In July 2019, in the “Before Times”, I had the pleasure of meeting Keith Tracton at the World Boardgaming Championships in Pennsylvania. He was showing off his new game at the time World At War 85: Storming the Gap and it was a thing of beauty! Big counters, huge geomorphic maps, a dynamic activation and combat system, we really enjoyed our introduction to the game! Here is a link to a video interview with Keith from that time:

Since then, Keith and his design team have worked on the follow-up to the first game in Blood and Fury and it is now hitting crowdfunding on Gamefound. We reached out to Keith and he was more than willing to share details of the game.

If you are interested in World At War 85: Blood and Fury, you can order a copy from the Gamefound page at the following link:

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

Keith: I have been a gamer for almost 50 years, with my first game being Avalon Hill’s 1st Edition Anzio, while my second was Avalon Hill’s Tactics II. Currently I am an Information Technology geek who works for the Government. My hobbies include board wargaming of course (I leave the computer versions to those with better eyes), reading military history, making prototype games (leaving published components to the professionals!), and keeping the house technology running and updated!

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

Keith: Truly once I started gaming I started designing games. I did eventually self-publish a title back in 2006, a 257-page 3D Squadron Level Miniatures Space combat game called Firepower Pass (OK most of it was print and play components…). I had started a small company for it, Vizor Publishing, but eventually I closed it. I still design games in the sci-fi universe that was created for it, and am bringing the new designs back into the realm of board wargaming (and ground combat), especially since the advent of prototyping tools like ZunTzu, VASSAL, and Tabletop Simulator speeds up playtesting and play balancing.

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

Keith: Wow, so, so many. In relation to the World At War 85 Series, Jim Day has been a major influence (whether he knows it or not, LOL!). Certainly Hermann Luttmann and I share similar attitudes about how to engineer an evocative player experience in a quick-playing game system (if he doesn’t mind me saying so!). Tangentially to add to that answer, the games that have influenced me the most are: Panzerblitz, Panzer Leader, and The Arab-Israeli Wars; Avalon Hill’s Starship Troopers; the MBT Series of games; NATO; Tac Air…the list goes on. 🙂

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

Keith: Most challenging is getting across to players in the design, play, and designer notes what exactly is happening within a counter when your counters are engaging in combat and movement. In other words, getting across the scale of what I have designed, so that players understand the choices made in my attempt to give them the kind of experience to which they want to return.

What went and continues to go really well for me and my team IMO is play balancing our scenarios. As a quick explanation: playtesting to me is playing a new set of rules to find the holes. Once the rules are set though, play-balancing becomes the task: making each scenario fun to play by balancing the forces present in the scenario as best as possible bearing in mind the victory conditions. Most of our scenarios are reported to us as so tight that many times they go down to the last turn – and sometimes the last hex!

Grant: What “historical” event does World At War 85: Blood and Fury Expansion cover?

Keith: Fortunately the events in the Blood and Fury Expansion are not historical, LOL! And let me codify here that Blood and Fury expands the World At War 85 Series but is a standalone game. You need not have purchased Storming the Gap and it’s expansion to enjoy the 14 scenarios in Blood and Fury. But in answer to your question, the events of Storming the Gap portray the situation in the Fulda Gap when a hypothetical World War III begins, while here in Blood and Fury, players will experience battles farther north on the inner-German border, on the North German plain. The primary forces portrayed are the British, West Germans, a smattering of the United States, and of course the Soviets.

Grant: What did you want the title to convey about the game?

Keith: The title reflects to us the intensity of the engagements, and the cost thereof.

Grant: What was your inspiration for this design? What challenges did you have to overcome?

Keith: We are simply executing our plan for expanding the WaW85 Series and had a lot of player feedback that they would like to see the British in action next. Who doesn’t want to fight with a Squadron of Challengers…? 🙂

Fortunately a lot of the challenges we faced previously in terms of the shear volume of work have been mitigated now that the Core Rules are fully completed and “all” we had to do for Volume 2 here is develop the game itself. But we had proofing challenges in Volume 1 and we since have enlarged our team and regeared our proofing process to use more graphic elements for things like scenario setup, to make things easier to proof and less subject to typos. 

Grant: Who is your developer? What do they bring to the process?

Keith: Jeff Schulte, Nicolas Michon, and Susan Davis are my primary developers. They are sources of information on player feedback about what works and what needs tweaking. They’re all very active on social media and respond most times before I do to player queries on the internet and in the Lock ‘n Load Publishing forums. They are the primary drivers of new ideas for the scenarios and the testing thereof; new Companion (Module) and Scenario rules, while also consulting on rules subtleties with me as needed. As the series progresses they are unafraid to try out new concepts in the Scenario rules for a single scenario. If a scenario rule works and gets a warm and fuzzy reception, it may graduate to the Companion rule level or even become a new Core Rule. (Although we like to minimize the latter; the game works pretty well the way it is now in version 2.2!)

Grant: Who is your codesigner? What is the division of labor between you two?

Keith: For Blood and Fury Jeff Schulte and Nicolas Michon are both co-developers and co-designers. We have adopted a combined design development team structure that is working to accelerate our process and hopefully improve our product. So far so good!

Grant: For those that don’t know. What is the World At War 85 System? What is the design goal with the system and the setting?

Keith: The WaW85 Series is a fast and furious platoon-level combat system set in 1985, in an alternate history of World War III, when the Warsaw Pact armies storm across the border of East Germany in a powerful attempt to seize West Germany and the whole of Free Europe. The WaW85 System features a unique combat system that involves die rolls by both attacking units and defending units, which keeps both players engaged throughout the game.

Each planned standalone game will feature new nationalities of combatants in WWIII, so you only need to purchase the games you prefer. We hope to cover theatres of World War III from the United States mainland to Europe, the Middle East and the Near and Far East.

Grant: The focus of Blood and Fury seems to be on the Soviet 3rd Shock Army. What is this Army’s makeup and what are their goals in attacking northern West Germany?

Keith: AKA the Soviet 3rd Red Banner Combined Arms Army, and in our World At War 85 strategic storyline, it had four Tank Divisions in 1985 with powerful contingents of army-level support troops (attack and transport helicopters, pontoon engineers, Spetsnaz, SAM battalions, etc.), and its job was to cross Germany, breach the Weser River line, then continue to the Rhine and do the same. To the Soviet General Staff the terrain on the North German plain presented the best tank country in West Germany to that effect.

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

Keith: The individual pieces are platoons, batteries and flights, and sometimes sections. Each turn represents between 5 and 15 minutes of time, and the ground scale is 150 yards from side to side of each hex. The pieces are deployed in formations (groups), generally company-sized for NATO (3-6 units and attachments), but battalion-sized for the Soviets (10-12 units and attachments). Battles can range from Company versus Battalion to Battalion versus Regiment or larger in size. The largest published scenarios will feature upwards of a Soviet Division versus a NATO Brigade!

Grant: What does this standalone expansion to the series add to the game?

Keith: Again, it is an expansion to the series but a standalone game. Blood and Fury allows players to deploy the British, more West German (with some never before seen units) and a small contingent of United States units, along with enough units for a regimental size Soviet force. The British units introduced in the game are all new, but between the West Germans and the Soviets there are additional new units not yet seen in the series. The West Germans deploy airborne troops using Kraka TOW-2 vehicles, air-portable small vehicles that can fire anti-tank guided missiles; the Soviets will have new Pontoons to lay bridges, T-64s to supplement their T-80s, multiple types of tank-launched anti-tank guided missiles, and additional close air support assets like SU-24s.

Grant: What area of West Germany does the map cover? What strategic considerations does the situation present?

Keith: We use geomorphic maps to simulate different areas of the North German plain in West Germany in 1985. The Operation Red Gauntlet Expansion, planned as an add-on for the upcoming Gamefound crowdfunding campaign for Blood and Fury, will feature a giant 8-map playing area representing historical Minden and its environs, similar in concept and execution to the Defense of Frankfurt Expansion to the previous volume in the series, Storming the Gap, with its 8-map playing area of northwestern Frankfurt deep in the Fulda Gap.

The terrain was generally flatter in the North German plain than farther south along the inner-German border, but was still heavily forested. Players might find some longer lanes of Lines of Sight and fire than in Storming the Gap!

Grant: What new terrain types are introduced in the expansion? What challenges do they create?

Keith: In the main game of Blood and Fury no new terrain types are necessary. Built in the Operation Red Gauntlet Expansion and its Minden-area monster map setup, depicting a long stretch of the Weser River and its crossings there, (a major urban area) we have added: Tunnel hex sides and hexes; Light Industrial hexes; Major River hex sides; and Dense City hexes.

Light Industrial is obscuring terrain but with cover for vehicles. Dense City allows infantry to retreat from assaults with more impunity, while armor cannot employ its full firepower due to the restrictive nature of the streets in such terrain. Major rivers cannot be bridged by pontoons or tank-borne bridges nor crossed by amphibious vehicles without an actual bridge because the banks – likely 20 foot cement walls – are too high to allow that. And finally tunnels are an unusual terrain found near Minden by nature of the Mittellandkanal running nearby flowing OVER some roads (Google street view of this is amazing!).

Grant: The system features a unique combat system. What is unique about it? How does the system fit this future World War III?

Keith: The combat system keeps both attacker and defender engaged. Because at this scale (a group of vehicles/infantry versus another group) including the 5 to 15 minute turns, a set of attacking die rolls is a combination of the effectiveness of the attackers multiple attacks within the 5 to 15 minutes, and the defending rolls represent the defense against the same including suppressive fire. The range of results is exciting such that it “feels real”; players seem to find it very satisfying.

World War III would have featured some of the most potent combat systems made at the time, including top of the line technology for both sides, and enough troops for true combined arms combat. Blood and Fury – and the entire World At War 85 Series – support combined arms tactics.

Grant: I understand there is no combat results table. How does this work?

Keith: Very simply. The capabilities for attack and defense are expressed on each individual unit counter. So when one counter attacks another, the number of dice and the result on those dice that indicates a hit is scored is read off the counter. The defensive capabilities of the target are read off the defender’s counter. Both sides roll their respective number of dice. Comparing the outcome of the two sets of results yields how many hits the defender may save against (i.e. ignore), but any remaining hits affect the defender: to reiterate, Attacker potential hits scored minus defender hits saved equals final number of hits, if any. If the final number of hits is 1, the target is Disrupted; 2 means it is Disrupted and reduced; 3 means it is Eliminated outright.

Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters?

Keith: I think a graphic best displays the basic information, though there are variations to cover multiple weapon systems in 1985:

Grant: How does formation activation work? Why was chit pull your preferred system?

Keith: We use cards for our activations, drawing the top card from the formation deck, and that formation activates. We chose random activation but with NATO tending to have more cards than the Soviets per formation, which allows more effective NATO command to be simulated without any special rules. The cards also allow headquarters information to be more easily accessible on the table. Further we found we could change the identity and the quality (the Morale Training value, used for many game functions) of the same group of counters simply by changing their card.

Grant: How does the random turn length work? What is the trigger for moving to the next turn?

Keith: When drawing form the formation deck made up of formation cards, activations continue until the second End Operations Phase card is drawn. Any formation that did not go because the turn ended too soon is guaranteed to go the next turn.

Grant: How do players achieve victory in the game?

Keith: Each scenario has its own victory conditions. Typically it is exiting your units successfully past the enemy; or eliminating enemy units; or both. There are many variations!

Grant: What side has the harder time with achieving their victory conditions?

Keith: It’s split as to which side has the harder time, but players each express their own opinions! The Soviets have more forces but they are more awkward to move. NATO is more nimble but they have to be to handle the larger Soviet forces they typically engage.

Grant: What are some strategy considerations you would share for each side?

Keith: For both sides the key is isolating a portion of the enemy to deal with it first, rinse and repeat. Applying basic military maxims will help: always keep a reserve; don’t commit it until you can reconstitute it; and, most importantly, always remember the objective!

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

Keith: The overall flow of the game, its relative simplicity and moderate complexity conveying a complicated situation of many unit and weapon types in a comprehensible manner, and how the scenarios really seem to excite people to get it on the table.

Grant: What other designs are you mulling over?

Keith: Of course there are the upcoming titles in this series: We Shall Hold – introducing the Canadians, the Dutch and the Belgians; Never Give In, introducing the French; and America Breached, bringing the European War home to the United States.

Tangentially, I am working on a Squadron level operational air combat game set in the World At War 85 universe, covering the first few days of the war. Its working title is War In The Air 85.

And I am bringing my space combat universe setting (The World of Firepower Pass) into the ground combat hex-and-counter world with an epic science-fiction, Warhammer 40k-sized fortress city siege game, with a working title of Firepower Strike: The Siege of Midpoint Station.

As always Keith, we appreciate your time and for your fantastic work on this World At War 85 Series. Also, it was a great pleasure to meet you a few years ago at WBC and discuss gaming. I wish you luck in your endeavors with not only this game but your other upcoming games. I also want to endorse Jeff Shulte as an excellent person and we were very taken by his commitment to the system and the care by which he taught us the game.

If you are interested in World At War 85: Blood and Fury, you can order a copy from the Gamefound page at the following link: