Another upcoming game that I have seen on Facebook that looks intriguing to me is Rostov ’41: Fritz on the Don from Multi-Man Publishing. This game is being designed by newcomer Raymond Weiss and looks very interesting as it focuses on the shoestring assault of the Germans against the relatively inexperienced Soviet soldiers defending Rostov during the fall of 1941. I reached out to Ray and he agreed to indulge me and answer my questions on the game. Without further ado, here is the interview:
Grant: First off, tell us a little about yourself? What games do you like to play? What other games have you designed? What do you do for a living?
Ray: A little about me, a millennial native New Yorker whose chief interests include 19th Century military history, computer programming, obsession over the 70s hit TV show Colombo, and making art in general. While I’ve previously toured as a musician, taught English overseas, and have worked in various administrative capacities, I am currently unemployed and forever trying to figure out ways to monetize my relatively esoteric and non-capital-generating skill set (music composition, game design, 19th century military history.) My only other game to be published as of yet was a Pen & Paper RPG about dolphins called Everything is Dolphins which enjoyed moderate cult success, I even was flown out to the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco to showcase it at the SFMOMA, one artistic high point. I personally enjoy playing tactical wargames, GO, old RPGs, and roguelikes.
Grant: How did you get into design? What do you love about it? What keeps you up at night?
Ray: About two years ago, I probably played my first wargame which was on the PC, East Prussia ’14 by John Tiller which covered the early Eastern Front in WW1. This game was massive with a unit for each regiment on the map, about 1km hexes, not knowing games like this existed, I fell in love. I designed my first game on the Franco Prussian War about 2 years ago, and have been working on and improving a small set of games I have been developing in that time, occasionally sending them out for publisher consideration. Apart from frequent night terrors which keep me up frequently at night, I’ll sometimes wake up really curious about a specific historic issue and may spend hours looking it up, i guess that makes me weird.
Grant: What is your design philosophy?
Ray: I have a somewhat haphazard philosophy toward design. I tend to focus on battles as opposed to larger scale operations and because of that detail, I usually spend anywhere from 6 months to several years doing research before I begin to write any rules. To me, the most important thing for a game to do is recreate history, all of my efforts in design have been to showcase history in an interactive way, war is undeniably abstract and chaotic, which is precisely what makes wargames so fascinating to study and fun to play.
Grant: How did you get the opportunity to design Rostov ’41: Fritz on the Don for Multi-Man Publishing?
Ray: The one thing I really prefer about making wargames as opposed to composing music is that it is completely unpretentious and painless to network. As opposed to having to hang out in a piss stained basement pretending to like people’s bands in order to find opportunities, I was able to simply send the SCS creator Dean Essig a facebook message. I had begun work on an original WW2 system after having done several 19th century designs. Midway through the rules writing process, I had a huge feeling of guilt knowing that this era of history wasn’t my wheelhouse, and that someone who knew the period better could do a better job with the idea than me. I had messaged Dean with my playtest notes, OOB, and map and much to my appreciation he was interested in the project, and allowed me to take a lead role in the design, while using his tried and tested SCS system for a base, it was a win-win situation for me.
Grant: How did you connect with Lee Forester as your developer? What is his role in the design?
Ray: I believe I got in touch with Lee through Dean once he decided to move forward with the idea. I corralled a group of playtesters over facebook and then those playtesters sent very detailed notes back and forth to lee and I, lee is an incredible developer with both an eye for subtlety and nuance. He took what was a somewhat wild collection of ideas and turned them into a playable, desirable product, takes a lot of talent.
Grant: What historical event does Rostov ’41: Fritz on the Don cover?
Ray: Rostov ’41 covers the back and forth operations surrounding the Don basin around the winter of ’41. Up until this point, the Germans had been virtually unstoppable on all fronts of Operation Barbarossa. The Southern Front in many ways was the most difficult to plan for given the immense amount of space the Germans needed to cover relative to troop strength. One look at the map and OOB for Rostov ’41 and you are pretty much amazed at what the Germans were able to accomplish historically. Nonetheless, this was the first successful Soviet counter-attack during the war as the previous months of getting their head beat in finally resulted better, more coordinated attacks between larger groups of troops. The situation lends itself toward a game in my view.
Grant: What challenge did the design offer? What opportunities?
Ray: Getting the research down for the Soviet OOB was one of the more difficult research projects I’ve ever undertaken. While their organization wasn’t hard to decipher, any kind of common troop strength or TOE listings were extremely hard to come across. Originally, I had taken an average of several sources of the total soviet combat troops present for the battle, and randomized their allotment among my researched OOB. Later on, Carl Fung became who involved who has a much wider range of sources on the conflict available to him than I, I was pleasantly surprised when my method ended up very closely resembling the actual OOB that Carl was able to dig up. We made several small changes and pretty much nearly kept the same values on the Soviets as I had on my original playtest design, that ended up being neat.
Grant: How was it to have the overall system in the Standard Combat Series already complete? What did you propose as amendments?
Ray: Having SCS as a backdrop really allowed me as a designer to focus on the situation and the battle itself as opposed to chrome and complexity baked into mechanics. My goal was to stay within the bounds of what is to be expected from an SCS release, though I did successfully insist on adding a new “hip-shot” like air mechanic present in the OCS series to reflect German air doctrine at the time.
Grant: What are each sides force structures and how did you determine the OOBs?
Ray: The German OOB is pretty much a shoe-string operation with bits and pieces of other motorized groups, whereas the Russian OOB is more of a freewheeling affair.
Grant: There is a movement phase after combat called Exploitation. How does this work and what does it model from the conflict?
Ray: All of the games in the SCS series use this same mechanic. Units that are exploit capable (yellow bar) may move after a combat phase, only if they are outside an enemy ZOC. This allows players to make the sweeping envelopment maneuvers that the actual forces performed, allowing mechanized units the chance to exploit an opponents rear.
Grant: How does the combat system work? Is there any twist to the system that you’ve added to model the fighting in this event?
Ray: Combat is standard for the SCS series. One tip for both SCS & OCS I’ve learned over the years is to avoid the CRTs as much as possible as they are somewhat random. A bad roll on a 5:1 can still screw over your forces, it’s smarter to encircle, take out of supply, and then attack.
Grant: How did you capture the relative inexperience of the Soviet troops in the design?
Ray: At this point in the war, the soviet’s were just starting to learn from experience and coordinate attacks. While SCS does not really model CnC, Russian infantrymen are almost all not motorized, meaning they must stick to roads if they seek to maneuver around the board quickly. The Soviets probably actually have the easier job in this game, the Soviets just have to survive, whereas the Germans need to succeed.
Grant: How does artillery barrage affect combat?
Ray: Artillery barrages are abstracted in that they can cause an enemy step loss or disruption, it serves as a way to soften your opponent up before combat to give yourself better odds, or limit their movement/combat opportunities the following turn.
Grant: How does initiative work? How does initiative determine the level of air support?
Ray: Initiative is heavily simplified and abstracted to reflect the back and forth nature of the battle. Initiative is determined by a die roll and air superiority is determined by the difference in that die roll. it’s possible for a player to get 2 turns in a row, but then the opponent also has a chance to do so immediately after.
Grant: How does air support affect the fighting?
Ray: Air support in a normal context is used exactly like artillery essentially with better spotting. German air doctrine rules allow for air strikes to be made during a movement phase which would in theory help to support overruns by the player should they decide to do so.
Grant: How is weather determined and how does it change the fighting?
Ray: Weather is determined randomly or players can decide to use historical weather. Weather will generally slow down a player’s operations and or make combat more difficult. During a snow turn, small rivers freeze over and become cross-able without spending an extra movement point.
Grant: What are the various scenarios included in the design? Which is your favorite to play?
Ray: All the scenario’s included focus on the main battle of Rostov ’41, some focus on the beginning, middle, or end. My personal favorite is to do the whole shebang, it’s a blast solo or with an opponent as it feels very difficult for the German player, while still challenging for the Russian player to respond effectively.
Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters? Can you show us a few as examples?
Ray: Here are some examples of the final layout and look of the counters. Pretty standard stuff but I think they look clean and are easy to read on the table.
Grant: Can we see a draft copy of the map? Who is the artist?
Ray: The artist for the map was Dean Essig.
Grant: What has changed through the playtest process? Please give a few specific examples. What has been the response of players?
Ray: Throughout the development process, we focused on streamlining the game while making it historically accurate, and remaining fun. I had originally came up with command and control rules along with a reserve capability more similar to the OCS series, but we ended up stripping the game down to what most worked about it and what made it fun and quick to play. The result is what I hope is an extremely playable game that would serve as a perfect entry point to get friends into wargames.
Grant: What is the timeline for the release of the game?
Ray: Sometime in 2018 but it has to go through pre-order first, which should be happening soonish.
Grant: What is next for Raymond Weiss?
Ray: Boy I wish I knew what lol. I have 2 games sitting with Pacific Rim Publishing on We Were Not Cowards: Sedan 1870 and Mons 1914: At Villers Cottérêts, I also have been working on a rule-set to cover the 18th-19th century using rules similar to Kevin Zucker’s The Library of Napoleonic Battles series (he was my wargame design mentor in essence.) I’m also working on a possible 1705 expansion for his Napoleon’s Last Gamble that would cover the Marlborough campaign of 1705 in the same area. I have a few other games that have either been rejected or passed over by some publishers that I’m currently reworking. My problem is I’m always interested in too many things at once. For example, I spent the last week building Pong for the Nintendo Entertainment System, a completely out of date console that uses machine assembly language to code, I’d eventually like to design a homebrew wargame for the NES in the style of the old Romance of The Three Kingdoms or Nobunaga’s Ambition strategy games, but that’s further down the line most likely. Hopefully in 2018, I’ll have a few titles available to buy and I can find a real job other than making games lol.
Thanks Ray for your time and effort in answering my questions about Rostov ’41: Fritz on the Don from Multi-Man Publishing. I know that this interview might seem to some to be preamature, as the pre-order offering hasn’t even been listed yet on the MMP website, but I am glad that I was able to get some early information to share with our readers. I might be adding this game to my Wargame Watch posts in the future and definitely want to keep an eye on its progress.