Paul Rohrbaugh is a prolific designer that we have done several interviews with over the past few years, mainly because he does such interesting games on more obscure topics that I find very appealing. Last month, I began seeing promo information for his newest upcoming game Price of Honor: The Battle of Callao, May 6, 1866 and had a great interest in how he would design a game that revolves around naval attacks on static defenses, although their is ship to ship combat as well. It just looked very interesting and was also about a topic that I didn’t know much about, so I saw it is a great opportunity to learn something new.
Grant: Paul, thanks again for your time with this interview. What historic event is covered in Price of Honor? Why was Callao significant in the late 19th century?
Paul: During the U.S. Civil War the nations of Bolivia, Peru and Chile formed an alliance to deny Spain, their former colonial master, access to their extensive nitrate deposits. Anti-Spanish riots and atrocities followed, and the Spanish dispatched a squadron of warships, led by their new ironclad battleship Numancia, to demonstrate Spanish resolve and threaten intervention. This was a direct threat to the U.S. government’s Monroe Doctrine, and a squadron of U.S. ironclads was also sent to the region. A Royal Navy Squadron was also dispatched, making this “hot spot” a very interesting, and potentially deadly place.
Grant: What sources did you use to gain information on the units, the tactics of the time, naval doctrine, etc.?
Paul: I’ve long been fascinated by the ironclad/steam era of naval warfare, and have researched long and hard over the years. That said, these are the sources that played a significant role in the design of Price of Honor:
Greene, Jack and Alessandro Massignani. Ironclads at War: The Origin and Development of the Armoured Warship, 1854-1891. Conshohocken, Pennsylvania: Combined Publishing, 1998.
Hill, Richard. War at Sea in the Ironclad Age. London: Cassell and Company, 2000.
Macintyre, Donald and Basil W. Bathe. Man-of-War: A History of the Combat Vessel. Castle Books, New York: 1969.
Warner, William Eugene. Warships of the Chincha Island Wars (1864-1866). San Bernadino, California: William Warner, 2014.
Grant: What role did U.S. and British warships play in the battle?
Paul: Historically, they just stood off and observed. U.S. Commodore John Rodgers and British Admiral Lord Denman were both given rather wide latitude in dealing with the Spanish, and both naval leaders threatened Admiral Nunez with armed intervention should the Spanish attack a defenseless city as they had done earlier at Valparaiso. The intense and sustained Peruvian and Allied defense convinced the U.S. and British that their intervention was not called for.
“The Queen, the Government, the Country and I would rather prefer to have honor without ships, than ships without honor.” –Spanish Admiral Mendez Nuñez to US Commodore John Rodgers and English Admiral Lord Denman before the Spanish attack at Callao.
Grant: Why did you have a desire to design a game on this situation?
Paul: As I mentioned, I’m very interested in naval warfare of the ironclad era. I also very much enjoy the challenge of portraying historical topics in game form that have received little-to-no attention in that format. Most games set in this time focus on the American Civil War. This battle was significant for the countries involved, and was prominent enough at the time that before the much larger battle later that year at Lissa (my game on this battle was published several years ago in Against the Odds Magazine), Austrian Admiral Tegetthof called for his captains to remember the heroism of the South American sailors and gunners at Callao.
Grant: As this game mostly consist of naval units and static defenses, what types of ships are involved? Whose ships tend to be more powerful and what differentiates the two combatant navies?
Paul: There are broadside ironclads (Spanish Numancia and Arapiles, British Shannon, Peruvian Victoria), Turret ironclads (Peruvian Huascar) Steam Frigates, Side wheel gunboats, Steam Gunboats and even a few experimental Chilean submarines (Calderina and Invisible). The Spanish have more powerful warships, but the Allies had formidable and new coastal defenses, as well as two new ironclads on the way (Huascar and Victoria). The U.S. and British warships were also new. In the historical battle, both sides took heavy losses, and both claimed victory (although the very battered Spanish squadron immediately sailed home after making repairs).
Grant: How does the activation system work and why is it a good pairing with this subject? Did you consider any other Activation mechanics?
Paul: I used the same card draw activation system from my Bold Fight (Mobile Bay), Duel of Iron (Hampton Roads) and Thunder Upon the Water (Albemarle Sound that is still in developmental play testing) games. The system is very interactive, easy to learn and teach, and very well received by those who have played the games. If it works, why reinvent the wheel?
Grant: What are the basics of the card draw activation system and what actions can performed with each activation?
Paul: Players draw cards from a standard deck of playing cards to determine who can activate with how many units. Black cards allow the Allied player to activate, red cards for the Spanish player. One unit can activate with odd numbered cards; two with even. A Face card (Jack, Queen or King) allows 3 units to activate. An activated unit can move, attack or attempt to repair damage.
Grant: I know that when a Joker is drawn it triggers a random event. What different events are included and what do they represent historically?
Paul: Random Events cover such things as critical hits on the bridge (bad for activating), lucky hits (confers a favorable DR modifier for the player when an attack is next made), Confusing signals (reduces the Movement capability for the player’s next activation) or Fickle Luck (causes the player with the Fortunes of War to immediately give it to the opponent). This design element is a neat way to introduce some of the chaos of battle, without a lot of rules scripting.
Grant: How does movement work for the ships? Does this represent something from real life naval movement?
Paul: Each naval unit has a movement factor. Units expend movement points to move straight ahead, turn or conduct ramming attacks. Since all of the vessels are steam powered, movement is not very complicated and is not dependent or really heavily affected by wind and weather. However, a naval unit that loses steering (rudder hits), or all of its MP, will ultimately have some “issues” to contend with and may be subject to moving with the tide/current (and possibly onto the rocks or even into a minefield!).
Grant: How does a player perform a ramming attack during movement? What damage does it do?
Paul: Ramming attacks occur when your naval unit moves into a hex with an enemy unit. The attack is resolved via a DR that is modified by such things as the size difference (hull factors) of the two units, their speed, aspect (rammed broadside on is the best way to do damage), and whether the attacking vessel had a ram bow. These can be challenging to accomplish, but they are devastating if done well.
Grant: How do you handle shallow water, grounding, drift and wind in the design?
Paul: Wind is not much of a factor, but the effects of Smoke (from the steam engines and gun smoke from all of the cannons being fired) will accrue during the game. As I mentioned earlier, there is a current present, and naval units that become damaged can be subjected to drift movement. This will, if unchecked, lead most of these stricken vessels being driven into minefields or the shallow water hexes where they can run aground. How do these elements effect steam powered ships vs. side wheel ships? Some of the smaller ships (side wheel gunboats and steam gun boats driven by screws/propellers) have shallower drafts and are less likely to run aground in shallow waters. Side wheelers are also more maneuverable (turn easier) but are also more susceptible to damage (lower hull/defense factors).
Grant: What types of attacks are available to the ships?
Paul: Gunnery (Fire) and Ramming are the two forms of combat. Mine fields are also present, and those can literally cause a ship to be blown out of the water.
Grant: Speaking of mines, how are they placed and what effect do they have?
Paul: Mines are placed during set up. Some are “dummy” and have no effect, while others are weak (0 factor) or of variable effectiveness (1 to 4 factors). The mine markers are chosen at random and set up on the map without either player knowing what strength/effectiveness the individual mine marker has. Historically, these were rather problematic and not all worked as planned. I think the minefield rule captures the historical performance of these weapons but still leaves the game easy to learn and also well suited to solitaire play.
Grant: How does the Allied player fight with their turrets and land batteries?
Paul: The land batteries and turreted forts are much like land-bound ironclads. The quote “No sailor but a fool fights a fortress” is well suited here. The Spanish player will have a tough time in this battle, and will likely not come away unscathed.
Grant: Can damage be repaired by both sides? How does this work?
Paul: Instead of activating for movement or combat, a naval unit or fort/battery can instead attempt to repair a level of damage (remove a hit marker) by a DR check. This can be modified by -1 if the player has the Fortunes of War. If the DR is less than or equal to the unit’s Protection/Defense Factor, then the hit is removed; if not the hit remains and the activation is essentially wasted.
Grant: How are submarines used and what advantage do they give?
Paul: Submarines are basically fancy minefields. The owning player can set these up as desired, and unlike a minefield, the player does know it can attack an enemy unit if it enters the hex (unlike a minefield that could be a dummy or very weak). These were very crude vessels (not unlike the Hunley) and are easily lost even with a successful attack. The Spanish player gets VP if the Allied player deploys them here, so they need to be used well and effectively by the Allied player to make them worth using.
“The damages caused to Callao are barely noticeable. The [Peruvian] batteries occupied the [Spanish] squadron so much that there was no time to bombard the city.” In fact, after the battle, the hyped up and surprising situation was so big that American and British troops witnessing the battle joined the cheers of “Viva el Perú!” – May 3rd eyewitness account by U.S. citizen T.H. Nelson.
Grant: How do critical hits work and what effect do they have on units?
Paul: Critical hits occur whenever an attack’s DR result is double or more than the target’s Protection/Defense Factor. These range from bridge, propulsion and rudder hits, to potentially catastrophic fires on board the stricken vessel. Again, these usually take a repair activation to address, and cannot be ignored by the owning player.
Grant: Earlier you mentioned the Fortunes of War. What is this and how does it work? How is it lost or used?
Paul: The Fortunes of War can confer an additional activation with any card draw, favorable DR modifiers for attacks and repair actions, or allow a player to draw another card or make another die roll. As soon as any of these are used then the Fortunes of War is given to the opponent. It is possible for a player who has the FoW to not use it, thereby denying it to the opponent (unless, that is, a Random Event undoes that gambit!).
Grant: What is Allied Honor and how is it tied to the Fortunes of War? Why did this make sense in the design historically?
Paul: Until the Spanish player relinquishes the FoW, Allied ships are required to attempt a ramming attack against Spanish ships. Historically this was the order given to the Allied captains, and by and large these ramming attacks did not go well for the Allies.
Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters? Can you show us a few close-up pictures of a few of the units?
Paul: Here is a look at the counter sheet showing the various ships, hit markers and other administrative counters used in the game.
Grant: What does the map look like and who is the artist?
Paul: Bruce Yearian did the graphics for the game and card set. The map mostly consist of water hexes (colored blue) with shallow areas designated by darker blue coloring. The forts and static defenses occupy the land hexes of the point that comes out into the water hexes. Pretty simple map that is functional.
Grant: How do players win the game?
Paul: The Allied player wins an automatic victory by inflicting so much damage on the Spanish warships that they have to give up their blockade (sink or cripple at least 6 Spanish Warships). The Spanish can win an automatic victory by destroying either all Allied warships or all Allied forts/land batteries. This is very hard to do for both players, but not impossible. If, however, neither player can claim an automatic win then the winner is determined by who has the most victory points (VP). VP are given for sinking/destroying enemy ships, forts, land batteries, as well as un-repaired hits on enemy units at the end of the last turn.
Grant: What variant scenarios or rules are included and why did you feel the need to add them?
Paul: Allied submarines were already mentioned. The two Peruvian ironclads, Huascar and Victoria are also variants. Those two warships were on the way, but did not arrive until several days later, after the fighting was nearly concluded. Also, both ships’ weapons were not tested, so there is a variant rule to cover the potential of catastrophic failure of their cannon during battle if they are here (it happened!). I also have included the Spanish Broadside Ironclad Arapiles in the game as a “what if”. That warship could have been included in the Spanish squadron. The intervention of the U.S. and/or British squadrons are also covered as “what if” variants.
Grant: What is the schedule for the game?
Paul: The game will be released, and its card set for those who’d like it as well, on May 1st.
Thank you Paul for the look at this very interesting game on the Battle of Callao. I always learn something from your designs and am grateful to your commitment to sharing history through your games.
If you are interested in a copy of the game, you can obtain one at the following link: http://www.hfdgames.com/callao.html
In case you are interested, here are links to several of the other interviews that we have done with Paul covering games on a multitude of topics: