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Designer Diary: General Orders: WWII, or Can You Really Make a Worker Placement Wargame?

by David Thompson

General Orders: World War II pits two commanders against each other in a tug of war for control over a crucial Second World War battlefield, either in the mountains of Italy or the islands of the Pacific. Players strive to seize crucial strategic assets that unlock special abilities, while preventing their opponents from doing the same. They balance the desire to gain these advantages with the need to secure supply lines, ward off aerial assault and artillery barrages, and protect their vulnerable headquarters.

General Orders: WWII combines the dynamic tactical gameplay of a traditional wargame with the cut-throat decision-making of worker-placement games.

This is the story of how General Orders came to be…


The origin of General Orders dates to 28th December 2021. That day, I sent a string of messages to my design partner for the game, Trevor Benjamin, describing a concept I had. This is what I sent Trevor:

I’ve been thinking about (this game idea) quite a bit. Each player takes the role of a commander. Their “workers” are their sub-commanders, leading units. Each player would have their own personal board with non-contested actions (logistics, artillery, etc) and there would be a central board with contested actions.

I went on to say, “I think it could work, and the mashup of Euro and a wargame would be interesting. I think a historic setting would actually help separate the game from other worker placement games. What do you think? Crazy?”

Thankfully Trevor was willing to entertain the idea. Over the next couple of days, we messaged back and forth, tossing around concepts, asking each other questions that would tease out the key elements of the design. One thing I was firm on, though, was that I wanted the game to be a worker-placement game, first and foremost. In fact, during this initial period Trevor and I referred to the concept as “WPWG” (worker placement wargame) as a shorthand.

The Design Begins

On 30th December, just a couple of days after Trevor and I began discussing the game idea, we created this initial concept for the board layout and played our first two games (from concept to playtesting in two days – not bad!):

In some ways, the general topography and some space ability ideas from this initial draft live on in the Alpine map in the published version of General Orders: World War II.

From that first session, we decided to add cards that would go on to be the operations cards in the final version of the game, as well as randomized area bonuses for some of the spaces on the board. Many of the concepts we sketched out for the cards and areas bonuses would end up in the final design.

I don’t view myself as an especially talented or clever designer. Instead, I think my attributes that serve me best are dedication and perseverance. Trevor and I usually require quite a bit of iteration to reach the final states of our designs. (Unlike me, Trevor is quite a clever fellow, but I hold him back a bit in our collaborations!) Fortunately, though, General Orders was coming together quickly, we felt.

We got together again on 2nd January 2022 for another playtest session. It was during this session that we developed the concepts for how supply would work, how units would be reinforced, and what the basic mechanisms were for advancing into combat, as well as settling on both the threshold for a “normal” win through victory points and the instant victory condition of removing a player from their headquarters. Again, things were moving along quickly, and we were able to lock down core elements of the game that would allow us to shift our focus to the variable elements like the cards and area bonuses.

We continued to test over the next week and a half. By 11th January, we had completed the design for the game – or at least the part of the game that would become the Alpine map and all of the elements associated with it.

The Gameplay

The core gameplay for General Orders is streamlined. Barring an immediate victory by one of the players clearing their opponent’s HQ of units, a game plays out over a series of four rounds.

During a round, players alternate taking turns, deploying one of their five commanders (or “workers”). They deploy the commanders to spaces on the board to perform actions such as advancing, conducting paradrops, and firing artillery barrages. Separately, they deploy commanders on a side board to reinforce their troops and gain operations cards.

Controlling certain areas on the board will grant the players special bonuses, and the operations cards can be used for special effects.

The player with the most victory points (which are scored by controlling key areas) at the end of those four rounds wins.

The Pitch

We reached out to Osprey Games on 17th January to pitch the idea for our game, which we had started calling “Take Command”. At the time, Filip Hartelius and Anthony Howgego were the lead developers at Osprey, and we had worked closely with them on the Undaunted series, so we had a strong relationship with them and felt the game would be a good fit.

We included a screenshot of our Tabletop Simulator playtest version of the game in our email. Again, from a topography perspective, the board hadn’t changed considerably from the initial draft, and while the “point-to-point” map design was replaced with hexes in the final product, the actual board layout (space adjacency) did not change.

We met with Filip and Anthony on 28th January to pitch them the design and play a sample game. After the meeting, we provided them with our Tabletop Simulator module so that they could play the game for themselves. On February 1st, they let us know that they wanted to sign the game.

Trevor and I were very happy with the progress the game had made over a short period of time. In just a little over a month, the game had gone from a basic concept (little more than the idea of smashing up a “worker placement” mechanism with a wargame theme) to being signed by a fantastic publisher.

But the real work was yet to begin…

Further Design and Development

The Alpine side of the board — the board design we had given to Osprey — is symmetric in its topography. While it has a variable set-up due to the way the area bonuses are randomized and placed, the layout is the same for both players. This meant that Trevor and I didn’t have to “balance” the board layout for the Alpine map.

Osprey wanted to add a second map to the game, and it wanted the layout for that map to be asymmetric. In addition, we all decided on adding a different element to the second board: aircraft. Trevor and I knew the addition of a new map with an asymmetric layout would require extensive design and testing, so that’s what we set out to do.

From February to September, Trevor and I worked on what would eventually become the Island map – that’s eight times longer than it took us to design the core game! By September, we had begun an extensive playtest effort. We were comfortable with the Alpine map, so we asked playtesters to first familiarize themselves with the game using that map, but once they knew the rules, we asked them to move to the Island map and collect as much data as possible. For the next month or so the playtest data came in, and Trevor and I carefully analyzed every report. We were fortunate that the feedback was almost universally positive. The balance that we were striving for and had worked so hard to deliver was evidenced in the playtest results.

In October we delivered the final design to Osprey.

The Product

One of the initial responses Osprey had for the game was for it to be a compact product. This is what Filip Hartelius had to say about the idea:

…the direction we want to take is to make it more compact…I’d love to put it into a small box so it’s a punchy little portable game. In that format, it’d have a board (roughly A4 size), wooden discs for commanders and wooden cubes for (units), punchboard for the variable tiles, dice, and ops cards. I’ve attached a photo of my very rough conceptualisation.

This was the image Filip included to help convey his idea:

You can see as early as Filip’s initial email about the game that Osprey was also leaning towards transforming our point-to-point map into a hex-grid concept.

Obviously Osprey kept true to Filip’s idea for a compact game as General Orders comes in a refreshingly compact box that has been met with universal praise by the boardgaming community.

Next up was the art. Osprey contracted Alex Green, who had not previously worked in the boardgame space, to serve as the artist. Although all art is subjective, we fell in love with the idea of bringing Alex’s fresh art style to our hobby. In my opinion, everything from the box cover to the Operations card and especially the boards are both evocative of the subject and also refreshing in their style and color palette. Osprey is well-known for its incredibly high quality art — one of the many reasons we love partnering with the company — and General Orders, with Alex’s brilliant work, certainly follows that model.

The Release

General Orders was previewed at Gen Con 2023. Osprey Games was able to bring some stock ahead of publication to the convention, selling out its daily allotment in the first ten minutes each day. Demos ran throughout the convention, and the tables were packed the entire time. We were super excited to see how well the game was received.

Additional early copies and demos will also be available at SPIEL ’23

When General Orders is released on 24th October, it will mark the end of an almost two-year process to make the game a reality. From the first email where I pitched the idea to Trevor for a “worker placement wargame” to the published version that includes Alex’s incredible art, the creative process for General Orders has been an absolute delight.

David Thompson


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