Frank Chadwick’s ETO: Gestating an Elephant By Alan Emrich
For this update series, we must preface with:
Our focus remains vigilantly on “the larger picture” of combined ETO volume games. One of our Prime Directives for this project’s development is that, when you play multiple volume games together, they integrate as seamlessly as possible.
You will see screenshots of our playtest components and from the Vassal playtest kits throughout this article.
Briefly, About Frank Chadwick’s ETO
Frank Chadwick’s ETO is:
Which combine into a grand scope wargame of WWII in Europe
The scale is
o 30 miles per hex (with Iceland in the top-left and the Persian Gulf in the lower-right corner of the combined map's area)
o 7.5 – 15 days per turn
o Most ground units are Corps (with a few Division breakdowns and Army buildup units)
The game features a simple play sequence (evolved from the classic introductory wargame, Battle for Moscow)
o Special Movement
o Regular Movement
The core game is very much a clever, modern hex-and-counter Panzer Pusher
It includes an intuitive economic model featuring Seasonal income and per-turn expenditures (primarily used for on-map replacements and building/rebuilding from the force pool)
There are discreet Air and Naval units and systems optimized to support the “Panzer Pusher” nature of the game’s primary focus
It is card assisted in that each Month you select a card or two from your deck to add to your hand and decide when to unleash their narrative events. It is not card-driven in that you do not shuffle your deck and receive random cards that “make the game go;” Instead, you build a hand/strategy to create an important on-map operation, shore up your economy, or military base, conduct political endeavors, etc.
Design and Development Philosophy
Developer Lance McMillan (L), vassal guy Ken Keller (C), and designer Frank Chadwick (R) playtest the Italian invasion of Greece 1940-41.
The philosophies that legendary game designer Frank Chadwick has inculcated to the team are:
Historical accuracy is the departure point for everything
Which must yield to the interpretations of a wargame at its defined scope and scale
Try to keep things as simple as possible (K.I.S.S.)
Constantly expunging rules exceptions and overwrought mechanics (to help keep maintain the game’s simplicity); great game development is the art of subtracting, not adding
The developers should do all the work (with graphics, ergonomics, balance, narrative, etc.) so that the player has all the fun with a polished, streamlined gameplay experience.
ETO should be as fun and exciting as the first wargames you played in High School. This is the supreme virtue of a long gestation period, the time to catch so many little things and optimize them before publication
ETO Documentation Development
Much has happened since the last ETO update (including developer Alan Emrich moving across America from Southern California to New England). First, in a meeting with designer Frank Chadwick, we have finally decided how to organize the ETO series documentation. Lending credence to Churchill’s admonition that the Americans will always do the right thing after all other options have been exhausted, this is now our vision for the “right thing” concerning this series’ documentation. Each game will include 3 books:
Core Rules (common systems and mechanics used throughout the series)
Reference Rules (specific game volume and nation rules needed only for what is in play)
Extended Examples of Play (how events unfolded historically as told through gameplay and other illuminating explanations)
The entirety of ETO’s documentation is consecutively numbered and cross-referenced across these tomes. In addition, designer Frank Chadwick has furnished many insightful sidebars addressing playtesters’ concerns and questions as he explains why things are the way they are in the game.
So, to learn the game, you digest the Core rules. These rules are consistent for each volume in the series. To play the game, you need the Reference rules to learn what is specific to that volume (e.g., Volume I: Thunder in the East) and those nations (e.g., the USSR, Germany, Romania, etc.). If you are commuting or on a break, the Extended Examples of Play will “keep you in the game” and offer “ah ha!” moments of clarity to learn how campaigns for Norway, France ’40, the hunt for the Bismarck, or the invasion of Normandy actually worked using the rules for the game.
And, of course, there will also be a scenario book with the setup, end dates, victory criteria, and special rules (if any) for each scenario in that game volume.
Open questions remain (and we hope to hear from you) regarding whether we should present these documents as
A. Perfect-bound (i.e., with a flat, bound side like a thick magazine), or
B. Spiral-bound (so that players can easily back-fold them to neatly lay flat), or
C. Three-hold punched for players to assemble as they desire in a 3-ring binder (making it is easier to make replicable “errata pages” in the future and keep your rules updated)
At the moment all three of these presentation possibilities are available, we just to figure out from you which one would be best overall. Please help us with your feedback on this project’s various forums (we recommend Watchword.com) so that we can give this matter your due consideration!
Other ETO Components’ Development
As we have been working on every component for each volume in ETO concurrently (so they will smoothly integrate) this project has taken on an enormous scope. From the development side of the game, we have been focused on completion – which means getting everything ready that we can (to make the whole pizza) and then turning it over to the artists and layout people to prepare it for manufacturing as individual volumes (so that we can offer it slice-by-slice).
To that end, across the entire series, we have a very nearly complete set of working counters, cards, maps, and player aids (all of which need the art team’s touch, of course, but we have made these playtest components pretty nice). Keep in mind that duplicate cards and counters are not used in combined volume games (there can only be one 8th Army HQ marker or one Blitzkrieg! card in play, of course), so after acquiring the final volume (Victory at All Costs) you won’t use every component from each volume, but you will have plenty from each to play with when everything is assembled.
Therefore, it is now time to start bringing in some of the art team. These are mostly familiar names from the credits of Thunder in the East. We have set our lines of communications ablaze pulling the massive amount of art and layout required from this entire series and, as of this writing, we are just getting this part of the project “lit up.” Some of our art and graphics notes include:
Game Boxes: Creating all five-volume covers together to create a consistent look and have the side panels form a mural on your game shelf when placed appropriately side-by-side.
Cards: Eschewing the myriad black and white WWII pictures wargamers know all-too-well, the ETO team is adopting a philosophy of “color on every card face.” Much of this will be counters and other game component art, but the rest will include original illustrations by Clark Miller. These will use familiar classic photos as references but interpreted with a new aspect or angle that only an original illustration (i.e., not merely a “colorized” version of that photo) could produce.
Counters: We will be sticking with the thick, corner-rounded, pieces of varying sizes and shapes used in Thunder in the East. Those have proven very successful in gameplay and are a much-praised feature of that game.
Counters: Artist Tim Allen is completing all of the Airplane graphics and will do similar “Jane’s” style profiles for all the Naval units, too. While the Capital ships are slated for individual illustrations, smaller ships will share more generic illustrations (e.g., for Merchant Ships, Transports, etc.).
Maps: We are planning to produce these in 17” x 22” sections that neatly mate (as opposed to the standard 22” x 34” wargame maps). These “half-maps” will make it easier to create smaller-area scenarios and we will consider composing those closer to a volume’s release.
Tracing the supply radius of these Soviet HQ markers is very quick and distinct as the Supply dice “pop” on the map.
Dice: We will still have the three custom Support dice in each volume, but we haven’t discussed with GMT about the yellow Supply dice used to help visualize the logistics (these were a Kickstarter extra from Thunder in the East). If we can, we will ask GMT to obtain an order with just these dice and offer sets for sale separately to those interested. They are very cool.
Much of the ETO playtesting this summer has been focused inward with the development team working on different extended examples of play. The painstaking work on those to get every hex, unit, battle, and die roll correct has greatly helped us to validate the game’s core systems (to our great joy and relief, they are holding up near-perfectly) and explore edge cases and exceptions (i.e., winkles we have been ironing out).
The playtest components as set up for the German invasion of France in 1940. With a stacking limit of three Ground units, things remain manageable.
These long-format “History as Game” examples, while it is slow going to compose them as perfectly as practical, have been extremely illuminating from a game development standpoint. Where normal, real-time playtesting finds players improvising answers to keep the game moving (while they wait to report their discovery), the development team has had discussions (short and long) over every nit in these long-form examples to make sure the answers are in the rules and they adhere to design philosophy of ease, smoothness, and quick reference.
Meanwhile, our vassal guy, Ken Keller, has been buried by “real life” under contract programming work. Fortunately (for us), he is beginning to see some daylight. With it, we have two plans to build up playtesting on Vassal. The first plan remains for Ken to build a full “Vassal ETO sandbox” kit and, with it, Alan Emrich and Jay Johnson will build out scenario modules across the maps. The second plan is to release an updated kit for Thunder in the East using all of the new materials including the full set of ETO rules, cards, counters, player aids, etc. With so many TITE players already out there, this should be a fairly smooth and informative playtest transition.