A game like this needs a big, shiny, beautiful map with big counters. I wanted to design something that would look great, make these factions stand out, and give a clear view of the situation. Let me tell you a short story about how this map came to be..
The game wasn't initially designed about the war in Europe. My original idea was to show the current war in Ukraine. I tried to see what could happen if the situation escalated even more. I started using the area control mechanics and operational level units (brigade size). The resulting game had all the nuances and excitement of the escalation system, but it was hard to test and play. The situation it represented was so hard to stomach that I had to pull the plug on the project before it took off. Maybe the time will come later, but not for now.
First version - Nuclear war in Ukraine
So what happened then? I had a workable game system, but I needed a subject for the game. The evident and exciting topic would be the Cold War turning into World War III. I started this version of the game by modifying Twilight Struggle (kudos to Jason Matthews and Ananda Gupta). My game had different needs, as I was more maneuver oriented and had pieces that would move and execute actions on the map. So I had to find a way to get more maneuvering space.
If you look at the map of the Earth, you will find that most of the space is filled with oceans and seas. That is a big waste for a game of this type, as the game pieces only use the land to move and act. So to maximize the precious land space, I tried inflating the continents and deflating the seas. So we got some vast continents and small sea areas, and it looked OK, but it was very confusing. And the problem was still that most of the action was happening in various areas of the map while significant sections were left entirely unused. Europe was crucial for military actions, but the Americas were far from combat. So this didn't work as well.
Collage of continents - weird-looking but space-saving
The other option was to change the look of certain areas or even make one area bigger than the other ones. I could inflate Europe because it was much more important than other areas. But this version now looked even more unrealistic. And also created a new problem - how would I balance movement and combat if I had an area several times larger than others. So it was a no-go.
Mix of Europe and the world
I was stuck for a while, as you sometimes are when designing games like this. But then I found the solution - to represent not the global situation but one vital part of the map, the European theater of operations. So the map should encompass the area which was a place for espionage, but also military operations. That would encompass everything between the North Sea and the Mediterranean, between the Bay of Biscay and Istanbul. That would give me well shaped rectangular area with a small amount of unused space, which I would fill with various tracks and boxes. Perfect! That is how this map came to be.
I also wanted the tracks to be easy to use and accessible. I have three tracks: the Turn track, Escalation track, and Victory Points track. The best way to go about it is to have three separate tracks (and not a big unified one) and place them within players' reach. I put them on three edges of the board and oriented them differently to differentiate them mentally. The Victory Points track represents the tug-of-war between players and is placed in a West-East direction. The Escalation track is like a ladder you climb with your marker until you reach a threshold. Very intuitive and user-friendly.
Getting there - focusing on the European theater
I also placed some boxes where players would keep reserves and eliminated units. Reserve boxes were colored, with illustrations representing the White House and the Kremlin. Escalation boxes were in black-and-white to remind players of destruction and the afterlife. They were illustrated with Arlington cemetery and a grave of the Soviet hero. Immersive and associative. Check.
Now about the other elements I used. Countries were drawn with a thick, easy-to-read border. Area borders were marked with a bit narrower, dashed lines. Each area was labeled with a name, influence placeholder, and state level numbers. Everything is easy to find and read, using mostly Futura font. I often use that font for captions with an all-caps writing style. The entire game uses three primary fonts: Futura (primarily for captions), Roboto (for most of the text), and Century Schoolbook (for numbers). These three fonts give me the precision, reading clarity, and immersive comic-book style I aim for.
Finally, I placed a neat nuclear-mushroom logo, again out of the way, at the board's edge. It provides additional immersion and style while being informative and creating a psychological marker of the game. And voila, here is the (near-final) version of the game map for Escalation: Nuclear War in Europe!
Escalation: Nuclear War in Europe - near final map
Well, that's it for today! If it's not too much trouble, I invite you to subscribe to our newsletter to be notified when we come close to release. You can subscribe on this page: https://www.panzerdivisiongames.com/escalation-nuclear-war-in-europe
Have fun! 🖐️😀