The GrogHeads Year In Review

frontier wars 728x90 KS

31 December 2014

We reached out to our friends* in the game industry for some thoughts about the past year in games, and asked them for some insight about what’s coming next.

* yes, we actually have friends

Matthew Kirschenbaum, Academic-Gamer / Professor

2014 Highlight(s):  Highlight for me was working with the dozens of contributors on the Zones of Control book Pat Harrigan and I are editing for the MIT Press. This is an interdisciplinary as well as inter-professional volume, bringing together contributors from policy gaming, hobby gaming, and academia, writing about both tabletop and digital wargames. We have DoD types alongside of cultural theorists, and we designers alongside of their critics. We have the full spectrum represented in terms of politics and ethics as well. The book is on track for an early 2016 publication.

Looking Ahead at 2015:  In terms of a prediction, I’ll venture this: one major publisher in tabletop wargaming is going to go under. No, I don’t have anyone in particular in mind and I have no inside information–just a gut feeling.


Jim Zabek, GrogDude

2014 Highlight(s):  For me it seems the simplest things are worth the most. Game-wise two things stand out. First, I have managed to fall in with a great gaming crowd at the FLGS. The other thing that was a highlight was the re-issuance (I’m not sure how many times before) of Car Wars in more or less its original format. I don’t know why that seems to please me so much, but I guess it is the memory going back to my younger days and discovering it for the first time.

Looking Ahead at 2015:  As for what I think might make headlines in 2015? There are certain to be some sleepers that simply aren’t on my radar. But the one game I think lots of folks are going to be talking about – at least on Grogheads – will be Atilla Total War. There are over 3800 discussion posts on Rome 2 in the Grogheads forums. I suspect that Atilla may draw an equal amount of attention.


Erik Rutins, Director of Product Development at Matrix Games

2014 Highlight(s):  Distant Worlds: Universe and War in the West, two major new releases for 2014 that have been in the works for years and both were very well received by the community.  It was also great to work with the Command and Flashpoint Campaigns teams on their well-deserved re-launches.

Looking Ahead at 2015:  Lots of exciting releases coming – the new Brother against Brother Civil War wargame, the return of SSG, expansions for War in the West, a new Flashpoint Campaigns game and the first Command expansions!


Brain Train, Game Designer and Theorist (though he won’t admit to the latter) 

2014 Highlight(s):  Three little personal highlights for 2014 for me instead of one big one:

  • Getting a brief ripple of attention for Ukrainian Crisis, a 48-hour “one-man jam” game designed in the middle of the Crimean referendum crisis;
  • Speaking with Volko Ruhnke about the COIN series at Tableflip!, a very interesting conference on games and game design;
  • Launching BTR Games, a line of my personal games in DTP format released when and how I want them to be, with sales in the half-dozens so far.

Looking Ahead at 2015:  Three biggest news items in gaming in 2015 that I feel safest in predicting:

  • The COIN series will continue to attract talent and attention, with new designs and reprints coming;
  • More and more projects will be announced on Kickstarter, to chase less and less money;
  • BTR Games will have double-digit sales!

Looking Back and Ahead

Tom Meier, CEO, DGS Games

2014 Highlight(s):  For myself and DGS, the big event of 2014 was having our third successful kicstarter that not only was funded but also had the rewards delivered on time – putting DGS in a small group of kickstarter projects.  Industry wide the changing of kickstarter policies to try and hold project creators more responsible to the backers.

Looking Ahead at 2015:  For DGS in 2015 we will be going for our fourth consecutive successful kickstarter based on producing creature figures instead of a specific faction for our games.  Industry wide I’m looking forward to seeing what impact and changes the emerging 3D printing capability has on gaming.


Brant Guillory, GrogFather

2014 Highlight(s):  While the outside observer could be forgiven for looking at the limited schedule and relatively-low fill rates from the events we ran in the GrogHeads Central Command at Origins, the fact that we got a significant chunk of prime real estate in the gaming hall there to to run 5 tables and 80-odd hours of wargames is remarkable.  We took a crazy idea to GAMA and they let us run with it, and we were able to get the wargamers back to the table at Origins.  At the very least, we seem to have stopped the incessant “there’s no wargaming at Origins” bitching and moaning online.

Looking Ahead at 2015:  Someone really, really needs to roll out a ‘current events’ wargame that builds on a standard set of rules and drops quarterly updates based on world events that lets players pick up at any point in time over the last 18 months and explore what could happen next.  But, I’ll settle for the continued success of the GrogHeads Central Command at Origins, and expanding our offerings – and your participation! – this summer.  And hey, maybe Orange Crush finally escapes…


James Sterrett, Second Assistant Director for Stunts, The Muppet Movie

2014 Highlight(s):  Crowdfunding has come of age.  Punters are more wary and projects are not guaranteed to make lots of cash; but solid projects still get funded and this should continue for the future, bringing us an wider variety of great games to play.

Looking Ahead at 2015:  Tablets and phones have saturated their markets in the West, though incremental development will continue to delivery newer and niftier devices.  We will consequently hear of a resurgence of the PC,  though in fact both the resurgence and the prior fall are largely illusory.


Iain McNeil, Development Director at  Slitherine

2014 Highlight(s):  Warhammer 40,000 Armageddon – this has been a big part of 2014 for me! We’re building a strong relationship with Games Workshop and looking forwards to the future.

Looking Ahead at 2015:  Close Combat : The Bloody First. This is really going to take Close Combat to a new level. Very excited about this project!


Volko Ruhnke, Game Designer (COIN series / GMT)

2014 Highlight(s):  My highlight was seeing the publication and positive gamer reception of “Fire in the Lake”, and within that this little story of how the game serendipitously taught some kids about the Vietnam War
Looking Ahead at 2015:  The biggest gaming event of 2015 will be the public’s reaction to Harold Buchanan’s “Liberty or Death”, proving that COIN Series games are even better without Volko.


Christopher Weuve, Naval Analyst

2014 Highlight(s):  Always a tough one.  For me personally, it was the annual CONNECTIONS conference, held this past year at Quantico.
Looking Ahead at 2015:  My nomination for highlight for the gaming writ large ties into my prediction of the biggest news in gaming for 2015.  The new Deputy Secretary of Defense, Robert Work, is someone who understands the importance of professional wargaming, and we can expect to see it be a very useful tool for the next couple of years.


Lloyd Sabin, Court Jester of GrogHeads First Triumvirate

2014 Highlight(s):  Looking back, this was a great year for playing Total War: Rome 2. Sixteen patches after the initial release (!!!) and it is now one of the most all-encompassing, detailed games ever released dealing with the ancient world. In addition to the massive patching effort, DLCs like Caesar in Gaul, Hannibal at the Gates, Wrath of Sparta and other smaller faction- and unit- centric packs boosted Rome 2’s replayability into the 100s of hours.

Looking Ahead at 2015:  February 17 to be exact!  Total War fans have Total War: Attila to look forward to. Centered around the fall of Rome and the Hunnic invasion of Europe with a starting date of 395 AD, I have already set aside about 100 hours just to play as the Eastern Romans…although the Western Romans, the Goths, the Saxons and the Vandals are also confirmed as playable.

Honorable mention to Shadow of Mordor…although I didn’t get to play as much as I wanted to (remedying that this holiday week) – it was the most fun I had in a beloved fantasy setting on the PC this year, with innovative features like the captains system making the game even more addicting.


Paul Rohrbaugh, Game Designer / Owner, High Flying Dice Games

2014 Highlight(s): 

  • The continued growth of High Flying Dice Games. Not only did we add 18 titles to the catalog, but these included ones by new designer contributions by Perry Moore, Pieter Jan de Wilde and Roberto Chiavini. Several also featured debut graphics by new artist Antonio Pinar Pena, as well as those by Bruce Yearian and Tim Allen.
  • The release of September’s Eagles: The Thompson Trophy Air Race, 1929-1939. This has been a “labor of love” by me for 30+ years and I am so excited that it is finally released thanks to the wonderful  graphics and support work by Bruce Yearian.
  • The growing support and growth of LPS publications, of which I am a big fan and advocate. Their Against the Odds magazine, Turning Point Series of games, and the soon to launch Last Stand Games, continue to set high standards in this genre and hobby of gaming we all love.
  • Getting to meet so many gamers and friends at the 2014 ORIGINS and WBC conferences. Not only are these great places to renew old friendships and make new ones, but they are wonderful venues to get inspired and learn more about gaming.

2014 Disappointmen(s):

The complete collapse of the 2014 CSR Awards process. This is likely to go the route of the 1994 World Series. I only hope that others take this as an opportunity fix what was a very flawed and broken awards process in what should be the highest honors anyone could receive in our line of endeavor.  We deserve better.


Matt Caffrey, USAFRL, Professional Wargamer, Guy In Charge of Connections

2014 Highlight(s):  The big news of 2014 in defense wargaming was a 15 November Memo from the Secretary of Defense announcing an Innovation Initiative.  One of six specific points mentioned is the reinvigoration of Wargaming.


Avery Abernethy, Professor, Auburn University and Game Writer / Reviewer

Looking Ahead at 2015: 

  • Big budget RPG releases like Skyrim, Fallout, or Dragon Age will seldom come out. No big budget RPG will come out on the PC first without concurrent or earlier release on consoles.
  • A much wider variety of smaller budget RPGs will be released from a large variety of independent publishers.
  • Web-based, free RPGs with upgrades (like Card Hunter) may become far more popular.

Reason for all of this is economics.  Card Hunter has a viable economic model.  The economic model for independent RPGs can also work (Wasteland 2; Spiderweb software).  But the really big, polished RPGs are massively expensive to produce and are becoming more and more rare as time progresses.  If you lower the technological barrier – like Eschalon, Spiderweb or even Wasteland 2 – then the economics of the business model become at least viable in terms of making a profit.”


Brandon Johnson, GrogDude

2014 Highlight(s):  What stands out for me in 2014 was the continuing development of games that were released in previous years and games being treated as platforms rather than a work that is finished upon release. Paradox Interactive’s Crusader Kings 2 and Europa Universalis IV and Warfare Sims Command Modern Naval and Air Operations are the standouts for me.

Europa Universalis IV’s v1.8 patch/Art of War DLC completely overhauls most of the major game systems. Everything from a new (and much needed) papal system, map overhaul to the regions outside of Europe, and new mechanics for the 30 years war made a great game even better.

Rajas of India was not as well received on launch. It launched in an almost broken condition, but the map overhaul and extension to India was something I did not expect for a game that is almost 3 years old.

Command is the other success story of the year. When it launched in September of 2013 it was already a massive complex game. In the past year everything from player requests for improvement to the UI and new platforms to the addition of the LUA scripting language in the latest v1.06 patch and allowing for much more complex scenarios has been added by the Warfare Sims development team in the last year.

Looking Ahead at 2015:  I hope to see this trend of continuing development expand into the gaming mainstream, beyond simply fixing games that are dead on arrival, in the coming years.


Jim Owczarski, GrogDude

2014 Highlight(s):  I believe I will mark 2014 as a year most notable for the persistence and now transition of John Tiller Software.

I’ve been playing Dr. Tiller’s games for literally decades (hand me my cane, son) and, for all the criticism, some of it just, of their graphics and AI, they have persisted; serving a niche within a niche and providing simple, elegant renderings of “chit-shufflers” in a digital age.  The library, at least chronologically, has always been broad and the addition of the “Panzer Battles” series adds yet another calibration to the telescoping scales that the company provides — from squad level to full-on operational.

More than all this, though, is the way that Dr. Tiller has turned over the keys to his engine to so many talented groups of game designers — some of whom became interested in digital gaming through his games.  The level of detail and research in “Panzer Battles” is just one example.  To be a grognard is to have one’s heart palpitate as the developers of the next title in the series discuss even trying to build a “Panzer Campaigns” scenario at the level of “Panzer Battles”.  This is the power they have over those that love them.

The hiring of JIlson — he that has created the de facto standard look for PzC — to do the graphics for a number of games is only another example.

Finally, there was the release of East Prussia ’14.  This game hit me like a hurricane.  There is not — and I will defend this — a board game on this by any publisher that bests this game.  The look, the research, the designer’s note, and, yes, the prospect of linking it with the first game in the series, make this one special.  I will before I die play the grand campaign.  I have sworn it.

2014 Disappointmen(s):  On the other side of the coin, please color me worried — a wee bit, mind — about Battlefront.  Combat Mission: Red Thunder is the best game of the CMx2 generation and had given the lie to those that thought the little company that has had run out of ideas.  Then, suddenly, they started to stumble.  While I have never objected to their “charge for really significant upgrades” patching process, others certainly have.  Making matters worse, the patching process and their DRM seemed to run headlong into each other like a pair of Gomez Addam’s trains.  Then an attempt to kill a game-tripping bug in “Red Thunder” (one that involved troops being unable to enter certain buildings under certain conditions on certain systems) seems to have become a show stopper in which quite a few users can’t get saved games to load.  Through it all, the company has tried to grind its way to the release of “Combat Mission: Black Sea” while maintaining a remarkable silence — at least officially — on these issues.

Don’t get me wrong.  Steve, Charles, and crew are coming with me to my private bad-guy island when I win MegaMillions.  Here’s wishing them, and all of you, a very merry holiday season and lots of groggy gaming in the New Year.


Vance Strickland, GrogDude

2014 Highlight(s):  This year saw two games that I thought were the bright spots in wargaming. First is the boardgame Unconditional Surrender from GMT. While covering the much done War in Europe it did so with new and intuitive combat mechanisms.  The games land, air and naval combat all flow from different die roll modifiers and use the exact same combat results table. There are no numbers on the game pieces. Once grasped you can wage war across the entire Russian front in a matter of minutes with few references to the rules or the CRT.

Second was is Schwerpunkt’s World War 2 Europe. A late comer this year, it marks the return of true groggy operational wargaming. Old style counters jammed with combat factors, beautiful map with hexes all at 7.5 miles scale and week long turns. The amount of research and detail included in the game is truly astounding. And 102 scenarios all for $50! Years and years of game play for pennies an hour.


Craig Handler, Consul of GrogHeads First Triumvirate

2014 Highlight(s):  This year brought gamers so many standout titles. However, my gaming highlight in 2014 was without a doubt participating in the Elite: Dangerous early access and beta testing program. From a very early point in development, it was clear that Frontier was making something very special. From the first moment I climbed into the cockpit of a sidewinder I knew this game would redefine the genre. Fast forward several months and the game has been released to retail. The graphics, sound and sheer sensation of authentic space flight is a true achievement in PC gaming.  The massive living, breathing universe is a one-of-a-kind space flight sandbox that will provide me with countless hours of fascination and enjoyment over the years to come. I simply cannot wait to see how Frontier continues to support and develop Elite into one of the greatest games in the history of the PC.

Looking Ahead at 2015:  Perhaps even more exciting is that in 2015 we can look forward to the continued development of Star Citizen by Chris Roberts and Cloud Imperium.  As big as Elite: Dangerous has proven to be, Star Citizen is shaping up to be a true challenger. For an early access game, Star Citizen has already shattered records and the plans for this game promise to be ground-breaking, as well.  It is a great time to be a gamer and an even greater time to be a space pilot!
Thanks for being a part of Grogheads and sharing in all these memories and experiences with us in our forums. Happy Holidays and a very Happy New Year to you all!

Share your thoughts on the year below.  What was your 2014 highlight and/or disappointment?  What are you looking forward to in 2015?  You can also jump into our forums and join the discussion there >>

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