I love a sale. The build-up to and anticipation felt following the purchases from the many publisher deep discount sales that occur each fall is something I relish. That said, not everyone is feeling the holiday cheer at the timing of these sales or the way in which they’re handled! Who could possibly grinch so hard on these opportunities for gamers to get in on some deep discounts? That’s right, it’s the local retailers who provide the sales, direct local inventory, gaming tables, and local community building that often build a following for the very games on sale. It’s hard to blame them after all, the holiday season traditionally represents the largest retail sales numbers of the year for most local businesses. The direct publisher sales cut into those credit card swipes particularly when timed around the holidays!

This article isn’t intended to play the “woe is me” card for local businesses or to accuse publishers of acting out of some greedy or predatory direct sales practices. Instead, it’s a look at how publishers might better coordinate up and down the supply chain to ensure stores, publishers, and most importantly gamers benefit!

My solution is simple.

Games should be free. Kidding…of course this is going to be more nuanced than that! That said, I also don’t believe there are easy answers here!

Let’s look at the retail environment for a moment. When a game store opens they have to find profitability and though wargames may sell for ~$70 on average at MSRP that ~$35 of revenue every few months or once a month pales in comparison to other product lines like Collectible Card Games, miniature games, and even Living Card Games which each have a steady churn of product and organized play that brings people into the store to buy and play the games purchased. Wargames can be incredibly tricky to stock because wargamers often have very distinctive feelings about specific topics, series, and designers. The burden rests on the retail owner to know their local community. The niche folks aren’t going to be served by an FLGS even IF the store carries wargames as a result.

Couple these revenue and interest constraints with the fact that many gamers don’t have the luxury of living near enough to an FLGS to make the most of this in-stock wargames and publishers need to find ways to get their games to their audience.

There are, of course, a number of online retailers but they rarely restock anything but the most successful series, designers, and publishers. Further complicating this is the high cost of international shipping so not all online stores can reach all parts of the world with games even if they have the game a consumer wants to purchase. As a result of a combination of all these factors wargame publishers need a direct retail strategy in order to get games into the hands of consumers who are eager for their product. Our hobby, after all, remains a niche inside a niche. Even runaway hits like Advanced Squad Leader are expensive to stock and product remains on shelves for years in some cases once the initial core group of series fans have received their initial orders.

The final piece of the puzzle here is the size of wargame publishers. Publishers are sometimes a handful of people as a core group dedicated to their games or a small group of people with many distributed teams based on my admittedly limited understanding from podcasts and articles. That means that shipping is a personal endeavor done by the publisher themselves or perhaps a wife or very part-time employee. Distributors, as a result, play a necessary role in ensuring the supply chain of FLGS’s are fed product so that these small publishers can focus their attention on what gamers want…game development and publication!

So the question remains, what can be done?

I think there are a few things that might help.

The first is quite simple though perhaps the most unpopular. Minimum Advertised Pricing for online retailers. I know that’s unpopular for a lot of reasons not the least of which is that games are already expensive, but this protects the pre-order systems and local retailers who are getting undercut by large online retailers who can sustain the slimmer profits in a small segment of their overall business or for small part-time retailers who are “doing this for the gamers” and don’t necessarily rely on their profits for their livelihood. Leveling the playing field is key.

The second suggestion is a little more complicated, but nonetheless valuable. Allow retailers to sell games at the pre-order price and when the pre-orders ship, the publisher can ship directly to the store in bulk to serve those pre-orders. This will accelerate the preorder system, simplify to some degree international shipping, and provide gamers a trusted local source to make their orders through. While the publisher won’t see the same level of profit, they may very well see a simplification of their post publication shipping and distribution since they can accomplish much of it in larger chunks rather than individually mailed boxes.

The third suggestion is to provide a retailer rewards program. For every dollar of product sold by the retailer, the retailer earns points. Those points translate into discounts that can be passed along to customers during the direct sale period making special orders more competitive with the online annual sale from publishers. This might not 100% match the online sale but the discounts could be issued as rebates through the distributors.

The final suggestion is to move the “big” sale of the year outside the 4th quarter holiday shopping window.

Is any of this realistic? I’m not sure, I can only get the ball rolling on a topic that has been bothering me recently in the wake of all these fantastic sales. There has to be a way for publishers to reward loyal brick & mortar retailers while also remaining friendly and relevant for gamers not lucky enough to have a relevant FLGS near them!

Do these solutions already exist? Let me know and let’s celebrate the cooperation between publisher and brick & mortar retailer!

TitO - Fosters Farm HexThe events described in this article relate to hex 2606 from Revolution Games’ Thunder in the Ozarks (2016).

It’s hard to imagine what Confederate and Union soldiers alike thought when they came upon the eighteen dead Union soldiers who had been scalped, some while still alive, following the skirmish around Foster’s Farm during the battle of Pea Ridge in 1862. Scalping, after all generally was used to exact revenge for killing Cherokee and then typically was only used against other tribes. The only other time it had been a widespread practice was following the promise of bounty payments by the British during the French and Indian War nearly a century earlier. To understand why the Cherokee might have returned to this practice, it’s important to understand how the Cherokee ended up at Foster’s Farm on March 7th, 1862.

The Cherokee were here when the Blue Ridge Mountains were even more mysterious in the morning fog than they are now. To some extent, the story of the Cherokee is the story of European invasion and then adaptation by first nations in the American colonies. The Cherokee, in some cases, adopted European farming practices, professions and even held slaves in rare cases. The promise of the founding fathers, particularly Benjamin Franklin who sought a permanent alliance with the first nations was completely erased by the Indian Removals, most prominently enacted by President Jackson’s Indian Removal Act.

In 1830, Cherokee Chief John Ross argued in front of the Supreme Court in the case of Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia. While the Supreme Court did hear the case, they ultimately decided not to rule on its merits given the “dependent nation” status of the Cherokee Nation. Only a year later, the Supreme Court did rule that the Cherokee Nation was sovereign and that prevented Georgia from imposing its laws inside Cherokee territory. President Jackson refused to acknowledge the decision.

Stand WatieIn effect, the Cherokee Nation was left without a strong ally at either the state or federal level. Because the southern Cherokee had adopted (in some cases) of the practices of southern land owners, like owning slaves, Lincoln adopted a stance that he would condone white settlement on Cherokee lands. Enter Stand Watie, a full blooded Cherokee who in 1837 signed the treaty of New Echota which ceded Cherokee tribal lands in Georgia in exchange for lands in Oklahoma. The treaty would spell Watie’s exclusion from the Cherokee tribe and carried the penalty of death under tribal law. This was never enforced, however, and Watie moved his tribe to Oklahoma settling on the banks of the Honey Creek later that year. Watie was the sole survivor of an assassination attempt in 1839 which kicked off a cycle of violent retaliatory attacks that saw his uncle and brother killed. Watie was ultimately acquitted of all wrongdoing in 1850.

Watie was afraid of the federal intentions to create the state of Oklahoma in what was hitherto Indian lands. As a result, in 1861 Watie accepted a commission in the Confederate Army and immediately began recruiting a divided Cherokee Nation to the southern cause. These men would become the 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles. The Confederates struggled to employ the Cherokee unit and while they fought Union forces, they were also used to fight other native tribes like the Seminoles and Creek who notably opted to support the Union cause.

It was, however, at Foster’s Farm on March 7th 1862 that Watie’s Cherokee would earn their notorious reputation and lead to the Confederate General Pike facing federal charges for inciting war atrocities. So, what happened around Foster’s Farm?

Flag of the Cherokee BravesAs the Confederates approached Leetown, federal troops had taken up positions around a series of farms north of the town. The northernmost of these positions was at the farm of Wiley Foster where a contingency of federal troops and artillery were posted. It fell to Watie’s 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles to support the attack on the Foster Farm. Instead of a direct attack on the farm, Watie’s men supported an ambush on the 3rd Iowa Cavalry who had been led up a lane by Henry H. Trimble, a veteran of the Mexican War. During the ambush Trimble suffered a grievous wound to his face that resulted in his discharge from service, eight of his men however suffered a far more grotesque fate.

Pea Ridge Painting LOC

During the confusion of cavalry and artillery fight at Foster’s Farm, Watie’s men scalped at least eight Union soldiers. According to a New York Times report from March 14, 1862 there were “Two thousand Indians involved in the battle.”  The number, however, is greatly exaggerated by the Times and though the Times also claimed 18 Union soldiers were scalped, it’s more likely that this is a combined number of scalped and mutilated. Roughly 800 Cherokee soldiers took place in the battle, but the Times article ignited the imagination of savage warfare brought home by Cherokee Indians who had sided with the Confederates.

General Pike, once aware of the massacre, immediately condemned it and went so far as to court martial one of the involved Cherokee soldiers. The press, however, already captivated by the episode would call Pike the leader of an “Aboriginal Corps of Tomahawkers and Scalpers.” It would not, however, appease the public and though Pike resigned his commission in the Confederate Army in July 1862, he would later be brought up on federal charges of inciting war atrocities because of the strong press reaction to the conduct of Pike’s men during the battle.

TitO - NY Times ArticleWatie, would famously go on to be the last Confederate General to surrender at the end of the Civil War on June 23, 1865. As a result of this episode, and the subsequent backlash both in the the south and the north, the leader of the Cherokee Nation, John Ross, sent a letter in September 1862 to President Lincoln conceding that the “great mass of the Cherokee people rallied spontaneously around the authorities of the United States.” The letter, however, would be too little and too late. The conduct of Watie’s soldiers galvanized public opinion about the brutality of native peoples and would be a rallying cry following the Civil War that would lead to the destruction of First Nations sovereignty in the West.

This incident serves as a reminder of the poor treatment of first nations by American Colonists, federal and state governments. These were families looking for a piece of this bountiful land to call their own and live the lives promised to them by their forefathers. Instead, the incompatibility and racism of the European settlers and American Citizenry (including Lincoln) would create conditions in which the combat traditions of the Cherokee would collide with European notions of warfare and conflict. In an already bloody and savage war, the scalping of at least eight Union soldiers at Foster’s Farm by Watie’s men remains one of the most intriguing events of the American Civil War.

It may only be one hex on a map in a boardgame. The story told by that hex and the men who fought there in 1862, however, put into motion a legacy of racial stereotypes and contributed to the end of first nations sovereignty in the American west. The hex is just the culmination and flash point of a decades long struggle to fit in when Europeans came to the new world. Negotiating the harsh historical realities of public sentiment and national determination came to a head at Pea Ridge on Foster’s Farm that March afternoon.

If you enjoyed this article, and would like to see more like, please let me know below in the comments! I am starting a podcast called “In This Hex” and would love for folks who have similar knowledge or stories to tell about their boardgames to come on has content experts. Kind of a “Drunk History” without the funny reenactments and barfing of course! Drop me a line at keith@wargamehq.com if you’re interested or let me know on Twitter @wargamehq.

 

There are so many American Civil War games on the market it has become almost as crowded as the World War II topics! In 2018 alone Longstreet Attacks, Atlanta is Outs, Roads to Gettysburg II, Battle Hymn Vol. I, and Hood’s Last Gamble have found their way from publishers to gamer’s tables. It truly is an embarrassment of riches given how well received these games have been. Each continues either a current popular series like Great Battles of the American Civil War from Multi-Man Publishing or reinvents one like Battle Hymn from Compass Games has done with the Across Five Aprils release from Victory Games almost 30 years ago. Each game brings a unique look at a battle or campaign with well refined rules and seemingly strong play-testing. Today, we’ll be taking a look at Thunder in the Ozarks a Blind Swords game from Hermann Luttmann and Revolution Games.

I’ve been most impressed with the Blind Swords system that powers Hermann Luttmann’s Longstreet Attacks in 2018 (as well as At Any Cost: Metz 1890 from GMT Games). Instead of starting at the end, I already had Thunder in the Ozarks and Stonewall’s Sword which preceded Longstreet’s release. I have to say that Blind Swords might be the best American Civil War tactical series in terms of sheer fun.

Rules Light’ish

TitO - Cavalry StandoffThe rules are not overwhelming. They do, however, present a lot of nuance that creates some particularly thorny decisions for players. While much has been said about chit-pull mechanic games I have to say that appreciating Blind Swords, and Thunder in the Ozarks (TitO hereafter) requires a closer look.  I enjoy reading American Civil War books and I’m struck by how common it is for the narrative description to invoke the relationship between various units as they move into each other’s proximity. To date, this has been handled by savvy players and rulesets that strongly imply why and when you should move units at the tactical level. Blind Swords, on the other hand, outright provides the requirement.

One example of this is artillery which must move when other units move within 2 hexes of the artillery meaning that you cannot order your artillery to remain in obvious harm’s way in order to get off a dying canister shot because the column shifts are favorable. You can receive a charge, but it must be an attack rather than a reckless defensive sacrifice. Cavalry receives their customary ability to escape, but what I like is that transitioning from mounted to unmounted both offers the adversary a chance at opportunity fire AND the cavalry unit becomes an infantry unit for nearly all purposes. I’m not so sure that these are revolutionary concepts, but taken in whole with the rest of the game they feel substantial and provide meat to a relatively light-to-medium weight wargame.

Combat Brutality

TitO - Disrupted Unit

One of the things I lauded in my review of Battle Hymn Volume I was that combat felt significantly bloody. Your choices carried weight and how you chose to expend units in the pursuit of your objectives was a key tension throughout the game. Thunder in the Ozarks has the same weight to the choices. The low counter density and paucity of “strong” units coupled with solid stacking rules means that players have to adapt their offensive and defensive strategies accordingly.

In my first play, I was most concerned with creating a long “un-flankable” line, but learned quickly that this can be a recipe for defeat in detail. Instead, TitO forces you to adapt to the terrain and read the chokepoints at least semi-competently. I, of course, lack these skills but can certainly appreciate the way the game presents the relationship between terrain and units.

Final Thought About Combat Results

TitO - CRT SnippetThe centerpiece of the system, at least for me, isn’t the chit pull or brutality of the combat. The game is, as a whole, easily recognizable faire, but where I think it truly sets itself apart is in the way the game presents the combat results. I like the idea that you’re not necessarily escaping results, your units are tested to varying degrees of intensity. Further, the differentiation between close combat and fire combat to deal with the various outcomes rather than as a unified outcome that only applies additional column shifts or die roll modifiers makes this a lot more fun.

 

TitO - Cohesion TableThe intensity of the result you must check is then combined with dice rolls that represent your losses and your retreat result. Again, the separation does a lot to make the combat more transparent which is greatly appreciated. I’ll dive into this a bit more in my review (coming soon). Blind Swords is a not just a good system, but a great one and I clearly love this game!