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.