A few years ago, we became acquainted with Greg Porter when we played his Armageddon War design from Flying Pig Games. That game ended up being my Game of the Year in 2018 and is one that I still think about often when playing other designs. Greg is now back with a new game called Aden that uses certain elements of that system but takes this game in a new direction as it deals with Civil War in Yemen. We reached out to Greg and discussed the design and we appreciate the time he gave us to do this interview.
Grant: What was your inspiration for your upcoming design called Aden?
Greg: I like to look at things that have not been done by everyone else, and to some extent that are topical in current events. Everyone has seen pictures and videos from the various conflicts in that part of the world and I wanted to try one where none of the combatants were a major power but made up of the insurgent sides.
Grant: What period does the game cover? Why was this a topic you chose for this system?
Greg: It covers more or less the present, near future and recent past. I picked this area and topic in particular because it had interesting real-world terrain and lots of complications, and the conflict is documented well enough to get a feel for who is using what. The actual ‘Battle of Aden’ was in 2015 and I picked Aden because it was a major city that was actually fought over and had some interesting geography. The in-game narrative has a rebellion starting there and the city being fought over from that standpoint, but the real Battle of Aden was a Houthi offensive to take the city and the government taking it back. Aden is “inspired by real world events” rather than “historical simulation”. It is supposed to give a feel for this sort of conflict rather than trying to exactly recreate a specific part of it. For instance, after the first round of playtesting, some minor liberties with geography were taken in the name of improving the gameplay.
Grant: The game uses a modified system similar to your Armageddon War. Tell our readers how that system works in this design?
Greg: It is not so much the Armageddon War system as a system that borrows some concepts from Armageddon War. Color coding for anti-armor and anti-infantry firepower rather than using separate values, altering the number of hits you get for firing at the wrong target type, having counter-fire be an integral part of the system, that sort of thing.
Grant: What is the scale of the game?
Greg: It is about 500 meters per hex and an hour per turn. Units are either companies or platoons.
Grant: I also notice that you use the word semi-tactical to describe the game. What does this mean?
Greg: That phrase is purely subjective. I think of “tactical” as being platoon level and below. Aden is not a strategic game, but I just didn’t feel it was exactly tactical either. Doing the actual Battle of Aden would be a strategic game, since it played out over four months, while Aden is just several day-long battles with a chronological theme, each separated by some undefined amount of time.
Grant: What different factions are represented in the game?
Greg: In the game, it is just Government, Rebels and Government Allies. In the real world, the government forces are the Cabinet of Yemen, led by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. This is the internationally recognized government. The Rebels are the Supreme Political Council, also known as the Houthis, who took control of the capital (Sana’a) and are supported by ISIS and may be getting arms from Iran. The Allies are Saudi Arabian forces acting in support of the Cabinet of Yemen. In the real world there is also the Southern Transitional Council, which is allied with none of the above and holds some territory, but is not involved in the area of the game setting, and ISIS forces acting independently of the Houthi, but they do not hold any territory. It’s a real mess.
Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters? Can you show us a few examples of units?
Greg: Counters are fairly simple. Color coded for their faction, name in upper left, firepower in lower left with range as a superscript, movement in lower center, defense in lower right, and possibly having one or more special ability flags in the upper right. Company size units have their name in a black area, while platoon sized units have a red area. So, the government T-62 has a firepower of 4 with a range of 2, a movement of 4 (gold is vehicle movement) and a defense of 1. The pennant represents that it is a ‘command’ unit, which is a special ability. The rebel ATGM is a “support unit” (platoon size) and has the ‘missile’ ability, which means that if it does not have a step marker on it, it gets +2 to its anti-armor firepower.
Grant: What does the different colors used for firepower denote?
Greg: A gold number means the firepower is best against vehicles, and a red number means it is best against infantry. Defenses are color coded the same way. When you roll dice for an attack, the number you need on each die is based on your attack type vs. the defense type of the target. So a tank can damage infantry, but it is better at damaging tanks, and vice versa.
Grant: The game uses step markers to represent losses. How does this work? Why do you believe this works so well?
Greg: If you take something like the Battle of Aden, the whole real-world affair took about 4 months and had a combined casualty total of about 600 people. They gave ground and avoided casualties a lot. The step markers allow you to be temporarily reduced in combat effectiveness but without any actual damage to the unit. The step markers are also key to the irregular recovery and activation mechanic.
Each player has a recovery step when it becomes their turn and they roll a D6. Any unit with the number that is rolled gets back 1 or 2 steps, depending on situation. So, an Exhausted unit could go to Depleted (one step recovered) or back to full strength (two steps recovered), depending on its particular circumstances (in defensive terrain, next to a command unit, etc.).
Grant: Why did you feel an alternating activation system was the best to use for the design? What type of experience does it create?
Greg: It is not a ‘formation-move” or ‘all units of a player-move’ system. Instead, you simply pick any hex of your units you want and activate it. Of course, activating it means it gets a step marker when it is done, which may or may not recover at the start of your next activation. So there is a constant ebb and flow of ready and unready units. You have to work to make the most of your opportunities to act with fresh units and exploit weaknesses in your opponent’s weakened ones.
Grant: How do you determine the base number of dice to roll for a fire attack?
Greg: That’s straightforward, your attack minus their defense. Add in modifiers for range, terrain, etc.
Grant: How does terrain of the target modify the number of dice?
Greg: About how you would expect. There are two exceptions. Elevated terrain is a bonus to the number of dice rolled against a vehicle target, as is dense urban terrain. The elevated terrain is hills steep enough that the only vehicle access is narrow, winding roads. You don’t have cover and anyone shooting at you knows exactly where you can be. Dense urban terrain is the same. Not very wide streets and not much to hide behind. If you are in a position that lets you shoot a tank at someone one or more hexes away, you are sitting in the open.
Grant: How does Combined Fire work? Under what circumstances is it available for units?
Greg: Normally, Combined Fire is only with units in the same hex, and just gives +1 die per extra attacker. A command unit can combine fire with any friendly unit, and may give an additional +1 die for flanking.
Grant: How does Counter-fire work? Why did you feel this was important to include in an alternating activation system?
Greg: If the person you are shooting at declares counter-fire, you get +1 die on your attack. But any die that comes up 1 or 2 is a hit on you, or only on a 1 if you are firing from cover. This is important because it makes you take into account who you are shooting at. It is perfectly fair to find targets who are too far away for them to shoot back at you! And it makes you want to take advantage of cover to reduce the chance enemy counter-fire will have any effect. That is, it encourages intelligent tactics.
Grant: How can units minimize damage taken?
Greg: After determining how many hits an attack does to your unit, you can retreat 1 hex to take 1 less hit. This happens a lot. You can also take advantage of cover and cover that blocks line of sight.
Grant: What are the different Steps that can be lost for units?
Greg: Depleted is the first step, which is a -1 to firepower and -1 to movement. Exhausted is the second step, which is -2 to firepower and no movement (Exhausted units cannot retreat). More than this and your unit is flipped over to the reduced side and one more step after that eliminates the unit. Platoon size units do not have a reduced side, so one hit that does real damage eliminates them. So note that a Depleted unit can usually still move and fire, but it will be Exhausted afterwards. The steps also have the die roll that removes the step at the start of your turn, so when you place a step marker you can decide which other units it will recover with at the same time.
Grant: What is Gone to Ground and what benefit does it add to units?
Greg: Gone to Ground just means you are hiding. You cannot opportunity fire, but you can only be attacked in close combat. Your company is hiding out in the underground level of a parking garage, in alleys between buildings, etc. You cannot be seen except by someone who is in the same hex with you.
Grant: How does Close Combat work?
Greg: You move into the enemy hex and both sides roll their dice. You pick who is leading your attack or defense if there are multiple units, and the number of dice rolled and their target number is based on who is shooting at what.
Grant: Who did the art for the game? What does it add to the experience?
Greg: The art for counters and map was David Prieto Gómez. I think the jagged stripe and block for the unit name gives a feel for the irregular nature of the forces, and the color coding of the map hexes overlaid on the actual area of the world in question is a nice visual.
Grant: I notice that the map has a lot of Line of Site blocking terrain. Why was this important to represent the type of fighting in this setting?
Greg: It was not so much an important design consideration as the way the area actually is. I had to open up the terrain and make it more accessible than the real world, since early playlists involved nothing but trying to get through a couple of narrow choke points on the north and south coasts. It was realistic, but not fun to play for either side. To illustrate, this is part of Aden (pre-war). You can see how difficult it would be to get a long line of sight between two spots at the same elevation, and see how completely unfriendly to vehicles that ridgeline in the background is. This is the terrain that most of the game is fought in.
Grant: What different special characteristics were included for units?
Greg: Command, Missile, Indirect Fire and Arrogant. Plus the BMP-1’s can carry an Infantry unit.
Grant: How many scenarios are included in the design?
Greg: Six, with the intent that each is played twice, players alternating the side they play. This gives each player the experience of seeing the limitations of terrain and advantages and disadvantages.
Grant: What are Quirks cited in these scenarios and why was this important to include?
Greg: They add a little personality to the scenarios, and calling them Quirks is just because Special Scenario Rules seemed a bit dry.
Grant: What do you feel the design does well?
Greg: It represents the problems with irregular or poorly motivated units. To do a lot of stuff requires that you keep everyone close to the senior officers (the Command units), but to do a lot of things in different areas requires that you spread people out. Similarly, the units are not modern and not well-maintained. The Yemeni Civil War has had people breaking T-35/85’s and SU-100’s out of storage and using them!
The need to retreat to keep your units intact means there is a lot of give and take, but relatively few casualties compared to other wargames. The map design also has a large number of special interest hexes that may or may not come into play in a particular scenario. Aden is a functioning city (more or less) while all this is going on. Airport, shipping, hotels, people going to work in one part of the city while a battle rages in a different part. Some or all of the special areas are in play in all of the scenarios.
Grant: What other designs are you working on?
Greg: Lots. I’ve got at least two I’m working on for Mark (Flying Pig Games/Tiny Battle Publishing), plus I run my own game company and I am designing role-playing titles for that. Though the whole pandemic thing and other real-world concerns have been getting in the way of both.
Thanks Greg for the insight into the design and for your great detailed explanation of your thoughts behind the design. The game looks very interesting and I cannot wait to give it a try.
If you are interested in Aden you can order a copy for $28.00 from the Tiny Battle Publishing website at the following link: https://tinybattlepublishing.com/products/aden1