Back to #Boardgame #FirstImpressions – Back to the Future: Back in Time (@OriginalFunko, 2020)

I can remember watching Back to the Future in a movie theater. As a matter of fact, I was working in that movie theater as an Assistant Manager/Projectionist so I actually saw it opening day and many times after. The RockyMountainNavy Boys have also seen the movie thanks to the magic of DVD/Blu-Ray/streaming and they like the story too. All of which makes bringing the boardgame Back to the Future: Back in Time (Funko Games, 2020) to the gaming table easier since the title appeals to all of us and we already know so much about the theme behind the game. Which is important because Back to the Future: Back in Time is totally built around translating theme into game play.

A Back to Theme Game

Back to the Future: Back in Time is a cooperative boardgame for 2-4 players where the players can play Marty McFly, Doc Brown, Jennifer Parker, or Einstein the Dog. Winning the game requires accomplishing two goals: acquiring all the parts for the Delorean Time Machine and moving it to a ready location while at the same time ensuring the Love Meter is positive so Lorraine and George are in love at the end of the game. Failing one, or both, goals is defeat. The game can also end if the Love Meter stays negative too long and the McFly Photo fades away. This occurs thanks to the bully Biff.

Box Back

Game play in Back to the Future: Back in Time is incredibly simple. Every turn the turn track is advanced and any actions on the track are resolved from top to bottom. This can be removing a part of the McFly Photo or placing a new Trouble on the board or movement. Each player will then use their character’s Powers which are different die to move and resolve Challenges. Each player also has a Special Power that is unique to them and may be used once per turn. Challenges are resolved by rolling different die: Courage, Speed, Knowledge, and Love. Each die is unique in that it usually has 1x “1 Type” side, 1 x “2 Type” side, 2x Wild sides, and 2x Biffs. The particular Challenge or Opportunity / Trouble Card will tell you the minimum die types that must be rolled, but a player can exhaust their Powers to roll other die, even different types (since there is a 1:3 chance of a Wild). There is a “push your luck” element in rolling where die can be rerolled as long as they are not Biffs. Biff results lock the die (no rerolling) and move Biff towards George or Lorraine. If Biff in in a space with either of the two lovebirds the Love Meter goes down.

Back to the Future: Back in Time 3-player set up

The most important challenge is probably the Love Challenge. If George and Lorraine are in the same space, the player can attempt a Love Challenge to move the Love Meter in a positive direction. Of course, Biff wants to get in the way and drives the Love Meter down if he is in a space with Lorraine or George (or both). Players can also fight Biff and try to “knock him down” which counteracts Biff actions.

Different player counts in Back to the Future: Back in Time change the game length. A 4-player game is 20 turns, the 3-player game 18 turns, and the 2-player game 14 turns. Regardless of the play length, the time to get everything taken care of is short and players will always feel the stress of the clock.

Like so many cooperative games, in Back to the Future: Back in Time players try to gain a menu of Powers to accomplish the goals together. Recognizing what a player can do best and working together to accomplish the goals before time runs out is the heart of the game, just like race against time Marty and Doc faced in the movie.

Looking Back

The components of Back to the Future: Back in Time are mostly of nice quality. I say “mostly” because I am suspect about the durability of the movers. My Jennifer Parker mover is already bent (she is literally “leaning in”) and the legs are so small that adjusting it threatens to break them off totally.

Jennifer Parker (blue mover) is really “leaning in” to help

I also question the real utility of the Clock Tower dice tower. Yeah, it looks good on the map (giving the otherwise plain 2-D board a third dimension beyond the movers) but I generally don’t like rolling die on the game board as it could upset the game state. So do I move the Clock Tower to me and roll off board? Why? I think this is a case where “bling” got ahead of functionality.

As a long time wargamer, I was also struck by the packaging of Back to the Future: Back in Time. I’m already use to Prospero Hall games being delivered in a non shrink-wrapped box with four little tape tabs. In Back to the Future: Back in Time all the cardboard bits come separated from their print sheet. This is great for a family game as it is playable literally out-of-the-box.

Ready-to-play out-of-the-box

“This is heavy”

Marty’s favorite line in the movie Back to the Future has nothing to do with the boardgame Back to the Future: Back in Time. Gameplay is easy and uncomplicated. This is a good family-weight game that even younger (but not the youngest) family members can learn. The game is a solid entry for game night when a cooperative game is wanted but Pandemic is to too close to reality.

#SundaySummary – Kicking it with @kickstarter Root: The Marauder Expansion (@LederGames)

Kickstarter

Leder Games does it again with another YUGE Kickstarter campaign; Root: The Marauder Expansion (Leder Games). As I finalize this post they have already passed 14,000 backers and over $1.3 million. I have to admit I went for the “All the New Stuff” pledge level – but only after some real deep thinking. The “All the New Stuff” pledge level for Root: The Marauder Expansion is US $110. OUCH! Yes, there’s alot of content there but it’s all expansions, for the root Root game. That’s a heaping pile of dinero for just new “bits!”

Expensive Marauder

I looked at maybe going for the “Marauder Expansion” pledge of $50 and possibly adding in The Clockwork Expansion 2 because I want to access solo play but together that’s $90. So maybe that $110 ain’t that bad. It’s still a big number to process, but maybe?

A part of me could pass on this Kickstarter. I have Root, which is a fine game itself, and The Clockwork Expansion which makes it solo-friendly-ish. I already don’t get to play enough with the extra factions. Additionally, the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself have fallen a bit off the boardgame bandwagon so we don’t get many titles to the table to begin with. My Root collection will probably never get extensive play as is. From that perspective I shouldn’t jump to invest in this Kickstarter campaign.

On the other hand, a great deal of the attraction in Root for me is not playing the game, but studying it. In some ways I have a streak of Systems Analyst in me. I deeply respect Root for its ability to take many different game play mechanics and make them work together. It’s an incredible design and one that is worthy of further study. Add to that the fact The Marauder Expansion adds “Hirelings” which are not full factions but, well, hired help that adds another tool to your kit to mix with a faction ability to make a victory. Again, very interesting from a system mechanics perspective. From that perspective an investment of $110 is a bit steep, but (somewhat?) justifiable.

I’ll freely admit this is a first-world gaming problem. I am very fortunate we don’t have a financial problem backing games. I can financially afford them; my real risk in ordering is not from the bank but the questioning from the RMN CFO.

Failed Expedition

Looking at Root: The Marauder Expansion number made me reconsider my entire preorder and Kickstarter listing. The first to fall was another Kickstarter campaign; Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (Stronghold Games). I got to thinking – the RMN Boys and I sorta fell off the boardgame bandwagon this winter. As the family returns to full employment leisure time is lost and boardgaming suffers. We like Terraforming Mars and a shorter version would be nice but the truth is I don’t think we are going to be bringing new games to the table anytime soon. With delivery forecast for September, well, I just don’t feel the urgency to back this game when I will probably be able to find it at retail later if we want to buy it. I also don’t see any “Kickstarter Exclusives” here that are appealing enough to sway me back towards a KS purchase. Indeed, most of the add-ons are not game, but accessory items. While I like to play Terraforming Mars it’s certainly not a lifestyle game for me.

Upcoming Gaming

That’s not to say all is bad. As of this weekend I have 3x Kickstarter campaigns, 10x GMT Games P500 orders, and 6 preorders with Compass Games that remain outstanding. Of those, one Kickstarter (Supercharged, Dietz Productions) and one preorder (South China Sea: Indian Ocean Region, Compass Games) look to deliver in the next 30-45 days.

Harold Responds

Harold Buchanan wrote a long response on FaceBook to my comments on his taxonomy. You can find a link to it in The Armchair Dragoons forum. There was also this recent exchange on Twitter:

“If a reader makes it about them then of course it won’t fit.” Well, I’ll just repeat what I wrote over at Armchair Dragoons, “At the end of the day it doesn’t actually matter. We are a community of gamers – full stop.”


Feature image courtesy Root: The Marauder Expansion Kickstarter campaign from Leder Games.

#RockyReads for #Wargame – Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 by Antony Beevor (Viking Press, 1998)

BLUF

Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 by Antony Beevor is two books in one – the first is a political and military treatment of the events leading up to the Operation Uranus and the second is the story of the very human tragedy of the encirclement of the German Sixth Army.

A Real Wargamer’s Book

Why do you play wargames? Personally, I play wargames to engage with the history and gain a better understanding and appreciation of a topic. For me, the first part of Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 by Antony Beevor is very much a book that I use to play a wargame. The first part of Stalingrad is a military-oriented treatment of the political, and especially military, situation and events from the end of 1941 through the German offensive that reached Stalingrad in September 1942 and continuing through the Soviet counteroffensive that cut off Paulus’ Sixth Army in November 1942. I can use this part of Stalingrad to better understand the historical flow of events and see what I might of done different when playing a wargame like The Dark Valley: The East Front Campaign, 1941-45 by designer Ted Raicer from GMT Games. I can even use it to better understand the situation as presented in David Thompson’s Pavlov’s House: The Battle of Stalingrad from Dan Verssen Games.

The second half of Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 inevitably follows the military activity, but that is not the main focus. Antony Beevor pivots from a story of the military action into the immense human tragedy that befell the German defenders of Stalingrad and, to not so much a lesser extent, the surrounding Soviets.

Arguably, the second half of Stalingrad is more important to wargamers than the first. It is very easy for wargamers to push counters or tokens or little minis around a map and forget that those are humans. It’s exhilarating to roll a natural 12 on a Combat Results Table and get that “DE – Defender Eliminated” result. It means nothing more than removing that little piece of cardboard from the map and casually throwing it into the “dead” pile, all while pumping your fist and smirking at your opponent.

Reality is not so fun. In Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 author Antony Beevor reminds us, no, shouts at us that we must face the terrible human cost of war.

Yes, we play war GAMES for fun, but at the same time we need to remember that our “fun” is a depiction of war far removed from the brutal reality. Sometimes we need to learn that lesson and a wargame is not always the right vehicle. Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1941-1943 is the right vehicle to remind us of the brutality and horror of war.

Wargame Application

Read it. Read it so you better understand what the CRT really means.

Citation

Beevor, Antony, Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943, New York: Viking, 1998.

#Wargame Rulings – The Dogs of War: C3 Series Module 2 – The BAOR Sector (trlgames.com, 2020)

I love the wargame Less Than 60 Miles from Thin Red Line Games (2019). I love it because it is a very interesting look at command and control on the battlefield. I will also say it is a hard game to learn. I attribute this difficulty to the rule book. No, I am not criticizing designer Fabrizio Vianello for his English skills but the rule book for Less Than 60 Miles is both difficult to read and difficult to follow across the game because of the layout and organization. In the latest game of the C3 Series, The Dogs of War, the original rule book format was carried over. Now, thanks to a dedicated community member, there is an alternative.

Less Than 60 Miles – Original Format

Old Dog, New Trick

Lionel Martinez took The Dogs of War rule book and revised the layout and organization. This new rule book is available both on the Thin Red Line Games website and on BoardGameGeek. As Mr. Martinez writes on BGG under his “lacm” name:

This new version contains revision of the layout. It contains also a complete change in the order of the rules. No rules has changed but known errata or clarifications have been incorporated. Some rewording was also necessary but was kept to a minimum. The rulebook has been totally reorganized to follow more closely the sequence of play: some separate sections have been transformed in subsections. The intent is to enable the player to find a rule more easily and to ease somehow the learning process.

The Dogs of War – Revised Layout and Organization

Looking through the revised rule book, my first take-away is that it is very GMT Games-like. That’s a good thing; GMT Games is certainly a leader in graphics and layout (thanks in large part to guidance from Rodger MacGowan and his RBM Studios). I won’t go so far as to say that what I am calling the “GMT-style” should be the industry standard but it certainly is an excellent example.

See Spot Wargame

For the most part, I learn games by reading the rule book. I know this clashes with the modern age where all the rage is to do a video tutorial. I have seen a few excellent How-to-Play videos (a personal favorite are some of the Harsh Rules series by Ben Harsh) but at the end of the day if I am going to be playing a boardgame where the players are manipulating the system I learn better by actively reading about it than passively watching it be explained to me.

I note that the hobby boardgame world often faces similar problems in learning where “conversational” rule books clash with more “procedural” or, for Grognards, “SPI-style.” Root (Leder Games) took on this problem by publishing two rule books: Learn to Play Root and The Law of Root. Other companies, like Stonemaier Games, leveraged community members to publish a compendium of rules (as in the Scythe Complete Rulebook). Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages.

All of which is a roundabout way of me saying that writing a rule book for a wargame game matters. The hobby gaming community is very fortunate to include members who care enough and take the time to make materials that can enhance playing games. At the same time, publishers maybe need to step back and pause a moment to consider if they are leveraging skills and community support as best able. I’m not saying I want all my wargame rule books to look like they came from GMT, but if concerted efforts are made to make them easier to understand, well, that’s definitely not a bad thing!

#Wargame Wednesday – Who’s scared of heights? Wargaming with Heights of Courage: The Battle for the Golan Heights, October 1973 (@MultiManPub, 2013)

I purchased Heights of Courage: The Battle for the Golan Heights, October 1973 (Multi-Man Publishing, 2013) in a “Back from COVID” sale in mid-2020. It was one of three MMP titles I purchased and I recently got it to the table for an in-depth play. When doing so, I discovered a very interesting gimmick, gained a deeper understanding of the rules, and reached a better understanding of my gaming tastes.

Tempo

Every SCS game has what I call a “gimmick;” a special rule that sets it apart and tries to recreate some unique characteristic of the battle or campaign. In Heights of Courage that special rule is 1.9 Operational Tempo. Starting on Turn 11, each player choses a “Fast Tempo” or “Slow Tempo” for the turn. In a “Fast Tempo” turn all the phases of the Sequence of Play are executed but the player receives NO replacement points. Conversely, in a “Slow Tempo” turn the Combat and Exploitation Phases of the turn are skipped but the player receives four replacement points.

I like this rule as it naturally “paces” the battle. Indeed, in the rule book at the end of the rule there is a Design Note that states much the same:

This rule’s purpose is to keep operations and losses at a rate consistent with actual events. Each player has an opportunity to rest and refit while slowing down his operational tempo. If a player chooses to continue offensive operations, his army will quickly melt away, especially if his opponent decides to refit. During this period, the Israelis chose to stop offensive operations–having achieved their goal of bringing Damascus into artillery range. The Syrians suffered so heavily that they were reduced to covering the road to Damascus while prodding their allies into futile uncoordinated attacks.

Design Note, Rule 1.9 Operational Tempo

Exploiting the System

I’m still a relative newbie to the Standard Combat Series so I discover something new with every play. This time the lesson that really hit home while playing Heights of Courage was the striking power of Exploitation-capable units. The key rule is 6.0 Overrun Combat which allows units that start in a hex that is not in an Enemy Zone of Control (EZOC) to move AND attack by paying extra movement points. This is the only time units may conduct combat outside of the Movement Phase. As the rules point out, “Properly managed, a unit can attack up to three times in a turn” (6.1b). Yeah…a unit can overrun during the Movement Phase, fight in the Combat Phase, and if positioned correctly overrun again in the Exploitation Phase. Wow! I had caught part of that before while playing Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989 (MMP, 2020) but the real impact of the rule didn’t set in until this play.

Standardized War Engine

At the end of the day, I find the Standard Combat Series is very suited to my current wargaming style. Heights of Courage, like other SCS titles, are games that are relatively easy to learn because they leverage the SCS “war engine;” that common set of rules applicable across the series. Game rules tend to be few and often have that interesting gimmick which adds just enough chrome to build the “narrative” of the specific battle or campaign while avoiding rules bloat. Add in the fact the games tend to be smaller footprint (22″x34″ is perfect for my gaming table) and with lower counter density I find a combination of interesting-yet-playable titles I can set up and play to completion in a long evening or over a weekend of play.


Feature image courtesy Multi Man Publishing

#SundaySummary – Stepping into Combat Commander: Pacific (@GMTGames), a throw back to the Falklands (admiraltytrilogy.com), red alert kudos for No Motherland Without (@compassgamesllc) and Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (@StrongholdGames) #wargame #boardgame

Wargames

I was able to pull off an excellent local trade to land a copy of Chad Jensen’s Combat Commander: Pacific from GMT Games this week. It only cost me my 1984 copy of Ranger from Omega Games. This is my first foray into the Combat Commander series of tactical infantry games from GMT. As there were several snow days in my local area I had the opportunity to do a sort of “deep dive” into the game and get multiple plays in. My major discovery is that Combat Commander: Pacific may be built on many “new-age” mechanics but it is thematically highly realistic. Those thoughts will be the subject of a later posting.

In 1982, the Falklands War occurred at an important time in my wargaming career. I was in high school so “aware” enough to follow the geopolitics and I had friends with common wargame interests for playing game like Harpoon II (Adventure Games, 1983). So it was very interesting this week to read The Falklands Wargame which is an unclassified, publicly released study prepared in 1986 for the Strategy, Concepts, and Plans Directorate of the US Army Concepts Analysis Agency. What really caught my attention is the study lead was none other than CAPT Wayne P. Hughes, USN (Ret.) who wrote the foundational naval text Fleet Tactics and was greatly admired by the designers of the Harpoon series of naval wargames available these days from Admiralty Trilogy Group. It’s a very interesting document which has made me think of many of my Falklands wargames, especially those using the Harpoon series of rules. So of course, more thoughts to follow!

Boardgames

Got No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War (Compass Games, 2021) to the gaming table several times this week. I played the solitaire module provided in the rules. Mechanically it works fine, though the hard part for me is now trying to get those mechanics to do what I need them to do. Component wise, well, this title is a bit of a miss. The red game board is good looking but all the red counters and markers get lost on it making it very hard to see the game state. More detailed thoughts are coming in the future.

<soapbox on> A shout out to Compass Games is also in order. There was a minor production issue with my copy of No Motherland Without but it was quickly resolved by Compass Games. Awesome customer service. And no, I didn’t mention it before because I was giving John and company a fair chance to resolve the issue which they did to my utmost satisfaction so I will commend, not condemn Compass publicly and share with you a positive story not an undeserved negative one. </soapbox off>

Kickstarter

After lamenting a few weeks back on my reluctance to back any Kickstarters I succumbed to the pressure – to back Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (Stronghold Games via Kickstarter). My hope is that this can be a Family Game Night title. Speaking of which, we have sadly fallen off the Weekly Game Night bandwagon. Time to get back up….

The Pratzen, Austerlitz 1805 by Peter Perla from Canvas Temple Publishing will fund later today. As this posts I have less than 20 hours to resist temptation. Yeah, Napoleonics is not my thing but I absolutely respect Dr. Perla, love CTP productions, & would need a bigger gaming table.

Books

With the arrival of new games and my “Falklands Excursion” this week the reading for My Kursk Kampaign was put on hold this week. As I resume my reading I am through the events of July 12, 1943 and the Battle of Prokharovka so now turn to the aftermath and follow-on actions – which means The Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning, by Trevor Bender from RBM Studios should land on the gaming table again.

#RockyReads for #Wargame – China’s Global Navy – Today’s Challenge for the United States and the US Navy (@NavalWarCollege Review, V73 Nr 4 Autumn 2020)

BLUF

In the past decade, China’s navy has not only risen, it has arrived.

Captain Jim

Have you ever heard of James Fanell? I’m talking about Captain James Fanell, US Navy (Retired). CAPT Fanell got into hot water back in 2013 when he served as the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence (N2) of the US Pacific Fleet and spoke publicly about the rise of the Chinese Navy. Fast forward almost a decade and we find he is still pushing the same message.

In many ways, CAPT Fanell’s “China’s Global Navy – Today’s Challenge for the United States and the US Navy” is a short version of a book I previously discussed, China as a Twenty First Century Naval Power by Michael A McDevitt (Naval Institute Press, 2020). Both Fanell and McDevitt contend that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has already arrived as a global naval power and must be dealt with from that perspective. Written at the end of the Trump Administration, CAPT Fanell notes, “there remains significant practical tasks that must be completed if Washington is to disrupt Beijing’s designs successfully.” He goes on to say:

…the world can expect to see a Chinese naval force that enjoys a global presence composed of multiple aircraft carrier and amphibious strike groups, a credible submarine-launched ballistic-missile capababilty, an ever-present network of warships at sea around the globe 27/7/365, and the concomitant influence and power this would provide to the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)

Fanell: China’s Global Navy, Naval War College Review v73, Nr. 4 Autumn 2020, p. 3

Wargame Applications

If you want to play out a hypothetical conflict between the US and China at sea, Fanell warns that reality is much closer than some may expect:

Given the PLAN’s decadelong experience operating in the far seas, the service’s operational and naval-construction trajectory, the PRC’s overall economic strength, and the regime’s established track record of intimidating neighbors into forfeiting their coastal-state rights to China, we can assess the PRC as being on track to become a global power as early as 2030, that it may be able to dominate the seven seas by 2049, and that it will use its power to expand China’s interests at the expense of others.

Fanell: China’s Global Navy, Naval War College Review v73, Nr. 4 Autumn 2020, p. 28

However, Fanell’s solutions may be a disappointment to wargamers looking for him to serve them up a scenario. Rather than calling for kinetic actions, Fanell advocates a “whole of government” approach. The result is an article that is more policy-prescriptive thus making it more suitable for deep background but not campaign or scenario creation.

Citation

Fanell, James E (2020) “China’s Global Navy– Today’s Challenge for the United States and teh U.S> Navy,” Naval War College Review: Vol. 73 : No. 4, Article 4. Available at: https://digital-commons.usnwc.edu/nwc-review/vol73/iss4/4


Feature image courtesy http://www.defenceconnect.com.au