At the end of 2017, we 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 in our Monthly Wargame Watch feature. We also played and reviewed Kekionga which was a great time! 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.
I appreciate the fact that Paul Rohrbaugh with High Flying Dice Games is interested in this time period in our early American history and has devoted his time to bringing it to life for us with this continuing series of small format folio wargames in the Battles of the Old Northwest Territory Series. The next game in the series Walking a Bloody Path focuses on The Battle of Fallen Timbers which was fought near present day Maumee, Ohio on August 20, 1794.
All pictures of game components used in this interview are not yet finalized and are for playtest purposes only.
Grant: What about the Old Northwest Territory and it’s history has encouraged you to design a series of games on these battles?
Paul: I’ve long been interested in this period of Ohio history, and visited nearly all of the battlefields and locales as a youngster as well as adult. Using games to teach history has also been part of my career from the very start.
Grant: What is important to model in the design regarding the capabilities and fighting style of each of the combatant sides?
Paul: The US forces had superior firepower, but were frequently out numbered and/or fighting on terrain that was much more familiar to the Native Americans. Leadership was also important to both sides. I also wanted all of the games in this series to be easy to teach/learn so as to be attractive to novices as well as veteran gamers. I’ve found that even veteran gamers are increasingly appreciative of games that don’t have lengthy, involved rules and can be easily learned, challenging to play, and true to the history.
Grant: What battle does Walking a Bloody Path cover?
Paul: The Battle of Fallen Timbers, which was the final battle of the Northwest Indian War. The battle took place amid trees toppled by a tornado just north of the Maumee River in northwestern Ohio at the site of the present-day city of Maumee.
Grant: What about the battle did you make sure to model in the mechanics?
Paul: In addition to the factors listed above, the terrain of the battlefield was very important, as the Native Americans deliberately chose to fight here. They felt the many downed trees and devastated terrain would limit or prevent the US forces from fully using their artillery and disciplined firepower, as well as their cavalry.
Grant: What sources did you consult about the history of the battle?
Paul: There are two books listed in the game’s bibliography. All of my games have a bibliography that gamers can access via any library to learn more about the history of my games. The sources are as follows:
• Gaff, Alan D. Bayonets in the Wilderness: Anthony Wayne’s Legion in the Old Northwest. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.
Grant: What one book would you recommend to our readers on the history?
Paul: Of the two, Wiley Sword’s President Washington’s Indian War is probably my favorite. It is a very entertaining and well researched history behind the causes of our first war as a new nation.
Grant: What was the inspiration for the name used? What does Walking a Bloody Path convey about the period?
Paul: That is a direct quote from Chief Little Turtle taken from several sources on the war in the Ohio Territory. It is how many Native Americans described war. Here is the quote in full:
The trail has been long and bloody; it has no end. The pale faces come from where the sun rises, and they are many. They are like the leaves on the trees. When the frost comes they fall back and are blown away. But when the sunshine comes again they come back more plentiful than ever before. -Little Turtle’s remarks, August 14, 1794.
Grant: How do the activations work in the design? What actions can players take with these activations?
Paul: Players use a standard deck of playing cards (without the “face” Jack, Queen and King Cards). The US player gets the black cards and the Native American the red. Players draw the top card from their deck and the one with the highest number wins the draw. In case of a tie the player that did not win the last card draw goes. The winning player can perform a number of activations equal to the winning card. A unit can activate once per card draw and can move, perform a fire attack, launch an assault attack, move and assault (US dragoon units only), or attempt to rally (recover from disruption or rout status).
Grant: How does the card activation duel off best reflect the fighting and style of warfare of the period?
Paul: It is very interactive and easy to teach/learn. These were not large armies, and leader units can affect combat/rally, but there are no lengthy “command/control” rules as this was not part of the history at this scale and focus.
Grant: Is this system of activation too random?
Paul: Not really. The card draws tend to “average out” over the course of a turn and game, and luck is part of any battle. The design also conveys very well the chaos and unpredictability of battles in this war without a lot of rules and scripted/limiting play.
Grant: Who is the artist for the map and counters? Those counters are absolute works of art.
Paul: Nils Johannson is the artist for all of the games in the series. He debuted as a graphic artist for gaming with us, and we are very fortunate to work with him. His regular “day job”, that keeps him very busy, is heading Prada for that firm’s Asia market.
Grant: How do you think the art style sets the mood and theme for the game
Paul: Nils, like all of the other artists that contribute work to High Flying Dice Games, are very gifted and talented. They also are very interested in the history and play the games. This is a rare combination in this field, and I believe it really shows. They not only know their art, but also what the games are about and are supposed to do. I also give all of the artists completely free reign regarding their creativity and interpretation. As long as the artwork does not contradict/compromise the game’s rules and design, they can run with anything they’d like to do. As I said, since they are also all gamers, we’ve never had any issues or disagreements.
Grant: How do you go about creating the OOB’s for this type of game?
Paul: A lot of research (I’ve been working on games and articles about this war for nearly 35 years now). I’m also a “design for effect” game designer. That means a lot of play testing is also involved to insure that the game’s history is portrayed, as well as being fun to play.
Grant: What was the greatest challenge with this aspect?
Paul: Getting good play testers who will really thrash out the game and stay with it throughout the design and development process. That is also very much an increasing problem throughout the entire hobby.
Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters?
Paul: Combat units (infantry, dragoon, artillery) have combat and movement factors, as well as unit type and historical ID’s. Leaders are identified by name and are rated for leadership and movement. Units can be normal/full strength, disrupted, routed or reduced (before elimination).
Grant: How ere the British involved in this battle? What are their units like and how do they supplement the Natives?
Paul: The battle was fought near a British fort that was garrisoned by a force of regulars and some Canadian militia. The British had just sent reinforcements here in the hope of deterring the Americans. Another reason the Native Americans fought here was their belief that the British would intervene and fight along with them. Such an action would have likely led to a much larger war, as happened in the War of 1812. It is possible that the British will intervene, and gamers can judge for themselves how viable that “what if” was in this situation. General Wayne’s decision to give battle here was a very bold and risky one; but then difficult decisions are the privilege of command.
Grant: How does the Combat System work? What are the various DRM’s used?
Paul: Players use a six sided die to resolve combat. Fire combat is less “risky” to the attacker as they are immune to any adverse results. Artillery and US regulars can also attack non-adjacent Native American units via Fire Attack. Assault Combat is much deadlier, and can affect both sides. Generally the Native American player is at an advantage with attacking from broken and forested terrain (and there is a lot of that here) while the US is better out in the open. US Dragoons can be deadly if able to move and assault, but that takes good ground and some luck to carry out. No risk, no gain is at work on this battlefield.
Grant: What is the differences with Assault Combat?
Paul: As mentioned, Assault Combat is good for taking ground and inflicting heavier losses on an enemy. However, it does entail a risk that your enemy can do the same to you if the odds and die roll modifiers are not entirely in your favor.
Grant: What role does the terrain play in the battle?
Paul: The dominant terrain feature is a wide swath of downed timber felled by a tornado that had passed through earlier. A ridge to the west and river to the east “frames” the battlefield with the British fort at the northern end, and the US fighting their way from the south.
Grant: Why did the Native Americans choose to fight in and around the fallen timbers? It reminds me of the corn fields that dominate the battle in Kekionga!
Paul: As mentioned above, the Native Americans felt the downed trees and close proximity of the British gave them significant advantages, and why they felt a stand here was their best chance to defeat General Wayne’s Legion.
Grant: What are the differences between Disrupted and Routed? How do units overcome these conditions?
Paul: Disrupted units can still activate and fight, but with adverse DR modifiers. Routed units are basically out of a player’s control and will only move at the end of the turn towards and off of a map edge. If attacked, a routed unit will likely be wiped out rather easily. A player can attempt to rally units (from routed to disrupted, or disrupted to normal status) via a Rally activation.
Grant: What role does Morale Level play in the game?
Paul: A player can rally units by passing a DR check that is less than or equal to their morale level. A player can win an “automatic” decisive victory by reducing the opponent’s Morale Level to zero.
Grant: How is Morale Level increased and decreased?
Paul: Losses to units and leaders are the primary ways to reduce an opponent’s Morale Level, and increase your own. The Native American player’s Morale Level will also decrease if the British decide to close the fort’s gate. This will effectively mean the British have decided they will not intervene and are abandoning the Native Americans (historically what happened).
Grant: What are the effects of Morale Level on unit’s and their fighting ability?
Paul: Essentially it makes it harder for a player to rally units as the morale level plummets (or easier to do this as it increases). In Assault Combat there is a significant DR modifier that is triggered if one side’s Morale Level is twice that or more than the opponent’s. Reducing your opponent’s Morale Level is key to winning the games in this series. If you don’t do that then the games tend to become very bloody slug fests which can result in a very close and costly “victory”.
Grant: What Random Events are included in the game and what triggers them?
Paul: Each player has a Joker card in their deck. The first time one of these is drawn triggers a random event DR check. Events range from allowing a player to re-roll a die roll, temporarily increasing one unit’s combat factor or being able to restore a reduced unit back to full strength. Some events can happen more than once; others just once in a game.
Grant: Why do you feel Random Events are important to the design?
Paul: They add a bit of historical detail and unpredictability to the game, as well as increasing the “replayability” aspect.
Grant: What historical leaders appear in the game?
Paul: For the US Generals Wayne, Wilkerson and Hamtramck are present. For the Native Americans War Chiefs Round Head, Little Turtle, Blue Jacket, and Buckhongehalas are present.
Grant: What effect do they have on play?
Paul: Leaders confer helpful DR modifiers for units that are adjacent or in their hex for combat and rally.
Grant: What are the victory conditions?
Paul: As mentioned above, if you reduce an opponent’s Morale Level to zero you win an automatic, decisive victory. Failing that then you earn victory points that are awarded for eliminating enemy units/leaders.
Grant: What optional rules or variants are included in the design and why are they appropriate?
Paul: The rules are rather short, so there is only one optional rule for making it a bit harder to kill off leaders (they can perish or become wounded rather quickly when leading from the front). There are also some variant Native American at-start forces, leaders (mostly involving the British) and Morale Level. Games are great ways to explore “what ifs” of history, and they are all grounded in the history.
Grant: What Special Rules are included and what do they mimic from history?
Paul: Special rules cover artillery and dragoons, units running low on ammunition and Native American surprise on the first turn(s) of the game (the US was uncertain as to how many and where the enemy were at the start of the battle, as well as how they would fight).
Grant: What are the basic strategies in the game?
Paul: The Native American player cannot afford to conduct a passive defense. The US player also has to avoid running up a butcher’s bill that could possibly lead the British into fighting here. Attacking is the best way to inflict losses, but both players need to do so in ways that are as beneficial as possible each and every activation and turn. Of course, that is huge challenge. How well and often you can meet those challenges will determine your success (or failure).
Grant: Who has the advantage?
Paul: In the straight-up historical battle the US has the advantage. With all of the variant and optional rules, and if the British get into it, this is a very balanced and tough game for both players.
Grant: What other games are you working on for inclusion in the series?
Paul: Games on the battle for Kekionga!: A Dark and Bloody Battleground and St. Clair’s Folly, as well as a dedicated card set for the entire series of games, are available now. Besides the game on Fallen Timbers, others that are in the works are on River Raisin, Tippecanoe, Chatham/Thames and Horseshoe Bend.
Grant: When do you expect Walking a Bloody Path to be available for purchase?
Paul: Nils is working on it now, and I hope we can release it sometime this summer. If all goes well the others should follow in the months after.
Thanks as always for your time Paul. We really appreciate your efforts in making these games and in always being willing to talk to us with your busy schedule.