Game Designer James Day – Armchair General Interview
Rick Martin (RM): First let me tell you how important your Yaquinto–published versions of Panzer, Armor and 88 were to my formative years as a wargamer. I can’t say how excited I was to be assigned the review of the new release of Panzer and its two expansions. I also must add that I played the hell out of the computer game Gunship on my Commodore 64 many years ago. I believe that you designed that game as well, didn’t you?
James M. Day (JMD): First, thank you for your kind words. Taking a break from healthcare administration, I worked in the computer games industry from 1990 through 1998, six of those years with MicroProse Software. There, I designed and produced Gunship 2000, in 1991. The game from the same company titled Gunship was released in 1986. Although they are both helicopter simulations, they are quite different products.
RM: Please tell our readers about your background as a game designer, how you got involved in the business and perhaps a little about your original versions of the games that are now being released by GMT.
JMD: As with most game designers it is a part-time avocation, with the exception of my stint with MicroProse. Even as a youngster, I liked creating games to play with my friends or to play solitaire. My first game interest was naval warfare. However, in those early years most ship-to-ship actions were large-scale miniature games. This lack of game-playing opportunities led me to tanks—ships on land. Since I really like miniatures, the very first version of Panzer was a set of miniature rules actually set in the modern era, not WWII. I ran tournaments using my rules at local game conventions. That is where I met the guys from Yaquinto. In 1979, they approached me about doing a boardgame version of my rules. However, they wanted a version set in WWII. That is how the original three games Panzer, Armor and 88, came about. Later, I designed MBT (Main Battle Tank) and IDF (Israeli Defense Force) for Avalon Hill.
RM: What were the first wargames that you played, and what game is your all-time favorite?
JMD: The first board wargames I played were Panzerblitz and some other titles published by Avalon Hill. I don’t really have an all-time favorite. Over the years, there have been many games I like and others not so much.
RM: What lead to the new release of Panzer and its two expansions by GMT Games?
JMD: After designing the new miniature rules, I really thought there was a strong market for new boardgame versions of the WWII titles and also the post-WWII games MBT and IDF. After my initial association with GMT Games with The Kaiser’s Pirates, I was sold on continuing our relationship with the new boardgames.
RM: It is obvious to any player of the new Panzer or its earlier incarnations and sequels (88, Armor, MBT, and IDF) that you do a great deal of research in regard to the armor strengths, gun capabilities, etc. of the units covered in your games. Would you tell us a bit about the process you use for transferring that data to a game?
JMD: You really captured my main effort with your question. Doing the research on the various game topics takes a great deal of time and effort. That is one area where I take a great deal of pride in the designs. I am fortunate to have a fairly extensive library of research books and other material I have collected over the years. On the plus side, today, it is much easier having all the Internet sources, but one needs to be careful weeding out the less credible information from the good sources. Back in the day, I spent too many hours doing manual calculations and data comparisons. Eventually, it got so tedious that I designed and wrote two computer programs that generate all of the ballistic and armor data you now see in the tank games.
RM: I noted that in the original game, I got many more gun and gun mantel hits on the target tanks than I do in the new release of Panzer—in fact, in the last game I played my Panzer IV Gs paid dearly for this. How did you decide what to change in the new games?
JMD: I feel the current market is looking for more streamlined, quicker-playing and simpler designs. MBT and IDF saw the first attempt at streamlining aspects of the system. The miniature rules were the second attempt. I came to feel that that version went a little too far with some of the elements, so when I designed the new boardgames, I added back some elements. The larger data cards in the new version made that a possibility. I do plan to release an updated version of the miniature rules including the larger data cards and updated rules.
RM: Will we get terrain to add to the maps as we did in the original games?
JMD: That is always a possibility. I am all for developing what ever the gamers would like to see, e.g, mounted geomorphic mapboards, and whatever the market will bear. GMT Games’ P500 program is a good test of that. If the gamers commit to the products, the products will see the light of day.
RM: Many gamers were disappointed by the Excalibur version of Panzer in the 1990s. What was your involvement in that release?
JMD: Virtually nothing—and I share their disappointment. That version made it to market before I secured the rights back for the three original titles, Panzer, Armor and 88, from Yaquinto. With the publication of the new boardgames, hopefully it will become just a bad memory.
RM: What other releases can we expect from this new relationship between GMT Games and James Day, and when is the new 88 coming out?
JMD: At this time, Iron & Oak, an American Civil War naval game, is scheduled for production the 1st quarter of 2013. The 3rd Panzer expansion is currently on the P500 list. It covers the USA and British/Commonwealth forces on the Western Front. The next Panzer release after that will be North Africa, followed by France 1940. At the same time, the new versions of MBT, followed by IDF, will appear on the P500 list.
RM: Thank you for your time today. Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Armchair General readers?
JMD: Thank you for your time and for this opportunity. I also want to thank all the gamers who have supported my designs over the years. Their ongoing support is very much appreciated.
About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!