Last year, I was contacted by a huge fan and aficionado of the Battles of the American Revolution Series in Rob McCracken. He wanted to see if I would be interested in doing an interview with series designer Mark Miklos on their new unannounced at the time next BoAR Series game Battle of White Plains. It just so happened at the time that we had just played our first game in the series Brandywine and absolutely loved the game so I was more than interested in talking with Mark.
*Note: The components shown in this interview, as well as the art and any text associated with Event Cards or from the rules are non-final versions and might still change prior to final development and publication.
Grant: First off Mark please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?
Mark: I’m a food safety, training, and restaurant operations professional with over 25 years in the industry. Two years ago I retired from the National Restaurant Association and became a partner in the consulting firm Active Food Safety, LLC.
You never know where life’s journey will take you. In mine, I’ve been an Adjunct Professor of History for the Navy’s Program for Afloat College Education, the owner of a tour company in historic Charleston, S.C., a production manager for a small manufacturing company and a fencing coach at Vassar College and The Citadel.
I like hiking, camping, and canoeing, baseball, and travel. I enjoy walking a battlefield I intend to work on. My bucket list includes retracing Benedict Arnold’s Kennebec Expedition from Cambridge, MA to Quebec.
Grant: What motivated you to break into game design? What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?
Mark: I started gaming in high school with the original Avalon Hill Gettysburg (squares not hexagons.) Gaming slipped into high gear in college where my freshman roommate introduced me to AH and SPI titles in the early to mid-70’s. Many an all-nighter was spent gaming, not studying.
By the time I attempted my first design I had been gaming for 26 years. When you do anything for that long there is a tendency to tinker with house rules and think, “Maybe I can design a game?”
As I was wondering if anyone would gamble on this unknown designer, I recognized that in five years the United States would be celebrating its 225th anniversary. I speculated that there would be a gradual consciousness-raising in the coming 5-years that might improve the appetite for a game on the American Revolution, especially in the east, and that a game publisher might recognize that as an opportunity. I saw this as the most plausible path forward to break into the hobby as a designer.
Everything came together during a road trip through New England and upstate New York in 1996 to show my southern-born wife the autumn foliage (I’m originally from Connecticut and the Mid-Hudson Valley although I’ve lived in South Carolina and Georgia for 48 years.) While standing at the famous “Boot Monument” on the Saratoga battlefield, I determined I would design a game on the Battle of Saratoga, thought by many to be one of the most decisive battles of world history.
Although there are ample titles dealing with the American Revolution today this was not the landscape in 1996. There were nay-sayers who suggested that no one would buy a game on the American Revolution. And, after a 2-year design effort, I did get a few polite rejections. But GMT Games saw potential in the overall playability, re-play value, medium counter density and short playing time as well as the challenge offered in my Saratoga design. They felt it would fit neatly in a niche of games they were developing at the time.
Saratoga ended up a nominee for the 1998 Charles Roberts Award for Best Pre-World War II Board Wargame and a winner in the Best Wargame Graphics category. On the heels of this success GMT and I decided to try a second design, Brandywine Creek, and before I knew it a series was born. I’d like to think that at least in a small way, the Battles of the American Revolution (BoAR) Series has contributed to the renaissance of interest we see today in games about the American Revolution.
The second part of your question was, “What have I enjoyed most about the experience thus far?” First and foremost I enjoy the privilege of working with Gene Billingsley, Mark Simonitch, Tony Curtis, Andy Lewis, Rodger MacGowan, Charlie Kibler and the entire team at GMT Games. I can’t say enough about their professionalism and talent. I’m grateful for all the support I’ve been shown for 24 years. I’ve learned a lot about the hobby from them. They really are a great bunch of guys.
And speaking of great guys, a cadre of dedicated BoAR players has emerged over the years. Through the medium of the games we have become a family of friends. Several of these gentlemen have contributed to BoAR as developers, playtesters, proofreaders, researches, co-designers, social media administrators, and Vassal Module developers. I hesitate to name any for fear of leaving someone out but they know who they are. When you ask what I enjoy most it has to include the formation of this fellowship and the privilege I feel to belong to it.
As a teacher, trainer, coach, and historian I enjoy telling the great story. Game design allows me to utilize the detail and modeling in a BoAR games to reveal the heroes and the villains among our founding fathers and their worthy adversaries, to educate, and to tell a great story, not only experientially through game-play but also in the essay I provide for each battle.
I also enjoy the fact that BoAR games are played competitively, most notably at WBC where the BoAR has been on the “Century List” for 22 years. BoAR has also been the flagship series at “RevCon,” an all-Rev War mini-Con held at Prezcon, for 17 years. There is an active A.R.E.A community that supports competitive play. Of course not every player is a competitive player and BoAR is accepted by both the casual and competitive playing communities.
Finally, I enjoy watching the spread of BoAR gaming not only among new players discovering it for the first time but also among an ever-growing group of international players. It’s humbling and very fulfilling to watch.
Grant: What designers have influenced your style?
Mark: I admire many game designers and enjoy playing their games. The following, however, have had the most influence on my style: Richard Berg, Frank Chadwick, Gary E. Gygax, Mark Herman, Randall C. Reed, Eric Lee Smith, and S. Craig Taylor, Jr.
Grant: What do you find most challenging about the design process? What do you feel you do really well?
Mark: Working in the period of the American Revolution one is confronted by a relative lack of detail for the American forces. Of course this is not universally true. The best-known battles which have been studied for years and for which parks and memorials exist and of which numerous books have been written provide abundant information on order of battle, deployments, command structure and idiosyncrasies, unit performance, terrain, the ebb and flow of battle, and all the elements needed to model a good game. This level of detail is nearly always available for the Crown forces but not so for the American.
For lesser-known battles, such as White Plains, that level of detail is absent. Most secondary sources give such battles a passing mention in the larger discussion of a campaign. Often there are scant primary sources and considerable disagreement as to key details. Source maps may be scarce or contradictory.
As we say on the GMT P-500 listing for White Plains, “This game recovers a forgotten 18th century battlefield and theater of operations that has faded into a highly urbanized modern environment. Most locals are completely unaware that two massive armies faced off in the area, and it’s almost impossible to envision the contemporaneous situational environment now.
New insights into the greater White Plains theater of 1776 have been revealed through a synthesis of long-studied primary accounts, together with dusty 19th century texts penned by local historians and the like, some of whom were preparing to celebrate the Centennial of American Independence in 1876. These texts were closer to the moment than our modern received understanding, and in some cases based on direct-relationship secondary accounts. Taken all together, this effort has helped to recover details that have been distilled into broad strokes, if not fully discarded, by modern synopses.”
To establish the Order of Battle I had to play detective and study scraps of information including memoirs, general orders, casualty lists, and pension records, compilations by local historical societies, journal articles, blogs, secondary-source histories, firsthand accounts, and official returns. I also had to use a little intuition because where specific unit deployments are not known, those deployments are notional but stand up to the litmus test of brigade and divisional integrity.
For me, design is both an immersive experience and one driven by inspiration. And, when an embedded mystery is solved after hours, days, weeks, or months of research and analysis the “Huzzahs” are palpable!
As far as what I think I do well as a designer, let me quote an exchange between two players that was recently posted to the BoAR folder on Consimworld. Player 1 is brand new to the BoAR system while Player 2 is a veteran.
Player 1: “This game feels like it hits the sweet spot for me in the balance between complexity and playability. Once I got into the swing of things, the rules seemed to flow pretty easily.
I’m not expert on the war or the Revolutionary era, but the game certainly “feels” right. I learned pretty quickly that my recent binge of WWII Eastern Front games, and the mentality that goes with trying to race panzers across Eastern Europe would not be helpful in this system. While I’m basing this opinion on only a single play, I get the sense that trying to maneuver your troops/lines as was done in that era will be most effective. A few times I let some strong units race out ahead of the rest of the line and on the very next turn got punished for it (that’s how Hampton was killed). In my future plays, I’m guessing that keeping lines intact will be key.”
Player 2: “You seem to have quickly grasped what is (in my humble opinion) one of the most important aspects of play in this wonderful system…what I like to call the Dance. The Dance – maneuvering your lines in a way to both threaten and attack the enemy while not overly exposing yourself to an enemy strike or flanking maneuver. I have played many a game in the series where the majority of the turns were the Dance, with just a few turns of decisive combat. It requires patience, foresight, and a constant vigilance relative to the potential double move.”
Grant: What historical event does does your new volume in the series Battle of White Plains cover?
Mark: It was the twilight of the New York campaign of 1776. White Plains was the last field battle while the fall of Ft. Washington, on November 16 was the finale of the campaign.
Grant: I read where most authors relegate the Battle of White Plains to a short paragraph when recounting the New York Campaign of 1776. Why then do you feel this battle is important enough to include its own game?
Mark: As it happened in history, the Battle of White Plains could be called the Battle for Chatterton Hill. This relatively limited affair, where some 4,000 British and Hessians attacked and defeated fewer than 2,000 Americans on the right of the American line on October 28, 1776 was the only set piece action to occur between the opposing armies. Those armies, however, were enormous for the period with 14,500 Americans confronting 13,000 Crown troops, later reinforced to 15,400. Yet despite this concentration of forces along a front barely three miles wide the armies sat primarily idle after the fight for Chatterton Hill while the British probed for a weakness and the Americans improved their defenses.
Like two heavyweights maneuvering to shorten the ring, each sought an opening; Howe to press the attack on favorable terms and Washington to receive the attack on fortified ground of his choosing. The prospect for a decisive outcome was ever-present. The fact that it didn’t occur, although a fascinating story, is not a foreordained outcome of the game experience.
Grant: What from the history of the Battle of White Plains did you need to take care to include and model in your design?
Mark: Where source material is abundant, things like accurate battlefield maps and Orders of Battle are not usually a heavy lift. The lack of a comprehensive resource for White Plains, however, meant that these building blocks for a good game had to be created the hard way and it was very important for my team and me to get this right.
Next, I wanted to resolve certain mysteries discovered during my research such as whether or not Captain Alexander Hamilton was actually in command of a 2-gun battery on Chatterton Hill. Given the renaissance in Hamilton’s popularity in our pop culture I felt this was an important mystery to solve. Another example concerns the number and identity of the militia regiments on Chatterton Hill. What one learns is that often secondary histories perpetuate unsubstantiated opinions as facts which then come down through the years as gospel. Where possible we dispel them.
I wanted to put the Battle of White Plains in its proper historical context within the larger New York Campaign and so I offer an essay in the rule book that sets time and place, explains what the protagonists were doing there, and even offers my assessment of who won the battle. Many players have said how much they appreciate these essays which have become a hallmark of BoAR games.
Of course I wanted to accurately represent the historical battle but also give players a chance to model what might have happened if General Howe had pressed the British attack against Washington’s main lines. The modelling is plausible and will lead to many hours of replay value as each player looks for the “secret sauce” of complete victory.
Grant: What is your overarching design goal for this game and what scenarios are included? What different experience do they offer?
Mark: My goal was to not only model the historical battle but also to present players with a great hypothetical challenge. The opposing forces were massive for the period and compressed like coiled springs into a front barely 3-miles wide. What if General Howe had attacked the main American lines at White Plains? What might have been the outcome; the destruction of the Continental Army and the end of the Rebellion or shame and disgrace for the forces of the Crown?
If game time is limited or you just want to appreciate what happened historically, you can re-fight the Battle for Chatterton Hill in a short, tight and tense four and a half-turn scenario. Alternatively, players can experience with what might have plausibly happened if that spring had been released by attempting Howe’s Grand Assault on October 31; a ten and a half turn donnybrook that will bring all the main forces into contact. Howe intended an attack on this day and mustered his units accordingly but called it off in part due to persistent rainy weather.
Of greater interest to some players will be the full campaign game, a four-day, forty-two turn undertaking during which players can model several approaches to the battle and perhaps prove Generals Howe and Washington right or wrong in the end.
After he was recalled to England, General Howe was called before a committee in the House of Commons where he was investigated for his conduct during the Battle of White Plains and, more generally, the New York Campaign. In his sworn testimony he said of the action at White Plains, “An assault upon the enemy’s right which was opposed to the Hessian troops, was intended. The committee must give me credit when I assure them that I have political reasons, and no other for declining to explain why that assault was not made.”
The Battle of White Plains allows you, the player, to perhaps unravel that mystery.
Grant: What sources did you consult and what one must read source would you recommend to anyone wanting to know more?
Mark: There are no contemporary books on the Battle of White Plains. At the time of this writing, Barnes & Noble has announced the publication of one such book due out later this summer; The Battle of White Plains: Washington and Howe in Westchester by Stephen P. DeVillo. We offer no review of it here.
We used contemporary general histories as well as those dealing with the overall New York Campaign and extracted what information we could. We also researched 19th and early-20th century histories of the campaign and battle and drew on numerous primary sources including memoirs, journals, and maps. We used the Peter Force American Archives, Series V, Vols 2 & 3 extensively as well as publications by local historical societies. Several blogs and websites were also helpful. Where possible we corroborated everything on our map through on-site analysis.
I can recommend the following to anyone desiring to learn more:
- Otto Hufeland, Westchester County during the American Revolution, 1775-1783
- Henry B. Dawson, Westchester County, New York, during the American Revolution
- Barnet Schecter, The Battle For New York, 2002, Walker & Company, NY
- Harry Schenawolf, Battle of White Plains – Oct. 28, 1776, Revolutionary War Journal, August 3, 2016
- Professor Adam Derenne, University of North Dakota, A Miniature History of the American Revolution, Blog
Grant: For those unfamiliar with the BoAR Series, what is the hallmark of the focus and mechanics of the game?
Mark: With only a few notable exceptions, battles during the American Revolution were non-sanguine. These battles were more often decided by breaking the will of the enemy army to stand and fight. Its morale broken, the defeated enemy would quit the field and the victor would lie on his arms on the battlefield. The butcher’s bill was usually a small one. In the BoAR System step-losses let alone outright eliminations are few while retreats and disruptions are more common. A unit is more likely to become captured than it is to be eliminated outright.
Army morale is the game within the game. Opponents will begin a game in high morale but as the game progresses one or both may become “fatigued.” Once fatigued, the fighting quality of individual units begins to degrade and their ability to rally or of that side to seize the initiative becomes compromised. Failing to keep a weather-eye-out for one’s army morale status can lead to a slippery slope.
Further degradation of army morale leads to “wavering” status wherein offensive operations become ill-advised. Even if you attack at favorable odds, the accumulated negative DRM’s that you suffer while wavering makes the likelihood of success remote, particularly if you are wavering while your opponent is still enjoying high morale.
One way to win a BoAR game (games typically offer three levels of victory; decisive, substantial, and marginal) is to completely demoralize the enemy army which yields a substantial victory at the moment it occurs regardless of relative casualties or the tactical situation on the game board. The mechanisms governing army morale are simple yet elegant and it only takes one playing of a BoAR game to fully appreciate this reality of 18th century combat.
While army morale is key to the design, other elements contribute to the unique BoAR experience. For example, these are not “I Go, You Go” games. Instead players determine initiative for every game turn so it is entirely possible for one player to get a back to back move. If this occurs at a critical stage in the battle it could be decisive.
Something you frequently hear said at a BoAR game table is, “It’s the mods not the odds.” Accumulating DRM’s to influence the combat die roll is typically more significant than amassing 3:1 or 4:1 odds. Momentum, represented by a finite supply of five momentum chits which must be earned through game play, allows players to influence the initiative die roll, re-roll adverse close combat die rolls, or, in games offering opportunity cards, purchase extra cards from the draw pile.
The fact that victorious lead units must advance into a hex vacated by the enemy, like random initiative, takes complete control out of the hands of the player. Such control is a fiction on battlefields where “no plan survives first contact.” Here, individual regimental colonels may act in ways the commanding general would prefer they not and the player must both anticipate and compensate.
While I could list even more design elements I will end by mentioning “diversion.” During each close combat phase a player is entitled to a single diversion anywhere on the battlefield. Rather than being forced into the dreaded and often unrealistic “soak off” attack the diversion allows you to forgo an ill-advised attack against one hex in order to mass against an adjacent enemy hex at the cost of a negative column shift on the CRT.
Taken together, these and other design elements have been curated into a branded BoAR experience that players have come to appreciate.
Grant: Why has this series been so well received?
Mark: It was my original intention to design a system that would be simple enough to be accessible to novice players yet nuanced enough to present a continuous challenge to the most experienced wargamers. In addition I have continued to innovate exclusive rules with each new design in the series. Here are some examples:
Savannah was the first of two siege and assault games, the other was Pensacola. I had to devise a way to compress a month of time into the strategic game turns while retaining 1-hour game turns for the assault phase of the games while using the same map scale. We introduced Random Event cards and weather effects in Savannah and Pensacola added Corduroy road construction, raiding, and other elements.
Savannah was also unique in that it was intentionally designed as a 3-player game in which only one player can “win.” The friction created between the French and American players who have to agree on how to share limited resources with few rules to govern how to actually do that puts those players directly into the shoes of the squabbling Allied commanders. This has manifested itself during tournaments over the years in some very interesting and intense exchanges; precisely what I wanted the players to experience.
Monmouth introduced unique command & control rules to recreate the confusion that was experienced among General Charles Lee’s vanguard as it approached the British positions at Monmouth Courthouse. Germantown includes rules for a potential friendly fire incident and a spreading panic among the American units as happened historically when American units fired upon one another in the fog. In Eutaw Springs the American troops will loot the British encampment if they are successful in capturing it. It is a victory objective on the one hand but looting may disorder the troops and make them vulnerable to British counterattack; a definite risk-reward calculation that the American player must contend with.
Newtown portrays the only time in the entire war that an actual army of Indian warriors, supported by a few Loyalists, stood to fight with elements of the Continental army. Five-plus years in design, Newtown broke new ground. The Indian player commands an army of “warriors,” not soldiers, whose behavior is motivated by honor, a random movement mechanic, and semi-independent small unit tactics. While the Indian player has full control over his Loyalists who must move first, he has only limited control over his Native troops who may or may not move in support. Even combat is governed by chit pull so one’s forces may not be fully up in time.
There is an entire menu of unique Indian rules such as the resolve to stand up against artillery fire, ambush, ferocity, retreat before combat, withdrawal, and evasion. Meanwhile the American player’s forces are conventional. Dr. Don Hanle, Professor Emeritus and former Dean of the College of Strategic Studies at the American Defense Intelligence University has described Newtown as a superior example of asymmetrical warfare used against a conventional enemy.
Rhode Island was my first attempt to offer a hypothetical scenario in a BoAR game. The set includes both the historical battle of Rhode Island and the hypothetical grand assault by the Franco-American forces against the fortified British lines encompassing the city of Newport, Rhode Island. This attack literally came within hours of being launched but was called off when lookouts spotted the arrival of a British fleet bearing reinforcements.
French Admiral Comte d’Estaing re-embarked his 4,000 assault troops and sortied his fleet to offer battle. During the line-ahead action a nor’easter blew in and damaged and scattered both fleets. Without French support the American siege of Newport could not proceed. This first attempt by America’s new French ally to cooperate in a ground action against the British ended in no contest and led instead to a British pursuit of a retreating American rear guard. Having offered a hypothetical scenario in Rhode Island it was a short leap of faith to do so again in Battle of White Plains.
In addition to a system that resonates with all players and features continuous evolution of exclusive rules to keep the games fresh and exciting, I also offer replacement counters for older games in the series. Each new release typically includes some replacements that might alter a unit’s morale or its SP based on my continuing research. Sometimes an entirely new unit is introduced to a game. Players are encouraged to punch these counters and update their sets to keep them current and complete.
Finally, in the span of 24-years the BoAR Series has come to offer players 10 volumes including 14 distinct battles with 29 scenarios. That’s quite a palate for the Revolutionary War gaming enthusiast to choose from.
Grant: What area of White Plains does the map cover?
Mark: An area of Westchester County, N.Y. extending north to south from North Castle Heights to Scarsdale and from west to east from Philipse Manor west of the Bronx River to nearly the border of Connecticut east of the Mamaroneck River. The map centers on the village of White Plains which is approximately 20-miles north of New York City.
Grant: What strategic pinch points are created by the layout of spaces and the terrain?
Mark: General Washington was intentional in his selection of this battlefield. His left flank was dominated by Hatfield Hill from whose summit, on a clear day, one could view Long Island Sound. Hatfield Hill was flanked to the east by an enormous mill pond formed in the Mamaroneck River and by virtually impenetrable wilderness and swampland stretching nearly to the Connecticut border, an area not much improved to the present day. Try as he might, General Howe could find no way around to the east.
The American right was dominated by Purdy Hill overlooking the valley of the Bronx River. This flank could only be turned with much difficulty by first capturing Chatterton Hill and then opening the road to Tarrytown. After his defeat on Chatterton Hill, General Washington refused his right and deployed Stirling’s Brigade west of the Bronx River to guard against any northern movement from that quarter.
In effect the ground funnels the action to the center where the Continentals constructed two concentric lines of fieldworks separated from each other by 400 to 600 yards. With that said, the campaign game spans four days (42 game turns) so the attacking British player has ample time to maneuver and experiment with different approaches and is not bound to only launch a direct frontal assault at the American center. Finding a way to crack the nut will lead to hours of replay value.
Grant: Who is the artist? How has their style helped you in telling the story here?
Mark: Charlie Kibler is the map artist for White Plains. Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with two other exceptional artists on maps for this series, Joe Youst and Mark Simonitch. Counters have been made alternately by Rodger MacGowan, Mark Simonitch, Mike Lemick, and Charlie Kibler. Card art has been done by Mark Simonitch and box covers by Rodger MacGowan and Terry Leeds.
Each artist has a unique style and all their work has been both critically and popularly acclaimed.
With respect to Charlie specifically, his touch for this map is very period-appropriate and it will be easy for players to lose themselves in the map’s details and to be transported in time and place. For example, nearly a dozen of the named buildings on the map were drawn by Charlie according to their specific architectural elements.
Extensive on-site analysis of the terrain and detailed scrutiny of period and second-generation maps was conducted. As a result we feel confident in claiming that this is the most accurate map of the White Plains battlefield to have been attempted. Charlie has been able to translate that effort into a map that is not only functional but also a genuine work of art.
Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters?
Mark: Counters include the unit’s name, at-start hex or turn of entry designation, unit morale, SP, & MP. Certain units also include designations for elite status, rifle-armed, light troops, or for “Demi-leader” status. Period-appropriate icons for infantry, cavalry, and artillery come complete with correct uniform details for each regiment where the record is known. Leaders are represented by their portraits or, if not available, by national crests. Values represented on leaders are DRM’s for close combat and rally.
Grant: What is the scale of the game and force structure of the units involved?
Mark: The scale is 200 yards per hex and 1-hour per game turn (30-minutes per player turn.) Units represent Regiments/Battalions with occasional Brigades or Companies. Each SP represents approximately 100 men for infantry or cavalry and 2-guns for artillery.
Grant: What special unit types are included and what do they add to the forces of their side?
Mark: There are several special units:
Rifle-armed units: Each side has two rifle-armed units. Hessian Jaegers at 1-SP each and Pennsylvania riflemen at 3-SP each. These units project fire into adjacent spaces and convey a MP penalty when enemy units enter or exit their ZOC.
Engineers: The American player has one engineer unit used to construct fieldworks. Ten fieldworks markers are included in the game. The British player may be able to place a pontoon bridge across the Bronx River based on the play of an Opportunity Card however its construction is abstracted and no engineer unit is required.
Elite Infantry: The Crown forces have eight elite infantry units. These units are not penalized when attacking in close combat during the rain.
Amusettes: The Hessians have one amusettes unit. Amusettes are crew-operated, shoulder-fired, heavy caliber weapons larger than a musket but smaller than an artillery piece. They are used in counter battery fire to disable enemy artillery.
Heavy Artillery: In addition to standard small caliber field guns (3# & 4#) both sides have several Howitzers & heavy artillery units with extended ranges. The Howitzers do not need LOS to the target.
Lt. Infantry: Both sides have Light Infantry which can move through difficult terrain while expending fewer MP’s and which are harder to hit by fire combat. British and Hessian Lt. Infantry may also probe American fieldworks.
Demi-leaders: Demi-leaders are regimental units commanded by certain officers who distinguished themselves but who are not ranked highly enough to have a dedicated leader counter in the game, especially since their span of command and control was usually limited. The Americans have two such officers; Colonel John Haslet of the Delaware Blues and Colonel John Glover of the Marblehead Regiment. The Hessians have one such officer, Colonel Johann Rall of the Grenadier Regiment Rall. Demi-leaders allow the player to select from all eight tactics cards without requiring the presence of an actually leader counter.
Opportunity Units: These are units brought into the game as a result of card play. They represent additional reinforcement’s plausibly available during the campaign. The Americans have five such units while the Crown has one. Other Opportunity markers represent a Crown forces pontoon bridge and the burning of the Village of White Plains.
Grant: What are the Opportunity Cards and how are they subdivided into three decks? Can you show us a few examples and explain their use and benefit?
Mark: White Plains, like a few previous games in the BoAR Series, can be called “card assisted.” The Opportunity Cards are designed as unique decks of 26 cards per player in which every card either enhances your play or hinders the enemy in some way.
These Opportunity Cards are further subdivided into three draw decks per player consisting of 10, 8, and 8 cards each. Deck one is available at the start of play in the campaign game. Deck 2 is introduced on day-3 (turn 21) and Deck 3 is introduced on day-4 (turn 32.) When a new deck is introduced the previous deck is not discarded but rather shuffled in with the new cards to insure variability and to frustrate “card counting.” For the Chatterton Hill and October 31 scenarios each player is instructed to build specific draw decks of 10-cards.
Players will begin the game with two cards from their starting deck. Additional cards are added according to several methods; on specific game turns as summarized on the game turn track, by purchase during the rally phase at the cost of one momentum chit per card, and by control of specific objective hexes on the map differentiated by side.
There is no limit to the number of cards a player may hold in his hand however some cards must be played immediately as indicated on the card. Some cards may not be played during rain game turns while others get reshuffled back into the player’s draw deck after being played according to instructions on the cards. If certain conditions exist in the game, some cards may be discarded in favor of an alternate card draw as specified in card language. Each card identifies the phase of the game when it can be played. For ease off recognition, combat cards have the card’s name shaded in red.
Each player has a single trump card called “Local Superiority” available in Deck 1 as well as a single “Game Ends” card available in Deck 3. If drawn, the latter card ends the game immediately. This can occur anytime on the final day of battle and represents General Washington slipping away north into the Hudson Highlands. The threat of this card being played adds excitement and variability to the end of the game as the player trailing in points will experience added pressure.
For the most part Opportunity Cards are the vehicle used to introduce some historical narrative to the game by including various key events and happenings in the form of a special ability or action. Cards have been assigned to their respective decks based upon when certain events occurred historically. Some examples for the British include (Deck 3, Card #24) which allows the British player to place a pontoon bridge or (Deck 1, Card #5) which provides a combat DRM to the British player when attacking militia.
Similarly, for the Americans, (Deck 1, Card 8 ) adds to American Army Morale or (Deck 2, Card #13) which allows the American player to take or pass the initiative at the start of a game turn.
Card play will not drive the game or lead in most cases to decisive outcomes. It will, however, leaven the gamers’ experience by introducing random elements of the historical narrative that will differ from game to game.
Grant: What are Tactics Cards and how are they used? Can you show us a few examples and explain their use and benefit?
Mark: At the beginning of the game, each player takes one set of eight identical tactics cards. During every close combat, each player will secretly select one eligible tactic to influence the battle. Once both players have made their selections, the cards are simultaneously revealed. The result will yield a DRM that is cumulative with any other applicable DRM’s in that combat.
There are certain tactics-use restrictions that pertain to leadership and position, such as Turn Flank that requires not only a commanding leader but also a vacant hex adjacent to the combat to execute it.
In the example provided here you see the attacking British player has selected Attack Echelon while the defending American player has attempted to Withdraw. The attacking British player looks down the “Attack” column and finds the defender’s selection, “Withdraw.” At the same time the defending American player looks down the “Defend” column and finds the attacker’s selection, “Attack Echelon.” The outcome is identical on both cards; a +1 DRM which is applied to the British player’s attack. The withdraw tactic, in this case, was unsuccessful.
While most players like the mind-game of tactics card play and feel it adds another exciting element to BoAR there have been a few players over the years who have said that tactics cards slow down the game. Ultimately the combat system favors the accumulation of DRM’s over outright odds and tactics cards are one mechanism available to boost those DRM’s.
For solitaire players, an excellent matrix of “Solitaire Tactics Tables” was created by Joel Toppen and published in C3i Magazine #22 which makes using the tactics cards a seamless experience while playing solitaire.
Grant: What special rules are used in this volume to represent the unique circumstances of this battle?
Mark: Here are some examples of that:
Ruse de Guerre: The work of entrenching at White Plains was made difficult owing to hard-packed soil and rocky ledges so a number of the American fieldworks were improvised by stacking corn stalks pulled from nearby fields with the clods of earth facing outward to deceive the enemy. This ploy was effective and contributed to Howe’s decision to avoid a direct frontal assault.
Because we don’t know precisely how much of the line was improvised or where precisely those positions were, I offer a randomizer based on secret die roll so that only the American player has foreknowledge of his Ruse. The number of hexes to be so-designated and their locations in the lines are plausible based upon a best-guess interpretation of the existing source material.
A Ruse de Guerre hex is revealed once the British player attacks it and it is then marked for the duration of play. This marker signifies that the defensive benefit of the fieldworks hexsides in that hex are neutralized.
Having discovered the Ruse, the British player may then add the special Probe card to his hand and use it on a subsequent turn to probe another enemy fieldworks hex. Whether this subsequent probe is successful or not, the card is reshuffled into the British draw deck to potentially reemerge into the British player’s hand leading to another probe attempt and so on.
Raw Militia: The game includes a rules section outlining a number of special handicaps to the American militia including checking resolve if located in or adjacent to a hex where friendly units suffer disruption, performing a morale check before standing up to enemy artillery fire, suffering an additional negative DRM when attacked by enemy dragoons, and performing a one-time attrition die roll to determine how many Patriot militia leave the battlefield.
Morale and First-fire Recovery: Because the campaign game spans 4-days it is possible to use the numerous rain game turns to restore Army Morale by not engaging in offensive operations or maneuver. It is also possible to restore first-fire capability for rifles and amusettes at the beginning of each new day.
Tarrytown: There is an off-board movement mechanic whereby forces can contest for control of Tarrytown, a port on the Hudson River 7-miles away. It is worth 1 VP to the Americans if they hold it and 2 Opportunity Cards to the British if they capture it. Control of Tarrytown will also influence retreat priorities for the opposing forces.
Scorched Earth: The American player may attempt to set fire to one of three wooded hexes at the base of Chatterton Hill to impede the British approach as was done historically. This is a one-time opportunity.
American Screening Force: There are special rules governing the American screening force that General Washington sent forward on the morning of October 28 to disrupt the British approach. These rules include a combat bonus if they hold their ground as well as a bonus of +2 MP on the first turn in which they move.
Fieldworks Construction: The American player, by virtue of his engineer unit, can build up to ten fieldworks to supplement those on the map at the start of play.
Rain Game Turns: All together there are 15 turns of automatic rain and 4 turns during which the player with initiative rolls for weather; potentially 19 out of 42 turns or 45% of the game will be rain. Rain effects most game mechanics including skipping a game turn if the initiative die roll is tied unless momentum was used to influence that die roll, a reduction of -2 MP, a penalty of half the normal rate for strategic movement, halting fieldwork construction, a -1 DRM when attempting to rally, a reduction of artillery range as well as a -1 DRM on the To-Hit Table, and -1 DRM in close combat except for the eight elite Crown units which are exempt. In addition, Chatterton Hill has 5-hexsides rated as severe slopes that cannot be crossed during rain game turns.
Grant: How difficult are these special rules to create, balance and convey to veterans of the system?
Mark: Because BoAR games are a true series with a set of core rules that do not change from game to game, the addition of exclusive rules for each battle in the series has become a streamlined process. Veterans can skip the core rules because they already know them and focus only on the relatively few pages of exclusive rules. This formula has proven successful with each new game in the series.
Grant: How is Washington’s own combat prowess at this early stage of the war randomized? Why was this important to include?
Mark: In the summer and fall of 1776 General Washington was still developing his skills as an army commander. He already had some successes; maneuvering the British out of Boston and fighting to a draw at Harlem Heights. He also had terrible reverses at Long Island/Brooklyn Heights and at Kips Bay. There was also the flash of brilliance in the masterful retreat from Long Island to Manhattan.
At this early stage of the war he had a fundamental grasp of grand strategy and administratively he was learning to build and maintain an army. Despite evidence of personal bravery his fighting prowess had not yet been established. Hence the need for a die roll to determine which General Washington will show up to fight your next table top battle of White Plains.
Prior to play the American player will roll to determine Washington’s close combat DRM which will either be a 0 or a 1. This outcome will also effect the die roll range needed for the American army to sortie out of its at-start deployments. Only certain American units are free to move when the game begins. The rest are either triggered by British action or by die roll. A close combat DRM of 1 will make it more likely that Washington will order the Continental Army to sortie.
Grant: How does combat work in the system?
Mark: Close combat is mandatory among adjacent units with certain exceptions that would be spelled out in Exclusive Rules. The combat is odds-based but is more reliant on DRM’s than on pure odds. DRM’s are accumulated through the unit morale of your lead unit, the overall army morale of your side when compared with that of the enemy, the presence of commanding leaders, terrain, position, opposing unit types, whether one side or the other is disrupted at the moment of combat, weather, and the interplay of tactics cards. As veteran players like to say, “It’s the mods, not the odds” in the BoAR System.
Fire combat is treated as ranged fire for artillery, rifles and amusettes. Muskets, with which most troops on both sides were armed, do not execute ranged fire due to the game scale of 200-yards per hex. Musket fire is instead abstracted into what is called close combat which also takes into account the use of cold steel.
Grant: What is the makeup of the Combat Results Table? How did you reflect the makeup and different styles of the fighting curves in the table?
Mark: The CRT is decidedly non-sanguine. Combat results favor retreats, disruptions, and pinning the enemy in sustained combat. Step losses occur but rarely and only at extreme odds with ample DRM’s.
Captures are more common than eliminations because while the CRT will yield an occasional capture result, captures are more often the result of units being unable to retreat due to over-stacking or enemy ZOC. Stacking limits are in effect at all times including during friendly movement as well as retreat. Players who embrace linear combat and respect the need to maneuver large blocks of troops in dense formations while leaving intervals open between lines of battle and paths open for retreat will do well. Players who try to apply 20th century tactics to these 18th century battlefields will likely only do so once.
Fire combat is a two-step procedure; first determining if you hit the target and next determining the damage result of that hit. These tables portray results appropriate to the weapon systems of the period. Effective artillery ranges are short (600 yards or 3-hexes for small caliber field guns for example) and the table reflects range attenuation. The denser the target the more likely a hit will be achieved while targets in covered terrain receive a benefit. Howitzers that fire bursting shells overhead are more likely to cause a loss to morale or a retreat or disruption rather than an actual step loss.
Grant: How is victory achieved?
Mark: Each BoAR game offers three levels of victory. Decisive… Substantial… & Marginal… Decisive victory, by design, is typically hard to achieve and is often linked to the capture of terrain objectives. There were very few decisive victories by either side in the American Revolution.
A substantial victory occurs the moment you drive your opponent’s army morale to 0 regardless of the tactical situation on the map or the accumulation of VP’s to that point in the game.
Failing either of those outcomes the game will be played to the end of the last game turn or until the Game Ends card is played. This is considered a marginal victory and both players total their VP’s. VP’s are earned for capturing, eliminating, reducing, or shattering combat units, eliminating leaders, and in some cases for capturing objective hexes.
In White Plains it is possible to end the game in a draw if neither player earned his requisite number of VP’s for a marginal victory.
Grant: What have been some changes that have come about through the playtest process? What still needs work?
Mark: After 24-years the core BoAR System is solid although new players with fresh eyes occasionally point out the need to clarify some rule language which we address as Living Rules and in updates to the Series Rules published in the latest volume of the series. For the White Plains Exclusive Rules specifically, playtesting revealed the need for two revisions.
The first was the way in which we handle Ruse de Guerre. It was originally card-driven meaning that if the British player drew the Ruse de Guerre card into his hand he could play it to automatically negate the defensive advantage of a fieldworks hex he was attacking. The card was then reshuffled into the deck so that it could be drawn again into the British player’s hand.
The problem was that the American player had no control over where the Ruse de Guerre hexes were located even though technically it was the Americans who implemented the Ruse. The solution revealed through playtesting was to have the American player execute a tiny amount of pre-game record keeping on a simple log sheet provided in the rule book that is suitable for copying.
A secret die roll is made and logged. The American player consults an on-board table that identifies how many hexes must be selected as Ruse de Guerre, and their general locations based on that die roll. The American player has a degree of discretion when selecting the exact hex locations within the ranges given on the table. Thus the American player knows in advance where his weak spots are. The log sheet is revealed at the end of the game to ensure fairness. It is a very easy and non-burdensome procedure that puts control back into the American player’s hands.
When a Crown unit attacks one of these designated hexes the American player must reveal it as a Ruse de Guerre. Having done so, the hex is marked with a Ruse de Guerre marker and the defensive benefit of the fortified hexsides in the hex is canceled. The British player then adds his special “Probe” card into his hand; the card having been removed from the draw deck and set aside before play. On future turns the British player can play the Probe card and use light infantry to probe another American fortified hex. Whether that probe turns up another Ruse or not, the card is reshuffled into the British draw deck so that it can be drawn randomly again, leading to another probe attempt and so on.
Playtesting also led to an improvement of the rules governing the play of opportunity cards, particularly the sequencing of card play used to effect combat. It was felt the rules governing card play were too general and open to interpretation. They are now more structured.
Grant: What are you most pleased about with the design?
Mark: Accuracy, ground breaking research, the best map of White Plains ever attempted, and the options to either refight the historical action or to experiment with the “what-if” scenario.
Grant: What has been the response of playtesters? How do they feel about the time period now?
Mark: To a man the playtesters enjoyed the experience and are looking forward to the finished product. We only use veteran players for playtesting and so they are already steeped in the period and know and respect the core system.
Grant: What other games are you currently working on?
Mark: The next game in the BoAR System will be volume 11, The Battle of Green Spring which was a prelude to Yorktown in Virginia. I’m in the research phase now. This game may or may not include a bonus game in much the same way that Guilford Courthouse included Eutaw Springs and Newtown included Oriskany. Candidates for the bonus game include Briar Creek or perhaps Hobkirk’s Hill but the jury is still out.
I have also been working, on again…off again for years, on the Battle of Valcour Island which was Benedict Arnold’s naval action on Lake Champlain in 1776 and which Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan credits with saving the American Revolution. While not a BoAR game in the strictest sense owning to its being a naval battle, it has always fascinated me.
For Valcour Island I want to offer something unique from all the other good “fighting sail” games out there and so my vision is for three games in one that can be played either separately or together. First, a resource game in which both players race to build their fleets and float them on the lake. Second, a “seek and destroy” game in which the protagonists are on the lake and searching for each other. Finally, the battle game in which the historical fleets are arrayed against each other in the lee of the island. That latter game may also include an option for the running fight up the lake that occurred after the main battle.
A team of co-designers and developers, led by esteemed designer Bruno Sinigaglio and developer Dave Stiffler, are working with me on what we plan to call “Small BoAR.” Because of my scale at 200 yards per hex and 100 men per SP we are limited as to which battles we can model in the BoAR System. Eutaw Springs which features 2,200 men per side is about the smallest battle we can manage at this scale.
Small BoAR will allow us to tackle the myriad of smaller-scale but no less decisive battles that were fought during the American Revolution. The flagship of the Small BoAR Series will be Cowpens, already well along in design and development, with another three titles stacked up behind it. Small BoAR will feel familiar to BoAR players because only the scaling has changed to 25 yards per hex and 12-13 men per SP. Muskets will have ranged fire but most BoAR Series concepts will remain unchanged.
In the far future I hope to design a strategic game on the American Revolution as well as an area movement treatment of the Battle of Antietam. Those will have to wait, however, until I complete the BoAR Series that I hope will reach 13 volumes before it ends. There were 13 colonies after all.
Thanks for your time in answering our questions Mark. I really appreciate your passion for the BoAR Series and for the history of the American Revolutionary War. I am impressed at your approach and dedication to historical accuracy and want to wish you best of luck in your future volumes in the series.
If you are interested in Battle of White Plains, you can pre-order a copy for $48.00 from the GMT Games website at the following link: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-924-battle-of-white-plains.aspx
According to the designer and backed up by the June 23rd Monthly Update email from GMT, the game is set to go to the printer in July/August so you can probably expect to see this one by the end of 2022!
Fabulous to hear that the future holds even more AmRev goodies for us!
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What is a good entry point for this series with its many volumes? Almost went with the tri-pack when it came out a couple(?) years ago, but ultimately held off.