Inside Mr. Madison's War: A Design Interview with Gilbert Collins
As we were preparing this game for P500 launch, I asked designer Gilbert Collins a series of questions about his design. Rather than try to integrate his answers into the details above, we thought we'd just present them in full here, to give you guys more of a feel for what this game is about, in Gilbert's own words. Enjoy! - Gene
Gene: Are there Scenarios in MMW, or is it all about the campaign game?
Gilbert: Presently, much like “Washington's War” (WW) the main game is the entire war. However, I do have two other scenarios, an 1813 start and an 1814 start. But in preliminary discussions with Andy I thought these might be best served as a potential article in C3i magazine. The scenarios are fun but don't give the experience or show off the main game. That is why I did not include them in the body of the rules. I had included them in the Play book but later edited them out. Of course they could be restored. [We're still talking about this - GB]
Gene: How long does it generally take to play Mr. Madison's War?
Gilbert: My objective was to reach a goal of a game length still within range of tournament play and I think I have succeeded in this. The game can be played in as little as 2 hours but 3.5 hours seems to be the norm. It tends to be a tad longer than a typical game of “Washington's War” (of which I am a fan) but certainly less than “For the People” (FTP) which seems to take much longer to play and yet is still a tournament game at WBC.
Gene: Could you compare this game to some of our other Card-driven games?
Gilbert: The system is Mark Herman's tried and true CDG game system but catered to 1812. Movement is slightly more complex than Washinton's War (WW) but less complex than For The People (FTP). By that I mean roads, trails, major invasion routes all add or detract from movement, unlike WW where the point to point movement is rather generic.
The game also emphasizes the Naval War on the Great Lakes. In this aspect it is more complicated than WW and perhaps about equal to FTP. My goal was to get a game 'in between' those two in complexity and I believe I have achieved this.
Unlike both WW and FTP some of the cards can be played directly for points instead of operations. In this regard it is slightly different than other CDG games. Another 'feature' I would say is the marriage of the cards to the geography a little more closely than some of the other games. Some would call this 'scripted', but until you actually play the game I think you would see that it is not. Players are completely free to pursue their own strategies but some cards limit or rather specify more closely 'where' a card can be used.
While WW does feature that unique “When does the game end” set of cards, for Mr. Madison's War (MMW) I have taken it a step further. In MMW players are not 100% sure of when the war actually STARTS. There is a whole prewar sequence that sets the stage up for the conflict. Without getting into the 'historical' reasons why I did this, suffice it to say that it offers players 'something new'.
Finally, Lake Naval Transport and Amphibious Attack are emphasized more than than in WW, FTP or Wilderness War.
Gene: Please explain the values on the counters for us as well as how land and naval combat work.
Gilbert: Basically, the 'numerical' value for a land unit is a quantification of it's size and combat prowess. The 'alphabetical' character relates to his quality. Quality, whether “A”, “B” or “C” directly translates to combat modifiers on the Land Combat Results Table. Thus a smaller “A” class unit might be able to defeat a larger “C” class unit.
For the Naval counters, what matters here is the quality of the vessel, much like the land modifiers. Also the type of vessel. Thus a 'Frigate' should have no trouble defeating a 'Schooner' type vessel.
The coloured dots is my unique system for unit placement AND PUTTING AWAY THE GAME. Always a pet peeve with me, I find a lot of games do nothing for the hobbyist to set up his game quickly and then put it away.
Land Combat: This is a function of combat odds with several critical modifiers for quality, terrain, leadership and whether the unit has been reduced or not. The War of 1812 needed a unique combat system and my single D12 based table handles this rather well. From a historical point of view some of the land battles had hugely lopsided results that defied all combat odds and I felt a good game on 1812 had to reflect this.
Naval Combat: Similar to land combat but far more decisive and based on d6. The naval battles of 1812 were far more decisive and depended on quality, number of vessels, and leadership - with some luck. The fleet naval battles in this game scare me to death. As in the real war the naval battles on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain resulted in the capture of the enemies entire fleet. In this game, that can happen but if players are careful it need not happen. The risk takers risk all.
Gene: I see we have individual leaders. How do they affect the game?
Gilbert: In a similar manner to FTP, the use of leaders allows players to move forces more efficiently. Also, a leader can use his combat modifier in a battle for offence or defence. Forces can move without leaders, but players will soon discover that moving with a leader, even a bad one, is often better than no leader at all. This is certainly 1812. I don't like it when games allow players to ignore leaders and move without them. For 1812, I had to design a system that allowed for some really terrible leaders and make the players understand WHY they were used. My 'game philosophy' is that in designing a good game, you should be teaching your audience 'something' even if they don't realize it.
Gene: This is a CDG, so is hand management important, and how so?
Gilbert: Yes, this is important as in all CDG games. But I wanted to carry this even further in one aspect. Several games allow you to either choose between playing a game for ops or for the event. But in MMW I wanted players to agonize on the decision to play a card for ops (which seems simple) or playing the card for straight Victory Points. (which is not as obvious)
In our play tests we found that nearly all of the 'new' players often played a card for more ops. You know, more straightforward, you get move stuff etc....However, as we gained experience with the game we found that it was often a better choice to play for those humble '2 VP's' instead of trying to move an army or forces on the ground. What at first appears to be a 'no brainer' is actually quite an important decision making tree with only two forks. To really make it difficult, many of the Victory Point cards are often the '3' cards which result in more operations points too. One of my favourite aspects of the game is watching players make this agonizing decision. Only to find out that at game's end they 'would have won' had they chosen the other decision tree.
Gene: How do you see the strategy challenge for a player in Mr. Madison's War?
Gilbert: After players play the game I don't think they will be as hard on the historical commanders as they might have been before. History has been pretty hard on a lot of the commanders, for exampe, Hull and Prevost. But after playing the game, the player is going to have a good sense on how difficult that war was to win and an appreciation for the huge effort that went into it.
The strategies are left open to the player and there is an element of luck but ultimately it will be the 'best player' who will win. One of my principal play testers can now defeat me consistently as both sides. He is just a better player. The game has 'luck' but it will not ultimately determine who wins. (I would love for James Pei to try this one!)