Legion Wargames has a lot of great looking games currently on their Customer Pre-Order (CPO) system. If you are unfamiliar with Legion, we interviewed Randy Lein earlier this year and he had some really interesting things to say about the business. Legion typically focuses on lesser known battles and conflicts but also do some bigger monster games as well. Currently on the CPO is this great looking game called Nemesis Burma 1944 covering the Japanese attack on Allied troops in the CBI Theater in 1944.
Grant: Kim, first off, tell us a little about yourself. What games do you play when not designing? What are your hobbies?
Kim: Designing steals a lot of my time and has become my hobby and trade. When I take the time and play something I usually try something new from my stack of unplayed games, or I pick some favourite like Combat Commander. Other games that I enjoy are Paths of Glory, Reds, SCS-system, to mention a few examples.
Grant: One of my personal favorites as well. Not many games better than Combat Commander. How did you get into design? What do you love most about it? What is something you dislike?
Kim: More than 12 years ago, I got the opportunity to test Olivier Clementin’s game that covered the French Indochina war in the north, using the OCS system. I believed the scale was too cumbersome, so I asked him if it was okay that I used his order of battle to construct something myself. This became Tonkin The First Indochina War 1950-1954 that was released by VaeVictis. I love the creative part of it. That is why I also develop my own games and do the graphics. Usually, it is a bad idea to do both design and development, but luckily, I have pulled it off. One thing I dislike is that the business is so small. There is really no money in it, so everyone involved is working more or less for free.
Grant: What is most important for a good designer to focus on in creating a game?
Kim: To create challenges for the players. One must never forget that it is a game. A game that is unplayable due to size and system, or unplayable due to being boring, is a failed game. The designer must create a game that is smooth to play, and fun to play until the very end, and offers constant tension and challenges that will keep player’s interest and focus high.
Grant: What designers have influenced your designs?
Kim: Many often refer to designers of the past. I think the golden age of wargames is now. Designers that I deeply respect for their ability to create something new are Chad and Kai Jensen, Carl Paradis, Volko Ruhnke, Ted Raicer, Dean Essig and Adam Starkweather.
Grant: I see where your Consimworld user name has the following quote under it: “Kim Kanger, the Quentin Tarantino of wargaming design”. What does this mean and what does it say about you?
Kim: I was very flattered when Alan Murphy called me that. I see it as a reference that describes my games as stylish and with high drama.
Kim: It covers the Japanese and Allied campaigns in northern Burma that took place between March and August 1944. You have basically four fronts. To the west where Japanese units attacked into the borderlands of British India. To the north US and Chinese troops under General Stilwell are pressing southwards. To the east into China you have numerous Chinese divisions trying to force out the Japanese division in front of them. In the centre, Japanese units and the British Chindit units are chasing each other.
Grant: Why did you feel you wanted to design a wargame on this topic?
Kim: Well, why not! 🙂 These campaigns offer such drama. The Japanese invested six regular divisions plus auxiliary units that equals two-three divisions. They were facing Allied forces that outnumbered them and still they managed to fight for five months with virtually no supply. In the end, the Japanese divisions were merely shadows of their former strength and even though they fought like maniacs, it became one of Japan’s biggest military defeats.
Grant: What is the units force structure? What are the difference between large units and small units?
Kim: The large ones are regiments and brigades. The small ones are battalions.
Grant: Take us through the anatomy of one of your counters. What do the various colors, colored headers, and symbols (including dots and stars) represent?
Kim: Dots and stars and coloured headers are just ways to show which units that belong to the same division. The two main numbers are strength and movement. A movement value that is red represents that it is motorized. The colour behind the units symbols shows you if they are normal units or whether they are support units or light troops. In the upper left corner is either a letter that indicates where on the map it is set up, or a number that indicates which game turn it will arrive. The most important number is the small one between the two main numbers. That is the quality number of the unit.
Grant: What are transporter units? What types are there and how does this relate to the history of the battle? I love the mules!
Kim: There were actually elephants used as well, but I had to draw the line somewhere. 🙂 Transporters are conveyors of supply. You have supply depots on the map with a range number in them. To extend the range, you create a “chain” of one or more transporters, each with a range number as well.
Grant: What are the two types of different Chinese forces and why is this included in the design? Do they operate differently?
Kim: The major difference in the Chinese units are that those under Stilwell were better trained and supplied compared to those that were in China. There are some different limitations with these two forces so one has to be able to differ them.
Grant: I like the different Zones of Controls for various units. How does this work and what does it represent?
Kim: ZoC has one purpose only. It prevents your opponent from doing an operation stretch – to move with a doubled movement value. You may not start or enter an enemy ZoC. Then again, a unit’s quality decides what kind of ZoC that unit has. A quality 3 has ZoC all around, regardless of terrain. Quality 2 has ZoC in adjacent hexes that are connected with the unit by road or track. Quality 1 has no ZoC at all. The differences in ZoC based on Quality is reflective of the troops ability to defend.
Grant: What are the Satisfaction and Lament tracks and how do they work? What did you hope to model with this element? How does it affect play?
Kim: If the game had a simple victory point system, then the Allies would win every time since they almost certainly will retake everything that Japan conquered plus some extra territory. I wanted a system where you will be rewarded the earlier you take something and the longer you control it. In short, satisfaction is awarded when you succeed in battle and when you take control of important sites. This will advance your Superior’s happiness. Then the Superior will lament over the amount of territory that your opponent controls and the amount of losses that you have suffered. So, the quicker, the easier, the longer, the better you play and control, the better it is. The longer the opponent keeps control of territory, the worse it is. So you have to balance this.
Grant: Please give us a rundown of the map, the area it covers, it’s scale as well as the various Off-Map Boxes and their purpose. Why did you decide to include the setup letters?
Kim: The map goes from Dimapur and Imphal in the west, to the Salween River and beyond in the east. From the Stilwell force in the north (approximately 50 miles north of Myitkyina) to a map edge that is around 60 miles north of Mandalay. Each hex is 10 miles, and each game turn is roughly two weeks. The Allies have an Off-Map Box which is a mid-stop for reinforcements. The setup letters on the map are there to facilitate setup. There are corresponding letters on the counters for ease of setup.
Grant: How does the terrain affect the game? Is this true to the history of the battle?
Kim: The terrain is mainly something that slows you down unless you are able to move along the roads and tracks, and paths for some units. Since supply range is measured in movement points, terrain therefore also has an impact on your supply range. Hills and mountains and major rivers will also affect combat.
Grant: How does the Allied Resources Scale work and what does it model in the design?
Kim: I have created a correlation between how many losses and important sites the Allies lose and how many resource points the Allies receive. Each reinforcement demands a resource point to be allowed to be moved from the off-map box to the map. So, the worse it goes for the Allies, the more reinforcements will be released, and vice versa.
Grant: How does the Monsoon affect gameplay?
Kim: There are two monsoons: Light monsoon and heavy monsoon. Both sides start to take attrition losses when the light monsoon starts. Minor rivers also become major rivers, and some Japanese supply depots are able to offer river supply. The amount of air support is decreased. When the heavy monsoon starts, the replacement rate goes down for both players (malaria) and the movement cost for all terrain doubles.
Grant: What is the game turn sequence and how does it work? Why did you decide to use the phase chit pulls and what element of the battle does this replicate?
Kim: Both players each have four phases: Assault (movement and “overrun”); Attack (a short move and attack); Supply Check; Reinforcements (+ replacements). Both players may choose their first chit/phase, which may not be the one that was last in the previous game turn. Then both players alternate drawing chits, Japan first. This way you will never know for sure what your next phase will be, and what your opponent’s next phase will be. I believe this depicts war more accurately where both sides (especially in this terrain and weather) were unable to know what and when the opponent did things, and were also unable to know when you yourself could do things and in what order. The exception was the main priority that you tried to emphasize on this “game turn”.
Grant: What are the different types of movement? How do units create Bunkers? How do Ambush markers affect movement?
Kim: You have normal movement based on your movement value. You have limited movement, which you will suffer if the unit in question does not have full supply. This means it will pay the full cost of the terrain in each hex (no benefit from roads, tracks or paths). In both cases, a unit can do an operational stretch which, as described earlier, will double your movement value if you don’t start or enter an enemy ZoC. A unit can create a Bunker if it does not move during the Assault Phase. The Japanese can place a certain number of Ambush markers adjacent to their units during the Assault Phase. An Ambush will cost a +1 movement point for the Allies to enter (which is much more important than what it sounds like). Allies may not enter an Ambush when doing an operational stretch or retreat into one.
Grant: What is Allied Air Movement? How does Rail Movement work?
Kim: The Allies can move a few units from airfield (including one in the Off-Map Box) to airfield. Both sides can move along their own railway. For the Allies, this includes rail movement from Dimpaur to the Stilwell front. All this takes place during the reinforcement phase.
Grant: Please take us through an example of combat so we can get a feel for how it works.
Kim: I have something that I call flexible combat. I have divided a combat into two: The first is the actual contact with possible combat losses. The second is the possible invasion of the defending hex. Both sides choose a main unit each to supply a quality value. It will give the side that produces the better quality a number of column shifts equal to the difference between the two units. You roll on the combat table. After both sides have removed any step losses, both sides once again choose a unit each. The attacker now decides whether to enforce the retreat with the chosen unit (if an “r” / “R” was received in the combat result). If the attacker does so, the attacker pays with a number of step losses equal to the difference in quality between the two units (but only if the attacker has a lesser quality). Now the defender can either retreat or refuse. If the defender refuses, then a step loss is taken plus the difference in quality (if the defender has a lesser quality). Through this, you can first have attritional combat and then decide if you wish to take the hex. The defender can then decide whether to retreat or to stay. All this as long as you have the will and the necessary steps.
Grant: What does the CRT look like and what are the various types of combat results?
Kim: Step losses, usually for both sides, and often combined with Retreat (r) result. See the previous answer.
Grant: How does Massive Combat work and how is it best used? How do Banzai attacks work?
Kim: Massive combat can be declared when you have at least eight participating steps involved but still no more than 3:1 in odds. A lot of troops and no-one is clearly superior. Then both sides will take an extra step loss. The Japanese can declare a Banzai in both attack and defense. The Japanese will then get a +/-1 DRM in their favour. The downside is that any losses are permanent losses and may not be replaced (and this is an important feature in the game. The Japanese army will run out if tempted to use Banzai too often).
These counters are DRAFT only for playtesting purposes and are not yet finalized.
Grant: How does supply differ in this design from other war games? What are the differences from full supply, limited and out of supply and what effects do they have on units?
Kim: Your supply is only checked when your Supply Check chit is drawn. Full supply is when you can trace supply, which gives you full strength in attack and defense. Limited supply is when you can only trace river supply (Japanese only) or if you trace supply through the “wrong channels”, which gives you half strength in attack but full in defense. Out of supply is exactly that, which gives you half strength in both attack and defense. Out of supply will also make you suffer attrition step losses. The lower the quality, the quicker the losses come. Units in limited or out of supply may not conduct assault combat, only combat during attack phases.
Grant: What are the Chindits and Galahad units and what makes them special?
Kim: They are never out of supply. They will always be in limited supply (unless in full supply, of course). [Editor’s Note: The Chindits, known officially as the Long Range Penetration Groups, were special operations units of the British and Indian armies, which saw action in 1943–1944, during the Burma Campaign. The creation of British Army Brigadier Orde Charles Wingate, the Chindits were formed for raiding operations against the Imperial Japanese Army, especially long-range penetration: attacking Japanese troops, facilities and lines of communication, deep behind Japanese lines. Their operations were marked by prolonged marches through extremely difficult terrain, by underfed troops often weakened by diseases such as malaria and dysentery. So, basically these guys were tough as nails! Also, Merrill’s Marauders (named after Frank Merrill) or Unit Galahad, officially named the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), was a United States Army long range penetration special operations jungle warfare unit, which fought in the China-Burma-India Theater (CBI). The unit became famous for its deep-penetration missions behind Japanese lines, often engaging Japanese forces superior in number.]
Grant: How does the Reinforcements Phase work? What is different from the Allied to the Japanese process?
Kim: The Japanese will just receive their reinforcements, while the Allies will receive all their reinforcements to the Off-Map Box. From there, the Allied played has to release units depending on how many resource points that are spent.
Grant: How does the Report to your Superior portion of the End of Game Turn Work? Why did you feel you needed to include this in the design?
Kim: That is moment when you try to make your Superior happy based on what you have achieved during the game turn, while the Superior laments on how much the opponent still controls on the map.
Grant: How is victory achieved?
Kim: Either in instant defeat (your Superior hits “9” and the opponent’s hits “0”), which is a very rare occurrence, or who has the happiest Superior on game turn 10.
Grant: What are you most proud of in this design?
Kim: Well…two things perhaps: The balance between the Satisfaction and Lament element, and all things that comes with the quality value (ZoC, operational stretch, combat, attrition).
Grant: What has changed through the playtest process? Please give specific examples.
Kim: So many changes are done all the time. I have done more than thirty updates of the rules and I expect to do another ten at least before I’m satisfied. The main issue is balance. You can’t have a situation where both players see already at mid-session who is the winner. There must be a fine balance that will hold onto the tension until the very end. Then again, this is a system where it is possible to make mistakes like in chess. You make a move that seems harmless and suddenly your opponent gets an opportunity to stab you. You must play well all the time to survive.
Grant: What is the timeline for the release of the game?
Kim: I hope and strive to get this game at everyone’s table by the end of September, which means, considering the time it takes to produce a game, that the first components, like the counter sheets, must be handed over for production already in June.
Grant: What has it been like working with Legion Wargames?
Kim: Randy Lein and I have worked together for a long time, even before Legion Wargames was founded, so I know him well. Randy has the magical ability to be a one-man show while giving you the impression that he has a big professional staff. He has succeeded in keeping a very high component quality in everything that Legion releases. So, I trust him completely.
Grant: What other projects are you working on at this time?
Kim: I have another game for preorder at Legion: Heart of Darkness, which is a game of adventure in 19th century Africa. It is in the spirit of the old classic Avalon Hill game: Source of the Nile (but with a different system).
Thanks for your time Kim. I am very excited about this game and love a good game that has different scoring elements, such as the Superior Satisfaction and Lament. I look forward to playing it later this year. If you are interested in the game, you can find it at the following CPO order link on the Legion Wargames website: http://www.legionwargames.com/legion_NEM.html