Streets of Stalingrad is touted as the ultimate wargame that is exclusively focused on the World War II battle for Stalingrad. It’s one of those games I owned, sold and now have
lingering sellers remorse. A few weeks ago the wargaming community was taken by storm (in a way) by the announcement of a forthcoming Streets of Stalingrad 4th edition. I read the announcement and what little additional information that was available at the time and blogged about some of my concerns. To be fair, I did pass some judgment based on the information available at the time and standard practices I was familiar with. Readers’ feedback, both on the blog and on social media conveyed similar concerns.
I took that as my queue to reach out the Lombardy Studious and 626 Designs, LLC., the company that will be publishing the game for an interview. I thought an interview would serve to quell the concerns many of us have but also serve as a way for the company to convey more information about the forthcoming game, both in full and playtest versions. For those that recall the previous articles, one of the discussed concerns was the company’s plan to Kickstart a “playtest” version in May and then following that up with the full game Kickstarter in September. The following interview will address that plan of action and some other aspects of the game and the company.
While the interview features, almost exclusively, the comments of Dana Lombardy, he is speaking for and on behalf of the company.
RB: In recent weeks your company announced that the 4th edition of Streets of Stalingrad was going to published. Please, in your own words, can you readers some history about the game? How does it compare to other games on this subject?
DL: Stalingrad is arguably the most famous battle and turning point on the Eastern Front in World War Two. But until David Glantz and a few other writers were able to do research in the former Soviet Union archives over the past twenty years, no one was able to present as complete and as detailed a history of the city fighting as we did with our game Streets of Stalingrad, first published in 1979.
I did the game design while my partner and U.S. Army veteran David Parham did almost all of the research and translation work. Because access to the Soviet Union archives on World War Two (their Great Patriotic War) was restricted back then, we were limited to doing research primarily using captured German war diaries—daily reports by German divisions and higher headquarters. These were obviously very detailed about German units and operations, and (we later learned) were surprisingly good for intelligence on Soviet forces in the battle.
That’s how we were able to create a company-level game with about 2,000 counters and a comprehensive map of the nearly 30-mile long city at 300 meters across a hex noting dozens of key terrain features. It was a true “monster” game as such large board games became called back then.
As far as we know, Streets of Stalingrad was the first commercially produced wargame that utilized “primary” source material—the German war diaries—instead of questionable data presented in popular history books. It was also the first wargame to use the German and Soviet historical tactical symbols on the counters instead of NATO symbols for infantry, armor, etc.
The rules received a thorough remake with SOS3, published in 2002. The original game had separate basic and advanced rules and was limited in how many colors we could afford to print on the counters, map, and charts. SOS3 had a full-color treatment that allowed for different colors for infantry, artillery, and armor, plus historical unit insignia and flags on the counter backs to help with sorting and unit integrity combat bonus rules. It also had one standard set of rules incorporating feedback received from players over the previous 20-plus years.
These factors earned Streets of Stalingrad several awards, a highly respected place in historical wargame history, and a “legendary” status.
RB: The release statement announced there were to be two upcoming Kickstarters, both related to the game itself. Some readers, in response to my original article, were confused by the need or desire to run a Kickstarter for playtest kits. Can you explain the rationale behind this?
DL: Your readers may be surprised to learn that we sold playtest kits for SOS3 before the full game was published back in 2002. We got the word out about these kits through Consimworld and similar forums before there was a Kickstarter or any crowdfunding methods.
At first, I was skeptical of selling playtest kits. However, my partner Art Lupinacci of L2 Design Group (L2 = Lupinacci & Lombardy) convinced me of the wisdom of doing this as follows:
- First, no one was forced to buy these kits;
- Second, we could not afford to print dozens of prototype kits and then hand them out for free since…
- We received feedback from only a few individuals and groups because…
- Even with charging for the kits, some people just wanted them as collector items and for whatever reasons, other gamers were unable or unwilling to provide comments or responses; and
- Finally, it still turned out to be a good way to obtain enough playtesters to feel confident that we were not going to release an unplayable or flawed “beta” version.
Trying to do our own in-house playtesting plus everything else only we could do to prepare SOS3 for publication was not going to happen in a timely fashion. More importantly, we needed “fresh” eyes on the rules, play balance, etc., since we were too close to the project. (Obviously game designers “test” their design at various steps, but bringing in blind testers and outside playtesters are very important to creating a playable game.)
Art and I were a two-man operation with “real” full-time jobs. Spending several thousand dollars to distribute free playtest kits without knowing if we would be able to sell the monster game was not a good plan. Hence, we sold playtest kits and I don’t remember receiving any complaints from the buyers.
Although SOS4 uses a three-man team, plus we have Paul Van Etten on board to lead the playtest efforts, the same factors listed above apply to the SOS4 playtest kit Kickstarter as they did for the SOS3 playtest kits sold more than 15 years ago.
No one is forced to buy these kits, and we cannot afford to give for free what amounts to TWO complete games with 1,000-plus die cut counters, two large maps, charts, rules, etc. And although the amount of new rules in SOS4 is not as great as was introduced in SOS3, we hope to obtain enough playtesters to make sure that this is an equally “tight” edition.
BTW, for gamers who don’t want to or cannot afford to buy the full monster game, these playtest kits offer the opportunity to acquire Streets of Stalingrad in a professionally published, albeit abridged format.
PLUS…every playtest kit customer will receive, at no additional charge, the final published rules, and any modified charts, etc., that are created as a result of feedback to the playtest kits.
Bottom line: These playtest kits are complete games, equivalent to standard two-map, 600-counter wargames (but without the storage boxes or dice).
RB: The fall Kickstarter campaign, as I have read, is intended to bring the full game to market. As such I have read that the SoS-4 has been under development for about two years now, why the need for continued to playtesting? There are a modest number of gamers clamoring for the game. If the game is ready, why not just launch a campaign for the full game?
DL: It has taken two years to remake the art for the huge 40-inch by 6-foot map, and redo the counter art for all of the 2,500-plus 5/8-inch counters. We estimate another three to four months to finish the charts, tables, rulebook, etc., and prepare the final art files for the printer. The priority to this point has been to get the artwork updated in order to playtest the extra rules. We need several months to playtest the new rules associated with the Volga River flotilla and additional aviation forces. We are running the Kickstarter for the playtest kits to pay for these kits and distribute them. Hopefully, we will again receive sufficient feedback to these playtest kits and can incorporate it into the final rulebook and charts in time for the September full game Kickstarter launch.
RB: Playtest and Print & Play (PNP) copies of games are not uncommon following a successful Kickstarter campaign as an incentive to back a project, why the need at all for a Kickstarter for playtest kits?
DL: These playtest kits are equivalent to a full game in size, the number of counters, rules, and charts, etc. They also use printed sheets of paper larger than (US) standard 8.5-inch-by-11-inch sheets. For example, one of the playtest maps is 40-inches wide by 60-inches long. This is impractical for PNP.
Each playtest kit could sell for $50 or more each, but we are hoping to sell BOTH playtest kits at that price and follow up with free copies of the final rulebook and any corrected charts and tables to each playtest kit Kickstarter supporter.
Again, these are full, professionally printed games with rulebooks marked with the new sections needing playtesting. It will cost nearly as much to print each playtest kit as a regular two-map and 600-counter wargame.
If someone does not like the term “playtest kit” for these “mini” Streets of Stalingrad games, then consider them full wargames that show a part of the battlefield with the final rulebook, etc., to be provided as an incentive to back the Kickstarter.
RB: What are the incentives for interested people to back the playtest campaign in May? What, if any discount would they receive towards the full version of the game?
DL: Supporters of the playtest kit Kickstarter will receive a substantial discount toward the September full game Kickstarter. We don’t have an exact number yet as we are waiting for the quote from the printer to determine the final cost for everything and therefore the final Kickstarter price of the full game. The people who provide feedback to the playtest kits will get their name and/or club name in the final credits.
RB: Will the fall campaign include stretch goals? If so, can you hint at what they might be?
DL: The fall Kickstarter should include several reward levels, each level offering extras such as custom leader counters for supporters to get their name in the game, extra counters with armor silhouettes in place of the German and Soviet tactical symbols (and maybe counters with NATO icons for people who prefer familiar NATO counter symbols). There should also be several stretch goals such as historical alternatives for some of the scenarios, extra “support” counters (as game aids), maybe some playing cards for random effects (now under development), and a PDF/booklet with all of the Streets of Stalingrad Chronicles blog entries that includes the history of the game as well as interesting historical factoids.
RB: Dana, two related questions. First, what sets this version apart from previous versions? Second, what will be included in the full version?
DL: SOS4 includes several important improvements over SOS1-3, including:
- 30-years of research in the Russian archives in Volgograd (former Stalingrad) and near Moscow by Russ Schulke, the newest member of the SOS team;
- Corrections to the Soviet order-of-battle, with important additions such as the Volga River flotilla vessels and river crossing rules for Soviet reinforcements;
- Expanded aviation units and rules, including bombers, fighters, ground attack, and reconnaissance aircraft;
- More accurate unit symbols and some revised counters based on historical changes made by the German army in the composition of their divisions in 1942;
- A more accurate map of the city based on Soviet records that now includes the entire Volga River plus some of the key terrain on the East bank across from the city;
- Additional graphic and rules improvements based upon nearly 2,000 Internet posts compiled by Russ, including hundreds of emails and player interviews he conducted that improve and enhance SOS4.
Much of Russ’s amazing artwork can be viewed at SOS-4.com, and gamers can sign up for the ongoing Streets of Stalingrad blog at the website.
We are confident that no other wargame has as much historical detail, or as much historical accuracy, as SOS4. Over the past nearly 40 years, these factors have reinforced the “legendary” status of Streets of Stalingrad.RB: The fall Kickstarter campaign, as I have read, is intended to bring the full game to market. As such I have read that the SoS-4 has been under development for about two years now, why the need for continued to playtesting? There are a modest number of gamers.
RB: This question is from a blog follower (via Twitter): I’ve serious doubts about a company’s business plan if additional funding is needed just for a playtest a Kit, sounds like a beta. If they want my investment, which I consider higher risk here than normal, what is their commercial and strategic reasoning?
DL: There are five responses to this question:
- “Just for a playtest kit” – Maybe we should have been more descriptive than just calling these playtest kits. These are full games equivalent to standard 2-map, 600-counter board games. Perhaps instead of Playtest Kit, they should be considered SOS4 “Light”?
- We will provide a free, final copy of the rulebook, charts, etc., in order to negate any “higher risk here than normal” for playtest kit supporters. The rules are 2.1 (not beta) and the new rules needing testing amount to about 4-6 more pages added to the current SOS3 32-page rulebook.
- Our business plan is very sound and should hopefully provide sufficient incentives to produce a profit for both Kickstarters.
- The pushback we are getting on the Playtest Kits by a few people is disconcerting. Yes, we know that there have been Kickstarter projects that never delivered anything or a product inferior to what was promised. We intend to give quality products to supporters of both Kickstarters, and we have been honest about the need to playtest the new, additional rules before printing the full, final monster version. We don’t think that this a bad thing.
- Our commercial and strategic reasoning is that Kickstarter exists to help small, independent publishers print interesting products that otherwise would never get published. That is why/how we are using Kickstarter.
RB: As a follow-up to the previous question; what are the funding goals for the upcoming Kickstarters?
DL: We don’t have an exact price yet to list the funding goal for the May KS, but we hope to earn more than just the cost of printing the playtest kits. We spent more than 30 years researching, creating, and fine-tuning the art and design for Streets of Stalingrad. It would be nice to see some profit from both Kickstarters.
RB: Some readers have commented that, at face value, that they feel having two campaigns is just a way to fleece more money from consumers. I understand that not all the facts and details have been released, but can you speak to this and maybe put their concerns to rest?
DL: The playtest kits Kickstarter helps us in two ways:
- First, it enables us to finance the printing of two full-size board games and at the same time obtain critical feedback on the new rules and new counters that will appear in SOS4; and
- Second, it enables gamers who may not want or cannot afford the giant monster game version to experience Streets of Stalingrad.
No one is forced to buy the smaller playtest kits, but the first Kickstarter may reach many more people than those who might buy the larger version. Every playtest kit Kickstarter supporter will receive a free copy of the final rulebook plus any charts modified due to playtest feedback.
RB: This is from a blog follower (Via G+): Will the playtest version come with die cut counters or mounted boards? If not, why the need for kickstart on it?
DL: The playtest kits are full, professionally printed board games with die-cut counters and color charts and tables. The playtest kits will not have storage boxes or dice like the full game. Neither the playtest kits nor full monster game will have mounted game maps.
RB: Can tell readers about Lombardy Studios and 626 Designs, LLC.?
DL: Dana started Lombardy Studios in 2010 and worked on various historical book, game, and magazine projects for nearly 45 years. Until this year he had websites dedicated to each new project since 2010 as it was created, but by this summer there should be an LS website that shows an overview of all his work since 1972 as well as links to his most active projects. Dana’s LinkedIn profile is here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dana-lombardy-9581b62/
Lombardy Studios various websites or projects:
Russell Schulke formed 626 Designs, LLC in 2015 as a result of the Street of Stalingrad 4th edition project.
Russ has been a Historical Research Consultant at the U.S. National Archives (NARA) & Central Archive of the Ministry of Defense for the Russian Federation (Tsentral’nyi arkhiv Ministerstva oborony RF – TsAMO). He is the current lead researcher and graphic artist for the map, counters, box art and all charts and tables for SOS4.
Russian Federation radio and newspaper announcement from 2003: “In conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the end of the Stalingrad battle, the Battle of Stalingrad Panoramic Museum (Volgograd, Russia) and the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, we are pleased to announce that Mr. Russell W. Schulke, Jr. of the United States will be displaying part of his personal Stalingrad collection in Volgograd panoramic museum. Mr. Schulke has been professionally collecting and speaking in the USA and Russia for 20 years and his personal Stalingrad collection is to be considered one of the largest in the world, including, personal estates, personal unpublished photos albums, documents, awards, uniforms, weapons, research and books related to the Stalingrad battle.”
RB: Crowdsourcing can be a great way to incentivise investments; what experience does the company have with Kickstarter or other crowdsourcing platforms? Is there a track record of fulfilling crowdsourced projects?
DL: Dana launched the first Kickstarter for a military history book: Grant Rising, a Civil War map book in 2013. Dana was also part of the team at 1A Games that introduced the “Next Wave” Stalingrad expansion for Fantasy Flight Games’ Tide of Iron boardgame series, and the Cross Hares fantasy board game. All three were successfully funded Kickstarters in 2013.
This experience helped us learn how to overcome production and fulfillment problems so that we hopefully can avoid these with SOS4.
RB: If readers want to follow the progress of SoS-4, where should they go for the latest news and information?
Russ wanted to add that when each Kickstarter campaigns starts, we will be available to answer additional questions. For now, we recommend signing up for the SOS4 blog where almost every week we post more details about the research, components and game play.
With the interview completed, I would like to first thank Dana and his partners from Lombardy Studious and 626 Designs, LLC. for their time and willingness to allow me the opportunity to conduct this interview. Thanks, guys!
Since I raised the concerns initially, have the responses to my questions quelled some of my concerns. In short, yes. As Dana pointed out, the playtest kits are not a required to be purchased, but a way for those that want to be involved in the playtest process to get involved and as a way for those that may not have table space for the full, to take a smaller portion of the game of drive. I do still have some reservations as to cost, but since the backer levels have not been established yet, I’ll just have to wait to see what the May campaign looks like.
Will I be backing it on Kickstarter? Maybe! Much will depend on the price of the smaller playtest versions versus the cost of the full game. That and if the wife will let me set up such a large game in our small house.
Bottom line – I am more excited about seeing the upcoming campaigns come to Kickstarter and seeing this already excellent game further refined and returned to gaming tables!