Behind the Cardboard Curtain
Hail and well met, grognards! The Frank Chadwick’s ETO project continues with this pause to update its myriad enthusiasts. In this column, we will take a look at the higher-level goings-on with the Design team and the Development teams. In future columns, we will show you how specific components and rules in this series are evolving.
The Men Behind the Curtain
When Victory Point Games, the original publisher of this series, was acquired by Tabletop Tycoon, it became apparent that the new owner was not on a trajectory to develop and support a “monster” wargame series, and so the rights were kindly reverted back to the designer, Frank Chadwick, who selected a new publisher/home for this series at GMT Games.
Frank remains the series designer, chief researcher, and guiding philosophical spirit helping keep developer decisions on the rails to achieve his vision for this project.
Assisting Frank directly as both researcher and sounding board is developer Lance McMillan and graphic design, rules guy, and project sparkplug, Alan Emrich. Frank, Lance, and Alan are the guys who brought you VPG’s Campaigns in Russia series, the antecedent of ETO, so the Design Team “band” is still very much together.
Leading the Development teams are its “Vassal Guy,” Ken Keller, whose playtest modules for Thunder in the East and The Middle Sea have been nothing short of stellar, and Gerald “Jay” Johnson, who is coordinating the public playtesting and is the players’ point-of-contact for rules questions and suggestions. Concerning this latter duty,
Alan is particularly grateful that Jay is now handling those constant attention-seeking requests as Alan is trying to focus on “forward” assignments building out the larger ETO series while Jay handles all of the “sideways” (systems review) and “backwards” (corrections and errata) work for materials already out in players’ hands. Thus, we have Alan out “tilling the fields” while Jay is in “minding the store.”
On the ETO project’s Watchword forums (https://www.watchword.biz/eto-support) there is a growing community of communicative players and playtesters where the discussions are promptly addressed by key testers and developers. We pay special attention to these forums, so please join us there!
The Grand Plan
The most significant takeaway from the team’s playtesting of The Middle Sea at ConsimWorld Expo 2019 (besides rebasing the project to GMT) was the realization that, after mating The Middle Sea with Thunder in the East, we have truly given birth to not just a monster game, but a monster series and we had better start thinking more in terms of the entire ETO series than just the individual games in it.
So, instead of the usual cauterizing a game for publication (i.e., wrapping up all its files and sending it off to the art department for layout), we have taken a step back and began a very hard look at every facet of these games (and the unique new rules, counters, and cards each adds) and carefully considering their exact place in “the ETO scheme of things.”
The first item of business was the rules. Rather than a separate TITE rules book and a separate TMS rules book, The Middle Sea will instead feature the first release of the full ETO rules book. That is, the one rules book for the entire series. This idea has been the catalyst of ETO project development ever since.
...we have truly given birth to not just a monster game, but a monster series and we had better start thinking more in terms of the entire ETO series than just the individual games in it.
Rules for Rules
The original Thunder in the East rules followed the traditional gaming strictures, striving to present all of the information is the order that players encounter it during play. That is, presenting them in more-or-less Sequence of Play order.
At first, we tried to build The Middle Sea rules similarly, but the inclusion of the Naval system, which is tied in so intricately with the game’s other core systems, made this traditional rules structure very unwieldy. Frank seized the rules book and gave it its new structure – sections and parts that each focused on an important piece of the game.
Here’s the current high-level rules structure (only) from the Table of Contents:
Section I: Core Rules
Part A: Getting Started
Part B: Big Ideas
Part C: The Sequence of Play
Part D: Logistics
Section II: The Ground Game
Part A: Ground Units
Part B: Ground Movement Phases
Part C: Ground Combat
Part D: Ground Logistics
Part E: Optional Ground Rules
Section III: The Air Game
Part A: Air Units & Locations
Part B: Air Operations
Part C: Air Combat
Part D: Air Logistics
Part E: Optional Air Rules
Section IV: The Naval Game
Part A: Naval Units & Locations
Part B: Naval Operations
Part C: Naval Engagements
Part D: Naval Logistics
Part E: Optional Naval Rules
Section V: The Strategic Game
Part A: Order of Battle Alterations
Part B: Resource Points (RPs)
Part C: Spending on the War Effort
Part D: Campaign Game Seasonal Economics
Part E: Politics
Part F: Morale
Part G: Campaign Games
Part H: Nations at War
Thus, players will simply need to refer to the latest version of the official ETO rules when playing any game in that series: combined or separate, scenario or campaign game. All of the “exclusive” rules needed to the individual game volumes (e.g., Vol. I: Thunder in the East) are included in the full ETO rules book. Or, as our “Vassal Guy” Ken Keller would say, “One Rules Book to Ring them All.”
Whipping This Series into Shape
Note, however, that the “One Rules” remains an ongoing effort. There are whole sections still to come (e.g., the strategic U-boat campaign), others that are now-emerging (mostly “back of the book” stuff on Politics and the Nations at War section), with the remainder of the rules (core systems and mechanics) firmly in place yet under constant playtest review/validation as this series progresses and becomes more polished with each playing.
Pulling the camera back to better see the full scope of ETO, Alan has been working to complete the graphic design and “storyboard” for every card and every counter in the entire series.
Reflect on that for a moment, please. How many thousands of components that is, and how many tens of thousands of data point on them must all become a symphony of history, fun gameplay, and admirable game balance. At the first Design Team meeting for this project, one member remarked, “You would have to be crazy to take on a project this big!” To which another replied, “Then we are just the guys to do it!”
So, yeah… we are fully aware of the craziness angle of this whole project and we are supremely grateful to have fellow developers and loyal players who seem every bit as committed as we are.
Each ETO volume introduces relevant new components to the series and, when combining volumes for play, duplicate components are removed (there can be only one 41st Panzer Corps, after all). Of course, this begets the arduous task of spreadsheeting every single card, and every single counter (in play, reinforcing, or previously removed), in every single game, and its status at the start of every single scenario and that, dear reader, is a lot of work making sure it all sets up seamlessly when and how you play!
At this stage, every question, every comment, must be considered carefully not for just how it impacts the subject game volume, but how it impacts the entire ETO series.
For example, in Thunder in the East, the range for Partisan Detachment markers is 3, which meant that the next-nearest Detachment could not be placed within 3 hexes of another (i.e., they had to be 4 hexes apart). But as we looked closer at other partisan operations in France, Poland, and particularly Yugoslavia and Greece, the story is better told if “3” meant at least 3 hexes away. That is, Partisan Detachment markers could be added within 3 hexes of each other, but no closer. After much thoughtful discussion, this small adjustment was made and the series evolved.
Likewise adding City hexes are acceptable Partisan Detachment placement locations. Myriad little things like this have received fresh eyes and hours of playtesting as we experiment to find the best answers for the series and incorporate them.
In our next update, we will take a deeper look into “TITE2” and playtesting the original Thunder in the East’s Expansion Kit to bring everything up to the latest ETO series standards.