If you have read our blog for a while now, you know that we like John Poniske and any game that he designs. We have played several and really enjoyed his takes on history including Bleeding Kansas, Hearts and Minds, Revolution Road, Maori Wars and others. Recently, I had somehow missed any news about one of his upcoming games called Fall of Siam: Burmese-Siamese War 1765-1767 coming out soon in Paper Wars Issue #94 from Compass Games. Once I heard about it, I immediately reached out to John to see if I could get some information about the design and he didn’t disappoint.
Grant: How have you been spending your time in quarantine?
John: I have been refining two upcoming designs for Compass Games, querying other companies on past designs and writing an American Civil War fiction novel called SNAKEBIT on the outbreak of our Civil War.
Grant: Why did you want to design a game on the wars between Siam and Burma in 1765?
John: As I mentioned in the designer notes included with the game the idea sprang from my visit to Ayutthaya while in Thailand several years ago. I was fascinated by the treasure trove of history there of which the West knows so little.
Grant: The Chinese are also involved in the campaign. What role do they play?
John: The Chinese were leery of Burmese expansionism and sent three separate expeditions against them while they were engaged with Siam. They are a spoiler faction controlled by the Siamese player. Without them, the Siamese would stand no chance against the Burmese steamroller.
Grant: What from the period did you feel was important to model in the design?
John: Elephants are particularly important as they served as the tanks of the time as well as the dependence on civilian levies who were less than reliable.
Grant: The game is being released in Paper Wars Magazine. As such how do you have to design a game for a wargame magazine? Any restrictions for this medium?
John: I don’t design for magazine production. Whether a design is produced for magazine or box is the publisher’s decision. I’ve had a half dozen designs go to magazines and all I can tell you is that designs that are simpler in nature with a low counter mix are more likely to end up there. That is not always the case. Most recently Decision Games released my Banana Wars design which featured a full deck of cards and yet … they managed to find a way to release it in magazine form. Though, I have been told that a second edition will be released in box form.
Grant: What scale does the game use for the map and units? What challenges did this scale present for you?
John: The map covers what were once the kingdoms of Siam and Burma with a small portion of China. Much of Southeast Asia was under the sway of these kingdoms at the time. This is an area movement system where the areas are randomly created around population centers. Unit size varied based on unit type. I had no firm numbers on unit composition going into the design, only overall army size and rough percentages of the unit types in each army. I therefore created units proportionately based on what little I knew.
Grant: Where did you search for the proper OOB for both the Siamese and Burmese combatants?
John: Entirely on-line, although I later obtained the names of a number of valuable histories.
Grant: What sources did you consult to find out the particular details of the campaign?
John: Paper Wars has printed my entire bibliography. Anyone interested should Research: Burma; Siam; Elephantry; and Ayutthaya.
Grant: What was the historical result of this conflict?
John: Total destruction of the Siamese capital, Ayutthaya and the final fall of the Siamese empire. From its destruction rose the current country of Thailand.
Grant: What different types of units are available for each side?
John: Levies, Archers, Infantry, Cavalry and Elephants. Early on there were naval vessels involved. Both sides had navies that clashed even to the point of battling beneath the walls of Ayutthaya. However, playtesting proved that navies complicated and lengthened play. Instead, they were incorporated in special movement rules. I did feel that the English sloop, then allied with Siam, was a necessary addition. It remains in the game as a bonus unit to help defend Ayutthaya.
Grant: What about those elephants? Why are they important in the battles?
John: Elephants or Elephantry was an important arm of Asian armies. They were shock troops that unfortunately had a tendency to turn on their own troops when wounded or terrorized. At the same time, they had the capacity to break a battle line wide open.
Grant: What is the general Sequence of Play?
John: The general Sequence of Play is as follows:
- Burmese Movement and Combat
- Siamese Movement and Combat
- Chinese Movement and Combat
- Adjust VP Markers
- Desertion Check
- Simultaneous Recruitment
- Advance Turn Marker
Grant: How does Monsoon Season impact the game?
John: Monsoons are a seasonal part of life in that part of the world. This is the third design I have created on historical situations in Southeast Asia and found Monsoons integral to each. A Monsoon slows movement, prevents infantry from crossing rivers and makes transport by sea extremely risky. Monsoons also play a role in stacking complications as desertions rise among Levies during a monsoon.
Grant: How does Naval Transport work? What role does the English Sloop play?
John: There are two sea areas – The Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Siam. Between them is the Naval Transfer Space. Units being transferred from either side must stop in the Naval Transfer Space. This is dangerous for two reasons. Losses may occur there during a Monsoon Season. Also, the English Sloop may attack Burmese transports located there. Other than that, the sloop has the advantage to attack, as if it were a floating artillery unit, first in every battle. It then retreats, preventing it from ever being damaged. Note that it is still vulnerable to Monsoons in the Naval Transfer space.
Grant: How does combat work? Why did you choose to use a Fire priority system?
John: I always liked the system employed in Hammer of the Scots. It makes sense. Long range weapons should play an earlier role in battle, then the Elephant shock troops, then the infantry/Levies. Thinking back, perhaps I should have placed Levies before Infantry in the order of battle as they were considered expendable by army generals. However, as battles take place in this design, by the time it comes time to employ Levies, most have run away or are dead in the field making it a moot point.
Grant: Ayutthaya plays an important role in the game. What is this role and why was that a focus for the design?
John: Goes back to our vacation trip. One of the primary goals of my going to Thailand was an exciting side trip to the amazing and extensive temple complexes of Angkor Wat. Prior to making that expedition, I stumbled across information that compared Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Siam, to the glories of Angkor Wat. We hired a driver to take us well north of Bangkok on a tour of the area. Our mouths dropped. Although now largely in ruins, it was indeed quite extensive and impressive and, in its day, probably did rival Cambodia’s temples in size and beauty. The more I learned the more I wanted to help others learn about it too.
If Ayutthaya falls, the Siamese lose the game. Simple as that. Any attack on the capital city also uses the Battle Board attached to the map.
Grant: How does each side gain new units? What is the history behind this system?
John: One of the final turn segments is Recruitment. In it both sides bring onto the board a limited number of professional units and a larger number of Levies drawn from the population centers they control. Burma had a smaller but more professional and more aggressive army. Both sides relied heavily on drawing Levies (militia if you will) from their populations. At this point Siam was rocked back on its heels and had more difficulty raising troops than did Burma so recruitment favors Burma.
Grant: How does desertion work?
John: Stacking in the game is unlimited with the caveat that any force that exceeds 10 units at the end of a turn is subject to two units deserting (obviously Levies if Levies are present). During Monsoons this is increased to 4 units. In addition, during the Desertion Check Phase, 2 Levies desert back to the Levy Pool (players choice where they are drawn from). Whichever side is behind in points suffers the desertion of one additional Levy. Historically Levies rarely stood their ground.
Grant: What are the victory conditions?
John: The Victory Track is adjusted for both factions following each player’s turn, with most regional values earning a player 1 or 2 VP’s. The Burmese capital region of Ava is worth 3 VP’s. The Ayutthaya region is worth 5 VP’s, however Siam does not lose points for the loss of the region on the City. And, if Ayutthaya falls, Burma wins regardless of VP’s. The Chinese player earns no points but subtracts points from the Burmese player for those Burmese controlled regions it captures. At the end of the game, if Ayutthaya has not fallen and the Siamese manage to maintain an equal or greater number of VP’s, they win.
Grant: How long do games typically last?
John: Two to two and a half hours, once the rules are understood.
Grant: What are you most pleased with about the design?
John: First and foremost that it allowed me to reveal a little known but fascinating bit of military history. Next, the depiction of civilian Levies and their ephemeral presence on the battlefield.
Grant: What other projects are you working on?
John: I have been hard at work on two designs set to be published by Compass Games. Flanks of Gettysburg is the latest approach to my evolving Ball’s Bluff mechanics. It features the the high ground action on either end of the Union “fishhook” at Gettysburg. Simple, fast and very bloody. The other, which is nearer completion is Pontiac’s Uprising. It too is the latest in the evolving mechanics first used in King Philip’s War. It depicts the Indian coalition that challenged British hegemony in North America following the French and Indian War. Also, although it has not yet been announced, I have another design expected to be released in Paper Wars in the near future – Wolfe Tone’s Rising – the failed Irish rebellion featuring an alliance with Napoleonic troops on Irish soil.
Thanks for your time John. I am really interested in this one as I love to learn from my game plays and this one seems to teach a bit about something that I know nothing about.
If you are interested in Fall of Siam: Burmese-Siamese War 1765-1767 you can order a copy of Paper Wars Issue #94 for $46.95 from the Compass Games website at the following link: https://www.compassgames.com/paperwars/issue-94-magazine-game-fallofsiam.html
Thanks, Grant. Another all-encompassing interview.
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