Dunkirk is one of those events that has a couple of games made about it, or features in early World War II in Europe games, but is still one of those topics that I would consider unique and also rarely utilized as a standalone game. Dunkirk: France 1940 was successfully funded through Kickstarter this year and will be on tables getting played soon. The designer, Doug Bryant, was gracious enough to discuss the game and give some insight as to what the game offers.
As always, the artwork in this article is from pre-production and is not necessarily the final artwork of the game.

Alexander: Hi Doug, I know you’ve been designing Dunkirk for more than two years now but outside of your game design what do you enjoy doing? Who is Doug Bryant?

Doug: First, thank you to The Player’s Aid for your interest in my game! I am deeply appreciative! As for me, my hobbies outside of gaming include reading, playing ice hockey, and (most importantly) spending time with my family and friends. For my work, I am an administrator at a public high school.

Alexander: What are your favourite wargames you personally like to play and why?

Doug: I enjoy a variety of wargames. Among some of my favorite titles / series are: the Holdfast! and Band of Brothers series from Worthington; the Conflict of Heroes series from Academy Games; EastFront and Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign from Columbia Games (as well as Slapshot!, too!); and Fire in the Sky from MMP. There are others, as well, but that list gives a general idea of the type of game that I prefer: low rules overhead, interesting decisions, and a relatively quick playing time. (Admittedly, EastFront might not meet that last criteria, but I enjoy how it packs a lot of decisions and detail into a fairly low-intensity rules system.)

Alexander: What is your favourite thing about designing a war game?

Doug: I think it is the challenge of trying to create something. In addition, I hope that players will enjoy the game and think it is good. The idea that I could create something that could (hopefully) bring enjoyment to other people is pretty neat! I will keep my fingers crossed that my game does so!

Alexander: Is there anything in particular that made you want to design a game about Dunkirk?

Doug: I got into wargaming at about the age of 13 due to my oldest brother. He was 12 years older than me, so I was always too little to play sports with/against him (and my other brother). Wargames provided a chance for him to teach me some history and also give us a chance to have some brotherly competition. (Of course, unsurprisingly, he beat the stuffing out me at everything we played for a number of years until I learned how to play wargames with any competence!) The games we played were some of the old Avalon Hill classics: Luftwaffe, Tobruk (the first scenario with the Grant tanks), War at Sea, Kriegspiel, and France: 1940.

dunkirk box artwork

Playing France: 1940 introduced me to the events of that campaign and sparked my curiosity / interest in those events. I always wondered how it was that the Germans were able to steamroll the combined French-British forces? The more I read about the history as I grew older, I always felt that the historical outcome did not necessarily “have to be” and that, accordingly, a playable wargame in which the Allies could push back a bit against the Germans might be possible.

It took me several decades to challenge myself to create that type of game. I think one of the factors that pushed me to finally give it a try was that I lost both of my brothers in 2012. Part of me thinks they would have gotten a kick out of seeing me design a wargame and have it published. I will never know for certain, but I think they might have liked that…

Alexander: What challenges did you come across in designing the game?

Doug: Too many to list! LOL I will apologize for the length of this answer, but there were so many “tricky” areas that came up as I worked on the game. Here is a sample:

* HOW TO SIMULATE THE PACE / FLOW OF THE GERMAN OFFENSIVE AND THE “DELAYED” RESPONSE OF THE ALLIED FORCES? I did a lot of thinking about how I was going to “regulate” the pace of the German offensive, while also simulating the delay in Allied response (due to the surprise of the German attack). Early on in the design process, I came up with the idea of grouping the blocks for the two sides into “Formations”. This allowed me to “freeze” sections of the Allied force pool in place during the first turn of the game, while also allowing me to simulate the manner in which the Germans divided their forces. The “Formations” mechanism (which, one can easily see, was influenced by such games as Panzer Command, A Victory Lost, and the LNL Nations at War series) also enabled me to simulate the early speed of the German offensive by providing the German formations with TWO command chits for Game Turns 1 and 2. Those formations can cover a lot of ground early in the game (and often NEED to do so!), but then “slow down” for the last four game turns, simulating logistical lag, normal operational pace reduction as an advance continues, etc.

allied coutners

* HOW TO INCORPORATE AIR POWER, REINFORCEMENTS, AND HISTORICAL EVENTS (SUCH AS OPERATION DYNAMO)? The game needed, obviously, to include each of those things. I really struggled for a while coming up with a way to incorporate them all. At one point, I used a “Reinforcement Chart”, which had a fixed number of infantry and/or mech-armor steps for each side each turn. However, in practice, that felt arbitrary. In addition, I could not figure out how to add historical events like the Dunkirk evacuation or the German paratroop assault on Eben Emael. Then, there was the challenge of Air Power. An early version of the game has Air Unit blocks. But that was unwieldy, too.

What occurred to me was to make use of the “card-enhanced” mechanic — in other words, have player cards where each card can perform multiple functions. I decided to put the Air Power, Reinforcements, and Historical / Possible Events onto the cards. When I did so, I also realized that I could add additional “un-predictability” to the game, as players do not know what types of cards they might draw, and do not know how the opponent will use the cards that he/she has received.

GERMAN coutners

* HOW TO KEEP THE GAME FROM SIMPLY REPEATING HISTORY EVERY TIME? I had always believed that the 1940 campaign was not “pre-ordained” to have the result that it did. Actually, for all we know, the real-life result may have been what we in gaming call a “statistical outlier” — meaning that if the real-life event were played out multiple times, the historical result might not occur most of the time. That assumption — that the Allied forces had it within their power to make a better showing than they did in real-life — is central to the way I designed the game. The question was “How to incorporate that assumption, yet still simulate the decided German advantages of better Command/Control, better training, and a better conception of what modern warfare could be?” Answering that question was another reason that I chose the “formations” mechanic. The Germans get to select one of their two Formations to start the game; however, after that initial “known” formation activation, all bets are off! The random nature of the chit-pull mechanic means that the Allied player will, in many games, have the opportunity to make wiser high-level command decisions than the real-life counterparts did. What the Allied player does with those opportunities, though, is up to him/her.

Alexander: If you had to pinpoint one aspect of Dunkirk: France 1940 that you were most proud of from a design standpoint, what would that be and why?

Doug: I will offer three points, instead of one.

The first is very general in nature: it is the way that I have used a variety of different game mechanics (chit-pull / formation mechanic, card-enhanced mechanic, use of blocks as playing pieces, etc.) in the hope of blending them together to create — in the largest sense possible — a successful “design for effect” that meets my design goals of a playable wargame with a solid simulative foundation.

The second is the way I grouped the blocks into formations and use the command chits — by withholding some from initial play, adding an extra one for each German formation in the early game, etc. — to simulate the initial German pace and Allied delay.

german strategy card

The third is the Victory Conditions. This was an area I really struggled with, as most of my earlier ideas tended to make the game — from the German perspective — a bit repetitive in that the same Objectives were frequently the targets for the Germans. Coming up with the German Strategy Cards (which, in effect, allow the German player to pick his/her own Victory Conditions at the start of the game) provided variety for the German player, as well as providing an additional layer of suspense, as the Allied player will not know for certain until the end of the game what specific strategy the German player was pursuing.

Alexander: Are there any games out there that helped to inspire you or you drew ideas from?

Doug: I have mentioned some in a previous answer, but here is a partial list. Some of these prompted my thinking in terms of the use of specific mechanics; others got me thinking in more general terms (such as “ease of combat resolution”, “simple rules / high playability”, etc.). In all cases, I suspect players will be able to see where some of the “threads” of my design thoughts originated.

Holdfast! series
Conflict of Heroes series
Nations at War series
A Victory Lost
Panzer Command
Empire of the Sun
Strike of the Eagle
F.A.B. Bulge
Crusader Rex
Victory in Europe
1960: The Making of the President

Alexander: What’s it like working with the guys over at Worthington Games?

Doug: They have been absolutely amazing! My gratitude to them for taking on my game and for their incredible patience with my completing it is boundless. They have been exceptionally supportive each step of the way, offering advice, allowing me to offer input on certain aspects of the art/graphics layout, and generally giving me encouragement to see the project through. I have been greatly blessed to work with Mike and Grant; they are both extremely kind and very generous people.

dunkirk board 3

Alexander: The game is card assisted, not card driven. What different functions do the cards have?

Doug: As I had mentioned in an earlier answer, the cards each contain two (out of a possible three) functions. The three possible are BATTLE, REINFORCEMENT, or EVENT. A card might be (for example) a BATTLE / REINFORCEMENT card. The player then must decide which of the two functions to use. Once a card is played, it is removed from play. Generally speaking, the cards that have a really “cool” option (such as a powerful Air Strike BATTLE option) are paired with another really useful option (i.e. a multi-step REINFORCEMENT option). The idea is to force the player to choose between one of two really helpful options, because both cannot be used.

Alexander: How does combat resolution work?

Doug: Combat is resolved using pretty standard block wargame mechanics. Each block rolls a number of dice equal to its current strength. Each block has a “to hit” number; every die rolled at that number of lower inflicts a “hit” on the enemy. Terrain determines the sequence in which different unit types fire. Terrain might also impact the number of dice rolled by a block.

Alexander: What provisions have you made in order to make each and every game of Dunkirk new and fresh?

Doug: Re-playability was one of my main design goals. My hope is that the combination of the random chit draw mechanic, the variety of player cards that might appear in a given game, and the six German strategy cards — giving the German player multiple Victory goals to choose from each game — will keep each game a new experience for players. From the play-testing results, I found that no two games ever played exactly alike. Hopefully, players will find that to be true for themselves, as well.

Alexander: Now that Dunkirk has been successfully funded have you got any other designs or projects lined up we can look forward to?

Doug: Not at this point. Worthington and I are hoping that Dunkirk is successful and well-received. If it is, there is the possibility that I could create a new game using some of the same foundational principles and mechanics. For now, I am just hoping that players enjoy Dunkirk!

Alexander: Any last words of advice for future players of Dunkirk? What should they watch out for or avoid?

Doug: I think my advice would be to fore-warn players that the game’s “results spectrum” is somewhat broad. By that I mean that players might see results that go from a blowout victory for one side or the other, to games that are decided by one Victory Point on the last turn. This is simply the nature of the game. There are so many random elements involved (the chit pull mechanic, the player cards that might appear each game, etc.) that it was impossible for me to “straight-jacket” the results spectrum into a narrow band. However, I did not want to do that anyway. I believe that this is a strength of the game: a wide array of results are possible; it is up to the players to respond to the random challenges the game will present to them, while still remaining focused on their strategic objectives in order to achieve victory.

Having said that, the game is nearly endlessly customizable. I have included an extensive menu of optional rules which can be used to fine-tune the game experience based on player experience and skill level. My hope is that players of all skill levels will be able to enjoy the game!


Dunkirk: France 1940 will be available from Worthington Publishing for retail soon.