Armchair Dragoons Interviews Designer Christopher Davis (Hero of the Soviet Union)

Brant Guillory, 27 October 2018

 

Armchair Dragoons:  Thanks for taking the time chat with us!

Christopher Davis:  Thanks for reaching out!

 

ACD: So, what’s your wargaming background?  First wargame you learned to play?  First wargame you loved?  What’s the top of your rotation today?

CD:  I think I was born into it. Growing up, my dad was an Army attack helicopter pilot, so I learned a lot about the Soviet army, especially its tanks. And that branched into general military history, especially World War II.

And I came of age just as computer games were booming. My parents bought me Civilization 2 – from Scholastics magazine! – when I was in 6th grade and it’s been a gamer’s life ever since on both the PC and the tabletop. By the start of high school, I was playing microarmor and Napoleonics.

But it wasn’t until the last five years or so when I really started seriously exploring the tabletop hobby on my own – DVG, Compass, GMT, etc. My recent rotation has included Pavlov’s House, Corsair Leader, War of the Worlds, Nightfighter Ace, and Unconditional Surrender. Next up is Skies Above the Reich. My all time favorite games thus far have been Labyrinth: War on Terror, Star Wars Rebellion, and B17 Leader. 

Is Hero of the Soviet Union your first design?  (If not, what was, and tell us a little about it, even if it never got beyond drawing-board stage)

It’s my first serious design; and definitely the furthest along. I think like most aspiring designers, there’s always a thousand ideas kicking around and its a matter of putting pen to paper and cranking out a prototype.

But I started my first deliberate design with a work in progress titled Fall of the Kaiserreich; a three player game about the German Revolution. Players assumed control of the left, centrist, and right wing factions at the start of the 1918 Spring Offensive and battled for control of the future of Germany. It was semi-cooperative in the sense that failure to make peace with the Allies – the terms of which could affect the players differently depending on what was proposed – would result in everyone losing.

OK, so that sounds pretty cool.

That project is third in line now after Hero of the Soviet Union and another USSR related project.

Dammit!

Hero of the Soviet Union Soviet Markers

Hero of the Soviet Union Soviet Markers

 

What are some of the games that influenced Hero of the Soviet Union, whether gameplay or graphic design, or theme/feel?

There are definitely a lot of influences from some great games out there. Chief among them are probably DVG’s Leader series, Ian Cooper’s Raiders of the Deep, Smith’s Nightfighter Ace, and Clash of Arms’ Legion of Honor. I really like the immersive themes and narrative structure of these games.

I’ve tried staying away from games with a similar level of operations like Lock n Load Tactical because I want to build the system from the ground up around the theme. And I chose the Red Army specifically because of the scope of the conflict, and the popularity of it in gaming.

But I want to tell a story, an individual story, that’s not treated already in a game. That’s why each game starts with the player creating their Hero – name and place of birth, and so on. 

Hero of the Soviet Union Russian Cards

Hero of the Soviet Union Russian Cards

 

How long as the game been in development?  How close are you to the original design you started with?

I first put pen to paper back in April. The mechanics of the game have come a long way since then. The structure used to be much more linear, but that’s changed significantly to allow more player choice. It used to be that several steps would be completed sequentially, but now that segment of the game gives the player several different things to do at their discretion. Of course – not without risks, like getting arrested by the secret police!

Hero of the Soviet Union German Markers

Hero of the Soviet Union German Markers

And I introduced some new concepts, such as Comrades, who are essentially the Hero’s closest squad-mates, to make the game more personal. I’m really happy with the progress so far.  The most difficult part has been the tactics system – to make it both player-friendly but also provide a level of realism.

That said, I’m not worried about things like traversing gun carriages or the elevation angles of tanks. Things that the individual soldier would see and hear and feel – smoke, explosions, cover, etc, have been my focus. 

 

The online updates so far have shown digital screens.  Is the plan to stay digital?  Is there a tabletop migration, or adaptation in the future?  

Ultimately, the game will be an old-fashioned board game.

Huzzah!

The posted images are drafts from the design program. It also lets me playtest the game digitally so I can make on the spot corrections and adjustments. I plan to have a printed prototype by the end of the year. 

 

Hero of the Soviet Union Cards

Hero of the Soviet Union Cards

Is anyone else working on this with you?  Playtesting?  Coding?  Art & design?  (If not now, then in the future?)

Not at this time. Towards the end of the year, I plan to start a “closed” beta of the game among some trusted confidants. 

We know a guy who knows a guy who can introduce you to a guy…  🙂

 

Let’s help out the audience a bit here.  If you’re a fan of      SHERMAN LEADER    then you’re probably going to dig playing Hero of the Soviet Union, but if you prefer     CAMPAIGN FOR NORTH AFRICA     then maybe this isn’t the game for you.

Let’s be honest here.  Does anyone prefer CNA?  And over what, exactly?  Matrix algebra?

 

OK, some non-game design questions:

Favorite kind of dice?

Those that roll in my favor. 

Ha!  Good one.  (scribbles note…  gotta remember that one…)

 

Last good book you read?  Last crappy book you forced yourself to read?

There are so many good books out there! I have the bad habit of reading several books simultaneously so it takes me a very long to finish one.

But I’m in the middle of reading The Gun by CJ Chivers and The Billion Dollar Spy by David Hoffman. Speaking of Hoffman – his book The Dead Hand is probably one of my favorite reads. Who doesn’t like a story about crazy Russian WMD ideas?

Books I don’t enjoy… well… please don’t ask me to read anything by Malcolm Gladwell ever again. 

 

If you were to be a finalist in the World Air Guitar Championships, what song would you “play”?

Oh man – I suck at the guitar, even air ones! But it would be a close call between Muse’s Knights of Cydonia and Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love.

 

Most fun you ever had with your clothes on?

Any day I get to play hockey or watch it is a good day.

 

What your go-to bar drink?

The more colorful the better. 

 

If we promised you 4 days of non-stop wargaming, could we get you to come hang out with us at Origins this year?

I’d definitely consider it!

Note to Origins crew:  we got a candidate here!

 

What should we have asked you, if we’d know what to ask you?

I know everyone’s been dying to know this, but I’m a Taurus. Sorry to disappoint the Aquarius’ out there!

Thanks again for stopping by and taking a moment to chat with us.  We’re looking forward to the updates on the game as you share them online!

 


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Armchair Dragoons Interviews Designer Christopher Davis (Hero of the Soviet Union)

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