ETO Project Update – March 2021

It has been a long while since there has been an ETO project update. Not because the team went somnambulatory, nor for any lack of progress or news. Matters are very much the opposite. Unfortunately, creating a mini-monster cum monster wargame series is not like taking a snapshot with your phone. Creating the grand, classic wargame we envision requires the skill and effort to paint a lasting picture in oils. We see a great picture emerging, even as a few parts still need filling in.


We have been busy little bees on the ETO team but wanted to update you on the hive happenings.


The Whole Pie

Ken Keller (Vassal Lord) on the left and Frank Chadwick (Designer) on the right.

When the team last met at ConsimWorld Expo 2019, we adjourned by agreeing that we really should prepare the entire pizza (i.e., design and develop the entire ETO series – and that is a giant pizza that will take up multiple tables!). Once prepared, we bake it (send it off to the publisher and artist for graphics and layout, then on to the printer), and finally sell it slice-by-slice (i.e., sell it in the handful of originally conceived volumes – each of which takes up about two tables). That has been our plan for the past 20 months, and we have stuck with it.


With that magnified “next project goal” scope, your ETO development team set forth with determination and measured tread to check off our clearly defined goals to create these volumes concurrently. This vast new project scope has proven, as we had hoped, supremely beneficial for cross-volume integration. By composing the larger narrative in the game’s systems and mechanics, unified orders of battle (OOBs), and a connected “look” to the entire series’ components, we are working assiduously to avoid the common problems we have experienced as customers of many other series’ games.


The Air Display mat for the entire ETO Series.

One of the good things about working on every volume concurrently is knowing exactly how something required to create the proper historical/gameplay narrative in one volume affects the others. So, rather than bolting on a rule’s exception that applies to only the one volume, things are smoothed so that we can find an elegant cross-series solution to eliminate as many exceptions and special cases as we possibly can. One of our overarching design goals is to keep the rules/systems/mechanics as simple as possible; this allows the scope of this series and the player’s decision-making options to be the warehouse for its complexity.


One Rule to Ring Them All

Our Vassal Lord, Ken Keller, calls this integration and reducing exceptions the “One Rule to Ring Them All” approach (as only a true Lord of the Rings geek would paraphrase). To that end, the rules themselves have hit a significant milestone: completion. Well, not total completion – there are still steps on the checklist (edits, proofreading, etc.) and a lot of playtesting still to do (future adjustments based on player feedback). However, everything is there and organized (essentially into two books: Core and Reference).


It's hard to get excited about rules, but the Table of Contents is highly organized.

Still, our To-Do list includes a few more extended examples of play to create. Please note, extended examples of play are not only there to help you learn the game. They are also for us to “playtest the rules,” check cross-references, and validate that ETO’s gameplay lands squarely within the historical tolerance we demand (at the series’ scope and scale, of course). We pour over them, discuss them, recheck our historical references, and consider these as rigorous “thought exercises” for the development team. When you, the playing wargamer, attempt some feat from WWII history in an ETO game, know that the development team, like Kilroy, has already been there and inspected it.


We learned a great deal from our Sink the Bismarck! extended example of play [CLICK HERE] and are currently pulling together the German invasion of Norway. We knew from the commencement of this project that the Norway campaign was critical. If the German’s wheels tend to come off in Norway, France (1940), or during Barbarossa (the first year of the Russian Campaign), it is a wasted trip. These campaign “tentpoles” support the canvas over the WWII circus before American entry. They guide us, so everything works to the high standards that designer Frank Chadwick has set for this series. So far, we are hammering down the tent stakes of the U-boat war, D-Day, strategic bombing (of England first, then Germany), all of which must work right for the simulation’s WWII military, economic, and political authenticity.


Scope

Also shaping up are myriad counter sheets which comprise the entire series. Everything is in a solid working state, excluding the Soviet counters for Northern Fire (volume IV), which Frank is currently researching as the last piece of the “counter sheets puzzle.” Our development is currently focused on Norway and will turn again to Finland afterward.


Initial German counters design for ETO volume IV: Northern Fire.

This achievement in counters completion has required tireless order of battle work from designer Frank Chadwick to make sure the right pieces appear in the correct volume(s) and that there are both individual volume orders of battle and one spanning all the volumes throughout a Campaign Game. To achieve that, Frank has storyboarded every single unit and where it was at a crucial point in the war. Here is a sample for the German 14th Panzer Corps’ historical storyboard:


14 Panzer: 12-9-[6]

9/39: East (Poland), 10th Army: 12-9-[6] panzer [14]

12/39: 12-9-[6] panzer [14] East to West

5/40: 12th Army: 12-9-[6] panzer [14]

7/40: 2nd Army: 12-9-[6] panzer [14]

10/40: 12-9-[6] panzer [14] West to East

1/41: 12-9-[6] panzer [14] East to South

4/41: 1st Panzer Army: 12-9-[6] panzer [14]

6/41: 12-9-[6] panzer [14] South to East

6/41: 1st Panzer Army: 12-9-[6] panzer [14]

10/41: 1st Panzer Army: 12-9-[6] panzer [14]

7/42: 1st Panzer Army: 12-9-[6] panzer [14]

11/42: 6th Army: 12-9-[6] panzer [14]

2/43: 12-9-[6] panzer [14] Destroyed in Stalingrad

4/43: 12-9-[6] panzer [14] Rebuilt in West

6/43: 12-9-[6] panzer [14] West to South

7/43: OB Sud: 12-9-[6] panzer [14]

6/44: 14th Army: 12-9-[6] panzer [14]

12/44: 10th Army: 12-9-[6] panzer [14]


Now, imagine doing that for every Ground, Air, and Naval unit in the entire series! And then imagine that you’re trying to keep current the unit’s strength, upgrades, perhaps a changing ID number. Your ETO team is doing all this to ensure that the right pieces are in the right places at the right times as we make ready the whole pizza.


The Germans played option A in their invasion of Norway.

In addition to the pan-series counters, we have the card sets complete (remembering this is a card assisted, not a card driven, game). We are synching player aids to smoothly combine two or more volumes into more extensive player experiences.


Our pending Big Milestone, however, remains to get the next Vassal kit released. That kit will feature as much of the entire series as possible, allowing us to playtest both individual volumes and combined games (in different volume-combinations), plus individual scenarios and campaign games. The ETO series offers players many entry and exit points during play. We want to test and balance everything possible before sending it off for production and publication at GMT.


In summary, we are still working hard at it. A mountain of very high-level milestones are in our rear-view mirror, but several tasks remain in our windshield. In the meantime, ask us any questions on the Watchword discussion boards [CLICK HERE], and you won’t have long to wait for an answer.



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