Even if you have Wilderness War, this game is definiitely worth checking out.
Upon announcement that GMT would be publishing Bayonets & Tomahawks, several people’s initial response was “Why ? They’ve already got Wilderness War”. While that may be true, it’s not unheard of for multiple games on similar subject matter – GMT has four operational level Bulge games for instance. Each offers a different perspective on the subject matter and in the case of Bayonets & Tomahawks, that is the case here. Comparisons to Wilderness War are inevitable – it is one of my all time favorite CDGs, and I think it portrays the historic period quite well with a minimum of rules overhead . So while I’ll be talking about this game, I’ll try to offer some comparisons to Wilderness War as I think fans of that game will naturally be curious about this one as well.
Bayonets & Tomahawks has cards and features a point to point map. That will be familiar to CDG fans. But upon reading the rules players will be quick to discover that this game is not a traditional CDG ; rather its probably closer to “card assisted” than pure driven by cards. Sure, you play a card each turn, but the usual OPS or event trade off is not present. The reason I say that is while a traditional CDG often keys on leaders to activate units, this one has no such limitations. Some cards have no event, I’d say about half. The others are blank in the event portion but have icons. Each card has 1-4 icons, either squares ( regular troops ) or triangles ( light troops/Indians ) . There is also no “hand” of cards per se. Each year players start by drawing two cards, holding one in reserve and discarding the other. Then each round they draw one card, decide which of the two to play, and holds the other. So hand management isn’t prevalent as in other games, nor long term forward planning. This may be appealing to some. The icons on the cards each allow a player to activate one stack of that unit type – triangles can activate stacks of Indians/lights, or can activate a single such unit to Raid ( more of which below ) .
There are other twists. Events on cards happen IN ADDITION to the icons which trigger activations. Most interesting is that each round, players pick a card to play and reveal them; whoever has the card with the higher initiative ( a die symbol on the bottom ) decides who goes first in the turn. Going first allows you to act first of course. But it also allows you to hold one activation icon “in reserve” to be used after the second play take his turn. This can be crucial, in that battles are only resolved AFTER both players move in a round. The other implication of course is that players can generate back to back moves if the initiative is in their favor.
Each year ( the game starts in 1755 and goes thru 1760, with shorter scenarios as well as sudden death after each year possible ) has 9 action rounds. The year progresses somewhat seasonally. Each of the first three rounds, players use cards from a “Buildup” deck. These tend to have fewer activation icons . After round 2, players draw reinforcements from a bag. Each player has a pool of both units and chits that either grant special units, or in some cases “ no effect” that may or may not be put back in the pool for future turns. These units are then put onto the map, along with naval units that are also drawn. For the latter, the British have more naval units than the French, but they are drawn from a common pool so the exact ratio of units drawn will vary. Later in the game, the French may draw a marker which removes one of their fleets reflecting losses overseas or off map .
The reinforcement procedure is clever, simple and offers what may be a welcome departure from many CDGs. Whereas, in Wilderness War players had to rely on pure luck of the draw for cards granting reinforcements, here they appear not only in a fairly historic tempo , they appear each spring, as they tended to so historically. Furthermore, players are not forced to make the choice of OPS or taking the reinforcement event, forgoing a round of doing something on map.
After the third round, the British player draws their Colonial reinforcements and places them on the map. Since they “go home” each winter, this means the first two rounds the French have some opportunity, unless the Colonials had some cozy forts to hunker down in over the winter.
Rounds 4-9 use cards from the Campaign Deck which tend to have more activation icons than the Buildup deck. One other note on the decks – because many things that would require events in a traditional CDG happen via the reinforcement draw mechanic, or are implanted in addition to the activation on a card, the decks are fairly small – the buildup decks are only a half dozen cards or so, the campaign decks maybe a dozen cards. In year 1757 and 1769, players add some new cards and take out the same number of cards from the decks. This means that certain events won’t happen til later in the game. And while there are far fewer cards, you are not guaranteed to see them each turn – and because you only ever see two cards at once, can’t be assured of the order in which they appear.
With card play, you decide what do with your units. Movement is along either wilderness paths ( light troops only) or roads, with the latter being limited of course to mostly the colonies and a few in highly trafficked areas like along Lake Champlain. Some square icons have anchors, allowing naval movement. Units doing so are placed in a holding box and land the next impulse. Some icons have a “2x” meaning that activation can move double the movement allowance. Unlike other CDGs, there is no Interception. Of course, Reaction by the first player as well as Battles not happening til the end of the round mitigate this. There is Overrun – vastly outnumbered forces merely run away; the designers reasoning being they’d run rather than get wiped out. I’ll buy that. Regulars can construct ( taking two activations ) Roads to allow their passage, or Forts to protect spaces. Both types of construction take two activations.
Raiding is one triangle unit at a time. A player moves to a space that can be raided; any space they move into can be intercepted by a unit in that space only – there is no adjacent interception. If the unit is intercepted, there is no battle – the raid fails, and the unit goes back to where it started. Interestingly, if a raid is successful ( a 4/6 chance ) the points scored varied – 1 point for a remote settlement and as high as 3 for a major settlement. For each 8 raid points, players get 1 VP. Leftover raid points are NOT reset each year ( unlike Wilderness War ) . A space can only be raided once per year . I guess those farmers really resent their cabins being torched !
Battles are resolved after both players move in a round ( and after any possible Reserve icon is used by the first player ) . Each side starts on the Battle track at 0, some penalties ( out of supply, just Landed, Rout, attacking Fort ) result in the Battle track starting further back. Units fire by unit type – triangular Light/Indians, then square Regulars/Colonials, then round artillery/naval/forts. Each unit can only damage units of the same SHAPE , directly. Players have a track to score hits as well as FLAG results rolled. For instance a Light unit may roll a triangle symbol. This results in one damage to an opposing triangle unit ( if present ) as well as a battle marker increase . If they roll a FLAG, no hit results, but that sides battle marker moves up one. At the end of a battle, whichever sides Battle Marker is higher wins, with ties going to the Defender. Especially in larger battles, there is some enjoyable tension as each die roll is made and players watch to see if they can amass more flags than their opponent. While it may not be as fast and simple as the single die roll per side in Wilderness War, once you get used to it, it goes pretty quickly, and you are not counting factors. If a side wins by 3 or more, the other side ROUTs. This means they must take a further loss and possibly lose other units as well. Lost Regular units trigger a chit draw; these chits range in value from 0-2. At the end of each year, whichever side has a higher value scores the difference in VP. This not only reflects the cost to the main powers of losing troops that were also needed in Europe, but introduces an unknown element that eliminates precise VP counting and possible end of turn VP desperation grabs ( or may cause them if you have no chits and your opponent has several, LOL )
At the end of the year, both sides perform a Winter Quarters procedure, similar to Wilderness War. One key difference is that there is no attrition in this phase. However British Colonials are removed unless sheltered in forts and in general forces don’t stay in the field as much as Wilderness War. There is also a restoration of a portion of units lost each turn, which once again replaces what might be an event in a traditional CDG.
So after all that, how does the game actually play ? As an aside, I’ve only played the game twice so far, both games starting in 1755 and one ending after the first year and the other ending after 1756 via Sudden Death. Simply put, cleanly and convincingly . We had only a handful of pauses for rules questions and in each case, found the answer we were looking for. The overall feel of the game is certainly reminiscent of Wilderness War. But that should be no surprise given the same subject matter and scale. That said the game plays very differently. While certain themes remain – the British will be on the back foot early on for instance – you can’t approach the game from the same mindset. There are different tactical puzzles to solve here for sure. In both my games I was the British and underestimated the impact of French raids. I spent too much time trying to attrit the French; I should have waited til later and spent more early rounds fortifying. This not only makes raids harder, but reduces the impact of Winter going home. The French are not merely waiting for the inevitable Louisburg landing – they can take the fight to the British in Nova Scotia for instance overland.
Overall I have to give this game a hearty thumbs up. I think fans of the time period will like it and even if you think you only need one game on the subject matter and have Wilderness War, I think there is enough different hear to merit checking it out. And if you disliked some elements of Wilderness War – for instance the wild swings in reinforcements the cards can bring – this game may be more to your liking. Playing time is a bit hard to peg as of yet; I’d plan on an hour per annual turn for now. The designer has crafted some interesting mechanics that I think can and will be used in the future. Lets hope he can do so again in another game.