EW:How did the idea of making this Unconditional Surrender! Western Campaigns (USWC) come about?
Sal: On sites like Boardgamegeek, some gamers wrote comments about liking what they saw others posted about Unconditional Surrender! World War 2 in Europe (USE), but that they were disappointed they could not buy it due to its size and time requirements. Even though USE does have smaller scenarios, it did not make sense for them to buy a game of that size. I understood that and wanted to find a way for them to play scenarios without buying USE.
At the same time Unconditional Surrender! Case Blue (USCB) was receiving positive feedback. USCB was a very small print-n-play game I created for gamers to try some of USE’s core mechanics before deciding to buy the whole game. USCB’s map fit on an 8.5”x11” sheet of paper, had 80 counters, and there were much less rules than USE. Later on USCB was published as its own game in C3i magazine Issue Nr28 (see image), and more gamers liked its small size.
At some point, the idea came to me to create a boxed version of USE’s smaller scenarios. It would be something like the old SPI quad games. The scenarios would each have their own small map and because the focus is on the military fighting, it would have less counters and rules. I took the idea to GMT Games and they thought it was worth putting on P500.
USWC focuses on campaigns against the Western Allies because they are more suited to fit the concept and USE had more of those already created. If time permits, we’ll look into creating an Eastern Campaigns version that focuses on the war in the USSR.
EW: What was the biggest design challenge of USWC?
Sal: The biggest challenge is having enough scenarios that are challenging for opposing sides. The historical reality is many campaigns were one-sided. A game at USWC’s scale cannot make the Poland 1939 scenario interesting for both an Axis and Western Allied player. It is a learning scenario and best for solitaire or to teach a new player. Because of that, we are looking into adding new scenario rules or challenges that are not in the USE version of those scenarios.
EW: What are you happiest about USWC?
Sal: As mentioned above, some gamers do not buy USE due to its physical size and time requirements. Other gamers are not interested in large strategic level games. I am happy that USCW opens the door to those gamers to experience the Unconditional Surrender! system with much smaller and faster games to play.
EW:Let’s talk about the Unconditional Surrender. How did the idea get started?
Sal: As I wrote in the designer’s notes of Unconditional Surrender! World War 2 in Europe (USE), “The seeds of this game came out of my desire to have a strategic World War Two game that would be a low counter density, traditional hex wargame. It would be relatively simple and the emphasis was to be on the strategic action of the armed forces. It had to avoid a myriad of subsystems or mechanics which were below the game’s representation.”
While thinking about it, I remembered the 1985 game, History of the Second World War by Task Force Games, which I played a few times. (Now I feel old.). I admired the different concepts it used, such as army level counters and an integrated movement and combat system. It was not the only game that did things like that, but it was the first I played which did. However, the game required a lot of bookkeeping. Armies had quantities of divisions assigned to them to generate combat strength and air units tracked the number planes (yes, individual planes). The design required so much math that it would have been better as a computer game.
As I thought about it more, I wondered if it would be possible to redesign its concepts into a much easier system. After all, except for the heavy bookkeeping, the mechanics were not that difficult. Things like the heavy math and tracking planes had to go, but I had ideas to overcome them. It was from there that I started USE.
EW: In terms of design, what was the most difficult?
Sal:There were a few big challenges, but probably the biggest was maintaining the army level, low counter density on a large map with a lot of hexes. To cover the border between Finland and USSR required a lot of counters if every land hex could be moved into by ground units. The same was true in places like the Middle East.
The fastest solution would have been to give a lot of garrison forces to countries like Finland and the UK, and then have special rules limiting where they could operate. But doing that went against the design goal of low counter density and avoiding special case rules. Instead, I turned my focus on finding a way to limit the number of units that could operate in those locations. That was when I came up with the Faded Dot Hex concept. They still do not prevent a player from sending a lot of counters to those locations. But because of stacking limits and the very few hexes that can be moved into, the extra units do not help.
The Faded Dot Hex proved to be a simple solution to a game breaking problem. In those locations, they turned the hex map into almost a point-to-point map. I do not know if USE is the first game to have such a thing, but I am not aware of any.
EW: And what are you most proud of about USE?
Sal: From a design perspective, I am happiest about how air-land-sea-strategic operations work together in a smooth and natural way. It is a complement many gamers have given the game. USE game is not simple, but compared to other strategic level WW2 games, it does not have a lot of detailed rules to handle those different aspects of operation. I was worried the level of abstraction and relative simplicity might fail in simulating how important each of those elements. Thankfully, it all worked well, at least players that like the game. For others, it did not.
From a personal perspective, I am happiest that many players are having fun playing the game. I did not design the game to prove some historical point or because I did not like other strategic level WW2 games. As stated in the rulebook, the game’s objective is, “Have fun playing”. Our hobby is small and the number of its members willing to spend a very long time on one game is even smaller. I’m glad I was able to design something that they enjoy.
EW: Did you expect the success of the Unconditional Surrender?
Sal:I did not expect the level of success it has achieved. The design team (Mark Dey, Allen Hill, and me) and playtesters put in a lot of work over the years. GMT produces high quality products. I certainly imagined some gamers who were looking for that type of game would like it. However, it was a surprise how many liked it. I was not expecting gamers to claim it was a “new classic” or start creating their own player aid materials for it. And I was incredibly surprised to read gamers used it to introduce the hobby to new players or themselves. I am incredibly grateful for all of it.
EW: Will it be possible to see a USE on the Pacific front?
Sal:Unconditional Surrender! World War 2 in Asia and the Pacific (USAP) will happen… if I live long enough, if real life does not get in the way, and it plays well. Trying to do a Pacific front game and keep USE’s design philosophy is not easy. It is a different war. I think (foolishly hope?) the Pacific can work without changing core elements of the game, but it will take a long time to do.
A Pacific front version would come out much sooner if an extraordinarily rich person would pay me a lot of money to work full time designing games. If anyone reading this has the money to do that, please contact me.
EW: Western Campaigns is going to come out in the P500, USE came out with GMT too. Your relationship with this company is very good, isn’t it?
Sal: It is an incredibly good and long-time relationship. It was with them that I became more than a player. Thanks to the internet and living near some designers, I became a playtester and eventually did some development work. As a gamer and designer, I commend their commitment to quality and customer service. As a person, I am thankful for their friendliness and good nature.
EW: Have you had contacts with other companies or has it always been GMT directly?
Sal: In regards to USE, several companies expressed interest in publishing it. I appreciated all of them willing to take the risk on my first solo design. In the end, it was my relationship and experience with GMT that was the deciding factor. If the rich person I talked about in question 5 is worried about that, I will gladly design games for other companies also.
EW: Looking at your designs it seems that you prefer to design big, long and detailed wargames, games that need many sessions to finish the whole campaign to other lighter and/or shorter wargames but, as a player, do you like this same type or do you also play other types of wargames?
Sal: It is not really a design preference, but it has been that way. I have ideas for different wargames, but my available time to design is limited.
I play other types of wargames, including miniatures. There are times I want to command armies marching across Europe, tell the gunner in my tank to load and fire HEAT rounds, shoot lasers through the black void of outer space, or charge my cavalry into the flanks of the Orc hordes. Thankfully, none of it is real.
EW: In the compromise between simulation and gameplay, how much do you prefer to approach each of them to the detriment of the other?
Sal: Ultimately, these are games. If the level of simulation results in gameplay that fails to provide entertainment value (with the understanding that entertainment is subjective), then it is less of a game and more of textbook. The balance lies in your subject matter and target audience.
If I want a relatively quick, fun game with tanks, planes, infantry, and ships, I will play something like Axis and Allies. It is not going to provide me insight into the historical events, but it satisfies that kid-like desire to play with those things. Such games are also a nice way to introduce gamers to the hobby. Those that desire more history may be drawn to more detailed and complex games.
On the other hand, I have always been fascinated with history and more specifically military history. Because of that I turn to wargames for something more in depth. They can be fun and teach me something. I learned about WW2 tanks and infantry equipment by playing squad and individual tank level games. Some have a lot of detail, but are designed for small battles. I enjoyed comparing things like shell penetration versus a tank’s side armor because the ratio of simulation, components, and playing time were manageable. If the game required me to handle 50 tanks and 100 squads, it would not have been fun.
EW: It seems that you are designing a game similar to USE but in the first world war, can you confirm it? If so, why did you decide to do it? Will we see it in the shops soon?
Sal: Armistice! Word War 1 in Europe (ARM) is being developed. Basically, it is USE with modifications to simulate WW1. The design philosophy is to first try playing with a game element exactly the way USE does it and then if it repeatedly fails, change it just enough until it works. The major modifications have been due to gameplay (which goes back to question 9).
The changes currently include a compressed time scale (5 turns per year instead of 12), compressed army scale (one army counter represents more than one historical army – similar to Russian infantry armies in USE), trenches, and national manpower (to simulate the attrition that the war is remembered). Also, victory in ARM can come at any time if enough major powers collapse. The goal is right in the title of the game, i.e. armistice. The other aspects of ARM are the same as USE, e.g. the map (naturally with different countries), the CRT, the stacking, and Sorties system.
Initial playtesting of the first couple of years of the war has been good. The later years with the onset of full trench warfare still needs to be done, as well as the political events and the manpower concept.
I decided to do it because after starting design work for the Pacific version, it was more difficult and time consuming than I hoped. WW1 seemed much easier. ARM has been easier, but now it is taking longer to do.
If real life will cooperate, I hope to have it on GMT’s P500 in 2021.
EW: Do you play other kind of games besides wargames?
Sal: Throughout my life I have played all types of games: miniatures, role-playing, family, Euro, card, video. It does not matter much. I like gaming.
EW: What’s your favorite game? (just kidding 🙂 )
Sal: Whatever game I last played, or will play in the future, with my family sitting around the table laughing, eating, drinking, and having fun. They mean more to me than anything else.