David Stennett lives in Munich, Germany and was attending the 2012 GAMA Trade Show with a prototype of his second game in the Moral Conflict series, Moral Conflict 1940, with him. Though he lives in Munich, he is British and the Managing Director of Playford Games. We talked for a good while during and after the GAMA Trade Show dinner on March 13, 2012.
WWII Games in Germany and Moral Conflict Overview
CG: How would you describe the difference between German gamers and American gamers?
PG: The players themselves or the games?
CG: Yeah, their interest in games.
PG: When you take the subject of the second World War because of the particular role and history of Germany in the second World War. Second World War games are generally very very difficult to sell and there’s very very little interest. In Germany, the whole country’s learned the bad way, the hard way, the lesson. So most wargames, if they are available, have to be more like a sort of anti-war game. You see that very much in the film industry, the film ‘The Boat’, ‘Das Boot’, it was an anti-war film. War is not popular. You see that in the foreign policy of the country. The army is almost impossible to get it out of the country and use it anywhere abroad, very little participation in Iraq. The whole country has probably gone through the worst teaching of the subject of war of any country and today’s Germany: wargames not popular, war not popular.
Generally in comparison with the UK, the US, wargames, and particularly this terrible war, have a very very hard time. Moral Conflict though addresses the central issues of this war and gives inspiration and hope. The moral decisions and the consequences are very clearly seen and you can learn and you can see very very clearly with the moral decisions and also the other dimensions. Not just the war dimension, the economic crisis about resources, or the alternative, economic growth. The diplomatic dimension enables you to make peace instead of war. The technological dimension allows you to not just develop weapons, but also produce the economic growth and, you know, manufacture technologies, and the moral issues. Together these give the reality that was there and you can see very verly clearly there were very very great alternatives to what happened at that time, the way that Germany went and this inspires even the Germans now, to play a game about this time where they had a central role, they – more than anything else – were what drove this terrible time. So this is the first war game that’s really got a great chance at this time of the second World War.
CG: You describe it as Axis & Allies to the power of 5.
PG: I describe it as Axis and Allies to the power of 5 because it has the five dimensions, but I would say I only use the word Axis and Allies because that’s perhaps the nearest example, but without the power of five, this game, the beginner’s version is much much more than Axis and Allies, that alone. It’s just to help people to understand very roughly what it is. The beginner’s game alone is getting much better reviews than Axis and Allies. The power of the 5 comes on top. You can imagine just basically it’s a revolution; it turns Axis & Allies and many other wargames completely on its head. It just blows them out.
CG: Now you started out with Moral Conflict 1941 and you’re going back in history, so your second is Moral Conflict 1940, and then-
CG: Why is that?
PG: Ok. So the complicated game has four seasons. To do a year you have four seasons or four turns. It takes a lot longer to run through the years, so it’s ideal to start a little bit later. June ’41, that is when the Russians, the Americans, the Japanese all came into the war [in a major way, I imagine to a British citizen.] It’s very exciting. As the turns take longer, because it’s a more complicated game. It lends itself to start further on and move in quickly in that way to the focus events. The ‘ 40 has only 3 seasons and then it plays quicker, so we start actually, spring 1940, it’s more than a year earlier, but it moves quickly onto this ’41 and further. And the ’39 game is again, it has just 2 seasons and the game is very very quick, so it lends itself to just start earlier and work your way still to the end, if neccessary.
Reality Change Games
CG: And what is a Reality Change Game?
PG: So a Reality Change Game. The whole point of this game is and the way it’s build up, structured and the materials that are with it, is what can I learn from this period of history, this game’s representation of that? What can I learn about the military war, the first dimension? You’re taught not just to play the game, but to become a general with some of the skills: focus, strategy. Is defense always better? Is attack always better or a combination of the two at the right moment? And how do these skills that you can learn and practice, how can you put them into practice in everday life? Again, we all have our battles of everyday life. Do we make friends with the guy across the street we don’t like or do we beat him up? It’s so simple. That’s just a case there. The diplomatic one is even more, it goes into detailed negotiations where you can, instead of just trying to beat someone in negotiation and win-lose, which many people know, what happens if you both sit together and try to make the cake bigger and both of you win? So these are the very very successful strategies in business, for example, in “7 Habits of Highly Successful People”…
CG: Stephen Covey.
PG: Covey, yeah! Hey, just as then, today these things are very very important and you can practice these things great in the game.
CG: What were you saying about the 33…
PG: And hey, there’s a book called “The 33 Strategies of War” [by Robert Greene], it shows you a great range of strategies you can have in military conflict and then how you can also put them into practice in the everyday battles of life. The social battles of everyday life. So one of the examples in that book is it’s good to have a high goal which really challenges you. If you’ve got your back to the wall, you will win. You will make sure that you do and learn and develop to win the situation. And there’s many people, they live their life, they don’t have any goal, and they don’t have any challenges, and they don’t change. It’s an example. Also in the war, if you set and have a high goal, but also in private life. These books here are just great. It’s just a great training ground, the challenges of these dimensions. These dimensions represent the biggest passion of human kind over the centuries, over the thousands of years. The military is the force. Do you fight or do you defend with force? But force: strength. That’s one of the biggest passions. Economics is materialist. Everything that money can buy. Diplomacy is with or against, team or not, fight or make peace. These are the passions of life. Technology is everything that science and knowledge can offer us. Is this really going to give us heaven on earth, the technology? And the moral battle between good and evil, you see it in all the films, you see it in all sorts of interactions between people and everybody has the battle within them and without them. These are the mega-themes of life.
CG: What are some examples of moral choices or moral conflict in Moral Conflict 1940?
PG: Yes, I could perhaps summarize it for you. This dimension proves to be very difficult to see, but actually the strongest. It influences all the other dimensions. So here you see, this is an overview of how the moral conflict works, the military war, the economic crisis, the technologic race. So for example, take the military war, you can decide at low levels here to oppress the occupied states, the states from your enemy that you’ve captured and you get less of a reduction on the production from these places. You can basically do what Germany did, take the guys, the women out of the towns and cities in the occupied areas by Russia, bring them to your country, they do the slave work in your countries and factories and your men are free to fight in the army. But then you have the disadvantage of “Hey, these enemy territories, instead of being occupied by one army, you need maybe two or three, where even in your home territory has to be then, you have to keep a large force there to keep the slave laborers in check.”
CG: I see that Germany and the Soviet Union start with low Moral values.
PG: Yes, so the starting levels are actually here. So actually Germany and the Soviet Union were not very different from each other from a Moral standard. The Soviet Union had probably more and bigger concentration camps. The sort of level that they were at, the things that were happening were very very similar.
CG: Now what’s an example of a Small Ally? France?
PG: So here I’ve made the Small Allies as a nation that a player can take. It’s Italy with a few other countries like the Balkan countries, and then if possible, you can win through diplomatic pressure, nations like Spain or Portugal, Turkey, Iran, and these nations can then be added onto the Small Allies to make a sensible way of playing these different countries and giving one player these. But it shows very very effectively in this case, half of these countries are won or most of these countries are won through diplomacy. You want them to be also on your side to build up your power. You could invade these countries, but of course then, the population’s not going to fight and you have the problem, you just get very little support from them. So this is actually the Small Alllies is the new Roman Empire you could call it, and the best way to build it up is to do that through diplomacy instead of force.
David Stennet’s Background
CG: Now what is your background before starting all of this?
PG: That’s a good question. I’ve worked in electronics industry in sales, international sales, for 25 years. I actually studied Physics and Electronics and then my Masters in Business Administration. The sales work has helped me to be able to sell the game, build a channel, marketing, sales, work internationally. Another background that you really need to understand, so in the moral conflict dimension, my first 32 years of life I was shall we say fighting on one side and then in the last 19 years I’m a Christian and have been trying hard as I can to put the moral standard of the Bible into practice in my life and help others as well. So I feel that I can also very very clearly bring this dimension, the moral conflict dimension, into this game. I’ve seen both sides. Very little knowledge of moral decisions or really both alternatives and I’ve changed sides in a way. I’m not perfect, nobody’s perfect, in this game you see it as well. Everybody plays it really deserves to land in the war courts, but basically that Christian background of many years is the basis to be able to try and tackle something like this and actually an inspiration.
CG: To me it seems like for you, maybe not even just your own game, but a lot of these games involve metaphysical choices about what the nature of your life is and about being?
PG: Well, of course. Games have been played for centuries. I think for many it’s a practice, for young kids, for example. They play games when they’re 5, 6, it’s a practice for adult life or later life. It’s a practice to help them make decisions, character decisions, which will probably go with them the rest of their life. As you get older, it gets more difficult to be influenced and change direction. Games and particularly these games are a very very important basis to make the decisions, life-changing decisions. Here because of my background on the Christian side, as a Christian you’re supposed to be constantly learning how to change, it’s not enough just to stay the way you are. Many people, they learn and learn and learn, they finish at school and then they stop. They might learn a little bit for their job, but otherwise they’ll watch TV and that was it. And it’s sad. They don’t develop further. They don’t develop all of their potential and that is basically the message as well of the Bible, to learn more and more, to change. The idea is to change from bad to good. It’s a process. It’s a process you’ll never successfully complete in your lifetime, but at least you now know the direction. You now know how to do this and you have many friends that can help you go in the same way.
Environmental Crisis Pending
CG: Now moving from the moral or the spiritual level down to the real physical realities of your game, Playford, that’s you or that’s a company?
PG: Playford Games is the company.
CG: And they have other titles as well?
PG: No. This is our first family of games.
CG: So you’re the head?
PG: I’m the head. We have the graphics guy working fulltime with us and we have a lot of freelancers. I’ve got somewhere here an organization plan, but yeah, this is our first great family of games. We already have a second family. So this was the greatest crisis of the 20th century and we are trying to see what can you learn from it after the event. We believe, this is also a particularly German theme, we believe that we are going to have an even bigger crisis in the 21st century, and that is the environmental crisis. We want to prepare a game called, or a family of games called, Environmental Crisis after we finish this…
CG: Series of three.
PG: Yes, so in two years time, I’m going to dig very very deep and try and bring, in the five dimensions again, the environmental crisis. The concept is basically such, it’s again unique, many people treat the world as if they’ve got another ten in their pocket. I don’t know. We’ll just fly into space and find another Earth. It’s a bit of a fantasy. But that is one way, in this game, to win. Others try and look after the world as best as possible, really conserve the nature, conserve the planet, and look after it. That’s the main focus. We will stay here and that’s where we will fight and survive or not. And of course, there’s others. As with any problem, with force, they try to get the best place on the Titanic. So those will be the three ways to success and we will try and very realistically represent what would the possibilities be and this will be done hopefully before the crisis and some of the things that are learnt can be put into practice in daily life and may even help to avoid the crisis getting too deep and we don’t manage it. But certainly we will have to work together to get over this crisis.
Moral Conflict’s Partnerships and Game Pieces
CG: In just real physical terms, you have the game [Moral Conflict], it’s being distributed through Alliance.
PG: In the US. We have other partners in Europe.
CG: So who’s your main European partner?
PG: Esdevium, I think he’s the third biggest in the world. Esdevium Games. They’re the third biggest, as far as I know, worldwide. They’re based in the UK.
CG: I noticed on your packaging you have something with Chessex.
PG: Yes! We have a partnership with Chessex. So we use the Chessex dice. Our players said “Hey, these are great. These are the best dice you can get.” So we’ve agreed with Chessex that we will always name the dice used on the box, on the website. It’s good for us to get their name on there. We do get a slight reduction in the prices, which enables us to be more competitive with our pricing. We have two other relationships like that as well with other companies. We have very very special playing pieces which are partly mosaic stones from MosaikStein, these sort of very nice stones here are mosaic stones which we also, in this case the instruction book, here’s some of the resources, the oil and things. These are not made by us, these are made in China for Mosaik Stein, for example. We get very good, high-quality pieces, at very good prices right from the start. These are very unique. The gold is the currency for the game, it’s these wonderful gold stones here. It’s not real gold, ok, everybody doesn’t expect that. So that again, we have a cooperation with them. And then what is very innovative is these charts here. If I show you the Submarines… And it works because we have the best pens you can get in the world. These are Staedtler from Germany, included in the box. For example, the submarine started off in winter ’39 on that Pacific 12, maybe here you put Pacific 14, Pacific 16, and these are the only pens in the world that then do a dry erase with the eraser on the thing here. We have with them also a marketing agreement. So there, the stones here and the pens are listed very clearly in the rulebooks and with the advantages and names of the companies and where you can also get them from. So what we were able to do is then slightly reduce the price right from the start for our customers. We give them very good quality, but we’ve tried to do a win-win, diplomacy with all of our partners.
CG: Now what’s the price point on this?
PG: The 1940 is the second game. It’s got a recommended retail price of 98 euros. I don’t know quite what that is in dollars. It’s still a pretty good price, but we’re basically using the best quality materials. It’s very very clear. We’ve got an incredible game with these five dimensions. Every game will go differently because of the complex interaction of these. You can treasure this game for life. The money’s not going to wear out. It’s made out of these stones. The only plastic is a few little things here and these special rings. I told you about them. Specially designed to be used with the planes and then the atom bombs. But it’s very very high quality. Everything’s very very high quality. The graphics are right at the top. Look at this picture here or this board is actually a work of art, if you really look at it, and our graphics guy is more of an artist. The work here, it’s well worth the money. The players are going to be able to play something like this for the rest of their life. Not just the quality of the materials, but the concepts. They will probably take many years to go the path that’s here, they’re guided to be able to learn and master these dimensions. It’s something that will be with them as they grow and mature.
CG: Now where’s the cover image from?
PG: So this cover image is Hitler’s nightmare. It didn’t happen, but it should or could have happened. So this is 1941 just in front of Moscow. It’s minus 55 degrees, the German Army is in their summer uniforms, their tanks are all not working because the oil can’t take that temperature. The war is over actually. The Russians have not been beaten. It was supposed to be a three month battle and then victory. Hey, there’s Siberian troops there! And the German general’s army is negotiating with the Russians about peace. The Russians have just handed over three German nurses to look after the German wounded. This did happen in Normandy and Rommel said “This is the moment to make peace with the Allies.” But it was too late in Normandy, but this would have been actually the point where the Germans should have had the courage to basically end it all, because Stalingrad just confirmed what already there was clear: they’re not going to win.
Expansion for Moral Conflict
CG: Now is it going to be an expansion when you add in characters like you could have Marshall Zhukov.
PG: That’s right, yeah. That’s part of the expansion game. There’s many many concepts coming into the expansion game. There’s going to be a lot more difference between the different nations, for example. Some of them have special weapons or the German army have particular fighting characteristics, the Japanese others, the Italians were well known for some of their [laughs] special characteristics, things like that. The big issue, what really excites people, is with the moral dimension. What would happen if the Germans started off maybe not as a Nazi state, but a more benevolent state, or the Russians? Basically the options are then greater to just start with different moral levels and just experiment and the possibility for the first time to actually go up morally when you make peace with an enemy. So these things, people see straightaway. They want to be inspired. They want to see-, this was the biggest crisis probably for 500 years or more and they want to see actually, they want to be inspired how it could have been different, how it could have been avoided, or so much better.
CG: How has the game been received in Germany?
PG: The game’s been received very well in Germany. As I say, normally people, the first, the first reaction is no interest. Then you explain it’s called Moral Conflict and just like that-
CG: In German?
PG: In German, it’s still called Moral Conflict in Germany. The Germans use a lot of English words. They call it neue Deutsch. The title stays the same. Actually the boxes are in three languages at the bottom, so you can see, I think we’ve got French, German, and English. But basically, the name is kept. So very easy to understand. But the name, the name Moral Conflict with the year, it seems to have very very powerful effect. Particularly women want to be inspired and women are very interested. Maybe not the complicated game where war and the wars are very detailed, but as we come down to the cheaper versions, the less complex versions, the women are very excited to play this. And this is very unusual for a wargame. Generally, a girlfriend or wife might occasionally play with the husband or boyfriend a wargame, but generally they don’t play. Here now, sometimes the women at the lower levels are taking the lead and saying Moral Conflict, this is something that they can relate to in a way perhaps different to a lot of guys.
One of the concepts in the expansion game is very very important, very very unique. If you look at books on this period of history, they were all written by men, but there’s a great book called “The Taste of War” written by a woman [Lizzie Collingham]. It’s all about the food supply situation. You’re thinking, “Yeah, boring.” She starts off the book and says well, there were 20 million people killed by the battles and the guys love that with the tanks and the planes and the weapons. And then she says 20 million died of starvation. So it actually takes a woman to show us guys that we’ve actually forgotten about the other half that was very important. So the food industry here is very important. You see here on the maps here the different sorts of livestock or grain and so on. You can’t conquer the world on an empty stomach. And if you’re going to lose maybe as many of your population through hunger and starvation and disease caused by the hunger, you’re not going to win the war. So this is a very very essential theme, again, in the expansion game and very very unique, because very few games really address that, but the importance of that is very very clear. There are millions, millions died of starvation! 20 million. So we’re really trying to do a very realistic, a very mature, a very deep representation of this time and there are many many unique things in it.
CG: It sure sounds like it. Thank you.
PG: Ok. Thanks.