As many of you already know, Ty Bomba is a very prolific and busy designer, who works on big box games as well as smaller magazine pack-in games. This year he has worked with me on several interviews, including Operation Unthinkable: Churchill’s World War III from Hollandspiele, Triumph of the Will: Nazi Germany vs. Imperial Japan, 1948 from Compass Games, Case Geld: The Axis Invasion of North America, 1948-1946 from Compass Games and 1938: What If? from Counterfact Magazine from One Small Step Games.
Recently, I was drawn to some images he posted on Facebook regarding another big box game titled America Falling: The Coming Civil War from One Small Step Games. The game is a post apocalyptic vision of America that enables two players to simulate the entire first year of a hypothesized near-future civil war across all of the lower-48 states. One player will command the conservative “Red” forces while the other leads the liberal “Blue” forces. I was really drawn to this game because the theme it has is kind of a rare one within wargames and this design seems to really embrace a lot of the social issues that we as Americans are dealing with presently. Without further ado, here is the interview with Ty:
Grant: What type of mindset do you have to have to design a good What If? or alternate history style wargame?
Ty: I don’t believe it differs vastly from what you need to bring to a straight-up historical design, in that the more background knowledge you have in regard to the overall topic, the better. Of course, since there’s no historical script to follow, you have to use your background knowledge to create one. That’s where art meets craft.
Grant: What were the assumptions you used in your latest game America Falling: The Coming Civil War?
Ty: Such a struggle would be huge, brutal and destructive beyond belief. The first ACW amazed the world in that regard; this one would in turn make that earlier struggle seem like only a bar room brawl.
Grant: What is the historical basis for this possible future American Civil War?
Ty: An increasing unwillingness to compromise concerning the issues of class, race, ethnicity and religion that increasingly divide the populace, while an ever more wildly uneven distribution of wealth creates a socio-political top one percent whose lives no longer have any connection to the mass of the society they’re supposedly leading.
Grant: What are the opposing sides and what makes up their philosophy? Who are the Separatists?
Ty: We hope to sell the game to Republicans, Democrats and independents alike. I therefore took an ideologically neutral stance in regard to defining proximate causes for the break out of hostilities. At that level, the struggle could be best defined simply as the “Conservatives” versus the “Liberals” (a.k.a. “Progressives”) or the “Reds” versus the “Blues.” The “Separatists” in the game are a way of showing that, in any such massive struggle, beneath or within the two main contending camps there would be plenty of room for independent splinter groups to spring up, each with their own local power bases, agendas, etc. Every player will be free to inject the particulars of his own biases and viewpoints into what he sees as the rationale for the war.
Grant: What is the makeup of the counters and what is their anatomy?
Ty: The counter-mix, at brigade level, contains the full US Army and USMC orders of battle, along with the fleet-level headquarters and ground elements of the US Navy. Airpower is abstracted in terms of the number of sorties needed to influence ground operations in one hex and the six hexes around it. All the units have differentiated attack and defense factors, ranging from one through six. Movement ability varies from operation to operation and season to season, so no movement factors are actually on the counters.
Grant: What are the Static City Garrisons and how do they work?
Ty: They represent the multitude of constabulary and militia forces that would be important on a locale-by-locale basis, but would lack the mobility and organizational wherewithal needed to go far from the places in which they were formed or had been assigned to garrison. They can’t attack; they only defend their locale.
Grant: How does setup work and how are the location of capitals decided?
Ty: In order to provide the greatest replay value, set up is entirely random for each match. The players draw garrison and field units blindly, until the whole map is covered and the entire OB is on it. In regard to capital cities, one player or the other will randomly draw Washington, D.C. during set up. The other player may choose for his capitals any of the cities he controls. Both players are allowed to move their capitals, which is done primarily to avoid having it captured by an advancing enemy, but that comes with a “morale point” (a.k.a. “victory point”) cost. Similarly, capturing the enemy’s capital can give you a good MP boost.
Grant: I noticed that games last no longer than six rounds. Why did you choose to set this limit? Does it allow players enough time to experience grand strategy?
Ty: When I do what-if designs, I always try to avoid piling supposition atop supposition. That is, the basis of reality is the game’s starting force-mix, which is drawn directly from the real world. Six game turns equals one year altogether. My feeling is, if one side or the other didn’t bring such a war to a conclusion within, at most, a year, after that time it would’ve so transformed itself as to be almost unrecognizable from what it was at its start. Think of the difference between September 1861 and September 1862 in the historic ACW. Besides, given the alternating-action turn sequence, playtesting showed that, by the end of six turns, everyone was satisfied the game was long enough. There are many more operations in those six turns than you’d get with a more standard I-Go-U-Go system.
Grant: What are the three major segments of each turn? How does each of these phases work?
Ty: There’s the “Alternating Actions Phase (AAP),” during which players essentially take turns moving or fighting or recruiting one force at a time. Then there’s the “Separatist Phase,” in which die roll checks are made to determine if some new splinter group has seized control in one or another city. Finally, there’s the “Administrative Phase,” which is basically just used for housekeeping around the map, including checking point tabulations, retrieving airpower markers, etc. About 90 percent of each game turn is spent in the AAP.
Grant: How does the bidding work for control of taking the first action of each Alternating Actions Phase? What does this replicate from the supposed conflict?
Ty: Most often, who gets the first action in any AAP won’t really be crucial, and it’s decided by die roll at the start of each turn. There are times, however, when having that initiative can make all the difference between achieving a quick victory in some operation or having it turn into a long-term slugfest. So you can bid MP to be certain you’re going to get the first action, which, of course, may motivate your opponent to bid against you for it. No matter who wins the bidding war, both players expend all the MP used for the bid.
Grant: What types of actions are available to each player during the Alternating Actions Phase?
Ty: There are 13 actions from which to choose, including: 1) bid to take the first action in that turn’s AAP; 2) claim an available recycled unit; 3) call for reinforcements; 4) move a friendly force on the map via ground or heliborne movement; 5) move a friendly force on the map via strategic air transport; 6) move a friendly force on the map via naval transport; 7) attempt to subvert an enemy force; 8) launch a conventional attack into any one enemy occupied hex; 9) relocate your capital city; 10) make an airpower surge; 11) conduct an atomic attack into any one hex; 12) conduct a terror action in any one friendly controlled city; and 13) conduct a cyber attack.
Grant: How do players win the game? What does Morale Points represent? MP seem to be currency but also determine victory. How does this work?
Ty: It’s basically about territorial control as represented by the cities on the map. There are point bonus for controlling all of the Northeast Megalopolis and/or all the cities on the Pacific Coast. That represents the economic integration of those areas and the advantages that accrue by controlling the whole thing. More generally, MP are a convenient way of measuring and tracking your side’s overall will to go on fighting the war. At the start of play both sides have 77 MP, based on the point count from a territorially evenly divided map. Every action you take during play requires the expenditure of one or more MP. If either player zeroes out his MP total at any time, play stops and he’s lost the game. At the end of the sixth turn of play, if one player controls one or more un-nuked cities and has at least 1.25 times (125 percent) more MP than his opponent, he wins. If neither player wins by that reckoning, that’s a draw. At the start of each turn a fresh tabulation of MP is made based on the current situation across the map.
Grant: How does Subverting Enemy Forces work? When subverted, what happens to the enemy counters? Do they flip to show change of allegiance?
Ty: All the units are printed, front and back, so as to show the two sides’ color schemes. Trying to subvert a unit to come over to your side is one of the actions you can attempt in each AAP. It’s never a sure thing and, if you’re opponent’s willing to get into an MP expenditure battle with you, he can attempt to win back the loyalty of a force you just subverted. It can get expensive, but it can also be handy in some crucial campaign, if you succeed in making your opponent’s main attack or defense force come over to your side at the crucial moment. When units are eliminated they then also lose their side affiliation, meaning they can be reorganized from the dead pile by either commander.
Grant: How does combat work? What does the CRT look like and what are the typical results?
Ty: Combat actions are pretty standard in some way: voluntary, odds, based, etc., but there is no CRT. Instead, odds of 1:1 achieve a DE result on a roll of one; odds of 2:1 get DE on rolls of one or two, etc., up to automatic DE at 6:1 and higher. A DE means all the defending units in the hex are eliminated and recycled (except for Fleet HQ, which never recycle). A city garrison in a hex that’s received a DE result remains in place but is flipped over to show it now belongs to the player who just won that battle. There are no combat results other than DE and NE (No Effect).
Grant: Lots of really neat looking chrome elements added to the game like Terror, Cyber Warfare, etc. How do these actions work and how are they best used?
Ty: During playtesting, no one really came up with any sure and certain winning approach regarding their uses. My feeling is, none of them can win the game for you on its own, but the player who masters those rules, and brings to bear those kinds of action at crucial times, will create a wining edge for himself. Terror is a way to ensure any given city you control, if lost to the enemy, will only provide minimum support to him (as you’ve killed all his supporters there). Each such action, though, costs three MP, so you can’t go wild with it. Cyber dominance, which is expensive at six MP per action, allows you to run two actions in uninterrupted sequence, and that can really make a big difference in the outcome of some crucial ground battle or campaign.
Grant: How does Recycling and Reinforcement of units work? I think the idea of recycling even dead enemy units for your own use is really neat. How can this change the game? Does it become a fight for the best units?
Ty: Recycling is an action whereby, for one MP, you can deliberately reclaim any unit then in the dead pile (no matter its earlier service history). You then reenter it onto the map via any city you control. Only units lost via atomic attack, and fleet, are ineligible for recycling. Reinforcements are in two pools, one containing all the US units presently overseas in the Pacific/Asia theater and the other representing all of them overseas in the Atlantic/European theater. For one MP you can randomly pick a unit from either pool and immediately enter them via any port you control on the appropriate coast.
Grant: A 21st century war so Atomic Attacks are available. How do they work? What are the benefits but also, what are some pitfalls players must keep an eye on?
Ty: The first player to launch an atomic attack action during the game must, as soon as he announces that intention, roll two dice and deduct that many MP (two through 12) from his side’s total. His opponent then rolls two dice and adds that many MP to his own side’s total. Subsequent atomic attacks by either player entail no MP award or penalty possibilities, each simply costs the launching player one MP. Both players are free to target any hex on the map that doesn’t presently contain any of their own side’s mobile or garrison units. The advantage is, you can kill a bunch of enemy units in one action; the disadvantage is, you can loose the game by causing ecological collapse or triggering a strategic nuclear exchange between the two sides (both of which must be checked for via die roll after each atomic attack action).
Grant: How are Heliborne Brigades used and how does an Airpower Surge effect them?
Ty: The Heliborne Brigades are the elite ground units in the game. They’re able to move over enemy ground units, but they can’t use that special kind of movement within the range of an enemy airpower marker.
Grant: Who was the artist for the counters and maps? The box art? Really nice looking set of graphics that evokes the theme well. Nice work!
Ty: The maps, counters and box-top art are all the work of the father-and-son team of Wojciech and Rafal Zelewski, who base out of Warsaw, Poland. The rulebook was illustrated by Lise Patterson, and the box-back art is by Jon Compton. I’ve never been more delighted with the visual presentation of any of my designs.
Grant: How long do games take to play? What has been players response to the game?
Ty: Two players who know the system can set up and play through a game in about four to six hours. The playtesting was a lot of fun, with a lot of anticipation all through – the AAP sequence really works to keep both players on the edge of their seats all the time.
Grant: What are some of the basic strategies for the side controlling Washington? How about the other side?
Ty: I don’t think there’s a sure-win or even dominant strategy for either side other than: “plan your operations and then operate according to plan.” That is, the AAP approach can seduce an unwary player into effectively not having a strategy, trying one thing and then another to see how it comes out, reacting to his opponent’s actions, etc. Get a solid geographic base area and then drive out from there. Washington, D.C. need have no more significance than any other city (other than the MP cost of moving your capital out of it if you have to do so). It was the locus of the old republic; you’re building a new republic now.
Grant: What is your favorite part of the design? What do you feel really evokes the theme of a futuristic civil war?
Ty: I always like the surprised look on peoples’ faces when I first explain what it covers. All the main geo-strategic elements inherent in the United States and its military are present in the game; the shock comes from using those things to tear apart the country rather than defend it. In that sense, the game’s a cautionary.
Grant: What is the timeline for the release of the game?
Ty: At present, I can’t be more exact than to say it will be out sometime during 2018.
As always, thanks for your time Ty. I know that you are a busy man, always looking at your next design, doing research, playtesting games; and I am really grateful that you are willing to talk. Keep up the good work and I look forward to discussing many more great games in the future.