Fall of the Kaiserreich Developer Note #11: Factions Update

Militia during the Spartacus Uprising

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve last provide a update on the development of Fall of the Kaiserreich. In this 11th note, I’ll explain how the factions system has been reworked to reflect the increasingly fraught situation of post-armistice Germany.

As mentioned previously, the game includes three factions, which generally speaking represent right-wing, left-wing, and centrist political movements. The parties representing these movements in game include the Monarchists, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), and the National Liberal Party (NLP). Each party has its own strengths, weaknesses, and objectives. However, recognizing the instability of 1918 Germany, players need some control over the shape of their respective factions to maximally capitalize on the situation.

Thus, the faction system has been reworked to be ‘two-tiered’; at critical points in the game, players can decide to change from a party named above to its respective “war party”. The “war party” represents the militant wing of the movement, allowing the player to pursue a more violent policy of political change.  the Monarchists can become the German National People’s Party (DNVP), the SPD can become the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), and the NLP can become the German People’s Party (DVP).

Historically speaking, these parties were distinct entities. However, as this game represents a more abstract simulation of the difficult situation of Germany, allowing the player to move from a mainstream party to a “war party” as the crisis intensifies enables a greater depth to the game’s experience.  Changing to the war party will make new leaders available for recruitment, may create new political positions for leaders to occupy, and makes it easier to use violent actions. However, there are costs. Switching will increase militancy, which may trigger one or more escalation events, further deepening the country’s troubles.

As the rules development is almost completed, the next phase will be the completion of the play-test components, some of which were sampled in previous updates. Stay tuned.

 

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Soldier: Hero of the Soviet Union Developer Note #1

Aside from the larger project Fall of the Kaiserreich, I am also working on a solitaire design named Hero of the Soviet, which will be volume one in the Soldier series. Most war-games have players controlling squads, platoons, large armies, or countries. Few try to immerse a player at the individual soldier level.

The Soldier series will be a family of games simulating the experience of the individual soldier in various conflicts. The player will create a soldier and embark various historical campaigns. The first will focus on the experiences of the Soviet soldier during World War II.

In Hero of the Soviet Union, the player will control an individual Red Army soldier from the initial invasion in 1941 to the termination of the war in Berlin in May, 1945. The game consists of two parts: the Campaign Phase and the Battle Phase. During the campaign phase, the player will track the progress of the war as the German Army plunges into the Soviet Union. The player will also manage their individual soldier between battles, addressing developments within their squad, chain of command, and the home front.

When a battle occurs, the game transitions to the Battle Phase, a squad-level hex-based tactical action representing a small portion of the larger unfolding war. The bot will control German and friendly Soviet soldiers, while also determining the initial placement and terrain. The player’s soldier, who’s skills and kit the player must manage from phase to phase, takes part in these battles. The action will be quick and engaging, given the player a very tiny sense of the chaos of war. As the player progresses, he may be awarded citations, earn new skills or promotions, or become a prisoner of war or a partisan. Whatever happens, the player will fulfill his role to repel the fascist invaders from the Motherland and, if merited, earn the vaunted title Hero of the Soviet Union.

Stay tuned for more updates.

Book Review #9: The Rising Sun

In this hefty tome, John Tolland describes in vivid and personal detail from the perspective of Japanese soldiers, statesmen, and civilians, the experiences of the Second World War; a conflict that drastically reshaped the global order and the Pacific region. Although the Pacific Theater did not possess the scale of the war against Germany (of the approximate 60 million people that died in the war, about 20 million were Soviet citizens, and another 8 million were Germans),  the intensity and consequences proved just as fierce and substantial.

The Rising Sun

By the 1930s, the Empire of Japan had a emerged as a modern military power. It possessed a rapidly growing industrial base, a stable government, a capable military, and imperialist ambitions. Unique among modern states however, the country had an Emperor that, in theory, possessed absolute power, but in practice rarely exercised it. Rather, day to day government was determined by the Prime Minister and his cabinet, within which the Army and Navy had considerable influence. The Emperor provided general guidance and at times approved specific government policies.

The government also suffered internal dissension, with various cliques competing for influence. Most importantly, these cliques clashed about the policy towards China, and whether or not Japan should aim to conquer the country. The intensity of these disagreements reached such heights that it inspired assassinations and coup attempts. In another Japanese peculiarity, conspirators of these plots rarely suffered the death penalty (or even prison time) as the political culture of the time tolerated excesses in pursuit of defending the country’s honor.

Eventually, the war clique, led by the Army facilitated by a usually non-committal Navy, emerged victorious. Even as Japan proclaimed it was liberating China (and eventually all Asian peoples) from the imperialism of white nations, Japanese brutality and oppression caused millions of civilian deaths. A quick victory in China eluded the Japanese, even with the establishment of a puppet government and conquest of tens of millions of people.

Victims of Japanese atrocities in Nanking, China

This aggression, and the country’s eventual alliance with Nazi Germany, raised alarm in Washington and London. Both governments gradually raised pressure on Japan as relations deteriorated. All sides sensed a coming conflict.

In anticipation, the Japanese government, split as it was between its civilian and military cliques, pursued a schizophrenic policy. It haphazardly pursued a diplomatic understanding with the United States, recognizing that it lacked the resources for an extended war,  while arbitrarily limiting the time it would allow itself to negotiate before making the first military strike.

Miscommunication, misunderstanding, and even mistranslation led to a political impasse between the United States and Japan. On December 7th, 1941, in a surprise attack, Japan launched a carrier airstrike, supported by mini-submarines and even a spy on Hawaii itself, against Pearl Harbor, touching off a bitter war.

One Hundred Million Die Together

Japanese military thought, informed by its samurai tradition as well its recent military experiences (particularly its victory over the Russian Empire in 1905), suffered from two disabling pathologies.

First, the Japanese Army and Navy sought to end the war through a single decisive battle. The attack on Pearl Harbor assumed that America’s aircraft carriers would be present and that sinking them would cripple American sea-power. As Japanese forces swept aside Allied forces in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, Japan abandoned the previous strategy to allow the Americans to extend themselves into Japanese held territory. Instead, the Japanese launched another risky carrier strike, this time at Midway, in the hopes of decisively turning the war into their favor. Instead, it resulted in the destruction of a considerable portion of Japan’s carrier force, which could not be easily replaced. Time and time again, Japanese military leadership at every level needlessly risked valuable military resources chasing after a fantastical final battle, often resulting in their own annihilation.

An artist’s rendition of the sinking of a Japanese carrier during the Battle of Midway

Secondly, Japanese military leadership could not countenance retreat or withdrawal in any form. By 1943, elements of the leadership realized that Japan could not defeat the United States and should sue for peace. But this option could not be seriously considered in the open without risking one’s own life. The Army and Navy regularly fed new forces into futile battles piecemeal, never mounting a seriously organized campaign that had a reasonable chance of success. Even at the tactical level, one account recalls a Japanese officer, realizing the futility of an attack, calling for his unit to retreat. When the soldiers failed to move, he instead called for them to advance, and they followed his lead toward the enemy. Once moving, he promptly turned around, and his men followed him to the rear.

These pathologies lead to a highly destructive war, forcing the Americans to fight for every inch of the beaches, jungles, and caves of the Pacific. It also led, in part, to Japan’s terrible treatment of captured prisoners, resulting in summary executions, torture, and negligence that killed thousands of Allied servicemen. It also culminated in the fire-bombings and atomic bombings of Japanese cities, killing hundreds of thousands of people.

The remains of Hiroshima after the first use of the atomic bomb in war

Towards the end of the war, the situation of the Japanese government was desperate. It was both ready to surrender – a scenario thought impossible only four years earlier – and to suffer 100 million deaths in the defense of the home islands. Only the direct intervention of the Emperor himself quelled the Japanese spirit to continue fighting to the ultimate end.

John Tolland’s work offers an easily accessible reading of this terrible experience from start to finish. He illustrates the militant spirit of over-confident military officers who would later commit suicide rather than be captured, the plight of civilians trapped in caves fearful of American invaders that propaganda told them would rape and murder, and the breakdown of a society crushed at all levels by a combination of total war and total devotion. Most importantly, it humanizes a most inhumane war, and shows the terrible cost of humbling a proud people in the contest between nations.

Most Anticipated Games of 2018

When the start of the new year, I’d like to share some of the games I’m most anticipating playing. The games include a mix of history, science fiction, and politics as well as a combination of solitaire and multiplayer games. The games selected below offer a substantive thematic experience or, in many cases, unique mechanics to make an enjoyable and engaging game.  In no particular order:

Raiders of the Deep by Compass Games. In this solitaire war game, players assume command of a World War I German U-boat and must navigate the hazards of the Great War while destroying as much enemy shipping as possible. It offers an opportunity to explore a rarely simulated experience. Historically, the Germans suffered the loss of 178 boats and 5,000 men while sinking about 5,000 ships.

Skies Above the Reich by GMT Games. In another solitaire game, the player commands the Luftwaffe’s response to the Allied strategic bombing campaign in World War II. In this game, the player directs his squadrons to combat the large flying formations devastating Germany in a vain hope to stem the tide of overwhelming American firepower.

Stellar Horizon by Compass Games. In a departure from the other war games on this list, Stellar Horizon looks forward in time, not backwards. Developed by a space engineer, it predicts the next 100 years of human space exploration, and asks each player to lead a country’s space program as it reaches for the stars.

SpaceCorp by GMT Games. Another science fiction game, SpaceCorp places the players in control of an aspirational space program. However, this game divides itself into three phases, each with its own scope and strategies, starting with the inner solar system and ending with nearby star systems. A player’s achievements in one phase will impact his capabilities in the next.

Imperial Struggle by GMT Games. This game returns the player to Earth; particularly, the centuries-long antagonism between the empires of France and Great Britain. In it, players battle for dominion across the world in trade, politics, and war. A spiritual successor to Twilight Struggle, the game appears to be a promising sequel.

Mr. President by GMT Games. Last but not least, this single-player game puts the player in the seat of the most powerful person in the world: the President of the United States of America. The player must contend with foreign crises, competing great powers, a fickle public, and a combative Congress to keep [make] America great [again].

Movie Review #3: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Spoilers)

Since its opening, Star Wars: The Last Jedi earned two recognitions. First, it grossed the highest U.S. domestic opening topping at $220 million. Second, it had the largest first to second weekend box office drop in history.

As a life-long Star Wars fan, I found some things to like about the film and many things to dislike about it. Overall, the film felt like a first draft for a promising story that did not quite live up to the expectations. Here are my thoughts:

1. Disjointed Plot and Dead-End Narratives. Many Star Wars fans disagree with some of the outcomes of the film, such as the deaths of Luke, Snoke, and Ackbar and the entire sub-plot on Canto Bight. I’m not concerned about where the movie ended up but how it got there. After two films, it’s still unclear  why 30 years after the destruction of the second Death Star, the Republic is down to a handful of ships in the face of a resurgent Empire renamed the First Order. The first two Star Wars trilogies showed the collapse of the ancient Old Republic through the trauma of civil war and repression. The demise of the Empire offered many new paths to explore about life in a severely injured galaxy but the writers opted to revive the old dichotomy.

The movie also abandons plots set up in The Force Awakens, awkwardly forces new ones, and uses narratives that have no impact on the overall film or its characters. It does nothing to explain the emergence of Snoke as Supreme Leader and kills him unceremoniously. After Finn tries to leave early in the film to rescue Rey, he abandons the idea entirely to pursue a plot that does nothing to advance the film but results in the death of Captain Phasma. The reunion of Finn and Rey, a relationship built up in TFA, is no more joyous than two friends reuniting after a weekend of binge drinking.

Kylo Ren’s turn to the darkside is mentioned in conflicting testimonies from Kylo and Luke, but no deeper exploration emerges. The audience is left with the impression that Kylo is a less powerful emo-Darth Vader insecure about his place in the galaxy without capitalizing on explaining Snoke’s influence on him.

2. Undeveloped and Thrown Away Characters. The film introduces a number of characters without background only to kill them. It does the same with characters from the previous film and some classic heroes. The film’s casualties include Luke, Snoke, Admiral Ackbar, Captain Phasma, and Vice Admiral Holdo. None of these characters were too sacred to kill but the timing or nature of their deaths were misplaced. Luke died of over-exertion by projecting an image of himself battling Kylo in a final conflict of wills. But if you are going to kill the central character of the original trilogy, why not have it happen in person? Kylo himself killed Snoke without much explanation and in the midst of an ironic monologue about the Supreme Leader’s insurmountable abilities. Admiral Ackbar’s death was mentioned in passing after a quick space battle while Vice Admiral Holdo is introduced as a new hero without much explanation. She saves the remnants the fleet through a self-sacrificial act – why not just have the iconic Ackbar die a hero in her place? Lastly, Phasma is bested in single combat by her former storm-trooper that both films make clear was mostly a janitor. The commandant of the storm-troopers falls helplessly to her death without scoring a single victory over the heroes in two movies. At least Boba Fett had captured Han Solo before dying ingloriously.

3. Bigger is Not Better. Like TFA, the movie thinks bigger is better. There are bigger bombers, bigger star destroyers, bigger guns, and bigger walkers. Their size actually doesn’t make any difference in the film because the rebels still manage to sneak their way onto another imperial ship to disable or destroy it (shouldn’t there be a protocol to guard against that by now?), and the rebels manage to hold up in another remote base (this one covered in salt instead of ice) in a desperate battle of survival against an imminent imperial invasion. Thirty years after a few brave heroes managed to overthrow a repulsive tyranny, the only way forward for both sides seemed to re-invent all the wheels.

Overall, the film tries to rush to its conclusion, forcing in a rapid pace the development or demise of characters while skipping many of the substantive of experiences that would otherwise inform the maturing of the heroes and villains. The audience does not get to see any of that. For this reason, the film felt like a superficial Star Wars experience, as if you were on a three hour amusement ride or watching the first draft of a script that fell far short of its mark.

Unconditional Surrender Game Session Entry #6: Feb, 1942 – May, 1942

Scenario Start: June, 1941

Players: Germany (C), Soviet Union (E), and Allies (E)

General Winter. German and Soviet forces spent February through April huddled in their fighting positions, combating the severe weather that descended upon the eastern front. German assaults in April to reduce the Moscow salient failed as the valiant Soviet defenders fought off repeated German attacks.

The Eastern Front and Moscow Salient, February 1942

The Spring Offensive. When fair weather returned in May, 1942, the Wehrmacht launched a renewed offensive with fury. Three Panzer armies closed on Moscow, destroying the Soviet 9th, 37th, and 21st Armies. Several German armies assumed positions on the Don River to protect the southern flank, while the 18th Army captured Vologda to the north. Stalin has issued strict orders to not retreat one more step! With two Soviet tank armies expected to mobilize in the coming months, the pressure is on Germany to force Moscow’s surrender soon.

Closing the Moscow Salient, May, 1942

The Northern War. To the surprise of the German High Command, the Soviets launched an offensive in Finland with four armies supported by an air force. The Axis rushed the German 1st and 7th Armies, and the Hungarian 2nd Army to relieve the battered Finish forces. The Germans attempted to end the siege of Leningrad to free up three more armies in the northern campaign but failed to dislodge the brave Soviet defenders. The Germans anticipate Soviet reinforcements to enter the northern front in the next month, and have little time to force a decision before German armies are fixed in a region with questionable strategic value.

The Northern Front, May, 1942

 

Tokyo at Dawn #5: The Doolittle Raid Debriefing

This is the fifth installment of Tokyo at Dawn, an after action review created using GMT’s “Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid”. Where words appears in bold, it references a game mechanic or rule.

SOMEWHERE IN CHINA – April, 1942

Although most of the crew members made it to relative safety in China, not all were so fortunate. Hilger, Hackney, Gray, and Bower were captured by the Japanese military. In outrage, the Japanese government tried them for war crimes, but they were found not guilty. They will have to wait out the end of the war in Japanese captivity.

Of the remaining 11 crew members, many were wounded as a result of the rough landings. But together they managed to trek to Chungking in southeast China where they celebrated their victory and mourned their fallen and mission.

Crewmember captured by Japanese forces

THE WAR DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON D.C. – April, 1942

The Army intensely debated the results of the raid. General ‘Hap’ Arnold was not pleased that the mission resulted in the loss of 16 of the Army’s new B-25 bombers, not to mention the loss of experienced crew. However, he was pleased with the reports about the amount of destruction delivered on Japan, particularly Tokyo. Nevertheless, he could not justify further attacks with teh amount of losses suffered and shelved any future plans for additional air raids on Japan.

The Navy thought the mission was risky for the amount gained. Although the task force suffered no losses, it did not destroy any targets of opportunity either; nor did the fleet penetrate Japan’s defenses far enough to gain any further understanding of the empire’s defensive preparations.

The Joint Chiefs were elated about what the mission accomplished and immediately published promotion orders for Doolittle to brigadier general.

Perspectives of the Army, Navy, Joint Chiefs, White House, and Japan

THE WHITE HOUSE, WASHINGTON D.C. – April, 1942

The mood at home was encouraged, with the raid creating a sense of relief for the American people. Newspapers and newsreels highlighted the heroism of the crews and went to great lengths to promote the idea that America was now fighting back.

Back in the White House, the temperament was more sober. The operation did not give a decisive decision about the war, and so a long, arduous journey remained ahead for the country.

IMPERIAL PALACE, EMPIRE OF JAPAN – April, 1942

In Tokyo, outrage prevailed as the highest members of the Japanese government debated who was to blame for American bombs landing on Tokyo and what to do about it. The Army ordered new offensives in China to root out the American airbases and their local collaborators. Prime Minister Tojo ordered increased air defenses installed around Tokyo and other strategic locations. The high command, to Admiral Yamamoto’s consternation, cancelled Operation MI, the plan to lure American aircraft carriers for a decisive grand battle to force a defeat upon the Americans once and for all.

Doolittle and other crewmembers in China

Dedicated to the memory of James Doolittle, his men, and all those who fought in World War II to make the world safe for democracy.

Book Review #8: The Dead Hand

Amidst the fear and paranoia that defined the Cold War, the Soviet military leadership built a semi-autonomous nuclear command and control system that could respond to an enemy first strike. The system could, in theory, measure the indicators of a nuclear explosion on Soviet soil (such as measuring radiation intensity) and determine if Soviet leadership remained intact to direct retaliation. If it could not establish communications with the Soviet high command, it would on its own initiative launch command rockets over Soviet territory to order outlying missile stations to fire their nuclear weapons at the enemy. The Soviets called the system “Perimeter”. Others called it the “Dead Hand”. In in his book of the same name, David Hoffman talks about the Dead Hand and other programs of weapons of mass destruction invented in the Soviet Union.

The Living Dead Hand

The Soviet Union had an extensive program to develop weapons of mass destruction. Several assumptions by the Soviet leadership led to their overzealous commitment to advancing their WMD capabilities. First, they assumed that the United States pursued the same programs, including chemical and biological weapons, even though the U.S. had abandoned both chemical and biological weapons in 1969 under President Nixon. The Soviets continued full speed ahead. Second, the Soviets constantly feared an American first strike. The Soviets were convinced that at any moment, the United States would launch a pre-emptive attack to destroy the Soviet Union.

In response, the Soviets constructed elaborate systems to improve their WMD capabilities, including Perimeter. The other notable system included Biopreparat, a sprawling complex of secret research facilities investigating new and sophisticated pathogens for biological warfare. Around this organization, the Soviets erected a large security umbrella, burying the agency within civilian institutions and conducting at closed cities.

By the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had amassed an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons unrivaled anywhere else in the world. And it had done so without any knowledge by the United States and its allies. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the U.S. rushed to secure and investigate the recently revealed facilities and ensure that their weapons did not disappear on the black market. Almost over night, Soviet scientists had no income and no direction. Concern spread that rogue scientists might sell their products or the skills to the highest bidder.

The Poison Factory

The Russian security services have a long history of using poisons to murder political opponents. In 1978, the KGB killed Georgi Markov with a ricin pellet fired into his leg by an umbrella. In 2006, the Russian secret services assassinated Alexander Litvinenko when a Russian agent slipped polonium-210 into his drink during dinner. The disappearance of the Soviet Union meant that these weapons could potentially represent a major proliferation threat. The U.S. worked diligently with the Russians during the 1990s to account for all the weapons programs.

Hoffman’s book reminds us that even with the end of the Cold War, the threat of weapons of mass destruction still persists. Not only do ‘traditional’ WMD represent a major threat, but so do emerging means of killing and delivery. Breakthroughs in biotechnology could render targeted vaccines ineffective, increase a pathogen’s virulence or transmissibility, or, through gene editing, even include  bio-hacking and ethnic targeting.

In this regard, Hoffman’s book is an excellent and smooth-reading gateway into the persistent challenges of weapons of mass destruction.

Fall of the Kaiserreich Developer Note #10: Playtest Map

In the 10th developer’s note for Fall of the Kaiserreich, I want to introduce the map that will be used for play-testing. The map consists of 21 states and 14 cities that form the German Empire.

The states and cities (collectively provinces) represent the most prominent administrative divisions during Germany at the time. The map does not strictly represent the historical boundaries in order to make it more playable.

Each province has a two numbers: population and economy. These represent the relative population sizes and economic productivity of the states and cities. Players compete for influence and control over the provinces through a variety of actions. The distribution of population and economy will have an impact on player strategy since each faction prioritizes different resources. For example, the Socialists/Communists derive benefits from controlling population, encouraging the faction to focus its efforts on cities as opposed to states. In contrast, the National Liberal Party (replacing the Center Party mentioned in previous posts) derives benefits from the total number of provinces controlled irrespective of their population.

Additionally, the map contains a track for the West Front, other markers (glory, production, victory points, etc), spaces for military reserves and Communist cadres, government positions, armistice terms, and the escalation phases.

Events in the game may change parts of the board, such as eliminating the Kaiser position, or replacing the military government posts (the organize boxes) with one Reichswehr position. Events may also make some provinces inaccessible to represent their surrender to a foreign power should that be included in the armistice terms.