General Orders: World War II, the worker-placement wargame from the designers of Undaunted, is out this month. Read on to hear from the game's co-designer David Thompson about the start of the process that went into its creation...
General Orders: World War II pits two commanders against each other in a tug of war for control over a crucial Second World War battlefield, either in the mountains of Italy or the islands of the Pacific. Players strive to seize crucial strategic assets that unlock special abilities, and prevent their opponents from doing the same. They balance the desire to gain these advantages with the need to secure supply lines, ward off aerial assault and artillery barrages, and protect their vulnerable headquarters.
General Orders: World War II combines the dynamic tactical gameplay of a traditional wargame with the cut-throat decision-making of worker-placement games.
This is the story of how General Orders came to be…
The origin of General Orders dates back to 28th December 2021. That day, I sent a string of messages to my design partner for the game – Trevor Benjamin – describing a concept I had. This is what I sent Trevor:
“I’ve been thinking about (this game idea) quite a bit. Each player takes the role of a commander. Their ‘workers’ are their sub-commanders, leading units. Each player would have their own personal board with non-contested actions (logistics, artillery, etc) and there would be a central board with contested actions.”
I went on to say, “I think it could work, and the mashup of Euro and a wargame would be interesting. I think a historic setting would actually help separate the game from other worker placement games. What do you think? Crazy?”
Thankfully Trevor was willing to entertain the idea. Over the next couple days we messaged back and forth, tossing around concepts, asking each other questions that would tease out the key elements of the design. One thing I was very firm on, though, was I wanted the game to be a worker placement game, first and foremost. In fact, during this initial period Trevor and I referred to the concept as “WPWG” (worker placement wargame) as a shorthand.
The Design Begins
On 30th December, just a couple days after Trevor and I began discussing the game idea, we created this initial concept for the board layout and played our first two games (from concept to playtesting in two days – not bad!):
In some ways, the general topography and some space ability ideas from this initial draft live on in the Alpine map in the published version of General Orders: World War II.
From that first session, we decided to add cards that would go on to be the operations cards in the final version of the game, as well as randomized area bonuses for some of the spaces on the board. Many of the concepts we sketched out for the cards and areas bonuses would end up in the final design.
I don’t view myself as an especially talented or clever designer. Instead, I think my attributes that serve me best are dedication and perseverance. Trevor and I usually require quite a bit of iteration to reach the final states of our designs (unlike me, Trevor is quite a clever fellow, but I hold him back a bit in our collaborations!). Fortunately though, General Orders was coming together quickly, we felt.
We got together again on 2nd January 2022 for another playtest session. It was during this session that we developed the concepts for how supply would work, how units would be reinforced, and the basic mechanisms for advancing into combat, as well as settling on both the threshold for a “normal” win through victory points and the instant victory condition of removing a player from their headquarters. Again, things were moving along quickly, and we were able to lock down core elements of the game that would allow us to shift our focus to the variable elements like the cards and area bonuses.
We continued to test over the next week and a half. By 11th January, we had completed the design for the game – or at least the part of the game that would become the Alpine map and all the elements associated with it.
The core gameplay for General Orders is very streamlined. Barring an immediate victory by one of the players clearing their opponent’s HQ of units, a game plays out over a series of four rounds.
During a round, players alternate taking turns, deploying one of their five commanders (or “workers”). They deploy the commanders to spaces on the board to perform actions such as advancing, conducting paradrops, and firing artillery barrages. Separately, they deploy commanders on a side board to reinforce their troops and gain operations cards.
Controlling certain areas on the board will grant the players special bonuses. And the operations cards can be used for special effects.
The player with the most victory points (scored by controlling key areas) at the end of those four rounds wins.
We reached out to Osprey Games on 17th January to pitch them the idea for our game, which we had started calling “Take Command”. At the time, Filip Hartelius and Anthony Howgego were the lead developers at Osprey, and we had worked closely with them on the Undaunted series, so we had a very strong relationship with them and felt the game would be a good fit.
We included a screenshot of our Tabletop Simulator playtest version of the game in our email. Again, from a topography perspective, the board hadn’t changed considerably from the initial draft, and while the “point-to-point” map design was replaced with hexes in the final product, the actual board layout (space adjacency) did not change.
We met with Filip and Anthony on 28th January to pitch them the design and play a sample game. After the meeting, we provided them with our Tabletop Simulator module so that they could play the game for themselves. On 1st February, they let us know that they wanted to sign the game.
Trevor and I were very happy with the progress the game had made over a short period of time. In just a little over a month, the game had gone from a basic concept (little more than the idea of smashing up a “worker placement” mechanism with a wargame theme) to being signed by a fantastic publisher.
But the real work was yet to begin…
General Orders: World War II is out 26th October in the UK and 31st October in the US.
And hear from co-designer David Thompson again 2 weeks today, Friday 3rd November,
all about the asymmetric game mode on the other side of the board…