This War Without an Enemy designer, Scott Moore joins Diagonal Move to talk about making the long journey towards publication.
DM: Hi Scott, thank you for joining us. Please tell us more about This War Without an Enemy.
SM: This War Without an Enemy is a block wargame set during the English Civil War of 1642 – 1646.
Each player’s armies – made up of infantry, cavalry and artillery – are represented by wooden blocks. The combat factors and other unit details are hidden from the opposing player to create a ‘fog of war’ effect.
Players have a hand of cards from which they simultaneously choose one to play each turn. The cards contain details of the number of actions that can be taken and any in-game events that occur.
The game is played out on map which is area based and some areas contain cities – capturing these cities gains the player points. The victor is the player who reaches 3 points at any time, or who has the most points at the end of the final turn.
Many of the features will be familiar to fans of the block wargames genre. However, I have added a few twists of my own via a system of siege warfare and a second map where the focus is on battles.
DM: This War Without an Enemy is your first game. Can you tell us about the journey to this point?
SM: This War Without an Enemy began life in 2012 as part of the Columbia Games Block Wargame series. I had some contact with Columbia while I was living in Hungary. I submitted a design after they expressed interest in releasing a game set during the English Civil War. It was accepted and development began but, in the end, it was not released.
Around three years ago, I took the game to Nuts! Publishing. Florent Coupeau, the co-owner of Nuts!, was very keen to publish my game as he also has an interest in the historical period. However, he warned me that the English Civil War is not a popular wargame theme. Pre-orders opened via Nuts! website in 2018. Some 18 months later we had around 100 orders – well short of the 300 needed for publication.
The Kickstarter launched in late January with aim of generating enough backers to reach the publication goal. By the time the campaign ended in early February we had around 400 orders in total, which was a fantastic result.
DM: Do you start with mechanics or history when designing a game?
For me, it’s the history. I was introduced to the English Civil War by a friend while at secondary school. I read a lot on the topic throughout my teens and began playing miniatures games set during the period. Eventually I also became involved with the English Civil War Society, which is a re-enactment group.
There are many ways to apply a historical theme to a game. It does depend on what type of game is being made. For example, 1066 Tears to Many Mothers by Tristan Hall is very rich in historical theme, yet it is a card game using a hand management mechanic. The process for that kind of game would be quite different to a strategic wargame.
Wargames are typically – not always – for two players. There are a lot of existing systems. There are variations between them to reflect different historical periods, but they do share many similarities.
Around 15 years ago, I began tinkering with a design for an ‘old school’ strategic game on the topic. But then GMT Games published ‘Unhappy King Charles’ by Charles Vasey, which was everything I could have wanted in a strategic game on the English Civil war. So, I stopped designing my own.
Block games, however, are very different. They are shorter with typically 2-3 hours playtime. When Columbia announced that they were considering a block game on the period, I thought that there was sufficient difference for there to be room for two strategic games on the Civil War.
While at Columbia Games I was designing using the criteria for their system. It was a case of working within the system; of picking the elements that best reflected the period I was interested in. Then I researched the armies – who was where in history – and created the map. Following that we began the playtesting process, which took around three years on and off.
When I moved to Nuts! there was less restriction on what I could include in the game and I began to explore other mechanics.
Wargames tend to focus on a single scale – operational, strategic or tactical. TWWE uses two maps allowing players to focus on two scales. How did this concept come about?
Most block wargames deal with combat using an abstract concept. First, battle is initiated on a large strategic map. Blocks are then removed from the board and lined up to the side. There is an order of battle, determining which units fire first, before resolving combat using dice.
To begin with combat in This War Without an Enemy followed this idea and the Battle Mat, as we call the smaller map, wasn’t present. Then I had the idea of setting the blocks on a separate map and playing the battle through but to do that there really needs to be many blocks. In my game there are perhaps six blocks per side. So, the Battle Mat became a type of player aid to help with the abstracted combat process. It is not a board to move blocks around on.
Having said that players have very much enjoyed the using the Battle Mat and consider it a great addition to the game.
There is a system for siege warfare. What does this bring to This War Without an Enemy in addition to artillery, infantry and cavalry combat?
Battles during the English Civil War were often fought as a result of an army coming to the aid of a besieged city as controlling cities was the key to victory.
To take control of a City in This War Without an Enemy, players can assault or siege.
Assault works like a field battle with the addition of rules that deal with the defenders having an advantage due to city walls. Siege, on the other hand, is about blockading the city until the defenders’ surrender.
Portrayed at the time as a ‘gentleman’s war’ The English Civil War was, in some ways, less brutal than, say, the 30 Years War, which was happening around the same time. Enemies treated each other with a certain amount of respect
An example of this is that a garrison surrendering a besieged city, due to a lack of food and supplies, would be allowed to leave. They surrendered their weapons and went to the nearest friendly town where they could rejoin their own forces.
This is reflected in the game and adds a lot of tension through the range of tactical decisions it opens for the players.
DM: The art in This War Without is distinctive. How important was the graphic design to the Kickstarter campaign?
SM: Euro-style and Ameritrash games have benefitted from a huge leap forward in both component quality and graphic design during the last ten years. Wargames have largely remained behind. Partly this a result of the cost implications in a niche market and there is also an element of customer expectation of a certain style.
But I feel, and it’s also Nuts! philosophy, that there is absolutely no reason why wargames cannot have great graphic design and good components. GMT’s COIN series are a great example of historical wargames with component quality that you would normally find in a Eurogame.
For This War Without an Enemy, Nuts! and I wanted great art. We had a couple of graphic designers who were experienced in the industry but who weren’t quite delivering what we had hoped for. Then we found Nicolas Roblin, who had been a graphic designer for many years but had never worked on a board game.
He put a huge amount of effort into the project, spending days researching illustrations from the 17th century. I believe a lot of the success of the Kickstarter is due to his work, particularly on the box cover, which is very different to most wargames. The red cross, the figures coming out of the smoke…
DM: What do you plan to work on next?
SM: We are working towards a full retail release shortly after we ship to our Kickstarter backers – around September 2020. The game will be available via Nuts! website and other retail avenues. Our Kickstarter was a success, but we expect copies will be still be sold via retail routes for a few years. Wargames tend to have a long shelf life.
The game I am currently focussing on is inspired by a book called ‘She-Wolves’ about three early female rulers of England. One of them was the Empress Matilda, who waged a civil war with King Stephen in the 12th Century. It was a war that did not have many battles, so the game concentrates on political elements and uses both a map and deckbuilding elements. It will be a historically themed game but not really a war game.
I’m also working on some other games in a co-development capacity for both Nuts! and Phalanx Games.
DM: Do you have any advice for aspiring games designers?
SM: Becoming a full-time designer is challenging to achieve. However, it’s certainly possible to make a living in the industry through a mix of areas which can include design. You may need to ‘dip your toe in’ at first, perhaps volunteer in some capacity.
Be passionate. Play as many games as you can. Read about them, watch the videos. Then think about what you can offer the industry. Maybe your talent is in designing, maybe it’s marketing, maybe it’s admin.
It’s a small industry but very friendly and there are many ways into it from the hobby.
A version of this interview originally appeared on the Zatu Games blog.