Compass Games have been putting out a lot of great looking games over the past few years and they do a good job of adding new games to their list each month. Recently, I came across some information about an as of yet unannounced upcoming game called An Attrition of Souls that takes a look at The Great War in a new and interesting way. As it appeared interesting, I reached out to the designer Scott Leibbrandt to see if he was willing to answer our questions and he was….so here is our look at An Attrition of Souls.
*All pictures of components, cards and the board used in this interview are not yet finalized and are for playtest purposes only at this point.
Grant: First off Scott please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?
Scott: My day job is working as an “Export Compliance Coordinator” for one of the larger paint and coatings suppliers. It’s a fancy sounding title, but practically speaking I just deal with the logistics of moving thousands of drums of paints and resins around the globe each year.
In my free time, I like to rock climb. I’ve been doing that for the past two years and finally climbed outside for the first time this summer. I also dabble with photography and cooking. I usually kill a couple hours each week on video games. My main addiction is World of Warships. So…if you ever see Captain Sweatpants ESQ sailing around in the Bismarck, be sure to say ‘hi’.
Grant: How did you get into game design? What do you love most about it?
Scott:I’ve been designing games as long as I can remember. When I was in grade school, I didn’t have a lot of people to game with, so I think designing games was an outlet when I couldn’t actually play them. I probably only played about 2 or 3 games of Hero Quest but I swear I designed at least a hundred different scenarios.
I love the creativity you can unleash in that early design process. I’ve never designed the rough draft of a game just sitting at a desk with a pen. The early design process is done while swimming laps at the pool, commuting to work, or sitting through a lackluster movie.
Grant:What is your design philosophy?
Scott: Minimalism. I usually come into a new design with way too many ideas. The goal of those early playtests is always simplify, simplify, simplify. Occasionally, a new rule will get thrown in, but only if it streamlines the game as a whole. Sure, I enjoy a bit of chrome as much as the next designer, but it’s only through conscious restraint that I prevent myself from designing the next The Campaign for North Africa.
Grant: What do you find most challenging about design? What do you do really well?
Scott:I love the early days of any design. There is a certain excitement about it; everything seems possible. After the first 6 months of playtesting, when you’re 99% there, finishing that last 1% can become arduous. From tweaking how many infantry units the Russians should have, to making sure the Romanian units visually don’t look too much like the Greek units, that last 1% can be a drag. However, that last 1% is critical. I’ve seen way too many good designs that never get published because the designer can’t make that last hurdle from 99 to 100%.
Grant: What designs have you completed and what lessons have you learned about finishing a design?
Scott: Including An Attrition of Souls, I have completed no fewer than eight designs (six of which can be found on BGG, along with some unfinished ideas). https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamedesigner/10917/scott-w-leibbrandt
Of these eight, two have been published, and one is going to be published soon. Put simply, I am batting .375. So, to answer what I’ve learned, I have learned to be ok with not every design getting published. I don’t design for publishers, the market, or an audience. I design for me. I design games I think I would enjoy playing. Case in point, the game I am currently most proud of has been rejected by no less than 3 publishers. It doesn’t change the fact that I think it’s a masterpiece…and I’ve made peace with the fact that I may be the only one who feels that way. https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/242986/join-party
Grant: What is An Attrition of Souls about? What inspired you to do a game on this subject?
Scott: AAoS is about WWI on a strategic scale. I chose the subject matter because it fit the mechanics. It may sound like I said that backwards, but I didn’t. I dream up my mechanics first, and then I try to marry them to a fitting theme. Don’t get me wrong, I never want the theme to feel slapped on, as is the case for far too many Eurogames. I put great thought into what theme to use, what topic will fit seamlessly with the mechanics. My academic background is in history. I hold an MA in Modern European History, so I can usually find an apt theme to fit my needs.
Grant: What was the inspiration for the design?
Scott: I always wanted to design a tile-placement wargame, a game where the only random luck element is what military assets you have access to each turn. Defcon One (an unfinished title of mine) was the closest I ever got. https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/37484/defcon-one-cold-war-goes-hot
AAos was me revisiting this goal. When I made peace with the fact that the game would need a random combat mechanic, that’s when things really started coming together.
Grant: What is the scale of the game? Why did you choose these parameters?
Scott: Each turn is 6 months. Infantry units are roughly equal to around 100,000 – 250,000 men. It gets a little more ambiguous with the artillery and airplane units. Going by early war German division standards, I would place artillery units at roughly 500 – 1,000 artillery pieces. Airplanes are even more difficult to calculate, but I would place each unit at 100+ operational planes. This large scale fits well with the tile draw mechanic. I think anything more operational or tactical would be difficult to implement with the random unit selection each turn.
Grant: What sources did you consult on the subject? What one source would you recommend for someone wanting to read up on the topic?
Scott: My basic knowledge of The Great War comes from some pretty standard sources. I’ve read Tuchman’s Guns of August along with a B.H. Liddell Hart title that currently escapes my mind. To understand WWI on the global scale, I would personally recommend B.H. Liddell Hart’s On Strategy. The section dedicated to WWI is probably just 50 pages, but it very well encapsulates the decisive strategic decisions that would determine the outcome of the conflict.
Grant: What elements from history did you want to make sure to model in the design? What was challenging?
Scott: To be clear, I am no expert on World War I, nor does this game claim to even step a toe into the realm of simulation. This game does have a rich WWI feel, though. As the title indicates, there is great degree of attrition, as you hurl man and machine into the meat grinder with the hope of either achieving a decisive breakthrough, or forestalling the very same. I think this game simulates that tension well. Going into the combat phase of each turn, you almost always feel you are 1 unit short on multiple fronts.
Grant: Who was the artist for the map and what did it add to the theme of the design?
Scott: The sole artist for AAoS is the very talented Bill Morgal. Bill’s artwork has greatly enhanced the clarity of the game through clear iconography and graphics, along with making it a pleasure to look at and play.
Grant: What was the logic behind the regions placed on the map and how does this effect gameplay?
Scott: Region placement was mostly determined by both physical and economic geography. In many ways, region placement is what causes tension for the players. For example, a total German breakthrough in Belgium will place the Central Powers in Paris. At the same time, a German failure in Poland will hand Berlin to the Russians. Already at the outbreak of the war, Germany is on the horns of a dilemma.
Grant: What do the different colors represent in the regions?
Scott: Colors have no historical bearing for the most part. In the case of the Germans, gray was picked due to their ‘Feldgrau’ uniforms. Likewise, red was chosen for the British due to their military’s attachment to the color. However, most colors were just selected for clear differentiation purposes.
Grant: What is important about a region’s allegiance and why is this important to the design?
Scott: Region allegiance is most important for movement purposes. Only units starting in a friendly allied capital can conduct movement. This has a large bearing on players’ ability to move their forces around the board.
Grant: What is the distinction between capitals and regions and what role does each play?
Scott: Regions are much less important than capitals. Occasionally regions will have some economic value, but capturing/holding capitals is far more critical to winning the game, if for no other reason than reinforcements can only enter the game through a capital.
Grant: What are the economic points and how are these used by players?
Scott: Economic points tend to be concentrated in each nation’s capital. Economic points determine how many reinforcements you will get each turn. If your opponent’s economic points start dwarfing your own, the game may come to a rapid and unfortunate end for you.
Grant: How does the game use tiles and what was the reason for this element? What advantage does it provide the design?
Scott: As I stated earlier, the goal of this design was to create a tile-placement wargame. Players randomly draw their tiles and make the best possible use of them. Once a player has moved their tiles, they cannot be moved again until they are railed back to a friendly capital. This gives a very unique feel to the game, knowing that once your units (tiles) are sent to the front, they cannot be easily recalled should a crisis occur in another theater of operation.
Grant: How do tiles get drawn and why did you choose this mechanic? What does this simulate from history?
Scott: This is perhaps the simplest part of the game. Each economic point equals 1 random tile draw. I think we give far too much credit to economic planning during wartime. Having just played Axis & Allies yesterday (as of writing this), I can safely say that the unit purchasing mechanic is both unrealistic and tedious. Economies are large and cumbersome beasts. To think that the USA could build all bombers for a single season, foregoing all other military manufacturing, and then rapidly switch to all aircraft carriers the next season is not very realistic. AAoS frees players of this burden. They are randomly assigned a number of units, good or bad, equal to their economic strength. It is the player’s task to make the most of what they are given.
Grant: How does combat work?
Scott: Without going into great detail, or citing the rulebook exactly, only one player rolls dice during each battle. Once the dice are rolled, both players use the same dice to score their hits. Combat only lasts one round. If tiles from both sides survive the battle, the region is considered contested.
Grant: I read where the combat system is meant to simulate the horrific attrition of this conflict. How does it simulate this attrition? Why is this the case?
Scott: You can still roll poorly in AAoS just like any game, but if you roll poorly, usually your opponent has similar results. Likewise, if you roll well, usually it means your opponent will also be dishing out the hits. The only real way to gain an edge on your opponent on any given front is through combined arms. With relatively few artillery and airplane tiles on each side, these special units must be used wisely.
Grant: What is the Russia Surrender step of the Sequence of Play? What is the strategy for the Entente player with this decision?
Scott: If the Central Powers push too hard against Russia, Russia can effectively drop out of the game. Any tiles (units) Russia drew on the turn it surrenders are replaced with tiles from other nations. In short, if the Central Powers over commit in Russia, a timely Russian Surrender may well result in the Central Powers being decimated on other fronts.
Grant: How does rail help mobilization? What choices are inherent for players in this phase?
Scott: As mentioned earlier, only tiles starting in allied capitals may conduct movement. Each turn a player is allowed only one rail action to pull tiles back from the front in a single region. Otherwise, tiles at the front are more or less locked into their positions. With only one rail action each turn, players will often find themselves agonizing over what units they want to rail back to their capital for redeployment.
Grant: Why are there mandatory battle spaces? What situation and choices does this create for players?
Scott: In a game that strongly encourages attack over defense, mandatory battles were necessary to make sure attackers felt some risk conducting understrength attacks. Put another way, it just didn’t feel right for one German infantry to enter a strongly defended Belgium without at least some immediate risk of destruction.
Grant: What is Declare War and why does this involve neutral nations?
Scott: In AAoS, only neutrals declare war, and they do so entirely at their discretion. For example, the Entente player can limp Italy into the war with 1 mobilized tile, or can wait several turns, until the full Italian Army is mobilized, before declaring war. The decision of when to bring your neutrals into the war is often of critical importance.
Grant: What are the victory conditions for the game?
Scott: In short, economic points win the game. If a player ever starts their turn with more than 17 economic points, they win and the game comes to a merciful end for their opponent. Otherwise, whoever has the stronger economy at the end of 1918 is the winner.
Grant: What special rules have been added to the game and what is your design goal with those additions?
Scott: As of writing this, we are still playtesting several optional rules. I can safely say we have several special units on the way (tanks, stormtroopers, etc.). We will also have some event cards that can give each side a temporary advantage. There are many other optional rules we are working on, but I don’t want to mention them just yet in case they don’t make the cut. Our goal with all the optional rules is two-fold: replayability and thematic flavor.
Grant: What has been the experience and response of your playtesters?
Scott: Generally positive. Everyone seems to pick up the game rather quickly; the strategy of the game is another matter. I think that even though the game is an entry-level wargame, it is still different enough from other wargames that it takes several plays to really see some of the deeper strategies and approaches that can be employed. Personally, I like to think that this means the game has depth, so I take it as a compliment!
Grant: What is left to test in the design? When do you believe this game will be ready for release?
Scott: We are really just working on the last couple of optional rules. I am reluctant to give an exact date, but my feeling is it will be sent to the printer fairly soon.
Grant: What are you most proud of with the design?
Scott: That I made something different. I think even the most experienced wargamer is going to find something new to puzzle over with this title.
Grant: What other projects are you working on?
Scott: First off, thank you for the lead into some shameless self-promotion!
1) As I mentioned earlier, Join the Party! is a finished title looking for a good home. It has all the best parts of hand-management and deduction games with a low MSRP and quick play time. If a publisher happens to be reading this, you should shoot me an email. https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/242986/join-party
2) I want to revisit Ameritrash, another finished title. The game is exactly what it sounds like. In the distant future, 2 – 4 Warlords (players) battle over the charred wastes of the former USA, all while throwing fistfuls of dice. https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/141278/ameritrash
3) I am in the process of co-designing a new game with Dr. Gregory Aldrete. We are working on a cooperative game dealing with The Great Fire of Rome. Greg is an expert in the field of Roman history, and also a well known lecturer on The Great Courses series.
Thank you for your time Scott. I must say that I am very intrigued…and want to know more. I do enjoy games that take uncommonly used mechanics for wargames, such as tile placement, and use them wisely to create an interesting and challenging look at a conflict. I applaud your effort and look forward to playing An Attrition of Souls.
I also am very interested in doing an interview on Ameritrash and Join the Party! and will be reaching back out to you very soon. Thanks again for your time.