With 2021 marking the bicentenary of Napoleon’s death on May 5, 1821, there have been quite a few new Napoleonic wargames that have released/gone to Kickstarter over the past 6 months or so. Napoleon 1815 from Shakos Games, Napoleon’s Imperium from Compass Games, Napoleon Returns 1815 from Worthington Publishing and Coalition! The Napoleonic Wars, 1805-1815 also from Compass Games. Well, PHALANX is also getting into the act with a game of their own on the subject called Coalitions designed by Andrew Rourke that hit Kickstarter this month. The game looks really fascinating and is being touted as a game of diplomatic and military maneuvering in Napoleonic Europe for 1-6 players. I wanted to get a better feel for the design and reached out to Andrew to get a look inside the game and he was more than interested in sharing.
If you are interested in Coalitions, you can order a copy from the Kickstarter page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/phalanxgames/337694489/?fbclid=IwAR0E9u8KwUy9un3Gm1FbVWvmRu9LBGw6miGJ0aOQLW08GhoRBe-x6IIdpjU&ref=cotnfv&token=6fe9c9c5
Grant: First off Andrew please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?
Andrew: I was a partner in an Optometry practice in Guildford, England for nearly 20 years, however I was fortunate enough to be able to stop work in 2017 and join my wife in her sports nutrition café business which operates mostly at weekends. This meant I had a lot more time during the week to devote to the important things in life, like playing boardgames. I’ve wargamed since the 1980’s and seen the hobby develop massively.
Grant: What motivated you to break into game design? What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?
Andrew: Having time makes you think about how you want to spend it. I loved gaming but couldn’t spend all week just playing games; I felt I needed to contribute something, by creating something, but at first I wasn’t really sure how to go about it. I enjoy the modelling and painting side of wargaming and initially wanted to create something along those lines, but soon realized my skills weren’t really up to professional level.
I think most people have games that they like but wish one or two rules were slightly different or better and I thought the same. That is exactly what motivated me; I wanted to make a game that took older design concepts and updated the mechanics and playability to make a modern board game that was easily accessible, interactive and fun. Watching people experience your game through play testing has been the most enjoyable learning curve for me so far. As far as I’m concerned any game is only as good as the emotional experience the players feel and this could be any type of emotion, as long as it is the emotion you are trying to elicit.
Grant: What do you find most challenging about the design process? What do you feel you do really well?
Andrew: I have found that the key is to know what you’re good at and get help with the rest! My graphics skills are rubbish so the first prototypes were made from coloured card, then my daughter Maddie stepped in with photoshop to sort me out. Rules writing is so much harder than you think and thankfully, I have a great friend, called Norman, who proof read and edited every iteration. There are so many different skills you need that it is simply not possible to be good at them all, so what did I do really well? Recognise when I needed help.
Grant: What is your upcoming game Coalitions about?
Andrew: Coalitions is themed on the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, but really it’s a game where you continually have to make difficult choices between bad options on how you want to interact with all the other players.
Grant: What is your overall design goal with the game?
Andrew: When I started to design the game I wasn’t completely sure where I was going to end up, so I gave myself some design criteria that I wanted to stick to. Firstly, there were to be no dice; it was important to me to minimise luck in the game. I wanted players’ choices to determine how well they did. Secondly, the game wasn’t to be card driven; I wanted complete freedom of choice for the players to guide their own destiny. Thirdly; there were to be no special rules; the mechanics had to be simple and not detract from the game. I wanted to centre around the players’ skill at negotiation and making the best choices.
Grant: What was the reason for your choice of the title? What does “Coalitions” mean in game terms?
Andrew: During the period 1792 to 1814 six different Coalitions were formed by various European powers, all of whom were against France. Each Coalition was different and their formations required a great deal of negotiation and diplomatic skill. I wanted this game to represent the difficulties of forming and maintaining a Coalition in the face of the ever increasing military power of France. France were also able, through different methods, to persuade faltering powers to their side. In the game Britain and France are always at war with each other and can never be in the same Coalition, thus they must persuade the other major powers to the benefits of being on their side. However, nations may choose to remain neutral or even embark on a war of expansion, without any alignment to Britain or France. Diplomacy is never easy!
Grant: The game plays from 3-6 players. What countries does each player control at the various player counts? What player count do you feel is best?
Andrew: In a 3 player game one person takes France, another Britain, Russia, and Austria, the other takes Prussia and the Ottomans. In a 4 player game one person takes France, another Britain and Austria, another the Russians, the other takes Prussia and the Ottomans. In a 5 player game one person takes Britain and Austria, the others take one nations each. In a 6 player game obviously each player takes one nation. My personal favourite is 6 players as I love negotiation in a game and the more the merrier, however the 4 player count does give an excellent and often very tight game.
Grant: What is the concept of Political Status and how does this effect players?
Andrew: With each turn, any nation, other than France or Britain, have a chance to change their political status. They may join a British coalition to fight against France, or become a French ally in the French Coalition, they may choose to remain neutral and avoid conflict, or declare a war of expansion and fight everyone without aligning themselves to either Coalition. Britain and France always remain at war with each other in their respective Coalitions. Your political status dictates who you can attack and who you can ask for support, as you may never attack another nation you are in Coalition with and only members of the same Coalition can support one another.
Grant: What is the Influence in the Mediterranean represent? How does it effect players?
Andrew: The influence track runs through the Mediterranean, out past Gibraltar into the Atlantic and through the English channel, terminating in the North Sea. This track records the amount of influence a nation has gained, either through controlling disputed territories, or victories in battle. The first nation to reach 40 on the track will win the game.
Grant: What is the scale of the game and the force structure of units?
Andrew: The game scale is grand strategy, politically and militarily. Each turn represents the period of time necessary to from a Coalition and conduct military campaigns as that Coalition. Between 1792 and 1814 there were six Coalitions formed by Britain and her allies. A full game of Coalitions with all nations starting at zero influence will normally take six turns to complete.
Nations have a set number of armies available to them and this differs depending on the nation. Each army marker has a combat strength of one, to which may be added a maximum of three unit tokens, each also with a strength of one. However unit tokens allow you to add combat cards from your hand depending on the amount of morale your nation has acquired. Therefore a player can choose to distribute the strength of their nation between their armies in a flexible way depending on how the situation on the map develops.
Grant: What different units are represented in the game and what advantages do they bring to the battlefield?
Andrew: All nations have exactly the same army markers, all with a combat value of one, however some nations have more armies than others. Unit tokens represent corps size or greater amounts of troops that have been allocated to these armies, but more importantly, each unit token will allow the play of one card in combat. The cards are where unit types are differentiated; they have a numerical value which is added to the combat but also depending on the troop type they will have special abilities. Different cards will represent militia, infantry, cavalry, artillery, and guards from all the nations involved.
Grant: What area does the map cover? Who is the artist and how does their style assist in creating theme and immersion?
Andrew: The map is a broad representation of the political situation in Europe in the years between the French Revolution and the end of the Napoleonic period. During this period, borders changed as territories were won and lost through war and diplomacy. The map has been deliberately distorted to minimise the size of seas and maximise the amount of room for game play on land. Some small states and principalities have been amalgamated or merged with larger ones and some have not been represented.
Phalanx commissioned Bartek Jedrzejewski as the artist, I feel he’s done a great job of trying to represent regions without getting into the detail of exact boarders. I wanted the map to appear like something diplomats might have sketched down during negotiations rather than a cartographer creating exact borders.
Grant: What do the different colors, names and numbers in the spaces mean?
Andrew: The colours represent the six different nation’s original territories. Unplayed minor nations or regions are coloured beige and disputed territories are striped with the colours of the nations that dispute those territories. Each territory has a name to help identification during negotiations between players, plus there are two types of numbers found in different territories.
Original and minor nation territories contain a number representing the amount of taxation they generate to the controlling power and this income is spent in the mobilisation phase. Disputed territories contain a number representing the amount of influence a nation will gain if they have a matching colour stripe and control that territory during the scoring phase.
Grant: How are territories controlled? What benefit does control provide?
Andrew: All of a nations original territories are considered controlled by that nation unless another nation who is not in the same coalition has placed a garrison in that territory. All non-original territories, including minor nations, disputed territories and other nations original territories are controlled by placing a garrison in them. Garrisons are placed by converting a unit token that is with an army in a territory into a garrison by detaching it from the army stack and flipping it to the garrison side.
Control of a territory allows collection of taxes, gaining of influence, plus the ability of an army to do a reserve move through that territory. A reserve move is where an army may move a maximum of three territories as one move, as long as all those territories are friendly controlled. This allows for quicker movement of reserves to where they are needed.
Grant: Why did you feel area movement was the most appropriate mechanic for the conflict?
Andrew: I didn’t want to bog players down in small movements, Hex’s and Point to Point felt too detailed. Each game turn could represent several years of campaigning in a theatre so I wanted armies to be able to cover large areas without the need to pin them down to specific locations.
Grant: What is the role of the Political Phase? How do players form Coalitions and how are they broken?
Andrew: At the start of each turn all players are free to negotiate their political status with others. Players may request to join a Coalition or decide to withdraw from one and players can swap straight from one Coalition to another. Britain and France are always at war and can never change their political status from being in their respective Coalitions. Following negotiations once the other players have decided what best suits them for the coming turn they secretly place their Coalition status marker face down in front of them. When everybody is ready all markers are flipped simultaneously to reveal each players choice then the diplomatic markers on the Coalition status zone are adjusted accordingly to reflect the new situation which is now fixed for the turn.
Britain and France can choose whether to accept another power into their Coalition or not, but once a power is in a Coalition it cannot be expelled, though it may leave any turn it wishes.
Grant: How important is this phase to the game? How does this reflect history?
Andrew: The political phase is extremely important as it dictates who are your friends and who you can attack in the coming turn. Friends can offer support in combats; you may be able to freely pass through their territories, with their permission and in the case of the British Coalition, you may be able to receive subsidies from Britain and gain more influence in battle by defeating the French.
As you cannot attack Coalition partners it can be a way of taking some pressure off if you join the same Coalition as one of your neighbours so that they can’t attack you. On the other hand, if you want to capture a disputed territory held by another nation, you need to make sure you’re not in the same Coalition.
Being in a War of Expansion means you are not tide by any of these constraints and can attack anywhere, however it also means you cannot ask for any support in combat and every other nation can attack you. This phase reflects the attempts to form the six different Coalitions created in this period. Nations need to decide between the gold offered by Britain and the military intimidation of France, whether to try and stay out of the conflict by remaining neutral, or perhaps like the Russians and Ottomans in this period, fight a war that has nothing to do with either Britain and France but is just a War of Expansion.
Grant: What is the concept of a War of Expansion?
Andrew: War of Expansion represents the fact that conflict in this period wasn’t all about Britain and France. Nations had many tensions between them, Austria and Prussia were adversaries for influence in Germany. Russia, Prussia and Austria all wanted to control more of Poland following its partition and Russia and the Ottomans fought for many years along their borders.
Grant: What is Mobilisation and how can the players spend their collected money?
Andrew: Mobilisation is when a player can use the income they’ve gained through taxation or subsidy to purchase either unit tokens to be placed with armies on the board, or buy Battle Cards up to their hand maximum, or increase their nations morale on the morale track.
Grant: What role do Battle Cards play in the design?
Andrew: Battle Cards are the only random factor in the game; they are used during combats in a blind bidding process to add strength to an army. Because your opponent doesn’t know the value of the cards you hold, battle cards introduce an element of bluff, thus creating a situation where victory in combat is never guaranteed.
Grant: Can you show us a few examples of cards and tell us how they work?
Andrew: At the moment cards add a numerical strength value to a combat between 1 and 5, however we are in the process of developing extra abilities to these cards depending on the troop type depicted on the card. For example, light cavalry may allow you to scout and perhaps reveal one of your opponents cards, or guards may be able to be played without losing morale on the nations morale track. However this isn’t finalised yet and is still in development.
Grant: What is the Influence Adjustment Phase?
Andrew: During the Influence Adjustment Phase your nation will move up the Influence Track by the numerical values of all the disputed areas with your nations’ coloured stripe that your nation controls with a garrison. Also, for each original territory of another nation that you are not in Coalition with and that you have garrisoned, you will increase movement on the Influence Track by the taxation value of that territory.
Grant: Why do British Allies receive 2 Influence Points during this phase? What does this represent from history?
Andrew: This has slightly changed now, any nation that is in the British Coalition that defeats a French army in combat receives two influence rather than just the normal one influence for winning a combat. This represents the fact that the French are hard to beat militarily and the prestige of doing so is greater, plus it encourages nations to be part of the British Coalition
Grant: What also does British subsidies represent?
Andrew: British subsidies represents the fact that Britain was very rich from all its world trade and it had command of the seas. Britain used this money to help fund the equipment and training of European armies if they would fight the French. In the game, Britain is encouraged to give out subsidies as it gains influence and nations are encouraged to be part of the British Coalition as they can gain money in the form of subsidies that can be spent on increasing their strength, plus if they do manage to defeat a French army, they also gain more influence if they are part of the British Coalition.
Grant: What is the concept of Choosing an Enabler during Movement? What does this represent from history?
Andrew: Choosing another nation to enable your movement is an abstracted form of diplomacy. I wanted to explore the idea of ‘my enemies enemy is my friend’. For any nation to be able to move, it must ask another nation, i.e an ‘Enabler’. A nation cannot ask any member of the same Coalition they are in, to be their enabler; it must look to an enemy to enable it. This enemy could be in the other Coalition, in a War of Expansion, or Neutral, so the player wishing to move must make the choice of which of his potential enemies is the least damaging to deal with (hence diplomacy!). The player who wishes to move, gains position on the board by their movement and, for each round of movement they allow (up to a maximum of three), the nation chosen as the enabler gains morale on the morale track for their nation. Each extra round of movement gains greater increases for the enabler’s nation on the morale track, allowing a win-win situation to occur. However, the enabler always needs to judge that their gain in morale is equal to the moving player’s gain in position and vice-versa. Hopefully this leads to some difficult decisions for all players to consider at different times during the game.
Grant: What is the Sequence of a Battle?
Andrew: When an army moves into a territory that contains a garrison or an army, which is not in the same Coalition, a battle must be resolved. This battle and any others resulting from the same round of movement are all resolved in the order that the moving player chooses. The following sequence is followed:-
- Total up on-map strengths of both sides in the contested territory. Each army marker, unit token and garrison counts as one strength point.
- Request and declare supports for the attacker from armies in bordering territories then add their strength.
- Request and declare supports for the defender from armies in bordering territories and then add their strength.
- Secretly determine commitment of battle cards (one by one) starting with attacker, then attacker supports from Coalition members, then defender followed by defender supports from Coalition members. This sequence is repeated until all players no longer wish to pledge more cards, or they run out of cards.
- Simultaneously reveal and determine outcome of battle cards by adding their strengths to the combat. The side with the highest score wins the battle.
- Make adjustments, loosing armies are removed from the board and discard all their unit tokens, the army marker may be replaced into the nation’s capital. The winning army and all supporting armies from both sides all discard one unit token each. All cards played in the battle are discarded after use, the victorious nation remains in the territory and gains influence for having won a battle. All nations in the territory involved in the battle receive one new Battle Card from the deck whether they won or lost. Supporting nations do not receive a new Battle Card.
Grant: How does Requesting Support during Battles work?
Andrew: Each territory can only contain one army from each nation, therefore to bring in more force to a battle, an army in one territory can request help from other armies of the same Coalition in bordering territories. If the armies are of the same nation then the player can just decide for themselves if they want to commit more force. If, however, the supporting armies are from another nation within the same Coalition, then the player must ask for support from the player controlling that nation and this can be given or withheld depending upon the players choice. The attacker always asks for support first, so that the defender knows what they are facing with before they ask for support.
Grant: How are Battles finally resolved and what are the results?
Andrew: The army with the highest combined strength in the battle, including army markers, unit tokens, garrisons, and Battle Cards is the winner. The losing army is removed from the board and can either be replaced in that nations’ capital or held off table at the owning players discretion. The victor remains in the contested territory.
Grant: How is victory achieved?
Andrew: The first nation to achieve an influence score of 40 wins the game. The game also ends if any nation takes Paris, that nation will gain a lot of influence for capturing Paris, but if they are part of the British Coalition all other members of the Coalition will also gain some influence. The nation with the highest influence will win the game so players need to be carful when it is in their best interest to attack Paris.
Grant: What are you most pleased about with the outcome of the design?
Andrew: I love the negotiation aspect that ripples through every part of the game; deciding upon your political status and who to form alliances with, dealing with enemies enabling you to move, requesting support from Coalition members that isn’t always given and the constant choices in win-win situations where you are torn between your gains and your enemies. Sometimes there are just no good choices, just bad ones, yet you still have to make the best out of a bad situation.
Grant: What type of experience does the game create for players?
Andrew: This is a highly interactive and fun game where all dealings are completely transparent for everyone to see. While watching people play, there is a tremendous amount of banter and negotiation going on around the table, but due to the openness of the design there is no bad feeling, as secret deals where players feel hard done by, are just not possible. So I would say this is a fun, interactive, sociable game.
Grant: What other designs are you currently working on?
Andrew: I am working on several other designs, I have a really interesting game based on Napoleon in Egypt and this is nearly finished. The game explores the effect of luck and skill on the expedition and covers the period from when Napoleon leaves France in 1798 until the final surrender of the remnant of the French army to the British in 1801.
I have another tactical level Napoleonic game, which is more of a cross between a figure game and a board game in the style of a Command and Colors type game. This explores giving command orders with limited knowledge of the situation on the battlefield, plus variable movements depending on proximity of the enemy. Plus in a completely different vein, a quick and easy family fun game for all ages themed on ‘Blob Monsters from Mars’.
If you are interested in Coalitions, you can order a copy from the Kickstarter page at the following link: : https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/phalanxgames/337694489/?fbclid=IwAR0E9u8KwUy9un3Gm1FbVWvmRu9LBGw6miGJ0aOQLW08GhoRBe-x6IIdpjU&ref=cotnfv&token=6fe9c9c5
Thanks! Great interview!
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Very interesting! I was not very into it when I first read about it, but the interview shone light on some intriguing aspects – particularly how negotiation and politics interact!
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I felt similarly to you. Not interested at first but with the right group this could be a riot.