Since Corsair Leader dropped a few years ago there have been rumors of a followup game using the same system but focused on the Japanese side of the conflict in the Pacific. That game is Zero Leader which is ready to launch on Kickstarter as of Tuesday, August 11th. I reached out to the designer Chuck Seegert to get an inside look at the design and he was more than willing to share.

You can preview the Kickstarter page at the following link:

Zero Leader Header

Grant: Welcome to our TPA Designer Interviews and thanks for your time in answering our questions. First off Chuck please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?

Chuck: Ok. Well, I was a used car salesman for 40 years. I am married with two grown daughters and four AMAZING granddaughters! My hobbies are really varied. I have a model railroad, loads of miniatures and lots of wargames! I started wargaming in the early 70’s with Avalon Hill and SPI. Now, I am retired, so I am busier than a one-armed paperhanger in a windstorm!

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

Chuck: This is actually pretty easy. Even way back, I used to “mash up” multiple games to create campaigns, etc. I have designed a bunch of games for my family and friends including a very popular race game. Funny story? I had my friends playing “frisbee golf” before it became a “thing”! We used to throw at trees, poles, signs or whatever. This process has been a tremendous learning curve! My favorite part has been working with Kevin & Sarah at DVG. They have made it so easy!

Grant: What designers have influenced your style?

Chuck: That is hard to say. Honestly, I buy a game that is a genre I am interested in with features I look for. Except for recently, when anything by Gregory M. Smith or David Thompson is an instant buy, I never paid attention to the game designer. Is that weird?

Grant: No, its not weird. And I agreed that Greg and David are pretty much the gold standard right now in solitaire wargame design. What do you find most challenging about the design process? What do you feel you do really well?

Chuck: Challenging? I would say the depth of layers involved in a commercial game design. When I designed my “personal” games, the rules were a page or two long. HaHaHa

What do I do really well? I guess this answer is not revealed until my design actually becomes a published game, but I feel that my niche is taking a very complex mechanic and boiling it down to a simple, effective step. This clicks really well with the DVG Leader Series.

Grant: Why did you want to design a solitaire game around the Japanese Zero during World War II?

Chuck: I have been a WW2 nerd from a very early age, especially regarding aircraft. When I looked at Corsair Leader, I thought coming from the other side would be really cool. I also thought that there are very few games looking at the Pacific War from the Japanese perspective.

Grant: What type of research did you do for the history of the game? What one source would you recommend?

Samurai BookChuck: Wow. I have been “researching” this game for decades! When I realized that I needed to make this game serious I started rehashing books, movies and documentaries and on and on. For this game, I loved Saburo Sakai’s book Samurai. I actually have a campaign based on his book.

Grant: How long have you been designing the game? What are some specific examples of design challenges you overcame?

Chuck: I have been working on this game for a year, approximately. Some days it feels like decades and other days it seems like I started yesterday. Because I am leaning very heavily on Corsair Leader, I did not need to re-invent the wheel. My maintenance mechanic and making the game historically accurate, but still fun and playable, was a razors edge that I constantly danced on. But I think that we got it right!

Grant: As you have mentioned, the game is a Leader Series game and is a follow on to last years Corsair Leader. Is it difficult to design a game in an established system? Why or why not?

Chuck: I think adding a game to an established, popular system is both easier and tougher. Easier because you have some of the very basics covered already, so a lot of the “bones” are already there. It is more difficult because you have “method” that you must work within and believe me, there are people as adamant about this line of games as there are about Star Wars!

Grant: Do you feel that your creativity is stifled having to stay within the system?

Chuck: Absolutely not! Well, maybe a little! As a for instance, we spent a whole day, I kid you not, working out the design of THE BOX! There is a Leader Canon that I needed to respect, but I wanted a specific “feel” to the box. We worked it out with what I think is a really cool box!

Grant: What significant changes have you introduced into Zero Leader?

Chuck: I would point to three big ones. The Maneuver and Robustness stats for the airplane and the Aggression stat for the pilots. Never done in a Leader game before.

Maneuver and Robustness are a couple of modifiers used to help give a different feel to each aircraft.

There are some very maneuverable planes, like the Ki-43 Oscar and the A6M2 Zero and others that are not so good. You add this modifier when you are rolling for Enemy Maneuver success and Friendly Maneuver Success.

Robustness is a modifier that rates how well your aircraft absorbs damage. You apply that modifier when being attacked by Bandits or Sites

Aggression is the opportunity and inclination to take a risk. There are 4 levels of AG…. (-) = No Aggression. Very passive pilot. (0) Some aggression, but not much. This pilot can receive one Stress to allow him to roll 2D10. Use this when maneuvering and attacking! (Think of it as the offensive side of evasion). (1) A bit aggressive! Here, the pilot receives one Stress and gets to shake 2D10, AND they get to add 1 to each shake! This guy has been known to prang a plane or two by being a little rough on it. HaHaHa. (2) A VERY Aggressive pilot. Here he would receive one Stress and roll 2D10, adding +2 to each one! Think John Glenn or any wild flying test pilot!

Grant: What aircraft are available to the player to fly? How much work goes into balancing all these different models of aircraft?

Zero Leader Pilot Card with DogtagChuck: Great question!! The base game will include approximately 15 aircraft. Starting with the Ki-27 Nate and including almost all the well known and maybe not so known models. Wow! How much work in balancing? This is where I spent a lot of time, actually. The key was to make each aircraft unique, but in a way that was not cumbersome. The Maneuver and Robustness stats gave me a lot of flexibility. I think it works really well, because you can “feel” the difference between flying an A6M2 Zero and a NiKJ George!

Grant: What major campaigns does the game cover throughout the war?

Chuck: The “base” game will have 9 campaigns. Starting with Pearl Harbor and ending with Home Island Defense. I have Midway, Leyte Gulf and Okinawa…One of my favorites is the Port Moresby/Lae 1942 Campaign. That is the one inspired by Saburo Sakai!

Grant: What differentiates them from each other?

Chuck: A lot of things do. There are so many different aircraft for the player AND the Allies! The Campaigns get more difficult to get a great score as the war progresses because while the Japanese get weaker, the US gets stronger. I have really gone to great lengths to “model” that without making it a frustrating experience. As I said earlier, the razor edge of historical and play.

Zero Leader Pearl Harbor Campaign

Grant: What general experience and challenges does each campaign provide the player?

Chuck: Love this question! The challenges are many fold! Because the Japanese aircraft were not super strong in the early war, the Maintenance Crews are really crucial! Later in the war, the aircraft are better, but so are the enemy aircraft. Supplies are limited and pilots are trained to lower standards. Your challenge is to balance all these things. When you have the “bridge” rules to play Zero Leader head to head vs. Corsair Leader you will REALLY feel the short of resources challenge the Japanese faced.

Grant: I see in the counter sheet that there is a Sake counter. What is this for?

Zero Counters_Layout 1Chuck: Sake….This is a pre-campaign start purchase that allows you to remove two stress from every pilot. It is a use and discard thing, so you might purchase multiples if you expect to abuse your pilots!

Grant: What additional aspects of Japanese operations does the game include?

Chuck: Because the Leader Series of games were never really into the operational side, that was a challenge to represent. I do not want players having to refer to spreadsheets and rulebooks to figure out the supply situation. I introduce the Maintenance Crews to a Leader game to represent that in an easy, quick step. This mechanic was in Corsair Leader as an option, but honestly, while it represented the supply situation of the US really well, it needed to be worked quite a bit to fit the Japanese situation. Having it in the core game is really a fun aspect to the game.

Grant: How are these aspects incorporated into the game play?

Chuck: In Zero Leader, you need to maintain every aircraft that flew a mission. You have Maintenance Crews to perform this thankless job! The key is that these Crews are very limited and you will find yourself making decisions as to where to apply them. Do I assign two Crews to repair that damaged airplane or would they be better to perform normal maintenance on four others? In Zero Leader, damaged planes are not MAGICALLY repaired overnight. You need to assign some of your limited resources to perform that function…

Zero Leader Tactical Display

Grant: What is Samurai Spirit and does it serve a similar purpose to Gung Ho?

Chuck: Samurai Spirit acts exactly like Gung Ho. The player can expend a Samurai Spirit counter to do any one of the following:
– Treat an Unfit or Shaken Pilot as being Okay for
the current Mission.
– After suffering a Shaken, Damaged, or Destroyed
result, the Pilot may spend a Samurai Spirit counter to
treat it as a No Effect.
– Instead of rolling for an Attack, treat the Attack roll
as being a “10”, and then apply modifiers.

Grant: How does the air combat system give the player more tactical options when dogfighting with enemy aircraft?

Chuck: A couple of mechanics go to work here! The Maneuver stat can allow some aircraft to improve their position while helping to keep bandits away. The Aggression value can really be important. This stat reflects the attitude of the Pilot. Does he press the attack and push the envelope of his aircraft? Does he close the distance to get a better shot? A lot of choices become available thanks to just those two factors.

Zero Leader ChibaGrant: What type of stretch goals are included in the Kickstarter campaign?

Chuck: Ooooooooo! Well, right now I have a few. I have a couple aircraft, like the H8K Emily flying boat. This beast will get you bonuses when used for Photo Recon missions and may carry not one, but TWO torpedoes! I also have a bunch of additional Campaigns planned. Things like Wake Island, Guadalcanal among others. One of my favorites is the 7th Carrier Campaign! Based on the book by Peter Albano, there was a 7th Carrier sent to Pearl Harbor in 1941. The Yonaga was trapped by a glacier while hiding before the attack. Now, it is 1983 and the Yonaga has been freed by the ice melting and she sets out to perform her mission. ATTACK PEARL HARBOR!

Grant: What do you feel the game does really well in the historic simulation of air combat in the Pacific Theater of World War II?

Chuck: I feel it represents the positives and the minuses of the Japanese aircraft and the lack of resources and facilities.

Grant: When does the Kickstarter campaign launch?

Chuck: We plan to launch at NOON PST on Tuesday, August 11th.

Grant: What other games are you currently working or plan to work on?

Chuck: That’s a tough one! My first priority is to take a breath, but after that….I have the very bare bones on an RAF Leader (Spitfire? Hurricane? Mosquito?) and a Luftwaffe Leader (109? Focke Wulf? Stuka?). My first and only priority right now is to make Zero Leader as awesome as I can and hopefully the gamers feel the same way!

Zero Leader Whats New

Thanks for your time Chuck in answering our questions. I know we put this one together pretty quickly and I appreciate you being on it and answering my follow up questions so fast.

You can preview the Kickstarter page at the following link: