Excerpted from the rulebook.
The first game I designed that ever made it to publication was Blood on the Alma (2012). It was a small, simple hex-and-counter game, with less than fifty units fighting over only a few hundred hexes. It was in some ways a flashy design, with a number of chrome rules and novelties that called attention to themselves. I had high hopes for it, as did the game's original publisher, Lock N Load, who asked me to design a sequel almost immediately upon accepting Alma. By the time Alma came out, I was ready with Blood in the Fog, my more ambitious treatment of the Battle of Inkerman.
"Battle of the Alma", Horace Vernet
There were a couple of reasons why Blood in the Fog didn't come out hot on the heels of Alma. First is that the Alma game didn't exactly set the world on fire. While the reception was largely positive, it performed about as well as most other magazine games on semi-obscure topics. The publisher wasn't so hot to push the sequel out into the world, and asked me to design an American Civil War game using the same system, which might have a wider commercial appeal than another Crimean title. Both those projects kinda languished for the next two years as Lock N Load changed ownership. The ACW game was eventually broken up into several smaller games published in 2015 and 2016 as Blood Before Richmond, but Blood in the Fog, consisting of one big battle, stoutly resisted that kind of reduction.
This made it one of the first titles Mary and I discussed when we started to look seriously at starting up Hollandspiele. It was one of several of my 2012-2013 designs earmarked for a place in the line-up for our first twelve months. Interestingly, while Agricola, Master of Britain was basically re-designed from the ground up to work as a solitaire entertainment, and Supply Lines of the American Revolution got a pretty dramatic overhaul, this game alone remains more-or-less exactly the same game it was five years ago. This is especially unusual as its predecessor, the Alma game, is due for some aggressive tinkering before the second edition is published later this year by Hollandspiele. (And now's as good a time as any to tip my hat to David Heath and Lock N Load, who graciously released the rights to Alma back to me.)
The Field of Inkerman, with the trenches, pre-1914 photograph
I think the reason why Blood in the Fog didn't need much more than dusting off is that, while it shares some of the mechanics of Blood on the Alma, it doesn't really share the same design philosophy. Alma was, as I said, a bit flashy, perhaps self-consciously so; it had lots of little rules intended to recreate very specific events, like one British brigade marching in the slightly wrong direction. Don't get me wrong; I love chrome rules, especially fun chrome rules, and Alma had its share of those, like rules for a drunken Russian divisional commander. But it was just a lot of fiddly little exceptions, some of which in retrospect weren't necessarily appropriate for the game's specific time, unit, and hex scale.
In my games since Alma, and I guess this really started with Blood in the Fog, I became much less concerned with how to replicate every little interesting thing and more with how to give a general sense and framework of what happened and why, and with how to find the simplest and most elegant way of doing that. For a while I had a little doodle of an ouroboros taped up by my computer as a reminder that games should eat their own tails, every rule feeding into and out of every other rule. That's how I approached the euro-style games I was designing (being convinced at that time that wargames were going to be some odd little lark), and once I began to really apply this to my wargame designs, the process became a lot easier! Which is odd, because in some ways it's more work to fold rules into each other than it is to pile them on.
Russian infantry clashing with British Guards in the struggle for the Sandbag Battery. The smoke and debris from shell fire makes it look a bit foggy.
Because I was working from what was more-or-less a pre-existing system, and because the research for the Alma game had given me a pretty good familiarity with both the Crimean War in general and the Battle of Inkerman specifically, it didn't take very long to get the ball rolling on Blood in the Fog. Fairly early on in the process I hit upon the central mechanism of the alternating chit-pulls limited by the fog level. (Really, the most important and fundamental thing to figure out about a new game design is "what will the players do on their go?") At the beginning of the game, with only three or four Russian activations on a turn, there's no guarantee that the fog chit is going to come up. But once it does, the chances of it being pulled again increase, which then increases the chances of it being pulled again on the next turn, and the next, creating a kind of feedback loop. The Russian Morale Checks work on the same principle; early on, it's hard to make a dent in it, but once that first dent appears, more and more Rout Markers get thrown into the mix, and the whole thing crumples up like a ball of paper. I really dig this kind of feedback loop element, because it creates a kind of narrative in an organic way, without (for example) suddenly giving a player this DRM starting on Turn 6 and that DRM starting on Turn 8. In my Agricola, Master of Britain, I utilized a similar sort of feedback loop element, though it's one that's much more volatile and unstable than what appears here.
"The 20th Foot at the Battle of Inkerman", David Rowlands
Getting the mix of Activation Markers right was the result of good, old-fashioned trial-and-error. I knew that I wanted to put in an extra maker for the British 2nd and Russian 10th Divisions. This jump-starts the battle, but also models the exhaustion that sets in after long hours of fighting. Early in the game, pulling the 2nd or 10th twice in a turn is great, because it lets you do twice as many things, really gives you an advantage. But once those divisions have been worn done to thin little nubs, you don't really want to pull them the first time in a turn, let alone the second. So, that worked out rather well.
What worked out less well was putting two Ammo Event markers in the Allied Cup. The Ammo Event represents not only a lack of bullets, but also the guns being rendered inoperable by rain. It's something that happened during the battle, and happened enough where it made sense to make it part of the game, but it wasn't like every British regiment was unable to fire. With two Ammo Event markers in the cup, however, it didn't take long for them all to be rendered helpless, turning the battle into a one-sided Russian steamroller. When the British did manage to hang-on until the fog lifted, none of them were able to take advantage of the increased range for their rifle fire in this topsy-turvy version of the battle. Once I dialed it down to one Ammo Event marker, balance was restored to my tiny cardboard universe.
The French Army P1851 Minié rifle, above. The British Army Pattern 1853 Enfield Minié rifle saw extensive action in Crimea, beginning in February 1855. The Springfield Model 1861 Minié rifle, was the most widely used rifle during the American Civil War.
Alma had a host of units with their own special rules, each marked with a "white special rule stripe". You still needed to go and look up the special rule unique to that unit; the stripe just reminded you that one existed. In approaching Blood in the Fog, I tried not only to reduce the number of special little fiddly bits, but to fold special unit abilities and cases into more general rules. For example, rather than having a special rule just for the French horse artillery unit to allow it to move and fire in the same turn, I made it a skirmisher-type unit, which allows it to fire at the end of a charge phase. Instead of having special rules for activating the British Heavy Artillery piece, I just made it a Unit without a Division, meaning that the only chit that would activate it would be the Allied Event Chit. The closest thing to a true "special case" would be the regiments that make up the British 4th Division. Alone among the Allied Infantry, they were not armed with Minie Rifles, and had yet to see serious action. Their armament was handled easily enough by denying them a Fire Bonus and giving them the appropriate range. As for the rest, the game basically treats them as Russians in terms of morale and combat resolution (with a handful of caveats), which still makes it easier to remember than some fiddly thing or another.
"Battle of Inkerman, 5th November 1854", print by Andrew Maclure
Artillery is handled quite differently than in the original Alma system. There, Arty units were multi-step just like Infantry and Cavalry, and the fire power was equal to three times that number of steps. There wasn't really any mechanism for reaction fire, which meant that you could hover out of range before going in for the kill without any fear of reprisal. Here I made them single-counter (two-step) units with a static fire factor, and I introduced a reaction fire mechanism. This is similar to what I did in the later Richmond games, though that game also grafted on some additional nuance vis-a-vis restrictions on moving adjacent to artillery units, and utilized a different approach to reaction fire. I like Richmond's approach better, but those rules wouldn't really make a lot of sense in the chaos and confusion of the fog, where these guns were for the most part firing blind.
Other things that didn't make sense were some of the attack strength modifiers. Both Alma and Richmond, for example, have a modifier for Support, which allows a player to benefit from coordinating the efforts of various units on the field. There wasn't really a whole lot of coordination at Inkerman, so a bonus that rewards that didn't really make sense. So, rather than seven or eight modifiers to roll around in your head when performing Fire, there's four.
Alma also had a more traditional TEC, with this hex costing one MP, this type two, this type three, et cetera. The thing I've found in teaching wargames is that the single biggest obstacle for new players, the thing they're the most resistant to, isn't the Combat Results Table, or odds-ratios, or tracing supply, but the Terrain Effects Chart. I thought if I could create a really simple, easy-to-teach movement system that I'd be streets ahead. "Every hex costs one, but each of these things make it cost one more" is easy-peasy. I transplanted this, more-or-less intact, to the Richmond games, and to the forthcoming Shot & Shell Battle Series.
One thing I didn't transplant to Richmond and to future designs using these basic mechanics is the sheer number of elevation levels! There are seven in this game. I think three levels is about my max going forward. There's only so many shades of green and brown that can be made to distinguish from one another, though I'd say that Ilya Kudriashov did a wonderful job of this as always.
Another way that Mr. Kudriashov is wonderful: on my original version of the map, there were a couple of long roads. They never saw a lot of traffic in our sessions, and didn't appear to be used historically at all. Then I found out why: Ilya went back to some period maps and determined that these weren't roads at all, but a water drainage system! That's what I get for not being able to read Russian! And so the heroic map artist saved the designer from what would have been an embarrassing mistake, and the world is none the wiser! Except, you know, I just told you, but I'm sure you can keep a secret.