Friday, February 14, 2014

Simulating World War Two Battles

Storm of Steel is designed as a casual World War Two battle game at the Operational to Battalion level. Most World War Two games out here now are either strategic in scope (the entire war) or tactical (tanks vs infantry, etc). With this game you can play the hypothetical German invasion of England in 1941, play the entire Normandy invasion or each one of the separate beaches. 

This initial game will include two play boards - summer and winter - so players can also play winter battles such as the Bulge and the winter battles on the Eastern Front in Russia. The expansion set will provide a desert and Pacific War board and tile sets for battle in North Africa/Middle East and the war against Japan.
But this initial offering will have enough scenarios to keep everyone very busy for a long time The list of scenarios we are considering is enormous. Obviously we wont be able to include them all because the time to play test them all would be prohibitive and the game would take a couple of years to get to market.

So here are the scenarios we are looking at including in the game:


In this scenario, players will take the part of Polish and German commanders as the German's launch blitzkrieg against the unprepared Poles. The Germans have only 3 weeks to win. Can they repeat their success or can the Poles give them a harder time of it?


The Germans launched blitzkrieg against the low countries and then against France. Within a very short time German tank columns had sliced through the allied armies and then drove against Paris followed by France's capitulation. But everything had to go right and the German high command was split between allowing the tank spearheads to strike deep behind enemy lines and outrun the infantry support or making them slow down, stay back and advance together with the slow moving infantry. Can you, as the Germans, manage to persuade the Generals to let the tanks do their thing? As the Allied player can you blunt the German attack and stop them in their tracks?

OPERATION SEA LION - 1940 (hypothetical)

The German High Command had a plan to invade England after France fell. It was highly doubtful such a plan could have been successful because of British air superiority and the dominance of the Royal Navy, but what if it had happened? Now you can find out!


OPERATION ISABELLA - 1941 (hypothetical)

Spanish dictator Franco refused to join the Axis and fight against the allies. The British controlled the Mediterranean Sea access using Gibraltar as a base. Hitler's general staff had drawn up a plane to invade Spain and take Gibraltar from the mainland. Historically, Hitler turned his attention eastwards toward the Balkans and Russian instead.What would have happened had this operation gone ahead? 

GREECE - 1941

The Italians failed to invade Greece and drew the Germans into the battle. Greece fell quickly against the Greek and British forces there. Can history be repeated?

CRETE - 1941

Germany conducted the world's first full airborne invasion against the island of Crete. The operation was in doubt until near the end. The Germans could easily have lost had the British reacted to the landings properly.

OPERATION BARBAROSSA SCENARIOS - We would like to include five major battles that happened when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.*

German spearheads advanced quickly through Lithuania and Latvia in an attempt to surround Russian troops and capture major bridges over the rivers standing between them and their target, Leningrad.

The Germans launched a surprise attack against Soviet armies in fortified positions along the German/Russian border. German armored spearheads drove deep and cut off Soviet units. But what if the Russian commanders had reacted swiftly and knew what was coming? Could the Germans had kept to their time table?

In the south, Germans, Hungarians and Romanians attacked Russian forces that did not so easily fall or retreat. In fact the Germans were unable to reach their objectives within the time they wanted. Can you do better?

In the center, the Germans were driving quickly toward Moscow and after the initial breakthrough the Russians tried to seriously stop them. Smolensk was their opportunity.

After the victory at Smolensk Hitler decided to send his tanks south to help surround the Ukrainian city of Kiev in an attempt to trap thousands of Russian soldiers. In the process the timetable to capture Moscow has delayed.


After the harsh Russian winter settled in and froze German soldiers and equipment. Now they were at the gates of Moscow, but the Russian Winter and the citizens of Moscow both stood against them. The Germans got close but failed. Can you succeed?

"CASE BLUE" - 1942

After failing to take Moscow and Leningrad, Hitler needed a victory. He chose to invade the southern region between the Black Sea and Caspian sea and take over the oil fields there. the Russians were completely unprepared and failed to react quickly. Maybe you can change history!


As a part of Case Blue, Hitler wanted his soldiers to capture the city of Stalingrad - named after the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. At first the Germans made rapid success, but Stalin was willing to throw every last man to keep the Germans from winning. Between German bombing and Russian determination, the battle settled into a gruesome and bloody fight in the rubble of the city until winter came and the Germans found themselves surrounded and surrendered. This began the end of the German success in Russia and the turning of the entire war. Had the Germans been successful the war might have ended with a German victory in 1943. Can you stave off defeat?


After the Germans had lost at Stalingrad they were severely outnumbered by the Russians who unleashed a massive counterattack. But they eventually outran themselves and created huge bulge in German lines. Hitler chose to take advantage of this situation and hopefully destroy many Russian units and turn the war back into the German favor. Unfortunately, the Russian knew Hitlers; plan and prepared. The Germans lost greatly and this was the final nail in the German war effort in the east.


Eventually the Western Allies invaded France and directly threatened Germany from the west.

OVERLORD SCENARIOS  - Players can play the entire operation or select from one of seven scenarios within the campaign.*






-Allied drive to capture this peninsula and the vital port city.


- After the initial landings the allies had to drive inland against fierce German defenses and counterattacks.


Finally after slugging it out in he easily defensible hedgerows of Normandy, the Allies launched  a major attack to breakout and drive toward Paris and then Germany. Can you be as successful as General Patton and his 3rd Army or as the Germans can you stop them in their tracks?


Players recreate the entire allied effort in France from the Cobra breakout to the Bulge.


The famous Battle of the Bulge saw the Germans throw everything the had left at stopping the allies before reaching German soil. Now you can take either side and see if you can repeat or change history.

SICILY - 1943

The allies landed in Europe first on the island of Sicily in the Mediterranean. The Germans and Italians fought hard but eventually had to retreat to the mainland.

ITALY - 1943-45

Take command of Germans or Allies as both sides slug it out over the rugged Italian countryside.


You are the German commanders trying to fend off the Russians from the east and the Allies in the west. Can you stave off the inevitable?


Hitler sits in his bunker commanding armies that no longer exist while preparing the defense of the capital city. The allies are approaching from the west. Can you keep the Russians at bay long enough for the British to arrive?


What if the Alliance between the Western powers and Soviet Union had broken down (as some Germans had hoped) and the two allies now fought one another? Would it have looked like this?


INVASION USA - 1947 (hypothetical)

What if the Germans had won the war and now looked to invade the east coast of the United States? Can you, as the Americans drive them back into the sea or as the Germans capture New York and Washington, D.C.?

Obviously we cannot include all these scenarios so we have to be selective. However we can include 10 with the initial game and then provide new ones on our website as we test play them one at a time.

Maybe you can help us?
Please leave a comment and let us know which TEN scenarios would you most wish to play!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Play Balance: The Game Designer's Biggest Challenge

Our game "Battle for Gallion's Reach" is in that final stretch where the big design issues have been settled but things keep popping up unexpectedly.

The last play test was supposed to have confirmed the previous alterations to the combat model and then we were to start moving quickly toward getting the game files uploaded and a proof copy printed. Our target date for putting the game up for sale and starting the marketing phase was to have been February 2014.

But, as it happens, we ran into an other issue- a bigger issue - that is requiring more changes. This time the issue revolves around play balance.

Play balance is one of those things that makes designing games so challenging. While designing a game where two or more players sit around and try to win is theoretically rather straightforward, ultimately, even if the game must simulate history, this consideration must always take a back seat to a single primary consideration: Is it Fun?

While many things can make a game "fun", the one design flaw that can sink fun faster than the Titanic is play balance. Designing any game to provide all players with near equal opportunities to both stay in the game for the majority of the time AND have an alomost equal chance of winning is a delicate and precarious quality. Almost all games introduce randomness where sich things as dice or cards can quickly tip the balance in favor of one player and against another. In games that have many variable random events, such as "Battle for Gallion's Reach", finding that mid-point between keeping the game fairly play balanced and at the same time having more than one way to win and more than one way to stop the other guy from winning is critical.

The same issue came up in two test plays and we realized this was not a fluke but a serious design flaw. I'm very glad one of the test players caught on! It could have ruined the reputation of the game ...and maybe even this business!

There is no substitute for play testing!!!

Fortunately the changes are small and can be added to the game without too much fuss. It simply means more test playing and moving the publication date back to March 2014.

Friday, February 7, 2014

World War Two for Everyone!

If you look at which war game subjects seem to sell the most, World War Two wins by a landslide. It was the last global war fought with conventional weapons and using recognizable modern weaponry, tactics and strategies. It involved many many nations and was a true crusade against evil and those that truly wanted to dominate the world. It created out modern world in so many ways. The generation that fought that war is passing way quickly, but the battles they fought and the struggles they went through are well-remembered and we hope are never forgotten.

This being so, Power Play Games is developing a game of World War Two.  In my personal gaming experience so many table-top games are either too abstract or too complex. Often they are too tactical or too strategic in scope. While it's a blast to be able to jump into the shoes of a squad leader or a battalion commander, sometimes it would be fun to play an entire operation of the war, such as the Invasion of France in 1940, or Sicily or the entire Normandy invasion. It would also be nice to have a game that can allow players to experience World War Two at both Operational level and Battalion level and everything in-between without any major complexity and still simulate the battles as closely as possible. It would be nice to be able to sit down and play a major battle or operation in an evening in a casual manner. It would be nice to be able to play almost any historical battle and even create hypothetical ones or completely abstract and fictional ones! And finally, it would be nice to be able to play the game with your 12-year old son or another adult or with someone who isn't necessarily history-savy. It would be nice if even a grognard (someone who is very serious about historical accuracy) could enjoy the game.

Looking around at the marketplace, I realized that there simply were no such table-top board games available like this anywhere. So Storm of Steel is that game. I decided that it was time to create such a game experience. Here's a list of things that I determined had to be included in such a game:

  • Playable for ages 12 and up
  • Play historical battles at operational down to battalion level
  • Simple and streamlined combat mechanic
  • Historical battles play as close to history as possible
  • Flexibility to play any battle
  • Some team play allowing more than two players and simulation the difficulty of the alliance system
  • Simple streamlined combat mechanic anyone can understand
  • Flexible hex-based game board
  • A good balance between historical accuracy, simplicity and fun
  • Heavy re-playability
  • Modest playing times
  • Allow players to use historical World War Two battle tactics and strategies
  • Allowance for completely random or fictional battles
  • Ability to simulate historically-hypothetical battles (Sea Lion, Isabella, Calais, etc.)
  • Allow some randomness using event cards and dice
  • Some "fog-of-war"
  • Great history teaching tool
  • Modest price
  • Casual and serious players can both enjoy!
While the game is only in early stages of development we feel that this game will develop quickly and be on the market soon. We are targeting summer 2014 for release. Hopefully so!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Simulating Star Ship Combat with Paper & Dice

In creating Battle for Gallion's Reach, I wanted to "simulate" star ship combat without too much complexity and yet divert away from the simple two-dice roll or who has the larger number. In fact I really wanted a dice-less mechanic, but I was disappointed to find there aren't any that would do much better than dice. Most dice-less combat mechanics actually are more involved and costly to make than a few dice. So, with this, I created a dice-based combat system. After test playing, however, I realized that it was flat-out boring. It was missing something. Most of the rest of the game - economics and empire management had been reduced to simple formulas in an effort to keep the game playable, fast-moving and open to ages 12 and up, so a dull combat mechanic would really spell doom for the "fun" factor". Let's face it - if you choose to spend $60 on a space game you want some Star Wars-like battles to make it worth the money and time. So I needed to come up with a means of creating these battles without too much complexity. I needed to roughly simulate star ship fleet battles.


I looked at star ship combat as I would a modern naval battle rather than tanks and soldiers shooting at one another over terrain. Space is open and there is nowhere to hide to gain advantage, so we are looking at ships sailing flat seas firing on one another. Most fleets are made up of squadrons of smaller organizations which themselves are made up of a variety of ships. You have Frigates, Destroyers, Cruisers, Battle Cruisers, Torpedo Boats, Submarines, Battleships and Aircraft Carriers. How you assemble these squadrons will determine the sort of battle you are expecting to wage. Carriers give you a long arm. Battleships give to long-range firepower, Destroyers can take out submarines and screen the bigger ships. Submarines and torpedo boats try to use stealth and small size to get in close and sink the big boys.

My first major move in this direction was going from single ship cards to squadrons of ships according to ship type. How one brought these diverse types together in one battle was up to the player. I created a mat to place these cards on and used concept of battle lines with left and right wings. Commanders would face their fleets-off and place their ships in these wings to try and destroy the opponents ship lines. Some ships had long-range weapons while others could only fight close-in. So in combat, long-range fire came first. Any ship that survived it would be able to fire at any ship nearby.

First Incarnation of the Squadron Card

First incarnation of the Ship Combat Mat


After test playing this system it was discovered that the dice-rolling mechanic was too involved and cumbersome and complex. So, I adopted the dice mechanic in our new game (under development) called Storm of Steel. In this system the numbers on the squadron card identify which dice are used. 6,8,10,12, or 20-sided die. In this mechanic the highest number rolled "won", meaning if the attacker rolled higher, it was "HIT". If the defender rolled higher it would be a "MISS". Obviously this is a very simplistic combat mechanic. But  for a fast-paced game like this it needed to be. However, since I had so simplified this combat mechanic I needed to add color and some options for the budding star ship admiral that would keep the game interesting and colorful.  I kept the squadron cards and changed the die-rolling mechanic but added to the options available to the players. Using the Fleet battle-line Wing mechanic I added the option to select a Formation for your fleet. This formation would give your fleet advantages in attack and defense and affect the die roll. You could still feed-in reinforcements and use characters such as the Great Admiral, but now the player could affect the outcome by choosing how to use his squadrons according to both formation  and wing.

Second Incarnation of the ship Combat Mat


Instead of "Long Range" and "Short-Range" changed the labeling to Missile and Beam. So ships such as Leviathans and Battleships could fire missiles (for long range attack) and beams (for short range attack), while cruisers, destroyers and raiders had to survive the hail of missiles to get close enough to use their beams. Acquiring the ability to use Battle Tactics became a technology one would have to research, otherwise one would simply select the standard "line" formation.


Commanders could determine that they wanted to sacrifice hitting power over defense and therefore they would select the Arrow Formation. All attack die rolls would add 4 to the number rolled. However, any counter-fire would be defended by -4 on the defensive die roll so such a tactic could be very risky. If a commander had a weaker force and wished to survive to counter-fire he would opt for a defensive-heavy formation such as Vanguard. This formation would give his fleet the best chance of survival. Any defensive die rolls would add 2 to the number but any counter-fire would be severely weakened because 2 would have to be subtracted from the roll. This tactic might give the fleet the chance to escape and retreat from battle.


Finally I considered adding an optional rule that certain ships could help the fleet. For example placing Destroyers in front of Battleships or Leviathans, they could reduce the any missile-fire damage. This would make having Destroyers in a fleet a valuable resource. I also considered having Raiders being able to relay beam fire so short-range Beam-only ships could fire them at long range. This would allow a Fleet Commander to keep his Cruisers in the rear and use them as long-range ships. 
These options are still being worked out at the time of this writing. Clearly this would complicate combat, but might add a large amount of flavor to the game.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Gaming as a History Lesson

Gaming is simply great fun. I enjoy challenging myself to competitive play and have since I was quite young. Alongside this I learned about history and eventually I became better versed in history because of my gaming. There are games that have nothing to do with history and they are great fun, but I want to talk about gaming as way to enhance and even encourage the learning and better understanding of history - and like me, the inspiration to study history.

My first "historical" game was a board game called Blitzkrieg. While not actually a re-creation of some historical event, it used history as the framework. The World War Two German "Lightning War" strategy inspired this game design and by playing it, it encouraged me to learn more about this period in history. Eventually I did learn a great deal more about it and alongside of this learning I started playing games that allowed me to participate in that history. As I played these games I discovered the reasons things happened the way that did and by sometimes putting me in the shoes of those who were there I learned much more than I ever could by just reading books.

Avalon Hill's' Blitzkrieg box(1971)

Blitzkrieg game pieces on board map

Using cardboard squares that represented military unit organizations such as divisions or battalions, these pieces were moved across a game board map and we conducted combat with them. Some of these became quite detailed in their rules, attempting to as accurately as possible to simulate a specific battle or war in history. An example of this was a game called Civil War by Victory Games.

Victory Games Civil War box front

Civil War at play

Placing oneself into the position of a national leader (Third Reich by Avalon Hill) , a general or even a low-level commander or a unit of troops (such as in the game Panzer Blitz) gave the budding historian, like myself, the unique perspective that could only be had by participating such as activity.

Third Reich by Avalon Hill

Third Reich board game

Panzer Blitz by Avalon Hill

It became clear that my understanding of history was vastly improved by the hobby of gaming. This genre of gaming is often called war gaming, and it would be an accurate description, but I prefer historical simulation gaming because it is far more accurate. I cannot overestimate the value such an activity has on the learning of geography, history of individuals, nations and events.

But, alas, as we grow older we find we have less and less time to devote to such an activity due to family duties and work and home as well as the incredible difficulty finding the human opponents to play these games. The advent of the personal computer in the 1990's vastly helped me in this by allowing the computer to handle the minutia and number-crunching and even supply the sometimes intelligent and sometimes dimwitted opponent! Such games as Europa Universalis gave the player an opportunity to lead an historical nation in Europe an amazing historical simulation set between the early middle ages and the modern era.

Europa Universalis II
Other games allowed one to command an historical unit in combat from the first-person perspective such as Panzer Elite. It was finally possible to have the immersion into the environment missing with those old cardboard games.

Panzer Elite

Eventually, however, even finding time to sit down and play such a computer game became difficult, and when one has a family, one needs activities that a family can enjoy together. So, I began my move back to the board /table-top game world.

I discovered that there were a number of interesting historical games available for families - those that didn't have 20 pages of rules and required 6+hours to play. A few of these were Memoir 44 by Days of Wonder, Conquest of Empire and the old favorite Axis & Allies. 

Memoir 44 by Days of Wonder

Conquest of Empire
Axis & Allies

Each of these games  provided the chance to explore historical events without the hours-long rules-heavy gaming of the past or the isolated-in-you-room-glued-to-a-monitor gaming experience provided by the computer. It was then that I realized that gaming could provide the historical experience without complexity and allow families and friends to participate in a few short hours. Everyone could take away something from the experience whether it be simple joy of social interaction, a chance to compete, the opportunity to see if one could improve upon history or acquire the desire to learn more of history itself.

Power Play Games is the result of this long sojourn in gaming begun almost 40 years ago with Blitzkrieg! We want to develop games that accomplish these four things mentioned above. We believe that gaming can be many things to different people but can be all things to some - like myself.  Our first two games, Battle for Gallion's Reach and Storm of Steel represent this desire to provide such experiences.

Battle for Gallion's Reach

Storm of Steel box cover

Storm of Steel game board

Storm of Steel Army cards
Storm of Steel Command cards

Battle for Gallion's Reach is  a science-fiction strategy game for 2 to 4 players that can be played in 3-6 hours. In keeping with the family-oriented theme, the game can be played by 12-year-olds and up. the objective is to clobber your opponents with spaceship battles, research advanced technology and discover Gallion's Reach before anyone else!

Storm of Steel is our foray into historical gaming. Players recreate historical World War Two battles.  In keeping with our desire to teach active history, each battle comes with an historical description and listed resources for further learning. In some scenarios, players can use teams of two. This re-creates the difficulty of the alliance system that existed during the conflict. Players send their armies out to battle and acquire command points which allows them to use Command Cards and Event Cards to win the game. Storm of Steel can be played in 2-6 hours with 2 to 3 players 12 and up.

Battle for Gallion's Reach sill be available on the market no later than March 2014 and Storm of Steel is scheduled for release sometime in summer of 2014.
See our website for more details!