One of the first games we signed was Sean Chick's Horse & Musket: Dawn of an Era. As others have remarked, it's a somewhat unusual entry in our catalogue. We're mostly known for unusual and experimental titles with a small footprint. Horse & Musket, with its twenty scenarios, three dozen optional rules, thirteen unit types, and five sheets of counters, definitely feels like an outlier.
We didn't know that at the time, of course. When we signed the game – shortly after getting Hollandspiele off the ground – we figured that bigger, more traditional hex-and-counter games like Horse & Musket would be our bestsellers, and those profitable games would allow us to also publish whatever weird flops I came up with. As it turned out, my weird flops didn't flop at all, and generally speaking, it's the success of our weirder and more off-putting titles that allows us to also publish our more traditional games, which usually don't get nearly as much traction.
And beyond that, the smaller, weirder games are more in alignment with our skill-set and temperament as developers and publishers. One of the reasons why we eventually asked Doug Miller to come on board as the series developer is that each new Horse & Musket title created a bottleneck – all our other projects came to a halt while we worked on this one game that involved as much work as four of 'em put together.
Now, that work paid off – the Horse & Musket series is easily the most successful of our hex-and-counter games – and it did so despite an admittedly rocky start. The original edition of the Horse & Musket rulebook wasn't quite as clean as we had intended, and while a revision later that year cleared up most of the ambiguities, enough remained that as we started prepping the fourth boxed expansion, Tides of Revolution, we asked Doug and Sean to give the rulebook an overhaul.
This was especially apt for Tides of Revolution, which covers battles from the end of the eighteenth century, with a special emphasis on the American War for Independence and the French Revolution – including several battles fought by a young Napoleon Bonaparte in Italy. These are battles and personages more famous and celebrated than those from the preceding volumes, and so we figure it's likely that this release will bring a lot of new eyes to the series.
As I mentioned in a blog-thing earlier this year, we decided that in addition to revising the core ruleset, we would also change how we approached the scenario diagrams, making them much easier to use and to browse. This created a lot of extra work – in addition to the twenty scenario diagrams for Tides, I would also need to go back and create diagrams for the 122 scenarios that had already been published. And at some point in that process, I decided I still didn't have enough to do, and that I should probably lay out all the counters again.
There were three reasons for this: accessibility, legibility, and usability. Horse & Musket uses twelve different colors to identify a variety of nationalities. As a result, the game has never been very color-blind friendly. This was something we were aware of when we published the first game, but it didn't sit well with us, and isn't in keeping with our values as a company. So, I've added a two-letter color identifier code in the bottom left corner of each counter, so as to remove (or at least alleviate) this unnecessary hurdle to accessibility.
We also wanted to use a larger font to make the unit types easier to read. Generally we use larger fonts now on our counters then we did back in 2017 when I laid out the counters for the base game. Using a larger font wouldn't give us room however for full unit names like Commanded Shot, so these were abbreviated with two-letter codes matching those in the new scenario diagrams. Which has the added bonus of reinforcing that system.
Finally, I wanted to increase the functionality and ease-of-use of these counters. As the series has progressed, a couple problems have revealed themselves – one that's more of a publisher problem, and one that more directly impacts the customer.
First, the publisher problem. Each new boxed game includes additional counters that are used together with the base game's units to create the armies that fight in each scenario. Because of this, we need to ensure that every battle in the box is playable with that combination – base game plus that specific volume. Additionally, when we publish the scenario book annuals, which draw more generally from all the available counters across all volumes to date, we need to determine which volumes are necessary to play a given scenario. This is largely done with spreadsheets, but as a final check we have to set up each scenario with the production copy to ensure everything is copacetic.
The problem of course is that if I'm using this green Line Infantry from the base game and that green Line Infantry from the expansion we're working on, or, in the case of an annual, I also need to throw in this green Skirmisher from a completely different expansion – well, if one isn't careful, a counter might inadvertently make the leap from one box to another. Most players will probably throw all their counters from all the volumes together, but I don't have that luxury, and for the selfish reason of making my own life easier, I've added a volume identifier in the lower-right corner – which nicely balances the color indicator in the lower-left.
Each Horse & Musket game comes with three Battle Charts – each designed for a different scale of battle. The main purpose of these charts is to show the to-hit numbers for ranged fire, close combat, and charges, but they've also included things like the Movement Rates of each Unit, the maximum Morale Points, and the VP values. These are things that actually don't change with scale, nor from game-to-game, and their inclusion on the battle charts makes the game look more complicated than it really is. We reasoned that we could move the Movement Rates into a separate and fairly simple Movement chart, and that we didn't need to list the maximum Morale Points for each unit since that information is already present on the counter. That left the VP values. We initially thought another chart might be the way to go, but then I thought, what the heck, why don't I put it on the back of the counters? That way there's no need to go digging into the PAC for it.These changes make the counters more accessible, more legible, and more useable – which, coupled with our other changes, should make the system as a whole more approachable for a wider audience.