We have been collaborating with Francisco Gradaille a bit over the past year as we have posted interviews for his first published design Plantagenet: Cousins War for England, 1459-1485 as well as some game design and scenario articles. His newest design was placed the P500 at GMT Games in March 2022 and is called Cuius Regio: The Thirty Years War. We reached out to Francisco and he was more than willing to share the details on the game.
*Note: The pictures and game art used in this interview, and pictures showing any of the various components and counters, are still in design and are intended to be illustrative at this point. Also remember that rules might still change prior to final development and publication.
Grant: What historical period does your new design Cuius Regio cover?
Francisco: The game explores the operational military aspects of The Thirty Years War, which was a pivotal period in European history and focuses on the maneuvers and battles that shook Europe for three decades.
The Thirty Years War unfolded in four main phases: the Bohemian Revolt from 1618 to 1625, the Danish intervention from 1625 to 1630, the Swedish intervention from 1630 to 1635, and the French intervention from 1635 to 1648. It concluded with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which finally established a new status quo in Europe, the concept of the sovereignty of states, and shifted the focus of continental politics from southern Europe to the northern states.
Grant: What is the meaning of the name?
Francisco: One of the most famous quotes from The Thirty Years Wars is “Cuius Regio, eius religio” which means “whose realm, their religion.” That is, that the religion of the ruler dictates the religion of those ruled. This is the principle that the princes of the German-speaking states and Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, agreed to at the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. We found that the name Cuius Regio gave a good representation of what you’ll find there – a struggle to seize control of the Empire.
Grant: What aspects from The Thirty Years War did you need to make sure to model?
Francisco: We wanted to focus on, and model, the flow of the military campaigns of the period. Looking at the history, we found that military operations in the Holy Roman Empire (HRE) were quite fluid, that the battle punctuated the movements of the armies, and that it was the activity of armies that caused much of the devastation of the period.
So, we needed to develop a model that captured the movement capabilities of the armies, got historically coherent battle results, represented the supply structure and its consequences, and represented the expanding and contracting size of armies according to the seasons.
Of course, while we were focusing on the movement and activities of the troops, that all happened within the political and diplomatic context of the period. We needed to have a mechanic that captured how that impacted on the size and capabilities of the armies, and how the success and failure of the military aspect influenced the internal and external politics and diplomacy.
We did that with an abstraction that assumes the key figures of the time and that events outside the HRE all occur, more or less, as they did. In the game this plays out primarily in the Diplomatic Phase, but also to an extent in the Recruiting Phase in the game. In the end we feel that we’ve got a game that models these elements elegantly in a simple, but at the same time, accurate way.
Grant: What was your design goal with the game?
Francisco: I wanted to play a game that focused on the key army leaders and the big manoeuvres of The Thirty Years War. The game I ended up with borrows mechanics from several games to capture that, notably Great Campaigns of the American Civil War. This is not because I wanted to play those games on a different map, but because the more I read about The Thirty Years war, the more I saw that the mobility and daring manoeuvres of the period had not been represented in most Thirty Years War games before.
Grant: What is the role of your developer Mike Sigler? How has he molded the design to fit your vision?
Francisco: Mike has been my partner in this project. We have worked as a team and have enjoyed the entire process, particularly all of our conversations and discussions. Truth is, it is really fun to work with him. He has added an external perspective to the game. He has double checked all the systems I’ve introduced and has made sure that the game we have in the rulebook and on the map is the game I wanted.
A designer, when he or she starts off, has a game in mind. Sometimes what ends up on the table is not quite what you thought it was. Mike has helped make sure that the two things have ended up being the same thing — and occasionally kept me playing the game on the table and not the one in my mind! He rewrote the rulebook, streamlined some of the procedures and realigned the Sequence of Play. He also added some tweaks to the rules to make them more coherent within the flow of our model.
Every change and modification that we’ve made has been a product of our collaboration, and we have never found a place where we had a strong disagreement.
If you end up enjoying the game, please remember to thank Mike because he has been a key factor in improving my first versions.
Grant: What is the scale of the game? The force structure of units?
Francisco: The time scale is one year per turn, and the hexagons are about 15 miles across. The map represents the heart of the Holy Roman Empire and excludes the other regions of Europe, such as the Netherlands, France and Poland, where the other wars during the time of The Thirty Years War took place. The reason for that is because we found that the structure and purpose of the military movements in those areas was usually quite different from the campaigning in the HRE.
Both sides have three types of combat units in the game, Infantry, Cavalry, and Artillery. Each Strength Point represents about 500 men, and an Artillery Point represents approximately five large cannon or 20 of the smaller regimental type guns. We also have 2 kinds of leaders — Field Marshals and Marshals. Field Marshals are the key manoeuvre commanders, and the Marshals act in supporting roles as Wing Commanders, or by holding limited independent commands.
And that’s all, we have tried to keep the elements of the game as simple as possible.
Grant: What factions are represented? What unique abilities does each have?
Francisco: The game has two factions: Protestants and Imperials. We used this traditional breakdown of the two sides even though the war evolved from an internal struggle to a multi-national conflict over the course of the years.
People often initially see The Thirty Years War as a religious struggle. While it is true that religion played a key role, it was usually as a loyalty test, and not the core driver of the conflict. The roots of the struggle are found in the name of the game – Cuius Regio – Whose Realm? – the struggle in Europe at the time was really over who got to be in charge. With that in mind, we saw and wanted to capture the flow of the evolution of conflict — from the beginning, the uprising of the Bohemian nobles vying with the Emperor for their privileges, to the end — the multi-national struggle for European dominance between France and Sweden on one hand, and Spain and the HRE on the other,.
When we venture into the “what if’s” of history, one can reasonably argue that there were several points at which the flow of the conflict could have changed, if someone had managed to seize one of the opportunities to secure dominance that occasionally cropped up. Historically that didn’t happen, but we want to give the players the chance to try and make those opportunities within our model.
As the game progresses different factions become more or less active in the respective coalitions. Depending on the timeframe, the victory conditions, the availability of forces, and the leader mix changes according to the historic record and the actions of the players. We hope that this game gives players an experience that is a reasonable representation of the military contributions to the “what might have been’s.”
Grant: What is the anatomy and makeup of the counters?
Francisco: Counter art has not started yet. We are currently using my prototype versions, but we envision leader counters that are distinguished by faction and nationality, and force counters that generically represent the type and strength of components of the armies.
On leaders counters we have the identification of the leader (name and portrait), a leader rating, and the years in which the leader was active. Players will probably be most interested in the Leader Rating which is a representation of a leader’s reputation, his tactical and operational skill, and his logistical capabilities. We’ve abstracted a lot into just that one rating but we find that it works well.
The force counters representing the soldiers are the same for both sides. They only are distinguished by being infantry or cavalry, with a picture of a mounted or foot soldier from the period, and the number of strength points.
Finally, we have artillery counters that have a picture of a period piece and a number abstractly representing the contribution of combat power those guns represent.
Grant: What is the purpose of the Force Mats? Do they differ from each side?
Francisco: Each side has an identical force mat. The force mats serve two purposes. The first is a housekeeping function. Players can use them to manage the number of counters on the map. Given that there are usually not too many armies on the map, the stacks can sometimes get unwieldy. The mats allow players to lay out their armies so they can see them more easily and get the stacks off the board. The second purpose is to allow us to provide an optional “Fog of War” capability. Players, if they choose, can use the mats to limit what their opponents know about the composition of their main armies. The Fog of War rules add a really interesting dimension to the game by helping the players hide their intent in the planning portions of the turn and increasing uncertainty when deciding to engage in battle.
Grant: What role do leaders play in the design? How is their Leadership Rating used?
Francisco: Leaders have multiple roles. Primarily they allow players to muster and move armies, recruit mercenaries, and use artillery effectively in battle. Their effectiveness at their many roles is expressed through their leader rating.
In movement, the leader rating is used to determine the number of movement points an army has during an army activation, and the number of strength points that can be moved together as a single army. It also captures a commander’s ability to react to enemy movements. In battle the leader rating contributes to the effectiveness of the army.
The leader rating also serves several other critical functions including determining how many SP and AP can be gathered in during the Recruitment Phase, and what kind of impact difficult moments, such as routing or moving in winter, have on an army’s strength.
I developed the ratings by gathering key data about each of the leaders we have in the game and boiling all that down into a single number. I used a formula incorporating what a leader did historically to make an assessment of his quality and capabilities.
Grant: How does combat work?
Francisco: Combat occurs when an army from one side enters a hex containing enemy forces. It is a relatively simple process. We use a CRT – which we call the Battle Results Table (BRT) – and a small number of modifiers (leader rating, artillery points, terrain, ratio, etc.) – to determine the results.
Players roll two dice – one to which the modifiers are applied to determine the basic results of the battle and the other to determine if there is a leader casualty of some sort.
A battle always ends with one of the armies losing and retreating or routing from the hex.
The BRT is a bit unique in that it reflects losses in proportion to the size of the attacking army. I found, when I was gathering the data on losses from historical battles, that there was a correlation between the composition of the armies (particularly the attacking army) and whether the attacker won or lost, and the losses on both sides. I used that information to develop the table and found that it produced battle results in the same range as the historical battles.
The leader loss roll, which occurs in conjunction with the battle results roll, provides some variation to the way battles turn out, and can affect one or both sides by removing leaders from the game or adding additional fatigue. Although a leader loss result is a low probability, no battle, even one in which one side has a massive advantage, is a completely sure thing.
Grant: How do Field battles differ from Sieges?
Francisco: This is one of the most “controversial” aspects of the game and will probably generate a lot of discussion. Sieges don’t have a specific mechanic in the game. Clashes between the armies in cities or in the field are resolved with the same battle mechanic. City control changes if an army simply has enough forces to overcome an intrinsic garrison, once the enemy field armies are out of the way.
I have thought long and hard about this and plan to publish an article explaining the reasoning and data behind it.
However, so as not to leave this hanging, the short answer is that most cities surrendered before having an actual siege, and when they did not, sieges didn’t last long compared to the time scale of the game. In addition, the pair of sieges in this theatre that lasted more than three months (the Siege of Nuremberg and the Siege of Stralsund), can be replicated with the current system without needing a specific mechanic.
Remember that in the area we are covering in the HRE, the character of war was somewhat different from that of the wars in the Netherlands, Northern Italy, or France. As a result, a complicated siege mechanic didn’t work for our model and so was not included.
We are very confident in this decision, both from having double checked with historians who are experts in this period, and from playing the game. Our games have repeatedly given us results that are reasonable given the historical campaigns.
Grant: What is the turn structure?
Francisco: Each turn represents one year, and each year is divided into a summer season and a winter season. This translates to a Turn Sequence made up of five phases, in order they are: the Diplomatic Phase, the Recruitment Phase, a Summer Operations Phase, Winter Operations Phase, and finally a Maintenance Phase.
Most of the action takes place during the Summer Operations Phase, which represents the campaigning season, roughly March to October. The Winter Operations Phase gives the players the opportunity to conduct winter campaigns. These didn’t happen often during The Thirty Years War but they did happen occasionally, so we give the players the opportunity to conduct these costly campaigns, if they feel the risk is worth the gain. The activity during the two operations phases sets the conditions for the Diplomatic and Recruitment Phases, in which the players plan and prepare for the next year’s campaign. It’s during these two phases that the players, active allies, pick and deploy leaders, raise and distribute troops. At the end of each year there is, of course, a Maintenance Phase for the game’s “housekeeping” when players update the status of their armies and cities in preparation for the next year.
Grant: How are turns of variable duration? What determines the length?
Francisco: The core driver of the length of a turn is the army activation mechanic. During the Summer and Winter Operations Phases players take turns activating their armies. The limiting factor is that an army can take a limited amount of fatigue and will takes at least one fatigue point when it activates. So, over the course of a season, the more an army does the more fatigue it will accumulate. As an army gains fatigue it loses efficiency until it cannot be moved. Players get a choice how much risk they want to take in building that fatigue. It’s a bad thing for a big tired army to get caught by a fresh army, but you have to move to accomplish your objectives.
Once both sides have maxed out the fatigue of their armies, or both pass in succession, the phase ends.
Practically this means that players find themselves moving three or four main armies and activating each army two or three times in a summer season. In the winter each army can only activate once, but usually takes a large amount of fatigue and attrition when doing so. We have seen turns that have lasted just one activation and turns that have had 20 activations. This seems to result in turns that usually last around 35-40 minutes.
Grant: What is the major difference between summer and winter turns? How does this reflect the history?
Francisco: As mentioned, the Summer and Winter Phases are the parts of the turn when the armies can be activated to move. The Summer Operations Phase is when most of the movement happens, and concludes with a supply check that we use to represent going into winter quarters. The armies can move on a limited basis in the Winter Operations Phase, but it is risky and they are likely to take both fatigue and attrition. The Winter Ops Phase also concludes with a supply check for the armies that moved, which may cause additional attrition.
In these two phases, we see fresh armies move out in the beginning of the summer season, having been newly reinforced or raised in the previous Reinforcement Phase, gradually wear down through the summer campaigning season, and then contracting in winter. We feel this does a good job of reflecting the “living off the land” nature of the armies of the time and the friction these armies faced when on campaign.
Grant: How does fatigue effect armies and their activations?
Francisco: Fatigue represents the wear and tear on an army that occurs over the period of time that it is in active operations. We use it to represent the results of all the friction that these armies faced when campaigning. It can be considered a kind of an “anti-Leader Rating” as, like leader ratings, it effects most of the activities that armies are involved in such as movement, battle, supply, and attrition – only in a negative way. Armies will accumulate fatigue mostly from activating and fighting battles, but there are several other causes that can rapidly build fatigue causing a significant drop in an army’s effectiveness.
There is a limit to how much fatigue an army can absorb before it can no longer be activated and very fatigued armies are vulnerable in battle. These factors, along with it being a good idea for players to have a plan for where they want their armies to be at the end of an Operations Phase, put a natural limit on what can be accomplished in a turn, which is a year of game time.
Grant: What area does the map cover?
Francisco: The map covers the central part of the Holy Roman Empire. It includes most of modern-day Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, and parts of Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland and France.
We have divided it into “provinces,” but those provinces don’t represent the actual administrative divisions of the Empire. We’ve tried to group them into areas that had similar tendencies regarding which side they supported and which tended to react together in the presence of a major army in the vicinity.
Grant: What unique strategic problems does the terrain create?
Francisco: When players start playing the game, they usually feel that the map is pretty open and the terrain plays a minor role. On closer examination (or more play!) they will find that the geography plays a key role in how they conduct their campaigns.
There are two types of terrain, natural and manmade. The clear terrain and hills hexes are the majority of the natural terrain. These can be easily moved through (though hills are slightly more difficult) and make up most of the play area. his is because Europe at the time had a surprisingly large number of towns and settlements and was pretty interconnected. That meant at the scale of our game, we felt that armies could basically go anywhere they wanted and we wanted the players to have that freedom with the main question being which route to take, perhaps a shorter more difficult route across hills, or maybe the more roundabout way on clear terrain to conserve forces.
The major natural obstacles to movement in the HRE, however, were the great European rivers. Players will find these cut the map into large sections. The rivers, of course, could be crossed by small groups and individuals at a fair number of places but crossing with an army is another matter. We limit players to major crossing sites that were generally at or near the cities because those were the places where armies could and would cross most practically and easily. We found that these sites had cities either at or nearby them so rivers can only be crossed at cities. This makes controlling key crossings an important part of a player’s plans.
That brings us to the man-made features on our map – the cities and the road networks.
There are three types of cities on our map – Great Cities, Major Cities and Minor Cities. Seven of these cities are also Electorate cities. One of the things to keep in mind when you see a city on a map is what it really represents. Yes, the named city is somewhere in the hex, but more importantly the hex represents a concentration of people and settlements, and the corresponding political and economic activity. Controlling cities give players various benefits depending on the size and type of city. Great Cities for example give not only the largest numbers and types of reinforcements but also political benefits. Control of Electorate Cities is important for winning the game. Last but not least control of cities keeps line of communication open.
This brings us to the “roads” in the game. These roads, like the cities, are a bit of an abstraction. In our game they represent the key lines of communication that ran through the HRE. They play a role in movement by providing armies that are moving long distance a slight movement benefit and ease the passage of hill terrain. They also play an absolutely key role in mustering armies. Players will find it difficult to muster large armies in isolated areas.
Grant: Why wasn’t point to point movement chosen?
Francisco: The Thirty Years War in this part of the Empire was a war of manoeuvres. Armies could travel without many complications except those created by the presence of an opposing force and the major rivers. We opted not to use a point-to-point movement system because such a system creates choke points that players need to control, and tends to give undue importance to the controlling of specific nodes.
We needed a system and a map that showed all the cities we wanted to show and that let an unopposed army travel from one side of central Europe to the other in one turn or less (as in Mansfeld’s campaign of 1626 or Gustavus Adolphus’ campaign of 1631). This was way easier with a hex map than a point-to-point system.
In addition, as I previously mentioned, armies that were large enough could take most cities pretty easily and when they could not, they could find ways to bypass cities to get to a region where they could forage effectively.
This is translated into the gameplay by letting players get control of cities without excessive complications and focus on blocking or confronting the opposing leaders that are operating near them.
Grant: Who is the map artist? How has their style reinforced your design vision?
Francisco: Nicolas Roblin, whom players will know from This War Without an Enemy, Border States and 300: Earth & Water, is our map artist.
His work on the map has been outstanding. The way he presents the layers of information, the colour palette he has chosen, the mix of modern and vintage…it’s a really beautiful map.
The map is also fun to play on, because Nicolas has done an excellent job with the ergonomics and visibility of the main features. He has also presented us with a daring approach to how to represent cities on the map, which to our minds, makes it easy to understand where are the most important places are, and makes it possible to “see” what is under the pieces without having to move stacks of counters around. We’ve found in our playtest sessions the map has helped increase the speed of the game.
We are very, very happy with how the map has turned out and we believe the game is better because of it.
Grant: What scenarios are included in the game? How long is their play time?
Francisco: In the game we have five scenarios and a full campaign. The playtime, once you know the system, runs between 30 and 45 minutes per turn.
The scenarios cover The Bohemian Revolt from 1618 to1620 (3 turns), the Palatinate War from 1621to1622 (2 turns), the Danish Intervention from 1625 to1629 (5 turns), the Swedish Intervention from 1630 to 1635 (6 turns) and the French Intervention from 1636 to 1648 (13 turns). Each of these are designed to be completed in one or two sittings and structured to try and capture the particular historical situation of the time.
The full Campaign covers the entire period from 1618 to 1648. This one is a bit more complex, since it is more of a sandbox of what could have happened within the political and diplomatic context of the rest of Europe. Players will find that the struggle for control of the HRE underlies the whole period but in each phase of the war what passes for victory and the tools that are available to accomplish it are variable.
So, in the end, we think, players will find scenarios that can be as short as an hour or so with the Bohemian Revolt, to three or four full evenings for a full Campaign.
Grant: What are you most pleased about with the design?
Francisco: The game is fun and fast, and no manoeuvre is unequivocally good or bad. Anything you do in the game will have pluses and minuses. Players will have to constantly make decision on whether what they want to achieve is worth the risk. Even doing nothing is risky. I also think that it takes advantage of recent scholarship to present a new model for looking at what happened in this part of Europe from 1618-1648
I’ve been playing the game nonstop for the last three years and I still want to play it again. One of the most rewarding things for me is that I’m constantly being surprised when I play with new players; they are always discovering manoeuvres that I have not seen before.
Grant: What has been the response of play testers?
Francisco: People that really know the period find that this game is a fresh approach to the war and gives them access to a new perspective.
People that know nothing about The Thirty Years War find it an interactive and easy to play game where every dice roll has the chance to become epic.
The response has been very positive, especially for players that enjoy games like GBACW or The US Civil War because they get a sensation similar to the flow of those games, but the system demands a totally different style of play.
I have to add that the testers are almost unanimous regarding the fact that the game is relatively simple in the rules and components, but it’s challenging to play well. The old saying, “easy to learn hard to master,” seems to be true here.
Grant: What other designs are you working on?
Francisco: I’ve also been working hard on Plantagenet, a Levy & Campaign Series game. It’s very near to going to the printers. We have talked about this game in the past and I think it too will be a lot fun for its players. It’s another game where my style is to try and give players a lot of options and there are no 100% good or bad manoeuvres. There’s always a risk in everything you do.
I have some other ideas on the table but I haven’t decided what to tackle next. I’d like to work again with Mike – the next time with both of us in the designer’s seat. We’ll look for a project that motivates us both and where we feel we can add a new perspective or a new contribution to the hobby. Not sure of the period or style yet, but we will surely focus on having fun with the design process, while building as great a game as we can.
I would like to add that, as with Plantagenet, all the proceeds I receive as the game designer will be donated to Fundacio Bellaire, a foundation that helps kids with autism get a better education and better access to the labour market. My view is that if I enjoy doing the design, players have fun with the game, and autistic kids get extra opportunities to show how they can contribute to society, it’s a situation where we all win.
If you are interested in Cuius Regio, you can pre-order a copy from the P500 game page for $45.00 at the following link: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-971-cuius-regio-the-thirty-years-war.aspx
Great interview. I am really looking forward to getting this. The Thirty Years War has always been a fascination of mine so much so I did a semester of independent study in college writing a paper on the life of a peasant during Thirty Years War.
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Awesome. Thanks for reading. I too am keenly anticipating this one.
Thank you Grant. I am glad to see that at least one member of the players aide has the ability to put pen to paper.
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Hahahaha. I think he has just forgot how. He needs some nudging.