John Poniske is a great designer, as well as a first class individual, who recently has put out some very interesting games including Revolution Road from Compass Games and a few others to be released in late 2017 like The Berlin Airlift from Legion Wargames. I am very interested in the Revolutionary War, as well as the development and growth of our country, and have taken an interest in another of his upcoming titles Blood on the Ohio The Northwest Indian War 1789-1974 from Compass Games. This is now the third interview that I have done with John and I appreciate his time and the answers that he gives me. With that, here is our interview:
Grant: John, thanks for agreeing to talk to me about another project you are working on. What is Blood on the Ohio The Northwest Indian War 1789-1794 about?
John: Blood on the Ohio (or BOO) is about the contentious European settling of the Ohio region and the bloodletting it caused. Washington’s young republic and its tiny overconfident army faced its first war following the end of the Revolutionary War.
Grant: I have long been a fan of anything related to the Revolutionary War and the continental period of American history. Why did you want to design a game around this period?
John: Why game it? The situation had so many interesting similarities to my King Philip’s War design and I had a number of requests to follow up KPW with another Native American conflict, so I started by using and expanding the same rules set.
Grant: What challenges were there in designing this game? What other games in the genre did you use for inspiration?
John: The primary challenge was developing a map that accurately depicted the major rivers and closely approximated tribal boundaries. This was not easy as there were plenty of historical maps to refer to but few of them agreed on all aspects. The key forts (Washington and Harmar) have each been moved three times. As I said, I started with the core rules of MMP’s King Philip’s War but expanded on them. I also studied Paul Rohrbaugh’s ATO Dark and Bloody Ground, which covers basically the same conflict over the same time period. I was actually well underway with BOO before I became familiar with Paul’s design.
Grant: What historical sources did you refer to when designing the game?
John: There were lots of sources, both printed and from the internet. They included Bayonets in the Wilderness by Alan D. Gaff, Little Turtle, The Great Chief of the Miami Indian Nation by Calvin M. Young, President Washington’s Indian War by Wiley Sword, Victory with No Name by Colin G. Calloway, Warrior Nations by Roger L. Nichols and Wabash 1791, St. Clair’s Defeat by John F. Winkler.
Grant: The map is nice looking and actually covers a large area of the Midwestern states or Northwest Territory, including parts of Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Michigan. How did you decide on the limits of this area?
John: This was the majority of what was then considered the Northwest Territory. Although this region stretched into what is now Illinois and the territory of the Indian nations involved stretched further to the west and the north, operations were concentrated in the area now known as Ohio and Indiana. Who is the artist? My good and talented friend, Bill Morgal who has now assisted me on many projects and actually created the vassal version for BOO as well as for many of my other designs.
Grant: How does this map help you tell the narrative of this time in early American history?
John: First of all, it impresses on the players the importance of the Ohio River as a colonial boundary and as the primary wilderness highway, but also the reliance on the many other minor rivers as well. It is also evident that it served as the natural boundary between the Indian nations involved and the European settler invasion. It also reveals the variety of Indian cultures involved and the strength and dominance of the allied Miami and Shawnee Nations.
Grant: I noticed that the design uses Point to Point movement and that other designs covering this period have as well. What is it about Point to Point that fits with this period and what aspect of colonial warfare does it replicate well?
John: Because I wanted to emulate the King Philip’s War approach I never considered Area movement or Hex movement. Point to Point allows for limited choice of paths and affords excellent opportunity for ambushing and settlement expansion.
Grant: How do you use the historical expeditions in the design? What purpose do the Expedition Squares play? How does the Expedition Check work and what is the outcome of this check?
John: This conflict involved a number of minor skirmishes and three major expeditions. My design, as well as Paul’s, focuses on three expeditions: Harmar’s, St. Clair’s, and Wayne’s. As for the Expedition Check, when the US casualties mount they are indicated by a VP marker moving along the VP track toward and across Expedition Retires and Expedition Enters Boxes. In other words, Indian success spells the defeat of each expedition in turn and the entry of each new expedition in its stead.
Grant: I like how you included historical battle sites on the map. Do they serve a purpose in the game? Which of the battles are you most interested in?
John: The historical battles shown on the map serve no real purpose, other than to provide additional reference to the players and highlight key historical events. My favorite event is the The Battle of Fallen Timbers in Northern Ohio, as my accidental visit to this historic site helped launch this design. The battle also carries with it a number of curious aspects that, given slight historical changes, might well have turned out quite differently for General Wayne.
Grant: What different units are included amongst the counters?
John: Indian counters include: Key Indian Leaders, subordinate leaders, warriors, Primary villages and common villages – these are representative of the 10 main Native American Nations involved. The U.S. counters include: Key Expedition Leaders, subordinate leaders, Regular Infantry, Regular Cavalry, Regular Artillery, Indian Scouts, Militia Infantry, Militia Cavalry, Forts and settlements.
Grant: What is the difference between Key Leader units and Subordinate Leader units? What is the story of Simon Girty, as I noticed he has his own unique counter?
John: Key leaders allow for the movement of a greater concentration of troops. Subordinate leaders allow the movement of a lesser concentration of troops. Troops without a leader may still move and concentrate but at a much slower rate. Ah, Mr. Girty. Here is a historical personality worthy of study. Girty was a Scots-Irish frontiersman born in Pennsylvania. His father had been killed by Indians. As a teenager during the French and Indian War he was captured by the French and held captive and raised by the Seneca Tribe. He was later freed by the British with whom he worked as an interpreter and later helped them negotiate treaties. He supported the colonials during the Revolution until he was wrongly accused of treason. After that he went over to the British where he remained for the duration of the war, supporting the British aim of halting American settlement of the Ohio region. He became well known for his brutality and his acceptance of torture. American authorities put a price on his head. He was respected among the Indians and led many war parties on behalf of the British and the Seneca. He is known to have participated in St. Clair’s defeat. I couldn’t leave out Mr. Girty!
Grant: How are artillery units handled differently from other units?
John: Artillery does not actually cause casualties, what it does is offer shock value. Prior to any battle with a US force containing artillery, the Indian player must roll a die to see how many, if any, of his warriors shy away from the fight. Artillery cannot be destroyed but can be lost in a retreat. When this happens, the US player may at a later time search for and reemploy the unit if he finds it.
Grant: What are the differences between Fort and Settlement markers and how are they used?
John: There are two integral forts on the map, Forts Washington and Harmar. These may be attacked and damaged but not destroyed. In addition, as the game progresses the US player may build additional three step forts allowing him a freer hand in Indian territory, additional strong protection against attack and additional shelter during Winter resettlement. Building and razing settlements is what the game is all about. The encroaching European settlements were what historically caused a rise in Indian raiding which in turn led to the three successive expeditions against them. There are a number of fixed settlements on the map already, most to the south and east of the Ohio – where they were supposed to be. Earl in the design, the U.S. player would gain VPs for building additional two step settlements North and West of the Ohio but this has since been removed for balancing reasons. These settlements do however afford some protection from attack and some shelter during winter resettlement.
Grant: I want to know how the game is played so what is the Turn Sequence?
- SPECIAL ACTIONS
- MOVE and COMBAT – U.S. player
- MOVE and COMBAT – Indian player
- ADVANCE SEGMENT TRACK MARKER
- REPEAT Steps 1-4 then advance Segment Track marker
- REPEAT Steps 1-4 then follow Turn End instructions
- TURN END:
- If ending a Fall/Winter turn, CONDUCT Winter Quartering;
- Roll for Wounded Leaders;
- Reset Special Action Markers;
- Reset Turn Segment Markers;
- Advance Turn Marker.
Grant: How are Special Actions used and how are they gained? What actions can be taken in a round?
John: Each scenario awards a different set of Special Actions to each player. In the first scenario, the Indians have an edge. In the second scenario, each side as an equal number of Special Actions. In the final scenario, the US player has an edge. Each side has a Special Actions menu to choose from (these are listed on the player’s player aid sheet) The US faction may: Recruit Off-Map Troops, Make Treaties, Build a Fort, Build a Settlement, Repair a Building, Search for Raiders, Search for Lost Artillery, or Save an Action into the next turn. The Indian faction may: Recruit On-Map Warriors, Treat with Non-Allied Nations, Harass US Building Efforts, Raid US Settlements, Allow Warriors to Make Strategic Moves between villages or Save an Action into the next turn.
Grant: How are treaties signed and what benefit do they give both sides? How are they broken and what are the effects?
John: The US player may attempt to force a treaty on an active hostile nation by simply occupying its primary village. Once done, that nation’s Leaders and Warriors are removed from the map, however, they could return if any battles take place within the treaty territory. Once a treaty is broken, that nation will no longer make peace with the U.S. player.
Grant: How do Indian Raids work?
John: This is my favorite aspect of the game. It is an Indian Special Action. Any settlement can be targeted, whether integral to the map or a newly built settlement. The presence of warrior units is not even needed. This represents the various unexpected war bands raiding far and wide across the region. The process: 1) Choose a settlement. 2) Draw a raid chit. 3) Apply the result. There are four possible results: Success, Partial Success, Called off, and Defeated. As the game progresses, it becomes increasingly more difficult for the Indian player to raid successfully. In addition, a successful raid ends settlement building. A defeated raid ends raiding. The US search option reduces the odds of Indian success.
Grant: Why do Raids only score 1/2 VP?
John: That’s easy – we wanted to slow down the accumulation of points which lead to the defeat of expeditions as well as the removal of hostile nations. Using whole points ended the scenarios too quickly.
Grant: How does Strategic Movement work and how is it best used by the Indian player?
John: The Indian Player may spend a Special Action to transfer one warrior unit (healthy or damaged) and one chief (if in the same location) between two villages in the same nation or between allied nations. This may not take place if enemy FPs occupy one of the village spaces being used. It is best used in an instance where a nation’s principal village is being threatened and that nation no longer has reinforcements to bring in.
Grant: How are rivers used for movement? What restrictions are placed on this movement and why?
John: We felt that preparing for river movement took time and preparation, whereas leaving the river, exiting boats, took no time at all. So, it costs double to enter a river space and nothing to leave it. We also felt that since a turn lasts 2 to 2 & 1/2 months, it made no sense to allow units to remain afloat.
Armies Moving on or Crossing a River Space A force of any size may enter and cross any river. Units may not end their movement on a river space. The first river space entered on each new river costs 2MPs. Once a river is entered, exiting to the other side costs nothing. Note that moving onto the first river space is not considered traveling on a river.
Moving on River Spaces: A force traveling along river spaces depends on the player and the river. Any force, accompanied by a leader or not, may travel a total of 6MPs. The U.S. player may embark and move an army of up to 16FPs along the Ohio River. Indian movement along the Ohio River is limited to 8 FPs. No more than 8FPs may embark from any one space to travel along any other river. Each river space after the initial space costs 1MP. It costs nothing to move back to a land space and units traveling by river must exit the river at the end of their movement. Any number of leaders may be freely added to a force traveling by river. Units may attack a land space from the water but do so subtracting -2 from their FP total.
Grant: How is supply handled and how are Winter Quarters used?
John: Historically, supply was critical and led to the defeat of the first two expeditions. Supply has multiple uses. First, it may be used to absorb hits in battle. Second, it is necessary to build a fort. Third, it may be used to support troops at an extended distance from an established fort – without which U.S. units out of supply would lose half of their printed strength. Winter Quarters are determined only after supply attrition is determined. Winter Quarters requires that all troops and their leaders in the field, including warriors and their leaders, retire to their faction’s structures. Indians are always able to shelter all their warriors. The U.S. player often has to withdraw troops for which he has no shelter.
Here are some excerpts from the rules to clarify the point.
Indian: All Indian units return to their respective villages, 2FPs per village. Excess units are moved to the nation’s Principal Village if it has not been destroyed. If it has been destroyed, excess units are removed to the VP track as reinforcements. Principal villages have no stacking limit. Off-map Nations may return to any principal village remaining in the coalition, one off map Nation per Principal village.
U.S.: This is an opportunity for the U.S. player to redistribute forces regardless of distance. Each fort will support up to 6 Regular FPs. Any excess regular FPs are removed to the U.S. player’s reinforcement cup. There is no VP loss for their removal and damaged units removed from the map will be able to return as healthy units. Settlements will not house regular units. Half of the current Militia FPs on the map (rounded down) are removed to the militia reinforcement cup. The remaining Militia may winter in forts according to the scenario instructions and in settlements according to the U.S. player’s discretion. Each settlement will support 2 Militia FPs. Note: It is important for the U.S. player to plan on building additional forts and settlements to improve his supply and support position.
Grant: How is combat handled? What roles does the Event die play and what type of events are incurred?
John: Here is an excerpt from the rules on Combat:
Combat Action Steps
- OVER-RUN – If the attacker is five times the strength of the defender he may not be ambushed and the attacker need not stop when moving adjacent to the defender. He may simply move through and destroy the village or force. To do so the force subtracts one FP then continues moving up to its allowable MPs.
- DECLARATION – Indicate the attacking and defending forces.
- SCOUT LOYALTY – Roll for each scout present. 3-6 – +1FP, 2 – 0FPs and runs, 1 – -1FP and then runs after combat. MILITIA MORALE – Roll a die to see how many militia units participate. A roll of “6” means all participate.
- ARTILLERY – Indian player makes a courage roll if the U.S. force contains artillery. A roll of “5-6” means the Indians ignore the artillery and all FPs participate, otherwise, the number rolled is the number of Indian FPs that will not participate in the battle. Reduce the non-participating FPs by one if any Indian leader is present.
- DEFENDER’S OPTION TO RETREAT OR AMBUSH BEFORE BATTLE
- RETREAT: Roll a die; Leader or Scout adds his tactical ability. A modified 5-6 allows retreat. Place failed Retreat marker on the force if the attempt fails. A failed retreat subtracts 1FP from the force and affects its overrun status. Remove the Failed Retreat marker after the battle.
- AMBUSH: roll one D6 and the Event die. Delay cancels the ambush (In this case, no other Event effect is possible) If ambush takes place refer to the CRT Ambush column. A two FP loss ends movement of the ambushed force.
- COMBAT DICE – Simultaneous combat. Attacker rolls three dice. The white die is always considered first as it may cancel the battle. U.S. casualties are indicated by the green die. Indian casualties are indicated by the blue die. The side possessing the higher cumulative tactical rating may opt to reroll the event die or add +1 to the combat die roll.
- EVENT – The Event die offers five combat situations.
- Battle takes place normally.
- Battle takes place normally.
- Delay – No battle takes place.
- Both sides may reinforce battle with one (entire) stack within three movement points of the battle
- U.S. Confusion – 2 U.S. force points do not participate.
- Indian Confusion – 2 Indian force points do not participate.
6. COMBAT STRENGTH – If combat takes place, Determine total FP strength on both sides.
7. CASUALTIES – Consult the combat result chart below for both combat dice. Casualties are chosen by the owning player and removed. Each point lost is a combat step. Except during an ambush, the first US casualty is always a Regular FP; Militia FPs that did not participate may have casualties drawn from them. Village, settlement, fort, leader and supply steps may also be removed as FP casualties. Add ½ VP for each FP casualty caused to your opponent.
8. RETREAT – Side losing the most FPs retreats one space. Defender wins ties.
Grant: Please show us the CRT. Why did you design the elements like Force Points and Ambush into the CRT? Who typically has the upper hand in the CRT results? How are they modified or mitigated?
|Die||Force Points (FPs)
(Results indicate enemy casualties)
|1||0||0||0||1||1||1||2||2||Fail, -1/2 VP|
|6||1||2||2||3||3||4||4||5||2 Ends Movement|
Force points is simply another way of saying strength points. The ambush section is not actually a part of the overall CRT but a separate CRT used when ambushing one or more units.
Grant: How does siege work?
John: When an Indian or U.S. force ends its movement after combat on an enemy structure a siege marker is placed on the stack. Defending units cannot move out of a besieged structure until the enemy force has moved or has been destroyed. Friendly units may not enter a besieged structure. If the besieging force is attacked by a relieving force the besieged force may not lend its combat value to the battle but may attack out separately. If the relieving force loses the battle it cannot then join the besieged force. Units inside the structure may attack out but in doing so abandon the protective value of the structure they are leaving. If the besieged force loses the breakout battle it returns to the protection of the structure.
Grant: How does artillery function? How does artillery become abandoned?
John: I previously explained some of this but did not cover how artillery is lost. A retreating U.S. force containing artillery must roll a die. On a roll of 6, the artillery is flipped to its lost side and it remains in the space the force retreated from. The Indian player cannot find and use the unit, however, at a later time the US player may use a Special Action in an attempt to find it and flip it back to its useful side again. Historically, this did happen during the conflict.
Grant: How do Scouts work? Why did you need to include the Scout Loyalty step in the Sequence?
John: I consider scouts another wonderfully unique aspect to BOO. During the conflict, enemy nations, largely nations south of the Ohio region, provided warriors who acted as guides to U.S. troops. These men were highly useful not only as guides but as interpreters and cultural instructors. In the game, they lessen the devastating effect of hostile ambushes and also allow the U.S. force to which they are attached to move an extra space. However, historically their loyalty was always suspect. This was at times for good reason but more often than not born of cultural mistrust. For this reason, prior to any battle involving one or more guides, a fickleness die is rolled. A result of “1” means the scout turns traitor and betrays the U.S. force which enters battle at -1 FP. The counter returns to the U.S. Reinforcement cup and may be drawn again. A result of “2” means the scout simply abandons the force and runs away. The counter returns to the U.S. Reinforcement cup and may be drawn again. A result of “3-6” means the scout remains loyal and adds +1 FP to the U.S. force during the battle.
Grant: What scenarios are included in the game? What is each scenario’s play time? Which one is your favorite and why?
John: The game has four scenarios, one to fit each of the individual historical campaigns (Harmar’s Campaign, St. Clair’s Campaign and Wayne’s Campaign) and one covering the entire war. Each lasts approximately 2-2 1/2 hours. The Entire war can be plaEach lasts approximately 2-2.5 hours. The Entire war can be played in about 4 1/2 hours once the rules are fully understood. In addition, we recently added a series of short training scenarios that build on each other and gradually introduce players to the rules. The campaign I am partial to? I guess that would be St. Clair’s campaign. It is more balanced. It has more emphasis on fort building and supply use. It introduces U.S. Scouts and affords the Indians a better chance to expand their coalition and make better use of British muskets. Historically, it ended in the single biggest disaster for the U.S. army in any Native American conflict in which St. Clair lost over 1,000 casualties and was very nearly cashiered.
Grant: What are the victory conditions? What is important for each side to keep in mind as they play the game regarding these conditions?
John: BOO victory is based on point accumulation. The players earn points as follows:
+ 1/2 WC VP when a settlement is razed
– 1/2 WC VP when a village is razed (not relocated)
– 1/2 WC VP if a raid results in failure
+ 1/2 WC VP for each fort step lost
– 1/2 WC VP for each fort step repaired
– 1/2 VP for ambusher if it is a catastrophic failure
+ 1/2 VP for the victor of a combat
+ 1/2 VP when inflicting more than 3 casualties in a combat
A scenario ends when an expedition leaves the board. In the case of the final scenario or when playing the entire war, the game ends when either player earns 30 points. Our new introductory scenario begins with specific victory objectives but gradually eases into the VP system.
Grant: I really enjoyed reading the Designer’s Notes. Care to share with us the trouble encountered with King Phillip’s War and whether you were worried with this games design?
John: Nearly 12 years ago, I entered into the design of King Philip’s War, an all but forgotten Native American conflict in New England, with the express purpose of shedding light on an extremely interesting, bloody, and influential period in our national history. I unwittingly stumbled into a hornet’s nest. Native-American activists in Connecticut and Rhode Island seized on the design as a cause celebre casting doubt on my intentions and declaring this just one more instance of casting Native-Americans as savages. For months, the sponsoring publisher (MMP), the design and myself were castigated in the media across the nation. Native-Americans joined together on Facebook to ban the game. Gamers rallied to my side, and for what it’s worth, our little hobby got A LOT of mixed press. An international news organization picked up the story and I saw press releases from as far away as Singapore and Myanmar. To say the least, I was stunned! The Broohaha died down after the leading activist and I met and discussed our views on a Rhode Island radio talk show. Once the game was published, not another word was said about it. Am I worried about another major crisis over BOO? – I can only hope. The rancor over KPW caused it to be published a year early and in the end it boosted my reputation as a designer. But, no, I think that situation was a fluke. It just so happened that I chose a conflict in a geographic area where there was already Native-American sentiment smoldering. I don’t expect lightning to strike twice.
Grant: What have players said about the play experience? What do you hope that they take away from Blood on the Ohio?
John: So far the responses have been pretty good. I will say that one individual has backed out of playtesting because he had expected it to be a more detailed design higher up on the difficulty spectrum. That’s fine. I believe we have accomplished what we set out to do – create a relatively simple design that is easy to learn, easy to play, plays relatively quickly and is steeped in history. My goal is always to help make history more accessible.
Grant: What is the timeline for the game’s release?
John: Well, Compass Games would like us to move on it even faster than we already are. I believe they plan on a Spring 2018 release.
Grant: What is left to do in the play testing phase?
John: Playtest the hell out of the training scenarios, as well as the final scenario, which to date, has had little attention. We will be concentrating on play balance. I would also like to pass the rules and the map past a couple of Ohio historians to double-check my facts.
Grant: What has changed throughout the play testing process? Please give some specific examples.
John: So much has changed, but as I said earlier, the map itself has been the biggest headache and I think that Bill has really helped it coalesce. A couple other things that have seen evolutionary development are the building and employment of forts and riverine movement, both historically important and difficult to work into a design on the low end of the complexity scale.
Grant: What are you most proud of in the design?
John: That people like you and publishers like Compass give me voice to talk about forgotten aspects of history. I love history – I mean, I LOVE history, and the excitement I feel over the aspect of helping others discover the lesser known aspects of history is what keeps me in the design biz.
Thanks for your time and answers John. We look forward the game, as well as other projects that I know you are working on. If you are interested in pre-ordering Blood on the Ohio The Northwest Indian War 1789-1794, here is the link on the Compass Games page: https://www.compassgames.com/preorders/blood-on-the-ohio-the-northwest-indian-war-1789-1794.html