About a month ago, I was contacted by a French publisher named Shakos that I had neither heard of nor had any experience with their games. But I must say that I am glad that I now have become familiar with them, and actually played one of their 2020 releases called Napoleon 1807. They wanted us to play their upcoming Kickstarter called Saladin and provide a preview video. I was very intrigued by the game, not only because it was a very beautiful production with some fantastic art, but because the topic and the system looked really interesting. With that, I reached out to the designer Denis Sauvage and he was more than willing to provide an inside look at the design.

If you are interested in Saladin, you can order a copy of the game on the Kickstarter page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shakos/duel-pack-saladin-and-border-states?ref=5yelh5

Grant: First off Denis please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?

Denis: I am school teacher at a primary school and am 54 years old now. I enjoy playing games most of the time and love soccer.

Grant: What motivated you to break into game design? What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?

Denis: We wanted to do our own games with Julien and Shakos after having played together for a long time. We think that many eurogamers don’t know really about wargames and we really wanted to show them that these games could open new doors and bring new gaming feelings – strategy based on historical events. That is why we try to do attractive games with nice components, and easy to play but still satisfying in term of simulation for wargaming Grognards.

Grant: What designers have influenced your style?

Denis: Not really designers per se but I would say more that is has been certain games. You’ll see that Saladin has been influenced by W1815 for example. I have been playing that one quite a lot recently. So sometimes I think about a particular game when designing mine own and borrow concepts to formulate my own designs around certain battles or engagement.

Grant: What do you find most challenging about the design process? What do you feel you do really well?

Denis: The biggest challenge is to read and read again the rules to find the small missing word that clarifies the concept being presented and to make those rules easy to learn. I always hope that the rules I’m writing are concise enough to include all of the most important details while still being easy for the player to understand.

Grant: What is your upcoming game Saladin about?

Denis: Saladin is the first game in a new series called En Ordre de Bataille that focuses on using orders to activate various formations of soldiers on a position based battlefield map. This game simulates two battles where Saladin led the Ayyubid army against the crusaders of Guy de Lusignan at Arsuf, and then against Richard the Lionheart at Hattin.

Grant: What is your overall design goal with the game?

Denis: We set out wanting to focus on simulating the growing chaos inherent with medieval battles and the slow loss of control over time by the leaders over their troops. That’s why the game is based on orders that will be lost as battle advances.

Grant: What do the games in the En Ordre de Bataille (In Order of Battle) Series have to include to become part of the series?

Denis: The same core rules will be used in the game with only a few exceptions depending on the circumstances and development of the battle. We cannot spoil any future volumes but there are so many great leaders in history to choose from as well as some very interesting battles for the system to be used in.

Grant Why was Saladin your first choice for the inaugural game in the series?

Denis: I wanted to highlight a brilliant leader forgotten in many other medieval wargames. Saladin just seemed to be the best fit for the first game as was very tactically superior to many of his enemies and always used the opportunities presented to him on the battlefield to improve his army’s situation. Also, the overall impact Saladin had on history was huge as he seized Jerusalem from the Christians.

As you mentioned earlier, what games did you draw inspiration from for your design?

Denis: As mentioned before, W1815 was an inspiration for this series. I enjoyed this game so much for its clean design and low complexity. It was something really new in wargames. I am also a huge fan of the Au Fil de l’Epée Series (By the Edge of the Sword).

Grant: What from the history did you want to make sure to model in the game?

Denis: W1815 was a good game but it lacked the feeling of leading troops and giving orders. I want the player to be the commander-in-chief in charge of his troops. You give orders and you see what happens. But I really want to simulate that you won’t be able to control everything and you will need to do critical choice as you miss orders to do everything. So the game can be really frustrating at some times.

Grant: What other famous leaders do you plan to cover in future games in the series?

Denis: I want to focus on a French leader for our next game: François 1st, Jeanne d’Arc or Du Guesclin for example. François 1st with Marignan and Pavie could be a very good choice.

Grant: What are the two battles focused on in the game? Why were these chosen?

Denis: One was a victory and other was a defeat for Saladin. Hattin was a great victory for Saladin that led to the fall of Jerusalem to the Ayyubids. Arsuf was a victory for the Crusaders led by Richard the Lionheart, but not enough to seize back the Holy City. I hope to do this with each game of the series.

13. The games uses Order Tokens to activate formations. What is the cost of these activations?

It depends on the complexity of the actions you want to perform. For example a Charge will cost you 2 orders. What’s important is that this cost improves when you loose troops showing the loss of cohesion suffered by the formation.

Grant: How many Order Tokens does each player have? How did you make the decision that this number was correct?

Denis: Twelve. I don’t know why I chose 12 for my first test, but it works! The game lasts 5 or 6 turns most of the time for a time play of around 1 hour. If the players had more Orders, the game would be longer and less would shorten the game. I guess the best answer is that 12 just makes the experience feel right.

Grant: How are these Order Tokens lost? What happens when a player loses them all?

Denis: There are 3 ways to lose Order Tokens definitely:

– 1 at the end of each turn, which represents a general lack of cohesion and the exhaustion of troops from battle.

– 1 when you lose a sixth Lance.

– 1 more at the end of each turn for every Banner lost.

When you have no more Order Tokens, you just lose the game, as you are not able anymore to control your troops on the battlefield.

Grant: What are the users of the Banner Cards?

Denis: The Banner Cards represent one of your formations. Each player has 6 Banners under their command.

Grant: What is the distinction between deployed and ordered?

Denis: The main distinction is activated or not like in many games. However you must give orders to all your banners during a given turn. If you don’t have Order Tokens left at the end of your turn, the Banner will do something you don’t want them to do: a 0 Order action like fleeing or performing an uncontrolled charge for example. This is really critical when you start to have less Order Tokens than the number of Banners and can be the difference between maintaining your troops as a fighting force.

Grant: Can you show us a few examples of Banner Cards and how their abilities are used?

Denis: Both side have asymmetrical tactics. Crusaders will have Charge actions allowing to hit badly the enemy lines. However, the Ayyubids will have Reaction actions to allow them to avoid them. Easy when you have plenty of Order Tokens. But when every Order use starts to be critical it is not the same thing and a successful charge can win the day.

A typical Ayyubid Banner has a harass action. You spend 2 orders token to activate it. You throw 2 battle dice against your target and your opponent only one. But if you don’t want to take risks you can choose a skirmish action with this same banner. It cost only one token but you will throw just one dice and the crusader player none.

Grant: What do the units used represent? Why did you choose to use these small sticks?

Denis: I loved the look of W1815 and I wanted to do the same with Saladin. The units represent troops involved in the battle but not exactly a specific kind of troop. It’s really difficult to have detailed medieval battle orders. So a Banner can have mainly foot soldiers, like Henri II banner at Arsuf, or mounted troops, like Naplouse knights.

Grant: What do the Leaders do in the game?

Denis: You can use them to recover 1 Order or 1 lost Lance and do special actions like for Saladin to take the Real Cross during the Hattin’s battle scenario.

Grant: How are the Losses Track used? What happens when 6 Lances are lost?

Denis: This is a specific Losses Track for each side printed on the board. When you lose your 6th Lance you put the sticks back in the box for the remainder of the game and you also lose one of your Order tokens, first from those that you have available to use and then from those that you are have already used.

Grant: How are the custom dice used? What do the different symbols represent?

Denis: Dice are used to determine the effects of an action. There are 3 possible results :

– nothing as two sides on each die are blank.

– 1 or 2 lances lost with 1 loss appearing on two sides and 2 losses on 1 side..

– 1 Order discarded. This one can be very tricky when your opponent must discard the last Order token he needed at that very moment.

Grant: How does combat play out in the design?

Denis: I wanted something that resolved fairly easily. You simply throw the dice and see the results. What will make the difference is the player who will manage to throw these dice at the appropriate time targeting the right Banner. Most of the time, a player is only rolling 2-3 dice so there can be mixed results. With only a few sides that have 2 lances lost results, and some blanks the dice can be really unkind. But this keeps it tense and forces the players to use the appropriate actions where they can possibly do the most damage while minimizing risk.

Grant: What are you most pleased about with the design and the system?

Denis: The game is really tense and interactive as players alternate activations. An opponent’s lucky dice roll can just break apart your strategy and you will need to adapt to the new situation. Some people won’t surely like it as it means you don’t have full control over the situation. However this is really what we wanted. And if you are frustrated, as the game plays fast you can start another game to take revenge!

Grant: What has been the experience of your playtesters?

Denis: I asked them to look at the balance of the game. Both sides must be able to win. A few details can change the game from a brilliant victory to a terrible defeat. Overall we had really good feedback.

Grant: When does the game come to Kickstarter? When do you anticipate fulfilling the game?

Denis: The Kickstarter will be March 25th and as soon as possible for the fulfillment. As you can see in the open the box video, the game is almost ready to be produced. We spotted a few mistakes in the samples but this will be corrected for mass production.

Here is a look at our unboxing video for a prototype copy of the game:

Grant: What stretch goals are included?

Denis: Stretch goals will mainly be there to improve components. We don’t want to add stretch goals based on options not playtested for example. So stretch goals will help to make the game even better.

Grant: What other games are you working on?

Denis: Border States will surely interest US wargamers. It will be part of the Saladin KS in fact. We did this choice because shipping costs are really high compared to the price of the Saladin game. So by coupling two small games, Saladin and Border States, this greatly reduces the impact of shipping. Thanks to our past experience (sometimes difficult ones), we now have good partners in every region of the world in order to fulfill efficiently our games.

Coming back to Border States, this is a really interesting game from a new designer, Stéphane Brachet. Goal will be to win battles in order to influence positively the population of the critical Border States during the ACW. It is an abstract game based on bluff and guessing. We really love it a lot. And it has no randomness at all!

Then Napoleon 1815 will be the next game of the Napoleon Series. I was born on 18th of June. I couldn’t miss it! This game will allow us to introduce a 3 player variant to the Napoleon Series. It is really important to try to introduce novelty in our game series.

Thanks for the great insight into the design Denis. I think that this game is a winner. We played a few times before making our preview video and the games were tense, as you mentioned, filled with tough choices about how and when to use Orders and also how to go about best attacking your enemy.

If you are interested in Saladin, you can order a copy of the game on the Kickstarter page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shakos/duel-pack-saladin-and-border-states?ref=5yelh5