We have interviewed Francisco Ronco in the past with his FAB Series #5 Dubno ’41 from GMT Games (that has since been removed from the P500) but have always had a keen eye on some of his other games including an upcoming game from NAC Wargames called Von Manstein’s Triumph, which deals with the German 11th Army’s invasion of Fortress Sevastopol in 1942 during World War II. The art (done by Iván Cáceres) and cover for this one caught my eye a while ago and I was finally able to get with Francisco to talk about the game.

Grant: What is your new game Von Manstein’s Triumph about? What historical event does it focus on?

Francisco: The game is about the final Axis assault on the city-fortress of Sevastopol in June-July 1942. It was the prelude to the Axis summer offensive, codenamed Fall Blau. It will be available in mid May and can be preordered at NAC WARGAMES: https://www.masqueoca.com/tienda/producto.asp?item=8693&tit=Von%20Mansteins%20Triumph

It will be published in both a common Spanish & English version.

Grant: What from the history of the assault on Sevastopol did you need to take care to include and model in your design?

Francisco: Sevastopol was a very strong fortress that had defied Axis assaults for ten months already, and the effort to take it was titanic so the game had to depict a titanic struggle. Some elements to be highlighted were the Soviet fortifications, including the massive coastal batteries that could be turned towards inland, the extensive permanent and temporary fortifications the Soviet troops had erected to strengthen their positions (bunkers, minefields, AT positions, trenches, concrete emplacements…). Also, the Soviet defense was a very active one so the Soviets needed to be able to counterattack and even to take the initiative if a candid German player advanced too carelessly, so I add the two armor battalions the Soviets had inside the fortress and the flamethrower detachments that Soviet rifle divisions always had. Otherwise, the Germans amassed a big battering train – including famous pieces such as Dora, Thor or Odin – and a very big aerial support group in the form of Von Richtoffen’s VIII Fliegerkorps so they have to be present and they are in the form of a good bunch of cards. The Soviets could make limited air operations (they have two cards depicting the fighter regiments they had inside the fortress) but the air is mainly German. The assault was really a counter clock race as Hitler wanted Sevastopol to be taken before Operation Blau I was launched, but the defense was too stubborn to be overcome in such a short length of time. So the Axis player has to crack the nut before they run out of time. 

Grant: What is your overarching design goal for this game?

Francisco: As the game is a sequel of sorts to Santa Cruz 1797 I needed to fit everything into the block & card-driven engine of that game. As I wanted a bigger game and a very different gaming experience from Santa Cruz 1797, I had to re-think the whole system to maintain as much as I could from the initial game allowing room for the new elements. They are not a Series of games but more a Family, so I wanted them to have many similarities. And I think I accomplished that. 

A Second World War battle at a grand tactical level differs a lot from Eighteenth Century urban night combat (in time, space, forces structures, composition and performance…). So I had to add rules to reflect properly a twentieth century battle: organic bonds between the blocks, “control” of areas to depict the presence of minor detachments and patrols below the regimental/brigade level of the game, the ability of players to “coordinate” units in different areas to take part in joint operations and attack together, the presence of air forces and modern fortifications and artillery equipment and so on…

Grant: What sources did you consult and what one must read source would you recommend to anyone wanting to know more?

Francisco: There are a lot of books about this battle and all the general works about the period and the many written pages are devoted to this epic siege. I usually begin with general works and then go to specific works that go lengthy in detail. The best treatment of the battle and the previous operations in Crimea in a work not focused on the battle is from David Glanzt’s To the Gates of Stalingrad that devotes 12 pages to them. Three good books that give all you need to know about the campaign and the battle are two from Robert Forczyk: Sevastopol 1942. Von Manstein’s Triumph & Where the Iron Crosses Grow. The Crimea 1941-1944. The first one is from Osprey Publishing and is a brief in depth description of the final battle for Sevastopol, the second one has a wider scope and treats all the battles fought on Crimean soil during the Great Patriotic War. The most detailed work is Clayton Donnell’s The Defense of Sevastopol 1941-1942, from Pen & Sword. This is the definitive work as it gives you detailed information about the permanent work of the defenses of Sevastopol and maps with the positions of regiments and battalions each day during the main Axis assaults on the city.

Grant: What game did you use as inspiration for your design approach? What mechanics are shared and what is unique in the design?

Francisco: As I said before, this is a game of the Family I used to call Desperate Battles initiated by Ivan Caceres with his Santa Cruz 1797. So, the core mechanics are the same, including the resolution of combat over an annexed Battle Board. It is a card driven block game but blocks and cards are used in a different manner. In this Family there are four types of cards: Orders, Assault, Reaction & Combat Support. Orders cards are the best to reflect the topic and in VMT there are air attacks, fighter sweeps, heavy and super heavy artillery bombardments, redeployment of troops, that were absent from Santa Cruz 1797. The Axis player can even play Air Attacks as a reaction card while the Soviet is moving his blocks to attack them.

Blocks also are grouped into organic divisions so you can activate the blocks in a given area or all the blocks from a division plus the non-divisional blocks stacked with them (both sides have some blocks that do not belong to any organic division and can be used to strengthen any of them), and you can initiate combat when you enter into an enemy occupied area or wait till you move all the blocks you desire from the ones you activated into the attacked area to initiate combat, that is called Coordinated Assault and can be made even by playing several Assault cards and combining and activating blocks from different divisions. There are more options to activate your blocks and more flexibility for using them.

In Santa Cruz 1797 when you played Assault Cards you could place into the mapboard leaders to accompany and help your troops. In VMT you place armor and combat engineers by playing combat cards, that are not blocks but cardboard counters, as in Santa Cruz 1797. Other useful assets for the Soviets (i.e. bunkers, minefields and AT positions) are brought into play by playing Combat Support Cards, a different way of adding assets to your panoplie as the Soviet player. The combat system uses the same tools as Santa Cruz 1797: blocks & cards, you move your blocks to a nearby battle board; but similarities end here: as the attacker can attack with more than three blocks (the stacking limit) you have several more spaces for attacking blocks than defending, and the whole combat system is different from Santa Cruz 1797, while in Santa Cruz you roll to obtain 5’s and 6’s to inflict casualties and combat could last several rounds, in VMT you only have one round, usually more dice are rolled and a winner is rapidly determined, you can also lose troops by retiring from battle to an area adjacent to enemy blocks. 

So the game is very similar to Santa Cruz 1797 but also is very unique. Both sides have reinforcements to enter during play and there are no “replacements”, each block that suffers hits remains so till suffering new hits or games end. Attrition is a must in this battle.

Grant: As you have said, the game is a card driven block wargame. Why did you choose this format? What advantages did this give you in the design?

Francisco: I chose this format because Santa Cruz 1797 was a very good game but very small also, so it cannot deploy the full capabilities of the system. VMT gives you the possibility of a tense game with constant attacks and counter attacks while leading two armies that are very different. This is modeled into the deck of each player. Both decks have similarities but are not identical. The Soviet one is more clumsy and defensive and this, united to his hand of 6 cards, makes the deck being reshuffled less times than the Axis deck. The Axis player owns a hand of 8 cards and a deck with more Reaction Cards that allow him to act more often during the Soviet Action Phase, so it is more flexible and capable. Of course, using cards you can also add a “bluff” element into gameplay as you never know exactly what your adversary has in his hand and what will be able to do during your own Action Phase. The plays of this game tend to be furious and active as BOTH players refill their hand after EACH Action Phase, so more hands of cards are played than in Santa Cruz 1797 and the deck is reshuffled far more than once.

Grant: What are some key differences between the German 11th Army lead by Erich von Manstein and the Soviet Independent Coastal Army lead by Ivan Efimovich Petrov?

Francisco: Well they are the same differences between the Axis and Soviets in 1942 already present in other games, but here those differences can be modeled fairly well. For the 11th Army the Axis player has a more flexible and reactive deck than his opponent, containing both a fighter card and bombers, so the air attacks can count on fighter escorts to neutralize Soviet CAP; also the 11th Army contains German as well as Romanian troops and a peculiarity of Romanian troops is they had far fewer artillery pieces than the Germans, so they are limited in the number of Field Artillery Combat Support Cards that can be used in a single combat. The Germans had in the battle probably two of the best Wehrmacht infantry divisions (the 22nd – former airlanding- and the 50th), that are given four steps per block while most Axis troops only have 3. Alongside them there are three more crack divisions: two Romanian mountain divisions and the German 28th Jäeger. These three divisions have the peculiarity of moving two areas instead of the usual one, to reflect the agility and their special capabilities in an infantry battle. Cardboard counters depicting the assorted pioneer units the Germans employed and the three battalions of Stug-III and the lone battalion of Pz-III (from the 300th Panzer Abteilung to radio control mobile mines Goliath plus some left behind by 22nd Panzer Division when it left Crimea with new equipment) they committed to the battle completes the Axis panoply. 

The Soviets in the game are battle hardened by the duration of the siege and constantly receive new supplies and reinforcements. The German Luftwaffe was unable to totally cut off the naval transport into and out of Sevastopol, but materials were in short supply. So, there is no difference in quality between the blocks of both armies. The Soviet deck does not contain bombers as they were not present inside the fortress and the Germans contested the skies with dozens of Me-109 at all times. The garrison was lacking in artillery and mortar ammunition, so the Soviet cards for artillery bombardment and close support to the troops roll less dice than their German counterparts. On the other side the Germans never will know where the main strongpoints will be located till they face them in assault – Soviet camouflage being so good – so, the Soviet can play Combat Support Cards to place bunkers, minefields and AT positions that, if the Soviet player wins the combat, will remain on map till the Germans take possession of the area where they are located, strengthening permanently the defenses. As its name suggests the Soviet army was a mixed formation with regular rifle divisions and brigades and units composed of sailors from the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, that were grouped into brigades with a generous surplus of automatic weapons compared to their comrades from the army. They were used in reserve and counter attacking roles so I have given to them the same ability as the Romanian and German mountain troops: to move two areas instead of one, so they can be used easily to attack. Most of those brigades are not integrated into the rifle divisions that form the garrison so they can be used as the player sees fit to reinforce any sector of his line of defense. Those were the guys depicted on the gorgeous box front cover. Two battalions of old infantry close support tanks T-26 were inside the fortress and they are depicted as support counters to help the Soviet infantry in combat as well as flamethrower detachments.        

Grant: What area does the map cover?

Francisco: The mapboard depicts the southwestern corner of Crimea, around the city of Sevastopol, forming a rectangle of approximately 15 x 13 km. Given the scale you can bombard anywhere you desire as the ranges are big enough for most artillery pieces and, of course, air strikes. Printed on it are the main natural and manmade features: fortifications, Soviet airfields, Soviet Naval Batteries and some urban terrain (that adds a new element to combat increasing casualties).

Grant: What strategic pinch points are created by the layout of spaces and the terrain?

Francisco: The Soviets had fortified the hills around the city, extending the perimeter in every opportunity they had since the German assault in 1941, so you have a ring of very strong defenses in a half-circle around Sevastopol bay, resting on the Northern bank of the Belbek River. Then the bay cut in half the defensive perimeter so the Soviet player has to learn when to evacuate the Northern shore or face isolation. So, the rough terrain on the northern bank of the Chorna (or Chernaya) River is a real bottleneck for Soviet forces moving in the axis North-South, especially for tanks, they cannot be moved by sea. In the southern half of the perimeter two more lines of fortifications await the German attackers, the last one just at the outskirts of Sevastopol proper. If the German manage to break the fortification lines and reach the open spaces the victory would be theirs as most Victory Point locations are in that area. Given the rule to reflect the Soviet waging morale the Soviet ought to fight most of the time in the outer fortifications as if he withdraws into the inner ring Soviets troops will melt like snow under the sun.

Soviet Card Back.

Grant: Who is the artist? How has their style helped you in telling the story here?

Francisco: Of course the genius of Ivan Cáceres. He made the art before enlisting to Slitherine so it is his last work for tabletop wargame publishers. In real life, he is openly pro-Soviet and I know it when I approach him to make the work. I told him to make the art in art decó fashion or something like the propaganda posters of the 30-40’s. And he did it. The main figure is taken from a Soviet wartime poster and the rest of the German symbols and icons are in such a good style that make the whole set congruent. I always want the art of my games to help players to feel “inside” the history. Aren’t they simulations? So the art has to help players to put the boots on. Cards, counters, mapboard and players aids charts all sum up to create that 40’s atmosphere with a touch of great imagination.

Grant: What is the anatomy of the block units?

Francisco: Blocks in this game are very simple. They depict the number of the regiment or brigade in the lower right corner when at full strength and inside a ribbon that identifies the division to which the block belongs and a number of dots to indicate its strength steps. Some of them have a small white arrow in the upper right corner with a number 2, at full strength, so you easily know which blocks move 1 area and which ones move 2 areas when activated by an Assault Card. As all of them are infantry all have the proper NATO symbol in the same color as the ribbon to identify the division the block belongs to.  

Remember there are also cardboard counters to represent support units such as tanks, combat engineers and AT… Tanks and combat engineers have small dots in their left upper corner as they only possess two steps. AT, minefields and bunkers do not have steps and behave more like markers than units.

Grant: What is the scale of the game and force structure of units?

Francisco: All the blocks in the game are regiments and brigades and they are organized into divisions. This allows for more complex operations in each activation and powerful blows. Coordination of blocks is so possible and allows more options. The scale is grand tactical so you take the role of the Army/Corps commander maneuvering your building blocks (regiments/brigades) into position and committing them to battle. Remember each card that you use to activate blocks allows you to activate one division and you can activate up to three divisions simultaneously – if you use the Coordinate Assault rule. This is the size of an army corps. 

Grant: What is the general Sequence of Play?

Francisco: It is very simple and straightforward: each turn consists of two Action Phases. The first one is the Axis Action Phase and then the Soviets Action Phase. Each player can play any and all desired cards they are capable of using and then, after EACH Action Phase, BOTH players replenish their hands up to their limit. The first turn the Axis player also has the opportunity of using some cards to bombard the Soviet troops before the proper play begins, to reflect the preparatory bombardment made by the Germans during the first days of June. After the Soviet Action Phase the turn marker is advanced one space in the Turn Record Track. Then a new turn begins.

Grant: How are cards used in the design?

Francisco: The hand of cards is the driver of the design. You make things happen on the board only by playing cards. As I said before there are four types of cards and you can use them during your own Action Phase or during the opposing Action Phase, so the dynamics of playing cards creates a very interactive mechanic: both players can intervene in combats by playing Combat Support Cards, you can react to an enemy initiated combat by playing a Counterattack Reaction Card immediately after its resolution, activating your own blocks in the middle of the enemy Action Phase and suspending, temporarily, the enemy Action Phase; the German player can also react to Soviet movements by playing Air Strike Reaction Cards as the Soviet blocks move. This is a game of furious and unending actions, with lots of alternatives for both players and using most or all of your cards each Action Phase is the best thing a player can do. Usually, as the Germans have a bigger hand -8 cards-, the Axis deck is reshuffled between 4 and 6 times per play and the Soviet – with only six cards per hand – at least 4 times.

German Card Back.

Grant: What are the different types of cards included?

Francisco: There are four of them: Order, Assault, Reaction & Combat Support. Order Cards are identical in both decks but also some of them are unique from each player deck: the Axis deck allows for Air Strikes, for example. Both decks have artillery bombardment cards, the Germans also have a card depicting the impact of Superheavy pieces such as Dora and the Soviet deck includes a card to reflect the fire of their Naval Batteries. Order Cards also allow for fast deployment of troops. The Assault Cards are the main tool for both players, as they are the ones that allow blocks to move and attack – in this Family of games attack also implies moving into the enemy occupied area. Both decks are different in the number of Assault Cards they contain: the Soviets have more Assault Cards and the German deck has more double use Assault/Counterattack Cards. The German army was more reactive and flexible in the battlefield than the Red Army, and this is built into the makeup of the decks. The third type of card is the Reaction Card, that includes the Counterattack Cards and both sides Fighters Cards, the Soviet to neutralize the German air strikes and the German to eliminate the Soviet fighter cover. The “Counterattack” is the most important card players have to learn to use. It allows you to activate in the middle of the enemy Action Phase, so you have in your hand a very powerful tool to disrupt enemy actions and intentions. The fourth type of card is the Combat Support Card that allows you to influence the combats in which your blocks are involved. Most Axis cards are used in the attack – including the use of 88 mm guns to suppress enemy bunkers and Goliath to blow up lanes through Soviet minefields – and most Soviet cards are useful only in defense (to place bunkers, minefields and AT positions). 

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

Francisco: Yes, of course. I have asked permission from the publisher and he, graciously, has allowed me to reproduce here non-final art card images.

This is an example of an Assault Card. You can see the faction symbol in the upper right hand corner of the card but can also tell the affiliation by the uniform worn by the soldier. Cards always have in their upper left hand corner a coloured label with a letter that indicates their type: “A” for Assault, “O” for Orders, “R” for Reactions and “C” for Combat Support. The cards do not contain text in order to make the game as fast playing as possible but icons to indicate the cards game effect. The game includes a Player Aid with all the explanations of the icons listed for ease of consultation.

You will notice that this next card has two labels shown on the card as it can be used either during the German Action Phase or during the Soviet Action Phase as a reaction. This card has two icons so the Axis player has to choose, when they play it, if they want to attack the blocks in a given area by rolling three dice or if they want to place an “interdiction” marker on a given area that will remain there until it is withdrawn and will attack each Soviet block that enters the area, either moving or retiring from combat. These type of dual use cards are less frequent in the deck but illustrate how cards can be beneficial depending upon the game state when they are drawn. Option are always a good thing and flexibility provides commanders with the ability to react.

This card is a Soviet Order card for “Redeployment”, that allows the Soviet player to activate the blocks in one area or all the blocks from one division plus any non-divisional blocks stacked with them to move up to 4 areas, but without entering any enemy-occupied area. This is a very valuable card to get your blocks where you need them to either defend of attack. Movement is always a key inhibitor to attack plans and this card is very important.

This is a Soviet Combat Support Card that allows a defending Soviet player to place one minefield counter and one AT counter in a given combat. The Combat Support Cards are played face-down before revealing the blocks involved in a given combat, with the attacker first. Then blocks and cards are revealed and their effects applied. If the Soviet player wins the combat the markers will remain in the area, if they lose they will be withdrawn from the map and can be reused later.

Grant: How does combat work in the design?

Francisco: As I said before, combat in this game implies movement: you have to play one Assault Card that allows your blocks to move and enter an enemy occupied area. Then combat is initiated.

If the active blocks – attacking – were activated as a division or were part of a Coordinated Assault from more than one division the combat can be resolved as soon as the moving player decides he is no longer going to commit more blocks to that combat. Even leaving other blocks to be moved after this combat is resolved. So combat, temporarily, halts a current activation during an Action Phase. 

Once initiated, players mark the area where it is taking place with the appropriate marker and move all the blocks and other counters and markers to the annexed battle board. Defending blocks are placed in the center of the battle board, in the places devoted to them. Attacking blocks must be placed grouped as they were in the areas from which they attacked, so there are several spaces for attacking blocks as they could come from different areas. Soviet markers and counters are placed into their appropriated spaces and Axis into their own. The Axis can have Armor and Pioneer counters and the Soviets can have Armor and Pioneer counters and Bunkers, Minefields and AT markers.

Then the attacking player plays face down all the desired Combat Support Cards, placing it in the appropriate place for his side, after this the defender plays his own CS cards. The attacking player cannot play more cards nor withdraw any after the defender has played their card/s. Once both sides have played their Combat Support Cards all blocks and cards are revealed and their effects applied. 

Now we begin to apply effects. Some of them can be: if the Soviets had or has placed a minefield marker and the Axis has a pioneer counter in the combat the Axis player can decide to risk their pioneers to withdraw the minefield from the combat, if the Soviets had or has placed a bunker marker and the Axis has played a 88 mm Combat Support Card the bunker is withdrawn from the battle, if any side has an armor counter in the combat and the other has a AT marker and/or an armor counter there is a possibility for the armor of suffering losses…

After all the effects from cards, counters and markers have been applied then you go to the combat resolution. Both sides will roll a number of dice based on the number of blocks they have in the combat, cards played, armor support, terrain where the combat is taking place and other modifiers and each die result of 5 or 6 inflicts one hit on the enemy. The side who inflicts more hits wins the combat. In case of ties the attacker wins except if the combat is taking place in an area with intact defender fortifications printed on it.

Also bunker markers and armor counters save hits for their own side. The winner is determined after discounting those saved hits. The first hit received must be assigned to the strongest block present in the combat and the rest can be distributed as the owner sees fit. Losing side must retreat one area from the area where the combat took place. If they must retreat to an area adjacent to other enemy blocks – that took no part in the combat – retreating blocks must suffer another hit, as they will be retreating through an enemy kill zone. If the attacker wins the combat and has more than three blocks in the area they must displace blocks to the areas from where they attacked till only three blocks remain in the combat area.  

Immediately the non phasing side can play a Counterattack Reaction Card.

Grant: What role does Exhaustion play and how does it negatively effect units? Why was this important to include?

Francisco: Exhaustion is an additional effect that hits inflicted on attacking blocks can have. Every hit achieved in combat by the defenders by rolling modified (there are modifiers to the combat dice rolls) 6’s must be applied to a different attacking block and this block will get “Exhaustion” status. The block will be put face down to show this status and it will be unable to attack again while in this status. Exhausted blocks can move and defend normally, but cannot attack. This reflects that due to the intensive nature of combat in this battle – like in trench warfare or urban operations – attacking units are exposed to more significant casualties – mainly leaders – and fatigue than defenders. As is demonstrated, combat units lose effectiveness due to losses on the attack before defenders, and this is what this rule reflects. Exhausted blocks are recovered if their owner declares they are going to rest in one of their Action Phases, actually doing nothing but discarding cards.

Grant: What different fortifications are included and how do they effect combat?

Francisco: There are several. Both sides have printed on map extensive fortifications, the Axis depict the trenches and works built for prosecuting the siege and the Soviet includes the permanent fortifications as well as the temporary works (earth and timber) they built to strengthen the concrete and steel emplacements. Those belts of fortifications have two main effects in combat: defenders win ties in combat resolution and add favorable die roll modifiers to defenders dice in combat. Also, they protect against aerial and artillery bombardment that only hits on a roll of 6, instead of the normal 5 or 6.

Soviets also have four “Fortresses/Batteries” printed on map to reflect the huge naval gun batteries that could be used also against land targets. They have several effects in the game: they allow the Soviet player to play their Naval Heavy Artillery card, in order to bombard Axis troops within 3 areas of any of those batteries. Also, the presence of an intact battery in an area alters the rule for taking control of areas. Axis troops cannot enter an area with an intact battery in it using a Redeployment Order Card, nor can they take control of the area till the battery is destroyed. Batteries can be destroyed by the use of the Axis Super Heavy Artillery card or by direct infantry assault. 

Soviets also could add markers to their defenses by using Combat Support Cards that allow them to deploy bunkers, minefields and AT positions. They will take part in the combat in which they are deployed and, if the Soviet defenders win, will remain on map adding their effects to subsequent combats. Bunkers save one hit to Soviet troops defending in their area, minefields add one additional hit to those suffered by Axis troops attacking in their area and AT positions allow Soviets to roll for inflicting hits on accompanying Axis armor.

The last printed on map defensive feature for the Soviets is the Antitank Ditches. They reflect deep and wide AT ditches that give the Soviets troops additional AT rolls against Axis armor that attacked their areas through those AT ditches.   

Grant: What special units are included on both sides of the conflict?

Francisco: As I said before both sides have “elite” units in the form of those blocks that can move 2 areas and attack. The Soviets have the Naval Brigades and the Axis the Romanian Mountain Divisions and the German 28th Jäeger Division. Also both sides have oversized units with 4 step strengths according to their quality (German 22nd, 50th and 28th Jäeger Divisions) or size (Soviet bBigades with four or more battalions). 

Some special units are not depicted as blocks but as counters or cards. The first is the German 300th Panzer Abteilung equipped with Pz-III (depicted as an armor support counter) and Goliath unmanned tracked mines used to demolish defenses and open lanes through minefields. Also the Axis side have cards to depict the use of 88 mm guns as “bunker busters”.

Both sides have support counters depicting armor and combat engineers. The Germans have four armor counters depicting the assorted Pz left behind by the 22nd Panzer Division when it was transferred and the Pz-III cited above and the three Sturmgeschützen Abteilung available to 11th German Army. The Soviets have the two battalions of T-26 that were serving inside the fortress. German pioneers are depicted as three support counters that allow Soviet minefields to be breached and Soviet pioneers reflect the flamethrower companies each Soviet rifle division contains, adding a die to the total in each combat they take part, risking their lives… 

Grant: What is the Ferry used for and why is it important to the game?

Francisco: The Ferry is a terrain feature printed on the mapboard to reflect the naval transit across Sevastopol estuary. Soviet troops were moved across it, usually by night to avoid air interdiction, and in the game there are some crossing arrows indicating where moving blocks go from where.

The Germans did a night crossing assault on June 30th so they could use the Ferry arrows to move and attack Soviet troops on the opposite shore. The Soviets can’t.

Grant: What are some of the strategy concepts players of each side must keep in mind?

Francisco: This is not a brief and violent battle. It will be dragged on. So, attrition and reserves are of capital importance. The German player has to conquer the fortress, or at least a number of VP to achieve victory. But they cannot do so in the first few turns, even if favored by the initial moves of the battle. There are too many Soviet troops inside the fortress to make a rapid breakthrough feasible. German troops that advance too fast into the depths of the Soviet defenses risk being cut off and annihilated by Soviet reserves. So, German players have to first grind the Soviet strength and then prepare their hand for a breakthrough and breakout that turns the battle into a mobile one, where they will excel their enemies.

Soviet players have to remind themselves that time is in their favor, so they have to make Germans pay dearly for each inch of ground they advance and they must use their troops to gain time and slow down the German advance. Troops do not give VP, only VP sites do, so be prepared to sacrifice troops to avoid German VP captures. And be prepared to lose a huge amount of troops in the process…

Grant: How is victory achieved?

Francisco: There are a total of 9 areas with VP flags printed on them. Initially all of them are under Soviet control. A total of 12 VP are at stake. Also the German player can sacrifice VP (up to 4) to enter reinforcements into play. The higher total wins the game. A draw is possible if both have the same amount at the end of play. In the unlikely case the Germans take control of all VP areas at the end of a turn they would win automatically. 

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

Francisco: Well, the game has been in development for more than five years, so it is finished and balanced. At the beginning there was a limit of cards you could play during your turn, as in Santa Cruz 1797, but it did not match the WWII pace of operations, so that limit was dropped. Both players had the same size of hand; this was also changed to better reflect their historical performance given the Germans have more things to do in the game as they are forced to take the initiative and attack a lot. Then came the balance issue, and we defined the Russian Morale Collapse rule to better reflect the way the Soviets defended the fortress and the way they were defeated, because after a prolonged resistance in the outer ring of fortifications the second half of the attack broke through the last defenses with relative ease.   

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

Francisco: I think I have reached my goal: extend the experience of Santa Cruz 1797 “Desperate Battle” to another context, era and type of warfare. I felt Santa Cruz 1797 core system could well reflect other “Desperate Battles” making tense, balanced games and good simulations of battles not too much represented on board games. You have already noticed I usually design games about not too many represented topics –ok, Stalingrad is already well represented…-, so I wanted to transfer the system to other battles.

I think the differences with Eighteenth Century urban night combat are very well represented: force structures, weapons present, tactics and organizations. I think the game is a good simulation of a WWII siege assault at the grand tactical level. Players must direct their troops, prepare the attacks and defenses by adding the needed forces and support and the tactical nuisances are below the level of resolution of the system, getting out of reach of players. They have to react continuously to a changing battlefield.

Grant: What has been the response of playtesters? How do they feel about the time period now?

Francisco: The game was very well received from the beginning and some of the lead testers are from the team of my own publishing company, Bellica Third Generation: Daniel Peña, Ramón López and my own son Alejandro Ronco. Some of the testers have been very loyal and faithful and have played the game for several years in a row, like Carlos Martín, from Málaga. 

The game is lengthier than Santa Cruz 1797 and has more troops present and more decisions to be taken, giving gameplay more depth and fun. Or at least so they say.

Grant: What other games are you currently working on?

Francisco: I am working on a new design for NAC WARGAMES also, for an intermediate game between Santa Cruz 1797 and Von Manstein’s Triumph called November Crisis, about the battle for the University Campus at Madrid in November 1936. Same core system but size and length between both games. 

With my own publishing company we are working on final development for An Impossible War, the new game from David Gómez Relloso – designer of Crusade & Revolution – about the First Carlist War in Spain, 1834-1838. And preparing for production of my Campaign Commander Vol IV: White Sea. About the era of Lepanto in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean, from 1565 to 1574.

Also I am working on the new Rick Young system Battle Command for GMT Games and studying how to “translate” my FAB: Dubno’41 into the new system once FAB was canceled by GMT.

And more projects in the pipeline…

Thank you so much for your time in answering our questions Francisco. I must say that I am keenly interested in this game and cannot wait to get it to the table.

If you are interested in Von Manstein’s Triumph you can preorder a copy from the NAC Wargames website at the following link: https://www.masqueoca.com/tienda/producto.asp?item=8693&tit=Von%20Mansteins%20Triumph