Opponents Wanted

Find Gaming Opponents!

Another new feature for Grognard.com, "Opponents Wanted" provides a quick and easy way to locate gaming opponents with similar gaming preferences. Requires site registration. Grognard.com Opponents Wanted

Spotlight Articles

Outstanding articles that are not necessarily linked to one particular game, but may have broad appeal to gamers.

Best 3 Games with…East Front of WWII!

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"We have played a lot of wargames over the past 10 years but some of the classics have eluded us thus far." Grant Kleinhenz, in The Players' Aid, lays out his favorite East Front games. See which game makes him comment "The CRT is one of the most interesting and unique that I have seen."

Poster: Doug Holt
Post Date: 7/19/2024

GEN CON Indy 2024

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GEN CON INDY 2024: August 1-4 at the Indiana Convention Center, Indianapolis, IN. LISTEN UP, GAMERS! Time is running out to get your Gen Con badges.

Poster: Robert Holifield
Post Date: 7/17/2024

Antietam, 1862

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"...I felt compelled to deal with this battle, which though a tactical mess, turned out to be a turning point...". Jeff Berry, in Obscure Battles, brings us another one of his exquisite battle reviews. Join him for some intriguing insights and wit, as "...Lee and Davis both recognized that now was the time to take the war north to prove that the South was winning their independence."

Poster: Doug Holt
Post Date: 7/15/2024

Part 7. The History of The Avalon Hill Game Company 1986-1991

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"Avalon Hill, after a big surge in the late 70s until the mid-80s was on a roll. But little did anyone know, the company would soon enter a decline that would eventually lead to the end of the company. In this episode, we explore the beginning of the end of Avalon Hill." Legendary Tactics

Poster: Robert Holifield
Post Date: 7/14/2024

More Spotlight articles...

Gaming Conventions

Gaming Conventions

Another new feature for Grognard.com, the Gaming Convention calendar will make it a snap to keep up with all the latest gaming conventions in your area. But we need your gaming convention information, so please contribute.

Grognard News

Grognard Challenge - Expanded Room for Comments! (6/25/2023)

The Comments entry area has been resized to 512 characters.

Grognard Opponents Wanted (9/14/2022)

New Opponents Wanted function. You can now set your ad expiration date, up to one year. Requires site registration.

Gaming Conventions

New Gaming Conventions calendar. You can see all upcoming gaming conventions worldwide.

If you are sponsoring a board gaming convention of some type, or know of one that is not listed on Grognard.com, then please contact us and let us know!

Gaming Clubs/Organziations

New Gaming Clubs/Organizations listing. You can search for existing gaming clubs worldwide.

If you belong to a gaming club, or know of one, please drop us a line and let us know so we can get it listed on Grognard.com!

New Search Features

Now you can search for specific games (or games by publisher) using the new Game Search feature, located at the top right corner of the this page. In addition you can now harness the power of Google to search the entire Grognard.com site for any specific information you'd like. Just enter a search word or phrase into the Google box labeled "Search All of Grognard.com" and click magnifying glass button. Search features will continue to be improved and enhanced going forward so check back often to see the latest stuff.

Grognard Originals

In addition to our links to great content all around the internet, expect to see more Grognard.com "originals" in the future.

Fast, simple, not expensive, little errata, but only reasonably fun. (War game Review)

In his review on BoardGameGeek, Brendan Whyte first turns a critical eye towards the components and rules and lists their shortcomings. Game play fares better: “…the game is fast and quite fun”. Whyte then goes into comprehensive details covering game mechanics and spares no criticism for the game opponent (AI). His discussion concerning solitaire board games vs solitaire computer games is very interesting.

PE TANG 1900 Q&A with Marco Campari

Some Q & A between myself and Marco Campari, designer of Pe Tang 1900 from Lumaca Games.

PE TANG 1900 Strategy Tips

This is the strategy I developed after playing Pe Tang 1900 from Lumaca Games.

PE TANG 1900 Optional Line of Sight Table

Here is an optional table to make it a little more difficult to eliminate the Boxer artillery.

More Grognard Originals...

Grognard Challenge

Latest Challenge

Have a look at the graphics for the latest Challenge and see past solutions and contest winners.

Recommended (archives)

Wargaming - General Info

Board Wargames

Miniatures Wargames

Computer Wargames

Academic Gaming

Board Games

Internet Based/PBEM Games

Individual Wargamer Blogs

Wargaming Magazines

Asst Software/Player Aides

In Memoriam

Grognards Lost

Please support Grognard.com by supporting our site sponsor, VentoNuovo Games


S T U V W X Y Z '-9
Lance McMillan: Thunder in the East Developer
Grognard.com exclusive interview with Lance McMillan, developer of Thunder in the East

Grognard.com: Hello, Lance; thank you for your time. Let’s go with the first question: You’ve been the developer for VPG’s edition of Battle for Moscow and its Winter Counteroffensive expansion kit, so it was natural for you to continue as Frank Chadwick began expanding that system with the Campaigns in Russia series games (The Arduous Beginning, Target: Leningrad, and Objective: Kiev). What were the essential gameplay aspects you were trying to develop/refine with the Campaigns in Russia series games?

Lance McMillan: The key aspect of the Campaigns in Russia series that I wanted to ensure was carried over to Thunder in the East was playability. There are dozens of other East Front games out there that will give you detailed history, but very few of those fall into a category that I would call "playable." Instead, those games tend to control the players rather than the other way around – that is, you spend most your time micro-managing petty details which a Theater or Army-Group commander would never concern himself with. I wanted TITE to keep players focused on the sorts of broad-brush strategic decisions that are appropriate to the level of command their roles represented and not worrying about whether the 143rd Independent Assault Engineer Company was committed to this or that stack to optimize the odds in that specific attack.

I have neither the patience nor time for longer games, so for me one of the great attractions of the Campaigns in Russia games was that you could get through a match in about 90-120 minutes. For that reason, paring Thunder in the East down to its essentials, so that the player spent most of his game time making critical decisions rather than getting bogged down in superfluous chrome, was an important aspect of development. I wouldn't categorize my philosophy here as "minimalist," but I'm hoping that I was able to get close to that.

Lance McMillan and Frank Chadwick at ConsSimExpo 2016

Grognard.com: I understand that there is going to be a Battle for Moscow II game. How will that be different from the classic Battle for Moscow?

Lance McMillan: Battle for Moscow II (B4M2) is a condensed refinement of the Frank Chadwick’s ETO system. The goal is to make it a sort of showcase for Thunder in the East, so that players who aren't sure about whether TITE is something they'd enjoy can use B4M2 as a test platform to see whether it scratches their itch.

The biggest difference in B4M2 from its earlier fore-bearer is that it includes TITE's logistics and air system rules. Neither of these systems is necessarily a game changer, but they both add considerable depth to the game and give players a lot of insight into some of the whys and wherefores of the campaign that weren't previously evident. Additionally, the map has been expanded, providing both sides with different maneuver options that the tight confines of the older map didn't allow. I think that players will find the new B4M2 to be a considerable improvement to Battle for Moscow, while still retaining a lot of the original's usefulness and excitement as an introductory game.

Grognard.com: You were leading the whole team in alpha testing Thunder in the East at ConsimWorld 2016 in Tempe, Arizona. What did you learn after a week of intensive playtesting the very first version of that game?

Lance McMillan: For me, the most illuminating thing that came out in testing was how thoroughly logistics drive the operational train. It was delightfully refreshing to see players saying, "I really want to take Kiev, but my forward spearhead units are just beyond my supply radius... I'll just have to wait another turn to bring up supplies before launching the big drive." Yes!

Another thing that was (to me at least) surprising was how the Axis side's chances for victory seemed to significantly improve if they changed their strategy from a broad-front approach (which was used historically) and instead concentrated their efforts into just one or two key sectors -- yes, this often meant that one Army Group or another fell far behind its historical rate of advance, but the progress of the others was noticeably enhanced. Again, largely a matter of more focused logistics allowing the player to "drive the train" faster if he felt that met his objectives.

Lance McMillan, Frank Chadwick and Alan Emrich at ConsSimExpo 2016

Grognard.com: What is the strategy for developing a game the size of Thunder in the East? During beta testing, will you be sending physical copies of the game out, or will this be a virtual (e.g., VASSAL) playtest because of its sheer size?

Lance McMillan: We will be using a combination of both hard-copy and electronic (VASSAL) versions as playtest kits. There are advantages to both: hard-copy allows testers to keep a game set up for long periods so they can study the entire map at leisure (rather than just screen-sized chunks), while electronic means testers can work on the game as time allows and allows us to easily make adjustments to components (charts, counters, and maps) as the need arises.

Grognard.com: Is there a guiding development philosophy that sets the Frank Chadwick’s ETO series apart from Frank’s earlier “monster-piece” (the Europa series) and other monster WWII games published since then? What are you doing that sets ETO apart from the competition?

Lance McMillan: As mentioned previously, it's all about distilling the essentials of decision making down to their core and keeping the player's attention locked in on the sorts of things that are appropriate to the role which he's filling (theater commander), rather than dealing with extraneous chrome and factor counting. I was a huge fan of Europa back in the day, but I've since come to realize that it is largely based on false premises: theater commanders don't (for the most part) deal with battalions, regiments, and brigades -- in fact, they rarely dealt with divisional movements. The appropriate focus for a player in the theater command role is with corps and armies. And with that in mind, it has been my goal to keep trying to pare as much of that sort of chrome out of the game as possible, retaining only the chrome that's absolutely necessary to "telling the story" of the war.

I'll give you an example: in a lot of East Front games, the designers have felt compelled to include the Spanish 250th Division and/or the Slovakian Mobile Group as separate and distinct units. Even if the smallest German unit in the game is a corps, those divisional and brigade level units, which were typically attached to some larger German corps, are given their own counters. While I appreciate that a lot of gamers like that sort of detail, the fact is that it gives the player far more operational flexibility (and those particular units far more importance) than his counterpart did in actual in historical terms. Thus the "false" lesson learned by making those units distinct is that they were somehow semi-elite formations that were critical to Axis fortunes, when in reality they were low quality units that were rather more of a liability than an asset. By amalgamating those type units into the larger context of the Axis force structure, the player gets a much clearer and more accurate sense of how things really were (albeit at the expense of some chrome-y flavor).

Thunder in the East Playtest Game Map

Grognard.com: A game developer is often in the middle of a tug-of-war between the designer’s vision and the publisher’s demands. I can imagine that situation might range from cordial to conflicting. How is it working with designer Frank Chadwick and publisher Alan Emrich? You’ve all worked together before and published some games, so that should help, but the scope of this project is enormous; is that straining things or all you “pulling together” through it? Is there a system you guys use to coordinate this project?

Lance McMillan: Frank, Alan and I get along extremely well. That's not to say that we don’t have our own ideas and agree on everything, and I'll admit to some (very small) degree of frustration when my preferences have had to take a back seat, but overall it has been an absolute delight working with the two of them.

We all agree on the guiding principles and philosophy of what we’re trying to achieve, so our basic approach in solving these types of conflicts is simply to talk things out and find a good common ground on which we can all agree. Occasionally one of us will draw a "line in the sand" over some point that they feel strongly about, and the others will acquiesce and help refine and develop that vision, but for the most part we tend to see eye-to-eye on things.

Thunder in the East Playtest Game Map

Grognard.com: Most developers have a contribution to make when gamer’s sit down and play the game, yet those players will never know what hand the developer had in actually bringing that new idea or clever change about. Is there anything in Thunder in the East that you feel you’ve really put your stamp on? Anything you look at and say, “Yeah, I chipped in something really cool right there”? Developers never get to toot their horn, so please share a toot if you have one!

Lance McMillan: Two particular items come to mind: logistics and airborne operations. While they've undergone considerable evolution since the early prototype concept was first put together, the basic concept for the game's supply rules were mine. One of my primary specialty areas during my military career was operational logistics, and I wanted to try to capture the essential elements of what I'd learned and experienced into a very simple set of rules for this game. My underlying idea was that supply needed to be the structure on which everything in the game ran -- it didn't matter how many troops (units) you had in a sector of the front, if you didn't have the logistical infrastructure to support them effectively, you simply weren't going to be able to accomplish much. At the same time, I also didn't want players to be forcibly demoted to acting as the supply sergeants for their side -- they needed to focus on broad-brush strategy, of which logistics were simply the critical enabler to allow them to do what they wanted to do. What we now have in place (again, modified from my original idea) achieves exactly that.

Airborne operations were a sort of pet peeve of mine (remember what I said before about a “line in the sand” issue; this one was mine). So many operational and strategic level games get them totally wrong (with paratroops primarily being used to block enemy retreat routes, which is something they were never used for historically), rather than as elements used to seize and open routes of advance for follow-on forces. I wanted to show these storied units in their correct capacity, rather than as providing some gamey mechanism that gives players completely misleading impression of their actual function. I think we have Airborne operations just right now.

Grognard.com: There’s a philosophy about games: if you don’t have fun making it, people won’t have fun playing it. Game development is a lot of work, but are you having fun bringing Thunder in the East and Battle for Moscow II to life? In what aspects of play will the gamers notice the love in your labor when they play?

Lance McMillan: It's a lot of work and I am having a lot fun, but the scope/scale of Thunder in the East and ETO (as opposed to Battle for Moscow II) really isn't a perfect match for my gaming preferences. As I mentioned earlier, the optimal game for me falls in a fairly narrow 90-120 minute timeframe, and the sheer size of TITE means that its playing time falls outside that window. However, because it's such a streamlined system, I'm still able to enjoy playing it. I'll be honest, I've created a couple of my own "small map" test scenarios from TITE which I have a great time with and that fit neatly within my comfort zone (e.g., when I test the Operation Uranus scenario, I only use a section of the map, one reaching from Rostov to Stalingrad, rather than the whole area from Warsaw to Baku). This, in turn, allowed me to dial in my development attention on the main "crisis" area of that operation, rather than looking at the entire Eastern Front.