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Subject: 2018 in Review - the Year I Became a Wargame Designer rss

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David Thompson
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I’ve been thinking a lot about the most defining thing that happened to me personally in 2018. My family moved from the UK to the US, I started a new job (still working for the US DoD, just a different position), I’m closing in on 40 (I turn 40 in 2 days, on 3 January 2019), and I had my second, third, and fourth games published.

I think the thing that will stand out more than any other when I look back on 2018, though, is how it was the year I became a wargame designer. So, in celebration of that, I figured it would be fun to look back on my favorite hobby in 2018…

My First Published Wargame: Pavlov’s House

In 2017 I reached out to Dan Verssen (of DVG) about my game Pavlov’s House. The game had done well in the 2016-2017 BGG Wargame Design Contest, so I thought it might have some success as a title with a proven solitaire wargame publisher. DVG seemed a perfect fit. In August 2017, we ran the Kickstarter for Pavlov’s House. I was extremely stressed out going into the Kickstarter — I had a fear that no one would show up to back the game, but those fears were unfounded. It did well, thanks in large part to the amazing communities on the BGG wargame forum and Solitaire Wargames Facebook page. In July 2018 the game was delivered to backers, and it has been well received as one of the top 10 rated wargames of the year on BGG.


(Pavlov's House cover)

Other Published Games

In addition to Pavlov’s House, I had two other games published in 2018. In June, Orc-lympics (Brain Games) premiered at UK Games Expo and Origins. Orc-lympics is a light, card-drafting, hand-management, and bidding game with a fantasy Olympics theme. Meanwhile, War Chest (AEG) was released at GenCon. War Chest is an abstract strategy game with a central bag-building mechanism. Some have referred to War Chest as a wargame, but I think that’s a stretch. It’s a wargame in the same way you might consider chess a wargame. Regardless, it has been a great commercial and critical success for me, and I’m hoping it has a bright future.


(War Chest components)

My Second Kickstarter Experience

Based on the success of Pavlov’s House, Dan (from DVG) reached out to me in September 2018 to see if I wanted to create a series of games based on the core system and if I already had other designs ready. In 2016 I had designed Castle Itter for the 2015-2016 BGG Wargame Design Contest. It was actually the first design that used the core system from Pavlov’s House. Later in 2016 I signed a contract with Victory Point Games for the game, but that contract eventually expired before the game was published. So having Castle Itter published by DVG and keeping it in the same family as Pavlov’s House was a perfect fit. The Castle Itter Kickstarter ran in November/December 2018 and was enough of a success to launch the Valiant Defense line of games.


(Castle Itter cover)

The Valiant Defense Series

My intent for the Valiant Defense series is to allow players to play amazing stories of courage, with small forces holding the line against unimaginable odds. Games in the series will focus on the individual defenders and are deeply rooted in history, while providing a quick play experience with a light complexity ruleset. All the games will focus primarily on solitaire gameplay, though they will also have variants for cooperative and/or competitive play. A couple weeks ago, I asked the BGG wargamer community for ideas on the next game in the series, and the response has been awesome.



A Shift in My Game Design Priorities

I began to seriously design boardgames in 2014, when I moved to the UK and became part of the design and playtest community in Cambridge. From 2014 - 2018, I worked on a wide variety of designs and with a few different designers. I didn’t have a specific focus or design approach. But over time a couple tendencies emerged. In general, my wargame designs became solo design efforts, while other games were typically co-designs. When I left Cambridge in June, 2018, I left behind my co-design partners. That’s not to say I won’t find new partners in the US, but the change really helped me spend some time reflecting on what is most satisfying about the design experience. I realized that my favorite part of the process was the research that was involved in wargame design and the subsequent crafting of gameplay to evoke the history. So while I won’t completely stop designing other games, my focus on the game design moving forward will center around games with historical elements — political games, historical games, and wargames.

What’s Coming in 2019?

2019 is shaping up to be an interesting year. If all goes right, I should have a few political and wargames hit the street, to include Castle Itter, Europe Divided, and Undaunted: Normandy.

Castle Itter (DVG), as a I mentioned earlier, is somewhat of a prequel (from a design perspective) and sequel (from a publishing perspective) to Pavlov’s House. The Battle for Castle Itter was fought near the Austrian village of Itter on 5 May 1945, in the last days of the War in Europe during World War II. US soldiers joined forces with Wehrmacht infantrymen, an SS officer, an Austrian resistance fighter, and recently freed French prisoners of war to defend an Austrian castle against an attacking force from the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division.

Castle Itter should be released in June 2019.

Europe Divided (PHALANX), is my first political game. It’s a game of an expansionist Europe, a resurgent Russia, and a new Cold War. In the game, you control of one of the two powers: Europe (controlling both NATO and the European Union) or Russia. You manage conflicts of political and military influence, vying for control over Central and Eastern Europe as well as the Caucasus. Europe is powerful and rich, but bureaucratic and slow to react. Russia lacks Europe's resources, but can respond rapidly. Players score victory points by having dominant influence in contested countries in Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and the Caucasus. They can also score victory points by bringing key historical events to fruition.

Europe Divided should hit Kickstarter in early 2019.


(Europe Divided prototype)

Undaunted: Normandy (Osprey), is a two-player deck-building war game that places you and your opponent in command of American or German forces, fighting through a series of missions critical to the outcome of World War II. Use your cards to seize the initiative, bolster your forces, or control your troops on the battlefield. Strong leadership can turn the tide of battle in your favour, but reckless decisions could prove catastrophic, as every casualty you take removes a card from your deck. Take charge amidst the chaos of battle, hold fast in the face of opposition, and remain undaunted.

Undaunted: Normandy is set for a GenCon 2019 release.


(Undaunted: Normandy cover)

What’s in the Works?

There are a couple other wargame designs that I have in work that I’ve already shared with folks here on BGG and on the Solitaire Wargame Facebook group. Those include Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms and By Sea and Stealth. Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms builds on the same core system used in Castle Itter and Pavlov’s House and is about the defense of the Polish Post Office in the free city of Danzig on the first day of World War II. I have been keeping a design diary here on BGG where my partner Michal Kochman and I have chronicled our work. Meanwhile, By Sea and Stealth is a game about Decima Flottiglia MAS, a commando frogmen unit of the Italian Royal Navy. It focuses on their manned torpedo attacks against Allied vessels during World War II.


(Placeholder cover image for Soldiers in Postmen's Uniforms)

The People of the Wargame Community

The thing that really stood out to me about wargame design in 2018 was the community. I’ve been amazed by the people I’ve had a chance to work with a meet. Publishers, developers, media content creators, and gamers — it’s just amazing.

Though I know I’ll forget some great folks, here’s a list of some of the most impactful people that I’ve had the chance to meet and work with in 2018.

Publishers and Developers

Four publishers stood out for me in 2018: DVG, AEG, Osprey, and PHALANX. Working with Dan, Sarah, and Kevin at DVG has been a delight. My relationship with them is unique, in that I have essentially maintained complete creative control over the games in the Valiant Defense series. I think Dan and I have really been able to build a close, trusting relationship, and Sarah is simply the best in the business when it comes to customer service and the 1000 other things she does for DVG.

For AEG I had the chance to work with Mark Wootton as the developer for War Chest. Mark’s dedication to the game is clear, and has been instrumental to its success. Moreso than any other game I’ve worked on, War Chest was a true team effort between me, Trevor Benjamin (who co-designed the game with me), Mark (as the developer), and Brigette Indelicato (the artist).


(Me (left) along with Brigette Indelicato and Mark Wootton at GenCon 2018)

Osprey and developer Duncan Molloy will always have a special place in my heart. Way back at Essen Spiel 2014, I met Duncan. He was just getting the board game division at Osprey established. I pitched him the game that would eventually go on to be Undaunted: Normandy, though it a took a long, winding path to get there. More recently, I’ve had the privilege to work with Filip Hartelius, who has served as the lead developer for Undaunted. Filip has been amazing to work with and has really pushed me and Trevor Benjamin (the co-designer) to make the game the best it can be.

In the lead up to Essen Spiel 2017 the crew from PHALANX reached out to me about Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms, having seen the design diary on BGG. I met with them at the convention and pitched them both Soldiers and also a game I had been working on with co-designer Chris Marling called Europe Divided. At that point, they were interested in both but Europe Divided was much farther along in the design process, and so they essentially signed it on the spot. Since that time, I’ve worked closely with Jaro Andruszkiewicz — the lead developer for Europe Divided. We’ve not only started collaborating on other designs, but we’ve developed a great friendship.

Designers and Artists

I’ve mentioned my co-design partners a couple times in passing, but they deserve a HUGE section of this look back. My first published game, Armageddon (Queen), was designed with Chris Marling, who I worked with on Europe Divided. He’s an endless fountain of wisdom when it comes to games and mechanisms. He and I have a few other titles in the works that I’m hoping will get picked up in 2019. My primary design partner is Trevor Benjamin. We’ve worked together on War Chest, Orc-lympics, Undaunted: Normandy and have quite a few irons in the fire. I also have a couple game designs in work with special collaborators Michal Kochman and Nicola Saggini. Michal and I have been working on Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms for well over a year now. He’s leading the research effort while I focus on the gameplay, and it’s a great, unique partnership. Meanwhile, Nicola and I are working on expanding my original design for By Sea and Stealth to something much more extensive than originally envisioned. He, like Michal, is an expert on the subject matter and brings extensive depth to the subject matter.


(Me along with my best co-design buds in Cambridge)

I’ve been blessed to have amazing artists attached to some of my designs. I mentioned Brigette Indelicato’s work on War Chest already. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have the super talented Roland MacDonald work on Undaunted: Normandy. I’m blown away by the look he’s developed for the game. Most memorable, however, is the relationship I developed with Matt White based on his work for Castle Itter. I think Matt has one of the most unique styles in the wargame hobby and was honored when he agreed to work on the game.


(Cover for Matt White's game, Until the Bitter End)

Media Content Creators

One of the cool things about designing games is that you have a chance to meet some of the great content creators in our hobby. In 2018, I was able to meet (either virtually or in person) some great Youtubers such as Dan Pancaldi (No Enemies Here), Nate Rogers (The Gimpy Gamer), Grant Kleinhenz (the Player’s Aid), and Marco Arnaudo (Marcowargamer). In all four cases, these gents were super supportive of Pavlov’s House and Castle Itter. They produce some of the best wargame video content around, and I was super appreciative that they would take the time to show off my designs.

On the podcast side, I was fortunate enough to get together a couple times with my friend Mark Johnson on his podcasts Boardgames to Go and Wargames to Go. On the Wargames to Go episode, we discussed the differences in the general hobby game and wargame communities and we also talked about the Long Range Desert Group (the subject of an upcoming design). I also met Travis Hill from the Low Player Count podcast at GenCon. Travis produces some great wargame/historical game content on his podcast.

The Communities

It’s appropriate to close this look back with thoughts on the two communities that mean the most to me: the BGG wargame forum and the wargame-related groups on Facebook. It’s not an exaggeration to say that if not for these groups, I wouldn’t be typing this post. These two groups are responsible for the success Castle Itter and Pavlov’s House had in the BGG design competitions. If it hadn’t been for Andrew Powell, I would never have discovered the Solitaire Wargame Facebook group and reached out to Dan Verrsen. And if it hadn’t been for both groups, the games would not have funded on Kickstarter. It’s the support from these groups that encourage me each and every day to continue these designs.

Thanks and here’s to a great 2019!
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David J. Mortimer
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A nice read Dave. Looking forward to when you tackle a pre gunpowder era!
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Brandon
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Nice summary of a great year. I regret that I never once went to one of the playtest meetups in Cambridge while I was there 2013-2018, even though I was a member of the Meetup group and received every single reminder.
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roger miller
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Have fun with it. Designed my first game back in 1977 and still loving it.
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N R
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Interesting article buddy. I am glad you have had all the success you have had since you brought such a innovative design to the community in Pavlovs House. When you mentioned Castle Itter to me I was jumping at the bit to try it. I cant wait to see what else comes out from your series as well. Oh and dont sell yourself short on Warchest. It's a wargame just like the others just a little more abstract.
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Nicola S
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Great read David.

And if I may add, I just love your enthusiasm and passion!

Also please accept my apologies for a long overdue answer, but you know I am still tied up with other projects, though close to wrap them up.

So, Happy New Year and let's make 2019 another great year for your designs!

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Carsten Bohne
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Congrats! Looking forward to the final version of Europe Divided...
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David Cheng
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Great sharings! I wish I can work as hard as David. I remember I saw David's work when he shared his works of Skirmish Tactics a few years ago and now he has published a few games now.

Just curious, is it necessary to raise fund through KS when you are working with a publisher already? I see some wargamers don't trust KS and won't buy anything from KS. Are the publishers mainly for selling the non-KS orders?
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Bob
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Anyone else thinking we need a Designer Microbadge for David? He already has a candidate to start with... thumbsup cool thumbsup

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Jim O'Neill (Established 1949)
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VENI, VIDI, VISA - my reaction on entering my FLGS.
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