We had the chance to catch up with Desert War 1940 – 1942 developer, Brian Kelly.
Matrix: First off, thanks for this occasion and congratulations on the work so far. The game looks very interesting! Is it your first title?
Brian Kelly: Yes. My day job is programming in java, so I decided to try writing a wargame, instead of just playing them.
M: The theatre of operation depicted is, undoubtedly, unique. Could you tell us more about your choice? What fascinates you about this kind of warfare in North Africa?
B.K.: I've been interested in the North African campaign since I read The Desert Generals by Correlli Barnett years ago. I was fascinated by the little known but devastating attack by General O'Connor against the Italians, the to-and-fro actions, sea-sawing across North Africa, the colourful cast of characters, and the fact that it was generally a "War Without Hate" (as John Bierman's book on the theatre is called).
M: And which aspects were you determined to recreate in your game?
B.K.: I wanted to do a game with large maps, relatively low unit counter density, and the ability to do sweeping manoeuvre. Of course, not every battle in North African had those aspects, and so we've tried to create a mix of scenarios to reflect this.
Secondly, I think combining Fog Of War and WEGO (where both sides move simultaneously) can help replicate some of the chaos and confusion of the real battles. When reading about the Desert War, it's remarkable how little the generals of either side knew of what was happening; neither side knew the location of the enemy, and in many cases didn't even know their own location. This is why reconnaissance is very important in the game. Air and EW assets can be used as recon, as well as ground units. Ground Units have different recon range and strengths. Ground Recce units are the best of course, and like real recon units, will try and avoid combat. they should be more than just weak infantry; they should be vital.
Including scenarios only involving the Italians versus Commonwealth forces was important too, so four of the scenarios occur before the arrival of Rommel.
M: Desert War has a very nice “board game” feeling! What have been your main sources of inspiration? Have you ever played The Campaign for North Africa (1979), War in the Desert (1997), Tobruk: Tank Battles in North Africa 1942 (1975) or other tabletop wargames?
B.K.: Unfortunately, due to lack of local opponents, my board gaming today mainly consists of games like Ticket To Ride!
M: What about computer wargames, have any of these inspired you?
B.K.: Mainly Panzer Campaigns and Atomic's World At War games Stalingrad and Operation Crusader. The Atomic games were the original WEGO wargames and even though released in the early 90s they're still very good.
M: How much time went into the historical research for designing the scenarios and what element do you think you have been able to depict in the most accurate form in particular?
B.K.: Two of our researchers spent the better part of a year assembling all the data on weapon systems, doctrine, supply systems, unit organizations, orders of battle for air, land and sea forces, and the initial dispositions for the various scenarios.
M: Let’s talk a bit about gameplay mechanics. We know that Desert War will employ a WEGO system rather than of a more classical IGOYUGO. How does this approach better suit the game’s scope? Will the players spend a lot of time in movement planning?
B.K.: Playing in the IGOYUGO game, you order units to move and they always move where you want them to, and if they do not, you know immediately and can alter your plan to account for this. In WWII it was of course not like that, units might not move to due Command and Control problems, enemy Air interdiction, or bumping into enemy units you didn't know existed. Like in the real Desert War, one can plan ones moves, but that is no guarantee the plan will survive contact with the enemy. And it may take hours (6 hours in Desert War's case) so the commander to have his plans adjusted. The WEGO system also allows for a distinction between "set-piece" attacks at the start of the turn and risky on-the-fly attacks during the move phase.
If the player wants to win, they'll be spending a lot of time in the movement planning.
M: There are a lot of elements to Desert War, what would you suggest are the key aspects for the player to focus on?
B.K.: Reconnaissance. Find the enemy, find his flank, then pile on.
Organizations. Maintain organizational integrity to the extent possible; the penalties for failing to do this can be quite painful.
Supplies. Keep units within the support range of their higher headquarters. Supported units are the only units that benefit from Move Plus and Combat Plus supply expenditures.
Reserves. Don't throw everybody into the fight. Fresh troops can win the day when tired troops only suffer casualties.
Air Game. Finding the right balance between reconnaissance, counter-air, interdiction, ground support, and aircrew rest can be a game-changer. Pay close attention to the effects of air forces on the land battle.
M: One of the most distinctive things about the confrontation in North Africa was the management of the supply lines and the logistics. How is this element depicted in the game? Can we raid enemy lines?
B.K.: Supply lines can be interdicted and fuel and ammo points can be destroyed using air, naval, and special forces assets (SAS, LRDG, Brandenburgers).
Interdiction also reduces HQ supply range and unit movement points.
M: I know that Desert War is ground-centered, but is the naval aspect of the war in North Africa covered in some way? What about the planned – but never occurred – Operation Herkules?
B.K.: Naval assets are present in several scenarios. These assets represent individual ships capable of attacking ground units on their own or supporting the defense or attacks of friendly ground units.
Operation Herkules is not covered in this game.
M: In many wargames (especially in operational ones), you really have to think three moves ahead, countering all the measures your opponent will make. How hard has it been creating an AI capable of adapting to this particular kind of warfare?
B.K.: The AI scripting engine is designed to support that sort of thinking by the scenario designer. The scenario designer examines the historical situation for a side (mission, enemy, terrain, friendly troops available, scenario length, etc.). Based on that analysis, he scripts courses of action in response to his assessment of potential enemy courses of action. For example, assuming the AI recce is doing its job, if the human enemy attacks in the north—execute reaction x. If the human enemy attacks in the south—execute reaction y.
In addition, ground units have embedded AI behaviors that provide for their self-defense, combat avoidance, defensible terrain selection, etc.
M: And what other development challenges have you faced?
B.K.: The "Film Making" for the WEGO was the hardest challenge, combining two separate sets of orders into a single film. It's working now, but I wouldn't like to have to do it all over again!
M: Among the 11 historical scenarios to play, are there any “What if “ situation the players could find themselves in?
B.K.: Many of the scenarios allow the player to change the initial historical set-up for his side. For example, in Gazala: The First Five Days, the Axis Player is free to set-up anywhere he wants west of the Gazala line. So instead of following Rommel's plan, the Axis player could attack along the coast road to Tobruk, or try the soft center between the 150th Brigade Box and the Free French at Bir Hacheim.
M: Are you planning to expand the setting to include 1943 and Operation Torch?
B.K.: We'll have to wait and see.
M: And finally Rommel or Montgomery? Who for you was the greater general – or do you have a 3rd suggestion?
B.K.: Well, that has to be General Richard O'Connor, who showed his flair for armoured warfare as the architect of the rout of the Italians during Operation Compass. For the loss of only 500 killed, O'Connor managed to destroy the Italian 10th Army and gave Churchill a chance to end the war in North Africa in 1941 (unfortunately O'Connor forces were shipped off to be defeated in Greece). O'Connor was captured by the Germans on 6th April 1941, and with that the British Army had to endure a succession lesser generals, some (Auchinleck) a lot better than others (Ritchie).
This covers everything we had to ask to the developers of Desert War, let us know if you have any more questions.
< Message edited by AlbertoC -- 8/1/2017 8:13:57 AM >