When the August Update email for GMT Games was released, I noticed that a great looking new game had been added to their list of P500 Games called Bayonets & Tomahawks, which was about the French & Indian War designed by Marc Rodrigue. I had seen pictures of this game earlier in the year on Twitter and was intrigued from the get-go. With that, I ordered the game and since have reached out to Marc Rodrigue through my friend Marc Gouyon-Rety to set up an interview. True to form when I reached out, Marc was more than willing to provide me with information about the game and I sent him about 20 questions that he has since answered very thoroughly. Without further ado, here is the interview with Mark Rodrique:
Grant: I understand that the genesis for Bayonets & Tomahawks was a video game, Warcraft by Blizzard Entertainment. I played that video game in the mid 1990’s and loved it. How did that game inspire you?
Marc: To clarify, it’s the memories I had of this cool and intuitive video game that inspired me in October 2013 to make a radical change in B&T’s design. The simplicity of “drag for action” (build, attack, etc.) and the absence of odds calculation on the player’s end (all taken care of by the game software) were a compelling siren call to drop classic wargame habits: combat result tables (CRT) and modifiers, combat factors written on game pieces, etc. I was driven by that new vision of B&T and didn’t hesitate to drop every game aspect that stood in the way. I wanted a game that would generate awe instead of yawns!
Grant: Why are you interested in the French & Indian War?
Marc: Fun fact: in high school, New France history bored me to death! Then in my mid-twenties, I read a French comic book series “Pionniers du Nouveau-Monde” (which would translate to “New World’s Pioneers”). It opened with a big bang on the Monongahela’s 1755 battle and the sixth volume ended with the Plains of Abraham battle in 1759. From then on I was hooked for life on the French & Indian War. Reading these comics had brought back fond memories of an elementary school visit to Montreal’s Sainte-Helene fort (a late 19th century fort actually) where I saw “Franche de Marine” reenactors for the first time.
Grant: I love the French & Indian War as it was a prelude to my country’s War of Independence from Britain and was the forge of experience that shaped and prepared George Washington, my favorite American historical figure, to lead the colonies to their freedom. What has been your favorite book on the subject?
Marc: The comic books I mentioned above contained numerous inaccuracies and wrong stereotypes (namely bearded Canadiens which is a 19th century depiction!). I turned to Guy Frégault’s “La Guerre de la Conquête” (“War of the Conquest”) that became my bible on the subject for a long time. One has to understand the paucity of books about the FIW until 2005 when the 250th commemorations began. Since then, there’s been a flood of excellent publications. Fred Anderson’s “Crucible of War” has succeeded to Frégault’s book because of its excellent and detailed overview of the conflict.
Grant: I personally have read several books on the subject and am partial to Montcalm and Wolfe The French and Indian War by Francis Parkman. I know you have had interactions and even playtesting with Volko Ruhnke, the designer of Wilderness War, which is another great game about the French & Indian War. Did his game inspire you at all? Are there any similar elements in the game play other than theme?
Marc: For me, Wilderness War is the first game that did an outstanding job at capturing that conflict. Shortly before Wilderness War came out I had completed a first game design attempt on this subject (named simply “1755”). I shelved it because WW knocked me out of my chair. Curiously, I never got to play WW, mainly because at the time I didn’t get the idea of card driven games (luckily I evolved from that stage!) and my interest in the FIW was temporarily saturated after the development of “1755”.
When in 2008 I set on “dusting off” my old FIW game (boy, I didn’t know what I was embarking upon!) I decided to refrain from playing WW so that I wouldn’t be influenced. Of course I studied some of its elements, namely the unit roster, the map sites and how constructions were managed. I cross-referenced that info with that of other games (e.g. Command magazine’s End of Empire) and my own extensive documentation. The most influence WW had on my game was that it drove me to excel in my game design!
Grant: I know the game is designed for 2 players but understand it can be adapted to a 4 player game with 2 teams of 2 players. How does this work? Is it better as 2 or 4 players?
Marc: It is basically a 2-player game (British and French). The Indians are a quasi faction (non player). But at a public Montreal game event last November, I was the only exhibitor with a wargame. I noticed disappointment every time I told to that mainstream crowd that it was for 2 players only. I thought it would be fun to find a way for B&T to include an additional player or two (it’s always sad to disqualify a pile of favorite 2 player wargames just because you have more than 2 players). The Action tokens provided a solution. I tagged some Supply Points (SP) with a small “C” (for Canadien/Colonial). For each of the sides I could then add the possibility of a teammate: Canadien for the French and Colonial for the British and they would use these specific SP’s. Also, I tagged half of the 8 Action rounds with the same little “C”. In these specific rounds the Canadien or Colonial player makes the token draw and choice. On the other rounds, it’s the European players. Regardless of the round played, “C” SP’s are spent by the Canadien/Colonial players. So at every step of the game there is a clear separation of teammates actions. Fun for portraying the collaboration (or lack of) that actually happened between the colonial and European forces!
Grant: I understand from reading an article that you see the game as more of a perspective on the Native Americans and their part in the conflict. Why did you choose to take it in that direction? How do they play a role in the game?
Marc: Let’s start by looking at the name “French INDIAN War”: they own the central third of it! 🙂 In eurocentric perception, they are always viewed as a whole (“THE Indians”) while in reality they are multiple nations as diverse as Europeans regarding socioeconomic structures, languages and beliefs. Right from the start, I didn’t want them to be pawns of the French player. So they have their own action token set, they behave much as they did historically regarding prevention of losses in battle and their interest tied to plunder and captives (they simply disappeared as soon as they got it). The French player always has questions regarding his ability to use his Indian allies and fears the possibility that he might lose some of them to the British.
Grant: Tell us about the design process over the years. What happened in 2013 to make you change the focus on numbers and charts to make it more simple?
Marc: To complete what I touched on a few paragraphs above: the 250th anniversary reenactment of Fort Carillon’s battle in 2008, featuring several thousand reenactors, was the spark that made me want to dust off my old FIW design. I soon realized that it was a failed design and had to be abandoned. I only kept some units’ graphics and the basic map layout created by Nicolas Bellin, a contemporary French cartographer. An extensive period of research followed thanks to the tremendous amount of info available compared to the 1990’s. Working on and off on that design for 5 years, a detailed French & Indian War simulation emerged, down to tables for harvest, incoming supply ships, and Indian allies cost (gift giving, supplies, arms)! It did all I wanted it to but was too long to play (more than six hours for the main scenario that takes around three now). I became frustrated with the project because I wanted to have FUN playing it and that’s when the Warcraft vision occurred on one night of October 2013. This is when B&T was really born!
Grant: Talk to us about the custom dice. Why did you decide to go this route? Do you have any good pictures of those dice? (I love custom dice!)
Marc: I wanted to completely bypass the need for a Combat Results Table (CRT) and unit values. It had to be “one die for one unit” like classic Risk and Axis & Allies BUT contrary to these games, the results had to be as realistic as a CRT and reflect historical loss rates – NOT destroying and re-buying whole armies continuously. I merged the unit data I had in equivalent chunks of “1 die” hitting power. One important twist is that I wanted the system to occasionally generate higher losses for the victor than the vanquished. So I came up with a “breakthrough” icon (flag) that represents maneuver, strength, daring or pure luck, and a “hit” icon (splatter) for casualties inflicted to the opponent. Initially, battle dice had simply “breakthrough”, “hit” and blank (no effect) faces. It worked well and was fun. It required a modifier table that would make a force lose or gain dice (e.g. a 3 piece force with an advantage could end up with 4 or 5 dice instead of the normal 3).
Then one fateful day a discussion occurred in one of the playtests with fellow designer Marc Gouyon-Rety. He had just received Star Wars Armada and showed me its battle dice featuring progressive results dependent on range. He merely suggested that I could get rid of the modifier table and put every condition right on the dice. I took the challenge and spent part of the summer amassing detailed data on EVERY battle of the FIW to have all the stats of that war and not work from a theoretical 18th century battle model. I completed that with insights from Firepower 1630-1850 by B.P. Hughes, my tactical age of musket bible. It took me three or four design/test passes to get where I wanted and generate results consistent with battle data. The end product is the present system featuring conditional result icons in outline in addition to normal flag and splatter icons. Light pieces are the only ones using green dice and these incorporate a distinct set of results for battle as well as for raids.
Grant: I personally love custom dice and at first glance, your dice look pretty good! What are the game victory conditions for the British? French? Which side has the easier time of obtaining these conditions?
Marc: Victory conditions are intertwined. For both sides, there are two ways of winning. The British player will work mainly on the Invasion VP track. He gets Invasion VP when he captures enemy key sites (in yellow outline). These sites are distributed over the board in a way that the British must spread his operations, preventing a “Death Star stack on Montreal” approach and reflecting the importance the British historically accorded of these scattered objectives. The object for the British is to reach a certain Invasion VP total in the limited number of years of the scenario played. It’s a race against the clock and shifting operational focus can spell disaster.
The French works mainly on the Raid VP track, trying to reach a maximum threshold of Raid VP during the year (that particular VP track is reset at the end of each year). An extreme level of Raid VPs achieves a knock out victory against the British (representing the Colonies dropping out of the invasion of New France and retracting their support because of sustained chaos on their borders).
The British can work against the French by making raids of their own that decrease French Raid VPs. On the other hand the French can capture key sites as well, preventing the British from reaching their Invasion VP requirement, resulting in a French victory. Playtest presently focuses on achieving the right balance in victory conditions. I see no side having it easier than the other presently.
Grant: Talk to us about the shape of the game pieces. What was the genesis for this design choice? How does it improve gameplay?
Marc: Light pieces act fundamentally differently from other pieces (they move faster, can raid, can use paths). They were the first to get a distinct shape. I settled on a triangle because it makes me think of a vector or even an arrow. Brigades (standard pieces) remain square of course. I pushed the reflection to forts, resulting in an octagon shape for them (same shape as a stop sign because they don’t move), long rectangles for fleets (inspired by Fighting Formations’ vehicular counters). I saw no game benefit in a special shape for artillery, so they remained square.
Having different shapes bypasses the decoding process inherent with classic wargames. You don’t need to read a counter or scrutinize its graphics to know what it is. That’s more attention and brainpower left for strategy!
Grant: How do the action tokens work? What is some of the strategy to their proper use?
Marc: On each token, there is between 1 and 5 supply points (SP) icons (there’s also a ‘no SP’ token in the Indian set). Each SP allows one stack of pieces (or part of it) to perform one action (e.g. move, construct, raid, etc.) during a round. There are two kinds of SP’s: army SP’s that can be used for any mix of units; and light SP’s that are required for stacks (or part of stacks) composed exclusively of light troops.
There are 8 Action rounds in each game year. The players start the year by drawing one of their action tokens as reserve. At the start of each action round during the year, both players draw one of their tokens. They then choose between the token they have just drawn and their reserve token for use in the current round. The unused token becomes the reserve for the next round. The French player also draws an Indian token.
A player must use his SP’s the most efficiently. There is barely enough to reach victory conditions. So as in real life, you concentrate your resources on what will protect you the most or contribute to deal a deadly blow to the adversary.
Grant: I love the initiative bidding phase. Where did this idea come from and how does it translate from history to the game? Is gaining the initiative vitally important?
Marc: From early on I had issues with initiative in this game. Ultimately, I turned to Mark Herman’s excellent C3i article on the subject for inspiration. But even after that I wasn’t able to develop an entirely satisfactory initiative system. It always seemed like the traditional IGO-UGO. It was Volko who suggested during his playtest that initiative values could be inversely proportional to the SP spending of the previous turn. Now THAT is really interesting and historical: armies must actually recuperate and re-supply after a big push.
Why is the initiative system so important? In that age (and all others before radio) a general wouldn’t know exactly what was happening at the end of his own line until a runner came to tell him. Thus the game should limit as much as possible foreknowledge by the players. It’s totally disconnected from real life to know exactly when you will play. There must be some uncertainty to avoid situations such as “I do this because he can’t touch me until next round”.
Grant: Can you please give us an idea of the various actions available to the players. I am really a fan of raiding from Wilderness War and am very interested how your vision plays out.
Marc: In B&T, raiding is an 18th century version of launching cruise missiles: you move through everything except opposing light forces. You burn places (with an actual “fire” icon!). And if successful, your Indian allies are so happy that they go home for the rest of the year with plunder and captives! (in other words, you lose them for the rest of the year…). 18th century commanders gave serious thought to that last aspect in their strategy!
This table summarizes all action types and the SP type required for each.
Grant: What is the press your luck aspect to the raiding and counter raiding? How does this work?
Marc: The total Raid VP to reach for a knockout victory is extremely high and you must get it by years-end because the track is reset at zero every year (if you reach a certain Raid VP threshold, you start at 1, 2 or 3 Raid VP’s instead of zero). You need to optimize and maximize your raids to achieve a raid victory. Problem is: on the other hand you have the Brits at your door and the raiding units are the same ones that lend crucial support to your conventional forces… So it’s a balancing act, you must have a clear focus (whether to support conventional forces or concentrate on a raid campaign). And push, push, push relentlessly. You don’t just make a raid here or there.
Grant: What is the main focus of the battle mechanic? Please describe the hits vs. breakthrough concept.
Marc: The hits and breakthroughs described above counts as results in battle. The force that rolls more results than the opponent wins a battle. Simple as that. If tied the defender wins. So let’s say force A of 6 units rolls 3 flags / 1 splatter / 2 blanks and force B also of 6 units rolls 0 flags / 3 splatters / 3 blanks: player A wins (total of 4 results against 3 by player B). Bloody victory though: he received 3 hits but inflicted only one. Seeing his enemy in full retreat’ll console him!
Grant: I noticed that the game includes artillery and road construction. Why is this important in a game about the French & Indian War?
Marc: We usually don’t realize that a significant portion if not the majority of operations consisted in sieges against small forts and fortress cities (note: in the game, the siege rules apply to fortress cities only). Hence the importance of fort construction. Forts can be taken by stealth but can be damaged only by artillery. Artillery is the only piece type that can destroy fortress cities walls, a crucial step before other pieces can assault the breached walls.
The wilderness tracks are impassable to army trains. Roads must be constructed in the wilderness for operations and supply as they were in the Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire frontier. It’s the only way to move pieces outside of main connections or sea zones.
Grant: How do players form alliances with various Indian tribes? Also, how are these alliances broken?
Marc: In the game, there are 3 multi-piece nations (Cherokee, Six Nations and Ohio) that can join either side or defect (in the case of Ohio). Certain Action tokens allow triggering of a specific alliance or defection in addition to normal SP function. For realism, the alliance is allowed only if the player has advantage on the victory track. You wouldn’t see the Six Nations join the British who had their pants down in 1755. In a similar vein, the French plagued with military setbacks were unable to woo the Cherokee to their side in 1758.
Grant: How did you take into account historical accuracy in your design?
Marc: By absolute and devoted passion about this period, by openness to others’ comments, by self- criticism, by consistently testing the game results against quantitative and qualitative data. The bibliography at the end of my rules book is a testimony to the scope of research done for B&T. Last year someone mentioned that he was baffled by the battle results during his playtests. He couldn’t put his finger on it but he felt strongly the British had an unfair disadvantage in battle. I checked it and it turns out that through a gross rounding error in my third attempt at perfecting the battle dice, the light pieces were now hitting FOUR TIMES MORE than they should…so, I fixed that promptly (maybe my unconscious French self was sabotaging British prospects!). At other times someone raises a point, I doublecheck it and it turns out all right. When in doubt about anything, I never shy away from redoing the math or rechecking the historical facts.
Grant: Are you satisfied that you have paid proper homage to the period and its style of warfare? What would you change about the game if you could?
Marc: NOW I’m satisfied 🙂 The game went through so many stages, and at each one it was nurtured by player’s feedback. At this point, I consider myself only the initiator and catalyst of the design (and the slave worker!). As a game designer, I discovered that the biggest asset is listening. It’s a balancing act between having the strength to stay the course in your project and allowing other’s ideas to enrich it. I could NEVER have reached that result alone and am ever so thankful of the numerous players who contributed.
Grant: This game seems to add in the naval component of the war. Why did you add this in and why was it important in your mind?
Marc: The naval link between Quebec and Acadia is strategically significant. In previous conflicts, troops were moved from one theater to the next. I wanted the French to have that flexibility (a flexibility that brings the perpetual anguish “should I reinforce Acadia/Louisbourg”?) Furthermore, as long as Louisbourg is unconquered, the British must fear French descents on it’s own coast. The events of King George’s War and the Revolutionary War (e.g. the burning of Falmouth, ME) support this approach. In 1757, a gigantic British naval operation was stopped dead in its tracks because a significant French squadron showed up — resulting in the largest concentration of redcoats stalled in Halifax for the whole summer.
Grant: How does the naval conflict work?
Marc: The naval portion of the game focuses on what naval forces end up in North America each year. Thanks to Jonathan R. Dull’s The French Navy in the Seven Years War and also James Pritchard’s works, I got a detailed overview of naval operations and capabilities in the Seven Years War. I distilled it to a simple system: there is a pool of 7 British fleets, 3 French fleets and 1 French fleet loss token. Each year at the “Fleets Arrive!” round (between Action rounds 1 and 2), all French and British fleets (and French loss token) are mixed together and 6 fleets are drawn. Statistically, the best and rare case the French can achieve is 3 Fleets against 2 British fleets + the French fleet loss that takes effect at the next year only. But most of the time, the British will have more fleets (up to 6 especially if the French loss token has been drawn previously). During the year, the fleets operate transporting troops, battling against each other (1 battle die per fleet like land pieces) and they can lend fire support during landings. At years-end, they’re all removed from the board (back to Europe). It’s at this moment that any French naval loss token drawn takes effect, removing a French fleet from play permanently. That marker represents crippling losses abroad to the Royal Navy or French port epidemics such as the one of fall 1757.
Grant: How has Marc Gouyon-Rety worked with you? I have enjoyed my association with him on our interview regarding Pendragon and we still are in contact today. What was the best piece of advice he gave to you?
Marc: Marc became kind of a ‘design godfather’ after playtesting B&T for the first time. He was highly critical of a lot of aspects during that playtest. But he loved it and saw all its potential. He pushed me to go further. It’s a privilege to benefit from his insights that rarely miss the mark. Also, he is French (Breton) and I’m half French/half Québécois. Creates a kinship! I think the impulse he gave me to push the battle dice system to its present form is as significant as the number of hours I had to put in to make it work 🙂
Grant: After being added to the P500 page in mid-August, B&T now has 429 orders (I P500’ed it on the 1st day!). Congratulations! How do you feel about that? Are you surprised at all?
Marc: Thank you very much for your support and also to the more than 400 backers so far! When B&T appeared on the P500, as a newcomer I expected way less orders. I was totally surprised to reach 250 after a mere week. That degree of support is highly motivating. I can’t wait to have the actual GMT box in my hands. But I will burn no steps. I’m very fortunate to have met developer Barry Setser who has an extensive wargaming background and is very cool to work with. I’m confident we will deliver a flawless and enjoyable product to the players. They deserve no less!
Grant: What is next for Marc Rodrigue? What other game designs are you working on?
Marc: As you must have guessed from my previous answer, I have devoted a significant chunk of my life so far to Bayonets & Tomahawks. I have designed games since I’m 12 years old (first game was a Star Wars Death Star battle game because none existed when the 1977 movie came out — it even included event cards). Most games I did for my own enjoyment only and that of my gamer friends every time I yearned for a game that didn’t exist on the market.
B&T is the first project where I set out to achieve “published game” quality in the design as well as the components, rulebook, etc. It was my own personal university program of game design, so to speak. I have several other game projects. One at a very advanced stage is a tactical WWII armor game called Pure Steel (my passion for WWII armor is as strong as that for the FIW). So far activation is by chit pulling but I’d like to replace it by a card driven system akin to Combat Commander. Another is a strategic game about the maritime conflict between France and Britain during the American Revolutionary War era. But for now I will continue to focus all my efforts on B&T to bring it to market in the shortest time possible!
I’m very thankful for this opportunity offered by The Players’ Aid to talk in depth about the game and its design process. I hope I was able to convey the essential — covering everything in detail would result in a rules manual instead of an interview. My B&T Biweekly newsletter on InsideGMT is a good way to explore aspects of the game in detail. Vive le Roy! (war cry of French troops)
You are very welcome for the interview and I also wish to thank you for the great insight into your game design and for sharing your passion with us about the history and getting the game right! I know I am excited to have the game in my hands as well and I know that there are many others that are looking forward to it’s release. If you wish to Preorder Bayonets & Tomahawks you can do so at the following link: http://www.gmtgames.com/p-598-bayonets-tomahawks.aspx