A game that I have yet to play but one that is always spoken of fondly by wargamers, even with a bit of reverence I think for the subject and the daring and brave men involved, is In Magnificent Style designed by Hermann Luttmann and published by Victory Point Games. It has long been out of print but recently the rights returned to Hermann and was picked up by Worthington Publishing who plan to do a deluxe edition Kickstarter that is scheduled to kickoff on Saturday, July 18th. We reached out to Hermann to get the scoop on the new edition and he was more than interested in talking to us about the game.
Here is a link to the draft Kickstarter page so you can get a better look at the game, its components and the changes in the design: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1456271622/908327506?ref=7y5h88&token=62b3a1e6
Also if you don’t know much about Hermann Luttmann, here is a biography that will be included on the Kickstarter page:
Hermann has been designing boardgames for almost a decade now. His first published game design was Gettysburg: The Wheatfield, published back in 2011 by Victory Point Games. Since then he has had almost twenty games and expansions published with a variety of game companies. These include some pretty popular titles, most notably Dawn of the Zeds, At Any Cost, Crowbar and Longstreet Attacks. He is also the originator of the Blind Swords series, which features games that are based around the central principal of “historical chaos”. This is a design mechanic that allows the game to drive a historical narrative yet also continuously throw unexpected challenges at the players. Hermann enjoys constantly tinkering with new game systems, tweaking established systems and discovering new topics to cover in game designs. But the main focus for all his game designs is always the same – they must be fun to play.
Hermann is a retired freight forwarding accountant, a father of three, grandfather of two and just recently moved to beautiful Knoxville, TN with his girlfriend Nancy and their dog Schnitzel. Besides designing games, he enjoys playing all sorts of boardgames and has recently begun playing a steady diet of miniatures games, mostly Warhammer Warcry and Age of Sigmar. When not playing games, he enjoys baseball and binge watching various TV series.
Grant: Not often does a game get a 2nd Edition. What led to this opportunity with In Magnificent Style?
Hermann: Well, that’s actually an interesting story. I got the rights back after VPG who was bought by Tabletop Tycoon and I was thinking that I would just do a new version with them eventually, as most of the old VPG wargames were going that route. But then I saw Worthington Publishing’s own Grant Wylie’s interview on Rob Oren’s War & Pieces show and I thought he did such a great job that I wrote him and said so. We agreed that one day we’d work together and I’d design a game for Worthington – no rush. Well, a week or so after we had that initial communication, Grant writes to me and says that he just played In Magnificent Style and loved it. Then he added that he was told that I still had the rights to it and wanted to know if I’d be interested in Worthington doing a new, deluxified edition of it. And both Grant and Mike said that they really wanted to go all-in on making this a gorgeous production. How could I possibly say no?
Grant: What is your overall vision and goal for this new edition?
Hermann: First of all, it will have the terrific, high quality components that Worthington is known for. So a larger map (I believe it will be 22” x 25.5”) with all the necessary tables printed right on the map, bigger counters for easier reading and handling, etc. Secondly, I did want to do a new version to “fix” those things in the design that were bugging me. This was only the third game I ever had published, back in 2012, and my design skills have hopefully matured since then. So I wanted to revisit some mechanics that have irked me for a while with this game. Another factor I wanted to add is the possibility of the Union counterattacking a captured position and driving the player’s unit out of that space. That is reflected in some map additions and new Event cards. Lastly, I wanted to make it play a bit faster and I‘m working on doing that as well. So having the opportunity to tackle the design again has always appealed to me.
Grant: Why do you believe the original game is held in such high regard by many?
Hermann: I don’t honestly know! I suspect that it has somewhat to do with the subject matter. It is particularly iconic – almost everyone with even the slightest knowledge of history has at least heard of Pickett’s Charge. So, perhaps the idea of participating in that forlorn assault appeals to the gamer? The other factor could be that it is a solitaire game, something that was a fairly new idea back in 2012. Finally, maybe the idea of a unique push-your-luck mechanic, something that as far as I know had not yet been tried for a wargame, was the key ingredient. Or it could just be dumb luck.
Grant: What rules are you hoping to change or update with this edition?
Hermann: Well, the one mechanic that was bugging me for the longest time was the way Bayonet Combat is resolved. It is a bit too math-heavy and clunky…I’ve really been on a kick the last couple of years to rid my wargames of laundry-lists of modifiers and complex tables. So with the Bayonet Combat, I’m bringing in the Close Combat mechanic I developed for Crowbar!. I think it is now much simpler and more intuitive, but still maintains some nice tactical details. In addition to that, I dumped the “Lee” chit entirely and revised the “Longstreet” chit to be kind of a limited wild-card commander. Generals will also have more diverse capabilities. And the Brigade/Division identities on the original map are actually incorrect – the new version will have the Brigades assigned to the correct Division generals. And of course, there is no more pulling Event chits – these are now Event Cards.
Grant: You mention that one of the changes is moving to card draws rather than chit pulls. What was the reason for this change? How does it alter the experience?
Hermann: Indeed and this is a big physical change with the game, but actually nothing will change game play wise. I was playing the game again a couple of weeks ago to re-familiarize myself with the rules, etc. (I haven’t played it in years, as I very rarely play any of my games after publication…but that’s another entire interview). I found myself fiddling around too much with the chits – drawing them, reading them and then mixing them back in. It was just taking too long. So, I remembered that I actually switched to using cards instead of chits with a new ACW game that I’m working on because I needed to speed up play – there were just too many chits to draw and it was taking forever. It turns out that drawing a card is faster than drawing a chit from a cup and it has worked out great with the ACW game. I asked Grant and Mike at Worthington if I could do the same here and they agreed. The other huge advantage of using cards is that you can put the entire rule, procedure, table and/or chart right on the card. No more cross-referencing to some rule or table located elsewhere, it’s all written out on the card itself now and that alone saves the players oodles of time.
Grant: You also are making changes to the Bayonet Combat. What has changed and why?
Hermann: Yes, as I alluded to before, this mechanic was my least favorite in the original game. I was determined to come up with something more user-friendly and honestly, more fun. So I adopted the same combat system I used in Crowbar!. Essentially, you don’t need to memorize modifiers anymore and do an extended math problem. Rather, you just add or subtract Combat Dice from the pool of dice you will be rolling. You then chuck all the dice – blue and gray colored dice – and read their results. The blue dice affect the Confederate unit and the gray dice affect the Union unit. Rolls of “1”, “2” and “3” are ignored – they are a “Miss” and have no effect. The “4” is a Morale Loss; the “5” is a Partial Hit (you need two “5’s” to get a Hit on a target unit) plus a Morale Loss; and the “6” is a full Hit plus a Morale Loss. Hits will remove Strength Value from the enemy’s unit and the side that inflicts the most Morale Losses will win the combat. Very simple and after the first couple of times, you’ll never have to look at the rulebook again.
Grant: I had heard a rumor that you were possibly tinkering with some new dice in the game. What are the new dice additions you’ve put in the design? Why was this improvement seen as a good thing?
Hermann: At this point, there are no new dice additions – not as of yet, anyway. The Movement Dice will remain the same for now…roll two differently colored D6’s and cross reference. I wanted to keep that core mechanic the same as people were familiar with it. Now, on the other hand, Worthington did say that I could use custom dice if I wanted to. So that is an option if I can figure out a way to get the same percentage chance results from using unique symbology on the dice rather than numbers. If we want to go in that direction, it would look cooler for certain. We’ll talk about that. The Combat Dice will probably be regular gray and blue D6’s. Ah, and one other small but important new rule – you must roll the Movement Dice for every unit at least once each Game Turn. No sitting on the battlefield doing nothing!
Grant: You alluded to this but what changes are in store for the Lee and Longstreet chits? Why did you make this change?
Hermann: The most rules questions I think I’ve gotten for IMS are about the special Lee and Longstreet chits. When I looked at those rules again, I thought that there is a better, less awkward way to include their effects into the game. So, the Lee counter is actually removed now and his influence is built into a couple of the Event Cards. Lee was not and would not physically be involved in the charge or anywhere near it, for that matter. So I felt having a marker with his name on it, even near the map, was not right historically. Instead, the effect of Lee’s leadership and the reputation of his Army of Northern Virginia are represented as more generalized bonuses. Longstreet was in command of the attack and thus his guidance and leadership could be a bit more tactical.
Instead of inventing a whole new mechanic for Longstreet, I decided again to borrow from Crowbar! and make Longstreet essentially a super-General marker (ala the Battalion Commander “Rudder” in Crowbar!). That being said, you hold Longtsreet’s two markers and you may commit one to the game at any time and for any unit. The effect is then the same as any General marker in the game – except Longstreet doesn’t stay on the map and is removed after being used. A much simpler and more logical application, I think.
The other reason I went this route is because I like the flexibility of allowing the player to transfer Strength Points from one column to another. And I want to give the player as many tough decision points as possible during the game. So I decided that I wanted that option – to transfer men between units and even to create a new unit in a column – to be more available to the player. That is now a standard ability of any General marker. So that frustration of seeing a 9 SV unit in a column next to an empty column (because the unit was eliminated) is not so prevalent. If you plan correctly, you can move some SV over to that empty column and get an attack going there again as long as you attach a General marker first. So Longstreet’s marker is particularly helpful with this maneuver.
Grant: What is the role of the “Shuffle” card being added into the deck? What choices do players have with its inclusion?
Hermann: The one thing about switching to cards from chits is you do lose (to a certain extent) the pure randomness and variability that you get with chits. When you replace a chit into a cup, you will then again draw from the same pool with the same probability (not accounting for chits that are left out as markers). When drawing cards from a deck the probabilities change because you are keeping out the drawn card from the deck (until it is shuffled again). So if there is no device to re-order the makeup of those cards, then you’ll get a set amount of results each time you go through the deck and eventually the player can card count if they play enough times. The “Shuffle” card is added to force the player to shuffle up the entire deck and reset the probabilities. For In Magnificent Style, the player can set the variability at any level they wish. For the least chaos, you can just not include the “Shuffle” card at all and play the whole deck through. For mid-range variability, you can stick the card in the top half or the bottom half of the deck and shuffle the halves separately before putting them back together again. For maximum chaos, just shuffle the “Shuffle” card into the whole deck each time and when it comes out will be totally random.
Grant: Can you show us a few examples of cards and explain how they work?
Hermann: Sure. These three prototype cards show how the cards would be setup (obviously, this is playtest quality stuff). The top half of the card is the Confederate Event (a Gray Event Card) and the bottom half is the Union event (a Blue Event Card). When you need to draw for an Event, you just pick the top card on the draw pile and reference only the half of the card that is called for. These three cards show some new Events I created for this edition. “Give ‘em The Cold Steel, Boys!” lets you push a Confederate unit over the top and into a Union Position. “Stragglers“ will cost you some men if your General is Wounded or Killed. Pickett’s Division was the only fresh division in the assault, so I thought that reflecting that in this new edition of the game would add some additional realism. The “Pickett’s Fresh Division” event lets you use that formation’s fresh legs and move them a bit faster. The “Union Forces Mass for Counterattack (Right Flank)” is a new way in this edition to reflect a buildup of Union forces that may very well be attacking your captured Union Positions (in this case, only the three spaces in the Right Flank Wing Zone). The “The Old War Horse” card is simply a new version of the “Longstreet’s Experience” chit and is an example of some cards actually placing chits into play. “Take Those Colors! (Left Flank)” is a card that actually launches all the Union units staged in a Union Rear Area space (a small space behind each Union Position) on the indicated flank against an adjacent Captured Union Position space. They will conduct a Bayonet Combat attack against the adjacent Confederate unit in the captured space and may even drive them out. I felt this was a much more dynamic and realistic way to handle the captured positions – players can’t just sit in them and do nothing the whole game.
Grant: What does the new map look like and what changes have you made to the layout?
Hermann: Tim Allen (that graphics genius) is still working on the exact map layout. But I can tell you that it will basically be the same general layout, but with larger spaces and areas. There will be some changes as I explained above. Brigades will be assigned to their proper Division Generals now – Pickett has Garnett/Armistead/Kemper; Trimble has Lane/Lowrance; Pettigrew has Brockenbrough/Davis/Marshall/Fry. So the brigades will be arrayed in the same order from left to right, but the actual Divisions will be somewhat intermixed (except Pickett). In addition, each Union Position space will have a small Union Rear Area box behind it and that is where the Union counterattack can come from. Finally, all the charts and tables will be on the map itself. So there will be no need for player aids, etc. – you can play the game with just the map, rules and pieces.
Grant: For those that don’t know how does the game play?
Hermann: In Magnificent Style is designed to be a fun, simple wargame that uses a push-your-luck mechanic to drive the action. I picked this mechanic because it was an easy, accessible way to simulate the myriad of combat effects due to enemy infantry and artillery fire, testing of a unit’s morale and the general carnage of the battlefield. Instead of having a complex series of “wargame crunch” mechanics (with every enemy unit firing separately on some complex CRT with a million modifiers), this simple Movement Dice system builds all that into the dice results themselves. So this straight forward system actually creates a pretty realistic feeling for the player of launching your men across the battlefield, charging at the enemy lines and having very little real control of what the enemy does to them. Your men are essentially trying to “dance through raindrops”.
At the same time, your decision is…how far do you push them before you need to stop their progress, regroup and consolidate their position? Embracing that simple yet agonizing choice each turn is gut wrenching. And then the system will throw all sorts of challenges at you while also proving various opportunities of which you need to take advantage. This comes in the form of Event Cards that are structured to recreate the various events and factors that actually occurred during Pickett’s Charge. The challenge is being prepared for the bad cards and being ready to exploit the good ones. So the game’s flow is really very simple. Push your men across the battlefield in five turns and get them into the Union defenses in as best shape as you can in order to have a chance to win the game.
Grant: What type of push your luck choices do players have?
Hermann: The basic choice is quite simple…yet a very difficult one to actually make. For each unit you either roll the Movement Dice (risking fate) or you stop your unit and safely regroup it (minimizing casualties and consolidating the unit’s progress). If you push too hard and your units get too extended when a bad roll comes up, you face a potential disaster. They will retreat back, losing all the ground they just gained, and also suffer casualties in direct relation to how far you pushed them. If you are too slow and careful, you will run out of time and risk not scoring any victory points at all.
Grant: What tactical options do players have?
Hermann: There are a number of options a player has available to help mitigate bad luck and manipulate the situation, but they are fairly subtle. I like players to discover them on their own – that’s part of the fun. But generally speaking, the proper use of General markers is a key consideration. Placing that marker on the right unit at the right time is so important. The same goes for any marker that is earned during play, such as the “Rebel Yell!” and “Heroic Action!” markers. By contrast, knowing where to place the bad markers (like the “Fence Obstacle”) so that they minimize their negative effect on your units can be just as important. Other decisions such as when and where to use the Longstreet General markers (there are only two of them) and where to halt units are critical as well. The positioning of your regrouping units is a neat tactical option in that you can stop units in an ideal position so that you can later take advantage of the Gray Event Cards (such as “Open Fire!”) and Movement Dice results (like “Determined Advance”) which allows you to move an entire Battleline (three adjacent units together).
Grant: Overall there are a lot of things you are not going to control in this game. How does this create a perfect storm in the game that retells history?
Hermann: Interestingly, that’s part of the simulation experience of this game and why I use these particular mechanics. Granted, anyone who knows how I design most of my games also knows that “historical chaos” is king. I truly believe that it is the element that not only makes a game more fun (the excitement of the unexpected) but also more realistic. I’ve always felt that there has been too much player control in most wargames and as such, they are more like mastering a chess game than experiencing and participating in a historical event. Basically, they are a “cold” approach to wargaming whereas I’ve always leaned more toward a more visceral, emotional “hot” approach. And In Magnificent Style takes the player on a very hot ride! You should feel that emotional surge as you launch these troops across this deadly battlefield, knowing that they are constantly under attack and that their only path to victory is to close the distance as quickly as possible with that massive enemy at the other end of the valley. The “forlorn hope” aspect of the game does come out in its mechanics, I believe, but there is that glimmer of hope that you can defy the odds.
Grant: When you first designed the game how did you decide to mimic history but offer some hope of a changed result?
Hermann: Well, that’s something I’ve tried to tackle for a long time – how to make a seemingly un-gameable situation into a fun game. And you can do that a few ways, but mostly by constructing the victory conditions in such a way that winning the game is actually achievable by the player. But it’s kind of a carrot and stick thing…give the player a goal to strive for that looks very reachable, but then sneakily throw all sorts of subtle (and historical) speed bumps in the way.
For example, in Stonewall’s Sword the Confederate player looks like he has a walk-over situation. Stonewall Jackson with more and better troops against Banks, a general he’s beaten before. But the victory conditions are constructed so that if the Union player does what Banks did – attack early on – and does it better than Banks did, he can win easily. And that’s by putting the Victory hexes in certain historical locations that compel the Union player to grab them early and then hold on – gaining Victory Points for each turn he does so. And the Union player can win on points by doing that – and by following a historical path.
In the case of At Any Cost, I simply gave the French the technical advantages that they did have historically in small arms quality, numbers and the mitrailleuse. The French player does have the actual opportunity to overwhelm the Prussian player if things go right and he plans properly – the player has hope. Then reality sets in and what looks like a huge advantage gets whittled away – but – not always. And it is that “not always” that makes the game competitive and tense.
With In Magnificent Style, the push-your-luck does the “heavy lifting” for me and automatically by its nature always gives the player hope. Though the odds are stacked against you, you know (or again, “hope”) that this time you will have some good luck and make that perfect sequence of dice rolls. In some ways, I guess, it’s like gambling. But there’s no money to lose (other than the cost of the game).
Grant: I know In Magnificent Style was the basis for your recent game Crowbar! What other historical events are you considering to model with this system?
Hermann: The problem is that the historical battle or campaign situations that fit these mechanics really well are fairly few (at least as far as I can tell). But there have been many great suggestions already by a number of people. Most involve seaborne invasions and those do work well. I suspect that a Pacific Island game would be a logical choice or another D-Day game. A great number of the ideas have involved World War I and of course specifically tactical trench-fighting battles. Even operational-level campaigns like Verdun and the Somme would work really well with these mechanics. I suspect that there may be some ancient or medieval battles that could fit the bill too, but those eras are not my strong suit. Actually, I do have a prototype for a science-fiction application, with a force of galactic troopers (the “Volters” of the elite Space Voltigeur battalion) having to assault alien strongholds on various planets. In addition, this system would also work in a fantasy setting. So there are a number of options and all are being considered right now.
Grant: When does the Kickstarter campaign commence?
Hermann: As far as I know, around July 18th – so soon!
Grant: What other games are you currently working on?
Hermann: To put it mildly…too many! As far as Worthington Publishing is concerned, after In Magnificent Style is published, I’ll to talk to Grant and Mike to see where else they would like to go with the system (which I assume will depend on how well the Kickstarter campaign does). I’ve also agreed with them to do a strategic World War I game on the Western Front in 1914 (the entire front, not just Belgium and northern France), something I’ve always wanted to do. It may borrow some mechanics from my Race to the Sea and Steamroller games, but I’d really like to try something unique and develop a system that does not use traditional game turns! Some kind of mechanic that involves a smooth, flowing back-and-forth game play style. I have something in mind and we’ll see if I can get it to fruition.
Otherwise, I have a huge Gettysburg game coming out from Flying Pig Games, also on Kickstarter in July, called A Most Fearful Sacrifice. That will be all three days of Gettysburg with two huge maps, 500+ one-inch counters, playing cards, etc. I have a cooperative horror game called Beware the Shades! that I designed for GMT and it is in playtesting and development with them now. I will resume work on Miracle at Dunkerque for Legion Wargames which has been in limbo for quite a while. We will be doing the fourth game in the Invaders series for Tiny Battle Publishing and this one will be called Planet of the Mossmen!, and will be influenced by the movies Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Day of the Triffids. So those are the ones I have on the front burner…there are others simmering on those numerous back burners as well.
Thanks for your fantastic answers Hermann that have given us such as clear understanding of your design changes and additions as well as insight into the way the game plays out and what players can expect. You might have a future in writing so keep it up! I know I have always liked your rulebooks.
Once again, you can check out the Kickstarter campaign page by visiting the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1456271622/908327506?ref=7y5h88&token=62b3a1e6
Keep an eye out for the start of the campaign on July 18th.