Earlier this month in our Wargame Watch segment, I highlighted two smaller games from High Flying Dice Games including Kekionga!: A Dark and Bloody Battleground, 1790 and St. Clair’s Folly: The Battle of the Wabash River, 1791. Both of these games focus on early battles between US forces and various Native American tribes in the area of the Old Northwest Territory, which includes the present day states of Ohio, Indiana (my home), Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. This war was characterized by massacres and atrocities, which seemed to follow one upon the other, and in 1790 the new US Government authorized its first war against the Native Americans for control of the region. The first of these battles at Kekionga included a force of US Regulars and Militia raised from Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania which gathered at Cincinnati and drove on the Miami’s main settlement. The resulting fight was a horrendous defeat of the US force, and ushered in a new and more violent phase of this struggle. I appreciate the fact that Paul Rohrbaugh is interested in this time period in our early American history and has devoted his time to bringing it to life for us and I also am grateful that he has taken the time to answer my questions about the games.
Grant: First off, why have you embarked on the journey of creating these Battles of the Old Northwest Series games? What is it about the period that draws you in?
Paul: I got into this period of history when I started taking history courses at Youngstown State University. I became increasingly fascinated with how much history took place, and all aspects, in and around Ohio and near where I grew up.
Grant: What battle does Kekionga!: A Dark and Bloody Battleground cover? What sources did you consult for the background behind the game?
Paul: Kekionga was the main settlement of the Miami nation that dominated much of the Ohio and Indiana territories of the Old Northwest. Taking and destroying this area was a key “first step” by the US in wresting control from the native inhabitants. The Miami and Shawnee, realizing this, actually used the US ambition against them by luring first Harmer’s and later St. Clair’s armies into ambushes as they marched on Kekionga. There are some sources I used listed in the game’s bibliography, but for those who want to learn more I urge them to look up my article and game A Dark and Bloody Ground published in issue #7 of Against the Odds that has the “big picture” view and history of the campaign in which this and many other games in the Battle of the Old Northwest Series are set.
Grant: What does the title have to do with the game and why did you use it?
Paul: It is a play on the first game and article I had published in ATO (see above answer), as well as a tribute to Alan Eckhart’s excellent book, A Dark and Bloody River, that chronicles the war for the Old Northwest Territory.
Grant: What were the unique challenges presented to you in designing Kekionga!: A Dark and Bloody Battleground?
Paul: The OOB for the Native American forces is up to a lot of conjecture, and I will admit that these games have a fair degree of “design for effect” in terms of the number and types of units for the Native American player. However, there is an increasing amount of interest, research and publication in this era of history, so there is much more available on all of this currently than there was even just 20 years ago.
Grant: What existing games on the subject did you use for inspiration?
Paul: There are very, very few games out there. My game, A Dark and Bloody Ground was the first game of any kind about the 1790-1795 war in the Old Northwest, and until John Poniske’s game that was recently published Blood on the Ohio from Compass Games was the only work done in game terms on this topic. The design of the game uses the card draw design that I first created for my line of postcard “Pocket Battle” games for Against the Odds Magazine and I’ve since further developed for larger works.
Grant: How do the activations work in the design? What can players do with each activation?
Paul: Players draw cards from a standard deck of playing cards (1 through 10 and the two Jokers). The red cards and one Joker are used by the Native American player; the black cards and other Joker by the US. Similar to the old game of “War”, players draw a card from their deck and the one with the highest card gets to activate a number of units equal to the card number. Activated units can move, attack (fire or assault), move and assault attack if cavalry, or rally. When the first Joker card is drawn a random event check is made; the second time it comes up the turn is over.
Grant: Who is your artist for the map and counters? They are really a unique style that I haven’t seen used in any other wargames and really like them.
Paul: Nils Johansson is the graphic artist. Indeed they are nice! Nils “day job” is artistic director for Prada (yes, that Prada!) for all of Asia. He lives in Hong Kong. One of the things I’m quite proud of with High Flying Dice Games is giving people a chance to break into the board war game field, whether it is in design, play testing or graphics. Shortly after High Flying Dice Games got started Nils purchased some of our games. He then emailed me asking if he could do the graphics on some future releases as he was very impressed with how innovative the games were that he purchased. His first game was Breaking Into Valhalla, followed by City of Confusion. He is obviously very busy and only has limited time for game work, but he is definitely worth any wait.
Grant: What do you think the art adds to the gaming experience?
Paul: Graphics add a lot to any game. Most of us are in this because we are visual as well as kin-esthetic learners. Having games that look good as well as play well are vital elements to success with customers.
Grant: In these type of obscure historical games, how do you go about creating the OOBs and assigning values to the various units? Was this challenging?
Paul: Research and play testing are key. Some may find these challenging, but I enjoy both and am very patient. Most games take 4 to 7 years from research, to first draft to final graphics. I have no deadlines with any game; whatever time it takes, that is what it will entail. Some designers don’t like that and have shied away, but that is the way we roll.
Grant: What is the anatomy of a counter? Are there differences between the US and Native American counters?
Paul: Units have a combat (left) and movement (right) factor. Leaders also have a command rating. Graphics denote what type of unit it is (Regular or Militia infantry, Rifle-armed infantry, Dragoons/Cavalry, Warriors, Leaders and for a few of the games, Artillery). Units also have historical IDs. For Native American units this is the nation/tribe they were recruited from. For US units these are the regiments (Regulars) or state (Militia). Leaders include named individuals and their retinues.
Grant: What are the differences between Militia and Regulars?
Paul: In game terms it is mostly just historical formation/ID. Stacking is mostly by formation, so in some games, these different unit types may have issues stacking and/or attacking together. However, several Kentucky militia units are armed with rifles, and as such these units do have enhanced ranged fire combat abilities.
Grant: How does the combat system work? What are the various DRMs used?
Paul: Units can perform either fire or assault combat. One represents units standing off and trading musket, arrow or other forms of missile combat, while assault combat is getting in close for bayonet, hand-to-hand and other forms of close order mayhem. DR modifiers exist for terrain and the presence of leaders, range (Fire) and morale (Assault). Units can become either disrupted, routed or reduced.
Grant: What are the effects of disrupted and routed? How can units overcome these conditions?
Paul: Units that are disrupted suffer adverse effects in Fire and Assault Combats, but can still launch them. Routed units are pretty useless until rallied, cannot attack at all, and can only be moved at the end of a turn towards a friendly map edge (and if they move off the map are out of the game). Units can rally at the end of the turn when all Disrupted markers automatically are removed, or if routed and stacked with a leader can attempt to recover to Disrupted status. Units can also attempt to rally when activated earlier in the turn.
Grant: What role does Morale Level play in the game?
Paul: This is crucial. Units can only rally if the owning player rolls less than or equal to the Morale Level. If this is low it will be harder to maintain your force level throughout and win the game. Players will quickly focus on how to best lower the opponent’s ML and preserving/increasing one’s own to win the game.
Grant: How is Morale Level increased or decreased? What are Morale Level’s effects on units?
Paul: Simply from eliminating enemy units, leaders, and capturing key objectives figure prominently in most of the games. Other things like the arrival of reinforcements or some random events (good or bad omens for example) also play a role in some of the games. Morale Level mostly affects unit’s ability to rally, but in Assault Combat if a player’s ML is double or more than the opponent’s there is a good DR modifier (as the enemy will increasingly run away instead of staying around to fight).
Grant: What random events are included in the game and what triggers them?
Paul: The first time the Joker card turns up in one of the draws, a random event check will be triggered. Then a die is rolled and the Random Events table is consulted. These conditions are either one use benefits or can affect actions for the entire round.
Grant: Why do you feel Random Events are important to the design?
Paul: This is a good device for introducing “fate” and other random incidents that played a role, or could have done, in the historical event. As a designer, one doesn’t want to “script” the action, but you do want players to be aware of the history.
Grant: What specific historical leaders are represented in the game?
Paul: Mostly these are the important leaders (Generals, Chiefs, as well as heroes) of the battles. For the Native Americans this includes Little Turtle and Blue Jacket and for the Americans, Hall, Wyllys and McMillon.
Grant: How do Native American Reinforcements work?
Paul: That all depends on the individual game. Some are determined by the historical timeline, others by variant “what ifs”, and others by DR checks made during or after set up. In Kekionga!: A Dark and Bloody Battleground, a die is rolled and the process to the right is followed.
Grant: How do players win the game?
Paul: Simple, by earning more victory points (VP) than their opponent. VPs are earned by eliminating enemy units, capturing and holding objective hex(es) on the map, or in some games, reducing an opponent’s Morale Level to 0.
Grant: How long do typical games of Kekionga!: A Dark and Bloody Battleground last?
Paul: Most games last 90 to 120 minutes.
Grant: What optional rules are included with the design?
Paul: Each game in the series has its own unique optional rules to cover various “what ifs” of that battle. Some may be additional units, variable set ups, or optional rules that deal with entrenchments, variable reinforcements or leaders showing up. In Kekionga!: A Dark and Bloody Battleground, there are Optional Rules covering Native American Retreat Before Combat as well as a variant Reinforcement schedule.
Grant: I’m glad you referred to the variant Reinforcement schedule as it involves a character that I am interested in knowing a little more about. Who is the historical character Blue Jacket?
Paul: Blue Jacket, also known as Weyapiersenwah, was a famous Shawnee Chief. He was militantly opposed to the US encroachment on his Nation’s lands in Ohio and the Northwest Territory, and a formidable opponent.
Grant: What are the basic strategies for each side?
Paul: In most games, the Native American player will start with Surprise that enhances their Warrior units’ Combat Factors in assault combat, and/or give them an additional activation with each winning card draw. The US player usually wants to fight out in the open and use Fire Combat to “soften up” the enemy before engaging in, if at all, Assault Combat. Advances by the US should be methodical and coordinated, but terrain and time may not always permit that.
Grant: Who has the advantage in the game?
Paul: In both Kekionga!: A Dark and Bloody Battleground and St. Clair’s Folly the Native American player starts in the best position, but in neither of these games can that player take anything for granted. Both games are balanced with about a 55/45 bias in favor of the Native American side in terms of overall wins.
Grant: What other games are you working on for inclusion in the Battles of the Old Northwest Series? When do you think they will be ready for purchase?
Paul: Other games in the series are on the battles of Fallen Timbers, Tippecanoe, River Raisin and the Thames. When they are ready all depends on the play testing (which is going well) and when Nils can do the graphics. I anticipate that late 2018 to early 2019 would be the best “window of opportunity”Thanks for your time and the great answers regarding the game Paul. I am truly looking forward to getting my hands on this game as well as it’s follow-up St. Clair’s Folly: The Battle of the Wabash River, 1791. We will be posting our interview with Paul covering St. Clair’s Folly on Monday, October 23rd.
If you are interested, you can order a copy of Kekionga!: A Dark and Bloody Battleground, 1790 from High Flying Dice Games at the following link for $11.95: http://www.hfdgames.com/dabb.html If you want mounted counters, you will have to add $5.00 but that is still a really good deal for the art alone.