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Review of Bayonets & Tomahawks

M Updated April 15, 2021
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Review of Bayonets & Tomahawks

Game Information

2 - 2
There Will Be Games

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.

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Bayonets & Tomahawks

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Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #322141 15 Apr 2021 11:03
The map is freaking me out.

Sorry, haven't read your review yet but I took a quick look to get some footing on your write-up and putting Northeast at the top of the map makes it look like something out of a pulp fantasy novel instead of the real thing.

Is there an official publishing rule that forbids putting a player board diagonally on the table?
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #322144 15 Apr 2021 11:08
I had reservations about the map when I saw pictures online but after playing it, doesn't really bother me. Sure you could tilt it ,but you might need a wider table. The designer wrote an article stating that it was the only way he could get the map to cover the areas he wanted ( including some distortion along Champlain for instance ) and keep it to one map. Compared to WW for instance, there is more attention paid to the Nova Scotia/Maine area for instance. On my third play now and TBH I don't even think about the map any longer as a issue.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #322145 15 Apr 2021 11:17
Thanks for writing this, I'll sit down with it tonight!
DukeofChutney's Avatar
DukeofChutney replied the topic: #322182 15 Apr 2021 18:34
Great review. Can I afford another game right now?
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #322184 15 Apr 2021 19:02
At an MSRP of $59 - less online in some places - it’s pretty affordable IMO. Since GMT isn’t in the business of minus, thankfully their stuff doesn’t succumb to the production bloat of larger companies.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #322189 16 Apr 2021 09:25
Alright, I gave this article the time it deserves. And I'll tell you what -- you landed it right on top of what I was looking for. A nice overview of the fundamentals with some nuggets of specific observations to bring it home. Thank you for taking the time.

This is about a late as I like to get in wargaming, preferring pre and early gunpowder to more modern settings. To some extent it feels more charming to me (which is kind of an irrelevant observation I suppose) and it feels more intellectually manageable to me as well. Seven Years War is likely as politically complex as the best of them, but in the scope of a title like this I can wrap my head around its broader implications more easily.

And it sounds like this game has the right mix of chaos and control for me. Warriors of God hit my sweet spot and to an extent I use that as my benchmark. So card-drivens generally frustrate me with the straight-jacket limitations from turn to turn, but traditional hex-and-chit seem too Best Practicey for me.

One thing you missed though -- combat resolution. Dice? Cards? Wrist-Wrestle? I suppose I could look it up, but I'd be curious to know if there are shades-of-gray in the outcomes.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #322190 16 Apr 2021 09:56
He talks about it. Looks like a dice roll system with symbols reflecting each of the types of unit and flags.

I've always found that wargames really struggle to communicate raids and why they happened, no matter the era. Really anything lighter than a decisive battle. Clash of Monarchs did a really good job with this for the 7 Years War, even though it was complex. A whole different theater of war that denuded areas of supply and ended up being really consequential, in practice. And bonuses for them in regular massed combat.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #322204 16 Apr 2021 14:51
Correct - each unit in combat rolls one of the custom dice. Each die has 2 Flag faces, a Miss face, hit/circle type, hit triangle type, Bayonet/Tomahawk symbol, Basically a unit can only directly hit a unit of the same type - a Light can't hit a Regular for instance. However, Flags while not inflicting Hits advance the Battle track. A difference of three or more Hits results in a Rout which will entail casualties beyond the Hits scored in Combat.

Sorry for the lack of detail in the review. I struggle with not merely regurgitating the rulebook when reviewing ( which I hate ) vs trying to convey how the game feels to play. Hopefully I came across as having played the game enough to relate how the gameplay is esp compared to the natural comp of WILDERNESS WAR.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #322206 16 Apr 2021 14:58
No need to apologize, I know I speak for everyone when I say we appreciate the review---especially for a type of game that doesn't get a ton of coverage on TWBG.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #322214 16 Apr 2021 17:48

Gary Sax wrote: He talks about it. Looks like a dice roll system with symbols reflecting each of the types of unit and flags.

I've always found that wargames really struggle to communicate raids and why they happened, no matter the era. Really anything lighter than a decisive battle. Clash of Monarchs did a really good job with this for the 7 Years War, even though it was complex. A whole different theater of war that denuded areas of supply and ended up being really consequential, in practice. And bonuses for them in regular massed combat.

In an exchange of Geekmails with the designer I asked if he had other ideas he's looking to design. His response "I’m tempted to apply it to other conflicts. Pontiac Rebellion, Jacobite Rebellion, 1775 Invasion of Canada, detailed siege of Québec, Austrian Succession War (the birth of light troops). I’ll have to pick one and I’ll probably poll the community and request help. It takes a ton of research to make it right."

He said he's leaning towards Austrian Succession War.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #322216 16 Apr 2021 17:57
He has massive competition (IMO) from the designer of Clash of Monarchs, an incredible CDG:

But this sort of topic can always use more strategic takes---same thing you had to say about this conflict. Hope he tries Clash of Monarchs, a lot of people think it doesn't matter and is just chrome but its treatment of light troops is incredible. The reason they think it doesn't matter is most people only play like the 1 turn tournament scenario of a wargame and make their judgment. The light troops and raiding in CoM only make themselves felt in the longer scenarios and campaign games, and they feel soooo right. They're like a vice that is turning, strangling your economy---and the whole game's economy! I think that's the best part of CoM, it is so dismal and communicates how hopelessly broke both countries become as the turns grind on and how much the war is hurting everyone involved. The last turns of a CoM game that isn't decisive are like two punch drunk boxers in the 12th round.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #322218 16 Apr 2021 18:38
Totally agree on CoM - the campaign is where the Kleiner Krieg boxes make their effect known. And that's why its almost never hit the table - the campaign is probably the longest of any CDG out there . If Marc decides to do a game on the subject, I'm confident it will be different enough from a traditional CDG to warrant taking a look at regardless of how CoS turns out - B&T has gotten my attention . Don't know if and when that will happen - B&T had a very long gestation period, so we'll see. I'm curious to see how much more accessible CoS is vs its predecessor. The designer has said he's stripped some stuff out knowing it will get more traction that way.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #322219 16 Apr 2021 18:46
I actually managed a ftf CoM campaign with a dude I didn't know in Champaign over like 3 sessions. It was great though playing with someone I don't know is a weird thing.

Very interesting game too. I kept the horrible leader of the Austrians in charge the whole game because I never got beat very bad in a decisive battle with him. It meant the shape of the game was really really weird because the game leans toward the historical result that (iirc) the pretty incompetent Charles will get blasted by Frederick and Daun will take over. It still worked, since I never got routed I was super cagey and held most of Austria with this titanic force that I could only move around slowly to respond to Frederick. Austrian win iirc.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #322222 16 Apr 2021 19:38
This was the right level of review, don't change. I just missed the custom die thing. I even searched for "dice" afterward and came up empty.

Msample wrote: Pontiac Rebellion

I'm reviewing a rulebook for Pontiac's war at the moment.

Msample wrote: Jacobite Rebellion

The Welsh don't get no love.
MRodrigue's Avatar
MRodrigue replied the topic: #322237 17 Apr 2021 10:22
Thanks everyone for your comments! Since I told Marty that the Austrian Succession War could be a next game using my system, I hesitate given the incredible amount of research it would involve for me. It is a very complex conflict - in fact a string of conflicts grouped together for convenience ( I am citing an author here).

Furthermore, this conflict is already well rendered with the excellent No Peace Without Spain system (Pragmatic War). And it had slipped my mind that a game is coming using the Clash of Monarch system.

Last thing I’d like is to glue B&T’s system to a conflict where it does not belong so well. The light troops strategy and tactics in North America were quite specific to that theater. In Europe, it was more integrated in large armies operations with clearly defined roles (recon, disrupt supply, etc.). Something Clash of Monarchs renders quite well according to your comments. There is an excellent French book on the subject. The Jacobite Rebellion would stretch the system also.

I will have to be very careful with what I choose next. Probably will have to stick to late 17th to early 19th century in North America as B&T’s system is tailored for that era and theater. The good news is that the system may be scaled down to specific operations/smaller conflicts. And my bookshelf is already filled to the brim with relevant documentation.