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Nemo's War Ship's Log: I

Updated: Jun 15, 2022

The First First Edition

My perspective by Alan Emrich

Your narrator, Alan Emrich

As Nemo’s War sets sail to you for its Final Voyage Edition, I am here to tell you some behind-the-scenes stories of this game from my perspective. Consider this a message in a bottle that I hope will wash up on your shore and gift you with a detailed narrative about the making of this game.

I've remained steadfastly with you on this long voyage to bring Nemo's War to life. These articles are my thanks to this game's loyal fans who have made this trip with me and, more importantly, made my part in this adventure so wonderful. I am blessed and honored by this, our voyage together.

The Great Man

As a protagonist, Captain Nemo is what history would call a Great Man.

Chris Taylor, Maker of Games

This story begins with a similar proposition. Nemo’s War designer, Chris Taylor, who is worthy of his own song in our gaming hobby, has adopted and lives his moniker, Maker of Games. Repeatedly he proves this with incredible energy and cleverness. A very pleasant and thoughtful fellow working in the computer game industry, Chris has a special passion for making board games. Victory Point Games (VPG) was founded in my Southern California attic lo those many years ago (circa 2008), and Chris occasionally visited to drop off another new game design.

In those early days of VPG print-on-demand publishing, the inkjet printers were busy spewing out the maps, rules, player aids, and counters. The maps were trimmed by hand on paper cutters, and the counters were die-cut on a hand-press (so the pieces had to conform to the die used to cut them). VPG built a reputation for good two-player and solitaire game designs back then.

Chris, always the innovator and never the conformist, threw Nemo’s turban in the ring with his original solitaire design. After a demonstration, decisions were reached before we rose from the table. Yes, VPG would love to publish this game. It was grander than our usual fare and so would be a “Deluxe” size game (i.e., built to fit in an 8.5” x 11” polybag instead of one half that size). And so, the VPG game dock was made ready, and work began almost at once.

The first edition Nemo's War game board

The First Edition

Artist Tim Allen's favorite fuel

As with almost all VPG games, the development was done by Yours Truly. This meant leading the playtesting, organizing the rules, and laying them out. The graphic design also fell on me. However, VPG was very fortunate to discover a stalwart talent for the map, Tim Allen, who has graced many of our projects with his coffee-fueled clever creations. Therefore, I created the map layout (ergonomic features, rules summaries, track structure, and card holding boxes designed to “hang off the board”). Tim did what he always does (and I still thank this unpretentious Canadian for it); he made everything (including my humble efforts at all this) look good. Like the designer, Chris Taylor, artist Tim Allen is another good soul in our hobby who enriched our First Edition of Nemo’s War. In short: great game, great team.

This was a darn difficult card layout to design

Creating a good look for the card layout was the most challenging of the First Edition of the Nemo’s War components. Ultimately, creating an actual horizon look to the background (i.e., a pastel of sky, sea, and land) of these vertical cards seemed the most thematic.

Another component developed for the game out of whole cloth was the epilogues. 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas is, after all, a classic adventure tale. Since this was not a computer game where we could add a “cheese screen” at the end (i.e., the mouse has completed the maze and earned some cheese), the epilogue matrix would have to do for a board game presentation. This was all completely original material. It was one of my favorite parts of the game to work on – I enjoyed adding that postscript to the player’s adventure playing Nemo’s War. It was very edifying when the reviews came afterward how well-received this was and how appropriate it seemed for the game. And this good feeling would stay with your humble developer throughout the evolution of Nemo’s War.

This "throwaway" addition to first edition Nemo's War was extremely well received

Of the game’s mechanics, I was not entirely satisfied with the Uprising Track and how we handled that through mathematics. Still, the rest of the game harmonized very well, and we launched it a few short weeks after we first set our eyes on it.

Here is a podcast interview with Chris Taylor and me. I think you'll love it. The Nemo's War section begins at 33:02 into the show. Enjoy!

The Captain Nemo in My Life

In all its glory, the USS Swenson

Those weeks of development were few but important. In the case of Nemo’s War, they were fateful. My father, Robert Emrich, a Korean War veteran of the United States Navy, served aboard the USS Swenson (DD-729, pictured here). At the Inchon landings, his ship was assigned to close shore support in the “Sitting Duck Squadron” (i.e., ships stuck aground when the tide went out until the tide returned the next day). And just then, in the middle of this project, I received word that he was dying. Our family gathered at the hospital in his beloved home State of Missouri. For my part, I packed my playtest kit of Nemo’s War to do some rules editing on the plane – anything to help distract me from the purpose of that trip.

At the hospital, dad mostly rested in bed. I appropriated a hospital roll-away patient serving table (it being perfectly rectangular to fit my playtest copy of Nemo’s War). While he slept, I playtested the game and edited the rules. When I looked up, there was the Captain Nemo of my life, my dad, lying in hospital; seeing him like that invited so many memories to come flooding back. Dad was a consummate gamer (pool, poker, golf, table tennis, etc.). He loved retelling his Navy stories which earned him a hero’s medal from me, his only son.

The original Ship Tokens, including the Nautilus

Melancholy at his difficult circumstances, I found some solace in turning back to focusing on Nemo’s War. Given these circumstances, the gathered clan Emrich shook their heads, and more-than-a-few times, tsk-tsked my attention to this game. Still, they could not see (as I could) my love of dad and gaming intertwining.

Dad rallied and left the hospital a couple of days later, then died two weeks after that.

Returning once more to Missouri, I was struck by how proper everything was. During peacetime, it is proper for children to bury their beloved parents (never easy, but always proper). For my father, the Navy provided their veteran a proper military tribute. And when I returned home, I quietly vowed that I was dedicating my work on this game, Nemo’s War, to my dad.

It all seemed very proper.

Deserving Better

The original first edition cover

After setting sail unto the gaming public, Nemo’s War rose in stature to a height few VPG games had achieved. Because of its subject matter, non-wargamers (i.e., those outside of VPG’s usual market) were ordering copies, enjoying the gameplay, and vociferously complaining. Not of the gameplay content – that had these non-wargamers enthralled as only a wargame could (if they ever played one to know that). No, they complained about the game’s production quality. Our print-on-demand formatting left the “mounted map, made in China component enthusiasts” with a bad impression on their game table (that wargamers more-readily forgave). Fortunately for us, only the gameplay itself could overcome this to bring them back to the table, and it did.

But why couldn’t they have both great components and great gameplay?

On the Road for Nemo's War

And so, the quest began for a nice, boxed version of Nemo’s War. A quest that would take me from Southern to Central California, where the good folks at GMT games in Hanford would take a fateful look at Nemo’s War.

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