Brant Guillory, 19 July 2021
Since the games first appeared on the scene with Next War: Korea, Mitchell Land’s series has attracted the attention of hardcore grogs looking for a modern warfare series that properly tackled its complex challenges. They’ve even made inroads with the professional wargamers in the NatSec establishment. Mitchell was kind enough to give us a few minutes of his time to chat about his game designs and some of his own wargaming.
You’re obviously known for The Next War series. As you were developing the original idea for the first game, were you envisioning a series, or just a one-off game that’s ended up growing into a larger project? How do you decide what the next topic is going to be in the series?
It’s kind of you to say that, although there are times I’ve wondered if some people asking a question or talking about the game realize that I’m “known for it!” But, first, the original idea was Gene Billingsley’s with Crisis Korea: 1995. I became interested in the game right around the same time he had begun working on the remake (which would eventually become Next War: Korea, 1st Ed. [NWK1E]). I pestered him enough with my ideas for “improvements,” that he finally just said, “OK, why don’t you do it.”
As for the first question, my original thought was one and done. Then, I got intrigued, in doing some of the research, about how the PRC would absolutely enjoy a distracted US involvement in Korea so they could make a move in Taiwan. It just sort of snow-balled from there.
To the second question, I tend to look at potential flashpoints. Korea is obvious as is Taiwan. Vietnam was interesting for a number of reasons, one of which was so we could round-out the “China Trilogy” and fight over the Pacific. There are a number of criteria many of which are tied to scale. At 7.5 miles per hex, there’s only so much ground you can cover, and, with Strategic Maps and Air Superiority displays, the games already tend to take up quite a bit of space. So, that limits it somewhat. That’s the primary reason the Baltics, for instance, although they are a flashpoint, are represented by the far more abstract Strategic Map rules than as a hex-based Operational Map. I don’t think people realize just quite how large an area that Baltic region is. Couple that with the fact that, at the time Next War: Poland was made, the three Baltic states mustered 19 battalions between them, it just wasn’t going to be a satisfying gaming experience.
What’s the toughest part about developing the games in The Next War series? What gives you the most angst as you’re working on the initial design and development of each new entry? On the flip side, what do you feel has gotten easier as you’ve grown the series?
By far the toughest part is that the foundation keeps changing. Because it’s “future modern,” we’re trying to predict the future a bit. The issue, of course, is that defense policies are constantly changing, so, as an example, army structures (not just the US but many other nations) are always in flux. New technologies and weapons are constantly being developed. Many of these things are happening at a rate that makes it tough to keep up with. Some of this can be masked through the abstract nature of a mechanic, i.e., “Strikes” can cover a lot of ground from autonomous drone swarms to hypersonic missiles – at some point, it’s an estimation of effect on Pk (or a DRM, if you will). It’s far more difficult to gamify something like Social Media and its overall effect on the many aspects of warfare. First to post is perceived as truth – no one reads the correction later. Quantifying how something like that affects modern warfare is difficult.
As for what’s gotten easier, that would be the general underpinnings of a game. Once a solid idea/area has been established, the map and OOB (as it stands at the time) work has become relatively straightforward. After that, it’s a matter of tweaking things for any new terrain types or particular Game Specific situational rules. The hard part for the latter is ensuring that they fit within the overall framework of the established game systems. For instance, one of the decisions might be deciding if some new GSR capability for a side is a flavor of Strike or is it something truly new requiring whole new mechanics.
Tell us about something that changed significantly in during the development & playtesting of one of The Next War games. What was it that you’d originally envisioned that had to be changed once you started pushing counters around?
During the development of NWK1E, there were two significant changes that are worth calling out (among the myriad small changes). The first is that Special Operations Forces changed from a points system, i.e., a player allocated points to missions and tracked losses as such (similar to Air or Airmobile Points), to physical markers. For one thing, it was just easier to track things that way both from an allocation and where/what on the map are they doing. Later, I reaped the benefits of that change when working on the Insurgency rules from Supplement #2 as that would have been difficult to pull with a points-based system.
One of the biggest items that changed after NWK1E came out (post-publication) was how supply was handled in the Sequence of Play. Although it didn’t crop up in testing, after extended release play, it became apparent that some of the sub-systems weren’t really behaving quite right with respect to the interaction between Strikes, Special Operations Forces Raids, and Logistics. So, at some point (I don’t recall exactly when), I just bit the bullet, revised the SOP and the Second Supply Phase (formerly the “Emergency Supply Phase”) became a much more expanded and integral part of the logistics sub-system.
What is one historical outcome/event you’d change to make a compelling alt-history game/scenario?
That’s a tough one. There are so many small things: “for want of a nail…”. I suppose I’d like to see what would’ve happened if Bonnie Prince Charlie had managed his rising a little more adroitly and, perhaps, won at Culloden. I’m not sure what the ultimate outcome would’ve been, but, as part of the larger War of Austrian Succession, it might’ve encouraged France (ever the opportunists) to support the rising more emphatically. Could that have led to an independent Scotland and Ireland? Perhaps. Or the English might simply have raised another army and smashed the rising down anyway. However, having done so at a later date might’ve changed the way things were handled after the defeat at Culloden with the Clearances, etc. Perhaps there wouldn’t have been a mass migration of Scots to the Americas, and perhaps that might’ve led to a much reduced fervor for Rebellion…who knows…
Who are some designers you think don’t get enough attention or accolades for the work they’ve done? What about their games grabs your attention?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. If I had to pick one, I’d say that what Mike Denson is doing for WW2, tactical, squad-level gaming is under appreciated. Although it’s currently experiencing some growing pains, I think there are some brilliant ideas underpinning The Last Hundred Yards (LHY) system. Part of the under appreciation is that he’s turning that whole genre on its head and knocking some of the sacred cows over with his system. Personally, I’m an ATS (Advanced Tobruk System) guy for my WW2 tactical gaming, but I keep getting drawn back to LHY because of some of the innovative mechanics.
For those that might not be aware, we’ve got one of the Dragoons that has a standing Friday VASSAL game of Last Hundred Yards that’s open to anyone that wants to join him.
Thank you so much for joining us to chat about your games, and good luck with the next design – “Next War: Fanbois! (Star Trek vs Star Wars)”
(just kidding, people….)
Ed Note: there’s a bonus question or two that will be shared exclusively with our Patreon supporters. It’s just one of the perks of being a supporter of The Armchair Dragoons!
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