I saw this interesting looking World War I game highlighted on the No Enemies Here: Wargaming News show on YouTube produced by our friend Dan Pancaldi a few weeks ago and immediately reached out to the designer to see if we could get an interview up on the blog to share this very interesting looking game with you. Philipp Berger was very accommodating of my tight timeline and provided us with plenty of information and access to some of the really interesting looking components photos.

If you are interested in Trench Club you can back a copy on the Kickstarter campaign page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/trench-club/trench-club

Trench Club Banner Barbed Wire

Grant: First off Philipp please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?

Phillip: I am from Germany, and currently live close to Munich, am 40 yrs old and have 2 children. I enjoy board gaming and a bunch of sports, such as surfing. In my day job I work in IT for Amazon.

Grant: What motivated you to break into game design? What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?

Philipp: I originally started to develop Trench Club for myself and my group of friends. We enjoyed playing complex board games, such as Axis & Allies, but we just couldn’t find the “perfect” game for us. That’s when I started to develop one on my own. It took many iterations and different forms. Every time we played we found things that didn’t quite work well yet and adapted the rules accordingly. Over time, a game developed that flows really well now. I really have enjoyed the different aspects of game design, from the process of 3D design of miniatures to theoretically thinking about game mechanics and how they should work.

Grant: What designers have influenced your style?

Philipp: There have been many designers who have influenced my style – within and outside the board game community. From board game designers, I’d say Jamey Stegmaier (Scythe) and Larry Harris (Axis & Allies) inspired me the most.

Trench Club Components

Grant: What do you find most challenging about the design process?

Philipp: The rules! It is all about the rules. I found this to be incredibly challenging. My goal was to have rules that make sense intuitively. We all know these games where you can use your turn to produce resources OR move your troops OR attack. That’s not intuitive. Why would your troops not be able to move while you produce resources? In Trench Club my goal was, that you read the rules once and they make sense so you memorize them immediately. For example, a tank has stronger armor than a car. Makes sense. On a road you are faster than through a meadow. Sure. When you are attacked and can hide/entrench in a forest, you have better defense – but this only applies to the defender. How would the attacker hide while attacking?

Also, condensing the rule to what’s essential to the game is important. For example, do you need 10 different types of terrain? How much different do the units of the different nations need to be? Over hours or playtesting it showed, that some rules only added complexity without making the game more fun, so I scrapped those.

Grant: What was your inspiration to design a game around the trench warfare of World War I?

Philipp: World War I was a very interesting era of time. In the beginning of The Great War, soldiers rode to battle on horses with lances, swords and in red pants and blue coats. Only short 4 years later, there were tanks on the battle fields, airplanes that could carry a one ton bomb load, poison gas, etc. This dynamic offers interesting aspects for a war game.

Grant: What is the meaning behind the name of the game in Trench Club? What did you want the title to convey to players?

Trench Club WWI
An Austrian Trench Club used in World War I. These short handled clubs used all shapes, sizes and materials and were used to great effect in hand to hand combat.

Philipp: The title should raise multiple associations. First of all a “Trench Club” was an archaic improvised close combat weapon, similar to a mace. This weapon was used in hand to hand fighting when troops invaded the enemy’s trenches and was brutal. Secondly, history fans dedicated to The Great War sometimes refer to themselves as Trench Clubs and thirdly, some people get a “Fight Club” association. I quite liked these different associations that different people get.

Grant: What elements from the history of World War I did you want model?

Philip: The game features all the iconic troops from WWI, from Heavy Infantry with machine guns, to the first tanks, early airplanes, airships, poison gas launchers, railroad guns, mine layers, etc. It also has the concept of Forts, which were iconic strongholds, e.g., in the battle of Verdun, that on the one hand were indestructible but on the other hand were often captured and switched sides multiple times during a battle.

Grant: How long have you been working on this design? What elements have changed over that time?

Philipp: I’ve worked for over 10 years on refining the game. A big thing that I learned over that time was to always remember to keep the game dynamic. If players focus too much on defense and stay in their trenches, pull the units back for repair, etc. the game gets lengthy and boring. Therefore many rules subtly incentivize attacks and movement. This keeps things moving and more interesting.

Another important thing was balance. I have played many war games where it was clear quite early on who will win. This is not fun for the losing side, and also it is often not nice to concede early, because the winning side wants to enjoy their victory. Keeping the game in balance for a long time with a chance to win for both sides was very difficult and required a lot of game optimization.

Grant: What different unit types are included in the game and what are there individual strengths and weaknesses?

Philipp: There are dozens of different units in the game, all with their own individual strengths and weaknesses. It was very important for me that these come naturally with the type of unit and not through “artificial” rules like a “Rock, Paper, Scissors” principle (like in Pokémon). In Trench Club, players will need a mix of units to be successful. A theoretical army made up of only Tanks would not be effective on the battlefield. That is another aspect that keeps the game varied and interesting. Here are some examples of other units:

  • A Tank has strong armor and high attack values, but is defenseless against air attacks
  • A Heavy Infantry is not as strong as a Tank, but can also use their machine guns for air defense
  • An Armored Car is not as strong as a Tank, but is very fast and can maneuver around the battlefield to get to where you need it easily
  • A Howitzer can shoot over a wide range, but cannot engage in close combat movement
  • An Airship is good for ground attacks because of the high bomb load it can carry, but very vulnerable against air attacks due to its hydrogen filled balloon
  • Big Bertha, the iconic German artillery gun, has a high firepower and wide range, but lacks accuracy, so might accidentally end up hitting your own units

Grant: Can you share with us some pictures of the miniatures used for each unit type?

Philipp: Here are some examples of the standard units contained in the game:

Here also are some examples of Special Forces units which are contained in the Hero Pledge:

Trench Club Special Forces Units

Grant: I know there are four major Nations represented in the game but there were dozens who played a role in World War I. What Nations are explicitly included?

Philipp: The major players include France and Great Britain playing together as the Entente and Germany plays together with Austria-Hungary. The game doesn’t include other minor Nations in the struggle.

Grant: What strengths do each of the different nations have?

Philipp: Great Britain and France were stronger on Tanks, whereas Germany and Austria have a stronger focus on artillery, such as Big Bertha and anti-tank gunners. These differences lead to players focusing on those elements to create a historically more accurate narrative of World War I. Players have the freedom to choose their units and use their own strategies but may not gain all of the advantages.

Grant: How did you keep this game balanced with such different asymmetry between the players?

Philipp: Through endless playtesting! Also, the asymmetry is carefully balanced. The different nations have more in common than they have different. The differences are just enough to provide interesting asymmetry without just adding complexity for the sake of it.

Grant: How does the combat system work?

Philipp: The combat depends on unit type, damage involved units have previously sustained, experience, terrain and strategic position – sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. The combat follows the following steps:

  1. The damage your unit has determines how many dice you may roll
  2. If you attack from a strategically favorable position, e.g., have surrounded an enemy, you may add extra dice
  3. Your unit type tells you which number on the dice will land a hit. A Tank for example will land a hit on every die showing 6 or less, an infantry only for every die showing 2 or less.
  4. If your unit already has combat experience, that value increases. E.g., an experienced tank lands a hit on every die showing 8 or less.
  5. The landed hits transfer into damage. Each unit has a small table on their chart that shows how many hits are required to land a point of damage. A Tank for example would need more hits to get a damage point due to its strong armor, than an Infantry.
  6. If the defender is entrenched in a forest, they need even more hits to take a damage.
  7. At the end of the combat, caused damage is added with markers on the affected troop and so is gained combat experience.

Trench Club Damaged Tank

Grant: Wow system for combat looks very interesting and does appear to be complex but after you explained it, I see that the combat system is very easy to follow. How can players plan for this part of combat?

Philipp: As all the rules, this part is also very intuitive. The combat mechanics are only there to formalize this intuition. In the above example, even a player who doesn’t know the rules would understand that: if your unit is damaged, it would attack weaker. If you surround your enemy, you are stronger. A Tank can take more hits than an infantry, etc.

Trench Club Combat

Grant: I see that the game uses 12-sided dice to determine combat. What was the reason for using 12- sided dice?

Philipp: There are two reasons. Firstly, this way you can differentiate the different troops better and add nuances to the battle. Second, this limits the factor of luck in the game. If you roll twelve 12-sided dice, the result will turn out pretty much around the expected value. That makes the attacks more deterministic, but still you can never be sure the battle turns out as planned.

Grant: What do the maps look like and why are there two different maps?

Philipp: The maps contain game play elements like roads, forests, rivers, Forts, etc. but also include decorative elements for immersive gameplay. The two maps provide variability in the game and also have different designs to match the players’ taste.

Trench Club Map 1

Here is an animated map that shows the double sided feature:

Trench Club Folding Map 3

Grant: What type of economy does the game use? How is money produced? What can players spend their money on?

Philipp: If you conquer Forts, they will produce money that you can then use to re-purchase units or repair your units. There are several of these key Forts on the board and players will have to think about how to get to them in order to produce the funds needed to continue the war effort.

Trench Club Forts

Grant: What do you feel the design models well from the history?

Philip: The game captures the wide variation of unit types of the time, from mounted Infantry on horses to airplanes. It also shows the struggle to capture front sections and Forts and you’ll see control of the same Fort changing between nations as the front line moves back and forth. This part of the game mimics the history very well and adds to a sense of dread as you have to gear up to take back what you lost last turn.

Grant: What type of experience do you want to give players?

Philipp: I want players to get fully immersed in the game. Game reviewers mentioned that they found it funny that players usually stood around the table (instead of sitting) and even after the game they kept on discussing strategies. Reading that was very rewarding, since this is exactly the feeling I wanted to convey. In fact, my mother-in-law always made jokes about us men standing around the table because she couldn’t believe we were so excited everyone had to stand leaning over the map.

Trench Club Game in Progress

Grant: How long do games typically last?

Philipp: The game takes about 1 hour per player, maybe less if you are familiar with the game. I usually spend about 3 hours for a four player game with my group of friends.

Grant: What is the Special Forces extension with 8 new miniature units?

Philipp: The Special Forces extension includes 8 new unit types (Cannon Boat, Medic, Airship, Poison Gas Launcher, Ground Attack Aircraft, Railway Gun, Gun Turrets and Minelayer) for even more fun and variability. The Special Forces work like technological developments: you can purchase them, but you don’t know what you will get! It can turn your strategy upside down if you hoped for an airship but actually get a medic.

While the normal game units are carefully balanced, the Special Forces units are not. Each one adds heavy disruption to the game-play and requires an entire new strategy. Let me give you some examples:

  • The Minelayer can install explosive mines throughout the battlefield. You know where they are – but your enemy doesn’t!
  • The Poison Gas Launcher (one of the many horrors of World War I) damages units on multiple fields at the same time – friend and foe!
  • The Medic lets you repair units in the field – normally you would have to retreat from the front line to your own Forts to repair

Grant: What Stretch Goals are included?

Philipp: So far we have unlocked 2 Stretch Goals: The game will now get solo rules and a tactile Linen-Finish for cardboard prints. This is a higher quality print that includes a fabric-like texture you can feel and see. I love it and think it makes prints look a lot more premium.

The still locked Stretch Goals include larger dice and different heads on each nations soldier units.

Trench Club Stretch GoalsGrant: When do you expect to fulfill the game to backers?

Philipp: The official delivery date is January 2021, so in half a year, but I’ll do my best to ship earlier. I built in a lot of buffer in the timelines since international logistic chains are a bit uncertain in these times. I hope I will not need all of these buffers and get the game to backers earlier.

Trench Club Occupied Fort Markers

Thank you for your time in answering our questions Phillip and also in the game funding with several days remaining. I really like the look of this one and I am sure that it will be a fun gaming experience.

If you are interested in Trench Club you can back a copy on the Kickstarter campaign page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/trench-club/trench-club

The Kickstarter campaign ends as of August 6, 2020 at 9:14am EDT so get your pledge in now.