In the January 2021 Monthly Update, GMT announced their first signing of a game that was created at the inaugural CONSIM Game Jam that occurred in October 2020. This game was designed by 3 designers, two that we had experience with in Dan Bullock (No Motherland Without) and Joe Schmidt (as we had done interviews on several of his designs including Guerillas of the Peninsular War, The Present Winter: Washington’s Crossing and the Battle of Trenton, Anzac Cove and Kettle Hill: The Battle for San Juan Heights) and one Chris Bennett that we had not had the pleasure of working with. But, they all three came together and created what appears to be a very interesting and educational game on the French Resistance during World War II called In the Shadows. The game has recently made the cut by getting over 500 pre-orders and it is just getting started really. I wanted to get a better feel for the game and its mechanics so I reached out to Joe Schmidt and he was able to get this interview coordinated.
*Note: The pictures of components, including the board and cards and their event text are still just the prototype version which is only intended for playtesting purposes and the design and event effects and text might still change prior to final development and publication.
Grant: First off gentlemen, please tell us a little about yourselves. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job? What type of games do you like to play?
Chris Bennett: I like to paint miniatures, spend time outside with my family and read (a lot). I spent a number of years making video games (Jane’s flight sims, EA Sports, The Sims, etc.) and now I split my time between running my own consulting business, teaching, and running the Game Design Thinking research group at Stanford (gdt.stanford.edu). I like shorter tabletop games that explore lesser-known topics.
Dan Bullock: 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. I like thinky/stabby games.
Joe Schmidt: I work in Facilities, so I’ve been super busy in preparing for our companies return to office processes. Mix in developing a game and taking care of our new pup Rugby and things have been hectic! Gamewise, I’ve been really enjoying playing more games with my kids lately. Playing Monopoly Jr. and Marvel United has been a good reminder of how even a simpler game can be a really awesome gaming experience.
Grant: How did the four of you become acquainted?
Joe: Chris and I have been buddies for a while now. We met via Twitter when we realized we were both in the Bay Area and interested in game design and gaming. Dan and I met two years ago at SD HistCon where we got to play some games and talk about our designs. When I heard about the CONSIM Game Jam, I knew it was something I wanted to do, so I reached out to Chris and Dan to see if they wanted to join up as a team. And then after the end of the CSJ Jason Carr reached out to see if we’d like to work with him as our developer.
Grant: What motivated you to break into game design?
Chris: I’ve been making video games for a long time, but more recently I’ve gotten interested in tabletop for teaching since the rules are all there on the table in front of you. There is no code to hide behind! I find board games an amazing way to study game mechanics and the dynamics of play at the table (or online).
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.
Joe: My first game designs consisted of Risk pieces, Monopoly houses, and a Stratego board when I was about ten or eleven. Ever since then I have always been fascinated by game design. I’ve dabbled with a lot of ideas over the years, but finally got my first game up on BGG in 2017. Now I have three designs (two thanks to the great contests run on the design forum).
I love the problem solving nature of game design. It’s a constant struggle to find ways to turn ideas into something tangible. I also find it is one of the best ways to study and understand military history. Diving into why people made certain decisions and how these decisions changed history. I figure it’s the closest I can get to visiting the past, until we have really advanced VR.
Grant: Tell us about the process of designing a game in 72 hours at the CONSIM Game Jam.
Chris: The basic design actually came together in the first 24 hours. The flow of working with Joe and Dan was amazing and we just kept firing off ideas and seeing how they worked. The second 24 hours was about honing into what we really wanted to accomplish, tuning values and creating event cards. The last 24 hours the game was basically done and we spent that time on the map and the Tabletop Simulator mod so it was easier to do testing.
Grant: What is your upcoming game In the Shadows about?
Joe: In the Shadows is a two-player card-driven game about the desperate struggle of the French Resistance against the occupying Nazi and collaborating French forces between January 1943 and June 1944. In the game you will play as either the Resistance or the Occupation in a fight over the hearts and minds of the French People. The game strives to have players better understand the nuances of the resistance and the clandestine nature of the fight that led to the founding of the fourth French Republic.
In the Shadows also offers a narrative solitaire option where players can take on the role of a leader of the Resistance movement. These different playable characters will allow for diverse experiences against a challenging Occupation automata. Using the same mechanics as the two player game, the solo option is focused on a more immersive gaming experience. This makes In the Shadows unique in that players will essentially be able to enjoy two different games in the same box.
Grant: What was the inspiration for the name and what do you want it to convey?
Dan: The title is pulled from Robert Gildea’s book Fighters in the Shadows. The name served the dual purpose of describing the nature of resistance in occupied France in a general sense and more specifically the contribution of Communists, Eastern European Jews, Spanish Republicans and immigrants that eventually found themselves largely written out of the foundational myth.
Grant: What motivated you to design a game around the French resistance during World War II?
Chris: The CONSIM Game Jam challenged teams to design a brand new game using the components of an existing GMT Games COIN series game in 72 hours. While we were doing early brainstorming, we noticed that the map of German occupation zones in France during WWII reminded us of the map zones in Falling Sky: The Gallic Revolt Against Caesar. And honestly the design just cascaded from there.
Grant: What sources did you consult to get the details of the history correct?
Joe: Our main source for the game was Gildea’s previously mentioned Fighters in the Shadows. This is a really fantastic book that distills the various narratives of the Resistance in a really interesting and compelling way. It addresses not only the comprehensive and complex nature of the historiography of the Resistance, but also dives deeply into the impact that women, Jewish people, and immigrants played in the struggle against Nazi Occupation. This became an important part of the argument our game makes, specifically in our solitaire experience.
From there we also branched out to a variety of different primary sources and media. The wealth of photos, interviews, books, and films created by people who experienced and lived through the Occupation. Two movies I would particularly suggest are the classic Army of Shadows and the recent Oscar winning documentary short Colette. These two films capture the dark realities of the Resistance in a really moving way and inspired us in our design process.
Grant: What from the history of the conflict did you need to model in the design?
Chris: First and foremost, we wanted to show that the occupation was not just driven by German forces. The Milice units were created by the Vichy French government and collaborated with the German authorities, in many cases being quite aggressive about finding and uncovering resistance members and cells.
Grant: I see where the game page has the following statement: “The game strives to have players better understand the nuances of the resistance and the clandestine nature of the fight that led to the founding of the fourth French Republic”. How does the game meet these goals?
Chris: In many articles on the subject, there is a mistaken belief that there was one monolithic “French resistance”, when in fact there were a number of very different groups fighting the German and Vichy occupiers. The Suits (described below) in the game represent the lack of coordinated operations between various resistance groups, but they represent challenges the Occupation faced in ferreting out local Resistance groups in various locales without support of milice and informants.
And although the Germans had the overwhelming military forces, they relied in many cases on the Vichy French collaborators to uncover resistance cells and individuals. Which makes sense since the Vichy were native French and lived in the many of the same communities as the resistance members.
While the covert resistance cells worked mostly in the shadows, even the armed Maquis paramilitary forces were no match for the German Wehrmacht in a pitched battle. And they quickly learned that hit-and-run tactics did the most damage to the Occupation while keeping the Resistance members alive to fight another day. Which is why we created Ambush and Sabotage as the main Resistance actions in the game.
Grant: How are cards used in the design?
Dan: The use of cards is two fold. The event cards drive the core of actions taken in the game. Unlike many CDG’s, event effects are triggered in addition to the actions players take by spending AP (Action Points). In the Shadows also uses a Resolution Deck, a second set of cards that players will use to determine if their actions result in success or failure.
Grant: What are the different suits in the game and how do they affect the players?
Joe: The Resistance movement was not a monolith. Isolated networks of varying sizes with different ideologies were all vital to the fight against the occupying forces. From the beginning, this was an important part of the history that we wanted to represent in the game. In the Shadows relies on three different Suits (the Cross of Lorraine, the Victory Cross, and the Iron Cross) to determine the cost and effectiveness of your Actions. This is meant to represent the challenges to coordinating between different networks and resources mentioned above.
We modeled this in In the Shadows by putting a Suit with a number of Action Points (AP) next to it on our Event cards. Players will use AP from their card to perform Actions on their turn. If an Action being performed in a Zone requires a matching suit, it will cost 1AP more if the Zone and Event card are different suits. Movement actions never require a matching suit. The Iron Cross suit is considered matching in all Zones. All other Suits only count as matching Suits for marked Zones.
Grant: What does this concept of suits represent in the design? Where did this idea come from?
Dan: The suits concept represents something different for each player role. For the Resistance, suits illustrate the lack of coordination between various resistance movements/groups. This hindrance becomes less severe in the game after the CNR is formed. For the Occupation, suits reflect the challenges that the Occupation faced ferreting out local Resistance groups in various locales without support of milice and informants.
Here is a link to a well written explanation about the Event Cards and the suits on InsideGMT: http://www.insidegmt.com/2021/02/a-desperate-struggle-event-cards-and-suits-in-in-the-shadows/
Grant: Can you show us some examples of the different cards and explain how they work?
Joe: In the Shadows has two different kinds of cards that we use in the multiplayer game (Event cards and Resolution cards). Event cards are the main drivers in the game and help to determine initiative, assign resources, and play different events. The Resolution cards are used in lieu of dice, and are flipped in order to resolve all of the different actions taken by both factions. In the solo game we add in a deck of Location cards. These cards are used to help with the random determination of how and where the Occupation bot will move it’s units.
Grant: What are the goals for both the Occupation and Resistance?
Joe: The Occupation player tries to uncover and uproot Resistance cells wherever they can find them, while extracting resources and forced labor to support the ongoing war effort. Successful Round-up actions will advance the Confiscated Resources Marker along the rail line located on the map. Resistance units that have been arrested or removed from the map due to events are placed in the Disappeared Box.
The Resistance player conducts covert operations to chip away at the Occupation’s authority and grow the resistance movement. The Resistance Operations Markers will be advanced clockwise with each successful Sabotage action performed by the Resistance player. Some spaces on the Resistance Operations roundel will reduce the base cost of Covert Move and Hide Resistance actions.
There is an Authority Track that determines how victory is measured for each player. Depending on where the Authority marker is, the Resistance and Occupation will have different quotas of Cells or Resources needed on the map. This makes for an interesting game where players are heavily focused on the proper management of scarce resources.
Grant: How does the Occupation player uncover Resistance cells and make arrests?
Dan: The Occupation has two types of units. Their German units are best suited for making arrests, but before Resistance cells and Maquis can be arrested, they need to be uncovered. The Occupation’s milice units represent the collaborating French militia which was more effective at finding and uncovering members of the resistance.
The Occupation player will often need to perform an Uncover action to flush out cells or Maquis before they are able to attempt an Arrest action. However, sometimes the Resistance will have exposed units due to the results of an attempted Sabotage, Ambush or Recruit action or attempting to perform the same type of action more than once in a zone (which draws more attention to their operations).
Grant: Conversely how does the Resistance avoid the Occupation forces?
Dan: The Resistance has a couple ways of evading the Occupation aside from normal movement. One way is the Hide Resistance action. It allows units to flip to their covert side in a zone. It always succeeds (for awhile), but the cost is 1 AP plus one for each Occupation unit in the same zone.
Sometimes that’s too expensive. Another way is by performing an Ambush. A successful Ambush will remove a unit from your immediate vicinity to allow for a more inexpensive Hide action and a head start on pursuers, but it’s often a short reprieve before Occupation reinforcements arrive.
Grant: What is the Resolution Deck and what role does it serve? Why did you feel the deck was more appropriate than dice?
Joe: The Resolution Deck was Jason Carr’s idea. He approached us and said, “Ok, so what if you used cards instead of dice?”. At first I was taken aback by the request. I’d never designed with a system like that before, and wasn’t quite sure how it would feel. But after printing out a bunch of cards and testing it I really loved it. It also gave us an opportunity to add to the narrative a bit by going with a clandestine press design to make each flip feel like opening a newspaper.
Chris: I was probably the last one to come around to the idea of a Resolution Deck; I really like dice! But the implementation was so smooth and made so much sense that as soon as we all tested it together we knew it was the right call.
Here is a link to a well written explanation on the Resolution Deck on InsideGMT: http://www.insidegmt.com/2021/02/why-cards-resolving-outcomes-for-in-the-shadows/
Grant: Can you share an example of how the Resolution Deck cards work?
Dan: Sure! In this example we have a maquisard (yellow) and a resistance cell near Lyon planning to take a Sabotage action. The Resistance player spends a point to Sabotage. The first Resolution card drawn reveals a failed attempt, but they may draw a second card because they have more than one unit in the zone (though they will need to honor the second result). The second Resolution card reveals another failure result. However, this one is a bit worse, because in addition to not succeeding, the plot has been discovered and both the maquisard and resistance cell are now uncovered and the zone is placed on alert.
Grant: What is this concept of Authority and how does it drive the strategy of both sides?
Dan: Authority marks the minimum number of Resistance pieces required on the map for a Resistance victory and the minimum Occupation Resources required for an Occupation victory. As the game progresses, the Resistance will perform Sabotage actions that can reduce the Occupation’s authority (as marked on the track).
Grant: I notice the Authority Track offers different benefits to the Resistance as it is changed. What are these benefits?
Dan: The primary benefit the Authority Track grants the Resistance is making Resistance victory easier to achieve while making Occupation victory more difficult. The second space on the track is the only exception. When the Authority Marker reaches that space, the CNR (Conseil National de la Résistance) is formed, and two of the card suits become interchangeable for the Resistance player. That offers them serious flexibility when paying for actions.
Grant: What is the purpose of the Occupation Resources Track? What actions can they take?
Dan: The Occupation Resources tracks the flow of forced labor and confiscated resources into Germany for the war effort. The Occupation player’s actions increase Occupation Resources, but as the marker advances, it frees Resistance units from the track and sends them to the recruitment pool. We thought this was a way we could illustrate how this extraction contributed to stoking opposition. If the Occupation player pushes the drive for resources too hard, it creates circumstances where “maintaining order” becomes very difficult.
Grant: The board appears to be relatively small with only a 12 playable spaces. How did you come to this decision?
Chris: Part of it came from the constraints of needing to design and playtest an entire game in 72 hours. But we also made the conscious decision to create a smaller footprint game that could be played over a lunch hour. So we decided that a smaller number of spaces reduced the overall level of complexity, while we added in other mechanics and challenges through the event cards, resolutions cards, resource track, roundel and other areas.
Grant: What are the different colored areas on the board? Why does the blue region have a different symbol in the areas?
Joe: The map represents districts and zones in 1943-44 occupied France. Each of the districts is assigned a suit/color and comprises four named zones. The gray regions outside of France are not districts and contain no zones. These gray regions may only be entered by German units. The Spanish and Swiss regions may not be entered by any units.
The white and red districts represent what was known as the “Occupied Zone” and uses the Cross of Lorraine as it’s symbol. After Authority has been shifted down to the “CNR is Formed” space the Resistance player can use either color cross in either zone. The blue district of Southern France (marked with a Victory Cross) was a hot-bed of Maquis activity. Maquis units in these zones can flip to covert for free during the End Phase.
Grant: What is the general flow of the game?
Dan: Each round opens with players choosing one of the two Event cards in their hand to play face down. Both are revealed simultaneously. The player with the higher value card chooses who will play first. On the active player’s turn, the event effect is triggered first by the faction the given event belongs to. Afterward, the active player will perform actions from a menu unique to their player role. Once the active player is finished, the second player will execute the event and perform actions with their card. After both players have acted, play proceeds to the next round. The game will often conclude after nine full rounds, so there will be two Event cards that are not played in every game. With only nine card plays for each side, there is considerable pressure on players to make the most of their resources and events each turn. Each role offers a unique experience. Though the majority of events will enter play each game, the timing of events is extremely important. The Resistance will want to be cautious about leaving cells exposed at the end of their turn, because they are vulnerable to arrest. The Occupation will want to seize on exposed Resistance units when they are uncovered, because those operatives could easily slip through their fingers if given the chance. Tempo and initiative is very important.
Grant: What are the victory conditions for both sides?
Dan: How victory is measured will depend on the status of Authority at game end. Each space indicates the minimum number or Resistance pieces that must be on the map and the minimum Occupation Resources required. If either the Resources aren’t met or the Resistance has the required Resistance present on the map, they claim victory. The Occupation can win early if they have maxed their resources or removed all Resistance units, but the Resistance must survive until the bitter end to win.
Grant: What are some general strategy considerations for both the Occupation and Resistance player?
Dan: For the Occupation, there is a delicate balance between pushing to pull resources for the war effort and trying to uncover and arrest Maquis/cells. If pressure isn’t put on the Resistance, they can perform Sabotage actions which chip away at Authority and make it harder for the Occupation to meet their victory conditions. The Resistance need to set the tempo and apply pressure with Sabotage and Ambush while being cognizant of how exposed their pieces are at the end of each turn.
Grant: How does the solitaire mode work? What type of experience does it create?
Joe: A solitaire game of In the Shadows is mechanically very similar to the two player game. Players will take the side of the Resistance in the struggle against the Occupation bot. They will still use the same set of Resistance actions and Event cards, and will still have the same primary goal of reducing Occupation Authority and growing the Resistance. And, of course, the Occupation will still ruthlessly hunt down your Cells and Maquisards. The major difference is driven by the addition of personas to solo play.
At the beginning of a solitaire game of In the Shadows, the player will choose between one of four different personas to play as during their session. These personas represent leaders of some of the many different groups that took part in the struggle. Each of these factions offers a unique special ability and secondary victory condition that will create the need for different strategies and techniques in order to win. Players will still play to win the game as normal. But, in order to win the game they must achieve both the primary and secondary victory conditions. This will help make each solo session of In the Shadows a unique and exciting experience.
Here is a link to a a full AAR for a solitaire game written by jeffreyPaul Jones on InsideGMT: http://www.insidegmt.com/2021/05/insidegmt-one-aar-%e2%81%a0-a-solitaire-play-of-in-the-shadows-as-the-franc-tireurs-et-partisans/
Grant: What are you most pleased with about the design?
Chris: I am most pleased that it takes a part of history that has very few games dealing with it, and showcases a much broader view of the resistance and occupation than the usual games which are more tactical in nature. We wanted to be honest to the real events and not just what you might learn from skimming over a popular article. Even 70 years on there is much controversy about this period in French history, and we didn’t want to avoid that. In fact we wanted to take it head on and make a game that people could play, enjoy, debate and think about.
Grant: What lessons did the design team learn through the design process?
Chris: I had never designed an analog game with anyone else before, so the experience of working with two co-designers was wonderful for me. We all have some overlapping interests, but also our own skills that we bring to the table. Having Jason Carr as our GMT Games developer has been the icing on the cake as he brings a wealth of experience in deconstructing and understanding game mechanics and player experiences.
Dan: I feel like our design steps were taken out of the usual order- like reading a mystery novel but starting from the middle. The game jam was a great exercise, but I would never design a historical game that way again. Jason helped us take it apart so we could reconstruct and examine each piece in sequence. Three designers is certainly helpful.
Grant: What has been the experience of your playtesters?
Dan: Our player feedback has really been helpful for augmenting some of the strengths addressing some weaknesses and refining our rules. I tend to think of players as having a “budget” for complexity. It’s totally fine for a game to have complex mechanics, but we have been weighing each mechanism to see if it’s putting us “over budget”. Generally, if there is a neat mechanic that doesn’t add to the decision space for players, then it’s going to get tossed.
In the past three months, the game has tightened considerably. The feedback about player agency and tension has been really positive for this latest iteration. I think the feedback Joe has received regarding our solitaire game has been fantastic. Players really love the immersion and variability of the solo mode. Too often, the solo version of a game feels like a truncated experience. Joe has done a phenomenal job of making it feel fleshed out and more focused on the Resistance experience. The emphasis allows us to tell stories that we can’t tell as easily in the scope of the two-player game. Players have loved it!
I want to thank all three of the designers, Dan Bullock, Chris Bennett, and Joe Schmidt, for their fantastic work on this game and for being so willing to work with me to bring this interview to you. This game is very intriguing and seems to hit that sweet spot of a fast playing game with some deep historical grounding. I am very much looking forward to this one getting printed and making it to our table.
We are also working with Joe Schmidt to get a series of History Behind the Cards features on In the Shadows and I look forward to bringing those to you over the next several months.
If you are interested in In the Shadows: French Resistance 1943-1944 you can pre-order a copy for $30.00 from the P500 game page on the GMT Games website at the following link: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-905-in-the-shadows.aspx