We have played Here I Stand designed by Ed Beach a few times, with our most recent play being a 4 player game in the fall of 2019 before everything went to hell, and the game is just special! The card driven mechanic simply makes the game and it really is a bit of a sandbox as you can win in various and sundry ways. In the September 2020 Monthly Update from GMT Games it was announced that a prequel to Here I Stand was coming that takes place between 1470 and 1516. This prequel is not being designed by Ed Beach but is being handed over to some new blood in the designer world in Carlos Diaz Narvaez. We have reached out to him and he was more than willing to share his thoughts on the design and how it fits into the tale of the Old World.
*Please keep in mind that the materials used in this interview including the components, maps and cards are not yet finalized and are only for playtest purposes at this point. Also, as the game is still in development, although nearing completion, details about the game may still change prior to publication.
Grant: First off Carlos please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?
Carlos: My name is Carlos Diaz and I live in Jerez de la Frontera in southern Spain and I am 50 years old. I have been playing wargames and other board games since I was a child (12 years old, back in 1982). My job is related to tourist accommodation, which is going through a bad period due to the COVID-19, although my university studies were as a Historian. Besides board games I like reading (especially history), movies, tv series and sports like cycling and soccer.
Grant: What motivated you to break into game design? What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?
Carlos: I am a historian and have always wanted to design wargames. With this aspect of the Here I Stand and Virgin Queen series games there was an opportunity to make a wargame with a high level of other historical aspects. The best thing is really to see the players enjoy what you have created. When they start to discover the different facets of the design and the depth of the game and its possibilities is when I feel the best.
Grant: What designers have influenced your style?
Carlos: Some wargame designers from my country, Spain, have inspired me like Paco Ronco (designer of several titles from Bellica3g Publishing Company) or David Relloso (designer of Crusade and Revolution: The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939)) as well as Ed Beach and Volko Runke.
Grant: What do you find most challenging about the design process? What do you feel you do really well?
Carlos: I can’t tell you exactly what is the hardest thing to get right, perhaps striking a balance between the freedom the player should have to do ahistorical things without the game losing the perspective and vision of the moment it represents. I hope that people see well reflected the historical flavor of the moment in the game, I think I do it well.
Grant: What is your upcoming design Tanto Monta about?
Carlos: Tanto Monta covers the 46 years of history of the reign of the Catholic Kings in Spain with its internal and external conflicts and that coincide with the so-called Age of Discoveries where Portugal and Spain will reach India and America with the famous voyages of Vasco Da Gama and Christopher Columbus, which meant for Europe to open the world map for future ventures of conquest, trade, etc. The game has a secondary title called The Rise of Ferdinand and Isabella. The game opens with Isabella’s disputed ascension to the throne of Castile, a position contested by a Portuguese-backed faction supporting Joanna La Beltraneja. Ferdinand’s possessions are similarly threatened by Aragon’s ongoing civil war against forces from the Principality of Catalonia, a faction often supported by France.
Grant: What does the Latin phrase Tanto Monta and why did you decide to use it as the title?
Carlos: Well, the phrase “Tanto Monta” is an abbreviated expression that refers to the phrase “Tanto Monta cortar como desatar” (cutting is the same as untying), referring to the Gordian Knot that Alexander the Great faced and decided to cut it instead of untying it before embarking on his conquest of the East. The Kingdom of Aragon had been expanding eastward through the Mediterranean for more than a century and even settled in Greece. Ferdinand chose this nickname or motto for his reign. Later, as he shared the crown with Isabella, it was incorporated as the motto of both monarchs. As in HIS the motto of Luther gave name to the game, here the motto of the Catholic kings will also give name to the game.
Grant: How does it feel to design a prequel to one of the best Card Driven Games out there in Here I Stand?
Carlos: For me it is a very exciting challenge and as I am especially more of an HIS lover than a VQ lover, the prequel would serve as a red carpet to lead into the entry of the historical period of HIS. Keep in mind that TM begins in 1470 and ends in 1516 with the death of Ferdinand, Carlos arriving in 1517 to take the crown just as Here I Stand begins. I hope I have been up to the task and that the game is one more of the series fully integrated and without clashing with the rest of the series.
Grant: What role has Ed Beach played in the design?
Carlos: Ed Beach’s role has been that of developer, so it is impossible to have a better traveling companion in this adventure. His experience is a degree and his advice and recommendations as well as the design discussions have been spectacular. He has been very receptive to the new features that I have included but he has always told me clearly his opinion of things and I him too and this has made our relationship very fluid, very good and very constructive so that the final product has an excellent quality.
Grant: What are the different powers that players control?
Carlos: In the game there are 4 players: Muslim, Portuguese, Spanish and French who act on the turn just in that order. Each player will have a single hand of cards but curiously each player will control 2 powers, one main and one secondary. The Muslim player controls the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada and the North African Alliance (a license to describe the Sultanates of Tremecen and Fez), the Portuguese player controls the Beltranejos faction which are Castilians in civil war against Isabella and the power of Portugal; the Spanish player controls the powers of Aragon and Castile. The French player controls the Principality of Catalonia and France.
For more detailed information on each of the factions, Carlos has written a very good series of Design Dairies on the InsideGMT Blog. Here are links to each of those 4 Design Diaries:
Grant: How are each of the powers unique?
Carlos: Well, I will give you some specific nuances for each power. The Muslim is the only one that has corsair units so it can carry out piracy with them. They also has exclusively resource caravans with which they receives these extras every turn as long as they guarantees his routes to the Atlantic ports. The Portuguese is the most capable for exploratory voyages and this together with the control of the African coast are the main objectives where they can gain many VP’s. In addition to this they can plunder both the resource fleets that return to the coast and the Muslim caravan routes and appropriate them. The Spanish player goes all out, they have to end two civil wars, marry off children, conquer the Canary Islands, finish the Reconquest, discover the New World, etc. The French player has reflected in the game the various conflicts outside the map, and must consolidate the noble houses to be strong enough to face the conquest of Italy and its rivals.
Grant: What is the role of cards in the design?
Carlos: Like the rest of the games in the series, the cards are driving the game, and these can be played for the event they grant or to use the CP’s with which you can do actions that are available to each player on their player card. Not all players have the same actions available.
Grant: What are Home Cards? Can you please show us a few examples of the different cards and explain how they work in the game?
Carlos: The Home Cards in the game play an important role. As you already know, each player has only one hand of cards to direct his two powers during the turn. However, among these cards are the home cards which are very powerful cards with important events but which can only be applied to specific units of the power to which the card belongs for everything from building new units and/or moving land units. On the player card, right in the list of actions are indicated the actions that are limited in this way with the use of these cards. These restrictions also apply if the card was used for CP’s.
For example, the homemade Muslim card belonging to the Nasrid Kingdom of Grenada when played will affect only units of its power as far as restricted actions are concerned. For example recruiting militias or moving troop stacks can only be of Nasrid units. Each player may have up to 2 home cards available from their two major powers (2 for the major and 1 for the minor). However, with the exception of the Spanish player, they can only use a maximum of 2 home cards, so when they use the second one, they discard the remaining one.
Grant: What are Headline Events and how do they effect the game?
Carlos: The Headline Event is one of the innovations of Tanto Monta. Its use anticipates spring deployments and is a way to get additional advantages besides the benefit of executing the event. After the diplomatic phase each player makes a bid in which they select a card to execute the event. They also choose a second support card whose CP value is their bid value. All these selections are secret and each player places his cards face down and simultaneously they are shown.
The player with the highest CP value is declared the winner (it is important to note that there are cards that specifically have more CP’s than normal if played as support in this phase). In case of a tie, the reverse order in the VP ranking is taken. If a tie still persists, the winner is determined by impulse order.
Now in order of the ranking obtained the first player directly earns a 1VP marker per headline event and executes his chosen event. Then the second ranked player rolls a die and if he hits with a 5 or 6 he also gets a 1VP marker. If he has fallen short and after seeing the result, this player can spend points from his administrative value and for each point used increases the result of the roll by one point to reach the minimum 5 required. However, this will prevent him from keeping some cards at the end of the turn or even being able to make the pass action. The third-place player only gets the execution of the event and finally the fourth player is punished without executing the event although as compensation he will be able to move any influence marker one space (up or down) on the diplomacy table over the minors.
With the Headline Event our strategic perspectives are opened where players can get ahead of others by surprising an opponent before he can react with the spring deployments.
Grant: What innovations have been added to the game series?
Carlos: In addition to the Headline Event, other new features include:
A new type of space appears on the map that gain VP for their control. These are the so called Strategic Spaces that are unfortified spaces that can be obtained after a field battle and where the defender adds 2 dice instead of one in the combats. If you manage to defeat the defender you can then spend a CP to control the space and therefore score that VP. These spaces can never be controlled from an adjacent space.
There are ships that are used for map exploration and these units have 2 values: one for the quality of the Crew (C) and one for the Piracy Capacity (P). The first value helps in the exploration rolls to explore the “Terra Incognita” or unknown areas, also to navigate dangerous passages of navigation. With the piracy attribute you can attack rival settlements to draw resources or get VP’s.
Other new features are the different types of ground combat units: regulars (which improve the firepower of the formation), cavalries that can charge in addition to the advantages they already had in the series, militias that you can never be sure if they will continue or not in the following campaigns or the siege artilleries that improve the assaults on fortified spaces.
Grant: Land combat now includes siege engines. What are these different siege engines?
Carlos: Siege Artillery units provide excellent siege support. Only Aragon and France have this type of unit and they may spend 3 CP’s to recruit these units. Siege Artilleries are effective only on assault rolls against fortified spaces. A Siege Artillery unit never counts against the unit limit of a formation, but for each artillery unit in a formation there must be an infantry unit. If a formation has fewer infantry than artillery, the excess artillery cannot be moved or used in assault.
Grant: How does the process of sieges work?
Carlos: First of all, there are 2 different fortified spaces on the main map: Key spaces and fortresses. In order to gain control of these spaces you need to besiege them first, and on the upcoming turn you have the possibility to perform assault action. Once the attacking formation has moved into the fortified space, the defending formation in the space has the possibility to hide behind the walls (if formation is 4 units or less) or offer a land battle to avoid besieging. After a fortified space is besieged, on the next impulse attacking player may execute assault rolling a number of dice half rounded depending on the number of land units and adds number of dice depending on the leader command rating. Also, Siege Artillery units provide 1 die each and attacking cavalry cannot take part in the siege if not dismounted into regular before. The siege will continue until no defending units are left, until besieging units are equal or less than defending units, or until a relief force formation arrives unblocking the siege.
Grant: How has the addition of cavalry units changed battle?
Carlos: Cavalry units are quite special in Tanto Monta. First cavalry units in a formation do not count against the limit when formation is commanded by leaders, increasing by 1 formation size. Also, they facilitate avoid battle and interceptions and are important weapons in field battles. They are considered regulars during field battles, and may decide to charge, in which case provides one extra die to roll in the combat for the first cavalry, 2 dice with 3 cavalries, etc. However, they are ineffective during siege operations and a player may choose to dismount a cavalry unit, swapping it for a regular of the same power at any time (even just before combat), with this action being irreversible.
Grant: How does the map lay out? What is the focus of the play area?
Carlos: The game is played on a map that depicts the areas of the world critical to game powers during the late 15th Century and early 16th Century. The main playing area (Main Map) includes the Iberian Peninsula, southern France, the Italian Peninsula and North Africa. Cities and towns that played an important rule during this period are represented on the Main Map as squares (keys), triangles (strategic), circles (standard), and eight pointed symbols (fortress) called spaces. Some example of famous cities that will be present on the map: Burgos, Paris, Gibraltar, Alhama, Rome, Milan, Barcelona, Seville, Granada, Ceuta, Fez, Lisbon, Trujillo, Toledo, Segovia, Tremecen, Venice, Genova, Perpignan, Tanger, Naples, Ceriñola, Ragusa…A network of lines called connections links these spaces in a point to point scheme game. Some of the spaces are also ports (a circular symbol with an anchor inside). Ports allow access to a series of areas called sea zones. Some examples of sea zones in the map: Gulf of Lion, Gulf of Cadiz, Berberian Sea, Cantabric Sea, Tirrenian Sea.
Grant: What is the process to the development of the point to point movement system? How hard is it to create strategic and tactical opportunities for players?
Carlos: In reality, development of the point- to-point system was not very complicated. First of all, I considered and collected spaces that were relevant at that time such as cities, fortresses, or connection and conflict points between different kingdoms. Also, I researched specific mountain pass, rivers and straights (similar to these days) so I could compound the dashed lines connecting spaces to represent more difficult (and expensive in terms of CP’s) movements. In any case, this item has not been one of the biggest challenges of the design process.
Creating strategic and tactical opportunities for players is one of the most complex things to define and to evaluate if it suits. Only through “trial and error” you can verify if the items you have defined are coherent and in harmony within the gameplay dynamic
In the end, it is like a big puzzle where you have all separate pieces (mechanics), and the only way to verify if they fit all together is through testing games. After you have enough information is when you need to fine tune all the pieces, and in some cases discard or add new pieces if the cohesion of the game requires.
Grant: What has changed with the Exploration Map? What new areas of discovery have been included?
Carlos: On the bottom right of the map is located the Exploration Map which includes the regions bordering the Atlantic and Indian Oceans that were explored and settled by these powers during this period. There are come circular spaces on the map that will start the game vacant but can come under control of a power that establishes a settlement at that location. Some of these spaces are: Caboverde, Saotome, Ascension, Madagascar, Ormuz, Macao, Española, Salvador de Bahia. Each Exploration Map space is connected to the Ocean Zone that it borders, allowing moving along to with exploration ships (Naos) and discovering new zone and establishing new settlements. Each settlement will provide a fleet resource that will return during winter to each player’s warehouse allowing use of extra CP’s during the action phase, and direct VP’s and Units to be exchanged immediately. Piracy plays an important role in the exploration map as well, allowing gaining extra VP’s, steal resources or cards from other players through piracy.
Additionally, the New World discovery by Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama Arrival in India are represented in the game, allowing Spain or Portugal to gain specific bonuses if these milestones are achieved through exploration, or if the specific events for this purpose are executed
Grant: What is the special Terra Incognita roll?
Carlos: Here at the start of the Age of Exploration, the powers of Tanto Monta faced the challenge of navigating new coastlines and oceanic waters, gradually mapping them out as they pushed further into the unknown. To reflect this, all oceanic zones on the Exploration Map are considered unexplored (Terra Incognita) and each player must attempt to explore them using the Terra Incognita Table whenever they enter an unexplored zone with a Nao. The exploring Nao with successful roll can obtain a Cartography bonus VP bonus. In addition, Naos must survive a Navigation Check whenever you attempt to cross a Hazardous Passage. Nao’s with higher crew ratings have a better chance of success on these rolls. A Nao moving into an already-explored ocean zone skips the Terra Incognita Table roll but is still required to make a Navigation Check if they entered the zone across a Hazardous Passage.
Grant: What roll do Royal Weddings play in the game?
Carlos: Ferdinand and Isabella were active in establishing alliances through the marriages of their five children – a policy that would lead to an extensive empire in the hands of their grandson Charles V. Each child of the Catholic Monarchs (Isabella daughter, Juan Prince of Asturias, Juana, Maria and Catalina) and each suitor are represented in the game. During turns 4-7 you will be able to marry off your children to gain some extra VP. If you manage to have your children married into the royal families of England, Portugal, and Austria simultaneously you gain 1 extra VP each turn this state lasts.
If the Catholic Monarchs succeed in simultaneously having all three Dynastic Alliances markers in place, they have achieved their diplomatic objective to isolate France.
Grant: How is the French Consolidation of Power chart used? Why is this aspect important to the players?
Carlos: The Table of Consolidating the Power of the Monarch presents the current loyalty and likelihood of providing cards to France from each of the six great noble houses (Anjou, Alençon, Orleans, Bourbon and Armagnac). Each noble house has a column with a track of 6 squares filled with values ranging from 0 to 5. The French player may spend 1 CP on the Consolidate Power action to gain a level of loyalty with one of these houses, keeping in mind that the number within each box represents the maximum number that can be rolled on a single die to gain a card from that house. Example: If a noble house is at a loyalty of 4 it awards a card with a result of 1-4. The French player earns 1 VP the first time he reaches loyalty level 5 in each column of this table. Loyalty levels can be lowered by events, although this never causes the loss of the VP award mentioned above if France was already at level 5.
Summarizing, the size of the French Player’s hand of cards depends not only on the charisma of your ruler, but also on the support the French monarch currently enjoys from the great noble houses of the kingdom, and for this purpose its very important to spend CP’s to increase loyalty of these houses
Grant: Overall what has been the experience of your playtesters?
Carlos: First of all, I would like to say that without the contribution and feedback of the Tanto Monta playtesting community I couldn’t improve and fine tune the game as much as I have done so far. In my humble opinion I think most of the playtesters that contributed during the playtesting process they really enjoyed Tanto Monta. At the same time, most of them are real fans of previous games in the series, and they could easily adapt to learn the new tweaks and novelties of Tanto Monta. What I can say about playtesters is that they couldn’t play only one game: when the game was over excitement was so big that they wanted to start a new game and try different sides and flavors of the game.
Grant: What has changed throughout the playtest process?
Carlos: I would say the essence of the game hasn’t change too much, perhaps it has been simplified a bit some of the mechanics, but most of the initial novelties and tweaks have been kept from the beginning of the design. One of the segments that has changed during the testing process has been the Headline Event, maybe one of the items that I have received more feedback and proposals to fine tune from playtesters, and now I believe it’s working pretty well.
Grant: What are you most proud of with the design?
Carlos: One of the most important aspects of the games in this series is how the player is immersed in the historical context of the epoch. The soul of HIS and VQ is that players feels like they are playing the role of the characters that are represented in each situation of the game.
I have a degree in history and as a historian one of the things that I am most proud of is that I think I have been able to capture the historical moment of the game and that the players feel this reflected in the game while they are playing, and at the same time not overcomplicated the game difficulty. Balance between the complexity of the game and at the same time make the player feel inside the historical context is one of the most challenging things I have faced.
Grant: What were some specific challenges that you had to overcome?
Carlos: One of the biggest challenges I faced was finding the right balance when the reunification of Iberian Peninsula was achieved by Ferdinand and Isabella and the victory conditions and objectives of the powers on the periphery. Catalonian Principality, Beltranejos faction and Nasrid Kingdom have the possibility to surrender and consequently disappear during the game, and this required a proper balance and compensation to ensure game options of the player controlling these powers were maintained. At the same time, it was needed to ensure automatic victory was not easily achieved if these secondary powers didn’t surrender, while providing the proper number of victory points and bonuses in exchange.
Grant: As of today where does the development of the game stand? What is your best guess for completion and then production?
Carlos: The game is almost finished, I would say in a 98-99% range. There are still some small open points with room for improvement, due to continuous feedback from playtesters. About playtesting, what I can say is that 60 games have been already played (both on-line and physically), involving around 100 people. This testing process requires a lot of effort, and there are some items that have been improved a lot, and some others that didn’t work well enough and have been abandoned.
Finally, my estimation is that next year in the spring the game will completed and should be arriving to our homes.
Thank you for your time in answering our questions Carlos. You have been very accessible and I appreciate your willingness to talk about this upcoming game. As you know, those who play these games, including Here I Stand and Virgin Queen, are very passionate about them and love them very much and are absolutely giddy about the opportunity to have another game in the series.
If you are interested in Tanto Monta: The Rise of Ferdinand and Isabella, you can pre-order a copy for $60.00 from the P500 game page on the GMT Games website at the following link: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-884-tanto-monta-the-rise-of-ferdinand-and-isabella.aspx