The Twilight Struggle National Championship is coming to Good Games Miranda, so Brand Manager Jaime Lawrence sat down with one of the games' designers, Jason Matthews.
Hi Jason, thanks for the interview. How did you get into game design? What were some games or designers that influenced you?
Twilight Struggle was really my first concrete game -- I'd fiddled with ideas in my head for a long time, but TS is the first real prototype. It happened because Ananda had gotten involved with GMT as a playtester, and I was his usual playtest opponent. After a couple of games that were pretty rough in the development stage, we realized we could do better.
In terms of game designers who have influenced me, the most obvious is Mark Herman, whose seminal work in We the People and For the People established card driven games as a genre, and took a fresh approach to introducing politics into wargaming. There are a lot of designers whose work I really admire. Martin Wallace, Alan Moon, Francis Tresham and Greg Costikyan to name just a few. The guy who designs games that I love, but could never design myself is Michael Schacht. I love how he takes binary decision making and fills a "this or that" or "yes or no" question with depth.
Twilight Struggle is both an epic head-to-head game and a great simulation of the Cold War. What inspired it?
We were expanding on the qualification of political power that Mark experimented with in the We the People. The great innovation there is that Mark quantified and abstracted political influence in a way that wargames never had previously. But why not? The military values on chits in wargames are also mere abstractions, a way to rate relative power and mobility. Why can't political power be viewed the same way?
In terms of the Cold War, it was the experience of a computer game, Balance of Power, that most influenced my thinking. That game came out in the Reagan era -- the end of the Cold War, though we didn't know it at the time. There were lots of board and video games about the Cold War at the time. But one of Balance of Power's many innovations is that the primary object of the game was to AVOID nuclear war, while many other Cold War games encouraged it. So, right from the start, Ananda and I decided avoiding a nuclear war would be a central element of the game. And we do so by declaring the player who triggers a nuclear war to be the loser.
The game is beautifully illustrated and vibrant on the table. How much input did you have into its final look and feel?
Mark and I worked closely on card images and the map. The graphics have also incrementally improved over time. That was an important element of the work I did on the game after we were done with development.
Your body of work in gaming suggests a great interest in American political history - is game design a way of bringing together your passions?
It absolutely is. My grandfather was Welsh, and an avid student of American history. He'd read books about the American Civil War and the Wild West to me on his knee when I was little. He also wanted me to be an author and historian. Well, I never quite got around to that, but my work in game design sort of scratches that itch. Obviously, since I have spent most of my career working in American politics and government, translating elements of that experience into game design makes sense.
Do you have any more designs on the way that you can tell us about?
I have so many more designs flipping around in my head, and notes on subjects that would make good games, than I will have get around to making. But someday. In the immediate future I've got a beer and pretzels style wargame coming out from the Germany company Queen. It will be really different. It will be a partnership wargame with two players playing the American Civil War, and the other two fighting the French Intervention in Mexico. The wars were occurring simultaneously (and because of each other) in North America, and this is the first time a game will try to deal with them as the interrelated conflicts that they actually were. Its tentatively called War of Eagles.
Secondly, Ananda and I are finishing up the "prequel" to Twilight Struggle for GMT, called Imperial Struggle. This will cover the global rivalry between Britain and France from the War of Spanish Succession up until the French Revolution.
Sounds intriguing! If people want to find out more about your games, where can they find you on the web?
I am sort of hidden in plain sight on Boardgamegeek.com. I'm JasonMatthews on there and participate and comment and threads regularly. I'm also getting a lot more active on Twitter, though some of my political views leak out there as well @JasonDCMatthews
Details for the Twilight Struggle Nationals:
Where: Good Games Miranda
Suite 7, 589 The Kingsway
When: Saturday 18th August.
10am rego, 10.30am start
Format: 4 rounds of swiss pairings
Players bid influence for USSR or USA at the start of the game
Prizes: Trophy plus store credit to the winner, plus bragging rights and first pick of TS groupies! All entries will be put back into the prize pool!
Above: last year's winner, David Kowalski. Below: The trophy