Recently I was contacted by Clint Warren-Davey, who is designing a very interesting COIN-inspired alternate history wargame. Without hesitation I got in contact with him and as a result below interview was created. I hope it will intrigue you as it did for me – if so, make sure to jump to the pre-order page and help to make it happen:
Please tell us a little about yourself Clint. What do you do for a living, what games do you play?
I am a high school history teacher here in Australia, I have a family with young children and a very busy schedule, but I currently devote most of my spare time to game design. Board games are of course my main hobby, even though it’s hard to get time to play them. I have dozens of games that I haven’t played in years, but still keep them in my collection. My favourite games include Axis and Allies, War of the Ring, Star Wars Rebellion, Bobby Lee (Columbia Games), Scythe and Cuba Libre. I used to be involved in tabletop wargaming (such as Flames of War) but this is harder to find the time for.
Aside from history and board games, I have several other interests such as fitness, wine and political philosophy. I’m also trying to learn online marketing in my spare time to maybe build a new career later in life. I am a practicing Catholic, which helps keep me grounded amid all the chaos of work and family life.
Werwolf (I’ll say here that the game uses the German spelling, dropping the second “e”) will be my first published board game, which is very exciting but also nerve-wracking, as I really want it to succeed, and follow it up with more designs!
Now, as for the game, what inspired “Werwolf”?
Werwolf was a flash of inspiration – pretty much the whole game concept came into my head in a single day in 2021. I was listening to a podcast on political philosophy and someone said – “it’s not as though there were Werwolf IED’s blowing up American jeeps in Germany.” I had no idea what Werwolves were, but this guy was saying that the Allies had so thoroughly defeated and then ideologically dominated Germany in World War Two that there was no real Nazi resistance to the occupation. Despite Nazi Germany supposedly being one of the most fanatical populations of the 20th century, there was no prolonged guerrilla war or serious insurgency.
Why didn’t 1945 Germany turn into something like 1965 Vietnam, post-2003 Iraq or post-2001 Afghanistan? This question immediately intrigued me. I looked up the historical Werwolves – they were a small, badly-organized guerrilla movement set up in the final stages of the war, but were almost completely ineffective. I say almost – because they did keep fighting in small, isolated pockets, right up until 1947. They did have an effect on the occupation of Germany, forcing the Allies into counter-insurgency efforts and making the occupation a lot less benign than they had hoped. Furthermore, the Allies fully expected to face a prolonged guerrilla war in Germany following 1945 – there are several sources that strongly suggest this.
Around the time I first heard the word Werwolf, I had recently become interested in the COIN series, having played Cuba Libre only a few weeks before. My design partner Benjamin Fiene had brought over Cuba Libre to try something different, and I immediately loved it. The idea of a COIN-type game set in post-1945 Germany was clearly unique and had never been done. This was for the obvious reason stated in the podcast – there was not much real resistance. But what if there was? Had anyone thought of this? It turns out there were a few novels set in this kind of alternate history – one of which was The Man with the Iron Heart by Harry Turtledove. In this story, Reinhard Heydrich was not assassinated, but convinced Himmler to allow him to train up a professional force of guerrilla fighters to resist the inevitable Allied invasion. This idea was intriguing. Basically, the Werwolves could have been an effective force if given funding, training and organization for several years before the Allied and Soviet occupation. We do make many other subtle changes with our historical timeline, but this one counter-factual is the foundation of the game’s setting.
Can you elaborate a little about the game mechanics?
First off, I will say that the game owes a huge debt to the COIN series and I cannot overstate my gratitude to Volko Ruhnke for inventing it. Volko and I follow each other on Twitter and he knows about Werwolf. I will say here that this is not a GMT product so it does not officially fit within the COIN series – rather it is a stand-alone, “COIN-inspired” title from Legion Wargames. Of course, there are many differences between Werwolf and something like Andean Abyss, but experienced COIN players will feel right at home when they see the wooden pieces!
Volko’s model is the perfect basis for this game because it covers everything distinctive about insurgencies as opposed to conventional warfare: shifting population loyalties, hidden guerrillas, asymmetric factions, etc. Like the Viet Cong or the Taliban, the Werwolf guerrillas do not have the firepower or numbers to stand toe-to-toe with their enemy. They must blend into the population, strike from the shadows and encourage civilian resistance to outlast the occupiers. The core mechanics of the system handle this imbalance really well without getting down into the nitty gritty of weapon types, ground scale, battlefield tactics, etc. “Units” are represented by wooden cubes or cylinders and do not have a set scale. What matters is their function and their relationship to other unit types. The game actually looks and feels a lot like a euro game – the combat involves no dice, actions are short and direct, while player interaction, resource management and careful weighing of options is the key to victory.
The heart of the game’s engine is the shared event cards and sequence of play. As Volko explains it, in a normal card-driven-game, you have a hand of cards that you are looking at, so your attention is focused on your own options. With the shared event card for all players, everyone is directing their attention to the board and to each other. It is also more realistic in a way. If you are a military or political leader, events happen and you must react to them. You do not have a selection of events that you can choose from. It also provides an interesting way to structure turns. You can see one turn ahead into the future, but beyond that you have no idea what the turn order will be or who will be able to block, disrupt or help the other players.
Aside from these basics, Werwolf has a LOT of features not seen in any other COIN game or indeed in most other wargames. I will just mention 2 of them here:
- Cold War Tensions: The game takes place in Germany in 1945-1948, with the country divided into Soviet and Western Allied occupation zones. While nominally on the same side in putting down the Werwolf and Edelweiss insurgencies, the Soviets and Allies in this time period are certainly not best friends! The growing suspicion and hostility between these ideological rivals is represented in the game by the Cold War tensions track, which is an absolutely crucial part of the game. This track starts at number 1 (Co-operation), when the two sides are friendly to each other. Very soon this will escalate to 2-3 (Suspicion) where Soviet and Allied pieces will treat each other as enemies for the purposes of movement. It will then go to 4 (Standoff, where movement in Berlin is “frozen”) and then 5 (Escalation, which doubles the cost of actions). If the track reaches 6 (War Imminent) the Soviets and Allies will declare war on each other at the next crisis round, ending the game and handing victory to the insurgents as the two Cold War superpowers destroy each other! The tensions track acts as an important “brake” on operations as the Soviets and Allies must waste turns “negotiating” to reduce tensions if they have been too aggressive against each other. It also redresses the imbalance between the militarily dominant occupation forces and the much smaller insurgent forces. Indeed, the insurgents will often deliberately use actions or events to push tensions up. Cards like Ike (see below) can help to manage tensions.
- Research Tokens: This idea came from the real history of Hitler’s investment into wunder-waffen (wonder weapons), which ranged from manned suicide missiles to a ridiculous “sun cannon” that would concentrate the sun’s rays with an orbital mirror. These ideas did not win the war, but many of them, such as the V2 rocket program headed by Werner von Braun, would prove directly applicable to the nuclear and space programs of the rival superpowers. NASA owed its early successes to Nazi scientists, which the Soviets would have preferred to take home if they found them first! The presence of advanced technology caches in 1945 Germany is represented by research tokens in the game. The map begins littered with these tokens and they can be captured by all the factions. More of them will pop up based on the event cards drawn as well. For the insurgents, these tokens can be sold for resources or sometimes used to attack enemy troops and terrorise civilians (the Werwolf faction’s “wunder-waffen strike” special action). For the Allies and Soviets, they are used to fuel the impending arms race, with the “research advantage” being a part of their victory conditions. They are also essential for the play of key events representing nuclear weapons. In early playtesting, I loved how the capture of research tokens formed little side missions for the players, as they diverted forces to grab them before the enemy! For those who know the history of 1945, this is reminiscent of events like Operation Paperclip. Research tokens also you to play cards like this:
What are the key components of the game?
In terms of physical components, players will get a lot when they open the box. There will be well over 150 wooden pieces to represent units on the map, a counter-sheet, rulebook, playbook (packed with historical detail and design notes), faction sheets and a deck of over 100 cards. We are also working on a beautiful mounted map of approximately 22” by 34”, which will look something like this:
How do players determine victory?
To answer this, I really have to go into detail on the 4 factions, as they each win in a different way:
- Allies: The Allies victory condition is based on total Allied loyalty, morale and the research advantage. Total Allied loyalty represents how enthusiastically the overall population supports democracy and the West and is by far the most important condition for the Allies to pursue. Their primary tool for this is reconstruction, which can be done in the interstitial crisis rounds and when reinforcing. It represents rebuilding the shattered cities, distributing rations and organizing elections. Maintaining morale is also crucial to victory. It will be lowered by taking losses or demanding too many reinforcements from home. This means the Allies should use their air power to target concentrations of guerrillas rather than marching in their troops, as the insurgents have many ways of killing them. Finally, the research advantage is the difference in the number of research tokens between the Soviets and Allies – it is a zero-sum game where only one superpower can be ahead in the arms race. Grabbing research is always useful for this reason, and we have seen games decided by it. Overall, the Allies have a cautious and methodical style that relies on building up stable, pacified stretches of territory and making surgical strikes when the enemy reveals himself.
- Soviets: The Soviet victory conditions are total Soviet control, total Soviet loyalty and the research advantage. Stalin is very interested in grabbing as much German land and population as possible, so control of territory is where the Soviets will get the bulk of their points. Ideological control is also important, so the Soviets will want to indoctrinate the population into communism – i.e., total Soviet loyalty. They also have brutally efficient methods of crushing guerrillas and stamping out civilian resistance. The Allies control the skies, so most Soviet movement is using the road network. As such, heavily armed Soviet columns will frequently be clearing out the highways and sweeping into urban areas to take control. Research advantage works just like the Allies and contributes to Soviet victory. Because they don’t need to worry about public opinion back home (which is unanimously pro-Stalin) and can easily afford casualties, the Soviets are able to pour lots of troops and police into counter-insurgency efforts and containing the Allies. Overall, the Soviets are a blunt, aggressive faction that can easily build momentum and inflict large losses on the enemy quickly.
- Werwolf: Werwolf victory depends on total resistance (the level of nationalist or Nazi sentiments among the population and their willingness to continue the fight) and bases. Veterans of the COIN series will immediately see a resemblance to the Viet Cong from Fire in the Lake or the Taliban from A Distant Plain. The main tool for increasing resistance in the population is through terror actions, which represent executing civilian collaborators, setting off bombs in public spaces, targeting local politicians and all the other ugly tactics of an insurgency. Werwolf can also snip at the heels of the occupiers (and Edelweiss) with ambush and assassinate to kill their forces. Wherever there is even a single Werwolf guerrilla there is a chance to target that space in some way. As such, Werwolf need to spread out and get their men into every part of the country rather than concentrating in easily assaulted blobs. They also need to avoid detection and stay underground until they can strike from the shadows. Overall, Werwolf functions as a true insurgency, with dispersed, hidden forces that should focus on the population’s allegiance rather than fighting big battles against the vastly superior occupying forces.
- Edelweiss: Unlike Werwolf, Edelweiss are aiming to make themselves a legitimate military and political force in the new Germany by controlling territory – their victory condition is total control plus their number of bases. These aloof Prussian aristocrats and their patriotic, anti-Nazi followers do care about the loyalty of the population, but only as a means of recruitment and a way to stop the other three factions gaining ground. Of course, Edelweiss still fight like guerrillas due to the massive power imbalance between them and the occupiers. They are actually somewhat better than Werwolf at subverting, distracting and neutralizing the enemy rather than fighting them directly. This is fortunate, because their victory condition and set up puts them into the firing line of the Soviet juggernaut from turn one. However, they do need to control territory, which means they will concentrate forces and be “above ground” more often than their Nazi rivals. With a smaller force pool but also a lower victory threshold than any other faction, Edelweiss can still creep their way to a win unnoticed. Overall, Edelweiss plays like a special forces contingent that can slip into enemy territory when needed, block the other faction’s moves and still fight their way to victory.
Now, as for “Werwolf” itself, what makes this game unique?
Great question! A lot actually. First and foremost is the theme. A guerrilla war in the bombed-out ruins of post-war Germany is a subject that no game has ever handled. Imagine Vietnam, but instead the worn-out GI’s on patrol are being ambushed by Werwolves in civilian clothes with Panzerfausts and StG-44’s, in the rubble of 1945 Berlin. Or imagine how the Soviet Union would have dealt with an insurgency in East Germany – the NKVD kicking down doors and deporting potential fascists to Siberia, as columns of IS-3 heavy tanks parade down the streets in a show of force. The combination of guerrilla war amidst late World War Two and the beginning of the Cold War should be attractive to a wide variety of gaming groups. The artwork that we have in development, from both Benjamin Fiene and Nils Johansson, is very distinctive and evokes the setting well. Related to the theme is the distinctiveness of each faction. Each faction has its own list of 4 actions and 4 special actions, a different victory condition, a totally different set up and derives different benefits or drawbacks from every one of the game’s 100+ cards. Playing Edelweiss is the polar opposite of playing Allies, for example.
The gameplay experience is also unique. As already mentioned, those who have played COIN games before will pick up many things quickly, but there is a lot of depth to the game that makes it stand out. The interplay of capturing research tokens on the map, playing key events and manipulating the Cold War tensions track will become apparent to players from their very first game. The presence of capturable items and structures on the map, including research but also heavy equipment (HE) and buildings like the “Radio Werwolf” station also provide numerous side goals for players to work towards as they execute an overall strategy. The interrelationships between the factions are very subtle. Although it seems like there should a natural alliance between Allies and Soviets on one hand and Werwolf and Edelweiss on the other, this is very often not the case. The faction most “friendly” to you is actually the one that can hurt you and slow you down the most! The enormous variety of options and totally luck-free combat allow you to plan ahead or react to the enemy without being ruined by the dice, but figuring out the best option is always a challenge.
Take a look at the picture below from one of our play testing sessions. This is the southwest corner of the map. There are Edelweiss guerrillas blocking the roads, underground Werwolf guerrillas in the cities and the countryside, plus the Soviets massing in the east (top corner) about to sweep in with a huge force. If you are the Allied player here, you could send your police out on patrol to clear the roads and open up supply lines, conduct search operations in the cities to reveal the guerrillas, bring in more men (at a cost in morale) to match Soviet numbers and/or use costly reconstruction efforts to build up pro-Allied loyalty. You could then follow this up with a commando raid to kill underground Werwolves, an air strike to destroy several revealed guerrillas, a trial to build loyalty in the cities or an air lift to shift troops around the map – perhaps parking them in front of the Soviets to block them and raise Cold War tensions (bad for you too, but it slows them down). Or, you could play the current event if it is beneficial. Or you could negotiate, use espionage to block the current event, play one of your “key” event if eligible, or just pass and wait for a better opportunity! There is no one right answer here and it depends on what is happening on the rest of the map and how the other players perceive you. This is just a small example but shows you the breadth of options.
Where can readers keep up with the recent updates about the game development?
Right now (early June 2022) the main place to keep track of Werwolf is my Twitter account. I would encourage your readers to follow me at @Clint_Davey1, as I regularly post updates and fascinating little snippets of Werwolf relating to gameplay, historical background and graphic design. I have been asking my Twitter followers for input into the game’s design, so this is one of those games where you can speak directly to the designer and maybe see your opinions reflected in the final product! Aside from Twitter, Legion Wargames will have their own web page for Werwolf plus a Board Game Geek page very soon.
When do you think the game will be published? How do you plan it (crowdfunding, pre-order, etc.)?
This is hard to say as it depends on the pre-order numbers. Legion Wargames funds new games with a system called CPO (customer pre-order) and normally requires 250 pre-orders for a game to be published. It works like GMT’s P500 system, so you indicate your interest in the game early on and get a much better price. For such a small company, Legion makes a huge variety of very interesting, specialized games and they have a very busy schedule. As such, I am hoping for as many pre-orders as possible to push Werwolf to the top of the priority list. If we can achieve this, I would say Werwolf will be finished by early 2023.
What are the future plans for you?
Well, nothing is set in stone yet, but I am working on 3 new designs. Like Werwolf, these are all COIN-inspired games. It would be great if your readers could follow and contact me on Twitter (@Clint_Davey1) and let me know which of these they would most like to see next:
- Black Dragon: The sequel to Werwolf, set in the same timeline, but in occupied Japan. 4 factions: Communists, Nationalists (remnants of the IJA and IJN and civilian militia), Black Dragon (a Yakuza-affiliated, ultra-nationalist secret society) and the Allied occupation government. If I get really ambitious, I might even give players the option of joining Werwolf and Black Dragon together into a monster game for 4-8 players…
- Kotongo: A 1-6 player asymmetric game set in the fictional African country of Kotongo during the Cold War. Basically a mash-up of the conflicts in Angola, Rhodesia and Congo in the 1960’s-1970’s. You can play as two opposing factions of mercenaries, the CIA, the KGB, the corrupt government or the insurgents trying to overthrow it. It will be my weirdest design yet but very unique in today’s market.
- After Appomattox OR The South Will Rise Again (haven’t decided on a title): A game about Reconstruction in the South (1865-1877) after the American Civil War, basically treating it as an insurgency – which it was. Population loyalties would be Democrat or Republican, and the various factions would be focused on getting Senate seats and governorships and passing legislation, as well as the conflict between insurgents (Confederate veteran paramilitaries) and counter-insurgents (Union occupation troops).
Thank you for the interview, and remember to jump on Twitter and let me know your thoughts!