Mark Holt Walker is an enthusiastic dude and he has a lot of creativity bottled up inside him. He has created some of my favorite wargames in Armageddon War, Old School Tactical and Platoon Commander Deluxe: Kursk to name a few. He also is somewhat of a writer and story teller and has created an entire world, and in fact an RPG, around the undead intervening in a hypothetical World War III. He now has merged both of these things together into a very interesting and intriguing looking hex and counter wargame called The Long Road. The game has a very important sub-title in World War III…with a Twist and I am very interested in this twist! I reached out to Mark about answering some questions for me on the design and he was more than interested.

The game is currently on Kickstarter and you can check out the Kickstarter Preview page at the following link:

Grant: What is this about werewolves and undead mixed with Abrams tanks in World War III? Where did this idea come from?

Mark: Well, the idea originally came from my novel World At War Revelation. And then subsequent to that, I did a novel World At War: Dark War, a short story called The Greatest Fear, and then a role playing game called Dark War. So I’ve been working on this for a long time. As a matter of fact, if you go back to World At War, if you look at the Eisenbach Gap Deluxe Box, you’ll see up on one of the buildings to your left, a figure, and that figure is Katarina. So The Long Road wasn’t just an idea to throw some paranormal creatures onto the board with Abrams tanks and Bradley’s. It was a hope to flesh out the universe that I created in those novels.

Grant: How have you gone about mixing these two to create a believable game?

Mark: Well, that’s a good question. And it kind of leads back to the first question also, because there’s a story here. And I can see that at times, there might even be some confusion with that. Again, it’s not that I’m throwing these paranormal creatures out on the table, just to see what happens. There’s a story. And The Long Road weaves in and out of that story. And part of that story is about paranormal creatures, usually vampires, and Lycan, which are werewolves, and also a witch named Üdvöske. The overarching story is a story about the First Guard’s Tank Army drive on Wurzburg to capture the bridges over the Main River. And then these other paranormal entities all have their own motivations in this world, and those motivations lead to them interacting with the Soviets and Americans and the rest of NATO, although we don’t talk too much about the rest of NATO in this particular game.

Grant: What is the setting for the game?

Mark:  The setting, again, it would be those novels, but geographically it’s West Germany, 1985. And a Soviet thrust into West Germany, to unite the Germanys and to cripple NATO.

Grant: I see where soldiers’ training and morale is integral to the game, integral to combat resolution, how do you represent this in the game?

Mark: We do it very simply. On the Fire Results Table, once you’ve determined the column, you roll 1D10. And it’s going to tell you how many hits you get. Then, depending on the unit’s morale that’s been targeted they then roll against their morale to save against these numbers of hits. So the higher the morale, the more often they’ll save, the lower the morale the less often they’ll save. Same thing, there is a rally phase where if a unit doesn’t save against one hit, it’s disrupted. Well, to rally from that disruption, it has to roll against its morale.

Grant: What role do Heroes play in the design? What makes these Heroes…well heroic?

Mark: Every hero that’s in the game is a character from one of the novels, whether it’s Mike Hudson who’s really the ultimate protagonist of both novels, or Katarina, who is the co-protagonist. And so they’re all drawn from those novels. And each one of them, what’s different from them and many regular units is they have abilities on the left hand side of their counter that allow them to do fantastic things.

For example, when Katarina is involved in a close assault, she automatically gains a hit because she’s gonna feed off the people that she kills. Mike Hudson, on the other hand, because he’s become a veteran very rapidly, gives a defensive bonus to anybody in their hex. Of course you have to keep in mind the scale of the game. We’re not talking Old School Tactical where you’re talking about squads and individual leaders. Most The Long Road counters represent platoons of infantry or tanks, mobs of zombies, packs of werewolves, etc. So the hero counters represent the named hero, and their posse, so to speak. Maybe there’s three or four or five people that they’ve become close friends with, and they trust, and fight with them.

Grant: Can you share with us a few of the Heroes and tell their stories?

Mark: Well, that’s kind of what I just did. Of course, there is Mike Hudson. Mike Hudson starts out the war as a private in the army, just an everyday, dude. The Saturday before the war, he meets Katarina, who ends up being a 400-year-old vampire. He doesn’t know it at the time. And he goes on to fight in many of the war’s significant battles. And he also manages to anger a specific Lycan called Tentani when Hudson, and some people he is with, kill Tentani’s family. So Tentani tries to hunt down Mike Hudson, and Kat will try to save him on occasion.

Grant: What do their counters look like? And how do they differ from the rank and file?

Mark: Well, the counters look just pretty much the same, except they have their name on them and they’ll have a picture of the hero, and they have the same values of armor factor. They do have a key factor, they would have a close assault factor to movement, that type of stuff. Pretty much just like everybody else, but along the left side of the counter or with some left and right side of the counter depending on how many skills they have, they have specific skills that they can use that makes them quite a bit better than the average infantry platoon or something.

Grant: What system does the game use? Why did you feel that that was the appropriate framework for the game?

Mark: The game is based on the Platoon Commander Deluxe System. It has changed that quite a bit though, adding all the instruments of “modern war.” Although, this is 1985 which is 35 years ago, so it’s almost closer to World War II than it is with today’s modern war. I like the Platoon Commander Deluxe System because it is easy and it’s fast. When I play Platoon Commander with Greg or my Origins crew we can plow through a scenario in 45 minutes. It’s a great system, and I just thought it would fit this really well.

Grant: What changes did you make to the system to handle modern complexities?

Mark: About a quarter-ton worth of changes. There are rules that handle anti-tank guided missiles, and their restrictions, like they can’t fire over any type of water. By the same token, if they fired at somebody, appropriate targets can pop smoke to try to neutralize it, or they can actually opportunity fire on the ATGM team or vehicle that’s using anti-tank guided missiles. Infantry can fire from some Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV). There are mine layers, there are mine clearers, there are anti-tank ditches, there are bridge layers, there are airstrikes, there are advanced imagers. A lot of stuff and it’s not too complex, but I think it’s really rich enough that anybody will enjoy it.

Grant: How our cards used in the game. Can you show us a few examples of these cards?

Mark: Sure, I’ve attached a few examples for you to see. It’s not card driven. It’s card assisted. So, for instance, cards are used to call artillery strikes. Although a new thing in this iteration, the Platoon Commander Deluxe System, even after you’ve called an artillery strike, you still roll for accuracy. Cards can be used for air strikes also. Cards can be used to allow a platoon that has already activated to activate again. Those are just some of the things that the basic card set, that you use with NATO and the Soviets, can do. Now each one of the paranormal monsters, let’s call them that are in the game, have their own card set, which allows them to do unique things. For instance, zombies may generate more zombies, they may generate a powerful zombie called a Puker. Vampires may be able to transmogrify, change into a giant winged creature. Vampires may be able to roll twice in close combat, or some more standard things, because not all the vampire forces are fanged people. So they add chaos. They add flavor, they also add a bit of a take that thing to the game.

Grant: Let’s focus on the supernatural elements of the game. What different creatures are included?

Mark: Well, there are mainly vampires, lycan, which many people call werewolves, zombies, a witch and a demon. The vampire coven is wealthy and powerful. They’ve been around quite a long while, amassing great political and financial influence. Unbeknownst to the players involved a certain vampire coven sparked the war, pitting the Soviet Union against America simply to weaken humanity.

Lycans are the age-old enemy of vampires, tracing their animosity to Vlad the Impaler and Budapest, circa 1478, when the Lycans drove the vampires from the city. The Lycan clans are usually either gypsies or live in isolated farming communities. They keep to themselves. They’re not running around trying to eviscerate the populace by night. They are not happy with the Soviets invading Germany, nor the United States occupying Germany. So they are fighting a guerrilla war against those two entities. And the guerrilla war means that they use weapons that they have captured, RPD’s, RPG’s. They have what we would call platoons equipped with rifles, RPD’s, RPG’s and technicals with recoilless rifles and heavy machine guns. But of course when they’re attacking at night, there will be a part of the clan that fight as werewolves. Or sometimes, even if they’re attacking in the day, because the elders can change anytime.

The witch named Üdvöske, can raise the dead, which creates zombies. And she has a real problem with anybody that is in her way for her power grabbing plans. The zombies don’t care about anybody. They are stupid zombies. They were originally raised by a demon who feeds on fear. And he’s found that the thing humans fear the most is death itself. So he makes zombies.

Grant: How are they inserted into scenarios?

Mark: Well, as I alluded to, they each have their own motivation. And we have this overarching story behind The Long Road where the Soviets are trying to get to Wurzburg and capture bridges across the Main River. That’s the overall thing, that’s “the long road.” Within that, they have problems and fight battles with Lycans because the Lycans hate the Soviets for invading their country. There will be instances where both the Americans and Soviets are fighting, and the demon unleashes a zombie horde from a nearby city. Because, hey, the demon just likes to stir up stuff and likes to see people scared. By the same token, there will be instances where you see Katarina fighting Tentani, who’s trying to kill Mike Hudson, who’s part of the Americans that are trying to keep a hold of a town, Klappebruck. And, in general, they are part of the story that weave in and out. I say out because there are some of these scenarios that have nothing but T80’s and Abrams and what not in them. The Long Road is a story, and when it makes sense to have these creatures in the story, they are in the story.

Grant: What different powers do they have? And what weaknesses can you use against them?

Mark: Well, let’s say we start with the Lycans. They have an assault factor of 16. So one small pack of lycan will give you two to one odds in close assault. They also can ignore the first hit against them, and they’re much faster than humans. Now there are clan members that work with them as I alluded to, RPD teams, RPG teams, rifle companies, and what not. They’re pretty much standard, kind of militia more or less.

Vampires are fast and intelligent. The actual vampires that have blood dripping from their fangs, get to roll two die in close combat and select the best one. They also gain a hit automatically, regardless of the result in close combat because they’re feeding on people. But keep in mind that there are elements of the vampire coven that don’t fight by fang and claw, so to speak. The coven is very wealthy, very technologically advanced. It has what you might call tanks or tank destroyers that mount Gauss rifles that are powerful, as powerful as an Abrams. The vampire coven also field hover drones, gun bike troops and elite infantry in UV-blocker armor, which allows them to fight in the day.

The witch Üdvöske can raise the dead. She can hurl lightning bolts, which can knock out a tank’s electronics. She can also fling fireballs, which are very much like an artillery strike, which makes her immensely powerful. So each paranormal entity has powers and can take more hits than humans. But most of these entities a portion of their army, so to speak, that uses conventional weaponry. With the vampires, it’s very high tech, higher tech than anything else in the war. With the lycan, it’s less high tech.

Grant: What are their weaknesses?

Mark: Well vampires, unless they’re in UV-blocker camouflage, will burn to death when the sun hits them. So there’s actually one scenario where the vampires are battling the Lycans for control of an area that may have a relic. And as the sun slowly advances across the map, the vampires have got to move also. They can’t be caught in a hex that has a sun. Both lycan and vampires have a problem with silver. So there are some Heroes, some champions, that fire weapons that have silvertip bullets, and they double firepower against these creatures. Keep in mind that werewolves are not invulnerable to normal weapons and neither are vampires. If you get 35 guys armed with M60’s, M16’s, and M203 grenade launchers shooting at a couple of werewolves, it’s just simply going to shred them and kill them, just like it might in real life.

Grant: Can you show us some of their counters and tell us about their statistics?

Mark: Keep in mind that the game defines, Heroes, Commanders, and Champions as Legends. Morozov is a Commander. The tank icon defines him as such. The “+” on his counters means that this value is added to the same value on the tank platoon that he commands. For example, the HE attack factor of the platoons he commands (lower left) is increased by 2. The binocs on the left side of his counter means that the platoon Morozov is attached to may see through 1 hex of blocking terrain at a firing penalty. Commanders are assigned to a platoon at the beginning of a scenario and share that platoon’s fate.

Hudson is a Hero, identified by the rifle on his counter. Unlike Commanders, Heroes are separate combatants, and like Stevie Nicks, can go their own way. Go their own way. The reticule means that when targeted Hudson doesn’t take a long-range penalty on the Fire Results Table. The chevrons means that any attack aimed at his hex is resolved 1 column lower than normal. He’s a veteran, he knows how to take cover, and can impart that knowledge to the other soldiers in his hex.

Tentani is a Champion. The star identifies her as such.  She receives a separate card on which to track wounds (shown below). Only Champions get these. She’s fast. The red icon represents this. She can also emit a Fearsome Howl. See the card below.

Grant: What is the scenario book in the game titled The Long Road Tactics? How does it differ from the rest of the game?

Mark: The Long Road Tactics scenario booklet ships with the game. I understand that some gamers don’t want their paranormal peanut butter in their war gaming chocolate. I get that. So the scenarios in the Tactics booklet just have the weapons of the day fighting against each other. It’s set in the same universe. But in these particular instances, there are no paranormal creatures around. As a matter of fact, in The Long Road universe, in most of the instances, there aren’t paranormal creatures around. But what you get with The Long Road Tactics, are straight up tank and infantry on tank and infantry, Soviet Union on American battles.

Grant: What kind of gaming experience does this game create? What would you say to war gamers who are skeptical?

Mark: It creates a chaotic, interesting, exciting gaming experience, that’s totally different from any other 1985 era game that I’ve ever played. I would say this, that if someone thinks there’s something goofy here. If someone thinks there’s something that isn’t a wargame here, then you’re sadly mistaken. It’s a wargame, but connected to this story driven campaign that involves Lycans, werewolves, witches, zombies, and a demon.

Grant: Is there a standalone solo module as in your other Kickstarters?

Mark: I wish, and you know, I’d love to do that sometime, but I don’t have any plans for doing it with this Kickstarter right now.

Grant: What stretch goals are you offering?

Mark: Well, I think everybody can see that just by going to the Kickstarter, we’re offering nine different action cards, those were in the action cards of the cards you play to do unique things like artillery strikes, while we’re coming up with some even better ideas. So we’re actually offering nine new action cards that you can feed in with the action card deck. Then we’re putting linen backs on all the action cards, is another stretch goal. It’s our 10th one. The 11th one is a mouse pad. And then we’re more than willing to move on, and add other stretch goals. We’ll take people’s suggestions. And we also have an add-on (not a stretch goal), called Fatherland which brings in the West German Army. And adds a new map, new counters, six new scenarios, and you can get that right up front. It’s just a pledge level, that includes the game The Long Road and then also Fatherland.

Grant: What are you most pleased with about the design?

Mark: I’m pleased that I did the design. I don’t know how to tell that to you guys. There’s a lot of pressure on me as a company owner, as a war gamer, as someone who’s the majority of my fan base and our customers, our traditional war gamers. There’s a lot of pressure to do straight up war games. And I decided with this game when it was already designed, maybe six, seven months ago, I made the decision that I wasn’t going to do that. I wasn’t going to put this game in some generic 1985 world at war history. I wanted to use the universe that I had created, and I hope that it’s something that appeals to many people. And I hope that it gives a lot of people enjoyment, when we finally are able to give them the game.

Thanks Mark for the detailed look inside this one. I for one think that this will be a nice break from our normal wargames and I am supportive of this concept. I think that we all get stuck in a rut from time to time….including designers, publishers, wargamers, etc. A good game is a good game no matter what the setting.

The game is currently on Kickstarter and you can check out the Kickstarter Preview page at the following link: