No Motherland Without is a new game coming to Kickstarter that is breaking the mold of traditional wargaming. Inside the box you’ll find what looks, at first glance, to be a CDG system that we’ve become familiar with over the years. Alas, No Motherland Without provides the players with an entirely new topic for a ‘wargame’, one where there isn’t any open warfare. The Kim Regime in DPRK has lasted from 1953 until the present day and has always been a politically polarizing state.
In this 2 player game you will either try to establish and maintain, or erode and corrupt the Kim regime over the course of more than 60 years, three generations, and a multitude of natural and man-made disasters. The designer, Dan Bullock, was gracious enough to answer a few questions and give some insights to the game that will drop on Kickstarter in the next few weeks.
No Motherland Without
Alexander: Hi Daniel. Before we get started how about you introduce yourself to the wargaming world. Who is Daniel Bullock and what do you like to do outside of gaming?
Dan: Aside from games, my primary interest is composing music. I was a recording artist in a touring band for over a decade. Now, my house is littered with instruments. I played guitar and accordion primarily, but marimba, synths and odd stringed instruments all get a fair amount of attention. It’s good to have a few different creative outlets to shift to when inspiration is at a lull.
Alexander: What are your favourite wargames to play and were you influenced by any particular designs/designers?
Dan: Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage was my introduction to the hobby, but admittedly I fell out of it for about ten years. A friend (my eventual developer) introduced me to Twilight Struggle in 2011, and I’ve been back in it ever since. I feel like this design was influenced by those, but also a bit by Maria and The Plot to Assassinate Hitler (a maligned title from Strategy & Tactics). Bowen Simmons and Mark Herman are really innovative designers, but I’m more focused on accessibility than unique mechanisms. Unique mechanisms are certainly essential to design, but new players benefit from having familiar elements with a few new tricks. Bowen’s design blog is probably a bigger influence on me than her games. I’m not clever enough to play her games very well, so designing them would be beyond me.
Alexander: ‘No Motherland Without’ is a unique title for a game – could you explain about it’s meaning?
Dan: “No Motherland Without You” is a popular North Korean song that was written as an ode to Kim Jong Il after his passing. His leadership is closely identified with one of the darkest periods after the war, the Arduous March, where the country faced floods, famines and hardship. Many in DPRK grew more accustomed to being without food, adequate healthcare, free press and human rights enjoyed throughout much of world. I like the name because it is an unresolved statement. It touches on unification, the suffering of people and what is given to a regime that gives so little in return.
Alexander: Following on in that vein, what is it that prompted you to create a game based on the post Korean Armistice Agreement in 1953?
Dan: I started the project two years ago. My wife had been reading defector memoirs, and nudging me toward some excellent books by Andrei Lankov, Victor Cha and Tyranny of the Weak by Charles Armstrong. Muira McCammon wrote an excellent article about Wargame Design for Kill Screen that posed (among other questions) whose history do we represent when we design a game. I became interested in using No Motherland Without as an opportunity to deviate from the wargame norm and strive to make a game that framed the conflict by its impact on the Korean people. I did not foresee this issue coming to forefront of American headlines, but some worrisome and recurring narratives led me to recognize the opportunity for players to better understand the conflict.
Alexander: There’s a lot of different elements on the game board including standard of living, strategic reserves, global opinion, etc. Could you briefly run through what players can expect a game of ‘No Motherland Without’ to feel like?
Dan: Central to a game of No Motherland Without is a sense of tension. Tension is essential to engage players. Both the US and DPRK have unique activities and capabilities, so it will be a different experience and learning curve playing with each power. Testers have told me that this design has a unique balance of laying groundwork for your strategy and interfering with your opponent. It’s more costly to interfere, but it’s imperative to do so. Ultimately, I want players to have each game enriched by experience, and that relies upon having meaningful decisions to make. In addition to the variability card-driven games normally allow, events in NMW impact the game state for varying lengths. Legacy events are permanent, whereas enduring events affect the game state as long as they remain on the track. This creates a unique overlap of effects to generate strong card combinations and opportunities for activities. I think it makes each playthrough special.
Alexander: Could you explain the generational map and how it functions in the game?
Dan: One of the early design choices was forgoing a score track. Generally, I hate them. To accentuate the impact of events on people, I decided to shift the focus onto them. The generational map highlights three generations of Korean citizens in the DPRK. In lieu of embedding it in the geography of the DPRK map, we place the emphasis of each citizens proximity to another. A citizen may be promoted to an elite by an event. As an elite, they increase the risk for adjacent citizens to defect. Similarly, citizens adjacent to active dissidents are more inclined to flee. Active dissidents and defectors can lead to a victory for the West if there are enough of them. If the elite is no longer adjacent to citizens at risk of defecting, no problem. You can purge them and mark a citizen in better position elite. Each active dissident and defector has a point value, but it’s representative of an individual journey or (in the case of those imprisoned or deceased) a face given to hardship. Obviously, we don’t view the US objectives in terms of defectors and activists, but the actuality is that both indicate the pressure on the regime. A deluge of defectors entering China and active dissent without swift reaction would be a sign of the regime’s weakness and eventual collapse.
Alexander: The defector map is something I don’t think I’ve ever seen included in a game like this before. What can players expect out of this piece of the game?
Dan: The defector map is where citizens make the journey out of the DPRK. It is a point-to-point map that includes routes of varying length. Some are safer than others. Some exist only to circumvent routes that may be unavailable to border closings and events that repatriate defectors. Routes are established before defectors can travel them. They represent the escape brokers and oft traveled routes used by most fleeing DPRK. Many points between the DPRK and the South are marked in red. Defectors en route that are in red locations can be repatriated and imprisoned. To travel out of harm’s way, the West needs to use points from their reserves in conjunction with cards to ensure they arrive safely. This needed to be a separate map. DPRK and South Korea are such a small part of the path traveled. We want to give the appropriate scope of how far many must travel to arrive forty miles south of the DMZ. I owe the two maps idea to Maria. Sivel’s eureka moment of removing the stretch of map between relevant theaters of the War of Austrian Succession was what inspired the idea. Once we had a second map, it was important to allow both players to affect each- keeping the game as interactive as possible.
Alexander: Which part of the design are you most proud of and why?
A design is a culmination of familiar and unique concepts. I think that the generation map is unique, so it’s my favorite aspect. Most important is the way each mechanic lends itself to the story being told and impacts the other mechanisms of the design. My developer, Andrew Carlson, was very blunt with the early incarnations of the design. He’s very good about raising the questions that lead to design ideas instead of proposing solutions.
Alexander: Is there anything that you felt you had to cut out or tweak significantly as a result of play-testing and feedback? What were those improvements like?
Dan: Altering the ballistic missile research track to be hidden was done after a single test. Andrew played one game with a public track and was very… um… vocal, in his displeasure with it. It led to blowing up part of the game, but it was too good of an idea not to use. The global opinion suggestion came from a couple others, but rather than a simple track, I wanted it to give the faction it favored cumulative advantages. I also wanted the global opinion element to be a factor in the decision of whether to play events. For example, the card for THAAD will deter a missile event victory, but it also shifts global opinion toward the DPRK and makes Aid from China available. It’s a great event, but it may not be worth it in some situations. When the playing most events isn’t always an automatic yes or no in every situation, the game is significantly more interesting.
Alexander: This is your maiden game. What challenges/experiences have you learned from it that going forward will help in the design world?
Dan: Pitching the game was very difficult. The subject matter made it sensitive to some. Some publishers wanted a wargame with a narrative that didn’t reflect reality. One even said “Defectors? Why would I care about those?”. None of the publishers ever played any of the game, which was disheartening.
Alexander: Do you have an outlook for Lock Horn Games in future and other projects you might want to tackle down the line?
Dan: Collaborating with women that develop and design is a priority. I would like to see more historical designs that aren’t considered wargames. Right now, I have a new designer that I’d like to work with next. Her subject matter is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I’m interested in seeing new subject matter and more diverse points of view. It would do a great deal for the growth of the hobby. After realizing how few publishers have an interest in those types of games, it made me consider how much that is needed. Personally, my interest in design is to make a game representative of the questions I was confronted with in my research, not in representing the answer I came to. I find the latter far less interesting. There is a quote from the composer John Cage “I don’t mind being moved, but I don’t like to be pushed”.
Alexander: If you had to give any strategic advice for new players of ‘No Motherland Without’ what would that advice be?
Dan: Generally, you need to strike a balance between building your path toward victory and placing obstacles for your opponent. Your strategy needs to adapt based on the events that occur. Positioning yourself to benefit from many situations without leaning too hard any direction is key. If you’re the West, you need to limit the DPRK’s infrastructure and missile development where possible, but the focus needs to be on defectors. For the DRPK, I would advise keeping your reserves high throughout the Juche era (first three turns) and bury any event that would lower prestige. Also, missile tests will not always be the most viable path to victory for DPRK, but if you let the West think you’ve abandoned them, they will shift more resources on defectors, global opinion and events that press the regime.
Thanks again for answering our questions!
No Motherland Without will be available on Kickstarter in the next few weeks. We’ll let you know when it drops and you can look forward to a written and video review from us coming very soon!