I personally am very interested in the American Revolutionary War and it is one of my most favorite historical periods to game. If you didn’t know, last year I started a feature on the blog ranking the games on the American Revolution that I have played. When I heard of a new game on the subject I was immediately interested and did my homework to find out that Gilbert Collins was designing War for America from Compass Games. I reached out to him and he was more than willing to answer my questions.
*Please keep in mind that this game hasn’t even been officially announced on pre-order from Compass Games yet so the artwork, components and cards are not yet finalized and are only for playtest purposes at this point. In fact, Gilbert made most of the components on his home computer and borrowed images from all sorts of sources. Also, the game is still in development and hasn’t even entered playtesting yet, so rules and various details shared in this interview may still change prior to publication.
Grant: First off Gilbert please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?
Gilbert: I’m retired now after working 30 years in Canada Post, although I went to college for Electronics and later Museum Technology. Worked part time at some museums and the Battlefield of Crysler’s Farm.
Grant: What historical periods do you prefer to game in? What game is on your table now?
Gilbert: American Civil War, American Revolution, War of 1812, Naval warfare all periods, Napoleonics and Ancients. Almost no WWII but I do play some WWI. Presently studying the rules for the Great Campaigns of the Civil War Series.
Grant: What motivated you to break into game design? What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?
Gilbert: Like most hobbyists I got tired of seeing some flawed designs or no games on subjects I liked so decided to tackle the project myself.
Grant: What did you learn from your experience on Mr. Madison’s War: The Incredible War of 1812 published by GMT Games that has helped you in your other projects?
The GMT staff was great to work with and I got to see the ‘production process’ which does take awhile but shed some light on what issues designs can cause. Invaluable for future dealings with companies.
Grant: What would you say is your design philosophy?
Gilbert: Research, research and more research. You can never do enough research. Get the ‘essence’ of what the simulation is all about and make a ‘playable’ game. Not a masters thesis but a good understanding of the issues of the time, the fighting style and issues with command, control and supply.
Grant: What is your stated design purpose in your new game War for America?
Gilbert: I want to show HOW the armies during the 18th century really moved. What they could do on the battlefield and what they could not. Trying to show what was possible, not a hypothetical ‘wide open’ game. This should be a teaching tool not a fantasy.
Grant: What caused you to want to design a game around the history of the American Revolutionary War?
Gilbert: Although I liked many of the previous designs on the subject, there were many I did not like for various reasons. I tackled the project because I thought I could show something that other designs did not get into. Once again research is a key to uncovering those elements that make the game.
Grant: What elements from the struggle are difficult to model in a wargame? How did you overcome these problems?
Gilbert: The militia and Loyalists were one of the toughest things to correctly model and make sense. Still tough to do, because detailed information on them is lacking in histories. I think they work in the game in the manner that they did historically, but NO game can get it 100% correct because the data is just not there. Sometimes you have to do the research, get it close and then use intuition to fill in the rest.
Grant: As I look at the game it appears Political Will is a focus of the game and victory conditions. How is this represented in the game and how is it effected?
Gilbert: I got away from Political Will being effected by capturing specific spots on the map. I concentrated more on the outright subjugation of entire colonies. Philadelphia and Charleston for example were key areas that if captured would drive a wedge into the heart of the revolution and make people question if they could succeed, etc…still count but area control is more important.
Grant: Why do you feel this Political Will is such a major focus? Do you feel other games on the subject give the aspect proper attention?
Gilbert: Even in War for America Political Will is not really important unless you get down near the ‘0’ point where the breaking point is approaching. You don’t want an outright collapse for support. Once Lexington and Concord were over the Colonists were going to fight to the end, much like the Confederacy. The Political Will could have collapsed but it was far from going there. The Colonial PW/VP marker represents the ability of the Congress to unify the colonies and continue the conflict. The British marker
represents the resolve of Parliament to prosecute the war.
The track has 15 boxes representing the 13 Colonies, the West Indies and Canada. The PW markers move to the left, indicating loss, or to the right, indicating gain. Ultimately, both players try to get their opponent’s PW marker to ‘0’. The Political Will never exceeds 15 on the track.
Grant: What factors influence victory in the game?
Gilbert: Capture Colonies and cut off and force to surrender forces of regulars of at least 5 SP or more. In other words, big victories like a Saratoga, Charleston surrender or a Yorktown. This type of victory led to greater or lesser confidence in the cause from the average colonist and is the focus of the struggle.
Grant: What role does the Caribbean play in the game?
Gilbert: The Caribbean plays a fairly big part in my design, but it is still a sideshow to the main focus. You can lose the entire game by losing the Caribbean but the Colonies cannot be ignored.
Grant: How are the Spanish included in the design?
Gilbert: In this game, the Spanish are only interested in their own Caribbean possessions and Florida. If they can get all of Florida the British Political Will can go down by ‘1’. Not much but if the PW is hovering near ‘2’ or so, you can lose the game.
Grant: I notice that several Native American Tribes are identified in the rules including the Onondaga and Tuscarora. What role do they play in the conflict?
Gilbert: The Six Nations are all represented and they can join either side, except the Mohawk who always support the British. Their territory is neutral until someone invades and then ’sides are decided’.
Grant: What is the general Sequence of Play?
Gilbert: This can vary slightly depending on the season but generally it is as follows:
Raise new troops
But each of these ’steps’ have a lot of action in them and much more detail than I have shown here.
Grant: Can you show us an image of the Turn Record Track and describe the meaning of the different colored boxes?
Gilbert: Each side has its own track with slight differences. The circle, stars and triangle point the players to the troop, leaders, etc..that will come and go during each year. Blue is a Winter turn, Green is a Spring turn and the Yellow indicates that fleets must leave the Caribbean that turn as it is unsafe due to that being the hurricane season.
Grant: What is the Continental Levy Table and how does it work?
Gilbert: The Continental Levy Table is simply where you roll for ’new Continental troops’ each Spring. This is done by ‘region’ and ‘colony’. There are negative modifiers to the roll if the British control some towns in the region. If the region is totally controlled, then it will produce no continentals during the turn. This is one way of ’strangling’ the rebellion.
Grant: What is the Europe Box and how does it effect British reinforcements?
Gilbert: The Europe Box is just a holding area from where reinforcements are dispatched. All my ‘by naval die roll’ from Europe. You never know exactly how far they will go.
Grant: What role do cards play in the design?
Gilbert: It is a ‘card assisted’ game, not card driven. The cards work much like in the US Civil War from GMT Games. They aid the player in his turn and give him another action.
Grant: Can you show us a few examples of the cards and explain how the card is used?
Gilbert: Please keep in mind that these cards are all ‘home made’. Whatever I can make on my home computer and I am no graphic artist. 1st card is a straight battle card, the second is self evident. It would add the ’tactical leader’ Daniel Morgan to any continental SP stack.
Grant: What are Free Actions and why do they not cost Action Points?
Gilbert: Naval movement, Six Nations movement and many others. It was a way to have ‘background’ stuff happen without buying up an Action Point. Without them we found in play testing a lot of ’stuff’ never gets done. These actions also add a lot of flavor and history and is a great teaching element to the game.
Grant: What different units are included for both sides and what scale are they?
Gilbert: Continental, British, German, French, Netherlands regulars, Colonial Militia and Loyalists. Approx 1 SP = 1,000 men.
Grant: Can you show us counters for the different type of American and British units and explain the anatomy?
Gilbert: The artwork is not mine (actually borrowed from Mark Miklos’ Battles of the American Revolution Series from GMT Games). Compass Games will be hiring a graphic design artist to do layout and graphics and thy will look much better than my attempts.
Grant: What are the different Special Abilities and Restrictions for the various Leaders?
Gilbert: Size of force they can command and combat ability and chances of moving more efficiently.
Grant: How does combat work? What effect do Leaders have on their forces?
Gilbert: Combat only ever produces very small casualties. This is something I wanted to model correctly. Nearly every American Revolution game that I have played results in entire armies being destroyed in combat. Never happened in the entire war. It was time to model this correctly.
Grant: What differences exist from the Standard Battle CRT versus the Petite Guerre CRT?
Gilbert: Petite Guerre – Even small casualties with more retreats.
Grant: What is a Major Victory and how does it benefit the winner?
Gilbert: Destroy 5 SP in a battle or cut it off or force it to surrender. Effects Political Will and the French Entry into the conflict. Two major victories will win you the entire war.
Grant: How does Naval Combat and operations work? Why are they so important to the design?
Gilbert: Simple naval combat. NO fleet is EVER destroyed. BUT, it can remove a fleet from the board for a season or so and that can effect the land war in a big manner. Think Yorktown and you’ve got it.
Grant: How does Supply work and how are Lines of Communication incorporated?
Gilbert: Don’t lose your Lines of Communication or you could lose your army which in turn can cause a Major Victory.
Grant: What are Magazines and how are they used?
Gilbert: They don’t do a lot since there are lots of sources of supply. But if you don’t have them, you can be in a very sorry state indeed. They are subtle but important.
Grant: Winter Quartering is an important part of the game. How does this work?
Gilbert: Not as important as Continental dispersal at the end of each year but you can’t ignore winter quartering. If you do, you will pay greatly. In other words you do not want to have an army of say 20 SP winter quartering in ‘Cacophon’ Virginia as most of them will not make it through to spring.
Grant: What are some of the more important Special Rules. How much research did you do to create these rules?
Gilbert: Research. Ah, I’ve been studying the American Revolution ever since going to Saratoga in 1974. Special rules for: The Lake Navies on Lake Champlain, War Weariness, Prisoner Exchange, Benedict Arnold’s Treason, Siege Mortars, Philadelphia-Wilmington, Movement in the Caribbean. These are key rules that will reward or punish either side and must be understood to effectively prosecute the rebellion or the suppression of the rebellion.
Grant: What do you feel the game does well? What are you most proud of on the design?
Gilbert: Modelling of how the armies moved. Again, what they could do, what they could not. I also am pleased with the way losses work in combat and feel that I have been able to get this right for the first time in one of these games.
Grant: When can we expect to see the game published? Who is Publishing the game?
Gilbert: Compass Games will publish the game and the current plan is for me to submit what I have in the ’near future’. After that it will take a while to finalize graphics and rules, edit and modify the game and put it up for pre-order.
If you want to know more while awaiting the release on pre-order from Compass Games Gilbert put together a series of great YouTube videos on the various aspects of the game.
Thanks for your time in answering our questions Gilbert and I am really looking forward to this one as it does look very interesting.