Recently, Worthington has been releasing new Deluxe 2nd Editions of classic wargames, including the famous States of Siege Series games, that were originally published by Victory Point Games. In July 2020, they started with In Magnificent Style: Pickett’s Charge designed by Hermann Luttmann, followed with Soviet Dawn: The Russian Civil War 1918-1921 designed by the Godfather of the States of Siege Series Darin Leviloff in November 2020 and then in January 2021, they Kickstarted Keep Up the Fire!: The Boxer Rebellion designed by John Welch. Next up in their campaign to resurrect these classic games with the deluxe treatment is Malta Besieged: 1940-1942 designed by Steve Carey. We reached out to Steve to get the lowdown on the design and he was more than willing to give up the goods.
Grant: First off Steve please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?
Steve: Greetings, I have been gaming since 1973 when Sports Illustrated titles like Pro Football (Paydirt), All-Star Baseball, Bowl Bound, etc., became my first dice rolling experiences. I graduated to wargaming a year later with Panzerblitz. Having retired early from an administrative public service position, I now enjoy reading, walking, and avidly collecting wargames. I’m a widower with two sons currently residing in Southern California.
Grant: What motivated you to break into game design? What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?
Steve: The synergy of military history and tabletop gaming created the seed, it just took a long time in my case to bloom. Each one of my designs took a full year to research, playtest, develop, and edit. The process is quite challenging, but still enjoyable at the same time. There is a definite sense of satisfaction in seeing your game published, and interacting with the players is where I derive the most pleasure.
Grant: What designers have influenced your style?
Steve: I have been exposed to a huge number of games over the past decades, and there’s not really any one designer who stands out as an unknowing mentor. My style is one of historical accuracy combined with ease of play, with the game’s narrative taking center stage. The reason narrative is so important is because one of my primary goals is to place the player squarely on the historical battleground instead of just being a detached entity pushing cardboard and rolling dice. It’s a form of suspension-of-disbelief, vital to any solitaire game.
Grant: What do you find most challenging about the design process? What do you feel you do really well?
Steve: The most challenging aspect of game design is when to compromise for the sake of playability. For example, when Malta Besieged was in playtesting one of my advisors advocated for a more detailed treatment of Tobruk, almost a game-within-a-game. Unfortunately his approach added a level of complexity that I was not comfortable with, plus it disrupted the narrative flow. So I compromised with a more abstract treatment that gets players to the same place without extra burdensome rules. It was an uncomfortable situation, so we just had to agree to disagree.
As far as doing something well, I obsess over attention-to-detail and am proud to say that Malta Besieged had no errata when published by VPG a decade ago.
Grant: What is your game Malta Besieged: 1940-1942 about?
Steve: Malta Besieged covers the desperate struggle of the Commonwealth (the solitaire player) against the Axis (Germany and Italy) in the Mediterranean Theater of World War II from 1940-1942, focused on the island of Malta. You will strive to keep Malta reinforced and supplied, in addition to maintaining morale as the island bastion is relentlessly being attacked by the enemy. There are collateral threats – such as Rommel and his Afrika Korps – that will pressure you along the way. As theater commander, the player will be faced with a plethora of decision-trees that represent the actual conduct of the war.
Grant: What games did you draw inspiration from for your design?
Steve: Being a States-of-Siege (SoS) game, series creator Darin Leviloff was my primary inspiration; his unique solitaire system is a stroke of brilliance. I was a playtester for Darin’s excellent Ottoman Sunset game (VPG), and that experience gave me the confidence to move forward with my own designs. Also, as I read about WWII I was shocked to learn that some British commanders actually wanted to abandon Malta in 1940 as they felt the island’s position was untenable, so it seemed like a natural fit for a SoS game.
Grant: What from the history did you want to make sure to model in the game?
Steve: The heroic struggle of not only the Commonwealth armed forces but also the incredibly brave and resilient occupants of Malta were always forefront in my mind. I wanted to shine the spotlight on a theater of war that many consider to be an overlooked campaign (in comparison to other regions like the Russian Front or France, for example). The military personnel and population on Malta (who earned the George Cross, Britain’s highest civilian honor, in 1942) certainly played a key role in that campaign.
Grant: With this being a 2nd Edition what are you looking to improve or change from the original design?
Steve: The design itself isn’t being changed at all, other than to clarify just a few areas in the rules. With the unexpectedly exorbitant prices that the original VPG polybag version was selling for on the secondary market, the astute folk at Worthington recognized that there remained a high demand for the game, so that’s how the 2nd Edition was born. The game’s components are the one thing being greatly improved.
Grant: What sources did you consult on the topic of the Siege of Malta in 1940-1942?
Steve: (laughs) Well, 10 years later it’s not easy to recall those sources. As I was researching the design, Malta usually was just a side mention in many sources so I had to gather nuggets of information here and there before finally putting the whole thing together. However, the one book that really stood out for me was Siege: Malta 1940-1943 by Ernle Bradford; it hit on all the paths that I was taking with the game. If someone wants to get into the mind of the designer, that’s the one book to read.
Grant: What are the challenges with designing a game in an established system like the States of Siege?
Steve: That’s a good question because even though I had the SoS template in front of me (from other previously published games in the same series), I knew that I had to innovate without breaking the series’ foundation. But as a designer, one just can’t make system modifications or layer on chrome for the sake of variety. Those changes have to be meaningful and they have to make historical sense. Also, SoS had been criticized for lacking in the decision-making department, so I felt it was necessary to expand the envelope to ensure that the solitaire player remained constantly engaged. Malta Besieged thus ended up being a bit more complex than was anticipated at the time, which was something I worried about, but in hindsight it shouldn’t have been a concern because players were looking for a little more oomph in the series and thus the game was very well-received.
Grant: Your first States of Siege game was 2010’s We Must Tell the Emperor. What did you learn about the system from that design that aided you in your 2nd game Malta Besieged?
Steve: With Emperor, there was no chance of player defeat in the first epoch as Japan was running amok while expanding its empire. Many players enjoyed “setting the stage” for what was to come, while others felt an initial lack of tension. With Malta Besieged, the player is under assault from the very first card play so the system’s tension begins immediately. The constraints of VPG’s polybag format also played a role, so certain portions of the Emperor design were left out, later to appear in an expansion kit. This turned out to be the wrong decision because some players felt they weren’t getting the total package with just the base game (despite it winning a Charles S. Roberts award for 2010) and were being forced to purchase the expansion. With Malta Besieged I knew there would be no such expansion kit, so everything was included that we (and the players) wanted.
Grant: What items become Deluxe in this edition?
Steve: The components are being upgraded to the highest quality: a larger map that is mounted, standard sized cards, a deluxe box, and the graphics are getting a much-needed complete overhaul in order to bring everything up to today’s professional standard.
Grant: How is the map laid out and what do the various tracks represent?
Steve: The numbered main tracks abstractly represent advancement of the major Axis forces and how close they are to subjugating Malta. The player will have to do their best to keep these enemy Fronts at bay, hopefully giving Malta a bit of a breather (easier said than done, of course). With a larger map size, the player will have more room to operate – the original compact VPG map was viewed by a few as being “too busy”, so we’ve improved upon that with this new edition.
Grant: Why is the North African track included and what does it represent?
Steve: The Afrika Korps (AK) are a tremendous threat to you, and the game can be lost if North Africa is overrun. Historically the British leaders put forth considerable effort to combat Rommel, so part of the game’s tension is raiding and battling the AK while still keeping Malta afloat.
Grant: What happens if the North African track reaches Tobruk?
Steve: Tobruk is a fortification that has the potential to temporarily halt the Afrika Korps’ advance as Rommel remains stymied. Tobruk can also be bypassed by the Axis, which results in the player being better able to raid Rommel’s tenuous supply lines. When Tobruk finally fell in mid-1942, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called it one of the darkest days of the war; in game terms, the player will feel the proverbial “punch in the gut” when the Axis capture Tobruk.
Grant: What does the three dedicated Resource Tracks keep record of?
Steve: Military, supply, and morale. Max out a resource track and you get its bonus. Have a track plummet to the bottom, and suffer the consequences. For example, if your military is at zero a harmful -1 DRM applies to all your attacks (you just don’t have sufficient troops, command, and material to properly sustain an offensive). If all three tracks remain at zero during the Housekeeping Phase, you have lost the Battle of the Mediterranean and thus the game.
Grant: As the Commonwealth Commander in the theater what resources does the player have at their fingertips?
Steve: Many things, but they are limited – ULTRA for intel, naval facilities at Malta (for raiders), the ability to build/increase fortifications, Gibraltar to interdict German submarines transferring to the Med, resource track bonuses, favorable card-specific modifiers, attack options, and more. Oh, and supply – supply is huge (see next question)!
Grant: Supply was a major element in the Mediterranean Campaign. How do you represent that in the game?
Steve: Thanks for that observation and question because the Convoy Battle routine (described in more detail below) is one of the most exciting highlights of play. Various historical convoys will be sent to reinforce/supply Malta, and of course the Axis don’t want these ships to get through. Sometimes just getting anything to the docks will be enough to barely sustain Malta (you will get a free bonus action), while having the convoy sunk will leave you penalized (your morale drops). You have the ability to expend a supply point for an extra action, which can have a significant impact on the overall situation…but you have to get those supplies through to Malta first! Further, it’s not a one-sided struggle – just like you, Rommel desperately needs supply so you can raid his logistics chain and worsen the AK’s supply situation, which will slow him down.
Grant: How is the Event Card deck divided up? How does the difficulty ramp up over the three Epochs?
Steve: The events are broken up into three epochs, roughly representing historical periods. The game’s difficulty – and Malta Besieged is a challenging game to win – starts immediately; you can very well lose the war in the first deck (which has proven to be a bit of a shocker to players who have to endure that inglorious result). The player will be walking the razor’s edge throughout the entire session. Note that each card has historical notes attached to give the player a reference point for events as they unfold. Also worth mentioning is that the cards are numbered so that they can be played in their strict historical order or they can be randomized within each Epoch, as the player deems fit. There is a lot of replayability here.
Grant: What is the Cunningham Status Box? How does the player use this?
Steve: Cunningham is a design-for-effect mechanic representing that intangible ability of the British to get things to go their way when the chips are down. The player can only use Cunningham once per Epoch, preventing an Axis Front from advancing that turn. However, Cunningham cannot be used against the Afrika Korps because Rommel baffled the British too often.
Grant: What is the general Sequence of Play?
Steve: First a card is drawn that defines the historical parameters for the turn (like DRM’s which the player may utilize or not, their choice depending on the situation). Then Axis Fronts may advance and also attack your convoy (if it’s a Convoy card) or even trigger an invasion check (Herkules) against Malta. Resources get historically adjusted (up or down). The player then conducts their actions. Finally there is a Housekeeping phase to account for any convoy activity (again, only if the card is a Convoy), a check to see if the game is won or lost, and also to refresh (clean-up/adjust) the map.
Grant: What actions does the player have?
Steve: The number of actions given each turn are indicated on the card (based on the totality of the historical event), plus the player can spend a supply to get an extra action. The player may attempt to increase their precious resources, opt to attack (try to retreat) an Axis Front, build/improve a fortification, raid Axis supply flow going to North Africa, activate ULTRA (see next question), or provide extra air support (only available on Convoy cards). How to integrate these actions within (or outside) the historical context of the current turn is where the meat of the game is.
Grant: What role does ULTRA play in the battle for supply?
Steve: Basically ULTRA provides two options when it’s active, either Convoy Escort or Intelligence. When providing Convoy Escort, ULTRA treats all Axis critical hit rolls against the convoy as a miss instead (in other words, you have gained intel on Axis forces allocated against the convoy, and have reacted accordingly). When used for Intelligence, ULTRA allows the player to reveal the card coming up next turn, thus gaining potentially valuable insight, and also an applied +1 DRM combat bonus. Historically it was fascinating to learn that on occasion the British knew precisely what the Axis were planning, but they let it happen (unimpeded) anyway because they didn’t want the enemy to suspect that their secret codes were being broken. In game terms, the player may know what’s coming but may choose to not act on ULTRA because the information may not be all that useful or because matters elsewhere are more pressing. So history and game implementation merged together rather serendipitously with ULTRA.
Grant: What happens when a red Convoy card is drawn?
Steve: This signals that a convoy is en route to support you, and a battle is going to be fought. How successful the Axis Fronts will be against your convoy usually depends on how far they’ve advanced down their respective tracks; Axis Fronts occupying the Malta space score an automatic critical hit (except for U-boats who just weren’t that effective in the Med). For example, U-boats will have better odds of inflicting damage on the convoy if they are prowling close to Malta instead of being stuck way out in the Mediterranean somewhere.
Grant: How does a Convoy battle play out?
Steve: There is a separate Convoy Battle sheet that effortlessly tracks the ten historical convoys (e.g., Tiger, Pedestal, etc.) featured in the game, each convoy being different depending on the number of ships transporting, assigned escort, and cargo carried. Once you determine how many hits the Axis Fronts (except Rommel, who doesn’t participate) score in the Military Phase, in the Housekeeping Phase you roll to apply those hits to the convoy. An interesting twist here is that excess hits scored against a ship are ignored, meaning that a ship received multiple hits (and was sunk) while a companion ship slipped through unscathed (or with only minor damage). This of course happened often as the fate of war dictates. It’s all a simple yet tense process which players seem to really enjoy.
Grant: What is the Spitfires Arrive card and when does it come out.
Steve: Spitfires become effective while the Battle of 1st Alamein (third deck,1942) rages. I intentionally delayed the game effects of Spitfires because while small groups of planes were indeed delivered (by aircraft carrier) to Malta earlier, initially many of them were destroyed on the ground so not enough were able to go airborne to make a difference. Once available, you may use the planes to either provide air superiority against either of the two Axis (one German, one Italian) air Fronts or as air support in a convoy battle, it’s your call.
Grant: How is player defeat or victory determined?
Steve: The player will lose if an Axis Front advances far enough to penetrate Malta’s fort and a resulting Operation Herkules (next question) check is an Axis success. If all three resource tracks stay at zero during the Housekeeping Phase, Malta is starved into submission and you lose. If the Afrika Korps captures Alexandria, you are immediately defeated. Winning the game is a more tricky affair because at the end of play not only must you have survived the Axis onslaught, you must also have pushed Rommel all the way back into his holding box (decisive victory) or at least recapture Tobruk (marginal victory). If Malta alone survives (i.e., Rommel is still actively campaigning) then the game is a draw. As already mentioned, Malta Besieged is difficult to win because historically the cards were stacked against the Commonwealth, just as they are in the game.
Grant: What is the Operation Herkules Check? What does this represent from the history?
Steve: Herkules was the planned Axis invasion of Malta. When Italy entered the war, Malta was at its most vulnerable status but the invasion was postponed several times for various reasons and it never happened. In game terms, the player doesn’t know that so the fear of invasion is very real. An Axis capture of Malta would have effectively split the Mediterranean in two, and would have been a disaster for the British; you lose the game if Herkules succeeds.
Grant: What other games are you currently working on?
Steve: None at the moment, I am taking an extended design vacation in order to enjoy the hobby and to better explore the many games that I continue to purchase, play, and collect. One day We Must Tell the Emperor may come off the back burner for a new edition, but I can’t forecast when that day will come.
I hope that everyone enjoyed the chat. A cadre of talented people contributed a lot of thought and effort into Malta Besieged, and I very much appreciate the opportunity to discuss the game as it nears a new Deluxe 10th Anniversary edition.
Thanks Steve for the great look inside the game, its mechanics and your design choices and process. This one looks to be a solid system in the States of Siege Series with some very interesting history that I am interested in learning more about through play of the game.
If you are interested in Malta Besieged: 1940-1942 Deluxe Edition you can check out the Kickstarter campaign at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1040417273/1374210233?ref=3gi9on&token=b9a6f5a2