A few years ago, I finally got my hands on a 2nd Printing copy of Triumph & Tragedy from GMT Games. The game deals with World War II and sees players controlling one of three sides including the Capitalism (the West), Communism (the Soviet Union) and Fascism (the Axis). It has diplomatic, economic, technological and military components, and uses cards to represent various actions including research of technology, moving and recruiting of troops as well as negotiation and politicking to bring countries over to your side. The game only focused on the Western Front from 1936-1945 and left out the battle for the Pacific. Now there has been announced a second volume in the game to cover the Pacific Theater called Conquest & Consequence that is currently on the P500. I was interested in how the game would change and deal with this different theater so I reached out to the designer Craig Besinque to get the lowdown.
*Note: The components and pictures used in this interview are still the prototype versions and are only intended for playtesting (I know that the map looks excellent though!) and the design and the rules might still change prior to final development and production.
Grant: First off Craig please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?
Craig: I’m retired. I spend my time working on games, taking care of my house/garden/yard and playing guitar in a couple of longtime hobby rock bands (not currently of course). I follow politics and the NFL. I like learning about history and science, particularly astronomy. Currently reading Herodotus/Strassler.
Grant: How did you get motivated to break into game design?
Craig: I started designing games for fun in my early teens after seeing Tactics II in the local game store, getting it for my birthday and basically falling in love with the concept of historical strategy games. Shortly afterwards came U-Boat and I began fooling with ideas for a naval/island-hopping game. So I was inherently motivated.
As far as commercial designs go, I took a football boardgame design to Columbia (Gamma Two in those days) in the late 70’s. They weren’t interested but Tom Dalgliesh gave me Napoleon for a consolation prize. Ronnie Hodwitz and I played the heck out of that for a year and I could see how the block system was perfect for a North Africa game. So we worked on it for a year or two and though Columbia didn’t want it either, Tom helped me secure components and I published 200 on my own with the help of a friend in the printing business. I sold the 200 and re-invested in 1,000 but when they were about half gone Columbia approached me to “do it right.” That began my commercial design career.
Grant: What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?
Craig: The continuous fun and challenge of the game design/development process throughout all the games and years. Ronnie and I (and lately Quinn De’Courcy) have had tons of fun together working on games for over 35 years (lost Ronnie to cancer last fall, a big loss).
Grant: What would you say is your design philosophy?
Craig: I shoot for a good mix of: fun, challenge, accessibility and immersion within a historical context. I’m always fighting to keep it simple. I strive for a good bang for the buck regarding enjoyment vs. complexity. Development is everything, and for this you absolutely need good help.
Grant: What do you find most challenging about the design process?
Craig: Coming up with problem-solving ideas. There’s a lot of trial and error the way I do it. Lots of ideas don’t end up working, so just coming up with a sufficient flow of new ideas re specific issues (or even better, multiple issues) is the hardest part for me.
Grant: What do you feel you do really well?
Craig: Well, the games seem to be working, so I guess developing a good overall finished product that people enjoy. I do a fair amount of math, not sure how that relates to other designers.
Grant: As yo mentioned, you have designed several block wargames. What opportunities and advantages do blocks provide?
Craig: Advantages: hidden units, easy step reduction, easy(er) unit manipulation.
Opportunities: tension, surprise, bluff, psychology.
Grant: What was your inspiration for the system used in your first game in this series Triumph & Tragedy?
Craig: We were thinking “Block Axis & Allies with a Brain” (meaning “with more of a Brain”, no offense intended). T&T immediately deviated from this and morphed into its basic self fairly quickly. Tim Taylor was very involved in this early process. Of course a lot of development has gone on since then too.
Grant: Why is the use of multi-use cards such a perfect match for this type of strategic treatment?
Craig: Well we worked at it, for sure. The demands of the design eventually made it clear what was needed and led to the way cards worked.
Grant: What did you learn from T&T that you have tried to implement or improve in your new game Conquest & Consequence?
Craig: That it wasn’t broke so don’t fix it.
Grant: What is the overall focus of C&C? What feels different about the setting?
Craig: The idea was T&T Pacific. I was pretty sure from the start it would have to be more complicated than T&T. Much increased naval focus, for one (oceanic naval maneuvering is something else). The Chinese Civil War aspect was an even bigger complication but led to interesting additions to the system.
Grant: What are the three factions included in the game?
Craig: Japan — USA/GB/NatChi — Russia/RedChi.
Grant: What was important to model from the period?
Craig: It uses the T&T engine so it models things similarly. I wanted a map showing how BIG the Pacific is. We added Naval/Air Techs to soup up the Pacific war. We added the “Islet Group” terrain type and Marine units to enable island-hopping. We added special Japanese Naval Advantages (Long Lance, Precision Optics, Kamikaze) to counter the US Production advantage.
For game reasons we wanted the China War to balance the Pacific War in importance and interest. The 3-way situation in China introduces a new Militia unit-type representing weak Chinese forces. We gave the Red Chinese the unique “super power” of placing Partisan cell chits that multiply like rabbits and eventually become military power.
Grant: What challenges did the design present you with?
Craig: That would be a long list. The two major challenges, I thought, were:
1) Getting the Soviets (Siberian Russia plus the Red Chinese) to work as a 3rd Faction. Partisans were a major piece of this challenge, but the Soviets also had a major potential confrontation on its Manchurian border.
2) Getting the naval/air war in the Pacific working. With this system we didn’t get too carried away with combat mechanics, but you want it to work OK and be fun. The level of combat detail is about the same as T&T, which sacrifices fidelity for speed and simplicity.
Grant: What led to your decision to start the game in 1936? What opportunities does this provide to each faction.
Craig: That’s the year that T&T starts in (they are designed to be joinable).
In 1936 the Japanese (like Germany) are militarizing and feeling deserving of a greater world power. They have a sizeable military head start but an (as yet) insufficient empire to compete with the Great Powers.
The USA is disarmed, disinterested and dealing with Depression. The British Empire holds valuable properties in east Asia but is badly overstretched (the Dutch even worse). Nationalist China is weak and facing danger from outside and inside (the fight over China has major Victory implications).
Siberian Russia is resource-rich, but eastern portion is very tough to defend, being dependent on a single rail line right along the border (and Japan has plans). The Red Chinese are not yet much of a military factor, but they have some nice items in their bag of tricks, starting with Partisans (see below).
Grant: I understand that Japan has special naval abilities that allow it to compete at sea. What are these advantages?
Craig: Long Lance: Japanese Fleets fire N4 (i.e., hit Naval targets with die rolls of 1-4) instead of N3 (1-3) as is the case with the other nation’s Fleets.
Precision Optics: Japanese Fleets fire first until the advent of Naval Radar tech.
Kamikaze: Japan can opt for its Air or Carrier units to attack US Naval targets at N4 (hits on die rolls 1-4) and the self-destruct [doesn’t sound that helpful, but it sure can be].
Grant: What are some examples of new Investment Cards? Can you show us a few of them and tell us how they effect the player?
Craig: Dive Bombing: Air Forces fire N2 (hit Naval targets on die rolls 1-2).
Auto Cannons: Naval targeting vs. Air: Fleets fire A2 / Carriers fire A3.
Improved Torpedoes: Subs hit on N2 (not N1).
Grant: What are Chinese Partisans and how do they effect the game?
Craig: The Red Chinese can plant Partisan chits on the map. These have no military power and can be attacked but they grow like weeds and are equally hard to eradicate. Partisans can and will be eventually converted into military power when the time is right (beforehand is unwise).
Grant: How do you deal with the Chinese Civil War in the design?
Craig: Both the Nationalists (“Nats”) and Red Chinese (“Reds”) start 1936 at war with each other (the Long March has just ended) and have units in play. Both have “Proxy Production,” which provides them with unit steps / Action cards outside of USA/Soviet Production.
There are serious Victory Points on the line over relative Nat/Red control of China. They know they will eventually have to deal with each other but in the meantime they have Japan to contend with. Negotiations are likely to play a big role in how this 3-way confrontation develops.
Grant: How does the role of airpower and island bases change in this volume?
Craig: Airpower is of major importance in this game. It works by the same T&T system, but the addition of the ‘Dive Bombing’ tech and their coverage of Pacific distances make them much more useful.
“Islet Groups” in the game are tiny land areas in the Pacific (e.g., the “Solomons”). Ground units are much safer on land than at sea and Air units depend on land areas for, you know, landing. Unit building can only occur on Islet Groups that are Bases (e.g., Hawaii). Captured enemy Bases are worth Victory Points.
Grant: Marines are now buildable units. How do they differ from normal Infantry?
Craig: They are weaker Infantry (2cv max) that can fire upon making Sea Invasions (Infantry can’t).
Grant: Is it possible to link the two games together somehow to create a global focus?
Craig: That’s the plan working on it. Getting it right will likely take some time though.
Grant: What other historical conflicts do you feel avail themselves well to this system? Are you looking forward to doing any of these in a game?
Craig: Maybe WW1, have it roughed out, but don’t know how well it would work yet. Somebody suggested Napoleonics. When I get done with CnC I’ll look at it, but one game at a time.
Grant: What are you most pleased with the design?
Craig: I’m currently very pleased with the new Techs we have introduced. I think the overall balance is getting close, that’s the hard part. Hopefully we can approach the bar set by T&T regarding balance.
Grant: What has changed with the game through the process of play testing? Please give a few specific examples.
Craig: Lots. Partisans have seen 3 major redesigns. The map changes of course, usually for strategic balance. Playtesting reveals system weaknesses that you have to address. Wayyy too many changes to list.
Grant: When do you believe the play testing will be finished?
Craig: I was planning for this summer/fall, but everything is now set back due to the pandemic. So now I’d say 3-9 month later than that, depending on how GMT proceeds.
Grant: What is next for you?
Craig: CnC is not done yet, first things first. Next will probably be the combo game with T&T. After that, I have several ideas but don’t want to talk about them now. My approach will probably have to change some with Ronnie gone.
Regardless, I hope that I will always have design ideas that I’m interested in pursuing. It’s a super-fun hobby and I enjoy all the different aspects involved: conceptualizing, research, math, technical writing, playtesting, development discussions with my guys, etc.
Thank you so much Craig for sharing this information with us. I for one love T&T and am really looking forward to this one. I also am very interested in being able to link the two games together so I also look forward to that game in the future.
If you are interested in Conquest & Consequence you can pre-order a copy from the GMT Games website at the following link: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-840-conquest-and-consequence.aspx
The game has already Made the Cut and has 614 orders as of the writing of this interview.