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ETO: The Big Picture

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

How Grand is the Scope of this Project?


By Alan Emrich


Welcome back, fellow wargamers interested in Frank Chadwick’s ETO series. Let us begin with Old Business.


Old Business: Progress Status


Every now and again, it is good to look at the Big Picture of the ETO Playtest Project Plan. Seeing the tasks completed, those in progress, and others still ahead keeps us focused. The playtesting goal is, of course, to have robust games and systems.


However, for ETO, we are also making a Herculean effort to hand the illustration and graphic artists “finished” work that spans the entire series with strong internal consistency. There is nothing more hair-pulling for these artists to confront arbitrary changes because things were not completely thought through before they began their work. We are thinking things through!



The above Playtest Progress spreadsheet shows component completion with added notes and comments within. This is our Big Picture look at this project’s “Lego blocks.” It does not include individual session playtesting notes (and the component changes feedback engenders toward refinement) – those we manage internally with our Basecamp project management software. The development team has been busy, as you can see!


Old Business: Turn Up the Volumes


The way the Frank Chadwick’s ETO project takes shape at present (and Publishing/Marketing will still have their say!), the main ETO series consists of six boxed volumes. Imagine each as a “mini-monster” sized game in terms of components (and table footprint). As we envision it, each (approximately) 9” x 12” game box (of various widths depending on its component’s quantity), when seen placed together (in order) side-by-side, contributes to a completed series “mural” on your game shelf. When those boxes are opened, the WWII European Theater experience that awaits you inside each is:


Vol. I: Thunder in The East 2


The second edition of Thunder in The East presents the “ETO-izedversion of the titanic struggle on Germany’s Eastern Front. For a better vision of what that will look like, the Thunder in The East 1A print-and-playtest kit (available in the Autumn) reveals much (using the original maps and counters).


Front of the TITE 1A Sequence of Play sheet

Progress update for the TITE 1A kit: We are cleaning up the Player Aids (see the adjacent illustration) and building the new Vassal kit for it now.


It is coming together!


TITE 2’s contribution to a Combined Game of Victory at All Costs includes:

  • Eastern Front maps

  • Non-Arctic Soviet OOB

  • Complete OOBs for Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia


Will there be an update kit for owners of the first edition game?

Our plan has always been, and remains, to make first-edition owners whole, and we will do so. Exactly what shape that will take, we will know better as we continue to complete the development of the entire series. Answering this question in the affirmative is an important priority for the developers and the publisher (GMT)!


Vol. II: The Middle Sea

Frank Chadwick is busy polishing his full map set.

This second volume in the series features the largest map area covered, spanning most of the Mediterranean (excluding Iberia and Morocco). Although the Ground and Air unit counter density is much lower than on the Eastern Front, the Naval units and systems fully emerge and come to the fore. Every scenario has a strong element of “making the most with the least” as units frequently enter and exit this vital secondary theater of WWII where every loss is stinging.


And, yes, the Partisan War in Yugoslavia is well represented.


We also introduce our Dictator AI “bot” monthly card system. Mussolini can call some shots, “assisting” the Axis in the Med for the first nine months after Italy entered the war. Although much of his focus defers to shoring up Italy’s war effort, some key events cascaded from Il Duce’s decisions (i.e., the invasions of Greece and Egypt). During this war period (from Summer ’40 through Winter ’41), the Axis player must consider Mussolini’s sometimes erratic lead. For more information about the “Moose-bot” system, see this article.


This volume’s contribution to a Combined Game of Victory at All Costs includes:

  • The bulk of the Italian, Balkan, Desert, and some of the Mid-East maps

  • The Mussolini bot

  • Complete OOBs for Italy, Vichy France, Fighting France, Bulgaria, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Croatia.


Vol. III: Wrapped in An Enigma


The special third volume connects the (required) first two (and the next) volumes. It answers the questions:


  • What is the Soviet Union doing before Total War commences with the USSR’s entry into WWII?”

  • Can the Axis attack Russia earlier (as they had planned)?

  • Or later (perhaps even in 1942 while employing a Southern Strategy to run down the British in 1941)?

  • When Stalin feels prepared to strike and attack Germany, would he? And when?


The overarching question is, who should manage the Soviet Union while it is neutral?


Wargames have traditionally had a player managing all this as the Soviets’ “caretaker,” but not so in ETO. Instead, a bot deck (detailed here) represents the enigmatic Stalin’s decisions. The Axis and Allied factions must anxiously watch the USSR Stalin bot conduct border disputes, re-organize its military recovering from purges, and prepare itself for the war ahead. All the above questions are left for the players and the Stalin bot to answer. Once the Soviets start shooting, however, the Stalin bot is put away, and a Soviet player takes over the USSR’s position for the rest of the game (setting up however Stalin has left matters).



This volume’s contribution to a Combined Game of Victory at All Costs includes:

The Poland '39 scenario playtest counters.
  • The Stalin bot

  • A bonus map and counter set for a special (Poland ’39) Case White (introductory?) scenario.

  • The Axis Eastern Allies variant

  • Complete OOBs for Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Ukraine.


Vol. IV: Decision in The West


The France '40 scenario setup.

This fourth volume contributes modestly to the overall ETO maps (western Germany, France, the Low Countries, the UK, and Ireland). However, the invasions of France in 1940 and 1944 are star scenario attractions.


There are scenarios for The Battle of Britain and Operation Sealion (the German invasion of Britain) and a 1940 Campaign Game that combines them with the France ’40 scenario. So, too, are the D-Day and Breakout scenarios combined into a 1944 Campaign Game.


The Battle for the Atlantic is conducted on a 17” x 22” Trans-Oceanic map. Naval units and systems are brought to the fore as pipelines build convoy routes and move resources, and the U-boat war is fought across the North, South Atlantic, and Western Indian Oceans.


The ETO Trans-oceanic playtest map.

Germany, the UK, the USA, the Third Republic (3R) France’s economics (production) are central tenants of Decision in The West, a tale also told through the “strategic warfare” scenarios covering the U-boat War and strategic bombing campaigns.


This volume’s contribution to a Combined Game of Victory at All Costs includes:

  • The Western Theater maps

  • The Trans-Oceanic map

  • The North American Economics mat

  • Complete OOBs for the USA, the UK, 3R France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Ireland, and Switzerland.


Vol. V: Northern Fire


The Germans advance in Norway.

In this fifth volume, we include maps from Iceland, across Scandinavia, and into the western Arctic regions of the USSR bordering Finland and the Kola Peninsula. As there is no exciting continuous Campaign Game in this theater of the war, it features many stand-alone scenarios (and Campaign Game “hooks” for combining with Thunder in The East and Decision in The West).


Scenarios include those you would expect from history (Winter War ’39, Norway ’40, The Continuation War ’41, and the Finnish Collapse in ’44). There are scenarios covering what-if operations for Operation Icarus (the German invasion of Iceland) and one scenario for each of Sweden’s three crises that caused Sweden to mobilize. Each Sweden scenario is a fascinating “shoestring” operation featuring a dearth of forces over a large swath of territory, with Sweden’s OOB improving (slightly) between each.


This volume’s contribution to a Combined Game of Victory at All Costs includes:

  • The Arctic maps

  • Complete OOBs for the USSR Arctic forces, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland.


Vol. VI: Victory at All Costs


This, the Big Banana, adds a peel (appeal?) to the ultimate Combined Game. The rules needed to stitch everything together and many stand-alone what-if scenarios are included to explore the corners of the grand map set completed in the ETO series.


Trans-volume counters are included for Garrisons, Battlegroups, Partisans, economic markers, etc. This means players can reach into this volume to find the complete set of those counters and markers (so you will not have to ferret them from all the other volumes). Also, you can leave the cards in every other volume, as a complete set of all ETO cards is included in Victory at All Costs.


This volume’s contribution to a Combined Game of Victory at All Costs includes:

  • All the new cards (about a dozen) and counters for the full Diplomacy system.

  • Maps for Iberia (Spain, Portugal, plus French and Spanish Morocco), the Mid-East (Iran, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and southern Russia), and the Urals (extending the Thunder in The East maps eastward).

  • Complete OOBs for Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Spain, Portugal, and Poland.


New Business: Beyond the Super Six Volumes


Although the development team has been striving to complete this mighty set of six ETO volumes, there is occasional speculation of what, if anything, comes afterward for this series. Judging by the portents, here are our predictions:


PT-nO


First, there will be no Pacific version of ETO. Nothing is researched for that, nor planned. And, except for performing some thought problems of Pacific naval battlers to validate the ETO naval system’s viability and results, no work is planned on a Pacific theater counterpart series.


Volume 0: Dark Beginnings


Conversely, we have long desired to explore Europe’s myriad pre-war what-if possibilities in the 1930s. Some early development work occurred when the ETO project was first on the drawing board. However, our decision to get the actual war series completed first relegated Vol 0: Dark Beginnings to the back-burner.



The vision evolving for this volume is, like Northern Fire, many stand-alone scenarios for different casus belli events from the 1930s (e.g., the Austrian Civil Wars, the Little Entente, Italian Intervention, Anschluss, the Czech Crisis, etc.). The different configurations of the powers and politics affecting Central Europe will make for fascinating scenario gaming situations on a redrawn map of Central Europe, adding many borders.


There is also a desire to retrofit the Czech crisis situations into earlier starting points for a full ETO Campaign Game. This might entail a few new cards using the VAC diplomacy system for a “Pre-War” period and allowing the war to evolve as a natural game occurrence from these dark beginnings. If we can develop a robust pre-war Diplomacy system, the trigger event for WWII could be Czechoslovakia, Poland, or something else.


The Battles for Europe Series


Let us not forget that the ETO series began as a free introductory wargame in 1986, Battle for Moscow, from Game Designer’s Workshop. Later, Victory Point Games would publish an expanded edition of that game and antecedent games, The Arduous Beginning, Objective: Kiev, and Target: Leningrad. Small wargames using the essence of what evolved into the ETO game system were a lot of fun. After all, not everyone has the time or space for a full ETO campaign game.


With all the OOB and scenario research done, and maps made, carving smaller games out of ETO is entirely doable. We have dubbed this project the Battles for Europe series. As an intellectual exercise and prototype for the first game in this proposed series, we have synthesized the documentation and components to assemble Battle for Moscow II, which you can find more information about here. We hope to create many small, low-complexity wargames, perhaps packaging them in classic theme-based “quadri-games.”


But first, we’ve got to bake the whole pizza pie before we shift our focus to baking more bite-size slices!



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Walter Hard
Walter Hard
02 sept 2023

Is the Italian campaign of 1943/44 planned to be included in Middle Sea?

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Gerald Johnson
Gerald Johnson
02 sept 2023
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Here is a playtest Avalanche Start but Greece was the target for in Naval Invasion.

Also has a French Anchorage landing in Zara.



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One minor observation on the title Dark Beginnings.


it might result in some confusion with Ted Raicer's Games The Dark Valley, the Dark Sands, the Dark Summer etc. I am not suggesting that there could be a copyright issue but it it might be an association that would be better avoided - or not.


I am no tt

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Alan Emrich
Alan Emrich
01 sept 2023
Contestando a

That's a fair point. We'll have to discuss that with the marketing folks...

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