A few weeks ago, I received an email about an upcoming Kickstarter project that looked really interesting and I wanted to make sure that you all got a good look at the game. The game is DEFCON 1 from Asyncron Games and is a multi-player game that focuses on the decades long ideological struggle between the East and the West with some major twists that will culminate in the kickoff of World War III. We reached out to the designer Florian Dumont to get more information on the design and to get a better look at and understanding of the mechanics and how the game comes together.
Grant: First off Florian please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?
Florian: I am 37 years old, I come from the east of France, near the German border. I work for the Ministry of the Interior, but basically I studied history. I’ve been a fantasy miniature player for 20 years, and I play everything: board games, role-playing games, video games… And I read a lot, history books, fantasy, sci-fi…
Grant: What motivated you to break into game design? What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?
Florian: I made this game above all because I couldn’t find the equivalent on the market. I wanted to exploit the Cold War in a different way than usual, by making it degenerate into World War III. This is the ideal period for a game that is both historical and euchronic. I especially liked playing with history and above all I loved to make the game as asymmetrical as possible.
Grant: What designers have influenced your style?
Florian: I can’t name anyone in particular, for the simple reason that I am not a pure product of board games. My inspiration is rather found in video games like the Total War Series or literature. For game mechanics, I am still influenced by the European school of course, since there is no dice roll for example.
Grant: What do you find most challenging about the design process? What do you feel you do really well?
Florian: It’s going to be the same answer for both questions! I’m proud of a lot of things, the asymmetry, the play modes, but I’m mostly satisfied with the balance. DEFCON 1 is 5 totally asymmetrical factions, with 3 major blocks and 2 minor blocks, with a realistic game board and therefore geographical constraints, and yet the game is really well balanced. The games are always very tight!
Grant: What is your upcoming DEFCON 1 about?
Florian: It is a 2-5 player strategy game that takes place in a context of the Cold War that will gradually
degenerate. I specify that the game will be available in English in addition to French. You can play 5 different factions. You will have to win the game mostly by accomplishing a hidden objective, by helping yourself with small missions that will earn you bonuses, and by using all your resources: scientific research, coups d’états, unit production, nuclear missiles, naval battles and of course territorial conquest. The game is regulated by the DEFCON scale: the more the tension rises as a result of the players’ actions, the more the blocks can compete against each other. There is also a space race!
Grant: What is the mission of Asyncron Games? What types of games has the company released? Who is Olivier Chanry and what role did he have in the game?
Florian: Asyncron Games is well known in France for its range of historical “general public” board games. The company has localized many games such as the Conflict of Heroes Series, Race to the Rhine and Birth of America Series into French. It has also developed games such as Fief and Mare Nostrum which are well known in the United States.
The role of Olivier Chanry, director of Asyncron, was to develop the game, to bring a professional look, especially regarding ergonomics. He also initiated major changes to make the game more fluid. He also managed the artistic direction among other things.
Grant: What other Cold War games influenced your design?
Florian: I don’t have a title to quote, I’m sorry! I’ll slightly divert the question if I may! I know the comparison with Twilight Struggle is often made, but the two games have nothing in common except the theme. DEFCON 1 tells the story of a cold war that flames up to nuclear war, and all the mechanics push the players to more and more deadly confrontations. I have also departed from the classic USA versus USSR scheme, by proposing other blocks, and including the theme of decolonization, which is intertwined with that of the Cold War, as in the Indochina War or the Algerian War.
Grant: What sources did you research for the historical details of the game? What one source is a must read on the subject?
Florian: Since this is a period that has always interested me, I already have the correct basic knowledge that got me started. I then used two types of sources, books and very generalist websites, with chronologies, to have quick answers to my questions when I had a doubt. Then, I read more specialized books to soak up an atmosphere, I can quote for example Soviet Submarines and the US Navy by Alexandr Mozgovoï, I don’t know if there is an English edition. Ben Hubbard’s The Race for Space is very immersive and educational. Directly in English I read One Minute to Midnight by Michael Dobbs, which shows that we still have things to learn about the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Grant: What elements from the history between 1950 and 1990 did you want to include and model in the game?
Florian: Of course, the classics of the Cold War are present, such as the events in Europe (Berlin Crisis, Euro missiles Crisis, etc…). The fact that there are 5 blocks allowed me to include less known events, such as the Sino-Vietnamese War, the Bandung Conference, the installation of French strategic missiles on the Albion plateau… I liked to design missions and objectives for all the blocks, but I would say that what I liked the most was to design missions that demonstrate that communism is not a unified ideology, and that for example for Angola we have a mission of the Warsaw Pact “People’s Liberation Movement of Angola” and a mission of the People’s Republic of China “The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola”. Both involve taking control of the country, but we realize that there were Marxist guerillas and other Maoists fighting each other. And in the same vein I liked to design missions for France, which although being part of the Western bloc had its own considerations, which were in the end quite different from those of the Americans.
Grant: I see where the game has 4 different play modes that plays from 2-5 players. What are these different modes?
Florian: The goal was for DEFCON 1 to be just as much fun to play no matter whether you are two, three, four or five players. The game has two main modes: the Strategic mode with hidden objectives and the scenario mode where the victory conditions are known and change depending on the scenario. The scenario mode offers lighter games, there are scenarios for 3, 4 or 5 players.
The strategic mode is declined in three variants: classic (4 or 5 players), frontal shock (2 players) and Circle of Death (3 players). The two-player strategy mode, Frontal Shock, features a close duel, with pre-selected mission cards to speed up the game. It’s a game of chess between two blocks! Duelists can choose between the three major blocks to play this mode. The three-player strategy mode, Circle of Death, is a great pride that voids the “2 vs 1” problem that often plagues strategy games. It is played with the three major blocks. Thanks to a clever system, we are sure to have only one target each, and only one opponent who takes us as a target. So you have to attack one block and defend yourself against the other. It works very well and the games are exciting!
For four players, the classic strategic mode with hidden objectives works very well, but the scenario East vs West which opposes on one side France and the Atlantic Alliance to the two communist blocks is very nice too.
At 5, the ideal mode is the classic strategic mode.
Grant: What are the different factions or blocks that are playable in the game?
Florian: You can play as:
-The Atlantic Alliance, composed of the United States and its closest allies in Western Europe. It is a powerful block on the seas, with advanced technology and the ability to influence the actions of other players. As a “policeman of the world”.
-The Warsaw Pact, composed of the USSR and its satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe. It is a powerful block on earth, nuclear-powerful, with heavy industrial capabilities.
-The Non-Aligned Movement, made up of the large Third World countries, is a block with production capacities outside the factories and with capacities that go beyond the normal mechanisms of the game to create surprise and compensate for its technological backwardness.
-The French Republic is composed of Metropolitan France, its 1950 colonies and some overseas territories. It is a “scalpel”, or “Swiss army knife” block, capable of being powerful on short fronts thanks in particular to special units.
-The People’s Republic of China is composed of the large administrative regions of China. It is a block that can be transferred from the technologies and that can be more productive under certain conditions.
Grant: How did you create asymmetry in the way these blocks play?
Florian: Asymmetry is found at all levels. Some blocks are in one piece, others are scattered on the map. Some have better access to the sea. They do not have the same starting resources. They do not have the same number of units in reserve, and some can still increase their reserve, others not. They have some basic technologies in common but all the others are different depending on the blocks.
Each block has 8 different hidden objectives, and 24 different missions. And if the campaign is a success, there will be more!
Grant: What are the different technology trees available to each block? How are technologies developed?
Florian: To develop technologies, you have to pay for research and development cubes, collected at the beginning of each round according to the areas you control. Most technologies are done in two rounds, unless you want to pay more to do them in one round! The technology tree allows you to strengthen your block to have access to advanced weaponry, political, economic capabilities…This is what allows you to follow the arms race and to put your opponents in trouble with special abilities.
Grant: Please give us a few examples of the different technologies that can be researched and developed?
Florian: A few examples, one for each block:
-Atlantic Alliance “Oil Embargo” allows you to spend influence to remove oil from an opponent.
-Warsaw Pact’s “Dead Hand” (system perimeter) allows you to have a free silo that can only be used if you suffer a nuclear strike.
-Non-Aligned Movement “Militia” allows you to produce a lightweight unit against influence without the need for a factory.
-“Foreign Legion” of France allows you to land a special unit that can stabilize one of your areas and is stronger in defense than other light units.
-Great Leap Forward allows China to produce twice with one factory.
Grant: How does the Space Race appear in the design?
Florian: It has three functions. Each time a block spends a research and development pawn on the space race, it gains an influence pawn and advances the race. If the pawn arrives on a program carried by another block, the latter also gains influence. It is also possible to unlock new technology tiles, such as the Star Wars (Initiative Defense Strategic) for the Atlantic Alliance, which allows the block of a nuclear missile in full flight! And finally, you can retrieve satellite markers. Satellites allow you to get bonuses such as extra movement or the right to draw mission cards.
Grant: What is the general Sequence of Play?
Florian: Phase 0 is a phase of drawing maps, updating the board and collecting resources. Everyone does it at the same time.
Phase 1 is the research and development phase, in which each block develops its technologies, makes a “dormant” plant operational or invests in the race for space.
Phase 2 is the political phase, allowing coup d’états to be carried out on already destabilized zones and to destabilize new ones. It is a way of seizing zones without fighting.
Phase 3 is the production phase, where the blocks run their factories to produce units or improve those already on the board.
Phase 4 is the atomic phase, playable only when the scale is on DEFCON 1. The blocks fire their nuclear missiles!
Phase 5 is the operational phase. This is the moment when the blocks move their units, fight on sea and land.
Grant: How are Mission Cards used in the design? Can you share with us a few examples of these Mission Cards?
Florian: Each player has a hand of 3 mission cards. The goal is to complete simple missions to win small bonuses. For example “Le Redoutable” which asks the French block to build an SSBN and gives an immediate reward. Another example is the “Euromissile Crisis”, which asks the Atlantic Alliance to place a nuclear silo in the FRG and as a reward can grant it, for example, the takeover of the GDR.
Moreover, often these mission cards are a first step towards one or the other objective. For example, “Lider Maximo” from the Warsaw Pact gives you an immediate reward if you take control of Cuba, and moreover it is a first step towards the Red Dawn Objective (invade North America).
Grant: What does the game board look like? How do players control the various areas and regions?
Florian: The game board is a map centered on Asia, which facilitates the ergonomics of fighting in the Pacific and highlights the Bering Strait. Moreover, it places 3 of the 5 blocks in the center of the map.
Each territory has one or more zones where only one military unit can be located, so it is very legible. To control the zone, you must either conquer it by force or by a coup d’état. To control territory, you must control all the zones. We also find on some zones, the natural influence of the blocks, determining whether or not they can attempt coups d’état on the zone. The marine zones are cut out to be sensitive points between the different blocks. The game board also propose the space race and the Defcon scale, as well as ergonomics
Grant: What do players gain from control of regions? How are different resources accessed?
Florian: Most of the time, associated to these zones, there are resources that the player will collect if he controls the zone. There are four types of resources: oil (to attack) uranium (to build atomic bombs), influence (to carry out coups d’état and destabilization), and finally research and development cubes. Controlling areas can also help you succeed in missions, and ultimately your goal of victory.
Grant: How do players destabilize the political zones? How do they come back into stability?
Florian: To destabilize a zone, you have to pay an influence cube. This can be done if you have a natural influence on the zone, or if you are adjacent to a zone. To stabilize a zone, either it must be taken by a Coup d’état, or the block controlling it must restore order by attacking its own zone!
Grant: What different units can players produce? How are these units then upgraded?
Florian: You can produce on earth in the order of power of Motorized Divisions, Mechanized Corps
and Armoured Armies. At sea, it will be Frigates Division, Cruiser Wings or Naval Air Groups. To win a fight, no dice roll. Simply, a unit of a higher level wins over a lower one. So you have to place your most powerful units in the right place. To improve them, you have to have already developed the technology. For example, at the beginning of the game the movement of the Non-Aligned cannot produce Armoured Armies. Then they can be produced in factories or by discarding an R&D cube and a barrel of oil. This makes it possible to reinforce units far from their bases, which is useful, for example, if the Soviet Union has to conquer part of Africa.
Grant: As the DEFCON level degrades what Strategic options become available to players?
Florian: At DEFCON 5, you can conquer neutral areas, or initially neutral areas that would have come under enemy control. This is to simulate peripheral conflicts such as the Korean War for example. At DEFCON 4, naval battles can take place. At DEFCON 3, players can build nuclear silos and SSBNs. At DEFCON 2, players can attack on their own territories, such as Russia or Iran. This is total warfare. At DEFCON 1, they can unleash nuclear fire! Tension is bound to rise. It is the actions of the players that increase the tension. The
destruction of a fleet, for example.
Grant: What is the goal of the game? How is victory achieved?
Florian: Except for the scenario mode where each victorious condition is different, in the strategy mode you have two objectives at the beginning of the game. The success of one of them crowns you as the winner of the game. The fact that you have the choice between two objectives until the end prevents a player from being blocked because his objective would have become unattainable. Until the end, everyone can win.
Grant: How long does a typical game last?
Florian: DEFCON 1 offers 45 min/player games. If you play with two players and you know the rules, you can make a game in about 90 minutes. So, even with 5 players, the game can be played in an evening or an afternoon.
Grant: What stretch goals are available for the Kickstarter campaign?
Florian: There will be three kinds of Stretch goals including upgrades to the basic game components, additional content and extensions that during the Kickstarter will be free! Lots of surprises are planned and I don’t want to spoil them here. You will have to check into the campaign to what surprises are there. All I can say is that the final edition will be very neat.
Grant: When do you expect the game to be fulfilled?
Florian: The publisher prefers to remain cautious given the current context. The announced date is May 2022. He prefers to count broadly so as not to frustrate subscribers and to have a realistic and honest discourse.
Grant: What type of play experience does the game create?
Florian: It transcribes the rise in tension of this period. The game starts slowly, with a few peripheral
conflicts, and gradually the blocks get into the arms race and end up in a nuclear war. The game is stimulating because it offers an important strategic challenge, and at the same time we find the good atmosphere of strategic confrontation games, with its share of squabbles! DEFCON 1 renews I think the great strategic board game, and proposes a very different vision of the period. Its asymmetry and balance guarantee an infinite replayability.
Grant: What are you most pleased with about the design?
Florian: I think it’s the assurance that each game of DEFCON 1 will be different from the previous one.
With so many different asymmetries, game modes, missions and objectives, the fun is always renewed. And what a pleasure it is to play, in the context of the Cold War, other blocks than just the USSR and the USA!
Grant: What other projects are you working on and when do you expect these to hit Kickstarter?
Florian: I’m totally focused on DEFCON 1, because after the campaign we’ll still have some work to do, especially if it’s a great success. But I have a few projects, including a cooperative game where players have to fight against the Chernobyl disaster. It’s far too early to say what will become of it, especially since the development of DEFCON 1 has made me a perfectionist. In any case I wanted to sincerely thank you for your interest in DEFCON 1. Your pertinent questions show that you are sincerely interested in the project, it was a pleasure to answer you.
You can get some more information from a series of videos on YouTube put together for the campaign. Here is the first video in the series:
I think that this game looks very interesting and I am looking forward to seeing how the campaign unfolds. I am glad to see that the focus is not just on the traditional USSR vs. USA and look forward to seeing how those other blocks contributed to the Cold War. Thanks to Florian for his time in answering our questions.
If you are interested in DEFCON 1 you can back a copy on the Kickstarter page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/asyncron-games/defcon-1?ref=bggforums&token=37d194c7