About a week ago, I came across an interesting looking tactical level game on Kickstarter called Iron Thunder that takes a look at small scale battles from World War II. The game uses miniatures to represent the units and they look really great on the board. I thought you might be interested in the game so I reached out to Juan Bolsi to see if he could give us some insight into the game and how it plays.

If you are interested in Iron Thunder, you can check out the Kickstarter page for more information: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/chiswick-games/iron-thunder

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

Juan: I was born in Uruguay, but have been living in London since 2010. The activities I enjoy the most are seeing friends, training at the gym, reading and watching history content, mostly about WWII.

I also love playing video games! My all time favourites are XCOM: UFO Defense, XCOM: Terror from the Deep, the Fallout Series, Horizon Zero Dawn, Starcraft, Divinity: Original Sin II, Planescape: Torment and Phoenix Point.

My day job is/was as a QA Analyst, testing software. I’ve been working on Iron Thunder for 3 and a half years; the last year exclusively on it!

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

Juan: Games have been a passion of mine since I was a child. We used to create our own games together with my dad. I’ve always had projects and ideas, but never the means to evolve them into a finished product. Then COVID came and, thankfully, found me with the time and financial means to finally give it a shot. It’s been an incredible journey and I really enjoy the variety of tasks involved in a boardgame! 

From designing the rules, to creating prototypes to test concepts, then showing them to players and gathering feedback, making changes, learning about manufacturing techniques and then adjusting the designs… It’s really challenging work but I love it!

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

Juan: They are video game rather than boardgame designers, but my absolute heroes in the field are Julian and Nick Gollop, the creators of XCOM: UFO Defense.

I think the mechanics of the game were well ahead of its time!

Grant: What historical period does Iron Thunder cover? 

Juan: Iron Thunder is based in WWII, but it’s not a historical game. The game doesn’t cover a specific battle but takes various tactical situations and puts a game around them. These situations are all unique and utilize the various abilities and strengths of the different units.

Grant: What was your design goal with the game?

Juan: I wanted to create a game for players to enjoy, with lots of tactical depth, that was easy to learn but dynamic to play.

Each turn presents lots of possible options and, because of the amount of variable factors involved, there is no ’silver bullet’ strategy. Players will be able to explore the situations and look for various strategies that work well. A good player is one who can adapt to how the battle unfolds and react accordingly!

Grant: What type of research did you do to get the details correct?

Juan: History books, documentaries and podcasts were the main source of information.

Tanks are complex machines with a long list of technical specifications. Think weight, fuel consumption, range, gun caliber, gun elevation and depression angles, firing range, optics, armour thickness, armour inclination, power to weight ratio, ground pressure, etc.

There are also other ‘soft’ aspects to consider when evaluating the effectiveness of each individual tank, such as command and control, maintenance level, the crew’s training and experience and military doctrines.

A huge design challenge was to capture a tank’s essence and present it to players in a way that’s simple and easy to understand.

Grant: What do you believe is innovative with your design?

Juan: I’ll try to highlight the main features that make Iron Thunder unique.

1 – Iron Thunder has 3 intertwined layers; strategy, tactics and economy.

Strategy involves setting up your units, choosing the battleground to your advantage and pursuing a victory condition.

Tactics concern what units you issue orders to and how those orders are executed.

Economy is what keeps your war machine running.

There’s a fine balance between those layers and I feel this creates a unique atmosphere where every decision has short, medium and long term consequences.

2 – The grid is made of octagons and squares.

This enables tanks to face and aim on 8 possible directions and allows the implementation of different rules for movement and attack range for tanks an infantry, while keeping rules intuitive.

3 – Tanks consume fuel to move and shells to fire.

This is an aspect that adds lots of depth and is rarely present in miniature wargames or skirmish games.

The implementation is intuitive and reflects the notion of goods being spent when actions are performed.

4 – Innovative experience system.

Tanks gain XP when destroying enemy units. This is represented in the tank boards.

Attack dice have one face with one star, 2 faces with 2 stars and 3 faces with 3 stars.

When a tanks rolls a face with the same amount of stars or less than the XP value, the damage is increased by 1 (sometimes turning misses into hits).

For example, a tank with no XP misses 3 out of 12 times, whereas a tank with 3 XP misses just 1 out of 12.

5 – Iron Thunder is not scenario based.

Each player sets their side of the board, choosing the location of their HQ, buildings, terrain features and deciding how to deploy their army.

This aspect, together with the weather, cards and different possible attack outcomes guarantee that each battle is a unique experience.

6 – Infantry units are extremely relevant, a fact that is often overlooked by new players.

Unlike tanks, they can move to or through most terrain features, can capture buildings and don’t require shells to attack or fuel to move

While slow and weak compared with tanks, Infantry can be grouped in formations of up to 3 units, making them extremely effective. The drawback of formations is that a tank can potentially destroy them with a single shot, making them a valuable target.

7 – Weather has a strong effect on operations and logistics and sometimes is the cause of tough decisions.

As I mentioned before, tanks carry shells and fuel and can get resupplied during a special resupply turn.

If the weather is bad, tanks cannot get resupplied and have to carry on with whatever resources they have left.

Also, when a tank is destroyed, all its resources are lost.

This poses an interesting challenge. Add too many resources to a tank and you might risk losing them; add too little and you risk the tank becoming virtually useless.

Grant: How do players have to manage fuel and things like ammunition? What type of experience does this create?

Juan: Players have a resupply board where they can call for reinforcements and produce goods, amongst other things.

This is also where they keep their stash of shells and fuel.

Fuel can be produced straight from occupied buildings or by spending Command Points; shells can only be produced by spending Command Points.

Having to manage this economy layer creates the feeling that there are several different possibilities but never enough resources to do everything you would like to.

This translates into an immersive experience where everything you do matters and has very real consequences further down the line!

Grant: The player also must manage resources. How much of the game is about management of economic factors? What did you want players to experience from this?

Juan: Economy is quite simple but is also deeply connected to tactics and strategy.

While you need to keep your economy running, you also know that your opponent is in the same position.

A viable strategy is to try to capture or destroy buildings occupied by the enemy in order to grind their war machine to a halt.

An opponent who can’t move or attack with tanks or call for reinforcements has limited options!

Grant: What are Command Points and how are they used?

Juan: Command Points are a mixture in between industrial and strategic capacities.

This combination of two aspects into one comes from the design philosophy previously mentioned.

Command Points can only be generated by occupying towns or factories and they are used to call reinforcements, produce goods or play cards.

Tanks have ’tank boards’ where players keep track of their corresponding attributes.

Infantry have no side boards because their attributes are much simpler. They have 2 Action Points and 1 Hit Point (meaning that they are unable to withstand damage, saving some special circumstances)

Grant: What makes up the playing surface? How are terrain tiles used? 

Juan: The main battle board has a grid where HQ’s, terrain features, buildings and units are placed.

There are 2 sides for the board; summer and winter. Each side has different choices for terrain features and the weather mechanics are different.

An example of a typical setup:

Some examples of terrain features:

Grant: What phases are included in the game?

Juan: The game is divided into phases. Each phase is a group of turns.


At the start, each player sets their half of the board.

Start of Phase 1:

– Players roll for initiative

– Whoever got the highest result rolls the weather die. The result of this roll is a number between 3 and 6. 3 is bad weather, 6 is extremely favourable weather and 4 represents normal weather, which is the most common result.

– Each player grabs as many flags as indicated by the weather.

– Turn 1 – Player A selects a unit, uses its Action Points to execute orders (like moving or attacking) and then places a flag next to it. Then Player B does the same.

– Turn 2 – Player A selects any unit BUT the one that has a flag next to it and uses its AP to execute orders. Then Player B does the same.

– The process is repeated until both players run out of flags.

– This triggers the resupply turn, where players gather resources from buildings they occupy, resupply their tanks and start producing goods or calling reinforcements. Goods and reinforcements are not produced instantly; players will have access to them in the following resupply turn.

End of Phase 1.

Then Phase 2 starts, and the process is repeated.

This goes on until a player reaches a victory condition.

Grant: I understand the game uses miniatures. How does this effect the game play experience?

Juan: Minis play a big part, as tanks can rotate the turret independently from the hull and only move in the direction they are facing and fire in the direction they are aiming.

They also have different armour values on different sections of the hull, so facing enemies with high damage potential is quite important!

Grant: Can we see some examples of the units?

Juan: Some unit examples (painted and unpainted):

Grant: How does combat work in the design?

Juan: Combat is really simple.

Each unit type has rolls a specific attack die. Damage equals attack roll result minus target’s armour value.

The target unit loses as many hit points as damage it receives. If it has less than 1 hit point left, the unit is destroyed.

In the case of Infantry formations, each unit can perform an attack but each attack is resolved independently (they don’t stack). Then the damage is added up.

For example, a formation of 3 Infantry attacks a tank with armour value 1. 

Infantry A rolls ‘1’, Infantry B rolls ‘1’ and Infantry C rolls ‘2’ —> Damage of Infantry A = 1-1=0, Damage of Infantry B = 1-1=0, Damage of Infantry C = 2-1=1

Total damage = 1

If a tank attacks a formation, the formation loses as many units as damage it receives.

Grant: How does the game use cards?

Juan: Cards enable players to perform special actions that they would normally not be able to.

When used at the right time, they can turn the tide of battle!

Grant: Can you show us a few examples of these cards and tell us how they are best used?

Juan: Some examples of cards:

Some examples of cards being used (no explanation but I think the picture gives the sort of context where they can be used):

Grant: What scenarios are included in the game? What is the average playtime?

Juan: Iron Thunder is not scenario based.

Play time depends on the game mode and player’s experience, but usually ranges in between 30 to 90 minutes.

The main game modes are Blitz (no buildings, no resource management and no cards, ideal to learn the basics of quick battles), Realistic (all rules apply) and Attrition (like realistic but limited to an agreed number of phases, if there’s no winner by the end of the last phase, players count points)

There is an additional game mode where players have to control parts of the map, but it’s only included in the Extended Version.

Grant: Generally how is victory determined?

Juan: The main victory conditions are; destroying the enemy HQ, occupying the enemy HQ for as many turns as hit points it has left, destroying all enemy tanks or destroying enemy units so that there are less than 6 left.

In Attrition mode, points are given by buildings occupied, units on the board and resources possessed.

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

Juan: I love how all the design elements link together to create a unique experience.

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

Juan: The game has been played by over 100 people and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

One of the aspects that is difficult to surmount from a marketing perspective is that, at a glance, the game looks similar to other games in the market.

After playing, the consensus seems to be that the experience is enjoyable and unique.

When it comes to the time period, ideology and controversial symbols are not in the game. It does not provide an account of what happened or why, but hopefully motivates people to dig into history so that we can all learn from it.

Grant: What stretch goals are included in the Kickstarter campaign?

Juan: Most of the stretch goals are Special Infantry, such as Medics, Combat Engineers, Officers, Resistance Fighters, Airborne Infantry, Anti-Tank Infantry, Snipers, Special Forces and Flamethrowers, each with their own different capabilities that have a strong effect on gameplay.

Thanks for your time in answering our questions Juan. I think that the game looks very interesting and really like the concepts that you are trying to model here. We wish you luck in the campaign.

If you are interested in Iron Thunder, you can order a copy on the Kickstarter page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/chiswick-games/iron-thunder