​Guerrillas In Their Midst

The Partisan Wars in Frank Chadwick's ETO


By Alan Emrich

Roads to Moscow poster.

And far away behind their lines the partisans are stirring in the forest Coming unexpectedly upon their outposts, growing like a promise You'll never know, you'll never know which way to turn, which way to look, you'll never see us As we're stealing through the blackness of the night You'll never know, you'll never hear us

– Al Stewart, Roads to Moscow


Partisans are a Land War Optional Rule. However, an ETO scenario is a very short timeframe in which to consider the Partisan War during WWII so you can also think of this system as a proper adjunct to the Campaign Game, but it is hard to imagine fighting scenarios in the Mediterranean without the ongoing partisan struggle in the Balkans.


Over the war’s duration, Partisans seize an Axis Voodoo Doll to deliver their small pin pricks and razor cuts. This is warfare at its most asymmetrical and it was an interesting road (through a dark forest at night) to get this part of the design optimized for the ETO series.


Shadow War Sausage Making


Work on the Partisan War system began with Volume I: Thunder in the East. As with most wargame designs covering the Eastern Front during WWII, the Partisan War was not the first and most important thing to get right. It would evolve after the more central issues of force pool composition, maneuver, and combat were firmly in place. So, too, it was with Thunder in the East.


The only ideas we had on paper during alpha testing were, basically, the current draft of ETO system rules; these were ripe with ideas for simulating the big Partisan War in Yugoslavia, but partisan efforts in France, Italy, Greece, the Soviet Union, etc. were just not the same armies-forming-up-and-controlling-large-swaths-of-territory operations that Tito achieved in Yugoslavia in late ’44 and early ‘45. When we applied that system of full-throated armed conflict to our testing in Russia, the Baltic States and the Ukraine, it was simply too much: too much effort required to operate all the sub-systems, too much attention removed from The Main Event, and too much impact on the game once things got rolling.


A Partisan Warfare re-think was in order.


Designer Frank Chadwick delegated this problem to developer Lance McMillan and myself while he focused on other emerging design issues. Lance and I created a clever all-below-the-radar system which completely abstracted the Partisan War and yielding wonderfully credible results. We completed this marvel in isolation long before Frank’s second ETO design dictum was committed to writing: GOAL 2: Game units, resources, and systems which are concrete as opposed to abstract.” Therefore, when we presented this new iteration of the Partisan War system to Frank, pleased-as-can-be with a red ribbon and bow on it, he did not like it. Patiently, Frank explained his design dictum to us and we were back to the old drawing board with a mandate to revise all our work.


Still, we had the results right from that abstract system and so poured game design cement around its abstractions to make them more concrete. (Did you see what I just did there? Cement? Concrete?) With that accomplished, we essentially had the ETO Partisan War system that you enjoy today. It looked well enough on paper, so we started playtesting it at ConsimWorld and what do you know? The darn thing worked!