LNL-Tactical (Modern)

Interview: Chris Fasulo Sr of Grognard Simulations

Interview by Brant Guillory, 20 July 2013

This week, we are fortunate to have with us Chris Fasulo Sr, of the (relatively) new wargaming company Grognard Simulations.  Grognard Simulations burst onto the scene with their Death Ride series of operational games that garnered a great reputation for its combined arms system.  We managed to chisel a few moments out of his 18-hour days to talk about Grognard Simulations and his wargaming background.

 

Tell us a little bit about your wargaming background? When did you get started and what made you stick with it?
This will be difficult as I have an extensive background in wargaming.  It started when I was but a teenager in the 70’s with my first game being the AH classic of France 1940.  I still have it.  This grew through my high school years and I was solidly convinced by my enjoyment of wargaming that I wanted to be in the Army.  So, after having failed at my first semester at college I made my leap into the service.  I enlisted and spent my active duty time in Hawaii.  I found a small gaming group and built my desire to keep it up.  I exited active duty and as a member of NJ National Guard I sought a commission as an officer.  Having succeeded at becoming a Second Lieutenant as an Armor Officer I had so much fun that my gaming and military life began to be one.

GSimsInterview-counters1The gaming bug stayed with me and as life would have it the unexpected happened.  You know how parents would always say to you “why are you always playing those games?  Are you going to be able to make a living doing that?”  And I would always say, of course you are right.  But one day I received the call of a lifetime.  The Training  and Training Technology Battle Lab at Fort Dix needed an officer to put together Command Post Exercises for military units.  I answered that call and became a paid wargamer.  The dream job we all hope for.  I lived it for 7 years.  I got to play the OPFOR (Opposing Forces) commander and make a plan and fight the battle using a military computer simulation.

As if that wasn’t enough I was eventually hired by the company that made the simulation, and even to this day I am working on integrating simulations training into command and control equipment for military units.  That entry into the simulation world was over 20 years ago.  To say I have a bug is an understatement to be certain.  I simply love wargaming, and am more passionate about it today than I was when I started.  I have been able to experience how NATO, the UK, Canada, and our US troops, prepare for and train to plan battles.  There just is no better or happier job to have in the world.

 

What wargame made you want to be a designer?
Very tough question to answer.  I don’t think there was a single game that made me go off and design.  It was a general feeling that the games I had been playing were not making me feel fulfilled.  The games were either too much work to learn, or too little detail to get context, or too simple, or too something.  There are many reasons why I had to go off and do my own.  Now, anytime I want to play a new game, I design it, then prototype it, then publish it.  This has happened over and over again for the last 4 years.

A snippet of the Elchingen map

A snippet of the Elchingen map

What was the first wargame you designed your own scenario for?
Pacific Islands Campaign was my first game design, and my first scenario designs were for that game.

 

What was the first wargame you designed? Did it ever see the light of day?
Pacific Islands Campaign – Guam.  It did see the light of day.  It can be purchased from the Grognard Simulations web store at www.grognardsims.com.  This game is the one that made me a publisher.  It was my first design and I have a bad habit of not accepting ‘no’ as an answer.  I had shopped around a bit for someone to publish it and saw what I thought were too many road blocks and obstacles.  My simple mind said, go around the blocks and do it yourself.  So I had to do some work investigating machines and material costs and figuring out how to price my products.  But in the end it was the best decision I ever made.  I answer to my customers and myself.  Guam begat 3 other PIC games for Saipan/Tinian, Iwo Jima, and Pelelieu/Angaur.

 

Tell us about the Death Ride series – what should a grog expect when they crack open the box?
You will find a fun, challenging, innovative, game that allows you to experience the pain of command at the lowest level.  It also allows you to see the context, or big picture, of the battle.  I never liked a game with generic terrain and scenarios. GSimsInterview-counters3 I felt as if I had lost something.  Something was missing.  It was context.  In the Death Ride series you will get a very tactical experience of combat, with all the combined arms variety that belongs there, inside the context of the overall operation.  That allows you to understand why the battle unfolded as it did.  The German Gross Deutschland Division was stopped at the Pena River and had to move to the right in order to gain a crossing.  This wasted a good two days.  That’s an important aspect of the battle that can’t be understood without the whole operational field of battle.  You’ll also find out what it really means to use combined arms to provide you with the best opportunity to succeed in each combat.  The components will be of good quality.  You will get a box that will be able to be stacked forty high without crushing the bottom box.  The counters will be well made and numerous.  I like a lot of markers to help aid play.  The rules will be a lot simpler to learn than any similar sized game.  And you will walk away feeling like you accomplished something.

 

Folks love to talk about the C2 system for the Death Ride series.  How did that develop as you built the rules?
I started with the philosophy that I wanted to make big games easier to learn and play.  I found too many games I played when I was younger took an enormous amount of effort to learn.  I think we can all agree that CNA (name not mentioned purposely) was filled with rules that clogged the playability of the game to where you couldn’t actually make progress on a turn.  I wanted the opposite.  An easy to learn, big game, that can be played.  The basic Death Ride system has many abstracted rules concepts for Maintenance, Logistics, Air, and Command and Control and Fire Support.  The enhancements I provide for the system bring the players into a new dimension of realism.  Most are still lightweight in rules, specifically the maintenance, logistics, and air enhancements.GSimsInterview-counters2

The C2/FS Enhancement though is different.  There was a great amount of detail I wanted to bring to the player.  I want them to be forced to use critical thinking to analyze the best location for the signal unit, or a HQ, or the limits on their artillery batteries once they have decided what battalions they support.  This was designed in from the start and in part was meant also to help reduce the cost of a game.  You could purchase a playable game with respectable rules, or you could choose to add depth to the play of the game at your desire, and budget.  What game system will provide you rules to recover lost vehicle units, determine whether those units can be repaired at the front or need to be repaired further back?  What game system will provide you the ability to see the Russians attack the German airfields before the German attack on 5 July?  Or where can you find a game system with Radio Line of Sight?  Based on the actual radio systems the Germans had?

 

There seem to be no shortage of wargames on Eastern Front battles, but you’ve fearlessly waded right into that corner of the wargaming world.  Why?
An interesting question.  A simple answer.  Because customers seem to keep asking for them.  Going to conventions I get asked all the time for more east front titles and even D-Day titles.  These battles seem to have immense legs.  And customers seem to like the different treatments that designers can provide.  So why have fear?  There is one thing I have learned in this adventure.  I publish what I like.  There are enough people who like what I like to make it worth the effort.

 

Tell us about some of the upcoming games from Grognard Sims.  I know you’ve got Rick Barber working on a map (woohoo!).  What else should we be looking for?
Well, my head is chock full of game ideas.  Too many to actually complete in the time frame I would like to do them in.  But for 2013 there is one more game planned for release.  “Armored Knights – Guderian Crosses the Desna 1941” pits Guderians’ Panzer Korps against some Russian Rifle Divisions and a couple Tank Brigades in an attempt to capture 2 bridges over the Desna that were necessary for the movement south to encircle Kiev.  The Coup de Main fails and Guderian has to make a more determined effort the day after the failed coup.  But he succeeds and the rest is history.

GSimsInterview-counters7For 2014 there are huge, really huge, releases.  Three Death Ride Kursk games, Totenkopf, Leibstandarte, and Das Reich.  These three games extend the current Death Ride Kursk games to the east into the sector of the IInd SS Panzer Korps.  These 3 divisions were thrown into the battle with great hopes and expectations and yet they ended up tired and heavily worn.  The German units in this game will not be the typical Black with White letters/symbols.  I am using a camo pattern that I think makes the SS look quite unique.

More exciting than that is that I will be publishing the Command and Control and Fire Support (C2/FS) Enhancements from the start and will come with the initial offering.  They will not be required to be bought as an enhancement.  These games are going to be enormous and the C2/FS components provide some of the most unique and innovative material I have designed.  First there is the Task Organization Charts.  The Germans can task organize their Divisions down to the Company level, the Russians can do it down to the Battalion level.  This establishes the command linkages.  Then there is Radio Line of Sight.  Based on data from a most helpful collector of German radio sets the distances that units trace vary based on their equipment, as was the case in real life.  The signals can be intercepted, located, they emanate from Signal units, and there are bad effects when the messages are intercepted.  Terrain plays a significant part in reducing the effectiveness of the radio line of sight.

And HQ have a Flexible, Balanced, or Rigid definition based on their ability to deal with being out of command or just temporarily out of communications.  Add to that a full set of German Company level units and artillery mission markers, where artillery must be designated as firing in Direct Support for a Battalion, or General Support of a Regiment, or even Reinforcing for a Division or Korps.  This forces players to do a lot of planning, if they want that kind of detail.  If they don’t the games will have an abstracted set of lightweight rules.  These games will be released over the course of 2014, about 4 months apart, starting around March/April.

GSimsInterview-counters4In 2015 there is even grander expectations with the planned releases of Incredible Courage 100 Days, Quatre Bras, Ligny, Wavre, and Waterloo.  These four games will create, at infantry company, cavalry squadron, and artillery section level, the most detailed simulations on the battle yet.  Players will never have the kind of flexibility to deploy  troops in Mixed Order, extended Skirmish lines, and massed Attack Columns.  The game accounts for the reality of follow on forces that support the combat by pushing forward, and a command system that relies on dispatch riders and orders with locations.  These can be lost or confused and infuse the kind of slowness that should accompany any game wanting to replicate the time it takes to order units to change their mission.  All 4 of these games will be released in the beginning of 2015, before the 200th Anniversary of the battles.
Stuck somewhere in there will also be a new Death Ride game that covers the Battle for Tarawa.  Its focus will be on the amphibious portion of the battle and getting ashore.  Marines will start off shore and need to be transported to the beach.  That will make the fight quite harsh for the Marines as they get stuck at the reef and must wade to shore the 500 or so yards in the lagoon.

GSimsInterview-counters6Customers can also expect to see more small Napoleonic battles (I have 3 in early development), a larger Napoleonic battle (Friedland also in early development), and a move into some American Civil War battles in the future.

 

What is one historical outcome you’d change to make a compelling alt-history game/scenario?
Some would say that the no win scenario is a game that can’t be fun.  I don’t say that.  Having done the Battles of Iwo Jima, and Saipan, I understand the situation for the Japanese is pretty sad.  Can they keep the Americans from gaining control of the island?  No.  But they can make the American pay a heavy price for success.  And when they do they actually cause more casualties than they think because, as in the case of Iwo Jima, the airfields there saved about 25,000 Airmen.  That’s more than they lost.  But if the Marines had taken longer more Airmen would have died and more aircraft would have been lost.  The Japanese have the ability to win via the clock.  I’m not one to alter history too much.  Throwing in a chance that the Japanese fleet pushes back the US Fleet in the Marianas Turkey Shoot is about as far I can go for alternate history.  But that’s significant enough.  I even added the Tiger Battalion to the German order of battle in the C2/FS Enhancement that actually went to Afrika.  It could have been sent to Kursk just as well and I enjoy seeing how it may have altered the situation and outcome.

 

What’s one game that you’d like to see produced, but wouldn’t want to do it yourself?
There are no games that I have in my head but wouldn’t want to design or publish myself.  That’s really the whole point behind becoming a designer.  Challenging yourself to create something special.  I don’t know anyone else who would dream of designing and publishing a 9 game series, as (3) 3 game sets, with a total of (24) 22×34 map equivalents, that all connect together and can be played together (if you’re daring enough anyway).  At least not somebody as on the small business size that I am.  The challenge is part of the reason why I do it in the first place.  Love of hobby and challenge.  Going small is also a reason to do it.  Either way it’s a challenge I can’t refuse.

GSimsInterview-salernoMap

A snippet of the Salerno map

What kind of wargame do you never see yourself playing?
I don’t see myself playing games with cards.  For whatever reason they do not appeal to me.  I could enjoy block games as they can enhance the fog of war a bit, even miniatures, as I used to play MechWarrior with my sons.  I know, some might not include Mech Warrior in the wargame or miniature class, but it can be fun.

Hey, we dig all kinds of strategy games here, so MechWarrior is absolutely on the table!

Cards provide information and I am just as happy to see that information come in the form of a chart, table, or in the rules.  And yes, MechWarrior does have Pilot and Weapon cards.  But let’s face it, I did it for my boys.  And I loved every minute of it.

 

What’s one wargame rule you’ve given up on as hopelessly broken?
There are rules that may be tougher than others to write, but giving up on any, not yet.  I am dedicated to creating detailed rules without the usual sorts of rules overhead.  If anything I think that the more you write the less clear it becomes.  But I have noticed that the format can aid the reader.

 

When you’re not wargaming, what are some other games you enjoy playing?
I must say that I am quite occupied by my designs and publishing efforts and have little spare time to do other gaming.  But on occasion I have been known to play Xbox Rock Band.  Once in a long while there is the family type game of Boardwalk.  But I found that my children love to play Rock Band and know many of the songs.  This gets the whole bunch of us into playing at the same time and it’s very enjoyable.  And as I mentioned above I enjoyed playing some MechWarrior with my sons.

GSimsInterview-counters5

Have you ever visited a battlefield for a wargame you’ve played?
Absolutely.  As an avid Wargamer I have visited many battlefields.  Especially American Civil War Battlefields.  Gettysburg would be the most famous.  Antietam, Spotsylvania, Chancellorsville, and Fredericksburg.  I have also been able to walk around the North German Plain and have a good idea how difficult the terrain would have been for the old Soviet invasion forces to cross that area heading for the Rhine River.  Reference to the Third World War by SPI.  There is no doubt that walking the actual terrain for a battlefield gives you a perspective you can’t get from the game itself.  Not from most games anyway.  This aspect of wargaming is actually quite important.  It touches on my context comments in an earlier question.

 

We’d like to thank Chris Fasulo Sr for blowing off real work for a bit and chatting with us about his background, Grognard Simulations, and wargaming in general.  Check out their fantastic games over at Grognard Simulations

4 Responses to Interview: Chris Fasulo Sr of Grognard Simulations

  1. David Mignerey says:

    Interesting interview.

    I haven’t taken the plunge yet but find the topics and scale compelling. Combining the tactical and grand tactical levels with a view of operational issues is challenging

    Dave M

  2. A.Schultz says:

    Great article. It’s refreshing to have questions actually answered by game companies, large or small. Often you get the ‘we are looking into those areas for potential products which will be announced in the future’ type answers. I only own Halfid (?) Ridge and was trying to decide what to get next. Reading about the future releases has got me revved up to buy, buy , buy !

  3. Eric Walters says:

    Terrific interview! As a former military officer myself, it’s gratifying to see a generation of designers with military experience design and publish games with a unique bent. The growing popularity of Grognard Simulations is a testament to Chris’s vision for what serious military simulations can be, effectively striking a balance in terms of ease of play/simplicity and yet offering such depth in the play experience which teaches many historical lessons. I’ve only played the 20th Century games but reading about his ideas for the Waterloo campaign battle games may cause me to take the plunge!

  4. Dick Sauer says:

    Chris,
    I purchased a copy of Guam at consim this year off the flea market table. Brought it home and layed out the map with an idea of playing solitaire. I find the Pacific Islands very interesting. My first game was Iwo Jima years ago in the 60’s made by an amateur (All we had then) and it is fun to play.

    To the point, I took out the rules to read and learn and promptly I have mispalced them somewhere in the house. Looked high and low but no luck. I will eventually find it but was wondering if you could send me a digital copy so I can at least begin learning the system.

    I enjoy stopping by every year to see your big game in play.

    Dick Sauer

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