A few months ago, I was contacted by Tim Densham over at Catastrophe Games about an upcoming Kickstarter they were planning for a cool little solitaire WWII card-driven game where the player attempts to breach the Soviet defenses on the East Front in the pivotal German summer campaign of 1942 named Campaign: Fall Blau. Tim sent me a prototype copy of the game, which I have played multiple times and shot a video preview for their campaign. The game is simple, but has some strategic depth to it as the player has to make a lot of choices about what to go after, how to manage their scarce resources (fuel) and what generals to use to take advantage of their special abilities to amass enough VP to claim victory over the Soviet Union. I reached out to the designer Martin Melbardis to get his thoughts on the game design process and he was more than willing to share.

If you are interested in Campaign: Fall Blau, you can check out the Kickstarter campaign at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/campaign-fall-blau/campaign-fall-blau

* Please keep in mind that the pictures of cards, components and the playing surface used in this interview are all draft prototype copy and not final art or layout.

Grant: First off Martin please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies?  

Martin: I’m never good at describing myself, but here goes. I’m from the French speaking part of Canada. I’ve always dreamed of designing games since I was a child. Spent a large portion of my youth and not to mention a small fortune playing tabletop miniature wargames like Warhammer and 40K. I’m also a huge history buff and spend a lot of time reading as well as watching documentaries. On the board game front, I started with Axis and Allies, Risk, and a few others when I was younger, but this was eventually replaced with the emergence of video games. After discovering Board Game Geek a few years ago, my passion for board games returned, and I have since decided to pair it with my love of designing games. 

Grant: What’s your day job? 

Martin: My previous job was working for a pharmaceutical company for 13 years, which had become unstable due to the pandemic and so I decided to take this opportunity and return to school. I am currently studying Marketing for social media in college. 

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

Martin: I honestly always had the passion for it, but like many others, I decided to go for stability with a 9 to 5 job. However, I never let the dream go completely and continued to write ideas down and began to learn Photoshop in my spare time as well. I’m a very visual person and so for me to design games, it was important to be able to provide decent art for a game project without breaking the bank. The real turning point for me was the pandemic because I found myself with a lot of free time and I began gaining experience with graphic design. Being able to provide my own art for projects really helps motivate me with game designs. I really enjoy the ability to unleash my creative side when designing games the most from the experience. Having people appreciate your games and interacting with them or even fellow designers has also been a great experience and motivator to continue.  

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

Martin: While I’m still developing my style, I would say probably Eric Lang and Larry Harris. Growing up, Axis and Allies had such a profound influence on my love of turn based strategy games. More recently, Eric Lang has probably been one of my favorite designers with his ability to balance Euro with Ameritrash style. 

Grant: What historical period does Campaign: Fall Blau cover?  

Martin: Campaign: Fall Blau takes place in WWII and simulates the German summer offensive on the Eastern front during 1942 code named Fall Blau. This campaign was most likely the most important campaign of the entire war. 

Grant: What was your design goal with the game?

Martin: My design goal was to create a light/medium solitaire wargame that would historically portray the problems facing the German offensive such as time and logistics, without adding too many layers of complexity. 

Grant: As a solo game, what type of experience does the game create? 

Martin: As a solo game, I really wanted to force tough decisions on the player and then give them the feeling of a constant race against the clock in the game to be the primary experiences. I also wanted the game to be relatively simple yet have some depth. The game is quick playing, rolls lots of dice but has some real depth to it as there are plenty of choices to be made. There are also lots of additional/optional rules that can be added to increase the difficulty.

Grant: What is the goal of the player?  

Martin: The goal of the player is to defeat and capture Campaign Cards to amass enough Victory Points for either earn a victory or even better, a brilliant victory. This means capturing either Stalingrad or the oil-rich regions of the Soviet Union or a combination of both.

Grant: How does the player go about choosing and managing their Generals? 

Martin: Inspired from dungeon-crawlers and MOBA’s, I wanted the player to be able to choose from several Generals before each game. This allows players to adjust their playing style or strategy as each general brings something unique to the table. There are two types of Generals. 1) Generals who lead Panzer armies, which, while they hit harder and can advance faster, they have less manpower. 2) Generals who lead regular infantry-based armies, which move slower but have much more manpower. These differences make Panzer armies a sort of hammer compared to regular armies being the anvil and finding the right balance is up to the players. 

Grant: What unique abilities do the different Generals possess? 

Martin: Each General usually has two special abilities each that make them unique. For instance, General Paulus was a very good staff officer before being given command of the 6th Army and so one of his abilities is Logistical Wizard which grants the Germans extra supplies. Another example is Panzer Generals such as Von Kleist and Hoth, who gain the Panzertruppen ability. This means when attacking, any 6’s rolled are exploding and result in two destroyed soviet units, instead of one.   

Grant: What type of events does the Event Deck contain? 

Martin: Most events are beneficial and introduce formations such as pioneers, 3rd Panzer Division or Hungarian allies temporarily to help when attacking or alternatively to use as resources such as supplies or extra manpower. Other examples are the Blitzkrieg Event Card which allows the player to ready any exhausted General. These Event Cards are drawn and can be held in the player’s hand or played to the Frontline during their turn. The player can never have more than 5 of these Event Cards in hand so they have to use them or they will have to start discarding cards.

Grant: What are the different type of Soviet effects included in the Event Deck? 

Martin: A smaller portion of Event Cards will make things harder for the player such as Soviet Generals, who stay in play the entire game, such as Zhukov or Chuikov and grant bonuses to the Soviets as they counter-attack. There are also a few Soviet counter-attack Event Cards that can really cause the player a nasty surprise. Some of the Hard Mode Event Cards are really nasty as they can cause the player to have to exhaust their Generals at the start of the turn before they can use them. These are only included in the game when playing Hard Mode though.

Grant: What Actions/Orders are available to the player?  

Martin: There are three principal Actions/Orders for the player to use on each General. The Advance Order costs supplies and brings Campaign Cards to the Frontline (the battle mat) and this Order costs Supplies. The Attack Order allows the player to try and capture a Campaign Card on the Frontline and also costs Supplies. Finally, the Consolidate Order allows the player to regain manpower and Supplies but doesn’t cost Supplies. Once an order is given to a General, that General becomes exhausted and cannot be given any other orders that turn. 

Grant: How do they manage their Supplies? How can they obtain additional fuel?   

Martin: As mentioned before, Advancing and Attacking costs the player Supplies and the further the Germans advance south, generally the more it costs. Supplies are a very important factor in the game and managing them wisely is at the heart of the game. The player must always decide when to best Consolidate to gain extra Supplies. Another way to gain Supplies is through the Event Deck however this is usually at the cost of the Event on the card helping by adding dice for attacks. The last way to obtain extra Supplies is through a General’s special ability, such as Logistical Wizard. 

Grant: How do they manage to defeat the various Campaign Cards? 

Martin: To defeat a Campaign Card on the Frontline, the player must use an Attack Order on a General that is directly facing the card (or even adjacent to it with a penalty). To Attack, the player rolls a number of dice equal to the General’s cubes (manpower) in order to try and destroy all the red cubes (Soviet units) on the Campaign Card. If the Attack is successful and no more red cubes remain on the Campaign Card, the player captures that Campaign Card and adds its value to the Victory Point total. 

Grant: How do the Soviet forces fight back? 

Martin: There are several ways in which the Soviets fight back. Firstly, whenever the player uses an Attack Order, any 1’s rolled in the Attack results in the General losing a cube. Secondly, any Campaign Cards left and not captured on the Frontline at the end of the turn launch local counter-attacks and target the General directly in front of the card. Finally, several Event Cards allow the Soviets to launch major counter-attacks that act much like Campaign Cards and stay in play. 

Grant: What impediment do the Mountain and Fortress symbols add to Campaign Cards? 

Martin: The Mountain and Fortress symbols represent mountainous terrain in Southern Russia and fortified cities such as Stalingrad. The symbols make attacking these Campaign Cards harder by adding a negative modifier to any Attack dice directed at these cards. This means not only is it harder to destroy Soviet cubes, but also makes it more risky and easier to lose German cubes. 

Grant: What strategy should the player use to do well? 

Martin: The game offers several ways to implement strategies. From the initial choice of three Generals to fit your playstyle to the decision whether to concentrate on Stalingrad or focus on the southern advance. I honestly haven’t found the best strategy yet hahaha but I would recommend having at least one Panzer General for the ability to bring two Campaign Cards to the Frontline with a single Advance Order. Having at least one ‘anvil’, a General with lots of cubes and a defensive bonus or Fortress Buster is great for Stalingrad. Also, I find that having a General that can help mitigate the Event Card draws is extremely useful. I generally prefer to advance on both Stalingrad and southern Russia and not focus too much on one axis of advance. 

Grant: What different options are built in to make the game more of a challenge?  

Martin: We have decided to include a Hard Mode which alters the difficulty of the game by simply adding four additional Events Cards to the Event Deck. These four cards are naturally very negative Events and will make the campaign much more difficult for players. Things such as massive traffic jams between two armies, Soviet reinforcements and the German high command relieving and replacing one of the players’ Generals. 

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

Martin: I was very pleased about the tough decisions forced on to the player by the game design. Everything from should “I risk an attack now or play it safe and consolidate?” “Do I use this Event Card for Supplies or to help in the next Attack?” The race against time and the need to manage Supplies are a great combination and really add to the historical realities of the campaign. Players find themselves weighing the risks of each potential order.  

Grant: What has been the response of playtesters? 

Martin: The response was very positive from the beginning which really encouraged me. The playtesters were super enthusiastic and offered a lot of helpful suggestions and I was also very impressed by some of the customization of their game builds! 

Grant: What other designs are you currently working on? 

Martin: I’m currently working on the next campaign in this series called Campaign: Bagration, which will cover the destruction of Army Group Center in 1944. This time the player will control the Soviet forces. I am also trying my luck at Roll & Write games and have designed one that covers the Napoleonic Wars.

Thanks for your time in answering our questions Martin. The game is very good, as I said I have played multiple times, and frankly interesting and engaging. Lots of dice rolling, but there are decisions even with how to manage those dice from re-roll options to playing Event Cards to add dice or even change dice, the game is not just a mindless dice masher and I like that.

If you are interested in Campaign: Fall Blau, you can check out the Kickstarter campaign at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/campaign-fall-blau/campaign-fall-blau