We have played several games in the Lock ‘n Load Tactical System and enjoyed all of them. My favorites have been Heroes of Normandy and Heroes of the Pacific and I know that Alexander has really liked Heroes of the Falklands. Recently, we caught wind of the newest volume in the series called Heroes of the Bitter Harvest and we were definitely interested. I reached out the module’s designer Devin Heinle and he was more than willing to provide us a deeper look into what it offers.

If you are interested in Heroes of the Bitter Harvest you can pre-order a copy from the Gamefound game page at the following link: https://gamefound.com/projects/lnlp/heroes-of-the-bitter-harvest

Grant: First off Devin please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?

Devin: I’m 53 years old and prior military. Aside from wargaming and the associated interest in History, I am an amateur Paleontologist and collect fossils. For the last several years my day job has been a live in caretaker for my wife who has Parkinsons Disease and our roommate who is legally blind.

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

Devin: Boredom mostly. I was doing some playtesting for Andrea Garello who was designing scenario packs for the Advanced Squad Leader/Advanced Tobruk System for Critical Hit, Inc. At the time I was between jobs and had plenty of free time on my hands and this allowed me to get a look behind the scenes of what the design process was and so I decided to give it a shot myself. I put together a presentation to the owner of Critical Hit, Inc and he accepted the idea and that kinda set me on the path of design. As I have been an amateur Historian since I was in grade school, I find delving into history and research to be the most enjoyable part of the experience.

Grant: What designers have influenced your style? 

Devin: Not many of the big name designers over the years I hate to say. James Dunnigan definitely. I like a lot of Ty Bomba’s earlier design works. I find I draw inspiration and influence from many lesser known designers. Andrea Garello, David Lamb, Curt Schilling.

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

Devin: The most challenging part of design is definitely the historical research process. I like to dig into the meat of a historical subject and eat it up. And that’s probably the thing I do the best.

Grant: What other games have you designed?

Devin: I have designed 3 scenario packs for the ASL/ATS system when I was with Critical Hit, and with Lock ‘n Load Publishing I have designed about a dozen scenario packs that have been released or are in the process of being released, including Battles of the Rhine, Heroes of the Pacific: For the Emperor and Heroes Against the Red Star: Red Gauntlet.

Grant: How has your experience as a developer aided you in design?

Devin: I can safely say that I have been a designer longer than a developer…and I would have to say being a designer is a much easier job. But knowing what goes on the developer side of things allows me to prevent common issues that come up between the designer presenting a project and the developer figuring out what can go in and what can’t and what needs to change. Designers just have to focus on what’s in the game. Developers have to make sure the components will fit and make sure counters line up with the sheets, what components will go into the game. Whole different world between the two.  

Grant: What historical event does the Heroes of the Bitter Harvest module cover?

Devin: Heroes of the Bitter Harvest covers the 1942 German Offensive in Southern Russia. The intent was the Germans wanted to capture the Soviet oilfields at Baku. They failed and ended up attempting to capture Stalingrad instead.

Grant: What was your intention in the name? What does it tell us about the history and what to expect in the module?

Devin: As this offensive lead to the eventual destruction of the 6th Army, and started the collapse of the Germans on the Eastern Front it would end up being a ‘Bitter Harvest’ for the German forces rather than a ‘Good Harvest’ if they had managed to capture the vital oilfields at Baku.

Grant: I understand this module used to be called Road to Stalingrad. Why the change?

Devin: Grammatically it just didn’t flow being titled Heroes Road to Stalingrad. And Bitter Harvest seems to be more impactful.

Grant: What is most important to model in a squad-level tactical game?

Devin: It really comes down to ones expectations of what they want from a tactical game. Someone who plays ASL will expect a very high level of detail from their game. Players who prefer ATS like the complexity of ASL but don’t want the weight of the details in ASL. I think people who play LnLT want a playable quick game with some meat to it. So for my approach to designing scenarios and modules from LnLT is to keep the scenarios realistic and playable and give players a taste of what the fighting was like for whatever scenario that is portrayed. So for me-I would say the most important thing is to represent the forces that were at each battle a scenario is based upon.

Grant: What new never before seen units are introduced to the Lock ‘n Load Tactical Series in this module?

Devin: There are several new vehicle types that we haven’t seen before in the LnLT Series. Now most of these are different variants of vehicles that have existed before but we are seeing some new models for those vehicles. We see the PzIVF, the StuG IIIF, the Panzer II F and we get to see the Soviet IL2 Ground attack aircraft and the Tauchanka MG Wagon. The Soviets also receive a new troop type in the form of the NKVD Police Battalions. Great on defense. Not so good on attack.

Grant: Can we see a few of these units and their counters?

Devin: Of course!

Soviet IL2 Sturmovik
Soviet NKVD Infantry

Grant: What new leader type do you introduce to the system? What are its disadvantages?

Devin: We see the introduction of the ‘Incompetent Leader’. They have a negative effect on basically…everything! Morale, Firepower, Ordnance attacks, Melee attacks. And we have rules written in that they must remain attached to good order units. So, no trying to hide them in the back of the battlefield and stay out of the fight!

Grant: What does this new leader type represent from history?

Devin: Not all Leaders who held command positions were good leaders. Often a bad leader will get command positions and through whatever reason-they are bad leaders who just don’t understand the basics of Command, the have bad relations with their men, are overwhelmed by the rigors of Command, and are just a negative influence on the battlefield. It’s a mechanic that isn’t represented often in Tactical systems and one I always wanted to touch on and work with.

Grant: What role do Skills play in the system? Any new skills for this module?

Devin: Skills are special abilities that are above the norm. Special abilities that give a bit more flavor and chrome to the game to represent and mimic soldiers going above and beyond the call of duty. The skills could represent anything from Leaders being more effective. Units being able to generate more accurate firepower, Special weapons being carried by troops. There are 12 skills in the game and 10 have come from previous systems but we have 2 new skills that show up in Bitter Harvest. ‘The Blitzer’-which is a skill for tank commanders that allows their tank to take 2 impulses back-to-back, one time per game. And there is the ‘Shadow’ skill which makes it harder for this unit to be spotted as they are masters of camouflage.

Grant: What special rules do you use to bring the fight for the southern steppes of Russia to life in the module?

Devin: There are not many new unique rules that were introduced with the module rules. The inclusion of the NKVD troops and the Tauchanka MG wagon did require adding some specific rules for them. There are several Scenario Special rules that are included, and each scenario has at least 1 or 2 unique situational rules that apply to that scenario. One that comes to mind is a German Armored attack into the morning rising sun that historically blinded the German tank crews so they suffer a “To hit” bonus for a few turns as the sun blinds them. Another scenario has tanks being driven right off the factory floors being crewed by factory workers, so those tanks suffer multiple penalties from the untrained tank crews manning them.

Grant: What different scenarios are included?

Devin: There are 12 scenarios included in the Base game and 10 scenarios included in the Expansion “Enemy at the Gates”. Part of the difficulty was finding battles with a wide variety of Attacker/Defender choices. You won’t have the Germans always on the attack. There are pure infantry fights, German Mechanized attacks into dug in Soviet Infantry positions, Tank on Tank meeting engagements in forests, Soviet Mechanized breakthrough attacks against German Mechanized forces. I tried to make as many varied styles of engagements as possible so we don’t always see the Germans or the Soviets on attack.

Grant: What have been some changes that have come about through the playtest process?

Devin: The fortunate thing of working with such an established rule set such as Lock ‘n Load Tactical, is that I don’t have to worry about working or balancing the rules. The work goes into balancing the scenarios. So often times feedback from play testers and my own work on the scenarios will see a change in forces on one side or the other. Sometimes the forces are fine but the number of turns in a given scenario need to be altered and adjusted. No scenario survives its initial draft and there are always changes that go into each scenario depending on feedback and playtesting.

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

Devin: I think I am most pleased with the art in the game. Now I really had no effect on that but I will have to say the maps that Marc von Martial have done are some of his best. There are a ton of tiny details he put into the maps. Especially on the Urban maps. I would highly recommend that everyone just take some time to look close into the maps to find all these details. And Iván Cáceres out did his self in the counter art. Some absolute stellar work.

Grant: When does the game come to Gamefound? What stretch goals might be included?

Devin: It went live on Gamefound on May 4th! We have 10 stretch goals that we have come up with. Some of those stretch goals are upgrading the maps from the normal maps to 4K Xmaps which are a standard with LnLT games. We have a Role Playing Game set of rules that will allow a player to have their own leader counter and gain experience from battle to battle and gains better abilities and even skills during gameplay as they gain experience in battles. We have also reworked the LnLT Solo System a bit and will be adding a more module specific solo system into Bitter Harvest if we hit that stretch goal. There are data cards for each unit in the game that players can hold off to the side of a game and can reference and have large font allowing people to read what the stats are for each unit rather than trying to squint and see the numbers on the counters. We did the same thing for our World at War ’85 game. These are just some of the Stretch Goals we came up with for the game.

Grant: What other games are you currently working on?

Devin: Personally, I am working on a LnLT module covering Pegasus Bridge on D-Day. That will come with a large historic map and a linked campaign game with a few hypothetical scenarios tossed in for good measure. I will also be working with Gina Willis on her Heroes of the Deep Desert module covering British LRDG scenarios in North Africa. I am also currently working with Blackwell Hird on our Space Infantry LnLT module, and with David Heath on our Zombie LnLT module. And I am always working on scenarios for various Battle Packs for LnLT and LnLT Digital. I am developing LnLP’s upcoming JU 87 Stuka Ace solo game designed by Gottardo Zancani. And there might be a few other projects I have my fingers in that I’m not allowed to speak of right now.

Thanks for your time in answering our questions Devin and I am glad that we finally were able to do a Designer Interview with you to add you to our stable of designers we have covered.

If you are interested in Heroes of the Bitter Harvest you can pre-order a copy from the Gamefound game page at the following link: https://gamefound.com/projects/lnlp/heroes-of-the-bitter-harvest