A few months ago, we were contacted by Dan Bullock to see if we could cover one of his upcoming designs. In the past, we have played and really enjoyed his first design called No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War, which several months ago came off of a successful Kickstarter campaign and will be published by Compass Games. No Motherland Without is a card drive wargame for two players and depicts the struggles of the Kim Regime from 1953 to present day North Korea against the West. Now Dan is looking at another topic for a card driven wargame in the Iranian Revolution in his newest game called 1979: Revolution in Iran. The game currently is on Kickstarter and we reached out to Dan to get an overview of the game, which once again looks pretty interesting and definitely is unique.

The 1979: Revolution in Iran campaign is currently ongoing and will conclude on Wednesday, May 5th at 10:57AM EDT. As of the posting of this interview, the campaign is funded with $10,491 toward its goal of $8,900.

If you are interested in 1979: Revolution in Iran, you can order a copy from the Kickstarter page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1032467202/1979-revolution-in-iran

*The pictures of cards, components and the map used in this interview are not finalized and may change prior to final development and publication.

Hey Dan. Please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?

Dan: I play music every day – mostly guitar these days, but I played accordion in a touring band for about a decade. For my day job, I put together continuing medical education curriculum for oncologists. At the end of a long day, getting destroyed at a board game really helps me unwind.

Grant: What motivated you to break into game design? What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?

Dan: I originally wanted to develop, but I had a game about North Korea called No Motherland Without that focused on an aspect of the conflict that felt unique. Since that first design, I’ve enjoyed meeting so many other designers that I have looked up to but also new designers breaking in with really wild prototypes on subjects that haven’t been covered.

Grant: What designers have influenced your style?

Dan: The obvious ones are Jason Matthews and Ananda Gupta. The event resolution from Twilight Struggle is obviously a big part of No Motherland Without and 1979, but more importantly, tension is such a foundational part of their designs. Even Imperial Struggle has a slow accretion of anxiety underlying the start of each turn as you divide your energy between putting out fires and pressuring your opponent. Simonitch is also a huge influence for me. Hannibal was the first wargame I ever played. His games always tell a compelling story without relying too much on exposition. The questions I try to answer when I begin outlining and diagramming are from Rachel Simmons’ design blog, but I don’t think people would see her influence at first glance. So many others…

Grant: What do you find most challenging about the design process? What do you feel you do really well?

Dan: The biggest challenge for me is patience. I come to my subjects fresh, so there is at least 18 months of reading on the subject before I attempt to model or diagram anything. My strength is prototyping which probably isn’t important to most designers. For me, a great prototype allows you to grab a wider test audience. A more polished prototype grabs more testers and nets more feedback. I also think that a more polished prototype solicits more constructive criticism, because testers judge the design as a finished game instead of a design in development.

Grant: What is your game 1979: Revolution in Iran about?

Dan: 1979 is about the rise of the nationalization movement in Iran that brought Mossadegh into power in 1951. After the general strike, UK oil interests (the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company) draw the CIA into backing a coup to oust Mossadegh with the exaggeration of a communist threat in Iran. After the coup, the shah makes peace with the UK and American oil companies and begins seizing power and land while the remnants of the nationalization coalition begins to foment a broader movement in opposition to the shah as his reforms begin to alienate ulama, trade guilds, landlords and others.

Grant: What motivated you to design a game around the Iranian Revolution?

Dan: I always want to play games that don’t exist yet. It’s easy to understand why one wasn’t made on this subject. A mammoth company faced with the consequences of five decades of reprehensible behavior is tossed out of Iran by a populist movement. Their response: depose a democratically elected leader and appoint a sympathetic monarch or proxy to preserve control of Iran’s oil industry for 25 years. Of course, the removal of the shah wasn’t a restoration of a constitutional democracy in Iran.

Grant: What sources did you consult on the history? What one source would you recommend as a must read?

Dan: Lots of Ervand Abrahamian for the deep dive of Tudeh, National Front and the various political influences and parties within Iran from 1898 to 1979 (the game only covers 1951-1979). Peyman Vahabzadeh wrote an excellent book on the guerrilla movements in Iran leading up to the Islamic Revolution. I found a great book of essays from women on both sides that examined life before and after the revolution called Reconstructed Lives by Haleh Esfandiari. I hoped to use it for a solitaire scenario, because the role of women in the revolution didn’t have as much visibility as I hoped. The scenario proved more than I could handle. It would have incorporated more elements than the base game with a shorter playtime, so I abandoned it. I recommend Abrahamian’s The Coup. It’s a short read and the best of the six or so books I read about the 1953 coup.

Grant: What was the design goal for the game? What narrative are you trying to make sure is told?

Dan: I like modeling episodes in history that I was never taught, because I am probably not alone. I wanted to tell this story and put Iranians at the center of it. Despite all people’s desire to choose their own fate, democracy is very fragile.

Grant: What is The Dietz Foundation and what role do they play in this Kickstarter?

Dan: The Dietz Foundation is a non-profit game publisher that works to use games in educational settings and providing scholarships for students pursuing careers in education. As far as I know, they are the only non-profit game publisher.

Grant: What elements from the history of the Iranian Revolution did you need to make sure to model in the design?

Dan: In the most basic terms: how a coalition or political movement is formed and how it falls apart. Each side has different goals, so players are incentivized to pursue different objectives with an arsenal of unique actions. Each player role derives support from different types of influence, and those influence types each behave a bit differently. Those are the broad strokes.

The game is card driven. Why did you know this was the vehicle to tell the story of the history? I love CDGs. They allow a design to model complex aspects of a conflict without overwhelming players with too many rules. A lot of games are driven by cards, but I always favor designs that allow players to hold event cards in their hands unlike a COIN or Pax game.

Grant: What aspects of 1979: Revolution in Iran make it different than many other CDG’s about events of the Cold War era?

Dan: Most games on the subject of Iran are about attacking it. I wanted to make a game about Iran with Iranians in the foreground. The conflict isn’t portrayed through the lens of superpowers. The biggest difference is scope. Something like Twilight Struggle has Soviet and US influence. That influence needs to be monolithic for a game covering every continent except Antarctica (see Erin Lee Escobedo’s Meltwater for that). To portray influence in Iran, the design needs more types of influence to show sectarian clashes and more fluidity in how these influences align. For example, in 1979 the military influence will always back the shah, but ulama (clergy) and bazaari (merchant class) influence will migrate from one side to the other as the game progresses.

Grant: What was your intent with the card drafting phase of the game? What advantage does this give the design?

Dan: It creates another decision space for players to plan their turn. The draft minimizes the disparity in event and point value distribution between player hands. Most importantly, new players get to see all but one event card each round, so they can anticipate event impact without needing to memorize the contents of the event deck. If players really wanted to, they could play without it, but the positive feedback on the event draft has been overwhelming from testers.

Grant: How many Event/Action cards are included in the design? What was the reason for this number?

Dan: 100 event cards and one optional card. I base the number of events on game length. With most designs, I shoot for 2-3 hours so players can get it to the table on a weeknight.

Grant: What is the anatomy of a card and what different type of Events are included?

Dan: It will be familiar to fans of CDG’s. Each event card has a value and is either associated with the Coalition, the Royalist, or an event that can be played by either. There is also the actual event text and then Historical Background that teaches the player the context of the card and how it effected the events of the time.

Grant: Can you show us a few examples of these cards and explain their background and use?

Dan: These are not the final card images, but pictured are a few different types of events. Most events trigger once and are removed from play, but Active Events remain in play for the remainder of the turn. Each player may only have one Active Event in play at a time. Additionally, there are Personality Events, that grant players additional action types or capabilities for an entire era (one half of the game). These lasting cards can be very important for the players and their strategies for that round.

Some event cards, like SAVAK are also marked as CIA/MI6 events. These events are not removed from play after being triggered. Instead, these events are placed in an event box on the board. Each CIA/MI6 event on the board at the end of game will subtract from the Royalist score, but they have a Purge Documents action that can remove them. Players will want to weigh the benefits of these events carefully before using them.

Finally, there are Hostage Crisis Events. These are added to the draw deck on Turn 7 (if the game lasts that long) and represent a scoring opportunity for the Coalition. With the event draft, the Royalist player has some opportunities to secure hostages rather than provide a benefit to their opponent.

Grant: How are cards used to drive play? What actions can players take with the points generated from the cards?

Dan: As in my other CDG’s, each player role has a unique menu of actions. The Royalist player actions primarily use the military (and later SAVAK) to limit the impact of labor and oil strikes, remove guerrillas and arrest dissidents. The Coalition actions are based around labor strikes (to increase opposition), oil strikes (to push nationalization or lower support), mass demonstration (to lower support for the shah or preserve it for Mossadegh) and guerrilla strikes (to remove chip away at Royalist influence and give Coalition points for future actions).

Grant: How are the Leader Cards used? What leaders are represented and what abilities or effect do they have on the game?

Dan: Leader Cards are essential to how each player scores. Mossadegh, Qavam, the Shah and Khomeini each have a Leader Card, but Mehdi Bazargan is an event card that can also be played into the leader box. When a player has a leader in power, they can bury one card during the turn to avoid triggering the event and add the value to their end game score. Each leader has a unique scoring capability, a condition under which they lose support, and an influence cost for triggering their faction’s events when played by their opponent. Khomeini coming to power triggers the end of the game, so he only adds to the Coalition score. Yes, some games will end without Khomeini coming to power, it is possible.

Grant: What does the game board look like? Who is the artist for the game?

Dan: We are awaiting some minor changes to the game board at the moment, but it will be finished before the end of the Kickstarter campaign. Jacob Walker is the artist on the projects. His work has been fantastic. Here is a look at a draft version of the map.

Grant: What is the role of the Nationalization Track and how does it effect gameplay?

Dan: Nationalization is the focus of the Early Era (rounds 1 through 3) of the game. The Coalition can win by completely advancing the Nationalization, depicting Iran having seized control of its own oil industry. If the track doesn’t fully advance, the Royalist player receives VP based on where the marker resides on Nationalization at game end. This incentivizes the Coalition to use some action points and influence to push oil strikes.

Grant: How do players utilize the Reserves Track? What does this represent from the history?

Dan: Reserves are points saved to perform actions in future turns. The Reserves are largely representative of economic resources. The Royalists have a number of events that add to their reserves from oil revenues and Western backing. The Coalition has more constraints on their reserves. Successful oil strikes impact the maximum reserves they can invest, representing the lean years of the Mossadegh era.

Grant: What is the purpose of the Event and Activity Tracker?

Dan: The tracker is to keep tabs on events that have been played which may have an effect on scoring and note any actions that can only be taken once per turn like burying a card under a leader in power or establishing estates (for the shah).

Grant: What are the different wooden bits used for? What is the scale and force structure of these units?

Dan: The wood tokens represent influence tokens. Influence is used for actions during player turns, triggering their factions events when played by their opponent and it’s a vital currency that players will need to reroll failed stability checks which would otherwise remove their leaders from power.

Grant: What are the victory conditions for each player?

Dan: The Coalition can score an early victory if they seize full control of the Iranian oil industry. If no nationalization, the game plays the full seven rounds, after which both players score VP for the value of cards buried under their leaders (symbolizing their fulfilment of their respective agendas when in power) in addition to unique modifiers for each faction. Each side has about four elements that modify their score in addition to cards buried under their leaders. It’s important to note that the value of buried cards is unknown to your opponent, so scores can be guessed, but there is never certainty.

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

Dan: I think the combination of using a chit-pull mechanic for modeling political influence and using a draft to help ease players into a CDG. Ultimately, I guess that I am mostly happy there is finally a game about this period in Iran.

Grant: When do you expect to fulfill the game?

Dan: September 2021 is the target. Things are moving lighting fast behind the scenes, so we are very confident in that estimate.

Here is a link to a video tutorial put together by the designer Dan Bullock:

Thanks for your time in answering our questions Dan. I really enjoy your focus on these type of games and cannot wait to see what else you are working on.

If you are interested in 1979: Revolution in Iran, you can order a copy from the Kickstarter page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1032467202/1979-revolution-in-iran