The No Retreat! Series is a very popular series that does a great job of simulating some very key battles of World War II. With editions focused on the Russian Front during Operation Barbarossa, the deserts of North Africa, the ferocious battles on the Italian peninsula and the Blitzkrieg on both the Polish and French Fronts during 1939-1940 the series is very versatile. The designer Carl Paradis has now introduced the system used for the game into a series that will focus on individual years during World War II and will have you fight key battles of that year. We reached out to Carl to talk about his vision for this new series.
Grant: We haven’t talked with you since last year when we did an interview on No Retreat! The French & Polish Fronts. What have you been up to over that time?
Carl: Well, my free hobby time has been much dedicated to the design of GMT’s Absolute War WW2 game (here is an interview we posted on the design nearly two years ago) it is an evolution of my first game design, No Retreat! The Russian Front, using a completely new game engine that centers on event cards and a map mostly using areas instead of hexes, and no dice. That title should be released late this year or early next year. If it does well, I’ll make it into a new series, covering the same topic as No Retreat! at pretty much the same scale.
Because of this, the development of No Retreat! The Western Front 1944-45 has taken a short pause. I will go back to finish that tile when Absolute War is released. I have also been doing a lot of research for, obviously, the new No Retreat! Battles series, and a future Ancient/Medieval series called 100 Battles but more on this later.
Grant: Where did the inspiration come from for your new game No Retreat! Battles: 1942?
Carl: Good Question! My original “Strategic” WW2 No Retreat! Series will have pretty much shot its proverbial bolt in a few years, after the release of NR! Western Front. I was searching for a new outlet for the system: I had in mind to first continue the series into Modern times, covering the Korean War, the Arab-Israeli wars, and others, but this will wait for a while as I need to collect more historical research for these; I am not yet ready to go into that design direction, as these conflicts are not my area of expertise. I am way more of a WW2, Napoleonic and Ancients fan. And I wanted to do more WW2 stuff, especially some Pacific War Battles. So, the idea of doing smaller-scale WW2 Battles instead of whole Campaigns came up naturally.
When a teen, I had hours and hours of fun, playing the old GDW Series 120 games. I loved them! Some of their games had a WW2 year as their title: 1940, 1941, 1942…I wanted to make small, very simple games, as I did for my very firsts designs for Victory Point Games, using not much more than 50 counters per battle, offering many in each box. And thus, came up with the idea of doing one game per WW2 year, putting in as many interesting battles from that specific year as possible. This has never been done before as far as I know; this makes it very exciting for me to do!
Mind you, I have already used the NR! system for a small-scale battle, namely the “Air Assault on Crete” bonus mini-game offered in No Retreat! The North African Front. That small affair was very well received, some gamers even prefer playing it instead of the main game ( ! ).
Grant: What is your main vision for the series and where do you think it will take us?
Carl: These games will be a REAL series and are planned as such. When I started doing the No Retreat! Series I really only had plans for one game, so even if the following titles mechanics are all very, very similar, they do not share a common rulebook. These new games will sport a common series rulebook; this will make the transition from one game to another effortless for players; yet there will be something new in each and every battle, as I will still adapt the ruleset a little bit when needed to make it show certain battles’ peculiarities.
My vision is to make one game per WW2 year, seven games total, with between 3 to 5 battles in each box. I want to keep the form factor the same (counters, maps, event cards) for all the games. If the series is very successful, I could make extra games covering a “busy” year with extra battles.
Grant: How much of the basic rules and systems have you retained from the original No Retreat! Series? What is new as far as rules are concerned?
Carl: The games will be as close as possible to the first No Retreat! Russian Front title, but even easier to play with way less needed as the scope of the games is smaller: Battles instead of whole campaigns. You could say the series rulebook will be much shorter than the one in the first NR title as my aim is to make everything fit in 12 pages or less; heck the initial VPG No Retreat game had an 8-page rulebook.
All in all, nothing new in the rulebook proper; albeit each battle might have some special rules added when needed. For example, the Dieppe Landings game will have Sea Invasion rules added, plus instruction on how to use the solitaire Event Cards. The main mechanic differences compared to the higher-scale NR games will be represented by changes in the Combat Tables (different Combat Results) and Event Cards’ text (more tactical in nature). Given the scale, the rules regarding Replacement of losses will be different (more difficult to replace losses). A lot of that stuff is already present in the NR “Air Assault on Crete” mini-game.
If there is one thing to know and remember, it is that those games will be very fast to set-up, and also fast to play, with 6-10 turns maximum for each.
Grant: This first edition in the series covers the year 1942. Why did you feel this was the right year to start the series off with?
Carl: In fact, this is not the year I wanted to start the series with! I was looking more at 1943, the turning point of the war in my opinion. But I decided to first check out what the NR fans had to say. I put out a poll on the Board Game Geek website last year to get their advice on this. 1942 was the overwhelming favorite, and the GMT crew favored that year also: Gaming Democracy in action. 1942 is also a very, very good year with lots of interesting battles to choose from.
Here is a link to that BGG poll: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2040157/new-no-retreat-series-coming-player-input-needed
Grant: What battles have you chosen for inclusion in the first game in the series? What was your criteria?
Carl: I simply used the same tactic as above. I made up a BGG poll with a list of prospective battles, and asked gamers their preferred choices. I did use a bit of my “Game Designer’s Choice” power and selected one game title that I really wanted to cover, the little-known battle of Velikiye Luki. And I had space in the box for 5 battles as a couple were smaller affairs.
Here is a link to that BGG poll: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2044709/no-retreat-battles-1942-poll
As for my general criteria for the battles in the poll, it is more of my own take on what battles were decisive or had a good “fun” potential. Little-covered or difficult to simulate encounters also had extra points. And I wanted at least one Pacific Battle! A few titles might try a comeback in another game, as some took place in two years, like Singapore (1941-42).
Grant: Who is helping you with scenario design?
Carl: I have no real help for that part. Given the smaller scope of most battles, the very fast playtime, and the fact that there are already five in the game box, I do not plan to add any extra scenarios for each battle. The exception will be for Guadalcanal: the game will consist of three linked scenarios, depicting the three Japanese offensives. I do have a few WW2 experts cross-checking my Orders of Battle.
Grant: What battles did you leave out that you were really torn over doing so?
Carl: All the possible battles were interesting so it was indeed a hard choice. The Spring 1942 Soviet Kharkov offensive and the Malaya/Singapore campaigns were the ones I wish I could have added. There is still hope for Singapore as that campaign started in December 1941 so I could put it in the ’41 game. And who knows, if the series is successful I could make a second ’42 box, or perhaps offer a few games separately?
Grant: How is the scale different from the No Retreat! Series? Was this problematic for your design?
Carl: The scale will usually be a bit smaller; sometimes not, depending on the battles. The original series was mostly Armies/Corps or Corps/Divisions. This series will be Divisions/Regiments, with a few smaller affairs treated at the Battalion level. Mind you, there was already a smaller scale battle included in one of the NR titles (the “Air Assault on Crete” at Battalion level). So this is not problematic at all, I will change the Combat tables and a few rules to show the differences, especially in the Turn time frame, which will be much shorter.
Grant: What number of counters will generally be included in these battles?
Carl: As you know, I dislike large counter counts and large stacking. So I try to limit the number of counters in my games as much as possible. My average square counter count is 35 for each battle. Some will have a bit less, some a bit more, but this is as far as I can: I have to make do with 176 counters to cover the five battles. The very first edition of No Retreat! The Russian Front had 44 square counters only. Design-wise, I want players to manage about the same number of maneuver elements than they do in a Chess game (16 pieces), so a couple dozen stacks maximum.
Grant: The game description on the P500 page says the following: “It’s a series of quick-playing yet realistic affairs that favors the offensive-minded player”. What does this mean for us as players? Less detail? Lower rules overhead?
Carl: Yes, there will be way less rules overhead, and less game turns also. Given that the scenarios are simulating battles instead of campaigns, and with less counters and less event cards, this means the games will be faster-playing. As for the detail, you’ll often get more of it, as I can focus more on the peculiarities of each battle, compared to a whole huge campaign spanning over many years.
For example, I will be able to add a bit more detail for the Artillery, Naval and Air aspects, like I did in the “Air Assault on Crete” mini game. But this will not result in more complex game rules. The card play aspect will be simplified a bit, if only because you have way less strategic options than in the NR: Front Series. The core rulebook will be at least half the size of the previous NR games, probably way less. My aim is 12 pages. If more this will be because of added graphics for ease of learning.
Grant: You has mentioned earlier that there are exclusive rules for some of the battles. Can you share some of those with us?
Carl: Absolutely. Each battle will have some exclusive rules. These will not be large. I don’t want more than one page of extra rules. But there will be exceptions, some will have way less or none, and some more: only a few extra pages will be needed for the solitaire games “Command Events”. Some of the rules will be common to many Battles. Here are some:
GAZALA: Tank Recovery – Armored Battles – Minefields – Air Support
STALINGRAD: Solitaire Play Rules – Hidden Unit Values – Variable Game End
VELIKIYE LUKI: Fortified Cities – Ski troops – Artillery Bombardments
DIEPPE: Solitaire Play Rules – Hidden Unit Values – Amphibious Assaults – Variable Game End
GUDALCANAL: Hidden Unit Values – Air Support – Night Combat – Jungle Battles – Naval Bombardment
Grant: How do the CRTs differ for each of the battles? How difficult was this to keep straight?
Carl: If you have noticed, all the NR: Front Series games have different Combat Tables, sometimes there are large differences, or not. This will be the same for NR: Battles. The CRTs are one of my major “Simulation” tools, and I do not hesitate to add extra tables if warranted. NR: The Russian Front had two Tables, NR: France/Poland five Tables. Expect at least two tables per battle, one for each side, with some extras for special cases, like the Armored Battles in Gazala, or the Night Battles in Guadalcanal.
It was not a design issue to tweak these as needed to get the desired effect: it helps immensely keeping the Combat rules simpler while effortlessly adding more tactical detail for the players
Grant: How are the Event cards used in the design?
Carl: The use will differ a bit from the NR: Front Series, mainly in the event’s text and effects. You’ll get less long-term Strategic events, they are more Tactical in nature. As in the other series, you’ll not only use the cards for their events, but also to pay for various game functions, like replacements. Plus some battles will have specific solitaire-play event cards.
Grant: There are over 160 Event cards. How are they divided up? By battle? By nation?
Carl: Good question! They will be divided Battle, with one deck of cards, 2 events on each card: one per player. The exception will be the solitaire battles: each side will have it’s own deck.
Grant: What has changed in the way these cards effect play?
Carl: The basic card play remains the same. Again, the exception is for the Solitaire games, where most of the cards used by the solo game engine will be totally different: They will consist of a certain level of orders and reactions to execute, depending on the situation on the board. Since these orders and reaction can be extensive, only the titles of each “Command Event” will be displayed, the text will be written on a Player Aid Card (usually a small paragraph per event).
Grant: Leader cards will be included in the design. What unique abilities will they have and how does this effect game play?
Carl: I used Leader cards in the Italian Front and French/Polish Front games. The cards serve as “mini-rulesets”, showing various abilities a player has, like the number of attacks that can be made in a turn, the number of event cards or Support markers in your hand, etc. There can also be specific changes to the game rules or combat results, like Stacking limitations or Special Attacks.
In the NR: Front Series a Leader could be replaced by a new one because of his lack of success during the game, but in the NR Battles Series this could happen for other reasons, including card events.
Grant: What specific leaders are included. Can you show us an example of one personality?
Carl: The side commanding leader will be used only. So one leader per player (plus a replacement, if need be). A good example would be the Battle of STALINGRAD:
Vasily Chuikov the commander of the Soviet 62nd Army.
– He can keep a card hand of 4 cards maximum (Normal is 6)
– If he is replaced the Soviet player loses 2 Victory Points.
– He can use up to 4 Support Markers per turn (Normal is 3)
– “IRON WILL” – The Soviet player can take a step loss instead of retreating.
– “HUG THE ENEMY!” in City Hexes, Artillery and Air support is halved.
Grant: What does the solitaire system use to take actions for the AI?
Carl: The system will use “Command Event Cards” that will be drawn as needed, and will instruct the AI player on what to do.
Grant: How does the AI prioritize decisions?
Carl: Oh boy, so many factors to cover here. I’ll try to keep my explanations simple. Given that the two solitaire battles are pretty much static City fights/Invasions, this will be easier to manage vs. the AI moves options, the AI also playing the defender helps a lot.
The Combat tables will be different for the AI, with the possible options fixed for the turn. For Example a “CA” counterattack result will be either mandatory for the Game-Turn duration or not, depending on the AI “Command Event”.
The Battlefield will be divided in 3-6 “Command Areas”. For each active area the AI will draw one Event card and follow the command instructions written on the play aid card. Active Areas are those where the enemy is present and has attacked. In some cases inactive areas could draw a card also, but this will be less often. A minimum of one card will be drawn, even if the enemy did not attack.
Each of those cards will have six “Situation Levels” from which the AI will select one, depending on the situation on the ground in the Active Area that is checked (Excellent Situation, Fair, Bad, Desperate, etc.) If none fit, a dice will be thrown to get the order to follow.
There will also be a random “Command Reaction” order at the Bottom of the card that could be used during the opponent’s turn. These will be activated by enemy random Card events and Combat results.
Grant: I see that there are two mounted map boards listed. How do you get all the varied terrain on just two boards?
Carl: Good question! Both boards will be double-sided, so this is 4 maps already. The Dieppe and Stalingrad Battles will share half of the same map, which is easy to do as both are linear engagements. Voilà!
Note that each map is half the size of a regular GMT Board, so the table footprint is small. Hexes on the map will be the same size as the other NR products: BIG hexes, without location numbers in them.
Grant: How large is the play area generally for scenarios?
Carl: The play area will cover all the map, with a few exceptions where special holding boxes are needed or the two solitaire games mentioned earlier. Generally: 22×18 inches.
Grant: How long has this design been ongoing?
Carl: I have started really serious work about two years ago. But if you count the mini-game in NR: African Front, then it started in 2013.
Grant: What has been the reaction of play testers and what are they enjoying about the focus of the system?
Carl: The games are easier to get into than the NR: Fronts in a way, as these are Tactical/Operational games with way less turns: 8-12 Turns instead of the usual 24 Turns. The variety of the situations depicted is also very appreciated: I mean, you get FIVE battles, all very different from each other, in the same package. From the Pacific Jungles to the Snowy Russian Steppes to the Beaches of France and the Sands of Africa! Speed of play is often mentioned. The AI system seems to be very-well liked, as is the new Hidden/Random Strength system.
Grant: What elements still need work to iron out any kinks?
Carl: The Solitaire AI system needs some extra tweaking. Not something easy to do. What was I thinking to embark in such an endeavor, argh…The Guadalcanal game is not nearly finished yet, much more complicated to do than I anticipated due to the Naval, Air and supply aspects; I will get there eventually. I also need to resist some of my natural urges to add extra chrome when not needed.
Grant: What changes have occurred through playtesting? Please give a few specific examples.
Carl: Interestingly enough, I was able to simplify the game: usually the opposite happens! I was not sure I could get by with the number of counters actually planned, and I ended up with some extras, which is always a good thing. A lot of the smaller units were removed and integrated into a new concept of Round Support markers, plus it doubled up as a new “hidden/variable” unit strength rules. The round unit support markers will be placed on their unknown side to be revelated if need be later in the game. Example: an Assault Gun Company, an Engineer Unit, Soviet Conscript Troops, Hidden Bunkers. Some of these markers will be hidden to both sides, some only to one, depending upon the game situation, and can also sometimes take losses. These work really great and add a layer of limited intelligence that you need in smaller-scale games.
Grant: What year do you think you might choose next to focus on or are they already set?
Carl: This is not yet decided. The BGG survey gave 1944 as the second choice, with 1939 finishing a surprising third! So it will probably be 1944: this will be a good year to add more Pacific Battles. For 1939, I may add a Spanish Civil War battle, and a Russo-Japanese Battle. In order of publication, let’s tentatively say: 1942 – 1944 – 1939 – 1943 – 1941 – 1940 – 1945. Over 30 games! This list might change over time, of course.
Grant: What are you most pleased about with the design?
Carl: Easy: the fact that I will be able to do many more No Retreat!-style, but simpler, titles.
I am going back to the super small form-factor of the original Victory Point Games designs. Yep. I like smaller games. Plus after the upcoming No Retreat! The Western Front 1944-45 from GMT, I could not see how to develop this WW2 campaign series longer.
Doing smaller battles was the solution.
Grant: What other projects are you working on?
Carl: This is a hobby for me, impossible to make a living out of designing wargames; so I don’t get that much time to do all the projects I want; until I retire that is, THEN I will have lots of time! There are a few series of solitaire strategic games I wanted to do, and some Fantasy/Sci-Fi wargames also. These are on hold right now due to a lack of time.
Besides the last WW2 game of the NR: Front Series (Western Front 1944-45), I plan to perhaps take it into other periods, like WWI, The Korean War, Arab-Israeli Wars, etc. But this is super long-term.
BUT there is a trilogy of games on my medium-term horizon: 100 BATTLES”
One game covering the Ancient period, one the Dark Ages, and one the Medieval period. Same great components as the NR products. Think of it as a “middle-of-the-road” game between GMT’s Commands & Colors and Great Battles of History. No dice, no combat tables, only cards to take care of events, moves and combat. Each player has his/her own custom deck, and about two to three dozen units per side, maximum. Maps will have areas/deployment zones (no hexes). Army and troop morale plays a very important part. Leaders too. Players give orders to their armies in advance by selecting a variable number of “order” cards (depending on leader and army quality), that will be revealed one by one simultaneously by both sides and acted upon. So good advance planning is required. Leaders can interrupt the card play using their special powers. A game will be playable in one to two hours MAXIMUM. I plan to offer 100 scenarios (battles) per game. One double sided map. Four decks of 55 cards. Two sheets of 88 square counters and one sheet of round; Same counter sheets as the NR game. Mechanically that game will be simpler than Commands & Colors and will play much faster. Quick – Fun – Historical – 100 Battles – All in one box! The base groundwork design is done. The biggie will be the research for the multitude of scenarios. I plan working more on this in 2020-2021.
If you are interested in any of my projects, check them out on GMT’s web site, especially on my P500 pre-order page:
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to discuss my small game design projects. It is very appreciated.
As always, thanks for your time in answering our questions Carl. The game sounds great and I really look forward to the multitude of different battles and situations to explore.
If you are interested in No Retreat! Battles: 1942 you can pre-order a copy for $50.00 from the GMT Games website at the following link: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-773-no-retreat-battles-1942.aspx
Love to see Spring 1942 Soviet Kharkov Offensive published; maybe in C3i.
I’d also like to see what Carl could do with Napoleonic topics.
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I like both those suggestions.
Love everything Carl designs. I cannot wait for 1942.