At WBC two years ago we were able to play an upcoming card game that seemed to be a replacement for one of my favorite games Up Front called Point Blank. Now almost two years later the game is nearing final completion and I wanted to talk with the designer Sean Druelinger about the design progress.
Grant: First off Sean please tell us a little about yourself.
Sean: I was born in France (Orleans) and have a French mother and my dad is from Evansville, Indiana. I served 10 years in the military from (84-94) and I have worked in and around IT since that time. I currently am in a leadership position where I support performance improvement initiatives in IT departments. I went to college late in life but have a degree from the University of Maryland in Information Management Systems. I have 2 boys (ages 18 and 24) and a wife of 28 years.
Grant: What are your hobbies?
Sean: I have had many. I love music and played drums in bands for several years. I am out of that now. I enjoy history at all levels. Every small town I end up in with a gift shop I am buying those books about their local history. Living in Maryland provides opportunities to visit many historical sites. I enjoy reading sci-fi and fantasy books. And of course I love gaming! Primary favorites are wargames but will play euros and ameri-trash.
Grant: You mentioned you were in IT but what’s your day job?
Sean: I work for a company called GP Strategies where I am a Director. I support projects based on performance improvements and work with teams supporting ERP systems.
Grant: What’s your favorite wargame and why?
Sean: That is a tough question. My favorite type of wargame are the area movement wargames. Storm over Arnhem, Breakout Normandy, Storm over (Stalingrad/Normandy etc). I enjoy them because they have a good ebb and flow when playing against an opponent. There is often little wait time between a turn. I also enjoy squad level wargames like LnL Tactical, ASL and OST. These games also have good interaction between players.
Grant: How did you get into game design?
Sean: I have always thought about creating games for years. It was simply a creative outlet for me. I would often have a design or mechanic I liked but never completed them. Around 2010, I started playing White Star Rising and started contributing scenarios to LnL’s Line of Fire publication. After a few submissions I asked Mark Walker if he would be interested in an Eastern Front design. I put together a quick mockup of an East Front scenario and demoed it for him at a WBC and he agreed to let me design the expansion which eventually became Stalin’s Triumph. But the project did not evolve completely and not too long after that LnL was sold to David Heath. Some time had passed and Dave found me through some old contact and found out that I was working this design. He asked me to lead the series and we ended up doing 3 titles, redoing White Star Rising and Desert Heat and putting out Stalin’s Triumph. I redid the manual, added scenarios, new features and rules and we released all 3 at once.
Grant: What do you love most about design?
Sean: Mainly the ability to be creative. I enjoy that I can think of an idea and have an outlet (LnL Publishing) to put it out into the public. (A privilege that I do not take lightly). One of my most difficult design attempts was the Solo system for LnL Tactical. The initial design came from Academy Games but aside from unit selection everything else had to be developed and programmed. Essentially I had to program an AI on paper to accommodate for every scenario in the LnL Tactical catalog for both modern and WWII. The fun secret to this design is that when you play a game against the AEO (Artificial Enemy Opponent) you are really playing me.
Grant: What is your design philosophy?
Sean: I like to design games where there are several decisions for a player to make. Having decisions in wargames or historical games in my opinion are what makes them fun.
Grant: What do you find most challenging about design?
Sean: Since the majority of my games are historical in nature I find the research being the most difficult. This hobby has lots of folks out there that are history consumers and I want to make sure the game has a level of accuracy to what is being modeled.
Grant: What do you do really well?
Sean: I do the big picture well. I think that I can look at a design and weed out what will work then dive down into the details and hammer out kinks. I also network very well. I speak with lots of gamers and get some great ideas on what may work or not work in a game.
Grant: What inspired you to design a tactical WWII card game?
Sean: I am a big fan of games like Up Front, ASL and of course LnL Tactical. No one has done a “tactical” level game that is similar to games like Up Front so I felt that I could be filling a gap by making one similar to squad level combat like Up Front.
Grant: Which games or designers have influenced your thoughts on Point Blank?
Sean: Mainly other gamers. I have some mentors like Neal Schlaffer (Enemy in Sight fame) and influences like Don Greenwood (of course) but mainly experienced gaming friends who I have bounced ideas off of and heard what they like and don’t like.
Grant: What challenges did the design for Point Blank present and how did you overcome them?
Sean: The fact that there is not a game board and the abstractness of maneuvering troops on an imaginary grid. The concept is easy but explaining it is another thing all together. Line of Sight gave me a bit of a fit as well as utilizing only a few units instead of all of your units (this is where the fatigue rule helped out).
Grant: What do you feel was important from the history of combat in World War II to include in the mechanics?
Sean: I think it is important to pay homage to the forces that fought in WWII but I did not want to simulate combat. I wanted to give an experience where folks who have no idea about WWII combat can enjoy a good game and learn a little about some of the combat actions through the scenario text.
Grant: What does a typical turn look like in Point Blank?
Sean: A turn is a series of impulses in the form of IGO-UGO until the action deck runs out. Once the action deck is exhausted the turn is over and after some cleanup the new turn starts and players begin again.
Grant: How does combat resolution work?
Sean: Combat resolution is similar to Lock n Load Tactical. It is resolved almost exactly the same including ordnance. The difference is that the d6 results are printed on the action deck cards and the results are resolved by flipping action deck cards for d6 results.
Grant: Talk us through the different types of cards in the game and how they work together.
Sean: There are several types of cards; Action, Unit, Leader, Support Weapon, Terrain and Objective cards. The Action cards have icons on them which determine what action they can perform. The Unit cards are the representation of your forces that are tactically maneuvered in the game. Terrain represents the areas of the battlefield where the units operate in and Objective cards are types of terrain that units will attempt to capture and or defend. Leader and Support Weapon cards are “mini” cards that accompany the units.
Grant: How do the Action Cards work and how do they drive play from round to round?
Sean: A player selects an Action card to play from his hand and for each icon on the card may command a unit or stack of units to perform actions. There are other ways to conduct actions and there is the ability to play multiple actions in one impulse. There are also actions when you discard a card vs. play one and some units (like leaders) have their own actions they can perform within an impulse in addition to the action card.
Grant: How does the AAMS (Abstract Area Movement System) work? Where did your inspiration for this system come from?
Sean: Mainly from Up Front. I took what I didn’t like and turned it into something less frustrating. I took terrain cards and created a separate deck for them. The player initiates a move and during his next upkeep phase resolves terrain (draws top card of terrain deck) and then advances to the new terrain. They do not necessarily know what terrain lies ahead. There are concepts in the game where you can recon for terrain and manage what terrain you end up in or you can screw your opponent with a wire or stream card.
Grant: Which design challenges were the hardest to overcome?
Sean: Line of Sight was probably the toughest. There are some aspects of this in the game that are gamey but in a good way. It provides a level of chaos to the battlefield but subtlety.
Grant: Which aspect of the design are you most proud of?
Sean: I am proud of the movement system. I have played a lot of tactical games in my life and do not think this system has been done. I also like the capability of discarding an action card to perform an action on one unit with a penalty. This helps to dissolve the issue with not having the right card to play factor.
Grant: I know the game has been in development for a few years, and changes have been made since we played last year. What changes were made since then and why?
Sean: The major change has been that we have shrunk the Unit cards from Tarot to Poker sized. We found that your average gaming table would be too small and we wanted to have a smaller area in which to play.
Grant: How does the solo option work? What does the AI do well and what are you still working on?
Sean: The AI is still under development. It is the last thing I will focus on but I can say that it will work similarly to LnL Tactical Solo. The issue is I want the player to be able to play solo without having to get up and move to another side of the table for each impulse. I am looking at options to streamline gameplay.
Grant: What’s left to do before the game goes to Kickstarter?
Sean: Mainly tightening up the scenarios and working on finalizing stretch goals.
Grant: What other projects are you working on that we can look forward to?
Sean: I have assignments to work on Tigers in the Snow (a Nations at War box set) and a Stalingrad version of this game. I am looking into an Area Movement game system involving American Civil War as this exists in but a few games.
Thanks for your time in answering our questions about Point Blank Sean. We really had a great time playing the game last year at WBC and are eagerly anticipating this one.
If you are interested, you can watch our video interview with Sean from WBC 2018 for more information on the game at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-XbEe1jot0