The making of a campaign

Editors Note: We are pleased to have Mike from First Command Wargames talk about the process behind his first campaign book. Mike and his team are a staple at our events, running exciting and beautiful games for our miniature gaming events. For more information please visit their websites or Check out the editor’s Review of his First Command Game: Raid on Deerfield at Drums along the Maumee.

beaverwarsfrontcover_med_hrI love campaigns. I think tabletop battles that are tied to a campaign mean so much more than a one-off game. There is an underlying nervousness that isn’t always there in other games. Will my forces triumph and further our strategic goals? Or will we suffer a setback with long-term effects? After I’d published Song of Drums and Tomahawks a couple years ago, my mind immediately went to designing a campaign to go along with it. That was how the idea came of the Beaver Wars Campaign Rules & Scenario Book was born.

I chose the historical period of the Beaver Wars (yes, there really was a war called that, and it was fought right here in Great Lakes country) because it had the potential for more players to be involved. If I set it in the French & Indian War timeframe, there would be just a handful of sides — British, French, Indian, and perhaps European colonists. The scope for players to truly control the fate of their side would be limited. However, the Beaver Wars involved two dozen or more tribes, each of whom was struggling for ascendancy or survival. For those who don’t know, this period began in the late 1600s and could be argued ran almost to the start of the French & Indian War. The tribes were warring over hunting and trapping lands — particularly of Beaver, as that was their chief currency in trade for European goods and firearms.

I prefer my campaigns to require a minimum of paperwork and logistics to keep track of, both for the GM’s and player’s benefit. Too much detail and it becomes like work, or worse yet — accounting! My apologies to any accountants out there, but there probably is no job more diametrically opposed to my nature! Before writing the Beaver Wars, I had come up with a “fantasy baseball” type of scoring system to resolve who was winning. Player tribes would compete for points in a number of different categories. They’d earn them by the strategic decisions they made, as well as from the results of battles. In the end, I went with three categories, roughly covering the beaver pelts they collected, prestige from winning battles, and victory points from the scenarios themselves. The system worked great, with only a tiny bit of tweaking needed over the course of playtesting.

Prior to beginning playtesting, I researched the period thoroughly — reading numerous books on this hazily-documented conflict. I scoured works from a number of sources, including scholarly and general public accounts of the period. I visited the archives of the Ohio History Center, reading both primary and secondary sources. I explored internet sources, too, finding one excellent one and dozens of skimpy ones. These gave me a good grounding of what results the campaign mechanics should produce. Even wargames with simple mechanics need a good grounding of history.

Burning Cabin mod by First Command WargamesFinally, it was time to playtest. This happened in two phases. The first was with our regular Sunday evening gaming group. After documenting a number of turns, I retooled a number of aspects of the campaign and relaunched the campaign with a larger number of players, not all from our regular group. This phase also was meant to playtest the 18 scenarios that would be included in the rules. These were tweaked as we went along, with the goal of providing a relatively balanced variety of tactical puzzles for the players to solve. I honestly intended (and hope) the scenarios alone would give gamers a reason to purchase the rules. At $20 a print copy ($10 PDF), even players who have no intention of gaming out the Beaver Wars would benefit from the historical background and the sheer number of games the included scenarios would provide. They are written to reflect the type of skirmish actions that would be common in tribal warfare — ambushes, raids, rescue missions, and unexpected encounters between hunting parties.

I wanted to be thorough in my playtesting, which is why it took more than two years to produce this supplement for Song of Drums and Tomahawks. From the scenarios, to tribal histories of 14 nations that fought in the wars, to dividing the conflict into four time periods and theaters, there is a lot in this book besides just campaign rules. The Beaver Wars was truly a labor of love, and the more I researched and learned, the more hooked on this period I became. When our webmaster Ryan asked me to write this blog entry about it, I was happy to do so. I hope that he won’t mind me adding in a link for purchasing the rules for those who have read this and become intrigued. To sample this fascinating struggle that took place on the very ground we walk upon, check out the First Command Wargames website:

Thanks for reading!

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