We have had a long and very fruitful relationship with Brian Train here at The Players’ Aid Blog. He was the 2nd designer that I ever reached out to for one of our Designer Interviews and he was very accommodating of our request even though he didn’t know us and didn’t have any knowledge about our blog as we were very new at that time. Since that time, we have completed 10 total interviews together and now embark on our 11th working toward 20. We appreciate Brian and his very interesting and well thought out designs on counterinsurgency, revolution and just eclectic types of battles. His newest upcoming design Brief Border Wars II is a follow up to the successful Brief Border Wars published by Compass Games. This game is also a quadrigame like the first volume and takes a look at four very short pre-WWII conflicts.
If you are interested, you can read our interview with Brian on Brief Border Wars at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2020/02/17/interview-with-brian-train-designer-of-brief-border-wars-from-compass-games/
*All the art used in this interview, including the boards and counters, are still just preliminary and could change prior to the publication of the game.
Grant: What is this new quad you have been working on with Compass Games called Brief Border Wars II?
Brian: As the title implies, it is a direct sequel to Brief Border Wars, a set of four small games designed by me and released together in one box by Compass Games in mid-2020. Apparently, sales of this item were encouraging and when I suggested to the publisher that I was interested in doing a second set of four small games on this type of conflict, they were enthusiastic about it. I think you have interviewed me enough over the years to know that I am not the best picker of titles out there, though, so I just went with the informative but unimaginative Brief Border Wars II. (Editor’s Note: I would have suggested as a title Brief Border Wars II: Electric Boogaloo or even Brief Border Wars II: Revenge of the Border…something along those lines! How about Brief Border Wars II: More Brief? I have subsequently filed for Trademarking of these amazing titles so if you wish to discuss their use Brian, please contact me separately.)
(2nd Editor’s Note: I was off my meds when formatting this interview and apologize for any inappropriate names, naming, name calling or suggestions. Those responsible for ensuring I stay on my meds have been sacked!)
Grant: What are the four different conflicts included in the box?
Brian: The four conflicts in the first volume ranged from 1969 to 2006. Compass Games thought a set of pre-1945 titles might arouse even more interest, so the list I came up with after discarding quite a few “possibles” was:
• Second Balkan War, 1913
• Teschen, 1919
• Nomonhan, 1939
• Italo-Greek War, 1940
Grant: Why did you choose these specific conflicts?
Brian: I started in on researching campaigns that fit the selection criteria I had set for Volume One and were pre-1945. These selection criteria are as follows:
• a definite beginning and end to the fighting, the shorter the better;
• limited aims by the combatants – no wars of annihilation;
• definite political or logistical restraints on the conflict’s size and duration; and
• a postwar geography largely unchanged from the prewar configuration.
There were many possibles but it wasn’t that hard to settle on these four. In the case of Nomonhan and the Italo-Greek War, both of these conflicts portray the initial phase of the fighting. In Nomonhan, the game covers the first 10 or 12 days in July 1939 when the Japanese forces had their best chances of forcing the Soviets back to the banks of the Halha river thus cementing their claim to their interpretation of the border. In Greece, the game goes from the initial Italian invasion in October to the end of December 1940, at which time the Greek counteroffensive had not only thrown the Italians back but also had entered Albania at several points. In both cases there was a definite break in the fighting while both sides built up their strength and returned to battle later.
Grant: What is the scale of these four games units? What type of force composition does each have?
Brian: Like the conflicts in Volume One, each game varied in terms of represented time, space and scale of combatants. The Balkan and Italo-Greek games are brigade to division in scale and the battles last a month or two; Nomonhan and Teschen are battalion to brigade and cover only 7-10 days of action. Most of the units portrayed in the game are different grades of infantry, but Nomonhan also has a significant proportion of mechanized forces and aircraft present.
Grant: The games use a Card Driven system. How does this system drive the action and how are the cards used?
Brian: The basic mechanisms for this quad are the same as in Volume One, and their ultimate source is The Little War, a game I designed in 2015-16 on the short but spirited one-week border war between Slovakia and Hungary that happened in March 1939. The whys and wherefores of this particular conflict aren’t really relevant here, but learning about it gave me the idea of putting together a simple system that could cover these kinds of chaotic, almost impromptu short wars.
Each game has seven turns, and in each turn six cards are drawn and given to the respective players. Often a player will get more or fewer than their expected total of three each. The players spend the turn playing one card at a time alternately; either an Action Card to accomplish some movement or combat, or a Special Action Card to accomplish something else – usually refitting or recovering disrupted units, though most games also have some special functions for these cards.
Grant: What is the anatomy of these cards? Can you show us a few examples and explain their uses to us?
Brian: The “hook” with The Little War was that its action was driven by a deck of 54 ordinary playing cards, where the card suit determined its use (movement or combat) and its rank (Ace to 10) determined its degree. In creating Volume One of Brief Border Wars from this systemic beginning, the only fundamental change to the game was that it still used a deck of 54 cards, but instead of linear values and suits being used for only one purpose, each card has two values that are “normed” along a curve for either purpose (though it’s more efficient to use a card for one than the other: higher values range from 4 to 8, while lower values are from 1 to 3).
The movement values are the total number of your units you can move in your turn. The combat values are the total number of your units you can use to attack in your turn. Each card has both values, but you must do one or the other.
These cards work exactly the same as in Volume One except they have different artwork, including a contemporary rifle – a Mauser 98 to replace the AK-47. I stayed with a total of 54 cards because each side gets 20 cards drawn during play, plus 6 Special Action Cards. Adding 2 Random Events to the 40 Action Cards makes 42, and drawing 6 at a time makes for exactly 7 Game-turns, a decently short game considering each side has 25 or fewer units to work with…games are playable in an hour or so.
And of course players can still optionally go retrograde and use a deck of ordinary playing cards for the game, or even further retrograde and start with all 20 Action Cards and play them non-randomly during the game! This last is for people who cannot stand randomness or chaos, and in my view makes the game a bit dull. But like bubble gum flavoured ice cream it is maybe worth trying once in your life.
Grant: How does combat work?
Brian: Combat is simple: the total number of units that can attack that turn is limited by the value of the card played. In a battle you roll a number of d6 equal to the total Combat Values involved, with dice added to the defender’s total for terrain (forest or hills or urban) and to either side for participating aircraft. You hit on a 5 or 6. The player inflicting the hits decides how they are allocated on the enemy units, and depending on a unit’s Combat Value and the number of hits allocated to it, a unit can retreat, be disrupted (flipped over to show it can move but cannot attack), or be damaged (it is removed from the map and must be recovered through die rolls or Special Action Cards).
Grant: How are air units used in combat?
Brian: Air units are present in only the Nomonhan and Italo-Greek games. Their main functions are ground support, and possibly raids on the enemy rear area. When aircraft are present on both sides in a battle and some of them are fighters, there is an air combat round before the ground battle is resolved. With respect to raids – if the enemy’s airfields are targeted some aircraft will possibly be disrupted or destroyed; if they are used to attack the enemy’s Main Supply Route they may temporarily lose some Action Cards.
Grant: What unique challenges did each of the battles present? What are some examples of the exclusive rules for the different games that reflect these challenges?
Brian: There are some optional rules that can be used in any game for extra challenge or to model the historical situation – e.g. better trained staff, skillful guerrillas, and so forth. But each game has its own special rules to reflect some aspects of the conflict too:
Second Balkan War
• Diplomatic overtures: either side can expend Special Action Cards to make nice with the great European powers, in order to get them on their side and so have more clout when the peace talks begin after the end of the game.
• Poor coordination between the Allied armies: Serbian and Greek forces may not combine their actions – the Allied player must play a card that affects only one nationality or the other, in their respective countries.
• Combat Assets: small sub-units of machine guns, armoured trains, or cavalry that are too small to be shown as separate units but which can help throw a battle – players use Special Action Cards to obtain them, then expend them in combat as one-time additional d6 to help the attack or defence.
• Czech National Guard and Polish Militia irregular units: World War One had just ended and this area, like most of Central Europe, was swimming in newly demobilized soldiers who had brought rifles home with them. It was not difficult for both sides to quickly form groups of militia to both defend and attack, if bolstered by formations of regular troops.
• Aircraft raids: either side may attack each other’s airfields and Main Supply Routes.
• Special tactics: Japanese infantry may do night attacks and the Soviet superiority in artillery tubes and ammunition is reflected in a special barrage rule.
• Options for fewer restrictions on Japanese forces.
• Chaotic Italian logistics and administration: A large fraction of the Italian invasion force must deploy first from mainland Italy to Albanian ports, and then to the front… it’s a bumpy ride.
• Special units: mountain infantry and an Italian mechanized division have special rules.
• The Metaxas Line garrison: this Greek force had been set to watch the Bulgarian frontier but the player must treat them as a necessary source of reinforcements to fight the Italians on the western frontier.
• An alternate “Mussolini’s Dream” scenario, where a few things go right for Il Duce, at least at first….
Grant: Can you show us a few of the maps? How was it working with the artist Knut Grunitz?
Brian: Mark Mahaffey did the counter and map art for Volume One, but Knut Grunitz has been given the work for Volume Two. I had worked with Knut once before, when he did the art for Finnish Civil War in Paper Wars magazine. Knut is a good workman, and he is very fast at producing a quality product; he is also good at making and acting on suggestions. I’m very pleased with how it is all going to look.
Grant: What do you feel the system does well in each of the conflicts?
Brian: This game system is all about chaos: mainly managing it and, when possible, dealing it out. Again, the basic hook of the system is the randomly drawn cards that reflect the uncertain, jerky and uncoordinated conduct of battle between two not particularly skilled or well-organized armies. This is perhaps too much for some players, who also have to contend with a couple of random events during the game as well. It’s a funny thing: every defeat seems to be blamed on the randomness of the cards coming out, but every victory is due solely to the skill and wisdom of the player!
Grant: What battles might be included in future quads?
Brian: It’s quite possible that I might do a Volume Three, if Compass is up for it and I am not completely sick of doing them. If it comes to pass, I intend to do another set of modern conflicts, from the 1970’s to the 1990’s, using the same selection criteria as for these two volumes. I have made up a tentative list but have not yet narrowed it down to four. Anyway, look for that in a couple of years if all goes well.
As always, thanks for your time in answering our email and providing information about your supremely interesting and varied designs. I look forward to this one, and to getting to the table Volume One, in the near future!
If you are interested in Brief Border Wars II, you can pre-order a copy for $54.00 from the Compass Games website at the following link: https://www.compassgames.com/product/brief-border-wars-2-pay-later/