As you know, Ty Bomba is a pretty prolific designer and stays really busy with not only his design work but as the Editor of the Paper Wars Magazine published by Compass Games. We have interviewed him dozens of times now and he is always willing to share his designs. Recently, I saw a new game of his that is not his typical hex and counter mini-monster fare but looked to be more of a historically based Euro game. I was immediately interested and reached out to get the scoop on this new game coming soon from Companion Wargames.
Grant: Welcome back Ty! I am used to doing these interviews with you covering hard core Wargames. What is this upcoming game called Voelkerwanderung! Barbarian Migrations & The Fall of Rome?
Ty: That’s the German word for what translates into English as the phrase “Wandering of the Peoples.” It is the term mid-19th century historians from that country gave to the 150-years (or so) of Germanic invasions of the Western Roman Empire, which climaxed in 476 with the sac of Rome and the fall of that realm. Those historians were loath to call that period one of “invasions,” because they were also promoting the idea in their analyses that German culture had become the core of Western Civilization. So “invasions” became “wanderings.” In the game, playable by two or four, each person steps into the role of a chieftain of one of the major Germanic tribal confederations of those times: the Franks, Alemanni, Vandals or Goths. Each chief attempts to win by being the first to lead one of his tribes into the heart of the empire, the fabulous capital city of Rome. Along the way, each will find his progress slowed by determined Roman legions, plagues, the chicanery of the gods, and perhaps even the backstabbing diplomacy of his comrades.
Grant: What sources did you consult to frame up the game?
Ty: If you were a history major in college, you couldn’t escape the analytical debate that still goes on as to the causes of Rome’s fall. It’s endlessly fascinating. In my first course on Rome, the professor began his lectures on the late empire by explaining that, during the roughly 150 years of Germanic migrations, perhaps a grand total of 5 million people – including women and children with the warriors – overran a civilization that numbered somewhere between 100 and 150 million inhabitants. Obviously, then (was his point), we must look beyond relatively simple explanations centered solely on military events.
Grant: What from history was most important to include in the game?
Ty: Back at the turn of the century I read a masterful historical novel, Eagle in the Snow by Wallace Breem, which encapsulated the whole thing for me.
In it, in AD 406 one of the last uncorrupted Roman officers is given command of a legion on the Rhine frontier. He trains it up to a level equal to any of the “Felix” (elite) legions from the earlier classical period of the empire. He uses the legion to deliver a stunning (and totally unexpected by all involved) tactical defeat on a tribe of Germans attempting to come across the frozen river in the middle of the winter. The German chieftain meets with him and tells him it doesn’t matter: via bribery and threats he (the chieftain) soon gets himself appointed an “ally” of Rome, and with that he’ll bring his people across the river in that way.
In other words, what stood out for me was how it really all came down to “human agency” – the decisions made by individuals in regard to why and for what they were willing to risk their lives. So I decided to design a game that emphasized that same kind of agency – combined with what the people of those times would’ve called “fate,” and what we would call “simple luck.”
Grant: This is referred to as a Euro-style game. What does that mean to you?
Ty: The generally accepted meaning of that term has expanded greatly during this century. It used to be that “Euros” had to be pretty much non-competitive among the players, not containing any simulation of violence, and played in such a way that no one was eliminated prior to the overall end of the game for all the players.
Today, Wikipedia defines them as: “a class of tabletop games that generally have indirect player interaction and abstract physical components [that] emphasize strategy while downplaying luck and conflict. They tend to have economic themes rather than military and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends.”
Whereas one of the principals on Board Game Geek define them as: “A game that has relatively easy to understand rules, a short (meaning 90 minutes or less) playing time, a fairly high level of abstraction (so not even close to the level of simulation present in wargames), usually good-looking components, and does not have certain features, like player elimination, or players attacking other players.”
I’m comfortable with all of that as definitions of a category of games we might otherwise have to describe only in the negative, as “games that are not wargames.”
Grant: Why did you feel that was the best vehicle to tell this story?
Ty: The play of the game comes down to the four players making – and inevitably breaking – deals with one another all through play. Who is your friend and who is your enemy is constantly changing based on the shifting strategic alignments in force from turn to turn.
Grant: What are players attempting to accomplish?
Ty: The player wins who first gets their tribe into the heart of the empire, the fabulous capital city of Rome. Second place is a set of butter knives. (H’eh, h’eh!)
Grant: The map is stunning and appears to be very well laid out and also very colorful. Who is the artist for the map?
Ty: All the components, including the map, are being done by Darek Buraczewski, a talented young graphic artist out of Belchatow, Poland. He’s on Facebook.
Grant: What is the function of the different colored circular tracks that lead to Rome?
Ty: Those are the Roman roads along which the Germans “wander” to reach Rome. The differently colored four-dot areas inside Germania are the starting positions for teach of the four tribal confederations: Franks, Goths, Vandals and Alemanni.
Grant: What does a players turn look like? What actions can they choose to take?
Ty: The turns are really pretty simple and straightforward but have lots of interesting elements. The players can make and/or break deals with other players, but then the turn comes to the players rolling the die to see how they are able to move a tribe of their own along the roads toward their goal.
Grant: How does movement work? What are some reasons that players might decide to skip this step and not move?
Ty: You can’t move over a Roman legion. You can only cause it to relocate by landing on its dot by exact count of your die roll. In contrast, different German tribes can move over one another. Deciding to skip movement is strategic decision to attempt to take a certain circle on the path or to relocate a Roman Legion that is in the way and place it in the path of your opponents.
Grant: What is Supplanting a tribe and why does it happen? Why is this important to players’ strategy?
Ty: If you land on a dot containing another player’s tribal piece, that tribe is, in effect, massacred. In game terms, it’s placed back in its homeland area north of the Alps (where continuous population growth just keeps new tribes coming – meaning it reenters play from there). But this causes that piece to have to start over from the beginning and will delay that player from reaching their goal. Remember pieces and players are never eliminated but are simply relocated.
Grant: What does this Supplanting a tribe represent from history?
Ty: Totally opportunistic and often cut-throat inter-tribal relations combined with migratory pressures from a vibrant and dynamic people demographically on the rise. The Ancient world was one of competition, for lands, food, survival and even culture extermination.
Grant: What happens when a player must move into a space containing a Roman Legion?
Ty: He relocates that legion to any other empty dot on the map. Legions are never destroyed by German attacks; they just get shifted from conflict zone to conflict zone. You place them in front of the chief’s tribe who you fear is getting too far ahead of you in the race to Rome. This is the best part of the player interaction in the game and can cause some real debates about where the player should place the piece.
Grant: What role do Random Events play in the game?
Ty: They introduce the luck/fate element, which can confound the best laid plans of any chieftain. The table is printed on the map for easy reference and contains everything from the favor of the gods (allowing each player to roll a die and the highest result gets to roll the die twice to move on their turn) to a charismatic Roman general arrives (not allowing any Roman Legion to be relocated during this turn, which can stop progress of players) and plague (which will cause players to roll a die the lowest results will not be allowed to move this turn). The events are a way to introduce some of the elements of history in a random way that causes both good and bad results.
Grant: How is diplomacy used by the players? What types of things can be discussed and agreed to?
Ty: Diplomacy is about 90 percent of the game, with the other 10 percent being the luck of the die. The winning player is the one who can keep making and breaking deals as he gets his tribe on toward Rome, while at the same time doing it in such a way as to not get the other three players angered at his continual perfidy and backstabbing. (H’eh, h’eh!). Anything can be negotiated from skipping a turn, to trying to remove a Legion for another player or anything else that you can think of.
Grant: What is the typical play time of the game?
Ty: Generally not more than about an hour.
Grant: What has been the experience of your playtesters?
Ty: Fun, fun and more fun, and that’s true for women and older children just as much as it is for adult males.
Grant: Who is the publisher? What games have you done with them in the past?
Ty: Companion Wargames, out of Plano, Texas. I found them by accident on Facebook. This is my first project with them. It’s going well.
Grant: When is the game available and what is the MSRP?
Ty: I can’t say more on its ship date now other than ‘later this year’ (2021). I don’t know what the MSRP will be as of yet either. Watch Facebook and BGG and the Consimworld Bulletin Board for further announcements as these things get decided.
If you are interested in Voelkerwanderung!: Barbarian Migrations & The Fall of Rome, you can check out the game page on the Companion Wargames website at the following link: https://www.companionwargames.com/die-voelkerwanderung
The game is not yet available but should be “soon”.