While looking through the Wargamers Facebook group about a month ago, I came across some information from designer Ty Bomba on a new game he was designing for inclusion in CounterFact Magazine Issue #6 from One Small Step Games called 1938: What If? The game was described as an alternate history game where the players control the forces of Germany opposed by the Czechoslovakians and backed by the Soviets in Operation Green, which supposes that the Munich Diktat was refused and war broke out in the Sudetenland. I reached out to Ty and he graciously accepted (and even reminded me about) an interview to discuss the game.
Grant: What does 1938: What If? focus on as far as history?
Ty: It allows one or two players to model the war that likely would’ve broken out across Central-Eastern Europe in the autumn of 1938 had the Czechoslovakians refused the go along with the “Munich Diktat.” That deal had been agreed to among Germany, France, Britain and Italy, and gave away the Czech Sudetenland border zone to Germany. All of that was agreed to by those powers without any reference to the Czechoslovakian government.
Grant: As is the case in many wars, a simple breakdown in communication. Had Czechoslovakia resisted the Germans and the Soviets came to their aid would this have led to World War II much earlier? I guess that is what this game is exploring.
Ty: We know now the governments of the Dominions (Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) had informed British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain there were no circumstances under which they were prepared to go to war over Czechoslovakia. In turn, there was no way Chamberlain was going to take Britain itself into any war the Dominions wouldn’t support. In turn, there was no way France was going into any war against Germany without British help. That meant, had the Czechoslovakians decided to fight, as their own military and populace were heavily in favor of doing, the initial campaign of this war would’ve been restricted to Central-Eastern Europe. The Soviets were pledged to move to support Prague, which would’ve necessitated the Red Army crossing through southeastern Poland, which would’ve brought Warsaw into the war as at least a “cobelligerent” of Germany if not an outright ally. Hungary would likely have come in on Germany’s side in order to be able to get southwestern Slovakia.
Grant: What do you like most about designing these alternate history games?
Ty: They let you escape from the historic scripting inherent in straight-up designs of that type. The essence of true generalship is commanding in situations in which you don’t know what’s going to happen next. When you have a historical script to follow, all that goes out the window.
Grant: Well said. I understand the design uses a variable non-linear Turn Sequence. How does the Turn Sequence work and what factors can change the sequence?
Ty: There are five national armed forces in the game, those include Germany, the USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. The order in which they move and fight (or fight and move) is generally determined by blind chit draws. That models the fact all those armed forces would’ve been launching into a major war “flat footed” from their years-old peacetime routines. Under such circumstances, no one would’ve had a clear understanding of what was expected or actually possible. Therefore planning has to take into account a large dose of chaos. An important exception, though, is represented by the Germans. That player is allowed to interject the his force’s movement and combat phases at any time in the overall game turn he chooses. That represents the overall German command-control superiority over their opponents during the first half of the historic World War II.
Grant: What are the force compositions of the units involved?
Ty: All the ground forces involved are represented by their historic orders of battle from the fourth-quarter of 1938. That’s done at corps-level all around, except for the German strategic reserve, which consisted of eight weak infantry divisions. The air forces are abstracted, but those abstractions are also based on a quantification of their performance during the early phase of the historic world war.
Grant: Is there any special considerations you have to the starting setup of each sides units?
Ty: The Poles had a rigid mobilization scheme, so their corps are all initially set up in their historic headquarters cities. All the others are set up pretty much anywhere within their respective national territories, based on player choice.
Grant: What does the map look like and what area does it cover? Who is the artist?
Ty: The map was done by Ania B. Ziolkowska. At 20 miles (32.5 km) per hex, it covers all of Czechoslovakia and Poland and the surrounding areas of eastern and southeastern Germany, northeast to Lithuania, south to Budapest, and east to the border of the Soviet Ukraine.
Grant: How is victory achieved for both sides? What are the sudden death victory conditions and why can it end in this manner?
Ty: The German is attempting to crush Czechoslovakia as quickly as possible, while also preventing the overrunning of Poland and/or East Prussia by the Red Army advancing from the east. So, by the end of the game, he has to have taken at least four (out of five) Czechoslovakian cities while keeping the Poles in possession of Warsaw and at least four other cities in that country. If, at any time, the Czechoslovakian/Soviet player gains control of any one German city, the game ends at that moment with him the victor. That sudden death condition is meant to reflect the fact Hitler was on thin strategic ice here: he has to win the war definitively or he’s overthrown in a military coup.
Grant: What is the Little Entente Invasion of Southern Hungary?
Ty: The Yugoslavs and Romanians were allies of the Czechoslovakians in 1938. Those countries are off the southern edge of the map but, if they invade southern Hungary, the German player has to move forces (German or Hungarian) off the south edge of the map to meet that threat.
Grant: How are the German Strategic Reserve used?
Ty: The Germans had eight second-line infantry divisions in an officially designated “strategic reserve” at this time. They were to operate only inside Germany as a last-gasp force to try to turn back any unexpected emergency.
Grant: How does the Air Superiority Phase work? What are the effects of air power?
Ty: The Germans have the best single air force in the game, but it’s not strong enough to guarantee overall air superiority. So, based on a comparative die roll each turn, either side may have airpower markers available to deploy on the map. Those markers slow enemy movement and grant combat bonuses to friendly forces within their one-hex ranges.
Grant: What are the restrictions on Polish and Hungarian Areas of Operation? What does this simulate from history?
Ty: Those minor-power armed forces weren’t logistically prepared to operate far outside their own countries at this time. So this rule restricts their ground and air forces to operations within and adjacent to their historic borders.
Grant: Why is stacking allowed only by nationality?
Ty: This would’ve been a come-as-you-are war. That is, there were no ‘joint force headquarters’ set up to closely coordinate operations among allied or cobelligerent nations’ armed forces. So, essentially, each nation runs its own operations.
Grant: Anything special or different about your use of supply? What is attenuated supply and what effects does it have on units?
Ty: All units of all nations are automatically supplied inside their own countries. That represents the fact that, during this initial campaign, they would all have been operating, when at home, from nearby magazines and depots. At the same time, though, those stockpiles weren’t large by wartime standards; so, late in the game the chances are (by die roll) even units with otherwise functioning supply lines will actually be out of supply. There’s simply nothing more to put into the pipeline to send to them.
Grant: Is there anything unique about the CRT used?
Ty: The combat results are entirely via step losses; there are no retreat results. That’s to reflect the fact, again, that everyone here is coming off long peacetime periods and they are therefore relatively brittle in terms of their operational and tactical choices.
Grant: What different types of fortifications are there and how do they effect combat? Can they be removed?
Ty: The historic Czechoslovakian fortification lines – both the ones along the border and across the interior of Bohemia – are fully represented in two broad categories, regular and heavy. They grant odds shifts, and mechanized-class units may only attack into them suffering further combat strength reductions. They can be taken, but it’s not easy work for the attacker.
Grant: How does German Terror Bombing work?
Ty: The German player may use this technique, once per game, to try to enhance the combat power of an attack into a city. There’s a chance it may backfire on him, though, which then generates a combat strength enhancement to the defender.
Grant: How does the German 7th Flieger Division come into play?
Ty: It may be used to enhance the combat power of any one German attack throughout the game. The division, if used in that way, is always destroyed.
Grant: What has been the response of playtesters and what parts of the design were their favorite?
Ty: Everyone enjoyed themselves immensely. The verdict was the campaigning could go in several different directions, and the victory conditions are almost always tight and uncertain to the very end of play.
Grant: Where will the game be released and when?
Ty: It’s the issue game in CounterFact Magazine #6, which is even now (early August 2017) going into the mail.
Grant: Is there a different process you use when designing a game for a magazine versus boxed?
Ty: No – I bring the same outlooks and approaches to both types of design. The only difference comes from the fact magazine games generally have a more strict component-size limit than boxed games. I get around that by selecting map and counter scales that will fit in the format.
As was mentioned by Ty, this game and magazine is shipping and can still be purchased from the One Small Step Games website at the following link: http://ossgamescart.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=5&products_id=100