A few months ago we were contacted by PHALANX about doing some coverage for one of their upcoming games in a run up to the launch of the Gamefound campaign. The game was called Bretwalda and the first thing that I saw was the amazing cover and with the focus on the Sutton Hoo helmet and the use of period appropriate art and graphics, I knew that this one was a game I just had to play and share with our faithful readers. I reached out to the designer named Leo Soloviey and he was more than willing to share about his first project.

If you are interested in Bretwalda, you can check out the draft Gamefound page at the following link: https://gamefound.com/projects/phalanx/bretwalda

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

Leo: I live in Poznań, Poland and I am 27 years old. I grew up in an artistic family and have always loved to create. For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in games and history, especially ancient and medieval. I am a building architect by education, I became a game architect by choice. On a daily basis, I deal mainly with graphics, I carry out various commissions. I spend about half of my time developing my own projects like Bretwalda.

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

Leo: After high school, with my friends, I created a modification of the iconic Game of Thrones 2nd Edition – a proposal for a 3rd Edition. Since then, I believed that I was able to offer something interesting in the gaming market. The most rewarding thing about this job is creating objects that bring joy to people.

Grant: What designers would you say have influenced your style?

Leo: Honestly, I don’t have any favourite designers, but rather favorite games. One of them is Shogun, I have a huge fondness for it. I also really appreciate simple and elegant strategic logic games such as Chess and Go. It’s also hard for me to talk about my style, Bretwalda is my debut, so my adventure as a “professional” game designer is just beginning. I think we will be able to talk about style in a few years.

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

Leo: The biggest challenge is to be open to change particularly in a game idea we have spent a lot of time and focus on implementing. The more we invest in an idea, the more difficult it is for us to give it up and this can slow down and hamper the design process.

I think that what I did best with Bretwalda is to create a coherent concept both artistically and mechanically.

Grant: What historical event does Bretwalda cover?

Leo: It is not about one specific event, but rather a period of history. The game begins in 796 AD, after the death of the mighty King Offa, the dominant king of Britain. Following this the political situation on the island enters a state of flux. The four largest kingdoms gear up to fight for the title of Bretwalda. It is also the time of the first Viking invasions of England .

Grant: I see where the tagline for the game is “A game of strategy, diplomacy and conquest set in Dark Ages Britain”. What should this tell players about the game’s focus?

Leo: Yes, this statement is a is a pretty good and concise description of what the game is and what it sets out to accomplish. To win, you need to choose a good strategy, negotiate efficiently with other players, and then choose the right time to launch your conquest of rival lands.

Grant: What was your inspiration for this game?

Leo: From childhood, the image of the Sutton Hoo helmet captured my imagination. I was interested in Anglo-Saxon culture, also thanks to my beloved Tolkien, who drew a lot of inspiration from it. I was also fascinated by the manuscripts from Lindisfarne and Kells for a long time. I decided to make the game after playing the computer game Thrones of Britannia Total War, which shows a bit of a later period.

Grant: What from the history of this period in English history did you want to make sure to include in the design?

Leo: I know that this is not the point of the question, but I wanted the whole game to feel like a historical artifact, as if it were made around 800 AD. It was the basic conceptual assumption of the project to write this story in the language of its time to allow players to experience this struggle for supremacy in Anglo-Saxon England.

When it comes to some historical facts, among the characteristic elements that could not be omitted from the design, of course, we have the Danes (Vikings), who sail to England every summer. This had to be a major part of the game and I didn’t want it simply to be tacked on to satisfy history but to be integrated and create a real challenge that caused players angst and forced them to have to plan for it every year.

Grant: What sources did you consult to get the historical background correct? What one source would you recommend as a must read?

Leo: My first source was Osprey’s Anglo-Saxon Thegn written by Mark Harrison, which is a very well done and researched source that was invaluable. Later, among others, the book Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War from the British Library helped out a lot in many areas, including the look and feel of the time and a focus on its art and writing styles. This helped to put me in the proper frame of mind and gave me loads of inspiration to be able to craft a thematic experience and feeling for the game. This was very important to me and I felt would really set the game up for success if I could accomplish that theme. Of course, the work would not be possible without Google. Access to thousands of sources at my finger tips made the research side of the game much simple. I did spend quite a bit of time on the map and research into the map itself took about 2 weeks.

Grant: What are the playable kingdoms in the game?

Leo: There are a total of four different and unique Anglo-Saxon kingdoms included in the game which are playable including Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria and East Anglia. These are more than likely names that most people are familiar with, even if they are not a student of the time period or history.

Grant: What is unique about the different kingdoms?

Leo: The Kingdoms differ in three aspects. First of all, they are obviously located in different areas on the map. Second, each kingdom has its own permanent, unique special rule that provides them with an advantage. Third, each kingdom has a set of its own unique historical rulers, each with a different ability. So the asymmetry of kingdoms is a combination of these three factors and makes for a very interesting experience in learning and playing the different kingdoms.

Grant: How do their leaders differ?

Leo: Rulers differ from each other in terms of their attributes (dice they use, health points, movement points) and special rules. Some of them, for example, are better suited to combat and some are more resource efficient. I took care to try to incorporate the history of each kingdom and their leaders into their game play. This was a very involved part of the design and playtest process.

Grant: What different units can players build? How do they differ?

Leo: Players can recruit four different types of units: Ealdormen (royal governors), Thegns (the warrior class of landowners), Ceorls (free peasants), and Ships. The Ealdorman is the elite, the strongest unit. The Thegns are the backbone of the army, and the Ceorls are cheap and abundant and are used to create mass on the board. Thanks to Ships, land units can quickly move to the other end of the island so no space is inaccessible.

Grant: How do battles work in the design?

Leo: The mechanics of battles are based on a combination of rolling unit-specific dice and playing Lordship Cards. A battle consists of two rounds, but after the first round has been played, one of the players may withdraw from the battle. These battles are not always decisive and a good leader will know when he is overmatched and try to get into a better situation later.

Grant: How are Lordship Cards used in battles?

Leo: Each Lordship Card offers a special effect, such as preventing the opponent from receiving a defense bonus from the city they occupy or preventing them from playing a Lordship Card against you. Additionally, cards can always be used to add an additional wound to an opponent. 

Grant: What different types of Lordship Cards are available?

Leo: Each Lordship Card is unique with a different effect. If I have to divide them into types, I would divide them into those that are used directly in battle and those that are used in other parts of the game, e.g. those that allow you to move units further or take the initiative in sequence.

Grant: What do players do to complete Chronicles? How do these help them attain victory?

Leo: To complete the chronicle is to perform some significant act that will go down in the annals of history. There are 16 such “missions” in the game, from capturing a certain number of cities to making a holy pilgrimage to Rome itself. Each player can complete two chronicles during the game. For completing the task, players receive permanent victory points, which they cannot lose.

Grant: How do players construct Abbeys? What benefit do they give players?

Leo: Players can build buildings by using the development action. Each abbey provides an additional gold collection (abbeys at that time were thriving enterprises) and represents 1/3 of a victory point – for each 3 abbey controlled, you receive one additional victory point.

Grant: What other buildings can players build and how do they help them achieve their goals?

Leo: There are three other types of buildings: Meadhalls, Granaries and Harbors. Meadhalls provide additional Lordship Cards when performing the Fyrd actions. Granaries produce more food. Harbors allow you to exchange resources with overseas countries.

Grant: What areas of England does the map cover? What key areas are depicted?

Leo: The map shows the area of modern England, Wales, the Isle of Man and a part of southern Scotland. It is the historic arena of the struggle for the title of Bretwalda between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Which areas will be crucial during the game depends on the distribution of victory points on the map (which can change), but if you ask about iconic locations, the map includes places such as: London (Lundenwic), Winchester (Wintanceaster) and York (Eoforwic).

Grant: What is the general Sequence of Play?

Leo: Nothing really fancy in the Sequence of Play. The players will follow this process each turn: Revealing the Season Cards —> Performing Actions —> Determining Priority

Grant: What actions do players have access to during their turn?

Leo: There are 4 actions in the game: the Development action (allows you to buy kingdom tiles and build buildings), the Collection action (allows you to collect taxes in the form of gold and food), the Fyrd action (allows you to recruit units) and the Movement action (allows you to move your units).

Grant: What Events happen during the different seasons?

Leo: There are 16 different seasonal cards, each with different events. For example, it could be a Wet Spring where unit movement will be difficult, or a Golden Autumn where players will be able to collect more gold. Additionally, there are events that always happen during a specific season. For example, In the summer the Danes come to the shores of England.

Grant: How are the Viking armies controlled?

Leo: In the summer there is an auction for influence among the Vikings. The player who wins it has some control over where the Vikings will land. This is a very interesting part of the design and creates some real struggle over control of the invaders.

Grant: How is victory achieved?

Leo: Players must score a certain number of Victory Points (called Dalcs). Depending on the number of players, the number of points needed to win the game varies.

Grant: What are some general strategy suggestions for players?

Leo: I can give you a piece of old Anglo-Saxon advice: The fuller the chalice, the more carefully it must be carried. The closer you are to victory, the more you will become the focus of attention of the other players, so the easiest way to win is by appearing to be weak.

Grant: Who is the artist for the project? How has their style helped with the integration of the theme into the game?

Leo: I am the designer of both the rules and the visual side of the game. As an architect, I believe I should be responsible for both the function and the form of my creation. The style is an imitation of a Celtic manuscript from the period of the game, so integration was not a problem. In fact, it really has set this game apart from others on the subject. The look and feel simply transport the players back to the time and help them all to get into their roles.

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

Leo: The game I showed the publisher back in 2020 was version 1.0. Phalanx then proposed version 2.0. By consensus, we finally developed version 3.0.

The biggest problem of the game after its release to the publishing house was the phenomenon of the linear development of kingdoms. By reducing the number of available actions per round and rebuilding the tile system, it was possible to get rid of this problem and obtain a better game.

The second major change was to the combat system. The original version of the system was a bit more elaborate, based on the wound table. It offered a bit more tactical choices during the fight, but at the same time unnecessarily burdened the brain. We decided that we needed something simpler and more accessible, that’s how the idea of dedicated dice with symbols of swords and shields was born.

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

Leo: It is difficult for me to name one or two specific mechanisms. I think I’m most pleased that they are all compatible with each other and make for a really good, exciting game.

Grant: What other designs are you mulling over?

Leo: I have 16 more or less advanced projects in my head. I would like to design one game a year, ultimately creating a whole series of historical area control games. After the Bretwalda campaign, I will decide which of the projects I will focus on next.

Thank you for your time in answering our questions Leo. We are really looking forward to this game and we have a prototype copy that we will be playing a 4-player game soon and doing a preview video.

If you are interested in Bretwalda, you can check out the draft Gamefound page at the following link: https://gamefound.com/projects/phalanx/bretwalda