A few weeks ago, I saw information about an upcoming hex and counter tactical wargame from Worthington Publishing called Dawn of Battle. The game allows players to refight historical battles from 1500 BCE to 1500 CE or a range of 3000 years of combat. Players take the roles of the great commanders of history, including Xerxes, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Saladin, and William Wallace. My interest was piqued and I reached out to the designer Mike Nagel to get some information on the design. The Kickstarter campaign started as of Sunday, May 24th and can be found at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1040417273/dawn-of-battle

Dawn of Battle Cover

Grant: Mike, I know you specialize in tactical level games. Why are you drawn to this subject over others? 

Mike: I wouldn’t say that I specialize in tactical games, even though it might seem that way. I’ve got at least one strategic game in my design queue. But, if you look at what I’ve published so far, it sure seems that way! I think I’m drawn more toward designing tactical level games because those are the games I prefer to play. I really like to inject myself into the narrative of a game, and I think it’s a lot easier to do that in tactical games where you can identify more closely with the guys in the formations, foxholes, or on the deck.

Grant: How do you believe your approach to design works well in the tactical genre?

Mike: Frankly, I think my design approach should work pretty well for any genre. I have a professional history in system design, and have ported some of the rules from that world to game design. Basically, decide what you’re trying to model, determine the specifics that are required for that model to function, and then test to make sure what you’re creating meets those initial goals. When working at the tactical level where units are more easily differentiated, it could be possible to get lost in the details, so you really have to keep an eye on how much you want to cram into a game to match your design goals.
Grant: What is the focus of your upcoming design Dawn of Battle?

Mike: I don’t know if “focus” is the right word to use! Dawn of Battle covers ancient combat over a roughly 3,000 year period (1500 BCE to 1500 CE, more or less). So not much “focus” there.

Grant: What do you want to convey with the title?

Mike: Pretty much what the title states. The game is about combat from the earliest periods and ending at the introduction of gunpowder to the battlefield.

Grant: What is your stated design goal for the project and who is your design audience?

Mike: The main design goal is to provide a relatively low complexity game of ancient battles that can be completed in a couple of hours. Your next question also dovetails with this one in that an important goal was to update one of my previous designs.
Grant: As you just mentioned, I understand this is an evolution of one of your earlier designs. What game was that and what has evolved in your design?

Ancient Battles Deluxe CoverMike: Dawn of Battle is an evolution of my Ancient Battles Deluxe game from Victory Point, which was an updated version of Bill Banks’ Ancients I game (Good Industries, 3W, and One Small Step). I got a lot of feedback from Ancient Battles Deluxe players about mechanisms in that game that were a little clunky or hard to understand. The melee process was a little hazy. So I decided to try to streamline things where I could. I also decided to give up on “backward compatibility” in order to push the new design into some new territory. I changed facing from hex sides to vertices to allow for a better representation of linear movement. Finally, and most significantly, I changed the resolution engine from dice to cards.

Grant: What other games have influenced the design?

Mike: Hard to say, specifically. There are some mechanics that I included in Dawn of Battle that have been used in lots of other games, such as a Clash of Arms Modifier that helps distinguish the effectiveness of one unit type versus another. The random combat results tables concept was stolen from that huge Battles of Napoleon from Nexus.

Grant: What type of research have you done on the 3,000 years covered in the game? What sources were especially interesting and would be good reads for someone trying to learn about ancient battle?

Encyclopedia of Ancient Battles published by Wiley Blackwell

Mike: When I originally designed Ancient Battles Deluxe, I had to research all of the battles to make sure that I had up to date information for each. Of course, given the scope of the game, there’s no one volume that covers it all. I had to acquire or borrow books from ancient combat all the way up to the Hundred Years War. The books that go into more detail of the individual battles, the better. I also consulted other games (particularly miniatures battles) to see how other designers tackled the dispositions of armies at different battles. It’s interesting to compare all of these different views as ultimately the exact dispositions of these forces and where they fought are mostly up to speculation due to the lack of concrete reports. The best source I’ve found is the Encyclopedia of Ancient Battles published by Wiley Blackwell. It’s a massive tome.

Grant: How can you incorporate tactics and different units covering such a long and varied time frame in just one box?

Mike: Fortunately, tactics during this long stretch of time did not change that much, at least until gunpowder started to become more predominant. Most battles pretty much involved lines of armed men slamming into each other and trying to break the enemy’s formations and causing them to rout. Infantry was the anvil and cavalry was the hammer. Occasionally, a kingdom would come up with a tactical breakthrough that tipped the balance for a while (such as elephants or the use of massed, mounted archers), but armies adapted through counter-tactics or just slapping on more armor. But it still reverted to a mass of soldiers striking another mass of soldiers until one side ran away. I’m sure this generalization will tick off some historians, but I don’t claim to be one.

Grant: It appears the focus of the game is on leadership and their quality. Why do you feel this is such an important aspect for the time periods covered?

Mike: As I alluded to in my answer to the previous question, keeping an army on the field was the goal. To do that, leaders needed to keep their armies pointed in the right direction as well as carry out complex flanking maneuvers within a mass of chaos. The ability to manage all this was up to the abilities of the leaders on the field. An army could be destroyed by an equivalently sized (or even smaller) force if the enemy had superior leadership. In Dawn of Battle, the number of available leaders and the leaders’ qualities make all the difference when they are deployed effectively.

Dawn of Battle Leaders

Grant: I understand that the game is card driven and doesn’t use dice. How does this work?

Mike: At its simplest, each card has a die value symbol, so when a player would otherwise need to roll a die, they draw a card instead. But that, in itself, is not sufficient reason to move from dice to cards for random resolution (actually, that would be a pretty bad reason). So the card deck provides a lot more functionality, including special effects and random combat result charts.

Grant: Why did you settle on 72 cards as the correct number for each player?

Mike: I settled on 72 cards for a couple of reasons. First, it allows for an even distribution of die results (one through six). More importantly though is the number of special effects I could come up with. I had originally settled on 60 cards, but kept coming up with more card effects. I’ve actually got several more effects that didn’t make it into the mix. Maybe I could add more cards later on? Who knows…

Grant: What are the differing icons on the cards and what do they mean?

Mike: Other than the die icon, which is used throughout play, the other icons represent random events that might occur at the end of each turn (with one exception). The obvious one is the cycle-symbol card icon. Drawing this requires a reshuffling of the card deck. A second icon represents fatigue. If this event is kicked off, the game gets shortened by a turn. The third icon represents an end-of-game check. The game has a random game end. Once players get far enough along, they need to see if the game ends immediately or if they have more time to battle it out. The fourth icon represents panic. If an army has sustained sufficient losses and this card is drawn, their entire army panics and routs, leaving any remaining leadership to attempt to get control of it. The last icon is an elephant. Although this is also a random event, it’s the only one that can occur at any time during unit activation when one or both sides have elephants in their ranks. The elephants may balk and charge both enemy and friendly units.

Grant: Can you show us a few examples of the Action Cards and tell us how they are used?

Mike: Action cards are comprised of several different attributes that are used at different points during a game. At the top is a command point modifier that grants players a random number of additional activation points that can be used to activate units and formations. At the center of the card is the card’s special effect that can be used as noted in its descriptive text. At the bottom of each card is the random die result and any random events. Finally, to the left is the card’s melee resolution table.

Dawn of Battle Action Cards

Grant: Can you show us the map? Who is the artist?

Mike: I think Sean Cooke does all of the Worthington graphics. The art in the playtest rulebook are all mine though.

Dawn of Battle Map

Grant: How do you represent the different terrain features from battles on the generic map?

Mike: Terrain will be represented using terrain tiles similar to those in other games like Command and Colors and Worthington’s own Hold the Line series of games. These are not included in the first volume of the game, to ensure that we could include all of the necessary combat units and leaders. Since a large portion of ancient battles occurred in open fields, this does not pose a problem in providing a large number of starting scenarios that players can wrap their collective head around. The terrain will come in a future expansion.

Grant: What different units are included in the game and what is the anatomy of the counters? Can you show us a few examples?

Mike: There are a large variety of units, with many shown on the diagram below. Units generally include a value representing its strength (although this is more of a representation of the unit’s density or weight in men) and its movement rate. The flipped, or disrupted side of the unit shows the same values with the strength value reduced, but in some cases the movement value increases as units can move more quickly when they lose some cohesion (players may purposely disrupt a unit to get it to move further). Units also have a ranged combat defensive modifier. Units that can employ ranged combat have a ranged combat strength and range, although gunpowder units use their actual printed strength as their range. Leaders are marked with a command rating (the number in the laurel), command range, and combat modifier. A leader’s command rating is all-important as these values indicate the base number of activation points a player begins with each turn. When leaders are injured or killed, this total decreases, thus hampering an army’s flexibility. Units also come in three sizes to indicate large, medium, and small units whose sizes affect their ability to move through other friendly units.

Here are some unit samples from the Kickstarter campaign.
Dawn of Battle Units

Grant: How does combat work?

Mike: There are two forms of combat in Dawn of Battle, ranged and melee. Ranged combat occurs when a unit or formation is activated and basically involves a die-result to die-result comparison. If the attacker rolls higher than the defender, the defender becomes disrupted or is eliminated, depending upon how different the results are. The better missile units can draw more than one card to get a better result, while the defender’s result may be modified (sometimes negatively) by the defending unit’s missile defense value.

Melee combat is a little more involved and occurs during a specific melee phase where any unit allowed to melee may do so, with players alternating the initiation of melee attacks. During an individual melee, players determine a modification value based upon a variety of factors including size ratios, unit type comparisons, attack vector, leadership modifiers, card play, etc. The player with the positive swing (usually the attacker, but not always) draws a melee card and checks the result row equal to the positive modifier, while the defender does the same but checks the result row equal to the reciprocal modifier (for instance, +3 for the attacker but -3 for the defender). The result determines what your unit did to your opponent’s unit. Results include no effect, morale check to avoid flipping, disruption, or elimination. Units that are disrupted flip over to their weaker side. Units that are already disrupted may be eliminated.

Grant: What is unique about the CRT’s used for battles?

Mike: When I created Ancient Battles Deluxe as a redesign of the Ancients game, I wanted to get rid of the CRT as I wanted to limit a player’s ability to game the results, that is creating a “no lose” situation. Unfortunately, this led to a little confusion by a lot of players. So, when designing Dawn of Battle, I wanted to get back to a CRT but still keep players from gaming its results. I found the best way around this was to create a random CRT where a player could more clearly see what the results of an attack was, but still not know exactly how the results table would be configured. I can’t say this is definitely a unique approach, but the only other game I’ve seen with something similar is Battles of Napoleon from Nexus.
Grant: How many scenarios are included? What are some of your favorite?
Mike: There are 20 scenarios included in the first volume (possibly more, pending any stretch goals during the campaign). A lot of these were converted from Ancient Battles Deluxe, so when choosing favorites, I’m going to have to go with the scenarios that are “all new:” Pelusium and Crocus Field. Pelusium is really neat because of the “cat factor” (the Persians hung cats from their shields, either real or in effigy…no one’s sure…to keep the cat-worshiping Egyptians at bay). Crocus Field is just an awesome, straight-up, slug-fest.

Dawn of Battle Scenarios

Grant: I also understand you can make your own scenarios. How does this work?

Mike: Indeed. A chart is provided indicating the purchase cost of each unit type, as well as a formula to calculate the value of each leader. Then, it’s just a question of building armies based upon a fixed number of build points (100 or so) to create an army, depending on the nature of the scenario. Additionally, once I got the rights back, I was able to include guidelines on how to create historical scenarios that was originally included in the DYO kit for Ancient Battles Deluxe.

Grant: What expansion plans do you have for the system in the future?

Mike: So far, I have 100 scenarios designed for the game, most of which have been ported over from Ancient Battles Deluxe, plus over a dozen new ones. Things are still pretty flexible at this point, but I hope to next do an expansion kit that includes terrain tiles and another 20 scenarios, followed by another title with an expanded collection of combat units, another 20 scenarios and the ability to play “epic” battles with a doubled-up map. Then it’ll be a case of getting the remaining collection of scenarios into players hands.
Grant: What other games are you currently working on?
Mike: Far too many. I’ve got a lot of ideas and a very short attention span! I’ve got the fourth volume in the Flying Colors series going into art and layout as soon as GMT Games can catch up following the current Covid nightmare. Legion Wargames also has two of my designs, one of which (Captain’s Sea, a more detailed ship-to-ship, Age of Sail game) is currently in art design as well. I’m also pretty excited about a man-to-man WWII game that I’ve been playing with.
Dawn of Battle Graphic
Thanks for this opportunity to talk about Dawn of Battle Mike. I also really appreciate your quick response to my questions as well. I am very interested in this one as we love tactical games and have a growing interest and fascination with Ancients (most recently we have played a few scenarios of SPQR from GMT Games on Vassal.) We always need another good Ancients tactical game on our tables.
If you are interested in Dawn of Battle, you can check out the game here at the following link to the Kickstarter campaign page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1040417273/dawn-of-battle