We really enjoy Gregory M. Smith. He is a good guy and moreover he is a great designer, particularly of solitaire wargames such as Silent Victory, The Hunters, The Hunted, Nightfighter Ace, Interceptor Ace and others. He also has designed a few 2-player wargames that are very interesting. With that in mind, I contacted him to get the scoop on his upcoming game called Imperial Tide: The Great War 1914-1918 from Compass Games.
*Note: The images of the cards, map and other components and their event text used in this interview are still the prototype versions only intended for playtesting and the design might still change prior to final development.
Grant: You’ve been doing a lot of great solitaire games recently. Does that mindset have to change significantly to do a 2-player game?
Greg: Absolutely, at least for me. It’s actually a bit easier to do a 2-player (primarily 2-player design, that is) than a game primarily designed for solitaire play, because the decision making aspects of solitaire play are difficult to come up with sometimes. With 2 players, everything is “normal” for lack of a better term. So I find it easier to design. Balance becomes harder though, as you’ve got to be sure one side or the other can’t “run away with the game” by doing something.
Grant: Your new upcoming game Imperial Tide uses a similar system to Pacific Tide but covers World War I. Any challenges with using the system in this conflict?
Greg: Actually it got much better! In Pacific Tide, I tried to have a reasonably simple combat system – but the game had naval battles, air battles, air-naval battles, ground battles, amphibious assaults….the game system worked but in certain situations, it could get complicated. In Imperial Tide, thankfully, it’s basically ground combat. So it actually works simpler and cleaner.
Grant: What assumptions did you make about the overall war that you had to fit into this system? Any challenges?
Greg: I wanted a strategic game about WWI that was playable, followed the “basic” history of the war, but with plenty of decisions for the players. To achieve this, I did have to make some abstractions (and leave out some theaters….for example, Africa and most of the Middle East have been abstracted via card play.)
Grant: What was your design goal for the game?
Greg: World War I, Strategic scale, in an evening. I think we’re there 🙂
Grant: Where does the name Imperial Tide come from? What did you want it to convey about WWI?
Greg: Sometimes the worst part about game design is coming up with a cool name that hasn’t been used yet! Pretty much anything “WWI” or “WW1” or “The Great War: xyz” has already been used. I just thought one day, we really have the last struggle of empires here….the British, Russian, and German empires. And I wanted a tie-in to Pacific Tide, so “Imperial Tide” came to mind, as in German tidal wave of troops spreading out. I thought it sounded reasonably cool 🙂
Grant: What sources did you consult on the history of the game? What one must read source would you recommend to our readers?
Greg: There’s really too many to mention. My prize possession in my library is probably “The Literary Digest History of the Great War” (in ten volumes) by Francis Whiting Halsey, Funk & Wagnalls, 1920. Out of print obviously and probably hard to find. But a good overall book is “The Great Battles of World War I” by Jack Wren, Madison Square Press, 1971. Again, there are many other references, literally too many to mention, which are excellent.
Grant: What units are represented on the counters and what does each represent?
Greg: The “strength points” are essentially Armies and Army Groups, somewhat abstracted. Bottom line, manpower in troops.
Grant: Entrenchment is a position that units can take. How does this happen and what are the benefits?
Greg: It wouldn’t be a proper WWI game with entrenching. Entrenching happens by utilizing a movement action. This made a lot more sense to me than rolling a die (and getting failure? Like, they had really short shovels or were tired?) Failure to entrench, which happens in some games, just never made sense to me, so that’s how I handled it. It works quite well in the game. The benefit is that units become harder to eliminate as they must take two hits to be eliminated if entrenched.
Grant: What counters were included in the design to show this condition?
Greg: There are no entrenched counters per se….you simply flip the unit over to the entrenched side. I thought that was a nice clean way to implement this, and followed the Pacific Tide method.
Grant: The game uses cards to drive the action. What type of cards are included in the game?
Greg: Well, there are cards which allow you to attack, some of which also give you special bonuses (Poison Gas comes to mind, as do the various tank attack cards starting in 1917) and cards which allow for reinforcements and strategic/sea movement.
Grant: I notice that there are only 24 cards per side. This seems like too few to really cover the whole of World War I. How did you distill this down?
Greg: There’s a few events not covered, but actually, pretty much all the major “special events” do happen with card play, and some of the cards do “double duty.” For example, the first time you use the Tannenberg card, it probably WILL be at Tannenberg, but if you re-buy that card for future use, it just represents another well-planned battle. But I was very happy to actually fit the whole war within the 48 cards. It works quite well.
Grant: How do the Year Cards differ from the other cards in the game?
Greg: The five year cards are essentially the “Turn counters” for the game. They are neutral, insomuch as they contain information for both sides that apply for the year that is occurring (information such as who plays first, what are the replacement points available per nationality, etc.)
Grant: What special rules are there for the Central Powers player at the outset of 1914? Can we see an image for the Schlieffen Plan card?
Greg: The attached card is a draft, but is probably close to what will be the final. The CP player has to start with the attack on Belgium, but after that, he is not limited to what he can do (except entrenching is not allowed until the 4th card play of the year.)
Grant: What special rules are there for the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF)?
Greg: The BEF was a little tricky to implement, as they were a highly trained professional force (unlike the mass conscription armies that followed.) Their combat effectiveness was far greater than their strength would have implied. In the game, they are very effective, taking less damage and inflicting more damage than normal units. Unlike “normal” units, however, they cannot be replaced. Once they have been eliminated, they are gone.
Grant: How do movement mechanics work? What about sea movement?
Greg: Movement is fairly simple, but requires a “MOVEMENT” action. Sea move is a lot more restricted, as only happens once annually with the Sea Move option, and possibly again with the Gallipoli or Salonika cards.
Grant: How do cards drive the action? Can you give us a few examples of Allied and CP cards?
Greg: For example, here’s the Mobilization card for the CP. Notice it allows 1 movement action along with the reinforcements it gives you. For the Allies, here’s the tank attack card from 1917 (basically, representing the Cambrai attack.) Again, there’s a MOVEMENT action on the card besides the attack, AND the option to conduct another card play. So the cards drive play by allowing you to build up forces and move, or attack and then move, etc.
Grant: How does combat work in the design?
Greg: Attackers attack based on their strength (modified by mountains, etc.) Defenders roll also, based on strength (plus forts, etc.) If the attackers inflict MORE damage, the defenders must retreat…..except if they are entrenched. So as long as you are entrenched and have one surviving strength point, you can hold. There are a lot of special situations though….poison gas, aircraft, artillery…..and some cards allow you to ignore trench effects (tank assaults, for one example.) You certainly get the feeling of trench warfare, however. 🙂
Grant: Why can you only attack an area from one adjacent area? What does this reflect from history?
Greg: Well, we aren’t representing Blitzkrieg here 🙂 But it really isn’t so much the historical limitations of the era (where, admittedly, frontal assaults were the order of the day) rather than the scale of the game. At this scale, it just made more sense (and worked better with the card system) to have one area be attacked by one area.
Grant: What is different about an amphibious assault? Is there a Gallipoli card?
Greg: Yes, of course! The initial assault will succeed. Moving forward after that is questionable, and depends on how much effort the AP player wants to put into the front. The CP can stuff the attack pretty well with a few replacement points and entrenched Infantry, but it can still go either way depending on resources allocated.
Grant: How are Resource Points acquired? What can effect the number each side receives?
Greg: Resource Points (aka, to a degree, “Production”) are stated on the Year Cards per nationality. These can be affected by U-boats, Naval Blockade, and other cards. These should not be confused with Build Points, which is the number used to re-buy cards. The really neat thing about the resource point mechanic in the game is that they are multi-use – meaning many different options are available for their use. So this gives more decisions to the players.
Grant: How does card purchase work? What did you want this mechanic to represent from history?
Greg: Hard question, actually. In a very general sense, this is your national production as represented by build points which buy the cards (and to a degree, your manpower available.) But it also represents your strategic planning to a degree, because instead of simply re-buying manpower cards, you can re-buy cards for combat advantages and possibly strategic movement. The actual mechanic for purchase is very simple. You have X amount of points, and the cards all cost a certain amount (1-4 points each, typically.) The problem is there’s never enough to re-purchase all the cards you want. You have to prioritize based on the situation, your plans for the upcoming year, and what you think you’ll need.
Grant: What role does the Russian Revolution play and when does it occur?
Greg: The Russian Revolution, like most WWI games, is vital because it allows the Germans to redeploy most of their forces from the east back to the Western Front. It occurs anytime in 1917 that the CP controls Kiev, Minsk, and Riga. (Which is not as easy as it might sound, but will eventually happen unless the CP gives the east zero resources.)
Grant: How does the solitaire mode work? What does it do well?
Greg: Similar to Pacific Tide, there is a Solitaire Bot which combines specific guidance for bot card play and general guidance for the bot each year. What I think it does well is give a player a framework to conduct the “bot” side of the game without being overly tedious, as has been the complaint with some solitaire bots out there. In my mind, if the bot is so excruciating to use you dislike it, it has no value added. By having each card rated at the bottom (Aggressive, Balanced, Defensive) it allows a very simple system for the bot to use them. So I think it will be well received, as the Pacific Tide bot was.
Grant: What are the Victory Conditions? What side has the tougher time in meeting them?
Greg: Victory is just very simple. It is by points, granted by the capture of enemy capital cities (for the most part.) It’s fairly balanced, due to the fact the Allied Powers starts with 1 VP (basically a handicap to make up for the near-guaranteed loss of Belgrade.)
Grant: What was the toughest design challenge you had to overcome?
Greg: I had several challenges on this one, LOL. I think the biggest one was the implementation of Artillery and Air. At one point, I had little aircraft markers all over the place, then I figured out at this scale, those effects would be better represented via card play. I then took out the artillery and did the same, but had a change of heart because the testers really liked having the artillery markers and rules. And let’s face it: artillery barrages are an iconic part of WWI. So I went back to having them but modified them a little to fit the combat system better.
Grant: I know you hate this question, but when can we expect to see the game printed?
Greg: I realize you must think I’m the Nostradamus of Wargames, but I have given up on predicting release dates 🙂 Seriously, it’s hard to say. The artist is working on the card deck right now, and that’s the final thing that needs to be done. When can we get the cards back from China? That’s hard to say. I’d like to see this out by Christmas, but given the current health situation in the world, I hate to predict that. I guess we’ll see 🙂
Thanks for your time in answering my questions Greg and for all of the hard work that you put in with your games. I know that you have been pretty busy working away on all your irons in the fire during the quarantine and I look forward to having these designs see the light of day very soon.
If you are interested in Imperial Tide: The Great War 1914-1918 you can pre-order a copy for $50.00 from the Compass Games website at the following link: https://www.compassgames.com/imperial-tide-the-great-war-1914-1918.html