In the September 2017 Monthly Update from GMT Games, was where I first learned about the massive, monstrosity of a game on the Battle of the Bulge being designed by Bruno Sinigaglio (Battle of the Bulge (1981), The Siege of Jerusalem (1989)) called A Time for Trumpets: The Battle of the Bulge, December 1944. The game immediately caught my attention for several reasons. One was the subject but then there was the sheer size of the game, including 5 full size maps, 12 counter sheets and 6 player aid cards! I immediately envisioned a game that I would have set up for 6 months as I played through each and every turn. I reached out to Bruno late last year and invited him to talk with me about the game and it design. He graciously accepted and I finally have the interview done and ready to share.
Grant: Bruno, 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? How did you get into design?
Bruno: I started war-gaming in 1963 with Avalon Hill’s D-Day 1963 while attending the University of Massachusetts, Lowell Technological Institute. I graduated in 1968 and began work as a Mechanical Engineer for the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. Starting in 1968, and during the nine years at APG, I spent much time at The Avalon Hill Game Company doing projects for Tom Shaw or Don Greenwood.
I moved around for the U.S. Army and worked on many development projects at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, the Cold Regions Test Center in Alaska, the Tropic Test Center in Panama, The Desert Test Center in Yuma, Arizona and the High Technology Test Bed at Fort Lewis, Washington. During those years I maintained close contact with Avalon Hill and worked on the third edition of Afrika Korps and the second edition of Waterloo.
In 1973, Avalon Hill asked me to redesign The Battle of the Bulge 1965 based upon my interest in the subject. The effort took seven years and became TAHGC Battle of the Bulge 1981. There are many still in existence, as they sold 50,000 copies.
In 1987, Don Greenwood enlisted me to re-design the Siege of Jerusalem. The original designers, Fred Schacter and Steve Weiss, provided the awesome map and a boatload of counters, but no rules. I wrote the rules from scratch. The game was considered a high complexity game, but the rules had insignificant errata and the first edition was reprinted by MMP with no changes. The first edition won the Charles Roberts Award for ancients.
In the late 90’s, Randy Heller approached me to work with him on his Bulge game, Bitter Woods, which is very playable and finely balanced. It is the best Bulge game I have ever played. It has been reprinted at least eight times as a testimony to its viability.
In 2004, after Bitter Woods was well established, friends prodded me into making a battalion level Battle of the Bulge game using the established Bitter Woods system as a basis. Their argument was, “Bruno, if you don’t do it, you are going to take all your Bulge knowledge with you to the grave.” So, I started tinkering, enlisted a bunch of really good war-gamers and began working on a playable monster of the Battle of the Bulge.
Grant: What do you love about design? What keeps you up at night?
Bruno: When your design works, you see people playing your game. That is some sort of fulfillment. Most designers do not make their living designing games. That would be reserved for “The Pope of Wargames” Richard Berg, Mark Herman and perhaps a few others.
I do wake up at night with thoughts concerning a rule glitch and how to fix it though. Then, I must write it down or I will forget it.
Grant: What is your design philosophy?
Bruno: In no particular order my philosophy follows. Make the game easy to play. Make the rules easy to understand. Build history into the game and make it a reasonable illusion to that history. The game should have tension built into it in order to create some excitement. Make it possible for both sides to win without distorting history.
Grant: How did you get the opportunity to design A Time for Trumpets for GMT Games?
Bruno: I made a prototype map and hired Joe Youst to make me a draft map. I enlisted John Devereaux to work with me on the OOB. I hired Steve Bradford to make the counters. Then I attended Consim Expo 2014 with my draft design and Randy Heller, Cory Wells and John Clarke and we play-tested. During that Expo, a few game companies expressed interest in publishing the game. Mark Simonitch was also interested. I worked with Mark on the original Bitter Woods when he was at Avalon Hill and we reached an agreement. It is a pleasure to work with Mark. The following year, during more play-testing at expo, I was approached by Tony Curtis. Tony grilled me on design concepts, the OOB, history of the Bulge, etc. GMT has high standards for every facet of the games they produce.
Grant: Why another game on The Battle of the Bulge?
Bruno: There needs to be at least one new Bulge game per year. Its a rule. Actually, we wanted to create an easy to play monster using the Bitter Woods system with a morph into the 1977 Wacht Am Rhein game system by Joe Balkoski and Danny Parker.
Grant: What is the major challenge with designing a game for this scale of conflict?
Bruno: Trying to throw in everything including the kitchen sink. There really is a temptation to do too much with these monsters and it requires great restraint to hold back elements that aren’t necessary.
Grant: Where did you get the title A Time for Trumpets? What does it mean to you and how does it evoke the theme of one of the most famous late battles of WWII?
Bruno: I had a generic title, Battalions in the Bulge. Mark Simonitch suggested “A Time for Trumpets.” I felt that was a good choice, since I am listed in the credits for OOB research in that book. I liked the Bulge from my beginnings in war-gaming. My Uncle Frank was a soldier in the 41st Armored Infantry Regiment. My Uncle Jimmy was a glider infantryman in the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment.
Grant: The game system incorporates a number of concepts from two highly playable games on the same subject as you have mentioned: Bitter Woods by The Avalon Hill Game Company and the iconic battalion level Wacht Am Rhein from SPI in 1977. How did these games mold your vision for A Time for Trumpets?
Bruno: Well back in the 70’s, it was a special event to arrange to play the Wacht Am Rhein 1977 Monster, especially if you were married with children. I got the first assembled copy of Wacht Am Rhein 77. It was always an achievement just to get at least four gamers committed to playing the game. With regards to Bitter Woods, I have said many times that I think it is the best Bulge wargame – it is simply fun to play.
Grant: What is the scale of the game and force composition? How was the research for the game?
Bruno: The game scale is one mile per hex. Encompassing the entire Ardennes battlefield through 26 December requires about 60 divisions, 6 brigades, 5 Army Echelons and 16 Corps Echelons. A Division includes 15 to 20 combat battalions, so there will be a boatload of counters. The research totaled thousands of hours over the past 40 years by John Devereaux and me – no exaggeration, with contributions by many others.
Grant: What system does the game use for formation activation? Why do you feel this was the best choice for your vision?
Bruno: This is important. The game is designed for multiple players to go through their sequences of play without being held up by the other players on their side. The Germans play best with three players – one for each Army. The Allies play best with two in the beginning, but a late third-comer to the Allies is good.
After the turn preliminaries, each German player activates his Army HQ. Each German then chooses a Corps to activate. When he activates a Corps, all the Divisions of the Corps activate simultaneously. Each player then moves the Army Echelon, Corps Echelon and all the Divisions. Attack counters are placed designating all attacks. Each player now fights each combat one at a time to completion.
Note that the activation process is not a random process deciding which formation moves in what sequence. It is more accurately an administrative process that facilitates simultaneous play by different players.
The Allied players proceed in similar fashion. Game progress is good and there is very little “player-hanging-around syndrome,” when there are five players.
Grant: How many different formations are there? With each of these different formations being color coded, what range are the colors used. I am excited to see this beautiful wargamey rainbow.
Bruno: This was one of those weeping and gnashing of teeth evolutions. There are many colors, but God did not make enough of them to satisfy most war gamers. You cannot put blue formations next to green formations, because Ken Nied cannot tell the difference, etc. We changed the colors so many times I don’t want to count. There were other issues. The purpose of the colors is to make formations immediately distinguishable. We finally came to a consensus. Then, we had to pass Mark’s review. Mark hates certain colors, because they don’t do well on game counters.
Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters? Can you show us a few examples of close-up shots of a few units for each side?
Bruno: Here are a few examples of the counters.
5th Panzer Army:
6th Panzer Army:
U.S. 1st Army:
U.S. 3rd Army:
Grant: Let’s talk about the map. Who is the artist? What sources were consulted? It looks similar to the Bitter Woods map. Was this intentional because you feel the BW map does it well?
Bruno: Joe Youst made four iterations of the map, and then Mark Simonitch took it and made three iterations. Finally, Mark converted it to GMT standards. The sources were the twenty-eight, 1943, 1/50,000 scale maps that comprise the battlefield and its borders. I like the Bitter Woods map – it is popular.
Grant: How do you model fatigue and exhaustion in the design? Why is this important to include?
Bruno: The game has four turns per day. This enables the design to include the German tactic of fighting at night in order to minimize Allied air support during clear weather; however, if you leave it to war gamers, you will have everyone fighting on every turn. Fatigue/Exhaustion rules mandate that units rest one turn per day. Wacht Am Rhein 77 had three turns per day with Fatigue and Exhaustion rules. I have included those facets, but also added a play aid marker mechanism that dispenses with paperwork.
Grant: How is command and control modeled? Why was this method selected?
Bruno: Command and Control is very similar to the method used in Wacht Am Rhein 77, but simplified. All units trace command to their HQ by counting hexes. In Wacht Am Rhein 77 Infantry Divisions counted hexes, while Mechanized Divisions counted movement points. The movement point count method requires more effort. In ATFT, all count hexes, with the better HQ having greater range.
Grant: How much of the German players focus is on supply?
Bruno: Supply is traced as in most wargames. The HQ represents the various Battalion supply nodes for a Division. The combat units trace a supply path to their HQ. The HQ traces a supply road off the board edge.
Two major supply issues affect the Germans. Artillery ammo and fuel. German artillery ammo was rationed during the Bulge. Hence, the Germans can fire offensively or defensively during a turn, but they may not do both until the 15th Army Ammo trains become available.
Grant: How did you model German fuel shortages in the design?
Bruno: Fuel supply for the Germans is independent of basic supply. The Germans were short of almost everything, but they were especially short of fuel. All German mechanized Divisions start to suffer the possibility of low fuel starting on the 18th or 19th of December.
Grant: How do American supply dumps function? How do they have to protect them?
Bruno: The Americans are pumped up with supply. They don’t need to capture supplies.
Supply dumps are in the game for the Germans to capture and for the Americans to protect. The Germans captured a lot of American supplies during the Bulge, but not so much fuel. American supplies were captured due to the nature of the Red Ball Express. As the supply trucks reached their delivery points in the Ardennes, they were ordered at gunpoint not to unload, lest the supplies fall into German hands. On the other hand, they could not travel back to Normandy with the supplies and get punished for that, so the truckers dumped their loads beside the roads throughout the Ardennes. They did not dump fuel; however, as it was the most critical commodity and carefully monitored. In fact, hundreds of trucks were commandeered to evacuate the large fuel dumps near Stavelot and Malmedy, while other trucks were still trying to deliver fuel to the same towns.
Thus, every town, not village, represents the supply dumps scattered throughout the Ardennes. Each town has a minimal fuel component, with some having more fuel than others. The Americans can blow them when the Germans are adjacent. The only effect of captured supply dumps is the fuel component. Any combat unit can blow a fuel dump.
Grant: To what extent did you go to assure an accurate and complete Order of Battle? What is new to your OOB?
Bruno: John and I have been working on the OOB for 40 years each. A few years ago at Consim Expo, my boss, an 06, happened to attend. He had two questions for me. The first, tongue in cheek, was I on leave or was I on a boondoggle? The second, he questioned my OOB. I started with Kampfgruppe Peiper. I never got through KGP. The Colonel cut me off and stated, “Bruno, we knew you were a nerd, but I am sure no one knows how nerdish you really are.” On the other hand, John Dev is worse than me. We have been through every source multiple times. The last combat units we added were the anti-aircraft units. John and I spent one year on just the AA units. Besides the major front line units the OOB includes, HQ, field artillery, rocket launchers, engineers, anti-tank or tank destroyers, recon, light AA and heavy AA. The specialty of each type unit is modeled in the game.
Grant: I saw some people have a concern about Division ID’s being used on US units rather than battalion/regimental ID’s. Have you thought about making this change?
Bruno: That was never the case. The Division, Regiment and Battalion ID’s have always been on the counters. Mark used a color scheme experiment set of counters when he posted those counters without the full ID’s.
Grant: You know wargamers are the worst in this area and rush to judgment on even draft submissions. What optional random events will be provided in the design? Why is this important in your mind?
Bruno: There are many and most reflect actual events that occurred. They are included as random events rather than as something that always occurs. In this fashion, we don’t need to write them in as rules. They generally are stand-alone.
Grant: Who are you using as developers on the design and what expertise have they brought to the table?
Bruno: I have four Developers. The game is a huge undertaking and has so many facets I needed multiple developers.
Randy Heller. I have worked with Randy on games since 1977. Randy designed the best Bulge wargame ever – Bitter Woods, and I am morphing that system into A Time for Trumpets. Randy is an expert on game flow and play balance. He is also a grammar freak.
John Devereaux. A Bulge OOB expert of the highest caliber. As a play-tester his primary focus is making sure the game is easy to play.
John Clarke. Well known for breaking in new games. John finds a way to screw up your design, which is good. Then you can fix it before the grognards get a chance to blow it to hell.
Jeremy Osteen. This young man is the best rules lawyer on the team. Posed hundreds of rules questions that greatly assisted making the rules clear.
Grant: I figured with a game this size you would need as much help as you could get. Sounds like you have assembled a great team. What major changes have come about through playtesting?
Bruno: Boatloads. We have been playtesting for four years. The changes have primarily involved simplification and getting the flow of the game to generally match the historical timeline without making it set in concrete.
Grant: You do know that grognards will design your game if you let them. How has this statement influenced your design process?
Bruno: Absolutely. A primary concern throughout playtesting was “we need to break the game here, so the grognards don’t get to do it later”.
Grant: What elements of the design still need testing and work?
Bruno: We are simply seeking last minute errata at this point along with minor tweaks.
Grant: What has been the response of play testers?
Bruno: We have had a lot of laughing, thousands of die rolls and many testy disagreements. I kinda liked Ken Nied’s observation that he enjoyed watching me blow my cork when the guys would rub-in exposed flaws.
Grant: What is next for Bruno Sinigaglio?
Bruno: Designing games is a time absorbing effort for me. It will be a bit before I will get back to it.
I want to thank you for your time in this effort Bruno. Not just in taking time out of your day to answer my questions about the game, but for your years or work on this subject and your great attention to detail. I have always found that what makes a game great is the details. Little historical details that make the experience of the game relative to the real experience of the battle that it covers. I also want to thank you for your service to this great country and for who you are.
If you are interested in pre-ordering a copy of A Time for Trumpets: The Battle of the Bulge, December 1944 from GMT Games, you can for the sum of $89.00 from the following link: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-658-a-time-for-trumpets-the-battle-of-the-bulge-december-1944.aspx
The game has Made the Cut with 726 pre-orders so I would expect to see this game printed by the end of 2018.