This is the beginning of a new series here on The Players’ Aid and is devoted to the best looking boards found in the wargaming world. Every other Friday, I will highlight the art and layout of a different board in a wargame that we have played to show you the various talents of the artists and graphic designers involved. In my humble opinion, a well designed and attractive board can make all the difference in the world to me enjoying a wargame. Don’t get me wrong, the game has to be good, but if it’s also good looking it always is a better experience. A board can draw me in. Can make me feel that I’m there. Can set the stage for the thematic immersion that we all crave. And I have found many of these boards and I want to make sure that I share them with you.
Kekionga!: A Dark and Bloody Battleground, 1790 from High Flying Dice Games is a game that I came across in 2016 solely because of the look of the graphics on the cover and the board. The game is set during the late 1700’s when the fledgling United States of America was dealing with friction on the western frontier of the new country. The struggle for the Old Northwest Territory (what would become the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin) was terribly violent. Massacres and atrocities seemed to follow one upon the other and the Battle of Kekionga in October 1790 was the first battle fought by the United States Army after the War for Independence. The campaign had been ordered by President Washington against the Miami settlement of Kekionga located near modern day Fort Wayne, Indiana, the center of Native American resistance to US migration across the Ohio River at the time.
The artist for the game is a very talented and skilled professional named Nils Johansson. Kekionga! was not his first game but was the first game of his that I noticed. He had done several other games for High Flying Dice Games prior to Kekionga! including Breaking into Valhalla (2001), City of Confusion: The Battle for Hue, Tet 1968 (2012) and Dueling Eagles: Aerial Combat over Malta (2013). When I first saw the cover to the game, I just knew that I had to get myself a copy and see the rest of the package.
The board is spectacular and is focused on the main encampments of the Miami Indians located on the banks of the St. Joseph River. In the picture below, the encampments, which are referred to as Camp Ground on the terrain key, are shown just left of the center of the board surrounded by hardwood forests and adjacent to cornfields that provided the people their food.
The thing that I love about the way the villages and cornfields are depicted is the use of various colors to set off these hexes to differentiate them from the hexes around them. Not only does Nils draw in the rows of the fields but he also makes them a different shade of green or brown to highlight them individually as their own field which makes them clearly stand out. This is the best part of the board and frankly really wows me that he went to that level of detail and thought to make sure that this key feature of the battlefield was highlighted.
In the game, the cornfields are a very important part of the defense for the Indian player as they will get a -1 DRM (Dice Roll Modifier) bonus to their attacks when they are deployed and attacking from a Woods or Cornfields hex. The lower the rolls the better in this game so this advantage is huge for the Indians. I really loved the cornfields in this game! Have you ever been in a cornfield? With 6-7′ tall stalks of corn, that would have been dry and brown by the time of this battle, cutting into your skin as you walk through them. The corn stalks would also have somewhat disguised movement, caused great fear and panic among the US Militia once the war whoops would have commenced screaming through the rows from all directions. There would have been suffocating smoke from the musket volleys. It would have been chaotic, and in battle, chaos leads to death! I can actually feel the fear that they would have felt and any game and board that can make me feel that way, is a good one!
The Camp Ground spaces are also very well done and show the detail of several different types of lodging that would have existed in this main village. There are wigwams shown in the form of the smaller white and tan structures as well as larger wooden round meeting houses where gatherings would have been held between the different chiefs of the many tribes in the area to conduct trade, negotiate boundaries and hunting grounds and to also debate strategy during times of war. These hexes in the game are very important to the Indian player and if they vacate them during the game, the result is an increase in Morale for the US player. The Indian player is best advised to hold the Camp Ground spaces and try to lure the US player into the Cornfields.
The Woods terrain is also very interesting as it is shown with trees growing up through the spaces. But if you look closely, these are not the type of trees that you will see in the middle of a dense and rich forest, but are more the type of trees that you would come to find in a flood plain. The trees are definitely not healthy and you can see that in the art style chosen to depict them. Floodplain causes trees over time to die out as they cannot obtain the nutrients they need from the soil as it is waterlogged and loses these vital ingredients. Certain species though are accustomed to wet conditions but the trees here are not those type of trees and it shows in their haggard depiction.
Located at the bottom of the map are the entry points for the US troops where they will setup at the beginning of the game. There are three different leaders with their formations shown adjacent to the Maumee River. Hall and his 3 companies form to the left, Wyllys and his 2 companies form in the center and McMillon and his 3 companies form to the right. The great thing about this is that the different counters are color coordinated with both the leader counters and the muster areas shown on the map which makes it very clear where the units are to be assigned. This was one of the really great parts of the graphic design and shows how well the board and units work together.
I also wanted to show you how the board looks once you have units on it fighting it out so here is a picture of some of the counters. Notice these Miami braves have left the safety of the Cornfields and have ventured out to meet the oncoming US troops. This was done as a tactical choice because units having to ford the river will be unable to return fire for the rest of that round. Once that initial skirmish was complete, the Indian warriors ran back to the Cornfields and returned to the terrain that gives them a good bonus in combat.
And here is another look at the Miami braves as they are awaiting the oncoming surge of US troops while still occupying the Camp Grounds spaces. Such beauty for a wargame that makes the experience that much more interesting and enriching. I also think that the camera work in this instance is excellent with good framing and a good angle that avoids glare from the overhead light source and provides a crisp and clear view of the units and the terrain.
The functionality of the map is also very good as the terrain types are listed at the top of the board and are very clear as to what is considered in that category. The Morale Track is shown at the bottom of the board and is a very important part of the game as the Morale determines how effectively the different units fight and how easy they are to Rally after they have been Disrupted in combat. Being located at the bottom of the board was a great choice as it puts those numbers within easy view of both sides as they clash and need to quickly refer to the current Morale level.
Overall, we really enjoyed our play experience with Kekionga!: A Dark and Bloody Battleground, 1790 from High Flying Dice Games. Really easy rules, a good combat system that realistically evokes the bloody hand to hand style combat that would have characterized these vicious battles and the board itself. It is a thing of beauty and is one of the best canvases I have had the opportunity to play on. I really enjoy Nils’ style and his efforts with contours and elevations to give his maps a simple 3D look without showing these layers explicitly. There will be other boards done by Nils that we will highlight in this series but this was my first exposure to his work and and caused me to see these games in a different light and to expect something more than the status quo in wargame board design.
Here is a look at our unboxing video for Kekionga! as well as St. Clair’s Folly which is another game in the Battles of the Old Northwest Territory Series illustrated by Nils:
Here also is a link to our interview with the designer Paul Rohrbaugh and you can read that at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2017/10/25/interview-with-paul-rohrbaugh-designer-of-kekionga-a-dark-and-bloody-battleground-1790-from-high-flying-dice-games/
We also did a video review and you can watch that at the following link:
Finally, if you are interested in Kekionga! A Dark and Bloody Battleground, 1790 you can order a copy for $12.95 from the High Flying Dice Games website at the following link: http://www.hfdgames.com/dabb.html
The next board that we will take a look at in the series is from Campaigns of 1777 found in Strategy & Tactics Magazine #316 from Decision Games designed by Harold Buchanan and illustrated by Terry Leeds.