A few months ago, while I was contacting Brian Train to see if he had any upcoming designs that he would be willing to talk about, he was very excited about his part in the upcoming game Nights of Fire: Battle for Budapest from Mighty Boards. This game is a successor to the acclaimed Days of Ire: Budapest 1956 published in 2016 by Cloud Island and takes us into the final days of the Hungarian revolution against their Soviet occupiers starting on November 4th and lasting through November 7th. Brian does a fantastic job of giving us lots of information to chew on ahead of the Kickstarter campaign that should be launching soon. One other note. All graphics used in this interview are not yet finalized but are from a prototype version of the game.

Nights of Fire Snap
A look at a shot of all components in the game. These components are prototype only at this point but are close to the look of the final components.

First off Brian. How did you get involved with the design of Nights of Fire: Battle for Budapest?

Brian: Back in 2002, I designed Operation Whirlwind, a small board wargame for the Microgame Design Contest held that year for users of Boardgamegeek.com. It won the contest (yay) and for a while was a free print-and-play giveaway; later it was published, with ever-increasing quality of art and physical components, by the Microgame Design Group, Fiery Dragon Productions, and One Small Step Games. As far as I could discover it was the first published game on the November 1956 street fighting in Budapest, in any language. It was also one of a number of games I had designed on urban guerrilla warfare, a long-standing particular interest of mine. The game got a modest amount of attention, and I carried on with designing other games.

Then, in the summer of 2016, I discovered the Kickstarter campaign for Days of Ire. I signed up right away – I think I was pledge #126. Later I wrote in a comment on the site about the Kickstarter video’s use of Beethoven’s “Egmont Overture” as soundtrack music, and how I had included a Musical Accompaniment optional rule in Operation Whirlwind using the Overture (the Hungarian player may play a recording of the piece over and over again, very loudly, whenever the Soviet player does not control the “Free Kossuth Radio Budapest” objective area. This radio station was formerly Radio Budapest, the state radio station that usually broadcast only news and speeches. When the rebels seized it, a record of the Overture was the only music they could find on the premises, and in between their own speeches and announcements they kept playing it until the Soviets captured the building).

Within hours of my comment on the Kickstarter page, the designer David Turczi wrote me, proposing that we work on the sequel to Days of Ire!

Grant: How was the experience of working with Dávid Turczi on this game? Was it difficult as Dávid had already designed a successful game on this very historic event? What challenges did you have?

Brian: I think we got along quite well. David is a really nice guy! David is mostly a Eurogame designer, to go by his list of publications (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamedesigner/76227/david-turczi) but he has played enough wargames to have learned the “dialect” peculiar to that end of the hobby. As for me, I have designed a couple of abstract games but nothing I could really call a Euro, so my grounding is in history and historical veracity – wanting to be as true to the actual event as possible. As we went along I think I learned a lot from him about all the different kinds of play mechanics, rule tweaks, additional goals and other things a designer can use to keep a game suspenseful and fun… yeah, that “fun” thing that I suppose may elude my design attempts from time to time.

Grant: Fun is important in games and you do a good job of including it in your designs! As you have an extensive background in designing games covering counter insurgency, what were you able to use from your previous games in this design?

Brian: Frankly, the very first iteration of this design was a much-lightened and streamlined version of my original Operation Whirlwind game. During development it steadily evolved away from “light but still numbers-using wargame” and towards something I would call a “militarized Eurogame”.

We began with agreement that, in order to make the game interesting, it should contain the same basic pressures and limitations on the Soviets as I had built into Operation Whirlwind, because the historical situation was one of the most lop-sided conflicts anyone could have chosen, in military terms. These included:

  • hiding information about the nature of each insurgent unit so he would consider probing an area carefully instead of all-out bloody assaults (with the risk of massacring unarmed civilians);
  • limiting the ability of Soviet units to work together – units from different divisions cannot cooperate in attacks;
  • putting time pressure on the Soviets – a short overall game length and the continual loss of Prestige the longer the battle lasts and the harder the Hungarian fights.

One thing we did not use from the original wargame was adding material help to the Hungarians in the form of different degrees of Western support – from arms drops to clandestine insertions of teams of Green Berets to the entire 101st Airborne Division, jumping into battle (Operation Whirlwind was also the first wargame to show a US division in the weird and quickly abandoned “Pentomic” configuration of five battlegroups). All of these options were quite ahistorical, and the last was frankly impossible without starting World War III…and certainly the extra rules weight required for play and balance in this new game wasn’t justified.

David was full of ideas for adding further layers of suspense and variety to the game that we fleshed out together: the varied menus of operations with narrative-inducing mechanisms like fleeing Civilians and Defy; the Heroes and Scenarios deck, and ultimately the Konev (solo against an AI) version of the game. This last is only 12 simple cards, played randomly, but it behaves almost like a rational opponent!

Nights of Fire Konev Cards
The Konev Cards, which are used for the solo play as well as the 2-player Co-op version of the game.

Grant: Tell us about the history revolving around this game. Why is this history such a great candidate for this design?

Brian: The history of the Hungarian Revolution in October 1956 is detailed in many places. In broad terms, we can say that it had its immediate origins in the death of Stalin in 1953 and the string of events that followed it, by association or chronology:

  • the continued successful autonomy of Yugoslavia after the 1948 break;
  • the formation of reform wings or factions within many Communist parties, culminating in Khruschev’s “deStalinization” and his secret speech of February 1956 where he denounced Stalin’s legacy;
  • Austria’s regained independence and declaration of neutrality in 1955; and actual flareups of physical resistance to the highly controlling Communist governments in Eastern Europe that had been placed and supported in power by the Soviet Union – namely, the June 1953 uprisings in East Germany and Czechoslovakia, and the June 1956 uprising in Poland.

These events demonstrated to the Hungarian people that it was possible to modify, or perhaps even replace, the repressive regime that they lived under. Associations of students, writers and journalists became more critical of the Party, and the incident that began the Revolution itself was a public protest organized by the Hungarian Writers’ Union in Budapest on October 23, 1956. Members of the AVH, the Hungarian State Security Department, fired first tear gas then live ammunition into the crowds that gathered outside the Hungarian State Radio building. Violence spread across the entire city and units of the Soviet garrison became involved in the street battles between civilians and the AVH (the members of the Hungarian National Army either deserted individually to help the Revolution, or stood aside). The Hungarian government collapsed and Imre Nagy was installed as Prime Minister. By October 28th, the disorder was beginning to subside and a ceasefire with the Soviet garrison was in effect. By October 30th, the Soviet units had left Budapest for assembly areas outside the capital.

Nights of Fire Hungarian Uprising

The leadership of the Soviet Union, alarmed by this swift collapse of proxy power in Hungary, had begun discussing the Polish and Hungarian situations since the day of the first riots. Opinions were divided and it took several days to decide on a course of action, in this case a second, larger and much more violent military intervention. Nagy’s announcement on November 1st that he intended for Hungary to leave the Warsaw Pact and go neutral, thus opening a hole in the wall of “buffer states” the Soviet Union had created, probably helped to cement the decision for this.

For the second intervention in November, codenamed Operation Whirlwind, the Soviet troops in Hungary were given a new commander, Marshal I.S. Konev, and reinforced with the addition of the 8th Mechanized Army (composed of three mechanized and one Guards Motor Rifle divisions) and the 38th Army (composed of three mechanized and one Guards Airborne infantry divisions). The “Special Corps” under the command of Lieutenant General P. N. Lashchenko was detailed to take and occupy Budapest and the immediate area. The 7th Guards Airborne division held Tokol airport, while three divisions – the 2nd Guards Mechanized, 33rd Guards Mechanized and 128th Guards Motor Rifle – entered the city.

Operation Whirlwind’s historical outcome was certain and swift. The Soviet Army deployed overwhelming force and did not spare the firepower; the Hungarian National Army did not resist on any organized basis; and the insurgents were taken by surprise in many districts. The fighting was essentially over within 100 hours (10 game-turns), even though some resistance continued in Csepel Island (off the map to the south) as late as November 11th.

As I’ve said before, this conflict is not at all suited to a standard wargame treatment as it was so lopsided. It’s not a simulation, it can’t be: there is no possibility of a Hungarian military victory in any commonly understood sense. However, the Revolution’s rise and fall is an episode of high drama and intense action, compressed into just a little over two weeks from beginning to end, and to me it makes a lot of sense to design two games on the two phases of the conflict, with content that emphasizes gestures of revolt and defiance against overwhelming armed force.

Grant: In what ways did the two of you try to include elements that would reinforce the theme of this conflict into the game?

Brian: I’ve noted above some of the restrictions and difficulties we built into the design, to partially offset the overwhelming firepower advantage of the Soviet forces: lack of information about the enemy, lack of coordination through making the player select Tactics cards that may not be well suited to the actual situation that turn, and placing them under severe time pressure to do as well or better than the historical outcome. Their overall aim is to reduce the revolutionary forces or morale fast enough to force them to surrender, without incurring too much delay or damage to their own forces.

Meanwhile, the insurgents have a random hand of cards at the beginning of each turn and can expend them slowly or quickly, in a variety of operations permitted by the combinations of icons on the cards and on their pieces. Their aims are to help as many civilians flee Budapest as possible, and to delay and cheapen the inevitable Soviet military victory by ambushes, desperate open attacks and acts of defiance.

Grant: What is generally different about Nights versus its predecessor Days?

Brian: Each turn of Days of Ire begins with the Soviet commander playing Headline cards, gathering Command Points and placing Events at different places on the map. The revolutionary player or players collect cards and fighters to move around on the map to resolve these Events, and engage the enemy’s militia, snipers, and Soviet tanks. So each turn presents the players with a new and slightly different “puzzle” of where and how to apply their respective resources.

In contrast, Nights of Fire is much closer to a wargame, at least in look and feel, than Days of Ire. Instead of a point-to-point graphic treatment of the map, where locations are connected by red threads, there is a dark-toned map of downtown Budapest divided into areas roughly corresponding to the city’s actual administrative division into Districts. Each turn sees both sides moving and fighting several times in a highly interactive sequence of play, governed by different sets of cards.

Nights of Fire Map

The opposing forces are also portrayed and used in a much more detailed way. In Days of Ire, the Hungarian government and Soviet forces are represented by generic units of militia, AVH snipers and “Soviet tanks”, while the revolutionary forces consist of individual, named (but fictional) characters who have different effects on play – producing resources, suspending rules, etc..

In Nights of Fire, the Soviet player has three full divisions – the 2nd Guards and 33rd Guards Mechanized, and the 128th Guards Motor Rifle – to deploy and maneuver within three respective divisional sectors. Each of these three divisions was composed of three mechanized or motorized infantry regiments, a tank regiment, and smaller units of artillery, engineers, signal troops and so forth. As the fighting continued these three divisions would be further reinforced by troops coming under Special Corps command, including three regiments of paratroopers (the 80th and 108th detached from the 7th Guards Airborne, and the 381st from the 31st Guards Airborne), heavy armour units such as the 100th Tank Regiment and the 87th Assault Gun Regiment, and the 12th Motorized Unit, a brigade of MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) troops.

These units are not shown directly in the game because they, and the other battalions of supporting arms within the divisions such as engineers and artillery, have been broken up into detachments to form small all-arms task forces. This was standard Soviet tactics for fighting in an urban area. Hence in the game, a “Regiment” counter moving into or operating in a given area should be understood to be working as a headquarters controlling the movements of 12 or more smaller groups. Each combat group would be roughly the size of a reinforced company or about 150-200 troops, containing mostly infantry and small detachments of armoured vehicles (tanks and assault guns), engineers to demolish and clear barricades and rubble, artillery for extra firepower, and so on. Similarly, a “Garrison” unit in the game represents an assortment of infantry, military policemen and other troops organized to occupy and control the critical points of an area through roadblocks and saturation patrols.

For the revolutionaries, there is little detailed or precise information on their numbers or experiences. In the chaos of the revolution in October, and the swift Soviet retribution and the exodus from Hungary that followed, few people were keeping notes. But the new Hungarian government was moving towards establishing a paramilitary force called the National Guard to keep order and fight alongside the Army, and their records showed between 15,000 and 18,000 individuals under arms in the Budapest area. In the game, these combatants are shown as a combination of Locals and Fighters. Locals are tied to the District they set up in, and represent a much larger number of people than Fighters, hence they are able to undertake a larger range of tasks (which is why they have two icons). Meanwhile, Fighter units represent a small number of people; they are mobile but less able to perform multiple tasks (so they have one icon).

Nights of Fire Insurgent Units
A look at a few of the Insurgent units. On the left, you will see an example of a Locals unit, as it has two icons, and on the right a Fighters unit, as they have but one icon.

This is of course too much detail for many people who consider themselves primarily Eurogamers, but it is precisely the sort of thing many wargamers would want to have made clear while they were playing the game. And this game is intended to appeal to both types!

Grant: What options do players have for play format? Why did you feel the need to include the Basic and Advanced rules?

Brian: There are two rule sets:

Konev: this is for 1 or 2 Revolutionary players against an automatic Soviet opponent, which is handled by a deck of 12 cards that are randomly chosen and executed during the turn. The revolutionaries can see some, but not all of the Konev cards so they have a partial idea of what the Soviets are going to do, but not when – this is decided by a die roll.

Conflict: This is for 2 or 3 players: 1 Soviet against 1 or 2 Revolutionaries. The Soviet player deliberately chooses a set of Tactics cards at the beginning of each turn that reflects what they want to do during the turn, though they may be frustrated in using the cards efficiently during play.

Both rulesets have Basic and Advanced versions, because this game can be a lot to swallow at once for a player unfamiliar with wargames or intricate Euros. The Advanced versions give extra options and powers to the Revolutionary pieces (Bystander and Medic unit types, and the Defy Action) and extra tasks for the Soviet player (in the Conflict version of the game, each turn sees a new Headline card revealed which will give the Soviet player a small reward if they fulfil its conditions, and a variably light or heavy penalty if they don’t or can’t do so by the end of the turn).

Grant: What is the general flow of the game and what does the Sequence of Play involve?

Brian: There is a maximum of 10 turns or “rounds” in the game. Each represents about 8 hours of activity. Normally, a game will last somewhere between 6 and 8 rounds before the insurgents surrender.

Nights of Fire Turn Record Track
A look at the Turn Track. You will notice that the game is divided into 10 rounds over a 4 day period. Each day has three rounds represented by an AM, PM and Night round, except for Nov. 7th which ends after the AM round.

In each round, the following six phases are executed:

  • Draw Phase: Revolutionary draws new cards, a variable number depending on the state of their Morale and whether there are 2 Revolutionary players
  • Tactics Phase:
    • In the Conflict ruleset, the Soviet player will deliberately choose 6 of 12 Tactics cards, each of which has a short list of actions he may take when playing it. If a large number of Soviet units were disabled in the previous turn, he gets fewer than 6 cards. And if they are playing with the Advanced rules, a new Headline card is revealed.
    • In the Konev ruleset, the Soviet player will randomly draw 5 of the 12 Konev cards, placing them in a row with the 2nd and 4th ones face down. To avoid murderous repetition, a limited number of Konev cards that were used in the previous turn will show up in the current turn, and if a large number of Soviet units were disabled in the previous turn, some of the Konev cards will not be available.
  • Reinforcement Phase: The Revolutionary may play a card with the Reinforcement icon on it to enter new units onto the map.
  • Operations Phase:
    • Each Revolutionary turn, during each of which the Revolutionary player may play up to 3 of their cards, will be followed by a Soviet turn.
    • In the Conflict ruleset, the Soviet player will play 1 or 2 Tactics cards that will allow the Regiments of a single division to take actions within their sector. Depending on what is permitted by the cards played, the Regiments may move, recon, probe attack, assault attack, clear barricades and rubble, place a Garrison, rally from being disabled, or arrest civilians.
    • In the Konev ruleset, the Soviet player will roll a die and execute the indicated Konev card. The text on the card will direct the player to variously move Regiments, place garrisons, arrest civilians, probe or assault enemy units, and so on.
  • Adjustment Phase: This phase begins when both players are out of cards or do not wish to play any more cards.
    • The Soviet player loses 1 Prestige for every 2 Momentum tokens (think of these as “hits” on Soviet units).
    • The game must end at this point if Soviet Prestige has reached zero or it is the end of the 10th turn. It may end at the Revolutionary player’s option if there are fewer than 6 armed insurgent units left.
    • The Revolutionary player adjusts Morale: they lose Morale for having units killed or arrested during the turn or if there are large numbers of Garrisons deployed in the city, and gain Morale by disabling large numbers of Garrisons. The game now ends if Morale has reached zero.
    • In the Conflict ruleset, the Soviet player suffers a penalty if they were not able to resolve the Headline card during the Operations Phase. Also, 1 random Tactics card for every 3 disabled Soviet units becomes unavailable in the next round
    • In the Konev ruleset, the Revolutionary player may choose 2 Konev cards for every 3 disabled Soviet units to be unavailable in the next round.
  • Clean-up Phase: Revolutionary player units are re-hidden, and Momentum tokens and units killed or arrested during play are removed. Advance the round tracker marker to the next round.

Grant: One thing I found very interesting was the effect of the Morale level on how many cards the Revolutionary player will draw. Where did this idea come from and what does it represent? 

Brian: Morale represents the general state of organization and combativeness of the insurgents. As more and more of their comrades are killed or arrested, and as the Soviets assume control over more and more of the city with Garrisons, their Morale goes down. When Morale goes below 19 (it starts at 25) the Revolutionary player draws fewer cards (one player: 8 instead of 12, two player: 5 each instead of 7), but the limit of cards a player can have in hand does not change (one player: 12, two player: 8 each).

Like Soviet Prestige, Morale mostly goes down. It can be recovered by targeting Garrison units, giving the Revolutionary player an interesting choice between Disabling the Regiments that can move and shoot at him, and the static Garrisons that eat away at Morale. If Morale hits zero at the end of the Adjustment Phase, the game ends.

Grant: Why did you settle on the level and numbers of Revolutionary cards? How did this change over the course of playtesting?

Brian: There are 45 Revolutionary cards, basically three sets of the same 15 icon combinations with Operations Values of 1, 2 and 3. We always had this number, as an amount that included all icon combinations. A lone Revolutionary would go through the deck one and a half to two times during the game. Later when we developed rules for having two Revolutionaries, we had them split the deck based on a small icon marked on the cards, so one gets 22 and one gets 23 cards. The two decks are tweaked slightly; one is loaded a bit towards Ambush icons, and one is loaded towards Counterattacks.

Nights of Fire Revolutionary Cards

Grant: Tell us about the use of the Tactic cards for the Soviet player. How are they used and what was the reason behind their draw number being tied to the number of disabled units from round to round?

Brian: At an early stage of the game design we had some kind of point structure where the Soviet player would expend points to do various tasks – standard wargame stuff. David thought this was a bit fiddly – and so it is – so we worked out a set of little “scripts” a Soviet division commander might want to play out as he orders his Regiments around in his sector.

There are 4 kinds of Tactics cards: 3 each of Encounter, Mobile, Siege and Reorganize. As you might expect, Encounter and Mobile cards have more Move, Recon, and Probe tasks on them, as opposed to Siege cards which have more Probes and Assaults, and Reorganize cards which have Clear, Garrison and Rally tasks.

Nights of Fire Tactics Cards

In the Tactics Phase at the beginning of each round, the Soviet player deliberately selects up to 6 Tactics Cards from the cards available. During the Operations Phase the player will play at most 2 Tactics cards in any one Division Sector, and carry out as many of the tasks on the cards as they can. Thus the player has a choice of getting more done in a smaller number of turns, or getting less done in a larger number of turns, which might allow them to respond better to the Revolutionary moves.

In the Adjustments Phase, the Soviet player may keep 1 unused Tactics card for use in the next round, 1 random Tactics card is removed from the deck of 12 for every 3 Disabled Soviet units, and in the following round the Soviet player may select a number of Tactics cards equal to 6 minus the number of Tactics Cards removed. This represents firstly the work of division staffs to plan ahead and secondly, how the friction of combat can exhaust troops and headquarters units, and their ability to coordinate and conduct operations.

Grant: How does the use of these Tactics cards change from the Conflict rules to the Konev rules?

Brian: Tactics Cards are not used in the Konev ruleset. Instead, 5 random Konev cards are laid out at the beginning of the round. Therefore in each round the Soviet “robot player” will have 5 turns, with the card selected for each turn determined by a die roll. The 1st, 3rd and 5th cards are face up while the 2nd and 4th are face down, so hiding some of the Soviet plans. Also, the first 3 cards are drawn from Konev cards that were not played in the previous round, while the 4th and 5th are drawn from the remaining cards and the discarded cards from the previous round… which makes it possible for cards to circulate through the game with a slight delay, a nice touch I thought.

Nights of Fire Konev Cards 2

Each Konev card has a short “script” for the player to execute. Each statement is executed in order, with priorities given when it matters. For example:

ACTIVATE 128TH GUARDS RIFLE DIVISION

Rally one Disabled Regiment in the sector if possible.

Then for each previously active Regiment in the sector (in increasing order of their district’s number, then in setup boxes) perform the first option possible:

  • If Arrest possible: Arrest, then decrease Readiness by -1.
  • If no Garrison present and district has objective icon: place Garrison.
  • If insurgent units present but no Barricade present: Inflict 1 damage, +1 if Readiness is 4 or higher.
  • Otherwise: Move to highest threat adjacent district.

(“highest threat” is defined by another set of priorities – first check if there are Civilians (with priority assigned to higher value ones), then go by number of Insurgents, etc.)

Nights of Fire Civilian Tokens
A look at some Fled Civilians tokens. Notice they are numbered from 1-2 and higher valued Civilian are worth more and are used to reduce Soviet Prestige at game’s end.

In the Adjustments Phase, for every 3 Disabled Soviet units the Revolutionary player may select 2 Konev cards to become unavailable next round. In the following round the 5 Konev cards are drawn randomly from those still available. Again, this represents the friction of combat, but it is a little more poignant because the human player can select which cards they do not want Marshal Konev to possibly execute next round (in my personal test games “Assault” and “Hunt”, two quite damaging cards, were always popular candidates for this).

Nights of Fire Tactics CardDavid did all the work on the Konev version – I am clueless when it comes to designing Artificial Intelligences or bots or whatever you want to call them, but he very quickly had this one running and tuned very well. It’s only 12 cards but it makes a very challenging opponent!

Grant: With the Konev rules, why did you choose to have two of the cards uncovered to hide the information from the players? Has this changed over the course of the design? 

Brian: We did change it from 3 hidden to 2 hidden during testing. Players felt they were a bit too much at the mercy of the hidden random cards, and making this slight change allowed them a little more agency and ability to plan ahead.

Grant: Overall, the design requires players to match icons on insurgents to be able to play a certain type of action such as an ambush, to build a barricade or to recruit new insurgents. Where did this idea come from and how hard was it to get the balance of the right number of each icon on the units?

Brian: David came up with it and I think he was partly inspired by Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan (GMT Games 2011), a popular game where you have to hold cards matching armies in your command, otherwise they won’t fight.

The 30 Insurgent units are divided between 20 Fighters and 10 Locals. The former represent smaller numbers of people who are less able to accomplish tasks – hence they can move in the game but have only one icon. The latter are larger numbers of people tied to a certain area/neighbourhood but the larger number of helping hands gives them two icons.

The overall distribution of 40 icons is a bit skewed – more Fighters can do Ambushes or Counterattacks than Locals, while Locals have more ability to build Barricades. This makes intuitive sense.

Grant: Also how did you balance the Ops points on cards? Why is it so much more difficult to flee a civilian (6 Ops points) versus performing an Ambush (3 Ops points)?

Brian: There are three sets of Revolutionary cards, each with the same distribution of icons but each set has a value of 1, 2 or 3 Operations points. Nice and neat but the cards are chosen randomly, so there will be a different distribution every time. Also, the Revolutionary player is limited to playing no more than 3 cards in any given turn, so he may not always be able to get maximum efficiency out of his plays.

The simplest task, moving from one point to another, takes only 1 Ops point. Ambushes, Open Attacks and Counterattacks all cost 3 Ops points. Two more complex tasks, helping Civilians Flee or building Barricades, have a variable cost to accomplish: it costs less to have a Civilian counter Flee if you have more Insurgent units in the district to help, and it costs more to build a Barricade if you have more Regiments in the district to interfere.

There is one task possible in the advanced version of the game that has a few preconditions but can affect the Soviets strongly: Defy. The Revolutionary player plays a card of any Ops value, reveals a hidden Insurgent unit, and decreases Soviet Readiness by 1 (it’s a distraction). If the revealed unit is also Unarmed, has Rubble or a Barricade in the district to pose on, in the face of at least one active Regiment, it can cost the Soviets a whole Prestige point, depending on the value of the card played. Another dramatic touch David added, and one that fits right into the narrative players are building as they go along!

Grant: Let’s talk about the insurgents and their hidden status. Why do they not have an action to become hidden after they are revealed? Was this ever included in the design?

Brian: In the advanced version of the game, a unit with the Medic icon is able to expose itself and re-conceal another unit in its district. All Insurgent units are re-concealed at the end of the round.

Grant: What does the Help Civilians Flee Action represent from the history? Where do they flee?

Brian: The story of the Hungarian refugees who took the opportunity to flee the Communist regime once and for all is another dramatic episode that captured the imagination of people in the West. Almost 200,000 escaped, mostly to Austria, before the borders were sealed. Many of them were from Budapest, and while it was historically mostly an every-family-for-itself undertaking (such was the chaos in the country at the time) the mechanic in the game of “helping Civilians flee” is a reflection of the insurgent movement’s efforts to secure safe passage out of the country for individuals and their families who would be marked for arrest, execution or lesser retribution as enemies of the state.

At the end of the game the total value of successfully fled Civilian units is deducted from the final Soviet Prestige, so that can be a big hit: there is a total of 10 points spread among 10 civilian units with values of 0, 1 or 2. Therefore the Revolutionary player will want to do this mostly in the first 2-3 turns of the game, while the Soviet player wants to Arrest them as fast as possible (though he does not know the value of any Civilian he arrests until the end of the game).

Historical side note:

Then-Vice President Nixon paid a visit to Austria in early December 1956 to discuss the refugee situation and see how the United States could accelerate the number and processing of refugees who wanted to enter the United States. Here is a picture of him grinding some hamburger at a Vienna soup kitchen set up to feed refugees (the woman helping him is the American Ambassador’s wife).

Nixonburger
US Vice President Richard Nixon visits a soup kitchen in Vienna aiding the refugees and grinds hamburger. Photo credit Stars and Stripes.

Many years later, this oil painting by Ferenc Daday was presented to Nixon, showing him at the border welcoming injured refugees and tired children while journalists look on and take notes. It used to hang in the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda California but has since been taken down.

Grant: Barricades seem to be very important and I believe must be built early. How important are they to the Revolutionary player?

Brian: Barricades stop a Regiment’s movement through a district, prevent Probe attacks, and absorb 1 point of damage when the Soviet player Assaults in the district. Therefore, it’s important to build them early and often.

Grant: Open attacks are very risky and can lead to insurgents dying if the Soviet readiness level is high. What does this represent? Why does the Readiness level reduce upon a civilian being arrested?

Brian: Soviet Readiness measures the alertness and aggressiveness of the invading troops – it is easy for them to lose their “edge”, so the Readiness level moves up and down continuously during the game. Readiness goes down when the Soviet forces are distracted and temporarily scattered when making Arrests of Civilian units, or responding to a Defy action by the Revolutionary player. Readiness also drops during each round’s Adjustments Phase as well, reflecting fatigue among the troops. Readiness goes up each time they miss the die roll in responding to an Open Attack.

Grant: How is Strategizing used by the Revolutionary players? What does this represent?

Brian: This is a simple method for two revolutionary players to pass cards to each other, and represents coordination among local leaders.

Grant: How do Counterattacks work? Why are they important to the revolutionaries?

Brian: The Soviets have overwhelming firepower, though the exact results are varied by drawing an unused Tactics card and reading the appropriate number off the bottom (depending on whether it is a night or day Probe, or an Assault). A unit capable of a Counterattack can do this even if it is killed. Executing the Counterattack costs 3 Operations points (so yet another drain on the Revolutionary player’s cards) but when done it Disables the Soviet Regiment and the player draws a new Revolutionary card, so it’s actually possible to recover the cost of the Counterattack.

Grant: Why is Prestige so important to the Soviet player? What would this represent in the real conflict?

Brian: Prestige represents something like the overall standing or perceived potency of the Soviet government as the enforcer of order within the Warsaw Pact. Once Moscow took the decision to re-occupy Budapest and crush Nagy’s rebellious government, they needed to complete the task with maximum speed and thoroughness. If they don’t, they are setting up for further trouble down the road with opposition movements in the other Pact countries. It would also be viewed as displaying weakness or vulnerabilities that the United States – which was then committed to a policy of containment – could exploit. Recall that while President Eisenhower did not actually intervene in the Hungarian Revolution, his Secretary of State Dulles was for a policy of “rollback” and the eventual liberation of Eastern Europe, and that the United States was not backward about using economic and military aid to strengthen governments supporting it, and the CIA to undermine hostile governments.

The Soviet player starts with 20, 23 or 26 Prestige points depending on what version of the game is being played. There are several ways for the Soviet player to lose Prestige during the game (having units Disabled by insurgent attacks, massacring unarmed Bystanders in Assaults, failing to fulfil certain Headline cards, and automatically at the end of every round), and only one way to gain them (in the Conflict version, by fulfilling the temporary objective of the Headline card then in play).

Grant: How does the game come to an end? How is victory calculated?

Brian: The game has a total of 10 rounds, representing about three and a half days of fighting. There were some holdouts on Csepel Island, off the map to the south, for several days more but the fighting was essentially over within three days. If the Revolutionary player has at least one insurgent remaining on the board at the end of the 10th round, or if Soviet Prestige drops to zero in the Adjustment Phase, the game ends in a Grand Revolutionary Victory. The Soviet player is recalled to Moscow, where he has some ‘splaining to do, as now the fuse has been lit for potential revolts in other Warsaw Pact countries.

Otherwise the game ends in Surrender. This is forced on the Revolutionary player if their Morale ever drops to zero in the Adjustment Phase, or the player can choose to Surrender if there are 6 or fewer armed insurgents left on the map (and they don’t believe they can make it to the end of the 10th round). At the end of the Adjustment Phase when this happens, Soviet Prestige is reduced by half the number of armed insurgent remaining on the board and the value of all Civilian units who successfully fled to the Austrian border. The final Prestige number determines the level of victory.

0 or less: Normal Revolutionary Victory – the revolution has been stopped, but too late: the thoughts of dissenting and the stories of the survivors will be enough to spark uprisings for decades to come.

1 to 3: Normal Soviet Victory— the campaign of retribution and restoration was successful. The historical result was about equal to a final Prestige of 1 or 2.

4 or more: Grand Soviet Victory– the campaign of retribution and restoration was swift, ruthless and successful.

Grant: The art team for this game is amazing and they have done a great job of capturing the theme. Who are they and how do you feel the art changed the game’s feel?

Brian: The game has three artists:

Kwanchai Moriya – did the cover and box art, a very evocative illustration of individual fighters resisting the implacable machine of Soviet repression. Kwanchai is a well-known game artist and I was very pleased to have him do this.

Katalin Rabel (nee Nimmerfroh) – did the counter and card art for this and other David Turczi designs, including Days of Ire, [microfilms] and [redacted]. She is a freelance artist who is working on her first video game, a time-travel adventure set in Victorian London. I think it was invaluable to have her carry on with the illustration of this thematic sequel to Days of Ire; her work makes the two games really hang together visually.

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Zak Eidsvoog – did the map and card designs. He also did the graphic design for the card games Impulse and Statecraft: the Political Card Game, and their several expansions. Zak chose a dark and grim look for the map which I thought was quite appropriate for the time and season of the event, and the stark look of the cards is also quite powerful.

Grant: What are you most proud of in the design? What have you newly learned about insurgency and what are some ideas you might carry on into other designs?

Brian: I guess the thing I’m most proud of personally is how well David and I could work together, and how much I could learn from him and his differing style of designing and developing a game. I don’t think I have learned much more about insurgency itself since I had already done (but was able to improve) my research on this particular conflict. However, I’m hopeful that I could carry some of the ideas in this game into other games I would like to do on urban warfare.

Brian: What is the timeline for the Kickstarter campaign? What stretch goals will be offered?

Brian: As of this writing, the launch date for Kickstarter is some time before the end of February, 2018. If the game is funded, we plan on an expansion kit with rules and components to further increase the depth of play of Nights of Fire, and combine the two games in a “campaign”. In a separate process, Days of Ire will be reprinted, so backers will have a chance to buy both games.

We expect the pledging to be brisk – Days of Ire was funded at $25,000 within three days of its Kickstarter launch, and at the end of the 30 day period 1,260 backers had pledged nearly $75,000. We expect similar levels of interest for this sequel.

Hopefully the game will be ready for Essen 2018. However, for insurance the expected deadline is well into 2019.

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Thanks as always Brian for your detailed responses that give so much information about the game and its design process. It is very important for us to be informed about the games we are considering backing and you do a first class job of drawing a picture with your words. I also really appreciate your efforts with giving the historical background for the design and for how your choices were made to model certain elements. I am really looking forward to this one as I really enjoyed Days of Ire: Budapest 1956 and really liked our play through of the prototype Nights game.

If you are interested, you can check out our unboxing video for a prototype copy of Nights of Fire: Battle for Budapest here.

-Grant