As I mentioned in the interview for the other game in this Duel Pack called Saladin, 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 were interested in knowing if we could play and do a preview video for Saladin and we agreed and had a really good experience with that game. You can check out our preview video here:

While we didn’t get to play a prototype copy of the 2nd game in the Duel Pack, I was very interested in what it was about and decided that we should also do one of our written interviews. With that, I reached out to the designer of Border States Stéphane Brachet and he was more than willing to provide an inside look at the design.

If you are interested in Border States, you can check out the Kickstarter campaign at the following link:

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

Stéphane: I am a 44 year old software engineering department manager. I live in the south of France where I am the proud father of 2 daughters. When I’m not playing or creating games, I go hiking, mountain biking and I do stand-up paddle. 

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

Stéphane: Since I was a child I have been a fan of boardgames. I love to meet around a table to share, exchange and dissect game mechanics. All of this gave birth to ideas for games creation and in 2017 I launched myself into this experience of game creation. Since then, it has become a passion and it’s incredible to see how an idea from one’s imagination can end up on other players’ tables a few years later.

Grant: What designers have influenced your style?

Stéphane: I don’t know if they influenced my style, but I am a huge fan of Bruno Cathala and Reiner Knizia for the variety of their game designs.

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

Stéphane: I love creating and working on game mechanics. I always try to keep the mechanics simple and clean. The choice of the theme is also very important so that it fits as much as possible with the principles of the game. The most difficult part for me is the writing of the rules and I thank Denis and Julien from Shakos for the work they did on the Border States ruleset.

Grant: What is your game Border States about? 

Stéphane: Border States is set during the American Civil War and focuses on the five states known as the Border States: Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri and West Virginia. These states were balancing between the 2 camps: Union or Confederacy. The game takes up the great battles of the Civil War during which the Union and the Confederacy fought each other. The objective is to tip the Border States to your side to win the war.

Grant: What elements of the history of the Border Stares during the American Civil War did you want to model in the game?

Stéphane: Having geographical, social, political and economic ties to both the North and the South, the Border States were in a critical position when war erupted. It is this particular position and the importance to tip these states to one side or the other that I wanted to highlight.

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

Stéphane: My design goal was twofold: fun and keeping true to the history. I wanted to make a fast, tactical game but also with a strong historical theme that immerses the players in an event or a period of history.

Grant: What inspired you to design a game on this struggle?

Stéphane: I wanted to create a game of confrontation for 2 players that would have a strong historical theme. So I turned to the different historical conflicts and that led me to discover the American Civil War period. I learnt about the history of this conflict, the different battles fought and the role of the Border States in the middle of this civil war and I thought that it would be interesting to highlight this period.

Grant: The game uses several different types of cards to drive the action? What are the different types and what role does each have?

Stéphane: The main asset of each player is not the cards but the General blocks. They are the ones that will be sent to the different battles and will allow them to win the battles needed to influence the Border States. Each player owns 10 General blocks with a combat value ranging from -2 to 3. These values are identical for both players, even if they represent different historical figures associated with each side.

Each turn of the game, players will simultaneously select two General’s blocks from their available generals. When both players have made their selections, each player reveals the first block face-up. This face-up General determines the order in which the players will place them on the battles’ slots on the board and the battles that are available to them (there are 3 battles to fight per turn).

But beware:

  • The player who played the face-up block with the lowest combat value places first…However, the higher the combat value, the more battles the player has available.
  • The face-down general will follow the instructions given by the face-up general. He will be revealed only during the combat resolution phase, adding uncertainty to the outcome of battles.

The players also have access to 5 Character cards and a President card at their disposal. Each card has a different power that can be used once per game and change the results of a battle.

Then comes the Battle cards. There are 17 battles, each having different Intensity values, either none, 1 or 2. The more intense the battle, the more Influence cubes you will be able to win, respectively 2, 3 or 4. Each turn you draw randomly 3 Battle cards that you slide under the game board to create 3 battlefields, having slots to place your General blocks.

Grant: Can you provide us an example of each type of card and explain how it works? 

Stéphane: Belle Boyd was a Confederate spy during the war. Her power allows the Confederate player to reveal a face-down block before the resolution phase. So it may help you to get crucial information in order to win one of the battles.

On the other side George McClellan played an important role during the war in raising a well-trained and organized army. His power will open an extra slot in a battle allowing you to add a General block to a normally “closed” battle. This way you can change the result of the battle by surprising your opponent with unexpected reinforcements!

Grant: Can you explain the layout and function of each area of the game board? 

Stéphane: The gameboard is split into two different sides. One side is dedicated to the battles. That’s where you will fight each turn three battles to win Influence cubes. After the Battle phase, then you will move to the other side of the gameboard, with 5 Influence tracks, one for each state. You will then place the won cubes on each track to move State tokens. They will be critical to win the game as we will see later on. So during the Combat phase, you have to be fully aware of the situation on the Influence tracks in order to focus your effort on the most important battles to sustain your strategy. Will I try to tie Delaware and fight to get Influence cubes for this state, or Missouri as it is close to ending up in your opponent’s Control area?

Grant: What role does bluffing and guessing play in the game?

Stéphane: These concepts are very important to the game. The choice of the blocks placed face up, the choice of the battles fought, the choice of the fronts (there are two per battle), everything must be done to sow the seed of doubt about the value of the blocks placed face-down and thus destabilize your opponent or trap them with an Ambush (a tricky block that « kills » one General).

The more you deduce about your opponent’s strategy, the more you will have a chance to win battles. Conversely, the more they know about yours, the more you will have to trick them so that they do not discover your plans.

Grant: What type of experience does the gameplay create?

Stéphane: It is a real game of bluffing and guessing where you have to be cunning and take advantage of each turn to take the upper hand over your opponent. It is a nice tug or war style game where the State markers move from one side to the other depending on the battles won. You have to keep your nerve, and not give into fatalism. Fortunes can change with one battle so never give up!

Grant: How are battles fought and decided?

Stéphane: During the 3 rounds of a Combat phase, the players will each place 6 general blocks (3 face up / 3 face down) on the 3 battles available. Each battle is then resolved. To do this, the combat values of the general blocks are added up, for both sides (Union and Confederate), on each of the 2 fronts of the battle. The front with the highest final value is declared the winner and, on this front, the player who contributed the most to the victory is rewarded. The other player may still win something if they contributed as well to the victory.

Grant: What are the results of victory and defeat in these battles?

Stéphane: At the beginning of each turn, depending on the intensity of the battle, 2 to 4 influence cubes are placed in the Conquest area of each battle. They are drawn randomly from a bag. These cubes will allow the players to increase their influence in the different states.

When the 3 battles have been resolved, each player moves the State markers on the Influence tracks according to the influence cubes he has won (there are 4 markers per state). For each state, the State markers move a number of spaces on the track equal to the difference in cubes won for that state. For example: The Union has 2 cubes of Influence in Maryland, the Confederacy 0. The Union player may move 1 Maryland State marker 2 spaces to their side or 2 markers 1 space. If a State Marker reaches a player’s control area on the board, that marker is secured and cannot move away to your opponent side.

 How do players win the game? 

There are 2 ways to win the game:

– Sudden death: As soon as a player has 4 markers of 4 different states (colors) in their Control area or 5 markers  of any colors.

– At the end of the 5 rounds: Each State marker on your side brings 1 victory point. The player with the most victory points just wins.

So you have to do a choice at some point during the game. Will I try to win a suddent death by focusing on moving State markers to my Control area, or do I just try to move as much markers as possible on my side. Knowing that by the end, each marker on my side will account for 1 VP.

Grant: What are the general strategies for both sides? 

Stéphane: There are no pre-defined strategies for either side. The drawing of Influence cubes on the different battles will guide the players’ choices. Depending on the profile of the players, the games can be very different. Players with an offensive profile will aim for a victory before the end, while more defensive players will build up their victory by getting more markers on their side. Whatever, you will have to try to guess what your opponent will do as well as counter their moves. Otherwise you may just suffer a sudden death victory if you focus too much on your own strategy.

Grant: How did you balance out this tug of war to make it into a competitive game? 

Stéphane: This is the part of the game we balanced with Shakos because the first version was too complex in determining victory. We have simplified the game as much as possible to make sure that the players stay focused on the heart of the game, the battles, while keeping the principle of the influence switch between the 2 sides and the two ways to win a game.

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

Stéphane: What I am most satisfied with is the overall coherence of the game, which corresponds to the game I wanted: simple mechanics, a strong theme, bluffing, tactics…In addition Shakos did a wonderful job with the graphic work. Thanks to Nicolas Roblin, the artist, the game is just splendid looking!

Grant: What has been the experience of your playtesters?

Stéphane: The feedback was very good. The players were quickly seduced by the ease of access to the game, the tactical side and the bluffing. The most important effort was put on the management of the state markers, in order to have this double winning opportunities to end the game.

Note from Julien and Denis: We just fell in love with the design from the very beginning. We polished a few mechanics, mainly the victory determination to make it easier. For us it is a very clever game, demanding in terms of reflection and even today we are very happy to do a game together to test each other’s cunning.

Grant: What stretch goals are included?

Stéphane: Stretch goals will be mainly improvements in components. We don’t want to propose unprepared or untested content that will delay or postpone production. The game is almost ready, we still have to do a few corrections, and finalize the layout of the ruleset.

Grant: What other games are you currently working on?

Stéphane: I’m currently working on several historical games, covering different periods of history, always with the idea of making games that mix strong historical themes and are open to a wide audience of players due to accessible mechanics and simple rules. In another genre, I’m also working on a party game and a game for children. 

Thanks Stéphane for your time in quickly answering our interview questions. This game looks very interesting and we love player interaction so anytime we can bluff it is a good thing! I look forward to playing this one as well as to what you have upcoming.

If you are interested in Border States, you can check out the Kickstarter campaign at the following link: