendly area to enemy or disputed areas, and from disputed areas to other disputed or friendly areas.
Grant: Why do you feel Point-to-Point movement is often used in designs for WWI? What specific thematic element does this address?
Tim: Point-to-Point movement is functionally identical to area movement, as I’m sure you know. I chose to use areas for both ergonomic and aesthetic reasons instead. And thematically, it must be a way to easily simulate trenchlines limiting any advance. Often these ‘Points’ or loci sport the names of major battles providing some historical color.
Grant: How do rail linked areas change movement?
Tim: In TTLM!, all areas are connected to adjacent areas by rail lines. This allows units to move three areas if they travel only from/through/to friendly areas, which can be quite handy. In AAC!, only Germany is considered sufficiently crisscrossed with rail lines. Austria-Hungary and Russia have skeletal rail systems, both empires relying on railroads to provide supply. This lack of proper supply limits what can be achieved on the Eastern Front as in history.
Grant: What is strategic redeployment and how does it work?
Tim: This only applies to AAC! because the map represents such a vast area. A player may remove a unit from the board and place it off-map. The following Seasonal Turn this unit arrives as if it were a reinforcement. This allows for redeployment even if you no longer have any Offensive cards.
Grant: How does the Production Phase play out? What determines the number of Build Points each player receives?
Tim: Since the front is for the most part static, BPs don’t fluctuate much due to loss of industry. The needs of other fronts and effects of blockade modify BPs according to the turn schedule.
Grant: What are historical rules 14.2 and 14.3 and why were these included?
Tim: Basically, they’re historical chrome that makes the game more of a simulation. In TTLM!, these rules concern the invasion of Belgium (14.2) and how US units may arrive earlier than expected (14.3). In AAC!, they detail the poor coordination between Germany and Austria-Hungary as well as German military advantages (14.2), while the corresponding Russian rules limit where units may be built (14.3). These rules add historical flavor without too much added complexity.
Grant: How are Victory points determined? How do blockades effect the game and how do they effect VPs?
Tim: Certain areas are worth VPs when German-friendly. VP Total determines who’s currently winning. Usually, it’ll be stalemate. Blockades reduce VPs, growing increasingly dire over the years.
Grant: What is a Military Crisis and how does it effect VPs?
Tim: There are two Military Crisis cards, one Entente and one German. Play of these cards means your opponent faces an imminent military defeat in an off-map theatre (e.g., Tannenberg, Gallipoli, Caporetto, etc,). Your opponent must send forces to this other front; failure to address this military defeat results in a VP lost. These cards represent other fronts that aren’t represented in the game (yet).
Grant: Speaking of Off-map Boxes, what boxes are included in the design? Why did you choose to represent these abstractly? How can units here gain players victory Points?
Tim: Where TTLM! had only the Eastern Front Transit Box, At All Costs! has the Western Front Transit Box, Italian Front Transit Box, Balkan Front Transit Box, Caucasus Front Transit Box, and the Moscow Box. In each Off-map Box, one player can place units. If sufficient units are allocated to a Box, VP is adjusted accordingly.
Grant: What are the different scenarios? What is different about the 1918 scenario?
Tim: Like TTLM!, AAC! has scenarios starting in Summer 1914, Spring 1915, Spring 1916, or Spring 1917. A hypothetical 1918 scenario presupposes the Tsar is still in command.
Grant: Typically, how long does a scenario take to play?
Tim: Depends on the scenario. 1914 is 3–4 hours, 1917 might take just an hour.
Grant: How can TTLM! and AAC! be played together? How do the games jibe as they are from different publishers?
Tim: The two games are meant to be played separately as well as together. So each game contains all components necessary to play. Yet both games are linked by their respective Front Transit Boxes. Rather than physically moving a unit from one front to the other, it’s removed and an appropriate unit is introduced to the other map’s Transit Box. BPs can be shuffled around too, if you play both games.
Grant: What are you most proud of in the design?
Tim: That people have fun playing it. That’s been the goal all along.
Grant: What things are you hoping to still fine tune through play testing?
Tim: Well as far as AAC! is concerned, it’s just balance testing. Do the new special rules work? Are the scenarios fun? That sort of thing.
Grant: What other projects do you currently have in the works?
Tim: Mary [with Hollandspiele] told me, “One thing at a time.” So for right now, I’m focused on AAC!. Still I have half a dozen other games lurking in the mud, waiting to hatch out.
Tim, thanks for your time in answering my torturous questions. Also, thanks for editing my questions before you answered. I liked your changes and will try to incorporate those into future interviews on other games. As there is no timeline set for this game at this time, you will simply have to stay up to date on its progress by visiting Hollandspiele’s wonderful site at https://hollandspiele.com/