I love talking with first time designers. I am always interested in how they will approach things and how their focus might be different and unique from more established designers. When I saw an announcement for a new WWI game from VUCA Simulations called 1914 – Nach Paris, and realized that it was being done by a new designer, I immediately reached out to my contacts at VUCA and they put me in contact with him. Bertrand Munier is a very affable fellow who indulged me in answering my many questions on his new game and I am really looking forward to playing this one.
Grant: First off Bertrand welcome to The Player’s Aid. Please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What is your day job?
Bertrand: Hi everyone. I am 55 years old and I live 80 km from Paris. I work in Paris as an expert in electricity distribution. On the train to Paris, I have time to read a lot, often military history books. My latest read is Les Roumains dans la campagne de Stalingrad (Romanians in the Stalingrad Campaign by Alexandre Thers). My passion for wargames began in 1980 with La Guerre des Ducs (Dukes War) from the French magazine Jeux & Stratégie. Afterwards with my big brother, we bought our first wargames. We started with Squad Leader.
Grant: What motivated you to break into game design? What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?
Bertrand: I started working on 1914 – Nach Paris in 2004 simply out of passion to simulate the first weeks of the Great War. My goal was to build a game that takes into account all the important parameters of the campaign. I enjoyed all the major steps: the essential historical research, developing new concepts, writing the rules, drawing the map, and testing.
And, of course, I was always wondering: Is the game compatible with reality? Would it be fun to play? Since I am not a big fan of social media, I did not share a lot of my ideas and progress.
Grant: What designers would you say have influenced your styles?
Bertrand: Without hesitation: John Hill. In addition to Squad Leader I loved his game Battle for Stalingrad. When I first saw his map of the city of Stalingrad, I felt like I was in the heart of the operations.
In 2014 – I was already ten years into my design – I discovered the Offensive à Outrance game map by Michael Resch. I found it excellent, including and based upon a very good level of research. In order to not be swayed by this game, I did not read his rulebook, but I am pretty sure that the quality of the simulation is high.
Grant: What do you find most challenging about the design process? What do you feel you do really well?
Bertrand: Creating a wargame takes a lot of time and effort. You have to find the best balance between complexity, historical accuracy and, of course, the fun of playing the game. I tried to obtain combat and barrage results as realistic as possible by being very precise with my input and parameters. The different tables were redone a good ten times, before being declared correct after a lot of trial and error. I achieved a satisfying degree of accuracy by giving 4 steps (on 2 counters) to large units.
Grant: What historical event does 1914 – Nach Paris cover?
Bertrand: 1914 – Nach Paris covers the first 6 weeks of the World War I on the Western Front. This period of time corresponds historically to:
• the availability of almost all the forces mobilized on both sides,
• the sieges of the Belgian entrenched camps (Liege, Namur, Antwerp),
• the bloody border battles (Charleroi, Belgian Ardennes, Alsace-Lorraine),
• the mythical Battle of the Marne,
• and also the beginning of the ammunition shortage on both sides.
With the design, I specifically wanted to address the following: finely modeled units of all of the belligerents, an accurate and representative topography of the theater of operations and the various fortified obstacles, the accuracy of the chronology of the disposition of troops and highly detailed logistical networks are modeled to faithfully simulate the first big confrontations of the Great War.
Grant: What did you want the title to convey about the time period of the game?
Bertrand: Initially the prototype was called En rase Campagne – 1914 (In the Open Countryside – 1914), but my friend, Nicolas S., pointed out to me that this name did not really convey in English the meaning it immediately has in French. We had to find a short name, that was easy to remember and representative of the period covered. We proposed 1914 – Nach Paris (To Paris) and Patrick Gebhardt with the publisher immediately approved of the new title.
Grant: What challenges did you have to overcome in the design?
Bertrand: The challenge was to model all the parameters (order of battle, geography, unit’s characteristics, combat, etc.) important to the conflict, while simultaneously respecting the historical reality as best as possible. The main challenge to overcome when creating units or scenarios was to adopt an unbiased point of view and not design around preconceived knowledge about the conflict.
Grant: What is important to model from the history of the period?
Bertrand: Combat and Barrage are the most important things to model correctly regarding combat operations. It is also essential to correctly portray the extremely important and efficient rail network and how that affected troop movements and reinforcements. The various fortifications and entrenched camps are also very important as they played a large role in the lack of progress on the ground and the ultimate stalemate.
Grant: What is the scale and force structure of units used for this design?
Bertrand: The order of battle of all belligerents had autonomous formations of different size: division of course, but also brigade (e.g. Landwehr Infanterie Brigade, …), and even Regiment (e.g. Pionier Regiment,…). In the game the divisions have three to five steps, while regiments have only one and brigades two. You must have these small formations in the game in order to even out the play experience and properly model attrition and the nature of WWI combat. Not having them would create an unhistorical imbalance from the start.
Grant: How many maps are used in the game? What does the map look like and what area does it cover?
Bertrand: It depends on the chosen scenario. Eight short scenarios each have a specific standalone map. The campaign scenario uses four maps (two large, A & B and two half-sized, C & D). Two scenarios use part of one or two campaign maps. One scenario (Battle of the Marne) uses two maps.
To have a comfortable ease of play, the maps have large hexes of 23 mm while the counters are 15 mm. With the four maps, you have all the Western Front covered including France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany.
Grant: What are the areas of major concern in regards to the terrain?
Bertrand: There are six different types of terrain (Clear, Broken, Rough, Mountainous, Lowlands, and Flood Plain), six different types of hexsides (Deep Forest, Mountain Range, different types of river), and many others features (towns, urban area, bridge, fortifications, entrenched camps, and so on).
And of course, the rail network, which was very important for transport and for supplies and is therefore an essential element of the design.
Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters?
Bertrand: The nationality of a counter is shown by its national flag and the main colors based on their real-life uniforms. More often than not, French and Belgian unit counters will be shown in two-tone colors (jacket & trousers). Dark blue and red for the French, dark blue and gray for the Belgians. Germans will be in Feldgrau and British in khaki (as you probably guessed).
The main information on the counter are: Combat Strength, Artillery Strength vs unit, Artillery Strength vs fortifications, Movement Allowance, and the number of steps it has – its Attrition Level.
Grant: What is the Attrition Level of units? How is it identified on the counters?
Bertrand: At mobilization, units are at full strength, with only black dots shown on the counter: the black dots represent the remaining number of steps the unit has.
The Attrition Level is the number of steps lost in combat or barrage: they are marked with red dots in the upper right corner. This very simple system allows a good flexibility in the representation of the staying power of formations.
Grant: In general how does a unit’s combat and movement factors change due to step losses?
Bertrand: The calculations are quite complex (depending on the size and ranking of the unit), and as the artillery is supposed to be in the back, I minimized its losses at each loss step. To simplify the explanations, for a unit with four steps, on average you have a reduction of:
• -20 % of the Combat Factor for the 1st step loss,
• -45 % of the Combat Factor for the 2nd step loss,
• -65 % of the Combat Factor for the 3rd step loss,
• and of course the withdrawal for the 4th step loss.
For the Movement Factor of a unit with 4 steps, and with a good ranking (B), you lose 10 points from the 2nd step loss. In fact, I mostly weakened all units at their 3rd step loss so that the player places them at the back.
Grant: What is the Combat Ability of units? Why did you need to include this in the design?
Bertrand: Combat Ability (CAB) is the courage, “élan”, and the unit’s will to fight. It goes from 15 for the best units to 5 for the worst ones. The higher the Combat Ability, the lower the risk of a step loss.
It makes it possible to take into account units ranking. During a Combat the CAB test will make it possible to rebalance the random effect of the Combat Results Table.
Grant: What does the Low Ammo symbol mean on certain counters?
Bertrand: The Low Ammo symbol on certain counters (German Siege Artillery Units) is a reminder of the scarcity of some higher-caliber shells. This is indicated by a black shell in a white box (42-cm) or a white shell in a blue box (30.5 cm or 28 cm). Modeling this scarcity requires some accounting.
Grant: What units can be upgraded? How does this change their statistics?
Bertrand: Without going into too much detail, two different units may consolidate so as to increase the number of steps of the first and decrease the number of steps of the other, up to the point of destroying the second unit to replenish the first.
Grant: What is the general Sequence of Play and how does a Turn flow?
Bertrand: Given the game scale and the number of counters involved, the decision to use a sequential system with clearly identified phases (igo-ugo system), already proven in many games, was an easy one.
The Game Turn starts with a German player turn, where the German player is the attacker and the Allied player the defender. This is followed by an Allied player turn where these roles are reversed. Each Player Turn is divided into four phases: Administrative, Barrage, Movement, Combat. One game turn thus consists of two player turns.
Grant: What specific chronological rules appear on the Game Turn Track?
Bertrand: The simple but important rules on the Game Turn Track are:
• GT 1 / The German Empire declares war on France, All German fortified zones are operational.
• GT 2 / During this turn, French and Belgian units must remain on their side of the border.
• GT 3 / All entrenchments are operational, the Belgian Railroad Network can be used by French units, the Railroad Network of Luxembourg is put under German control.
• GT 10 / French and Belgian units can more easily build fieldworks.
• GT 14 / The Belgians can open the sluice to flood the surroundings of Anvers or near Yser River and The French can do the same near Dunkerque.
• GT 18 / French units (Reserve Division & Territorial Division) can now freely initiate combat.
• GT 20 / Ammo restrictions start to impede barrages.
• GT 22 / Fieldworks attempts are easier & restrictions of German Command Range are lifted, German fieldworks can be upgraded to entrenchments.
Grant: How does an Artillery Barrage function? What are the possible outcomes?
Bertrand: Before any eventual Combat, during the Barrage Phase, the attacker can undertake against the defender Artillery Barrages vs. Units and Artillery Barrages vs. Fortifications. These artillery bombardments may inflict step losses against the defender’s units or destroy their fortifications.
Grant: How does combat work in the design?
Bertrand: The Combat system is quite simple; it is based on the ratio between the attacker and the defender. The higher the odds ratio, the better the attacker’s chances will be to defeat the defender.
Many modifiers are taken into account (terrain and size of the attack). The Combat Ability plays on important role in the outcome of the combat.
Grant: What is unique about the Combat Results Table? Why did you land on the use of a D20?
Bertrand: The Combat Results Table uses a d20. It’s a simple solution to have a large distribution of results with only one die. Each column therefore has many different combat results (step loss and modifiers for a CAB test).
It should be noted that the results do not grow proportionally with the odds: increasing high odds ratios is less efficient than increasing low odds ratios. A 4-to-1 attack is not two times more efficient than a 2-to-1 attack. This is perhaps counterintuitive but is more realistic.
Grant: What advantages does this give to your design vision?
Bertrand: The advantage is to be able to incorporate minor adjustments and hence to bring precision in combat resolution. The linearity of the probability distribution of a 20-sided die (instead of two 6-sided dice) eases the task of building the combat table.
It gives a wide range of results with small incremental changes between each adjacent result.
Grant: What different fortifications are included? How do they each effect combat and losses?
Bertrand: I have done a lot of research in order to be as complete as possible: 1914 – Nach Paris offers all the range of fortifications that existed at that time: the big entrenched camps (Verdun, Maubeuge, Liege, Namur, Antwerp, etc.) and the different categories of fortifications (Masonry Fort, Strengthened Masonry Fort, Strengthened Concrete Fort and the German Feste).
The German player is mostly concerned with taking the enemy fortifications: they may eliminate enemy units in a fortification hex before launching an assault with their pioneers, or, if they are not pressed for time, they may bombard the fortification with Siege Artillery Units.
But let’s not forget, all units will very quickly seek to dig trenches (Regular Entrenchments, Strengthened Entrenchments) to effectively protect themselves. The belligerents need to obtain a decisive victory soon, or face the slow descent into trench warfare.
Grant: How do Lines of Communication and Command Range work together to represent supply?
Bertrand: A unit is supplied if, during the Administrative Phase, it is within the Command Range of the HQ and has a normal logistic line – i.e. the distance between its hex and an usable High-Capacity Railroad is less than about 10 hexes.
The Command Range is not impacted by the presence of enemy units; it is just the distance between the HQ and the unit. The unit’s logistic line is impacted by the presence of the enemy.
Grant: How is victory achieved?
Bertrand: Each scenario has its own victory conditions. Usually victory conditions are based on territorial gains.
Grant: Which side has the more difficult time in obtaining victory?
Bertrand: The objective was to create very tight victory conditions, which can be obtained with the last die roll! Many games in playtesting came down to the very end and this is a major design goal of most games. Creating that tension and keeping players engaged. Maybe scenario N°5, “The Siege of Fortress Maubeuge” is very difficult for the French player.
Grant: What scenarios are included?
Bertrand: In order to ease the learning of the rules, we have included several learning scenarios with standalone maps. There are a total of 12 scenarios :
Nº1 – Victorious recovery at Guise, Learning Scenario => 1 hour, standalone map,
Nº2 – Assault on Liege, Learning Scenario => 1 hour, standalone map,
Nº3 – Strong attack on Namur, Learning Scenario => 1 hour, standalone map,
Nº4 – Around the marshes of Saint-Gond, Learning Scenario => 1 hour, standalone map,
Nº5 – The siege of fortress Maubeuge, Learning Scenario => 1 hour, standalone map,
Nº6 – The great sortie from Antwerp, => 2 hours, standalone map,
Nº7 – Battle of Charleroi, => 2 hours, Maps A & C,
Nº8 – Hang on to Mons, Learning Scenario => 2 hours, standalone map,
Nº9 – Battle of the Meuse, => 2 hours, standalone map,
Nº10 – Operation in Alsace-Lorraine, => 5 hours, Map D,
Nº11 – The battle of the Marne, => 6 hours, Maps A & B,
Nº12 – En rase campagne, Great Campaign Scenario => 27 hours, Maps A, B, C & D.
Grant: What are you most pleased with about the design?
Bertrand: I am most pleased that the game correctly models all important parameters involved in World War I, so you will get a course very close to historical events. Small short scenarios do not require the application of all the rules, they respond to a progressive pedagogy for learning the system. Finally, the replayability of the different scenarios is very high.
Grant: What has been the experience of your playtesters?
Bertrand: Initially, all tables were tested alone to ensure that they are historically accurate. As a result, the main tasks of the playtesters were to improve the flow of play, spot inconsistency between rules or common mechanisms, and ensure that the victory conditions were challenging enough for both sides.
The main difficulty has been to update the 12 scenarios when a rule was changed.
Grant: What other games are you currently working on?
Bertrand: An expansion for Nach Paris, the module 1914 – The Race to the Sea, is in the works. I am thinking about different subjects, maybe 1918 – American Operation of Saint-Mihiel.
Thank you, it was a real pleasure to answer your questions.
Thank you so much for your time Bertrand in answering our questions about the game. I am very interested in this one and really like how the game seems to be very crunchy and well thought out. The game production is also beautiful and the contacts are big and I am very excited to dig into this one.
If you are interested in 1914 – Nach Paris, you can pre-order a copy for €108,00 ($107.00) from the VUCA Simulations website at the following link: https://vucasims.com/products/1914-nach-paris-breakthrough-series-1