Back in 2014 I was asked to rework the maps for Academy Games’  ‘Conflict of Heroes – Storms of Steel’. Matching the style of Awakening the Bear and First Men In before them it was a 50/50 mixture of 2D and 3D with a good deal of hand painting. As usual the budget was for 2weeks.

The wheat and corn fields proved particularly tricky as at this scale little to no detail should be visible so I had to exaggerate the scale and form to ensure they felt like they could be crawled through.

Again, while functionality always has to come first, I like to give everything a history. I approach the work as a player wanting to be able to tell a story. While there’s a limit to how much decoration the map can tolerate, suggesting how the farmer has ploughed and sown his fields, where soil is thin or dry and the seed hasn’t taken, where people have taken short-cuts .. adds to the sense that its a living environment. Adds potential colour and depth to the story. So its more than just a handful of terrain modifiers.

The balkas proved tricky. Their positioning, in the middle of flat terrain with no outlet for water, makes no sense as far as I’m aware so it was hard to make them feel natural. It was also a requirement that their walls be impassable and their bottoms a whole hex wide, which while it did match some reference, didn’t feel typical and I couldn’t provide it with a story that made sense. So I went through half a dozen iterations, from realistic to what was eventually decided worked the best for playability.

The rules required that the balka edges ( which are hex edges rather than hex terrain) had to appear impassable/near vertical, their bottom a consistent height, and their entrances have tyre tracks. The use of cliffs particularly helped to support this, offering a hard delineation between the external grass and the internal valley.

I felt it important with these maps, since they’re set over vast swathes of farmland during the Battle of Kursk, to ensure there was a lot of open space. This in turn needed to be balanced by enough decorative elements to stop it from feeling boring.

This game came with a number of double sided overlays that can be used to alter the supplied maps. These included fordable rivers, a village, hills and some anti-tank ditches.

After the lack of a printers proof and inconsistent print quality of the first game, I hope I’ve managed to counteract some of the more easily addressable issues. Hill lines are now much thicker and brighter to account for the extra ink spread of the textured board, and the area beneath hex numbers and hex lines is now much brighter to increase their contrast. But colour accuracy and consistency across the maps was not something I could control (beyond what I already do ) and not something I’d thought would vary until recieving a copy of the game a year after release, finding two maps were a very different shades of green and there was an overall lack of contrast.  Frustrating.

While I received no proofs for this release,  Academy were obviously aware of the previous quality issues so ensured they didn’t happen again. I look forward to seeing a copy..

The Players Aid did an overview video review of the released game.

And an unboxing.

Hard to tell from video but it seems the maps have come out desaturated but not terrible.