Over the past couple of years, we have been following a series of wargames set in the Old Northwest Territory (roughly Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan) from High Flying Dice Games. These games are small poly-bag games with simple rules but they are so very interesting and cover many battles from the westward expansion of the early United States and now have entered into the realm of the War of 1812. We have done previous interviews with the designer for Volumes I-III including Kekionga!: A Dark and Bloody Battleground, 1790, St. Clair’s Folly: The Battle of the Wabash River, 1791 and Walking a Bloody Path: The Battle of Fallen Timbers, August 20, 1794 and have really looked forward to these new volumes being released.
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 lived in northeast Ohio for most of my life (since about 6 months of age!) and love local history. I was fortunate in my career to have the opportunity to teach Ohio history, and been able to visit all of these battlefields and those museums that exist. I have never ceased to be amazed at the rich and colorful history of this region and state.
Grant: Why is it important to revisit these battles in history from the War of 1812?
Paul: Portraying history in game form is something I’ve always enjoyed. Conflict and wars are an unfortunate yet vital aspect of our history. It is important that a game be able to portray that history in a believable and enjoyable manner if learning and understanding are concerned.
Grant: What battle does A Cold and Bitter Battle cover? What about the battle did you make sure to model in the mechanics?
Paul: The game portrays the Battle of River Raisin that was fought on January 22, 1813. The battle followed the surrender of an entire US army by General Isaac Hull at Detroit. The next time such a disaster would occur would be in WWII when another US led army surrendered at the Philippines and again at Corregidor. The US force was to have relieved the trapped US forces but they were too late, and instead were surprised and brought to battle by the victorious British, Canadian and Native American army. The game allows players to explore what happened in the battle, as well as some intriguing “what ifs”. The game uses a deck of cards to activate units and resolve some game events (random events, end of turn).
Grant: What sources did you consult about the history of the battle? What one book would you recommend to our readers on the history?
Paul: There are several works listed in the game’s bibliography (all of my games have a list of sources/bibliography). I particularly recommend John Latimer’s 1812: War With America, as well as the National Park Service’s web site on the Battle of River Raisin (although anyone who is near Detroit should visit the battlefield as it is just south of the city and very near the Rt. 75 exit).
Grant: What was the inspiration for the name used? What does A Cold and Bitter Battle convey about the period?
Paul: As with most of my games, the titles are based upon primary sources. In this case it is taken from a quote by an American survivor of the battle describing what it was like.
Grant: How do the activations work in the design? What actions can players take with these activations?
Paul: The card deck is divided into two after removing the “face” cards (Jacks, Queens, Kings), with the red suit (diamonds and hearts) used by the British/Canadian/Native American player and the black cards (clubs, spades) by the US player. Both players also have a Joker card in their deck. Both players draw a card with the higher number winning the initiative and that player being able to activate a number of units equal to half of the card number, rounding up any fraction. With a tie card draw the player that did not activate in the last round wins. The first time a Joker card is drawn by either player neither player activates and a die is rolled to determine if a random event occurs. When the second joker is drawn the turn immediately ends.
Grant: How does the card activation duel off best reflect the fighting and style of warfare of the period?
Paul: The card draw design captures well the chaos and unpredictability of battle, yet is easy to learn/teach and does not have any scripted, “hand tying” rules. Is it too random?–Not at all. Other games also have random generators such as chit pulls, die rolling for activation or other such devices. Even if one player gets a run of favorable card draws this won’t last long, and likely lead to a similar run by the opponent during the course of the turn or game. It all evens out.
Grant: Who is the artist for the map and counters? Those counters are absolute works of art.
Paul: Thank you! Nils Johansson is the artist for all of the games in the series, and he’s also done other games that have received high marks for their graphics and play (City of Confusion, Breaking Into Valhalla). Nils is a fashion designer (used to work for Prada) and after purchasing some of our games asked if he could join our ranks as a graphic artist. I am very proud and delighted that he is part of our team!
Grant: How do you think the art style sets the mood and theme for the game?
Paul: Absolutely! All of the artists who work with High Flying Dice Games are first and foremost game players. They enjoy playing the games and create artwork that compliments/reinforces the game play and history. This is not always the case with other games/companies unfortunately. Again, I consider myself very fortunate to work with so many talented people!
Grant: How do you go about creating the OOB’s for this type of game?
Paul: The sources come first, and then the “focus” of the game player(s) in any game. These set the game’s scale, size and number of components and ultimately the design approach and length of the rules. What was the greatest challenge with this aspect?–Deciding what elements of history to include, and what to leave out. I very much have a “design for effect” approach; anything that reinforces the history is in, that which is distracting or irrelevant to the historical narrative is out. If supply and logistics are key, then those aspects need to be portrayed and addressed in the game. If not, as in River Raisin, then they are not there or only portrayed in a limited manner (such as the “low ammo” rule).
Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters? What are the major differences between the US units, British units and Native units?
Paul: All units have combat and movement factors. British and US Regular infantry have higher combat factors and are deadlier in Fire Combat (they can fire up to 2 hexes away) due to their more extensive training and better than usual weaponry. Militia units (both sides) are “average” in terms of activations and combat. Native American units have higher/better movement capabilities, especially in wooded or broken terrain, and are deadlier in Assault combat, un-wounded leaders confer positive DR modifiers in combat and rally checks. In this game, the British also have a couple of artillery units that can be deadly in fire combat.
Grant: How did Kentucky Militia and Michigan Volunteers come to be here during this battle? What challenge do these irregular units present for the US player?
Paul: Most militia units can only fire at adjacent units; the exception are the 6 Kentucky militia units that have riflemen in their ranks that give them the ability to fire at targets 2 hexes away as do the US Regulars. The militia units were the core of the US Army throughout this period. For those who remember their history, a standing army was not the norm in the US at this time, and “regulars” were only formed once war broke out or for deployment on the frontier (which this region very much was before the War of 1812).
“On the 22nd, before daybreak, came within sight of the enemy… such was their security and negligence that… our line was actually half formed within musket shot of their defenses before they were even aware of our presence.” –Canadian volunteer of the 41st Regiment of Foot, January 22, 1813.
Grant: I noticed a variant where General Harrison arrives. Why did you include this what if I’m the design?
Paul: General Harrison was not far from Frenchtown (the village shown on the map near River Raisin) when the battle occurred. Historically he did not learn of the battle until it was over and survivors first reached his camp later that day. The variant assumes that General Harrison was more alarmed and alert to the possibility of battle and was able to arrive to join the battle while it was raging. Games can be wonderful vehicles to explore “what ifs” of history.
Grant: What does General Harrison do for the battle and how do the units benefit from his presence?
Paul: As with other leader units, Harrison can confer positive DR modifiers for combat and rally checks. He also brings along with him a significant vanguard force of 3x Regular and 2x Dragoon units to the fight. If and when he does arrive, the British could be in for a much nastier fight here.
Grant: I also see a Tecumseh and Tecumseh Body Guard units variant. What is your reasoning for this inclusion? What does Tecumseh add to the First Nation Tribes?
Paul: Tecumseh was also nearby, but elected not to be here. His leader and Warrior units can enter automatically on turn 2 of the game, with a significant VP penalty, or in response to Harrison’s arrival (without the VP penalty). Again, this is another intriguing “what if” that gamers can explore.
Grant: What are the statistics and abilities of the Tecumseh Body Guard units?
Paul: Tecumseh serves as a leader unit for all of the Native American units in the game, and his additional Warrior unit can be useful.
Grant: How does the Combat System work? What are the various DRM’s used?
Paul: Players use a six sided die to resolve fire and assault combats. Units attack and defend individually. There are DR modifiers for terrain, presence of un-wounded leaders, range (Fire Combat), differences in morale (Assault Combat), and unit type. Basically a DR less than or equal to the attacking unit’s combat factor causes the target unit to be first Disrupted, and if already Disrupted to be Routed. Routed units that are hit again are eliminated. In Fire Combat a DR of 6 or more automatically fails and the attacking unit is marked as “low ammo” (that lowers the affected unit’s combat factor by 1).
Grant: What is the difference with Assault Combat?
Paul: Assault Combat can be deadlier if the Native American player is attacking (these units have a DR modifier that essentially increases their Combat factor by 1), or if the attacker has a higher morale level than the defender. However, if luck is against you (a DR of 6 or more) then the attacking unit is adversely affected. Assault Combat can be a very nasty affair, and could be the turning point in the game if a number of enemy units are engaged and defeated in Assault Combat.
Grant: What are the differences between Disrupted and Routed? How do units overcome these conditions?
Paul: Disrupted units can still activate for movement and attack, but with less capability. Routed units are pretty much helpless and can only retreat move at the end of the turn towards a friendly map edge (south for the US, north for the British/Canadian/Native American) until they are rallied.
Grant: What role does Morale Level play in the game?
Paul: This is key. Units can only rally from disruption or rout, or remove low ammo markers, by passing DR checks less than or equal to the Morale Level. As morale drops, so does a player’s ability to keep an effective fighting force on the battlefield.
Grant: How is Morale Level increased and decreased? What are the effects of Morale Level on unit’s and their fighting ability?
Paul: Morale is increased by eliminating enemy combat and leader units, and decreased in a similar manner with the loss of your own units. Fighting units of the time typically reacted to what was happening around them and as their line breaks and comrades fall, they have a tendency to panic and want to run away.
Grant: What Random Events are included in the game and what triggers them?
Paul: The first time a Joker card is drawn by either player a die is rolled to determine if a Random Event occurs. These can be allowing a player to re-roll a DR later in the turn, increase a Native American unit’s combat factor for the rest of the turn, flip a reduced unit back to full strength (that event can only occur once per game).
Grant: Why do you feel Random Events are important to the design?
Paul: Random Events are a useful means to introduce a bit of randomness to the game, historical detail/flavor, as well as enhancing the replayability aspect for the game.
Grant: What other historical leaders other than those mentioned previously appear in the game? What effect do they have on play?
Paul: All leaders have the same effect, except for the “major” leaders of Tecumseh and Harrison. If they are lost, this causes a 2 level drop in the owning players Morale, that can be catastrophic. Other leaders for the US are George Madison and James Winchester (both captured and taken as Prisoners of War in the battle); for the British it is General Henry Proctor and Native American War Chiefs Roundhead and Walk-in-the-Water.
Grant: What role does the British Artillery have and why is this the case?
Paul: The British dragged two artillery pieces mounted on sledges to the battlefield. The US forces never thought these could be brought here due to the swampy terrain between Detroit and Frenchtown and the thick snow that had blanketed the region. Their presence here was a shock and figured in the battle’s outcome.
Grant: What is the first turn British Surprise rule reflect?
Paul: The US did not expect the British to be able to mount an attack so soon after taking Detroit. As mentioned earlier, they thought they would be able to relieve and rescue the trapped US forces there. The speed and initiative of General Proctor definitely “wrong footed” the US force. On turn 1, and possibly turn 2 if the British player successfully passes a Morale DR check, that player will receive an additional activation with every winning card draw while surprise lasts.
Grant: What are the victory conditions?
Paul: A player wins by amassing more Victory Points (VP) than their opponent. VP are awarded for reducing or eliminating enemy units.
Grant: What optional rules or variants are included in the design and why are they appropriate?
Paul: There are variant reinforcements already mentioned. There is also a Retreat Before Assault Combat variant for all Native American units if they pass a Morale DR check. This reflects their knowledge of the land and terrain as well as their light troops.
Grant: What Special Rules are included and what do they mimic from history?
Paul: The Low Ammo rule is one mentioned above and reflects the unreliable nature of powder due to the environment. Other rules include the rules for British Surprise, Artillery as well as a “less sanguine” DR check for leader loss.
Grant: What are the basic strategies in the game?
Paul: Basically this is a “close with the enemy” and take or kill as many as possible. This was a head-on clash. The US needs to try to fall back and form a cohesive line of battle and then be able to duke it out with the foe. The British/Canadian/Native Americans need to capitalize on the initial disarray of the US army’s scattered deployment so as to defeat their foe in detail to drive down the US morale level to the point recovery is unlikely or difficult.
Grant: Who has the advantage?
Paul: The British player has it in the early turns, but if the US can manage their forces and endure beyond the initial surprise then victory is up for grabs.
Grant: What other games are you working on for inclusion in the series?
Paul: Games on Tippecanoe, Fallen Timbers (for which we have already covered in an interview posted last year), Chatham/Thames (where Tecumseh was killed) and Horseshoe Bend are all in the works.
Grant: When do you expect River Raisin: A Cold and Bitter Battle to be available for purchase?
Paul: A Cold and Bitter Battle, as well as the game on Tippecanoe will be formally released in June once their web pages and updated order forms are posted. All of the games in the series sell for $11.95 each plus shipping ($17.95 each with mounted counters). However, both of those games are finished and they can be purchased now, along with the Battles of the Old Northwest card set that can be used with all of the games in the series, by contacting me by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
As always thanks for your time Paul. I appreciate your approach and really like this series and can’t wait to play the new volumes.