My first interaction with Ray Weiss was an interview we did in December 2017 on a pre-order game coming out from Multi-Man Publishing called Rostov ’41: Fritz on the Don. That was his first design to get signed and he has been very busy since as he has been working on at least 4 or 5 other designs. I noticed he had another interesting looking game that he is near to inking a contract with a certain French publisher on called Imperial Bayonets: Liberty for Lombardy: 1859 and reached out to see if he was interested in sharing some details.
Grant: I know that you have been working on multiple projects in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars dealing with 19th century warfare. Why are you so interested in the 18th and 19th century?
Ray: For me, it is the disconnect between technology and tactics. Rifles had become modernized and infinitely more dangerous than their Napoleonic counterparts, yet all armies still fought using Napoleonic tactics and maxims up until early 1915 when everyone reluctantly accepted (except for Americans) that defensive tactics and firepower were now superior.
Grant: What sources or other inspiration have you relied on to get it right with these eras?
Ray: Primary sources and staff accounts are generally the best means of finding any data on many of the more obscure battles, though even those must be checked against modern research to see if understandings have changed. Admittedly sometimes I will seek out other older published games that cover the same topic to see the approaches they used and why things may or may not have worked.
Grant: What is your vision for the Imperial Bayonets Series of games? What type of games and differing conflicts are you hoping to cover in the series?
Ray: Ideally, I want to cover engagements ranging from the Age of Reason throughout the late 19th centuries. There are some significant changes to warfare during those periods, but those changes are handled by exclusive rules. If the publisher goes forward with the whole series, I would like to include the Franco Prussian, Austro Prussian, Danish Prussian (lots of Prussians) and some other battles during later 18th century battles.
Grant: What scale are the games in the series at? What are the force structures?
Ray: The game uses a scale of around 500 meters per hex (.3 miles), hour long turns, and 150-600 men per Strength Point. All units are primarily brigades and Corps leaders. Units of the same division may stack 2 infantry brigades; whereas only 1 infantry brigade is allowed in any other hex.
Grant: What specific design challenges have confronted you with this system? How have you overcome them?
Ray: All and all, this was maybe one of the more painless design experiences I’ve ever had. The most difficult part of the design was the research by far as there are few English language sources on the 1859 campaign. The design was written using Kevin Zucker’s Game Design dispatches as a basis for the rules, so ideally, it would manage to emulate other engagements as Zucker manages to do painlessly with Napoleonics.
Grant: What has been your favorite element to model in this series?
Ray: I always love modeling command & control and specific technology. Command is arguably the most important part of warfare (other than logistics obviously) but usually presents itself as a mere inconvenience for the player. I made the design so that players will carefully consider the advantages to being in command as opposed to a wider deployment that may cover more ground but is operationally inefficient.
Grant: Who is your developer on this series and what experience has he brought to the table?
Ray: Matt Ward, who has been graciously developing all of my games as of now.
Matt: I’ve been working as a developer or playtester for the past five years. As in most cases, many of the items I bring to the table are from my 40+ years of playing wargames and my way-too-large collection of games.
Grant: What other games have you developed Matt?
Ray: Probably would be best for Matt to cover this, but I do know he has developed much of the Panzer Grenadier Series.
Matt: Specifically, I have been a developer for the Panzer Grenadier series of games for Avalanche Press for the past four years. I have been the developer for about 15 Panzer Grenadier games that have been published. In some cases the only thing that was provided was the basic structure of the opposing forces and an entire rule set needed to be developed out of thin air. I have also had the opportunity to participate in the playtesting of several of Hermann Luttmann’s Blind Swords series of games as well. I enjoy participating in the development process where a twist here or there can result in a dramatically improved product.
Grant: Matt how was the experience of working on this design and series with Ray?
Matt: Ray is a neverending font of ideas. His interest in game design and his continual tinkering create development challenges, however he is very open to suggestions and the result is a smooth relationship between design and development. It is a rare day that I don’t come back to my email or messages and find several from Ray concerning at least one of our current set of games we are working on. Imperial Bayonets has been our first effort, and being based on an existing game system, we primarily needed to find the aspects of the Second War of Italian Liberation that had to be included. The three armies involved (French, Austrian and Piedmontese) were quite varied leading to some changes in the system which result in a better simulation of what actually happened.
Grant: Tell us about the battles covered in the Quadrigame Liberty For Lombardy: 1859? What is the historical background?
Ray: The first game in the series follows the major battles of the Second Risorgimento, also known as the Second War of Italian Liberation. After the Piedmont had offered much appreciated assistance during the previous Crimean War against Russia, Piedmont expected France to return the favor by helping Italy fight against the Austrian territories in Italy as to nationalize the country.
Grant: What about the battles raised your interest to make a game around it?
Ray: Most of the battles I try to design games around feature pivotal or otherwise important but obscure (at least to my millennial education) battles in the past 2-300 years. Apart from the disconnect between tactics and technology, this is also the last conflict in which Emporers truly led their armies as each army involved in the campaign was commanded by the sovereign. Thematically, it is exciting to place yourself in these roles but under a grand tactical lens.
Grant: What elements of the conflicts did you want to make sure to include in the design?
Ray: The OODA loop for the allied armies (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) was much quicker than that of the Austrians, and this had much to do with both French strategic doctrine as it did Austrian incompetence. The French army acted under the idea of Systeme D’ which loosely translates to muddling through. French units were used to forage for supply, taking the initiative, and following basic military maxims such as following the sound of the guns, etc.
The Austrian army by contrast was predominitely a social club for the Austrian Elite (with the exception of corps commander Radetsky, a genius in war) and most had little to no capacity, let alone talent for leading men in wartime. All of that said, it was still assumed at the time that Austria was a world class army, even though the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. These elements are emulated through the special command rules regarding limits to Austrian attacks based on a corps commander’s initiative.
Grant: In looking at the series’ rules there are some interesting rules for Zones of Control. Why do all friendly units have to attack all enemy units in their ZoC? What is the reasoning behind this choice?
Ray: The hex size, being 500 meters, is roughly equivalent to the total area of frontage of a brigade during this period would have been responsible for. Any enemy brigade close enough to be harrased by small arms fire, and in turn friendly brigade close enough to an enemy, is limited in the operational scope of what they can do. Once engaged with the enemy, they simply cannot ignore them. Hence, this is why players must check for disruption if attempting to leave an EZOC, this is different than the Zucker series in that those do not feature Disruption as a mechanic. Kevin has chastised me about this being somewhat useless but I ended up deciding another status other than Demoralized, OOS, or eliminated was nessecary to reflect the staying power of these units, even when disrupted.
Grant: How does artillery bombardment change this requirement? Why is this the case?
Ray: Artillery throughout this period, like the majority of other periods in modern war, was the king of the battlefield. Men under fire would not be able to effectively keep an enemy in check within their zone of control, so once bombarded while adjacent to an enemy unit, they lose their ability to influence events outside of their hex.
Grant: How does Advance After Combat work with ZoCs?
Ray: As per most games, being that a ZOC can be ignored when advancing. Some games do include pursuit mechanics which allow for something akin to exploitation after combat.
Grant: Why is Command so important to conflicts in this era? What are the effects of units being Out of Command?
Ray: The importance of Command & Control varied between armies. As I explained previously, while Systeme D allowed french units to act on their own initiative, the Austrians had no such doctrine and refused to do anything without being told to do so. This is reflected by the fact that most Austrian commander’s have low initiative meaning if they do want to act reliably, they must be within command range (akin to messaging range) of their parent leader.
Being out of command has a number of different effects dependent on tactical variables, the most common of them being not able to move, this occurs if a corps commander attempts to place themselves in command via an intiative roll and fails, all units within his command range may not move this turn (they still may bombard, attack, or defend normally).
Grant: How critical is the proper use of Cavalry in the series? What types of advantages do Cavalry offer that should be used and abused by commanders?
Ray: This is heavily dependent on the individual game in the series as the roles of Cavalry significantly changed throughout this period. Cavalry is relatively useless for 1859 other than for moving quickly given the rough terrain of the theater. Very little to no Cavalry charges happened throughout the campaign. Other games will have different rules for Cavalry roles as they are appropriate historically.
Grant: What is the combat procedure?
Ray: It should be familiar to most wargamers, after bombardments, total attacking factors, create ratio against defenders, roll on CRT. There are no DRM and the CRT is resolved on a d6. Occasionally, combat will degenerate into shock combat (hand-to-hand) and require another roll to determine the outcome.
Grant: What is the CRT like for the series? What differing results are there?
Ray: It is a purposeful design feature that it is nearly impossible to eliminate units just via combat. Most combat results will call for a retreat. There is an exchange result but otherwise, all combat results generally amount to retreats. Units instead take losses by retreating into an enemy EZOC, doing this multiple times can result in temporary or permanent elimination. Players need to focus on maneuver and turning an enemy’s flank (forcing a retreat into ZOC) in order to succeed at eliminating units.
Grant: How does Shock combat work?
Ray: Players roll 1d6 and half the result, adding the resulting number to the highest initiative in a stack. Players cross-refrence both modified initiatives and apply the listed results.
Grant: How do March Orders work and why are they important to the design?
Ray: March Orders likely aren’t as important when playing solo, but they become fairly important in opposed games. This is because March Order’s allow units to move regardless of command considerations, as long as they move toward the March Order objective. Players will secretly write down the name of a town hex that the corps must move to, once they arrive they reveal the location written to the opponent, and then may function normally after brief demoralization via recovering from the march.
Grant: What are the differences in the phase order between the French and the Italians? Why is this the case?
Ray: The French may choose either a move-fight sequence or a fight-move sequence. Austrian units are restricted and must fight/move most of the time as a reflection on their inability to coordinate offensively.
Grant: Who is Benedek and why does he warrant his own exemption to the rules?
Benedek was an exceptional Austrian corps commander who prevailed over the French and Italians during the first Risorgimento. He was the only Austrian commander with any kind of competence or experience present for the campaign.
Grant: What special rules go with the French leaders Martimprey and Le Bouf?
Ray: One allows leaders to extend their command range by 3, the other allows him to command all artillery units without restriction. These effects simulate the greater capabilities of French Staff and organization comparatively to the Austrian Army.
Grant: How does weather effect the game? How is the weather determined?
Ray: Weather has an outsized effect on the game as it did on the actual campaign. Poor weather conditions were the main reason that the battle of Solferino ended as streams became rivers and roads became streams. Given the wetness and the dense terrain, movement became extremely taxing and laborious for both sides.
Grant: Can you give us a quick rundown of each battle in the quadrigame?
Ray: We are still working on finalizing the last one, but three include Solferino, Magenta, and San Martino. We are also considering Palestro, along with some other what-if situations for the 4th game.
Grant: Can you show us the maps? Who is the artist and how has their style influenced the design?
Ray: The map is only a playtest one as of now made very poorly by me.
Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters? Please show us a few examples.
Ray: Angela Sutton designed these and she’s great, these are designed based on a hierarchy of color coded information.
From top to bottom, Commander, Officer, Artillery, and Infantry. Commanders feature Command Points and Movement Points. Officers feature initiative and movement points. All ground units feature Strength Points, Initiative, and Movement Points.
Grant: How is victory determined in each scenario?
Ray: Depending on the scenario, either enemy/friendly casualties, various hex objectives, or other circumstances designated by Scenario Rules
Grant: What has changed through the playtest process? Please give some specific examples.
Ray: My favorite change to come out of playtesting was giving all OOC units (outside of an officer’s CR who has failed their initative roll) get their own movement and combat phases, unable to cooperate with other units. This was a unique change that I can’t say I’ve ever seen in another wargame and was the brainchild of Matt after testing. This change really gives players a reason to use historical tactics and keep units together.
Grant: I know you are currently working through a contract for the game. What is the timeline for the release?
Ray: If all goes well, maybe mid-2019.
Thanks to Ray for this look inside the upcoming Imperial Bayonets Series and the upcoming quadrigame. Lots of good looking battles in that box.