About a month ago, I was contacted by a friend of the designer for a new game covering the battles fought at Gallipoli during World War I. They were very excited about the game and encouraged me to reach out to the designer Kieran Oakley to discuss the game. I had some limited experience with Kieran on Facebook and he has always seemed like a really great guy so I contacted him and he was more than happy to talk with us about Assault on Gallipoli from Gecko Games.

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

Kieran: I work for a Spanish Railway Company that builds public transport systems all around the world. I work in communications and stakeholder management, not engineering, so basically my job is to liaise with government and local businesses and write construction notifications, etc. I really enjoy working on public transport projects because they have the power to transform cities and make suburbs more livable. It’s kind of the opposite of building new roads, which rapidly get clogged up and only add to people’s frustration. Whenever new train or tram lines are built, the value of properties in the area always goes up because people want to live there. In other words, we are trying to make Sydney more like Melbourne or a European city rather than like Los Angeles!

I have always been fascinated by military history – especially the evolution of weapons and tactics, the effect that charismatic leaders like Alexander the Great and Napoleon have on people, the rise and fall of empires.

I was lucky to be a teenager in the 1980’s when there were so many great board games around. I started out playing Dungeons & Dragons, and then moved on to Squad Leader, Up Front and Storm Over Arnhem. Every week my brother and I used to take a bus into the city to visit the hobby store and see what new Avalon Hill games were on the shelves. I was also really into reading history books and went to Sydney University to become a high school history teacher. However, I never actually worked as a teacher and like a lot of Aussies, I moved to London and worked in the publishing industry.

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

Kieran: I’ve always been interested in game design. The first thing I do when I get a new game is to read the designer’s notes. The great thing about wargames is just how immersive and compelling they can be. The best wargames put you in the shoes of the commander on the front line, and you are constantly making difficult decisions.

For example, when playing Squad Leader, how do you get your troops across the road and into the safety of a stone building without them getting killed by the enemy sniper on the roof? Should you shoot the sniper first and give away your own position? Or do you wait for reinforcements to arrive? Do you move now when you have the element of surprise or wait till you have more men?

Like James F. Dunnigan said, “wargames are like paper time machines”, and his game PanzerBlitz, is a brilliant game and sold over 300,000 copies, so he knows what he is talking about. Unfortunately, most people don’t want “paper time machines” anymore, they want digital time machines, so they play video games.

Military history is very unfashionable now, too. In a lot of high schools, it is no longer taught at all. Students study the cause of war but not the course of war. That means they are missing out on so many amazing stories of bravery and survival. Stories of ordinary people being put into extraordinary situations. Everyone should read All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer.

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

Kieran: I’ve already mentioned James F. Dunnigan, the father of wargaming – who has influenced pretty much every wargame ever made. But my personal favourite designers are John Hill (Squad Leader), Courtney F. Allen (Up Front, Storm Over Arnhem), Mark Simonitch (Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage), Richard Borg (Commands and Colors Napoleonics) and Uwe Eickert (Conflict of Heroes). Their games take pride of place in my collection.

Grant: What historical period does Assault on Gallipoli cover?

Kieran: It’s an area control wargame that covers the key battles of the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915. It focuses on the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) sector of the campaign, so it doesn’t cover the landings that occurred further south at Cape Helles.

Most WWI wargames are high level games that don’t really deal with the strategies and tactics used in the actual battles of the period. They are typically very abstract.

I wanted to make a game that showed the gritty details of the period: the desperate bayonet charges, the constant threat of being shot by a sniper, the rugged terrain, the arrogant, aristocratic generals whose terrible decisions led to their men being slaughtered.

Grant: Who is your design partner on this effort? How did you divide up the process?

Kieran: My main design partner is Russell Lowke, who is a brilliant computer game programmer and app developer. He brought a very strong mathematical rigour to the game. Wargames are after all, essentially mathematical equations. For example, how much firepower should a unit have? Which units should have better morale than others? How do you model the casualty rates of a WWI battle realistically. etc. He also came up with the idea of using cards to resolve close combat and using 10-sided dice instead of 6-sided dice to resolve fire combat.

Towards the end of the game design process, an old friend helped by editing the rules and designing the Tabletop Simulator and Vassal modules for the game. He’s helped on many other game projects and goes by the name of the Happy Wanderer.

Grant: What was your inspiration for this game? Why did you feel drawn to the subject?

Kieran: The Gallipoli campaign holds a unique fascination for Australians and New Zealanders. The day of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli, 25 April 1915, is celebrated every year as a national holiday when we remember all the men and women who have given their lives in the service of their country.

But most Australians and New Zealanders have largely forgotten the details of the campaign and know very little if anything about it. Their only reference point is the 1981 movie ‘Gallipoli’, with Mel Gibson, which is an excellent movie, but it only deals with one very small part of the whole campaign – the Battle of the Nek.

So I wanted to make a game about the broader campaign. A game that would be easy to play, especially for non-wargamers. I wanted to include all the key commanders and personalities, like Colonel Kemal, who became the first President of the modern Turkish Republic, and Colonel Monash, the German Jewish engineer who became Australia’s most famous general. I wanted to make a game that would show how the ANZAC legend was born.

The men of that generation were a tough bunch. They had to land on a foreign beach in the dark, carrying 20 kilos of equipment up the steep cliffs and ridges above ANZAC Cove. They were constantly under fire from the Turks above them.

They had to watch their mates get killed and wounded right next to them. They had to run headlong into machine gun fire. Yet they pushed on and almost made it to the heights of Chunuk Bair. If not for the inspiring leadership of the Turkish commanders Colonel Kemal and Lt. Colonel Sefik, they may well have succeeded in capturing the Gallipoli Peninsula.

Grant: What was your design goal with the game?

Kieran: I wanted to make the game as playable as possible. I didn’t want to make a tedious simulation of the campaign designed to satisfy historians. I wanted to make a game that was easy to play so that anyone could learn it and enjoy it.

We even put some wooden cubes in the game to try and tempt Eurogamers – the kind of gamers who love their worker placement wooden blocks and meeples! They do however serve a useful purpose of fitting neatly into some of the smaller areas of the map.

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

Kieran: We spent two years researching, developing and play testing the game, so it really has been a labour of love.

For a good 12 months I read nothing but books about the Gallipoli campaign. I watched movies about it, TV series, documentaries and Youtube videos. It drove my wife crazy, but I had been bitten by the ‘Gallipoli bug’ and I couldn’t stop.

One of the interesting aspects of the campaign is that there are so many variables and ‘what-ifs’. For example, what if Colonel Kemal had been killed on the first day of the landing, would his troops have retreated instead of standing and fighting? What if the ANZAC’s had pushed inland instead of digging in on the day after the landing?

The map was the hardest part to get right. The terrain is basically a maze of badly eroded hills and gullies, so it was very difficult to get right. It took me almost 20 versions of the map before I was happy with it.

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

Kieran: In the game, each turn represents one day, units represent battalions, companies and individual ships. Players take it in turn activating groups of units in an area. Once they are activated to move, fire or dig a trench, the units are flipped over to their Exhausted side. At the beginning of each new turn they are flipped back to their Fresh side.

There is nothing new about the mechanics, but they are easy to learn, and players will pick them up very quickly.

Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters?

Kieran: Units have four attributes displayed across the top of each counter: Firepower Factor (in white), Range (in a smaller number), Strength Factor (in red), and Movement Factor (in a blue box). Across the bottom is a flag showing the Unit’s nationality and the Unit’s name. The example here shows the Australian 14th Battalion from Victoria.

The Firepower Factor represents the amount of fire a Unit can bring to bear in both Fire Combat and Close Combat. The owning player will throw one 10-sided die (1D10) for each Firepower Factor when trying to hit a target. A leader applies a to-hit modifier as shown on his counter.

Range is the distance in areas that a Unit can reach with their fire; Strength Factor represents both the Unit’s size and morale. The Strength Factor is the number of Damage Points or ‘hits’ that a Unit can take before it is eliminated. The Movement Factor (MF) is the number of areas that the Unit can move into each turn.

Grant: What are the various markers used in the game?

Kieran: There are six types of Markers: Shallow Trenches, Deep Trenches, Wire, Morale Advantage Marker, Killing Time Track Marker and Game Turn Marker.

Grant: What different states can units be in? How do these effect their combat effectiveness?

Kieran: All Units have two sides: Fresh and Exhausted. Fresh Units are at full strength. Exhausted Units have a reduced strength. After you’ve activated a Unit to fire, move, or dig a trench, you flip it over to its Exhausted side and its turn ends. Units that are Exhausted have a white triangle in the upper right-hand corner of the counter.

Grant: What is the Turn Sequence for the game?

Kieran: The game is played over a series of Turns. As mentioned, each Turn represents approximately one day and is played in the following order:

  • Players flip their Exhausted Units back to their Fresh side
  • Players determine who has the Morale Advantage
  • Players may discard Action Cards and draw new Action Cards
  • The ANZAC Player places ships in any Aegean Sea area
  • Players alternate activations of Units until all Units are Exhausted, both players Pass, or the Killing Time Marker reaches zero
  • Players resolve Close Combats
  • Players check Victory Conditions
  • Move the Turn Marker to the next Turn.

Grant: What area of the battles do the maps cover?

Kieran: The map covers the ANZAC sector of the campaign and represents an area about 10km wide. The campaign lasted for more than eight months and for most of that time it was basically a stalemate situation with both sides sitting in their trenches. In other words, it turned out be just like the Western Front. But there were a number of key moments of the campaign that screamed out to be covered. First was the ANZAC Landing and establishment of the beachhead, from 25-29 April 1915. The first scenario covers this.

The second scenario covers the Turkish counter-attack, when more than 40,000 Turks attacked the exhausted ANZAC’s in a desperate attempt to eliminate the narrow beachhead. This is really when the Australian and New Zealand soldiers earned their reputation for being tough fighters. They were outnumbered almost three to one, but they managed to hold out and fight on.

What is often under-appreciated is just how brave the Ottoman (mostly Turkish) soldiers were. Many were veterans of the Balkan Wars with much combat experience. Despite heavy losses they too sent wave after wave of soldiers ‘over the top’ and to a deadly fate.

Scenario three deals with the Battle of Lone Pine, the attack on the Turkish trenches that earned the Australians seven Victoria Crosses (the equivalent of the Medal of Honor).

Scenario four is all about the daring assault on the heights of the Sari Bair Range by the New Zealanders, British and Gurkhas. It really was the last throw of the dice and saw some of the most desperate fighting of the whole campaign.

The final scenario combines the Battle of Sari Bair and the Battle of Lone Pine scenarios for one epic contest to control the heights of Chunuk Bair.

Grant: How does Fire Combat work?

Kieran: To fire at enemy Units the activating player selects Units in an area to fire and then chooses a valid target. Friendly Units in the same area may combine their Firepower. To fire, you add up the Firepower of the selected Units and roll one ten-sided die (1D10) for each point of Firepower. The standard roll you need to hit a target is <=4 (4 or less). This may be modified by a number of factors. For every hit scored, the defending player must take 1 Damage Point and reduce the strength of their Unit/s in the target area.

Grant: What different modifiers are possible?

Kieran: Leaders can give a +1/+2 bonus to the chance to hit to Units firing from the same area as the leader. Importantly, leaders still offer a bonus whether they are fresh or exhausted. Some leaders may also ‘refresh’ a unit which, when well-timed, can prove an important tactical element of play.

There are several chance-to-hit modifiers, including a (-1) penalty when firing at Units in Woods and a (-1) penalty when firing at targets that are at a higher elevation than the firer, and a (-1) penalty when firing at targets at long range. Infantry Units can fire up to two areas away. Machine Gun Units can fire up to three areas away if they don’t move. Artillery Units can fire up to four areas if they don’t move, and Ships can fire five.

Grant: What is the purpose of Remnants? How do players effectively use these reduced units?

Kieran: Remnants represent the survivors of Units that are still capable of fighting. You can place a Remnant on the board as ‘change’ when a larger Unit takes hits. You can reduce any Exhausted Unit with an Exhausted Strength of 2 or more to a Remnant. This means you can’t reduce Leaders, MG’s, or Remnants, as these all have an Exhausted Strength of only one and may not reduce further.

Grant: How does Close Combat differ?

Kieran: There are two ways Close Combat can be conducted. Either you can use the Close Combat cards, or you can roll dice based on firepower. The dice method is fast and especially aids in solo play.

With the cards, players take turns playing one Close Combat Card at a time, starting with the Attacker. If you can’t match your opponent’s Close Combat Card, or can’t play a Close Combat Card, you lose the Close Combat. There are six different types of Close Combat Cards. These form a deck of 36 cards.

  • Bayonet Charge (9 cards)
  • Ambush (6 cards)
  • Infiltrate (6 cards)
  • Raid (5 cards)
  • Creeping Barrage (5 cards)
  • Reserve Trench (5 cards) This card is a ‘wild card’ which can be played to match any other Close Combat Card. It can also be played in an offensive manner to represent any other Close Combat Card.

Grant: Where did the idea to use cards in Close Combat come from?

Kieran: Russell and I both love playing the Avalon Hill classics We the People and Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage, so we adapted the idea of Battle Cards to Close Combat Cards. Because the Close Combats are fought at the end of each turn you often get these tense finishes to each turn, so the cards work really well.

Grant: What other type of cards are used in the game?

Kieran: As well as the Close Combat Cards, there is a deck of 54 Action Cards. Each player begins the Turn with 4 or 5 Action Cards. There are three types of Action Cards: those that can be played at any time (these have a green background); those that you can only play during your own Round (brown background); those that count as your whole Round when played (red background). The Action Cards can be used in a variety of ways to influence Fire Combat, increase movement, etc.

Grant: Can you share a few examples of these cards?

Kieran: Some examples of the Action Cards are shown below:

Grant: How do trenches and wire effect the game?

Kieran: There are two types of trenches: Shallow and Deep. Units firing at a target in a Shallow Trench give a (-1) penalty to the chance-to-hit modifier; Units firing at a Deep Trench give a (-2) penalty. To dig a Shallow Trench, you activate an Infantry Unit or Artillery Battery, then place a Shallow Trench marker in the area and flip the Unit over to its Exhausted side.

Units may not move into an enemy-controlled area containing Wire unless the Units begin their Turn adjacent to the area containing the Wire. This is an important element of play and requires players to prepare attacks against Wire-defended areas.

Grant: What is the Killing Time Track and what purpose does it serve?

Kieran: The Killing Time Track represents the hand of fate and ensures that no one knows exactly how long each Turn will last. At the start of each Turn, you place the Killing Time Track Marker on 8. Whenever the active player having their Round rolls a 10 during Fire Combat the Killing Time Marker goes down by 1. When the Marker reaches zero the player’s activations end, and neither player may activate any more Units. You only reduce the Killing Time Marker by 1, even if you roll multiple 10’s during a round of shooting. 

As some Units have high firepower, sequencing your shooting to limit a player’s ‘exposure’ to the Killing Time marker is a stratagem both players use to their advantage. Usually the defender wants the Killing Time marker to get to zero as quickly as possible to end the Turn.

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

Kieran: I think the best thing about the game is that there is very little down time for either player. Because of the alternating activations you are constantly thinking about your next best move – just like in a game of Chess. You don’t have to wait half an hour for your opponent to move all their Units. They move a group of Units and then you move a group of Units. Also, there are five scenarios in the game and they all play very differently, so there is lots of replay value in the one box.

Grant: What has been the response of playtesters?

Kieran: We spent more than a year play testing the game with a variety of different players – including old school wargamers and newbies. A lot of this testing was done during COVID lockdowns, so we used Vassal and Tabletop Simulator to play test. The hardest part was getting the balance of the scenarios right. Overall, the feedback has been very positive – except for my two teenage sons, who think the game is too long and boring!

Grant: What other designs are you working on?

Kieran: Assault on Gallipoli is the first of a trilogy that covers Australia’s most famous battles. Next up is Assault on Tobruk ‘41, and then Assault on Kokoda. We have already started working on these titles and hope to have the Tobruk game ready for sale late in 2023.

I know that there are a lot of Tobruk games out there already, but this game is unique because it covers the Australian capture of Tobruk from the Italians in January 1941, as well as Rommel’s attempts to capture the port from the Australians in April and May, and also the breakout by the Scottish and Polish in November 1941.

Finally, a reminder that you can play Scenario 1: the ANZAC Landing online with a friend for free, just download the Vassal engine, https://vassalengine.org/

You can also play the Tabletop Simulator version of the game with a friend for $28 AUD, https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=2851009540

Thank you so much for your time in answering our questions Kieran. I am glad to see that the game is ready for sale and I definitely want to get a copy to try out. I really could feel your passion for the subject and your love of wargaming in your responses and appreciate that and hope that others will see that as well and be interested in giving the game a shot.

If you are interested in Assault on Gallipoli, you can order a copy for $160 AUD plus postage from the Gecko Games website at the following link: www.geckogames.com.au.