In the July 2018 Monthly Update from GMT Games came an announcement for a “new space game that we mostly know how to play” called Expansion or Extinction: A Triumph & Tragedy Series Game. We were lucky enough to meet up with the designer Stuart Pierce at the World Board Gaming Championships later that month for a demo of the game and a quick interview. If you have read our blog or watched our channel, you know that we really like the Triumph & Tragedy system. We also really like 4X games, like Space Empires from GMT Games as well as Eclipse from Asmodee. So, I was very excited about this announcement to say the least and after our on camera interview, reached out to the designer Stuart Pierce for a more detailed written interview.
Grant: Stuart, first off please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job? What was your entry point into gaming?
Stuart: Day Job: After a number of jobs, I eventually followed my parents career path and I have been in public education for the past 24 years. First as a Middle School Civics teacher, now as a Test Administration Specialist…I teach schools how to administer the various standardized tests required by the Federal and State governments, and then support the schools during testing…it sounds like a dry job, however students will do the most amazing things to make it exciting! There is nothing like a student’s glass eye rolling across the floor during a test to “destroy” the testing environment for a group of 4th grade students!
Hobbies: Being a Grandfather of two beautiful granddaughters (I am blessed that our 4 year old granddaughter lives a block and a half away…we see her every day; sadly the 1 year old lives on the other coast), war gaming and travel pretty much fill my time.
Entry Point into gaming: Now you’re asking me to remember a long way back! It was some combination of Role Playing (Runequest and D&D) and the old Avalon Hill/SPI games….My first wargame was Advanced Third Reich….I also remember have having Terrible Swift Sword set up on my ping pong table for months in the basement.
Grant: How did you get into game design?
Stuart: I have always toyed with the idea of designing a game (I have a file drawer full of game ideas). I have always been one of those people who “tinkers”. That has led to me earning contributors credits for a number of block games: Prussia’s Defiant Stand, Crusader Rex, and Julius Caesar to name a few.
Over the years I have been lucky enough to have been a part of a weekly Thursday night game group which has included some amazing friends. One of them, Ron Draker, has designed two games Prussia’s Defiant Stand (Worthington Games) and Victory in Europe (Columbia games), so I have a living example that it could be done!
Grant: What do you love most about design?
Stuart: I love the process, the intellectual exercise of discussing what worked and what didn’t work. Often times the after action discussion takes longer than an actual playtest game!
Grant: What is your design philosophy?
Stuart: Now this is a difficult question, and I’m not sure that I ever sat down to think about my design philosophy! I can tell you what is important to me when I play a game however.
The games which I enjoy all feature the following aspects:
• Fun (and not too complicated)
• Multiple paths to victory
• Feature tough choices
• Force a player to be engaged at all times
• Interaction between players – i.e. a game which feels like a bunch of people playing Solitaire at the same table.
I have tried to include all of these aspects into Expansion or Extinction.
Grant: Where did your idea come from to take the Triumph & Tragedy System into space with Expansion or Extinction?
Stuart: When Triumph and Tragedy first came out, we couldn’t get it off the gaming table…we loved it…and shared it with all of our gaming friends…so I just naturally started thinking how would this system work with different eras/conflicts…while many different viable conflicts seemed to fit, mentally I just kept coming back to a space themed game.
Grant: How did the initial meeting with GMT about the design go? What was their initial reaction?
Stuart: After over a year of Solid work on EOE, and with the encouragement of my contributors, I felt that EOE was in a place for me to let GMT know about the game…yes, I was working totally in the darkness! I made a serious push in the months before Winter Prezcon 2017 to get the game finished and ready to show off. (Prezcon had been my “go-to” convention for many years before a new work assignment forced me to miss several years.) I knew that Andy Lewis from GMT would be at Prezcon starting on Thursday and vowed to introduce myself and my game to him.
Andy runs the GMT booth at Prezcon and Thursday morning, I introduced myself and asked if he would be interested in seeing my game design. He said that he’d be interested, but that his time at the convention was always tight…however he could spare 30 minutes for me that evening at 8 PM. I was both elated and nervous! Everything that I had been doing/working on would come down to a 30 minute interview! I gathered a couple of my contributors, Ron Draker and Kevin Garber (who has done playtest work for GMT previously) and was ready at 8PM to show off my game. Six hours later (at 2 in the morning) I had to shut down the conversation…I was exhausted, both physically and emotionally. The good news though, Andy was very interested (hence the amount of time he was willing to give to me)…the bad news, Andy thought that the game was about 80% done. He gave me a list of things to work on (looking at how to produce the game…rather than just design the game).
Grant: Let’s talk a bit more about the “to do list” after that meeting. Can you share with us some of the major items and why you think they needed to be changed?
Stuart: Sure, first I needed to reach out to Craig Besinque (whose T&T design so heavily influenced my game).
Second, I had developed a game without really thinking about how to produce the game…for example one of the first steps in playing the game is to have a “draft” which enhances each players starting position…I had a separate deck of cards for this…Andy encouraged me to find a way to eliminate that third deck….which I was able to do by redesigning one of the other decks…also doing some redesign to reduce the total number of blocks.
When I was scrounging around making my playtest game, I used a bunch of poker chips to show the population and resources for each world….Andy told me that poker chips weren’t part of how GMT produced games…smart aleck that I am, I told him that not using poker chips might be a deal breaker (I could care less about poker chips, I just thought it went without saying that GMT would know how best to produce the game).
Andy wrote me back a long detailed email about the cost of using poker chips, how it would delay production, raise the price point of the game – all very serious stuff. Two things quickly became apparent:
A) my sense of humor doesn’t always track well across the internet; and
B) some designers are apparently more particular than others!
Grant: I don’t know if I should laugh or not because I’m having trouble with your sense of humor across the interweb! Haha. I read where some people asked you how did this game appear seemingly out of nowhere? What is your answer to this?
Stuart: There is a great deal of truth in this…I basically developed the game without anyone outside of my core group of friends knowing anything about it…as a first time designer I wasn’t sure if what I was going to create would be worthy of showing anyone…as I mentioned before, I have a whole file of game ideas, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to move it from idea to product successfully.
Grant: I know this is your first design but you mentioned you have lots of experience working with others on block games. What other games have you worked on and how did that experience prepare you for this task?
Stuart: I have been playing wargames for over 40 years now (ugh…how old does that make me?) In that time I have met and made friends with lots of people in the industry. I really enjoy the block game system, and have spent a lot of time with block games. I have contributor credits with the following block games: Crusader Rex, Julius Caesar, Prussia’s Defiant Stand and Victory in Europe.
I believe that helping these other designers gave me the experience in thinking about how things work, also how a little change might have large ramifications. It also helped me make the switch in my thinking from being a player to becoming a designer!
Grant: Why did you feel the T&T System would work in a 4X style Sci-fi game?
Stuart: I was really torn about what genre to expand into. I toyed with many different wars/campaigns/topics….but eventually decided to go with my heart….as a history major in college, I enjoyed learning about many different eras…but when I sit down to read, its typically either Fantasy or Sci-fi….and I felt Sci-fi really fit with both the system and the back story. I grew up watching TV shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, and now I love reading authors like Jerry Pournelle and David Weber…for me it was such a nice fit that it just clicked!
Grant: What were the challenges in making the system work for this game? Conversely what elements just fell into place?
• Developing and balancing new technology’s
• Developing a map which was appealing and not strictly symmetrical
• Getting the “balance” right; so that there are really multiple paths to win
• CV’s and Fighters-went back and forth on how these were going to work…originally had carriers carrying fighters…eventually decided that CV represented their air wings.
• Card backs…In my first play-test set, I had the Industry Cards in Blue Card Sleeves and the Action Cards in Red Card Sleeves…such a small difference actually affects game play! Ultimately ended up with both decks in the same card sleeves.
• Making sure that there was tension between the players throughout the game.
Fell into place:
• The basic engine…a two deck game
You can see there were more challenges than easy wins!
Grant: Why do you feel the decision to add a card draft at the beginning of the game is so important to the design? What advantage does it give players and how does it affect replayability?
Stuart: I really didn’t want each player to have the exact same starting position, I’ve played a number of those types of games, and was really striving for something which was going to be asymmetrical. It gives each player the ability to customize their starting position, based on what they believe will be most useful to them. In terms of replayability I believe that it makes every game different, with different challenges from the very beginning.
Grant: What type of action cards are there? How should players go about optimally drafting these cards?
Stuart: The action deck has 55 cards…action cards can be used for three basic uses:
• Influencing neutral systems
• Moving units
• Placing Rebels
The vast majority of the action deck (42) cards have a system at either end. There are 3 basic kinds of systems in EOE:
• Independent Worlds—systems so earth-like that they quickly became self-sufficient, once Sol collapsed, these worlds were the first to recover (these are where the players start…they can’t be influenced by action…they have a much stronger defense force than the other systems).
• Colony Worlds—systems which still needed support at the time of Sol’s collapse, but had significant populations. They are harder to influence (i.e. there are fewer action cards with their name on them)…these worlds tend to have higher populations, but have used most of their resources.
• Resource Worlds — worlds deemed not earth-like enough to be easily settled…leased to corporations at the time of Sol’s fall for mining/exploitation…tend to have little population and more resources than Colony Worlds. More easy to influence as they are looking for help!
There are also 13 event action cards. These cards allow you to place influence (or counter influence) in a more flexible way. For Example “Home Field Advantage” allows a player to place influence on any system within 2 hexes of their Home World.
Moving Units: All Action cards have a movement component…There are 4 movement phases and any action card will allow a player to move a certain number of units.
Placing Rebels: Once a Rival has gained control of a system, action cards can be used to place Rebels. While individually relatively weak, if allowed to build up, Rebels can cost a Rival significantly.
One of the things I really like is that since a card can do multiple things, the players are faced with tough choices…Influence a world towards your control, thwart a rivals attempt to gain control over a system, move your fleets, place rebels…as each game is different, I’m not sure that there is an optimal way to play any given card!
Grant: How are the investment cards used and why are they so important the game?
Stuart: The Investment deck, like the action card deck has 55 cards and like the action cards, Investment cards have multiple purposes. Every investment card has the ability to help a player build up their industry. Each card has a factory value between 1-4, and at the start of the game it costs a player 7 Factory points to build a new factory.
41 Technology Cards…these cards have a technology at either end, it takes pairing up the same technology on two different cards in order to achieve that technology.
9 Event Cards…these cards allow a player to activate a special event. Events include things such as Sabotage, Spy Ring and Coups, events that a T&T player will be very familiar with!
5 Year “Wild” Cards…these cards have 6 different technologies on them, and allow the player to pair them with a Technology Card…however each card isn’t active until a certain year. For example, a player wouldn’t be able to use the Year 3 card on the first two turns of the game.
Grant: What types of cards change a player’s abilities during the course of the game and why are they important? Did you ever consider giving each faction asymmetric starting abilities?
Stuart: There are three basic ways in which a player can change the capacity of his side during game play, they are:
• The Draft
• Economic Expansion
During the draft, players can change their sides starting position, and the capacity. They might increase their economic base, their starting forces or what they know about the universe around them.
During game play, players can research various technology, which will increase their abilities. Whether it makes their fleets faster, their ships more powerful or betters their economy…it is up to each individual during play to determine how much they invest in technology.
This is a major aspect of the game, as you build your industry, you’ll find that you need more people and resources to maximize your production…which means you’ll need to go out and secure those factors of production. Whether you determine to do so peaceably or through your military might is a major decision point in the game!
Grant: How does the process of influencing systems work? How are cards used in this process?
Stuart: Players can use Action Cards to influence Colony and Resource Systems. Once a system is explored, players use Action Cards during the government phase to diplomatically affect the various systems. Players, in turn order, place cards to either influence or remove a rival’s influence from a system. Action Cards, can only affect the systems which are listed on them. If a player influences a system which already contains influence from a rival, it removes the rivals influence (rather than placing an influence)
Systems with no influence on them are considered neutral.
Systems with 1 influence are considered Associate and provide the influencing power with exclusive use of that systems Population and Resources.
Systems with 2 influence are considered Protectorates. In addition to exclusively providing the influencing power that systems Population and Resources provide, in order to attack that system, a Rival must declare war on the power which is currently influencing it.
Once a player places 3 influence in a system, that system joins the player fully. The systems military joins the player, the player may base military units there and may use that systems Star Gates (which allows a player to move instantly between two different, controlled systems).
Grant: I love the mechanic you’ve included on the use of influence cards after a world is allied with another player by creating a rebellion there. How does this work mechanically and what difference does it make to the game play?
Stuart: One of my frustrations with the original game, was that once a country was allied with one of the major powers, the action card listing that country became of limited use. Therefore I introduced the concept of rebels, reasonably weak but annoying forces, which if left unchecked, could cause a player significant headaches. Mechanically we have two very different visions being play-tested….more on this soon!
Grant: How did you decide on the layout of the map? What challenges were there and how did you overcome them?
Stuart: My original map very much resembled a very symmetrical “snowflake” for lack of a better term. For me, the purpose of the original map was to make sure that the gameplay worked. Similarly, the names of the systems were names I had selected from my favorite Sci-Fi novels and shows.
Challenges I faced were the symmetrical nature of that original, the objections people had to the star names and a map which was too big to encourage player interaction
For my current map, I eliminated an entire “ring” of hexes, ditched the strict symmetry of the first map and replaced the system names with real star names based on their position in relation to Sol.
Grant: Why did you make the decision to make each planets resources different each game? How did you accomplish this in the design?
Stuart: Three reasons…one is replayability, as it forces each game to be different…you can’t script your “optimal” opening moves. Second is that it adds the Explore element to a 4X game. Third, it fit into the narrative which I was developing in my head.
Each of the various types of worlds have a variable number of population/resources which changes each game.
Grant: What are the different type of planets and star systems represented in the game and how do they differ for game play?
Stuart: There are 4:
• Sol…Mankind’s home before it’s cataclysmic fall…now occupied by a self replicating defense network (think Skynet from the Terminator franchise). In the center of the map, it alone is worth 3 VPs (control of any other system is worth 1 VP).
• Independent Worlds—systems so earth-like that they quickly became self-sufficient, once Sol collapsed, these worlds were the first to recover (these are where the players start)…they can’t be influenced by action…they have a much stronger defense force than the other systems.
• Colony Worlds—systems which still needed support at the time of Sol’s collapse, but had significant populations. They are harder to influence (i.e. there are fewer action cards with their name on them)…these worlds tend to have higher population, but have used most of their resources.
• Resource Worlds –worlds deemed not earth-like enough to be easily settled…leased to corporations at the time of Sol’s fall for mining/exploitation…tend to have little population and more resources than Colony Worlds. More easy to influence as they are looking for help!
Grant: What are the players different paths to victory?
Stuart: Like it’s predecessor Triumph & Tragedy, Expansion or Extinction has three different paths to victory.
• Economic Hegemony (where the total of Production + system victory points (1 for every controlled system (3 for Sol)) + secret Peace Dividend values is the greatest at the end of the game, OR is at 30 at the start of the New Year Phase
• Technological Supremacy (the first player to build the four levels of the Deployable Orbital Offensive Moon (the D.O.O.M. Star)
• Military Victory (control of THREE Independent Worlds – there are six and each player starts on one).
Grant: Did you consider other winning conditions at some point?
Stuart: Briefly, but in this case, the victory conditions from T&T meshed so well with EOE that I decided not to mess with something which already worked.
Grant: What are the differing types of units in the game? What is different about Infantry and Space Marines? How are Convoys used?
Stuart: There are 9 types of units in the game…here is a listing by type with a brief explanation of their abilities.
Naval Class Units
DD – Destroyers…inexpensive screening units…not particularly powerful
BB – Battleships…the main combat arm of the navy.
OSF – Outer System Forts…Stationary Forts based in a system’s outer reaches…very powerful!
Planetary Class Units
Inf – Infantry…inexpensive units, garrison controlled systems.
SM – Space Marines…Elite units which are very effective for invading/conquering hostile systems.
ISF – Planetary Fortress…stationary, powerful ground based units.
Reb – Rebels…weak units placed during the Government Phase…typically more of an annoyance than a threat, but left unopposed, they have the ability to kick a player out of a system.
Fighter Class Units
CV – Carrier Based Fighters…Elite Fighters carried by carriers…can attack both Naval and Planetary basaed units.
Ftr – Fighters…Inexpensive planetary based fighters…able to fight one round of naval combat before having to return to their planetary bases.
Convoys: Convoys are what planetary units (Infantry, Space Marines and Fighters) become when they move between systems. They are very fragile if forced into Naval combat (they take double hits).
Grant: How does combat work in the design and why do you feel blocks were the best way to handle this important part of the game?
Stuart: There are two types of combat…Space Combat which takes place in a system’s outer reaches…this lasts for unlimited rounds until one side is eliminated or retreats.
Planetary Combat is one round of combat as a player tries to conquer and take control of a rival system.
Grant: I really like the sequence of combat with fleets fighting first followed by landing invasions. How did this thought come about? What other games influenced you on this mechanic?
Stuart: Again I must give credit to the original, Triumph & Tragedy, as in T&T before you can invade you must control the sea zone…my design is modeled after the original.
Grant: Technology development is a key part of the game. What types of different tech are available? Are there synergies between various tech? Do certain tech go well with various strategies?
Stuart: Here is an alphabetic list of the current technologies:
• Assault Landing Craft – Invading Infantry can fire on the first round of an invasion.
• Deployable Orbital Offensive Moon (DOOM Star) – Has four levels (the equivalent in T&T is the Atomic Bomb).
• Fast Carriers – CV’s now move at same speed as DD’s.
• Human Cloning – Home World Population +1.
• Improved Light Engines – DD’s move at 3, Convoys move at 2.
• Improved Heavy Propulsion Systems – BB’s and CV’s move at 2.
• Larger Assault Landing Craft – Land 2 Inf units per turn.
• Missile Pods – DD have double dice first round of combat vs. Naval class units.
• Orbital Bombardment – BB may fire at planetary units…hit P1.
• Sonic Fighters – Planetary Fighters enhanced…hit Naval units N3…hit Fighter class F4.
• Synthetic Oil Production – Home World Resources +1.
• Upgraded Naval Radar – BB’s have Fire First technology.
With the exception of the DOOM Star, each technology is stand-alone….however there are certain technologies which complement each other nicely…Improved Light Engines and Heavy Propulsion Systems, or the two Assault Landing Craft technologies for example.
There are many different strategies in EOE and different technologies certainly enhance or impact game play…Missile Pods, Sonic Fighters, Upgraded Naval Radar or Fast Carriers will often see expanded production of these unit types.
Planning on invading? Orbital Bombardment or the Assault Craft are very helpful.
Planning a more peaceful game? Human Cloning and Synthetic Oil Production will gain you a valuable production bonus!
Grant: What is the average play time of a game of EOE?
Stuart: For experienced players, a two player game lasts less than 2 hours, 3-4 player games last just under 3 hours.
Grant: What are you most pleased about with the design?
Stuart: The enthusiastic response that the play-testers have expressed to me.
Grant: What elements still need some work before it is finalized?
Stuart: In terms of game play I would say very little; I’m almost ready to turn it over to GMT for them to do their magic (Artwork, etc.). Having said that, it does seem that as it is exposed to more play-testers, they have made a number of sensible suggestions…and that is part of the process…
Grant: What is next for Stuart Pierce?
Stuart: EOE has been a full time commitment (at least of my gaming time), and while I have a number of ideas (a whole cabinet full in fact!) I am still focused on getting EOE into people’s hands. As I mentioned previously, my work/personality style is to get something pretty well along before putting it out there. So who knows the next time I’ll mention to Andy that I might have a game to show him?
Thanks again for your time in meeting us at WBC last July Stuart and doing a quick on camera interview as well as taking the time to give us more detail on the game in this interview.
If you are interested in Expansion or Extinction, you can pre-order a copy from the GMT Games’ website at the following link: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-717-expansion-or-extinction.aspx
Also, you can get more information on the game from the three articles Stuart has written for InsideGMT at the following links:
The Evolution of Expansion or Extinction
The Evolution of Expansion or Extinction #2: Design Decision – How to Avoid an Asymmetric Design?
The Evolution of Expansion or Extinction #3: Introducing a New Map!
I am so excited about this title!
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