World in Flames Exclusive interview

By Wargamer Staff 18 Oct 2013 0

The Wargamer talks to Harry Rowland, designer of legendary boardgame World in Flames, about the upcoming PC version.

Firstly thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions; I?m sure our readers will appreciate it.

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Artist?s impression of the full sized map that comes with the game - to scale. It is so big that a space big enough to photograph it was not available so they had to get an artist?s impression!!!!


I?m pretty sure that the majority of our readers will have heard of, if not played, the World in Flames boardgame, however, for those less familiar could you just give us an overview of the history of the boardgame and who has been involved in developing it.

World in Flames was Australian Design Group?s second game published in 1985. ?Empires in Arms? was our debut game initially designed in 1971 when I was 13 years old, and then heavily developed by Greg Pinder, Michael Fisher, Sheldon White, Peter Spitzkowsky and Paul Fury (amongst others) from 1980 until it was released in 1983. 

After publication, Greg Pinder and I were thinking what should be our next game to design.  We both like grand strategic games, and are both interested in World War II. It was the most climactic war in history where both sides could have triumphed, and since no large scale global game had been developed beforehand, we decided to develop a game based on this mammoth war. 

The same playtesting group was involved with Michael Fisher designing the maps (he also designed the Empires in Arms maps) and Peter and Sheldon again being heavily involved in development and testing.  The development itself went along very smoothly and only took 2 years from genesis to first release (needless to add there has been a lot of development in the 28 years since).


So how did the PC version come about, and how long has the development process been? Also, how did Matrix Games come to be your partner in this project?

As computer technology itself developed, turning the boardgame into a computer version was a natural step. Of course we weren?t completely blind to the scope of such a project but even we underestimated how long it would take to reach fruition. 

Chris Marinacci of Alchemy Enterprises initially approached us in 1995 to develop the computer version, and started development in 1996. He spent the next 7 years developing the final edition of ?World in Flames? before Matrix Games expressed an interest in finishing its development. Matrix Games had already signed a contract with us to develop a computer version of ?Empires in Arms? that was near completion and decided to take on ?World in Flames? as well. Neither David Heath of Matrix Games nor I imagined it would be another decade before the game would finally be released.


World in Flames is a vast game, truly global ? so how big a challenge has the scale of the game been in developing the PC version? What were the biggest obstacles that you have had to overcome?

Each game has N rules, the number of discrete statements required to define the boundaries of the game and what the players can and cannot do. However the number of potential conflicts isn?t N, its N² since every rule can potentially interact with every other rule. In the case of World in Flames, N is a very large number making the number of potential conflicts and contradictions extraordinarily high. This has been the major reason for the long gestation of the computer version of the game. 

The biggest problems have been implementing all the optional rules and artificial intelligence. The former has largely been completed but the latter is still being worked on and is not expected to be available on initial release. However, Matrix/Slitherine are working on the AI and plan to release the AI within a year of release. However, the most important aspect, network play, has been implemented allowing the large WiF community to challenge each other across the globe.

Game design often, perhaps inevitably, involves making some compromises. Have you had to omit anything from the boardgame in the PC version? If so do you think these may appear in a future update?

No, all the major features of World in Flames have been implemented in the computer game. However, the computer game itself is continually being developed to improve the game. These developments have been closely co-ordinated with the team at Matrix Games and are being themselves implemented into the computer version. This will continue in future and updates will be released as the game itself is enhanced. 


I see the initial release has no AI; could you explain the reasons for that decision? The implication appears to be that a future release may have AI ? is this correct and if so how close are you to an AI you are happy with?

As stated in Q3 that is quite true. The major difficulty in producing an AI for a game of this scale and scope is that it is very difficult even today for the computer to be able to make the sort of informed decisions that your average intelligent gamer makes on a routine basis. In most large games the AI is little more than a teaching aid for beginning players as any experienced player will quickly crush even the best AI. Most AI systems also cheat by trying to restore the balance by giving themselves far greater resources or be able to do things faster than their human opponents. 

Since the game has already taken 17 years to get to this stage, and we have had many customers clamouring for the game to be released with or without AI, we have made the decision to go ahead with the release now to allow players to be able to challenge themselves against the best WiF minds on the planet, while still developing the AI for a future release. Of course for a game of this scale, experienced players will always have an advantage over even the best AI, and even though it will be enhanced over time, I expect the best games will still be human v human.


I have friends who used to take whole weeks as holiday just to play the whole boardgame, how long do you think the Global War campaign could take to play through on the PC? What is the expected range of playing times for the shortest scenarios?

Well the shortest campaign is the same as the shortest campaign for the boardgame, the 5 turn Barbarossa scenario which only takes about 3 hours to play. In my experience, once you become familiar with the computer interface for the game the time is not significantly different for the computer game, and in fact is in many cases shorter as you no longer need to hunt through the rules for that obscure rules reference you keep forgetting (which can be a substantial burden for the boardgame).

The longest campaign is of course the Global war campaign which usually takes between 100 and 150 hours to finish, and I would definitely set aside many weekends and nights to get through it from go to woe. Note though that this is if the game goes right through until 1945 and in many games the outcome is more or less known well before then.


Similarly I know people who were put off the boardgame by its size. Do you think that the PC version could be more appealing to these players? And if so why?

Definitely. Two of the biggest problems with the boardgame are the size of the maps and the length of time you need to leave the game setup to finish it. The classic game played one night a week might take 6 months to complete, and keeping the cat out of the war room for such a period can be quite a challenge. And that?s assuming you have a large war room to start with. Both of these issues are resolved with the computer game. You can play anywhere, even on the bus, and you can save it without any fear for the playing pieces short of everyone?s PC fusing simultaneously (and even then you can keep backups).

Finally set up takes a couple of minutes, not the several hours for the boardgame so for all these reasons we expect a large number of players to migrate to the PC version. As we have sold over 60,000 copies of the boardgame and another 50,000 copies of the other games in the series, we have great hopes that the game will be enthusiastically received by the game?s supporters.


Lastly, although the game is not yet released players are always wondering what the future for a game might hold ? are there any (tentative) ideas for the future, any planned additions you can tell us about? 

Matrix/Slitherine have a contract with Australian Design Group for all 4 games in the World in Flames series, WiF itself, America in Flames, Patton in Flames and Days of Decision and we look forward to all these games being released after the publication of WiF. As these games (apart from Days of Decision) all use the same engine as WiF, we are certainly expecting a much more timely release for them than the 17 years it has taken for World in Flames the computer version. I think it?s a great game and I hope you?re readers get many hours of enjoyment as well.

Harry Rowland



Additional information and exclusive images from Matrix Games

The game is only available in physical format and includes three Hardbound Full Color reference volumes:

  • Player's Manual Vol. 1 & Vol 2 (They cover the interface and gameplay of the officially licensed Matrix Games World in Flames computer game forming a complete reference on how to play the game).  These are full color hardbound manuals totaling 552 pages, more comprehensive than any game manual we've done in the past!
  • The Rules as Coded (it follows the structure of the World in Flames as Written, providing a complete reference of the WiF rules as implemented in the officially licensed computer game. Players can also use this as a rule book for tabletop play).  This is also a full color hardbound volume totalling 192 pages and is an invaluable reference which gives you the entire combined Rules as Coded at your fingertips for computer or tabletop play.


THE OPTIONAL MAP PACK - A global consistent scale and tabletop-playable WIF map!

Additionally players for the first time can purchase an entire new set of full color WiF maps!  The maps are identical to the in-game maps in look and match the hex scale of the board game maps so that they are entirely playable on the table top.  These are the first global contiguous WIF maps to date!  All at the same consistent scale, they cover the entire Globe in 24 sections printed in full-color heavy stock gloss paper.  You can use the sections separately or connect them for the full global map.  Total size of the map is height 9ft (2.7 meters) and length 21ft (6.4 meters).  That's nearly 200 square feet of map!


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The game ships with 3 hardback rules manuals.

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