About a month ago, we posted an interview with Matt White, who is a very talented graphic artist and budding game designer. His most recent design is a World War II tactical wargame for 1-2 players pitting the British Airborne versus the German Wehrmacht called Until the Bitter End. The game is a print and play product that has really high quality art, drawn by Matt himself, with some very interesting elements, such as individual infantry unit skills. Here is a link to the Kickstarter page which launches today: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1564988876/1841055391?ref=pibvfe&token=7d396ec0
We reached out to Matt about 10 days ago to offer an opportunity for him to talk about his new design in a Designer Interview. Here is our conversation on the game:
Grant: What is Until the Bitter End about? What led you to design this game?
Matt: Until the Bitter End is a print and play WW2 war-game suitable for two players as well as solitaire. The game sets a small squad of British Airborne against their German enemies in a series of small skirmish scenarios. The game’s counters (or chits) represent an actual soldier with the gameplay being in the thick of man-to-man combat.
I had a few objectives in mind when I started to design this game. Firstly, I wanted to create a game where every infantry counter represented a single soldier. It is really why every counter has a different piece of artwork as every soldier is different.
Secondly, I really wanted to explore the theme of the individual feats of bravery. It is something I read about a lot in first hand accounts of the war. With this in mind, I developed a game mechanic around the player having Bravery Points that you can spend when taking a perilous action. Spending these points means the enemy must re-roll any dice against that soldier taking that action. It has a risk/reward system where if you fail you lose that Bravery Point for the rest of the game, but succeed and it goes back into your Bravery Points pool.
Finally, I wanted to create a game that was quick to setup and play! I find in my own gaming life that I get a lot more opportunities to play a game for around an hour, especially when I come home from work. As much as I love playing long games, I just find I don’t have enough games in my collection that take less than an hour to setup and play!
Grant: What other games did you draw inspiration from for the design?
Matt: I really like games that have a chit pull mechanic – where you take chits from a cup, not knowing what will come next. I find it really adds to the drama and tension of the experience and can help make the outcome less predictable. What I mean by this is that in a lot of games once you start losing its a slow steady decline, or it is predictable that you will have a tough time of it. Don’t get me wrong, I do still like that type of game but I wanted to create a game where the outcome is less predictable and the chit pull adds more of that to the experience.
Grant: What were the struggles you had with the design?
Matt: The biggest area that took the most time was mechanics around the AI for the solitaire game. I play a lot of games solitaire where the game is really a two player game but I play both sides imagining what both side would do based on that historic period and the situation of the game. But with Until the Bitter End, I really wanted to develop a simple AI that helped players determine which enemy counters to activate and what they would do based on their situation.
Grant: How did you go about deciding the different elements used in this tactical game?
Matt: I actually storyboarded out a whole scenario of what I imagine these soldiers would do in different types of situations. The map is deliberately full of cover so combat becomes an up close and personal affair. I tried to cover as much drama as I could think of – so such things as soldiers rushing for cover, helping fallen comrades, charging an enemy machine gun, etc. I wrote all those situations down, along with the feelings I imagined the soldiers would be experiencing, and then tried to create game mechanics to bring those actions to life in the framework of the game.
Grant: What is the unit scale and how did this effect the scope?
Matt: Unlike a lot of war-games, I play where a single infantry counter represents an individual soldier. This was the first decision I made in this design and is a pivotal point in terms of its scope. I had to think of all the elements an individual could possibly do on the battlefield and then imagine how as soldiers each would be different compared to each other. This led me to think about how their skills would be different.
Grant: Why did you decide to offer this as a print and play product?
Matt: It’s part of the theme of the individuality of each soldier that I wanted to explore in this concept. Because in this game, you have to “make it”, the print and play aspect requires an investment from the player is time not money, and that personal investment is part of the narrative of your squad. You also have to name them and roll for their skills. In the game you have to look after them – you only have 10!! So making the game, having to glue the counters down and cut them out, I felt was part of that investment and would help to reinforce the narrative of the individual soldier. Plus I like making things! The two tables I have at home, that I use to do all my art – I made them both with my hands!
“It’s part of the theme of the individuality of each soldier that I wanted to explore in this concept. Because in this game, you have to “make it”, the print and play aspect requires an investment from the player is time not money, and that personal investment is part of the narrative of your squad.”
Grant: As you have said, each individual unit will have skills randomly assigned. How many different skills are there and what benefits do they offer?
Matt: Currently there are 10 skills in the game. They vary from increased fitness, better marksmanship, first aid skills up to units being more ferocious in close combat, etc. These are randomly generated at the start of the game and help give that individual soldier some unique element that is different every game.
Grant: How are the skills tracked across the various units? Is there a bookkeeping element to the game?
Matt: At the beginning of the game, players will name each soldier and randomly generate their skill. The game includes a Squad Record Sheet with each individual soldier. Each counter has a number on it (to left of the counter numbering 1 -10) and these tally to your Squad on your Squad Record Sheet. I’ve kept this as simple as possible and hope to expand this feature in forthcoming games in the series.
Grant: How do players activate their individual units? Will each unit be activated each round or are the activations limited?
Matt: For every infantry counter on your side you place a relevant chit pull counter into a cup. So if you have a full squad of 10 infantry counters you place 10 chits into the cup. Then randomly, you pick one out and that player who owns that chit can activate one (and only one) infantry counter on their side and give it one action. You can only activate a counter once per turn and when all chits are removed from the cup the turn is over.
Grant: What type of strategy does the chit-pull system offer for a tactical game? Why was it the best choice for your design vision?
Matt: I think it really gives a more unpredictable feel to the game and a game where you have to take your chances because you don’t know who is going to go next. I felt that really kept to the tone and theme of the game. With this game featuring the British Airborne I felt that was in keeping. You don’t know what is going to happen so you have to make the best choice in the face of unknowns. This felt like the closest to what I have read of this period of history!
Grant: What other activation methods were considered and why were they ultimately not chosen?
Matt: With this game, once I had this idea of every soldier being an individual counter and wanting to include the British Airborne I just knew this was the activation mechanic I wanted to include! In some of my other games, such as Panzer Orders, I have explored the “I go, You go” mechanic, so I am always keen to try something new! I also think this really helps with a design philosophy I have around not having to wait too long before its your go. Plus, it adds to the drama of not knowing who will go next!
Grant: What are the basic actions each unit can take once activated?
Matt: There are a few actions the player can choose from. Regular movement (which can result in being shot at!) or taking aimed shots will be familiar to gamers. There are also a couple or actions that are a bit different from other games. One is diving for cover even when in open ground. One of these is the Charge! action – this is a “hell bent for leather” sprint and engaging the enemy in close combat. This gives an extra point of movement, and providing they get to the enemy, combat is worked out then and there. Also there is a Medical Aid order where an infantry counter can try and remove any Wounded Counter they have or sprint to a fallen comrade and give them Medical Aid. This is an important action, as keeping your squad alive and combat effective is an important element of victory conditions of the scenario. Losing an objective but keeping the squad alive is important for victory points!
Grant: How does combat work?
Matt: I really wanted to make the combat quick to play and there are no charts and not too many modifiers. Basically, you need to be in line of sight and range of your target and then on a six sided dice its a 3 to hit and then if you hit the target a 4 to take them out of the game. Pretty simple but with a layer on top of that with various modifiers/weapons/special skills, etc.
Here is a link to a video on firing rules: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGawZ4nJFWs
Grant: What are the various modifiers for fire attacks?
Matt: There are just a few modifiers, and this was intentional to keep the game simple and quick playing. Being in cover makes it harder to hit a unit (so instead of a 3 to hit on a six sided die you need a 4). If the firing infantry counter is wounded, they also receive a -1 to hit, etc. There is a simple rule though, no matter how many modifiers there are on a fire attack, if a natural 6 is rolled, it is always a hit and a 1 always misses! Close combat is very simple – you both roll the number of dice as per the counter and who ever gets the single highest number wins. Again, there are modifiers, and like ranged combat, it is where the individual soldier’s special skill comes in that can make the difference.
Here is a link to a video on close combat rules: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRCuPpVlm8o
Grant: As you just mentioned, different types of weapons roll more than one die. Why is this the case and what does this represent?
Matt: Yes, machine pistols and sub-machine guns roll more dice, so in a sense they are more deadly at short range due to the rate of fire. BUT in this game, if you roll a 1 on the six sided die in combat that weapon jams and must be cleared before it can be used again. So, even though they roll more dice, they are more prone to jamming. It is amazing how many times I seem to roll a one when firing sub-machine guns!
As you can see on these counter close-ups, with the MP40 sub-machine gun and the MG42, there is a superscript number to the right of the range number. This refers to the weapons rate of fire and denotes how many dice will be rolled when they attack. Compare that to the Rifle unit who only has a 5 Range listed with no superscript number, which means this unit will only roll one die.
Grant: When a unit is hit, what types of damage are dealt?
Matt: When your infantry counter is hit you roll to see if they are immediately out of the game of if they just receive a flesh wound or dazed or in some other way become less combat effective. At the end of each game turn, you roll to see what happens to any infantry counter with a Wounded counter and this can result in them staying in the game, returning to full combat effectiveness, or even being removed from play. This is why if you get an infantry counter wounded its a good idea to get one of your other unit over to them to give medical aid in order to get them back in the fight.
Grant: What are the different administrative counters used in the game?
Matt. Overall, there are not many counters – after all you have to print each of them and stick them to bits of card!! You have the 20 unit counters (10 each for the Germans and the British Airborne). In addition, you have the Chit Pull counters (which I stick to a thin card) for the cup and then a handful of counters for wounds, weapon jams, heads down, loader, the turn counter, etc.
Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters? What different types of information are printed on them? Can you show a few closeup shots of the counters so we can see the amazing art?
Matt: Of course! The counters are mostly 20mm (or 3/4 inch) as I generally like my counters pretty big! They don’t have too much info printed on them (as very little is required). In the top left is the Infantry number (numbering 1-10) which corresponds to the Squad Record Sheet and then in the top right is the type of weapon and a number below that which represents the weapons range. Some weapons (such as machine pistole, sub-machine guns and support weapons) have a secondary smaller number next to the range to inform you of the number of dice rolled in ranged combat. That’s it. I designed the game to be quick playing so that is all that is needed.
Grant: How does the solitaire option work mechanically? How do players make the choices for the AI? Why does this work well?
Matt: The Solitaire game borrows a lot of the core mechanics and resolution from the two-player game. So mechanics such as movement, ranged and close combat, clearing a jammed weapon, etc. all pretty much work the same. Currently, in the Solitaire game you take the roll of the British Airborne against the Germans in a series of special Solitaire scenarios.
There are however some key differentiators and Solitaire specific rules. Firstly, the AI are handled by a Priority system. This simple system allows players to know which enemy Infantry Counters to activate and what their actions would be. Using this system, you look for the highest priority enemy Infantry Counter first, activate that and perform its actions. For example, if you have a British Airborne Counter in an open hex, with no cover, then the AI priority will be to fire on that if possible. Same applies for close combat – if you have a wounded Infantry Counter that can be charged and engaged by a German Counter armed with an MP40 then it will be a higher priority counter to activate and perform that action.
As you progress through the turn, activating and performing actions with the German AI you will see that they will attack your weaker units with wounded or jammed weapon counters before seeing to their own wounds or clearing any jammed weapons of their own.
I designed this to help the player in making those AI decisions – but ultimately when playing solitaire, its your game and your judgement. These rules are here to help give you a steer toward a balanced and fair game. I always, in all my designs, leave it to the good judgement of the player.
Here is a link to a video covering the Solitaire game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNOgvnE63Ts
Grant: What components come with the game?
Matt: In the game you get the full rules, all the counters, tokens, maps, scenarios and player aids. All you need to do is print them out, mount the tokens and counters to some card, supply your own six sided die and a pencil.
Grant: How many maps come with the game? How many different scenarios are included?
Matt: As I am using Kickstarter to launch the game, I am including an additional map and scenarios for the Kickstarter Edition of the game. Every backer will receive the Kickstarter Edition – so two maps and around 5 scenarios.
Grant: What is the price of the print and play? When does the Kickstarter campaign launch?
Matt: The price is £4 for the game (which at the time of writing is just over $5) and for that you get the complete Kickstarter Edition of the game, plus every backer will get their name printed in the rulebook!
The Kickstarter campaign launches on Tuesday, June 5th at 8pm (British Summer Time) or 3pm EST.
Grant: What stretch goals are included in the campaign?
Matt: I actually originally included the additional map as a stretch goal and seeing as this is a launch for the series (as I want to do more games in the series in the future, featuring different units, situations, etc.) I decided just to include it regardless!!
If folks have some ideas of what they’d like me to include into the game as additional stretch goals then I’d love to hear them!
[Editor’s Comment: I would love to see you offer some of the drawings as prints that can be framed and hung in game rooms!]
Grant: You are a very talented artist and an up and coming designer. How hard is it to both design and do the art?
Matt: It is a lot of work, probably too much really, but I do enjoy both in different ways! Both are super iterative and I like trying things out, seeing if they work. Doing both enables me to try new ideas pretty quickly which is fun and I do find that both feed into each other.
Grant: What are you most pleased about with the design?
Matt: I think that sense of the individuality of the soldiers is a theme I am really happy with. Its a good example of a lot of my design and art outlook – creating something where the visuals and mechanics are in harmony; it gave me more work for sure, but I feel that it really comes through in the game.
Here is a link to the Kickstarter page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1564988876/1841055391?ref=pibvfe&token=7d396ec0
Thanks for doing this interview with us Matt and I am really intrigued by this design. I think that we all love customization and your skill system looks really interesting. I am sure that this can be expanded upon and really fleshed out to generate a truly unique tactical gaming experience.