A Brief “History” Lesson

Post by: Grant Rodiek

In junior high, high school, and even college history courses, we spend the majority of our time covering the pivotal events in history. For US History in particular, these include the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, then a final whimper of a chapter that covers the space shuttle and Reagan. As students, there’s a lot we miss if we don’t go snooping down a Wikipedia wormhole of goodness.

This is a post about what I think my new design project will be. Livestocked and Loaded (expansion to Farmageddon) is developing very well and is in testing. Empire of York will still be play tested, but not as intensely for a short while. I’ve submitted it to a publisher and I am going to sit tight as I wait to hear back from them. This leaves me room and energy for a new project.

I’ve always been fascinated by Borg’s Command and Color system. It’s been used in so many games to overall critical and consumer acclaim. You can play the American Civil War, World War II, ancient Rome, or even Robots with his system. I’ve spent months designing and testing a great little system that’s currently used in Empire and I’d like to use it again. That wasn’t necessarily my intent, but now that I have an idea for it, it is!

The world is a very interesting place in 1901. I’m going to lay out some tidbits to quickly paint the picture.

  • Towards the end of 1898, the United States routes Spain in the Spanish-American War to take control of the Philippines  Guam, Puerto Rico, Cuba, etc. The US is now an imperial power on the world stage.
  • In late 1901, an anarchist kills William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States. His Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, becomes president.
  • For about 2 years, 8 nations fight Chinese nationalists in the Boxer Rebellion. These nations include Great Britain, Imperial Germany, and the United States of America.

Soldiers of the 8 Nations

  • For about 3 years, ending in 1902, the United States devotes about 100,000 troops to put down an insurrection in its newly acquired territory of the Philippines.
  • For a few months at the end of 1902, naval forces of Great Britain and the Imperial German Navy blockade Venezuela to collect a debt. Roosevelt, worried they have more long term ambitions, invokes the Monroe Doctrine and sends a large fleet south to hold the European Allies in check.
  • The Imperial German Navy, led by Admiral Tirpitz, grows rapidly and in 1901 is the second largest navy in the world. However, they are a distant second to Great Britain.
  • The Imperial German Army, after decades of training and guidance under military geniuses such as Helmuth von Moltke and Alfred von Schlieffen is the finest in Europe, arguably the world.

As you can see, there is no singular global conflict, but the world is in turmoil. The Great Powers are rapidly building navies, acquiring colonies, and carefully eyeing one another for weakness. Much like the Civil War spent decades brewing into a hot conflict, the factors that led to World War I were decades in the making.

I was reading Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris the other night. Incredible trilogy, you should read it. To denote the seriousness of the Venezuelan Blockade (mentioned above), Morris briefly noted that a war between Imperial Germany and America in 1902 was so incredibly close to happening that it’s astounding nobody ever really talks about it. Much of the diplomatic communication was conducted secretly, without writing (to preserve the “honor” of the Germans), so history didn’t find out about it until much later.

But, the fact is, we were days, if not hours, from a war with Germany. In 1902. In fact, detailed invasion plans of New York City have been found in Germany. The General Staff under von Schlieffen took their Kaiser’s intentions so seriously they had a plan to invade American soil.

I thought, “wouldn’t this make an incredible game?” What if Germany invaded America? Alternate history is quite interesting to me. In fact, the what if question of history is one of my favorite aspects. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought this was a good idea. Robert Conroy has already written 1901, a book about the German invasion of America. I’ve read about a third of it already and it’s quite good (and confirms much of my early research). I want to thank Kevin O’Gorman for telling me about the book after I noted my desire to make this game. So helpful!

My new game will be about a German invasion of America. One team will control the German invading Army and the Imperial Navy. The opposing team will control the hastily built American Army (as noted above, most of the Army was fighting in the Philippines or out west in old Indian Wars forts) and the dispatched American Navy.

New York City, site of the invasion

The game will be built upon the card system mechanic used in  Empire of York. However, whereas Empire focuses more on tactical battles, the use of the special “tactics” will be more strategic in nature. Reinforcements will not be a player controlled variable like they are in Empire, but will be dictated more by the history available to us. There will be a few theaters to the war, primarily the eastern seaboard (site of the land war), the Caribbean (location of American colonies and navy), and the north Atlantic (German troop convoys).

The German intent isn’t to conquer America, but to force us to relinquish our colonies and give them to her. Warfare of this time period was often not so much about conquest as it was dictating terms to the defeated. After all, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 lasted only 9 months and ended with the siege of Paris. Yet, the Germans did not control France as a result. As Clausewitz said, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.”

I’ve conducted a bit of research these past few days, but there’s much left to do. I have some initial ideas for tweaks tot he game systems to accommodation this new premise, but still, much to figure out. Nevertheless, I’m confident that this is a unique premise, a well-founded premise, and a good use of my game mechanic.

What do you think?

5 thoughts on “A Brief “History” Lesson

  1. I really like this idea. Alt history is a favorite subject of mine as is Roosevelt. Keep me posted especially if you need playtesters.

    • I’m a huge fan of Roosevelt. Such a fascinating character. I’ve wanted to make a game involving him for a long time and BAM…here it is. Probably better than my time traveling TR RPG idea.

  2. Loving the whole idea and I think you have an instant winner here. I know you are splitting the Army and Navy into team play, but I see no reason why this could not also be a 2 player game with separate phases for the Army actions and Navy actions. I’m interested to see how you design the map for this. Certainly this won’t be a hex game, point to point doesn’t seem fitting either, but you have also said that this won’t be an area control game, so I’m interested to see what you come up with.

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