influence into the army lists too. Subtle changes sometimes result in a very different feel and approach by players. It’s gentle encouragement though, not brow-beating.
DMC: Can you give us an example of how the German and Russian forces work differently?
WK: Well, the Germans are the all-rounders, a forgiving army to play, they don’t really lack for anything. Their infantry is good to very good, their artillery likewise, their tanks are good to superb, they have descent air support. All the elements are in place, and with good command and control they are a formidable outfit. Really, they were the easy part to deal with. It won’t be so in the 1945 supplement. The Russians were the headache - how to make the Russian army fight more like a Russian army with its very different tactical doctrines? Obviously their equipment is cheaper, and their infantry is generally poor (but again very cheap). They have a lot of artillery, but it is inflexible, lots of guns, but can you get them in the right place at the right time. But it is in command and control that they suffer most. Finding the balance took a while, but I think we cracked it. Historically the Germans achieved about an 8-1 tank kill ratio at Kursk, and lost! But I don’t think you can write that game, who wants to lose that badly every game. But you can write a game were a 2-1 or 3-1 is the norm, it feels right, and yet the Russians can still win despite those heavy losses.
DMC: How do you handle the challenge of maintaining historical accuracy and playability at the same time?
WK: Basically, playability is always the priority, without it you have nothing. All the accuracy in the world doesn’t make for a better game. When designing you can take a few licences sometimes, as long as it improves the game play and retains the right feel. So, if a vehicle doesn’t have exactly the right move distance it won’t matter too much, as long as it still feels fast or slow. That said, I try to get things right, and do a lot of reading and research. I’ve read everything I could get my hands on about Kursk. Most of it isn’t much use in games design, but it all feeds in on one level or another. Mostly, I want the tanks to have the right guns and armour.
DMC: I’ve described as ‘striking gold’ situations where rules reward historical tactics with success – do you have any good examples of this from playtests of BGK?
WK: Many. Too many to list. I’d like to think the entire reason for creating the game was to get closer to this, and I think we have succeeded (but that’s probably for others to judge). The number of reckless Russian T-34 charges that have had the German players cursing and sweating, only for a single Tiger to reap havoc and save what looked like a lost cause, or for a swirling melee to come out in the German favour, I’ve lost count of. Such asymmetry in a game is a tough one to balance; most games don’t even try and fudge it instead. The game is inheritently unpredictable, but it does encourage ‘realistic’ play. Note ‘encourages’, it doesn’t dictate it, I hate that, games and army lists with only one plan, based on what units you take, rather than how you fight with what you have.
DMC: I understand that you’re planning on doing Normandy ’44 and the Fall of the Reich ’45 next. What plans do you have for 2014 and beyond?
WK: Vague. The whole war (and beyond it too) are up for grabs. Obviously North Africa looms large, and there are many early war gamers I’d love to get something out there for. Blitzkrieg 39-40 isn’t my personal bag, but it will be high on the list. Best not to get too far ahead of yourself though, I try to stay focussed on the project in hand, pour all my efforts into that. I can say we won’t be dealing with the niche theatres and conflicts before we’ve covered the big ones. So there will be no Battlegroup ‘Norway’ or Battlegroup ‘Greece’, before I have covered early, mid and late war on the east and west fronts, North Africa and the Pacific. That’s a lot of work already. Spreading beyond WW2 is also on the cards, eventually.
DMC: Will these theatrelevel books have the rules in them? How do you deal with comments about obliging people to buy the Kursk book to play with entirely different armies?
WK: The rules won’t be in every book, only the lists, scenarios, special rules etc. In effect, when you buy Battle Group Kursk you are buying the core rulebook and the Eastern Front 1943 supplement in one volume (which is not bad for £30). Soon(ish) (but don’t hold me too it), I’ll look at getting a smaller core rulebook available. But for now it’s Kursk, and I choose it because, as far as I’m concerned, the appeal of WWII wargaming is playing battles with the tanks (at its heart). So where else to start, but at the largest tank battle ever?
The Gazebo is a free, quarterly e-zine dedicated to gaming in the UK and Ireland.