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Designer Diary: Resist! or Bringing the Story of the Spanish Maquis to the Boardgame World

"How many lands have my feet trod and my eyes seen! What terrible scenes of desolation of death I witnessed in those years of continual war. Adverse circumstances had made us, anti-militarists, the most battle hardened soldiers of the Allied armies."
—Murillo de la Cruz


Board Game: Resist!

In mid-2020, Gonzalo Maldonado from Salt & Pepper Games reached out and asked whether I would be interested in collaborating. Historically, Salt & Pepper has licensed games for Spanish-language editions, but they wanted to start publishing their own designs. In addition to being a publisher, Gonzalo is a reviewer, and over the years he had reviewed many of my games. We shared a love for historical games, so he wanted to see whether I would be interested in designing something for his company.

The offer was flattering, and I was very much interested in working with Gonzalo and Salt & Pepper Games, but at the time I was swamped with deadlines. I let Gonzalo know that I was absolutely interested in collaborating, but that it would be a while before I was able to get started.

We stayed in touch and occasionally brainstormed possible ideas. Then in May 2021, Gonzalo reached out to me again and presented the idea of including Albert Monteys. Albert is a famous illustrator who has been nominated for the Eisner and won quite a few other awards. The timing of Gonzalo's email was perfect. I was just finishing some work on a design with one of my design partners (Roger Tankersley), and I was on a brief hiatus on a couple of projects with my other design partner (Trevor Benjamin).

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics

I thought about Gonzalo's proposal and brainstormed a couple ideas. I was inspired especially by Albert's work on the Slaughterhouse-Five graphic novel adaptation, and I also wanted the game to honor Spanish military history. I settled on a couple possible themes: La Nueve, and the Spanish Maquis. La Nueve was the nickname given to the 9th Company of the Régiment de marche du Tchad, part of the French 2nd Armored Division (also known as Division Leclerc). La Nueve fought during the liberation of French North Africa, and later participated in the liberation of France. The Spanish Maquis were guerillas exiled to France after the Spanish Civil War. They fought alongside the French Maquis during the Second World War, but they are better known for their continued fight against Francoist Spain until the early 1960s.

The Designers

I prefer to design with a partner, so I reached out to both Trevor and Roger and asked whether either would be interested in collaborating on the project. I presented the thematic concepts and also sketched out an extremely rough idea for possible mechanisms in the game. This is how I proposed that the game might work:
Quote:
The player takes the role of a "commander" and has a deck of maybe 20 or so cards representing their fighters. At the beginning of the game, the player shuffles their entire deck together. There is also an opposition deck of cards. The goal is to remove the entire opposition deck from the game. On a player's turn, they draw X cards from their deck (probably four or five) and X cards from the opposition deck. The goal is to remove the drawn opposition cards. Each opposition card has a defense value (and some sort of attack or special action).

Each of the player's cards has up to three elements:
• Attack value
• Special action
• Special action that requires the card to be removed from the game

I envision there being a few (maybe four or five?) "levels" to the game, which consist of thematic concepts and escalating difficulty in the composition of the opponent deck. Theoretically the idea could be that players play through a chronological campaign of these handful of scenarios.
To my surprise and excitement, both Trevor and Roger replied that they were interested in working on the design. We almost immediately settled on the topic of the Spanish Maquis. Although I had assumed a Spanish Maquis game would focus on the group's exploits during the Second World War, Roger rightly pushed us towards focusing on the post-WW2 counter-Franco time period. That time period is what the group is better known for, and it provided for a more wide-ranging and interesting thematic backdrop.

We each began to take on roles in the design. In general, I proposed most of the gameplay elements, Roger led the thematic integration, and Trevor concentrated on development and refinement.

Initial Refinement

One of the earliest and most impactful thematic elements Roger introduced was the way in which we represented the Maquis fighters. My original concept was that each fighter would have two special actions: one weak and one strong. When fighters used their weak action, they would be discarded and could be used again. If they were used for their stronger action, they were removed from the game. This mechanism was inspired by card-driven games (CDGs) as well as deck-destruction games, such as Martin Wallace's Lincoln. Roger proposed that the weak action represented the Maquis operating covertly, or "hidden", while the stronger action represented the Maquis "revealing" themself and operating overtly against the Francoist forces. It was a great thematic framework that we would use to craft all of the Maquis fighters. This is how Roger initially described it:
Quote:
So I think this could maybe fit what you've laid out as well. Each maquis card has a "minimal risk" plain-clothes action that is less powerful, and a "high risk" militarized action that is powerful.
The next major shift in the design was the way in which the enemy worked. It was the least refined concept I had in my initial gameplay pitch. Trevor proposed an alternative that improved the theming, provided more interesting decisions for the player, and improved the overall game structure. Rather than a single enemy deck, there would be a set of "location" cards (which would later become missions) and an enemy deck. Enemies would be distributed among the locations, and the player would have a choice of which location to attack. Here's how Trevor described it:
Quote:
Instead of a single, amorphous deck for the enemies, what about this: In addition to the enemy deck, each game has a prescribed set of "location" cards that are laid out on the table. These would minimally have a "defender" value, though they could also have special abilities / conditions. During set-up, you distribute the enemy cards face down to the locations, according to this defender value (so three cards if the value is 3, etc.) On the player's turn, they draw their hand and then choose which location to attack.
This was an instrumental change to the game. It allowed for interesting decisions by the player, the integration of special effects for the locations, and greater variety across plays. It was the last major tweak to the core gameplay concept before the three of us really got to work on the game design. The next step was to create the initial set of Maquis fighters, enemies, and missions.

The History

As I mentioned earlier, Roger led the research and thematic integration for the game. During his research, he identified three general timeframes that encapsulated the Maquis' battle against Francoist Spain: The Re-invasion of Spain (1944), Splintering of the Maquis (1945-1948), and Hunting the Maquis (1949-1952). This is how he described those periods:

1944: Re-invasion of Spain by Spanish Maquisards in France. Franco had fortified the Pyrenees with 4,500 fortifications in anticipation of armed resistance both from former foes (the Spaniards who had fled to France) and other Allied powers when Germany fell. There was direct, large-scale conflict between returning maquisards and Franco forces.

1945-1948: Splintering of Maquis. By 1947 hopes of large area control were gone. Franco forces easily repelled the re-invasion of Spain. Remaining Maquis took to the mountains and entered a phase of industrial sabotage, assassinations, and bank robberies. Lots of small scale conflicts, many bands of maquis operating in the mountains.

1949-1952: Hunting the Maquis. Franco responded by training and fielding an incredibly capable force of counter-guerillas, dressed and operating like the guerillas and sowing terror on their home ground. These counter-gangs even attacked local populace in the guise of maquisards to discredit them. Franco forces were hunting down and scattering remnants, with many maquisards trying to flee back to France. Lots of missions to try to rescue their fellow maquis, get needed supplies, rob banks to give money to guerilla families, and continue to harass and disrupt the military, communications, smuggling weapons, etc.

These three time periods formed the thematic background for the three mission decks in the game. We also drew from these concepts to identify the types of enemies in the game.

From Design to Development

Next, we refined how the Maquis were handled. Originally, I had envisioned a single Maquis deck of about twenty cards. You'd start with the entire deck in each play, and your choice to play cards for their weak or strong actions would drive the composition of the deck. In order to increase variety and replayability across games, we shifted to a model in which you'd have access to only half of the Maquis in each game, and early playtests drove us to reduce the number of Maquis in play from twenty to twelve.

Now we had the framework of the game that very much reflected the final design. The next order of business was development. We focused on balancing the Maquis, missions, and enemies; developing consistent terminology across the game; refining the gameplay structure; and better integrating the theme.

Throughout mid-2021, Trevor, Roger, and I worked through this process of refinement. There were a couple critical decisions we made during this period, perhaps the most important of which was "How does the player win?"

In the early versions of the game, we used a win condition similar to what is in the base game now, that is, the player is trying to achieve different victory level thresholds as determined by victory points. However, we also started designing alternate win conditions as scenarios. For these, winning was binary: You either won or lost — but players had special, specific goals rather than simply trying to achieve more and more victory points.

We enjoyed both models, and the system supported both. It was at this time, with the core gameplay refined and us at the point of making subjective decisions, that we launched our playtest.

Organized Playtesting

In September 2021, we launched a massive organized playtest. I reached out to three communities: The 1 Player Guild on BoardGameGeek, specific groups on Facebook (the Solo Board Gamers and Solitaire Wargamers groups), and Twitter. The response was overwhelmingly positive. In the end, we limited the number of testers to 75, with about one-third of the testers coming from each community.

We were confident going into the external playtest that the core game design for Resist! was strong, but what we really needed was extensive data collection so that we could gauge overall balance and difficulty for the game. We needed to test a number of variables (individual mission strength, Maquis, etc), but primarily we were concerned with these questions:

• What was the level of difficulty for the core game when using a random set-up of Maquis?
• What was the level of difficulty for the core game when when you drafted Maquis?
• What was the level of difficulty for each of the eleven scenarios when using a random set-up of Maquis?
• What was the level of difficulty for each of the eleven scenarios when you drafted Maquis?

While there were some subjective and open-ended questions we also asked, it was objective data collection that we needed in order to properly answer the four questions above. Fortunately, because of the size of the playtest pool and the amazing responsiveness of our testers, we were able to collect hundreds of individual game results. That allowed us to make data-driven decisions about balance tweaks across the core game and the scenarios.

Of course, our amazing playtesters helped us in many other ways. Throughout this process Trevor primarily led the effort to refine all of our rules text, especially to ensure consistency, based on tester feedback. To say the responses were critical to the development of the game would be a massive understatement.

The organized playtest ran for about two months. At that point we had collected enough data and feedback to lock down the design. During this same period we had already been meeting with the publisher (Salt & Pepper), artist (Albert Monteys), and graphic designers (Meeple Foundry). But now with the game design and development complete, we could transition into art and graphic design integration.

Art and Graphic Design

We met with Albert to discuss the artwork, and with Diana Toma and Samuel Zaragoza to discuss the graphic design as we were running the organized playtest. I already mentioned how enamored we all were with Albert's gorgeous art, but we were just as lucky to be working with Diana and Samuel.

To give you an idea of what the game components looked like in their prototype form, here's a sample Maquis card, followed by the final version:

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics

And here's a comparison of a mission card:

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics

And an enemy card comparison:

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics

As you can see, somehow Albert, Diana, and Samuel were able to take our rough concepts and turn them into something truly magical. The art is evocative and beautiful, while the graphic design is a perfect blend of functional and elegant. I couldn't be happier with the final look of the game.

Resist! starting shipping to backers in August 2022, one month ahead of schedule, which is a minor miracle in the current state of production and shipping in the board game world. The game will be available to buy at SPIEL '22 in Essen, Germany in October.

David Thompson

Board Game: Resist!
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