We love interacting with new designers on our social media platforms and getting a feel for their upcoming games. Last year, we ran a few interviews with a new designer named Joe Schmidt and I have really enjoyed his comments about these games which cover such very cool historical happenings such as Guerrillas of the Peninsular War and This Present Winter: Washington’s Crossing and the Battle of Trenton. Joe is a very creative and detailed designer and also does his own graphic design work as well. Earlier this year, I saw his new upcoming solo design called Anzac Cove which focuses on the action at Gallipoli during World War I and tells the story of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs) and their landing on the beaches of Gallipoli in the early morning of April 25th, 1915.
Grant: What is this new design Anzac Cove about and what historical event does it focus on?
Joe: Anzac Cove is about the landings by the Anzacs (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) and Indian troops at Anzac Cove on April 25th, 1915. These actions were the beginning of the Gallipoli Campaign by British, French, and Commonwealth Forces against the Ottoman Empire on the Gallipoli Peninsula in an effort to seize the forts protecting the Dardanelles and access to the Ottoman capital at Istanbul. While the campaign ended in defeat for the Triple Entente forces, it’s impact still resonates deeply in the history of Australia, New Zealand, and modern day Turkey. So much so that September 25th is celebrated every year by Aussies and Kiwis as Anzac Day, and is commemorated with a ceremony at Anzac Cove in Turkey.
Grant: I see where you refer to the game as a “narrative solitaire Wargame”. What does this concept mean to you?
Joe: For me, a good story is a crucial part of any game. I want my games to allow players to suspend reality and attempt to understand the history of the topic through storytelling. I see the mechanics and the components as tools that can be used by the player to tell the story of Anzac Cove in a way that expresses in some small sense the bravery and fear of the Anzacs and Ottomans on that day. A lot of this stems from a recent viewing of the classic movie “Paths of Glory” by Stanley Kubrick.
After watching the movie I got to thinking about creating an “anti-wargame”. I wanted to tell the story of the brave Ottoman and Commonwealth soldiers at Anzac Cove. In order to do that I found I needed to scale down from a command level to a platoon level. There has been a fascinating shift in the historiography of war from the commanders to the common soldier over the past couple decades, so my decision here was to try to allow the players to tell the story of the common soldier to better understand the concept of “Anzac Spirit” in a way that glorified their spirit more than the combat itself.
Grant: I understand the game was designed for a Board Game Geek contest. What is that story?
Joe: I really love the BGG design contests. They are a great opportunity to get new eyes on your designs and to see the work of others. I am always blown away by the depth of design talent in our community, and the contests are such a great outlet for people to share their art. But, the reason for this specific design is all due to my talented, beautiful wife.
Melissa is a family photographer who is constantly looking for ways to learn more about her craft. So when the opportunity for her to attend a workshop in Australia came up we both decided that we had to make the trip. When we were planning our trip I started looking for some games to bring with me that focused on Australian history. In the process of looking I couldn’t find anything small enough to fit in my backpack, so I decided to design my own!
I have always been fascinated by the Great War, but didn’t know all that much about it. Combining Aussie history and WWI got me to Gallipoli. The more I did my research, (reading, watching movies and tv shows, listening to podcasts, etc.), the more fascinated I became with the campaign. So, I scheduled a trip to Canberra to go visit the Australian War Memorial and decided that I would design a game on the landings at Anzac Cove.
Grant: What elements from Gallipoli did you feel needed to be represented in the design? How did you accomplish these?
Joe: The most important thing for me in this design was to not take sides. I did not want the player to turn the Ottomans into monsters. The Gallipoli Campaign has become an important part of the history of all of the nations who took part, and their shared respect for one another is, for me, the lasting impact of the battle. This was best said by Mehmet Attatürk in his famous speech given in 1934:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours … You, the mothers who sent theirs sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
Powerful stuff. Powerful enough that Attatürk has two statues I saw in Australia during my trip. That type of reverence for an enemy commander shows a mutual respect that demands to be represented in any media that covers the topic.
Grant: The design is a solitaire game. What challenges did you have in designing a solitaire game for the first time?
Joe: You have to make the player feel like they are playing against a challenging opponent. At first, the idea for this design started with a two player trench warfare game. I played that and enjoyed it, more on that design later, and took the distilled version of that and applied it to Anzac Cove. The idea was to create a vibrant AI that would be somewhat predictable, but also create a “fog of war” that could catch the player unawares.
The biggest benefit of designing a solo game is that your individual playtesting in the design process can be really exciting. I still design the games that I want to play, so working on a solo design is really exciting because I am essentially always trying to beat myself at my own game. I feel that solo games also allow for a more narrative experience, so it really allowed me to focus in on creating a full experience. The mechanics of Anzac Cove are really baked into the narrative, and I am really proud of that.
Grant: What other solo games did you use for inspiration?
Joe: From Hollandspiele I love Wars of Marcus Aurelius by Robert DeLeskie and Agricola, Master of Britain by Tom Russell. I was also a huge fan of Ottoman Sunset by Darin A. Leviloff. All three of these games create a really excellent play experience with a really tight narrative. My experiences with these three games made me really think about the options that were open to the player, and a challenging opponent who would always pose a challenge. In particular, Ottoman Sunset has a Gallipoli Campaign mini-game that is really exciting and it gave me a lot to chew on as I worked on Anzac Cove.
Another big inspiration for me was Pax Pamir by Cole Wehrle. I love the way that the game uses Wakhan as an automaton in the solo version of the game. The idea to name the automaton in Anzac Cove actually came from my experience with Pax Pamir. It is a really elegant way to tell the story, and the depth of the design creates a fantastic solitaire experience. If you haven’t checked it out I would highly suggest it.
Grant: What sources did you consult for information about the design?
Joe: Researching for this game was one of my favorite parts of the design. And, a big part of that was The Australian War Memorial. The Memorial has an incredible website with a wealth of digitized documents that I was able to use to access everything from journals to official war histories. But the real joy was my “research trip” that I took to Canberra on our visit to Australia. I spent two days exploring the exhibits, taking notes, and even spending some time researching in their library. It was an incredible experience, and one I will never forget.
My primary resource for the game was Anzac to Amiens by the incredible C.E.W. Bean, Australia’s official war correspondent. I also highly enjoyed Gallipoli: A Ridge Too Far. Edited by Ashley Ekins, this is a collection of the works of historians from seven of the countries that participated in the fighting at Gallipoli. It is an excellent book, and a great opportunity to learn more about the campaign from different perspectives. As far as visual media, I also really enjoyed Peter Weir’s movie Gallipoli and Nine Network’s Gallipoli miniseries.
Grant: What factions are involved in the ANZAC side and how do they differ in the game?
Joe: Gallipoli was a truly global affair. Soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, France, India, the United Kingdom, the Ottoman Empire, and Germany all took part in the campaign. With the focus of the game specifically being on the landings at Anzac Cove, I wanted to make sure that I accurately represented that diversity in the design. While the Aussies were the first ones on the beach, they were followed later in the day by the New Zealanders and Indian Mountain Artillery. In the game, the Kiwis and Indians arrive at the start of the Noon round.
The focus of the design was making sure that all the forces complemented each other. The Auckland Battalion is represented by black and white Kiwi tokens. When these tokens move along with Aussie tokens during an Advance Action the player receives a +1 DRM to their dice rolls. The Indian Artillery are represented by an additional Action Card that offers a powerful shooting attack. Together, these reinforcements offer the player some additional tools to use as they plan their strategy for taking the Third Ridge before the end of the day.
Grant: What are the stats for the Ottoman troops?
Joe: The Ottomans have the same Combat Value as the Anzacs (+5 To Hit) with a shared Spirit of five. Spirit acts like a shield or armor in the mechanics of the game. As long as they have one Spirit remaining they will always lose one Spirit in order to cancel one Hit (Stress or Wound). This means that in order to remove one Ottoman token you must deal two Stress. But, once the Ottomans have lost all of their Spirit any Stress the Anzac player deals will remove one token. The idea here was to represent the bravery of the Ottomans at Gallipoli, and to show how their leadership helped to steady their defense during the landings.
Grant: How are cards used in the design?
Joe: The cards in Anzac Cove include Character Cards, Action Cards, Map Cards, and a single Round Card. The Character Cards are used as a player aid, and give specific details to the abilities of each faction. The Action Cards are used by the player to take special actions during their turn, and by the Ottoman automaton via the Orders Deck. The Map Cards are used to represent the terrain that the Anzacs and Ottomans fought over, and the Round Card is used to determine how much time the player has left to achieve their goal.
Grant: What are the Map Cards and how are they used?
Joe: The Map Cards and their purpose in-game are identified by art and symbols. Each card has art depicting the type of terrain, a number that represents how difficult it is to advance into the terrain, and red dots that denote if a card is occupied by Ottoman soldiers.
The Difficulty (number in the top left hand corner of the card) represents the additional effort required by the Anzacs to enter the terrain. This number will either be 0, +1, or +2. Cards with a zero or +1 are considered Hills and cards with a +2 are Ridge Cards. If you are attempting an Advance Action into a Hills or Ridge Map Card, add the Difficulty to the cost of the action.
The number of red dots represent the presence of Ottoman soldiers in the area. As soon as a Map Card is flipped, collect the appropriate number of red Ottoman blocks and place them on the card. When the 7th Map Card is flipped, place all remaining Ottoman tokens and the red meeple onto the card.
Grant: What is Mehmet and how does this control the Ottomans? What type of priorities does it use to determine actions? How does the Orders deck function?
Joe: In Anzac Cove the Player competes against Mehmet, a non-player automaton. A big inspiration here goes to Wahkan, the automaton from Cole Wehrle’s fantastic Pax Pamir. I really liked the idea of creating a character that you would play against, rather than just a nameless enemy. The name was drawn from the affectionate nickname, Mehmetcik, that the Ottomans gave to their soldiers. This nickname was used in the same way that “Digger” or “Tommy” was used by the Aussies and the Brits.
Mehmet’s actions in-game are determined by the use of the Ottoman Orders Deck. The Orders Deck consists of four Action Cards (out of a total of six Action Cards) and is created at the beginning of every round, with one card being drawn during each Ottoman Phase. When a card is flipped, complete the action as listed for Mehmet. Once this is resolved, play moves to the next phase. So, while you can expect some type of attack, you can never be sure what it will be. The idea here was to create something that served as a challenge while also allowing the Anzac player to focus more on their own strategy than that of the enemy.
Grant: Can you take us through how the Orders deck works and show us the different cards?
Joe: The key to the Orders Deck is it’s simplicity. There are five types of Ottoman Action Cards in the Orders Deck; Rifle Fire, Sniper Fire, Shell Fire, Bayonets, and Fear. Each of these cards offers a different kind of ability for Mehmet, some stronger than others, that represent the different weapons that the Ottomans used during the battle. And, due to the small number of cards the Anzac player has an idea of what could be played, but can’t be known for sure.
During the Ottoman Phase there will always be some kind of attack (the only exception to this is when the Fear Action Card is flipped). This was added to the design to represent the hectic nature of the battle. The reports I read all talked about how the Anzacs were being fired on from every direction. This unseen enemy created a chaos among the soldiers as they continued their advance to the Third Ridge. I really like the design of the Ottoman Orders Deck, and feel that all of these mechanics add to a complex and elegant automaton.
Grant: What is the structure of a round? Turn? Phase?
Joe: Gameplay in Anzac Cove is divided into Rounds, Turns, and Phases. The game consists of three Rounds (Dawn, Noon, and Dusk), which are tracked over the course of the game on the Round Card. Each Round lasts four Turns, or the size of the Player’s Orders Hand and the Ottoman Orders Deck. Each Round has four Phases (The Anzac Phase, Ottoman Phase, Combat Phase, and the Journal Phase). At the end of the fourth Phase on the fourth Turn of the Dusk Round the game ends.
Grant: How are the Action Dice used?
Joe: In order to take actions, you will need Action Dice. At the beginning of each Turn you will receive three Action Dice. During the Anzac Phase you can use these dice to complete any of the available Actions. You may use as many dice as you would like for each individual Action, so long as you meet the cost and limitations. Any Action Dice that are not used during the Anzac Phase may be “reserved” and used to re-roll dice during the Close Combat Phase.
Grant: How are Action Cards used? What actions are available to the ANZAC player? Can you show us a few examples of these cards?
Joe: Gameplay in Anzac Cove is driven by the strategic use of actions and Action Cards. As the Anzac Player, you have access to two standard actions and one card driven action per turn. There are three different actions that the Anzacs can choose from each turn: Advance, Fire, or Rally. The Anzacs also start the game with six Action Cards, all representing different weapons or abilities used by the soldiers during the landing (at the start of the Noon Round the player receives a seventh Action Card). Each turn the player draws three cards at random and uses these as their hand for the Round. They can play the cards in any order, but must play all four by the end of the Round.
The two key Action Cards for me are Anzac Spirit and Fear. It was really important for me to represent the bravery and humanity of the soldiers who participated in the battle, so these two emotions really stuck out to me. The Fear Action Card limits Actions and demonstrates the crippling impact that fear can have on troops in the midst of battle. Conversely, the Anzac Spirit card gives you a boost to your Rally or Advance Actions, which represents the bravery shown by so many during the landing. I feel that both of these cards add to the narrative nature of the game, and help to create a challenging and varied play experience.
The idea behind using only three actions was to bring the player closer to the narrative. In the game you represent a Lance Corporal of the 11th Australian Battalion, so during the landing you had limited choices of what orders you could issue to your soldiers. They could advance toward the objective, hold and fire their rifles, or you could attempt to rally them to improve morale. These limitations still make for difficult choices at times, and with the addition of the Action Cards, make for a simulation that hopefully educates the player on the battle from a different perspective.
Grant: How do Stress and Wounds happen? How do they effect units?
Joe: In Anzac Cove there are two kinds of damage that can be dealt from Actions, Stress and Wounds. If the Ottomans receive a Stress or a Wound it can dealt with by losing one Spirit or by removing a token from play. Always remove the meeple token last, if possible.
If the Anzacs receive a Stress it can be dealt with by swapping a Ready token for an Unnerved token, removing a token from play, or losing One Spirit. If the Player loses their last Spirit they must immediately remove the green Meeple from play.
If the Anzacs receive a Wound the Player must remove one token from play. Swapping tokens and the loss of Spirit cannot be used to deal with a Wound.
Grant: What is the Close Combat Phase and how is it resolved?
Joe: The Close Combat Phase can only take place when both players have tokens on the same Map Card. If these conditions are not met, move immediately to the next Phase. To begin close combat, the Player chooses up to three tokens that will participate in the attack (this is because the maximum number of dice that can be rolled by either faction is three). If you have more than three tokens involved in combat you may choose any three you wish.
If the result of the dice is equal to or greater than the token’s Combat Value, the attack is considered a success and causes one Stress. Make sure to add any available dice roll modifiers, if applicable, and use any reserved Action Dice for rerolls. The attacking player follows the same process for all of their remaining tokens on the card, keeping track of all Stress.
Then, the Player will roll dice for all of the Ottoman tokens, adding any available dice roll modifiers and keeping track of Stress in the same manner. After both factions have had completed these rolls, compare the sum total of Stress from both sides, and inflict them on the losing side equal to the difference between the two totals. If the result is a tie, nothing happens.
Grant: What is the Journal Phase and why did you feel it belonged in the design?
Joe: The Journal Phase is your chance to tell your character’s story. This can be in the form of a letter home to a loved one or just a diary entry. Write about what happened during the turn (the heroics of certain tokens, the tough Ottoman defenses, etc.). It only has to be a sentence or two, but use it as an opportunity to reflect on the soldier’s experience on April 25th, 1915.
First off, a big shout out goes to Mike Heim and his game 1972: The Lost Phantom. I played it and was really impressed with the impact that the Journalling Phase had on me. So, I decided I wanted to implement the idea into one of my own designs. If you haven’t played any of his designs, make sure to check them out on BGG. Thanks, Mike!
I really wanted to allow the player to get lost in the narrative. We are so lucky to have so many of the diaries and journals of the soldiers who fought in the campaign, and it allows us to tell the story of the battles in a more human manner. My thought with the Journal Phase was to allow the player to tell the story, and to bring a more personal element to the conflict. It is an optional phase for the player, but I feel it really adds a lot to the narrative experience.
Grant: How does the game end and how do players score victory points?
Joe: The victory conditions of Anzac Cove are simple. You must control the Third Ridge (7th Map Card) by the end of the day on April 25th, 1915. If the Anzac player has at least one friendly token and no Ottoman tokens on the 7th Map Card then the game ends immediately. You have taken the heights and achieved the Anzac objective. This result is worth ten (10) Victory Points. If the Anzacs are unable to control the Third Ridge by the end of the Dusk Round, then the game is lost.
If you have taken the Third Ridge, then count up all of your Lost and Unnerved tokens. Adjust your Victory points by -1 for each Unnerved token and -2 for each Lost token. If the final total is equal to or greater than one (1), you have won the game. Otherwise, the result is a loss.
Grant: What does the design do really well? What are you most pleased with?
Joe: In designing a solo game I really wanted to create something that was challenging. While a solo game offers a lot of opportunities for narrative experience, that will all fall flat if the game doesn’t offer the player a sense of agency. I worked really hard in playtesting to fine tune gameplay, and in the end I was really happy with the result. You can win the game, but it is a real challenge. You need the right mix of tactics and luck in order to take and hold the Third Ridge.
I was really excited because this design actually models the history fairly accurately. There were some troops that eventually got to and held parts of the Third Ridge by the end of the day on the 25th. But, due to supply issues and general confusion these troops ended up pulling back to form a more cohesive front. But even if you do hold the Third Ridge you can still lose! Victory Points are subtracted from the overall score for casualties taken over the course of the battle. Taking the ridge doesn’t help if you don’t have the soldiers to defend it during the inevitable Ottoman counter attack. So, in balancing all of these factors, I feel I’ve designed a challenging little game.
Grant: What has been the experience of your playtesters?
Joe: Good so far! I have gotten a lot of great feedback regarding how I can clarify the rules to make the game more approachable. I’ve also gotten some interesting after action reports from players that showed me that the design was moving in the right direction. I work off of a primarily blind playtesting model, so hearing that people have enjoyed the game and its intricacies is always a win for me. I am so incredibly thankful that I can share my designs with gamers who take the time to print, build, and play my games. Anzac Cove is a really meaningful design for me, and I am so glad that I can share it with others.
Grant: What has changed with the design since the beginning?
Joe: The biggest thing that changed was the transition from a two player game to a solo game. Originally the ten map cards were set up in a similar fashion to some of my other designs. The Anzac player would still land on the beaches, but instead they would move to take various positions around the abstract card hex map. While I think there is a good start for a game here (probably focused on Lone Pine), it just didn’t feel like the best way to tell the story of the landings. So, after some playtesting I realized that I could use the same cards in more of a side-scrolling style. This mechanic played really well, and I ended up implementing it in the final design.
Grant: What is next for you?
Joe: Too much! I am currently working on self-publishing Guerrillas of the Peninsular War (should be out sometime early next year). The development process is new to me, so it has been a very frustrating/enlightening/exciting experience. I also have plans to start working on developing Anzac Cove along with a second WWI game (most likely focused on the Battle of Loos). I am also in the early stages of a solo game about the Sea Peoples and the Bronze Age Collapse and a two player game about the Battle for Arnhem during Operation Market Garden in 1944. I am very excited to see what 2020 brings, and can’t wait to share all these designs with you. Cheers!
Thanks for the look inside this very cool solo gaming experience. I can feel your passion for the game and its history and believe that this will shine through in the game play experience. Keep up the good work Joe and we look forward to talking with you about your other upcoming game projects.