How did the idea of doing a solitaire wargame on such a different subject come up?
Nicola: On my side, the idea was a side-effect of the work I did for Gregory M. Smith and his soon to be published “Beneath the Med” (a solitaire game similar to “The Hunters” where the player commands an Italian Submarine in WWII).
I did some historical background research and “number crunching” for him and we discussed the potential special missions that the submarines could have to perform, and of course the delivery of the “human torpedo”, or SLCs, was one of them. At the time, the Italian navy special assault crafts were already one of my main interests in military history and I already had a few books about them, so I suggested to Greg a sort of “mini game” within the main game where you would also get to play out the actual SLC missions. It was very limited in scope and mainly a “roll the dice” affair. But at that point I started to see the potential for a full-fledge game on the topic, also because until then (2014) it had never featured in a dedicated wargame.
David: I first learned about the Decima Flottiglia MAS and their operations in 2017, when I read “Sea Devils” by Valerio Borghese. I immediately knew that this was a story that needed to be told to a gaming audience. There are a few other games that address the topic in general, but none at the tactical, personal level that I wanted to cover.
Where did the information to design this wargame come from?
Nicola: A lot of books on the subject matter! Being Italian of course opens access to a lot of sources that one would not otherwise have.
If I were to list the most influential on my side, they would be:
Underwater Warriors – Kemp P. – Caxton Editions. –> This is the very first book I have ever read on the subject, and it got me hooked!
I mezzi d’assalto della 10ª flottiglia Mas 1940-1945 – Bagnasco E., Spertini M. – Albertelli Editore. –> This is the book that has inspired the Tech Tree and crafts advancement.
I mezzi d’assalto nella seconda guerra mondiale – Various Authors – Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare (Italian Navy History Office). –> This is the book to read if you want to know all the details about each and every mission. As close as you can get to reading the actual official mission reports.
Operation Tadpole, The Royal Navy’s Underwater Diving Operations. Gibraltar 1940-1945 – Bevan, J. – John Bevan. –> The book that made David and I work together in the end.
David: Lots and lots of books! Nicola and I have included a bibliography of titles that served as references in the design of the game. And he’s expanding on that with a more extensive look at reference materials in the companion book that we’re writing for the game. Here is the bibliography that we’ve included in the rulebook:
- Bertke, D. A., Smith, G., & Kindell, D. (2009 – 2020). World War II Sea War: Volumes 1 – 15. Dayton, OH: Bertke Publications.
- Bevan, J. (n.d.). Operation Tadpole: The Royal Navy’s Underwater Diving Operations, Gibraltar 1940 – 1945.
- Borghese, I. V. (2009). Sea Devils: Italian Navy Commandos in World War II. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute.
- Crociani, P., Battistelli, P. P., & Stacey, M. (2013). Italian Navy and Air Force Elite Units & Special Forces 1940-1945. Botley, Oxford: Osprey Publishing.
- De Risio, C. (1992). I mezzi d’assalto. USMM – Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare. Roma.
- Gibraltar GeoPortal. Retrieved February 24, 2020, from https://www.geoportal.gov.gi/
- Greene, J., & Massignani, A. (2004). The Black Prince and the Sea Devils: the Story of Valerio Borghese and the Elite Units of the Decima MAS. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo.
- Kemp, P. (2002). Underwater W London: Brockhampton.
- Smith, G. naval-history.net. Retrieved February 24, 2020, from http://www.naval-history.net/
- O’Hara, V. P. (2008). Frogmen Against a Fleet. Naval War College Review: Autumn Summer, Volume 68, Number 3. Rhode Island: Naval War College Press.
- Schofield, W. G., & Carisella, P. J. (2005). Frogmen: First Battles. Boston, MA: Branden Books.
- Spertini, M., & Bagnasco, E. (2005). I mezzi d’assalto della Xa Flottiglia MAS, 1940-1945. Italy: E. Albertelli.
- Zapotoczny, W. S. (2017). Decima Flottiglia MAS: the Best Commandos of the Second World War. Oxford, UK: Fonthill Media.
After several successes such as Pavlov´s house, Casttle Itter, Undauted Normandy, etc., how does the collaboration with Nicola Sagini came up?
David: A couple years ago I shared a very early prototype of the design on Board Game Geek. Nicola saw that and reached out to me, as he had also done some initial exploratory design work on a game about the same topic. Nicola’s gameplay was in a much earlier state, but he had much more extensive detail regarding elements like the nearing means, forward positioning, technology, etc. It was a natural fit for us to team up on this topic. I have loved working with him.
Apparently so far, Nicola, you don’t have a history as a wargames designer (although you have it as a wargame translator). Do you have other wargames that have been edited or are in process of developing right now? Could you tell us about them?
Nicola: I am currently researching for my next effort. Right now I am still in the “gathering data and ideas” stage. All I wish to disclose at the moment is that it will be solitaire and set in WWII North Africa.
But it may well be years before I get anywhere close to completing it. Though now that I am in the spotlight, I should probably capitalize on the opportunity! 🙂
In fact I must admit that I do not have the same rapidity and clarity of vision as David when it comes to game design, and you have to take into account that he is also a very talented artist, which I am not even the slightest.
Therefore he is able to deliver a quality product throughout from start to finish, whereas I would most likely need a developer and most definitely an artist to be paired to.
By Stealth and Sea is said to be a wargame from 1 to 3 players, but apparently it is a pure solitaire. Is there any change or addition to play it with 2 or 3 players or is the same system anyway?
Nicola: In the game a single player controls 3 SLCs at the same time. Hence, up to three players, with 1 SLC each could still play the game cooperatively.
The real “secret message” here though, is that I think the multi-player game would really shine if you were to play a mission “blind”, i.e. with 3 SLC on 3 independent maps and a fourth player acting as a referee…The referee would keep track of the faults on the SLCs and communicate them to each player (unknown to the others), then he/she would also handle the Harbor defenses and manage any interaction between players arising from them. I have yet to try it this way (it would also require four copies of the game for the maps and counters), but I am pretty sure it would be a lot of fun (and also give some elements of “simulation” of the actual missions).
David: The game was designed to be solitaire first and foremost. However, since you control 3 SLCs in every mission, it’s easy (and fun!) to divide up control of the SLCs with your friends and play the game cooperatively — in fact, that’s my favorite way to play.
The stories of those Italian commandos inspire many feelings, of how against so many problems with own equipment and having to fight against formidable British defenses, even so they did not hesitate to perform those missions to the limit of any possibility of success. Do you think this despair is reflected in some way in the game? Is it as difficult to win as it was in reality?
Faults: these are featured in the game and they replicate the real issues that the crews faced during missions. There is a “seeded” fault deck of cards which is used at the start of each turn to assign a possible fault to one SLC determined at random. Some faults have permanent effects, others you can try to repair, most (if not all), will make your mission harder.
In the campaign game, you can try to improve your crafts and related technologies and this will proportionally reduce the likelihood of those faults occurring during the mission, which is just what occurred in history.
British Defenses: there is a whole turn phase dedicated to this. They range from patrol boats trying to locate your crafts (and sinking them), to random depth charges attacks, etc.
Again, they are modeled after history, with the first missions being easier than the latter. And in the custom campaign game, these will evolve based on how well you do in previous missions.
Overall, as most solitaires, the game is not easy. And sometimes it can get downright “mean”, but it is not complicated to play at all.
Also, I should mention that the during the course of a mission things will tend to get progressively harder in that, for the British Defenses, David has come up with a very elegant mechanic to “up” the level of difficulty progressively. Instead of using dice, there is a deck of cards (the Alert deck) that has a range of cards with numbers between 2 and 12. At the beginning of the game, the deck reflects the distribution of a 2d6 (e.g. you have only one 2 and one 12, but you have six 7), but any time you draw the number 12 card, you have to reshuffle the deck after having taken out of the game the lowest card(s) lower than a 7 you had in the discard pile prior to reshuffling.
David: It’s important for me in each of my historical designs — Pavlov’s House, Castle Itter, etc — to accurately reflect (and pay respect to) the history to the greatest extent possible. I want players to know about these brave men, who were willing to take great risk. For that reason, researching their physical likeness is important. But I also want the game to reflect any unusual features or extraordinary skills they may have had. Nicola was primarily responsible for identifying the real-world, historical inspiration for the special attributes possessed by some of the operators based primarily by their actions during the nine missions featured in the game. I then translated those attributes into the concepts in the game.
The game can be very challenging, though you are likely to have a little more success than is historically accurate. That’s because so many of the actual missions resulted in either very minor successes (just cargo ships targeted) or no success at all. We needed to make sure each mission had a sense of tension and potential success, so while the game is still very challenging, you will likely do a little better than the operators actually did.
Comparing with other of your solo designs for DVG, do you think By Stealth and Sea is at the same level of difficulty? And how happy are you with the design comparing with the othes? It is always said that the last work is the best, but do you really feel that way?
In terms of complexity, By Stealth and Sea is a little less complex than Pavlov’s House, I would say. That’s due to Pavlov’s House having a few more details in each phase to remember.
In terms of actual gameplay challenge, By Stealth and Sea is probably more varied in its challenge, based on the conditions of the individual mission, so it’s not easy to directly compare them. If I had to compare the overall gameplay challenge, I would say they are roughly equal.I am extremely happy with the final design. It reflects years of research and game design work, and it has especially been improved through Nicola’s significant contributions — both in terms of integration of historical information and improvements to the gameplay itself based on his feedback.
I don’t ever choose favorites among my games, and none of them are the best! But I will say that as of right now, By Stealth and Sea is the game I most enjoy playing among my solitaire designs.
Could you explain us in very few lines, how is the game sequence? How long can a mission last? And the full campaign game?
Nicola: the first thing you do at the beginning of any mission is to check how well your crafts have survived the trip, hence you deal one or more fault cards to each SLC and check whether or not you can avoid them.
Then you go through each turn in a fairly straightforward sequence:
- Fault Check Phase: you deal one fault card at random to one SLC and apply the results.
- Action Phase: this is the core of the game for the player where he has to decide how to spend the 2 (or 1) Action Points he has for each of his crews. Typically if you spend both Action Points on one action only it would bring success, whereas if you spend only one Action Point it would most likely require a dice-roll, but in turn it could allow you to perform two different actions in the same turn. Actions range from movement type of actions, to repair, to actions at objective, etc.
- Harbor Defenses Phase: this is where the game system will react and try to find your crafts (and attack them).
- Clean up phase: wrap up for the following turn.
I would say that playing a single mission once you are proficient with the rules should not take more than an hour, including setup and tear down.
For the campaign game, it depends mostly on how well you do, how much stuff you want to record for your own “narrative experience”, etc.In the best of instances (i.e. the historical campaign), it is 9 missions.
But to err on the far side, perhaps up to 8 hour? It will also depend on whether or not you are able to keep the game setup or have to pack it away each time.
Do you know anything about the wargame scene in Spain? What opinion do you have about it?
Nicola: at this point it would be difficult for me to say that I do not know anything about it, I mean, you guys have “hit the big news” with Bellotacon recently, all the way up to the GMT Monthly Newsletter!
Jokes aside, I know from my other work (translator) that there is a strong community there, not only of players, but of designers and publishers!A couple of years ago there was Santa Cruz 1797. I have yet to play it, but it looks beautiful!
Also, Here I Stand has just been published translated in Spanish (by the way: we did the same last year in Italy and I was part of that effort). But there is a group that is working on the prequel (Tanto Monta, Monta Tanto I believe is called) with Ed Beach blessing!
Then it seems that the next game in Volko Ruhnke’s Levy & Campaign Series will be set in Spain and with the help of a Spanish designer, am I mistaken? There is also the game on Granada that is coming soon from Compass (beautiful art, by the way!!).
Finally, and probably even more important, there seems to be a host of publishers that are pushing to get into the market: 4Dados, Devir, Bellica 3rd Gen. are the first that come to mind. I know from the publisher I work for that with some of them it would be interesting to cooperate in order to print more copies of a title (in more languages) so that we could keep costs down for everybody, and especially the players!
France and Spain seem really to be on a roll these days when it comes to board wargaming (with Britain traditonally big in 3D / miniatures) and I think that if we are all able to pool resources together (also in terms of printing services, for example) we could really make an impact in this niche market.
David: Unfortunately, I don’t. Though I am SUPER excited that some of my games are starting to be published in Spanish: Undaunted: Normandy (Do it Games) and Europe Divided (Ediciones MasQueOca) have Spanish editions, and I believe one might be on the way for War Chest. It’s exciting for me to know that people in Spain will be able to play these games in Spanish rather than having to translate the games before playing (or playing with the original English version).
Do you have any other solo titles in mind or in process to publish with DVG? And what about any other games? In short, what are your plans for the future after By Stealth and Sea?
David: The next solitaire wargame design for me will be Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms, which is the next game in the Valiant Defense series (the same series as Pavlov’s House and Castle Itter). In Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms, you take the role of the defenders of a Polish post office in the free city of Danzig on the first day of the Second World War. These brave men defended the post office against SS, SA, and Danzig police for almost an entire day. Their story is one of amazing heroism, and I’m proud to tell their story to the gaming world.