I was able to get in a play ofUndaunted: North Africa by designer DavidThompson from Osprey Games. RMN T and myself replayed Scenario 1: Landing Ground 7 with him as the LRDG (actually LRP) and myself as the Italians. This time we made sure to play the Recon action correctly; it’s the main action that enables you to discard those pesky Fog of War cards and cycle the useful cards in your deck more efficiently. It was a good fight but he kept his Engineer safe and was able to win after destroying three objectives.
New Arrival –1979: Revolution in Iran by Dan Bullock from The Dietz Foundation via Kickstarter. Let me first join the chorus of voices in congratulating Jim Dietz on one of the best Kickstarter campaign I’ve participated in. Jim communicated often and clearly throughout the process. I don’t know how he did it—in this time of worldwide shipping disruption he delivered a mere ONE MONTH later than the campaign originally advertised. Towards the end of the campaign the near-daily updates unabashedly conveyed his joy that the project was nearing fulfillment and that giddy excitement infected me. When a new game arrives, it usually takes a few days for it to get to the table as it must “wait for a spot” of table space. With 1979 I swept the existing game off the table and unboxed it immediately.
Speaking of shipping, is it just me or has UPS really taken a turn for the worst? Twice this month I’ve had UPS shipments “delayed” by 2-3 days. This is not to say USPS doesn’t have issues too but any delay there seems to be one day at most. I read that USPS was changing their terms of service and to expect slower delivery times but I didn’t read anything about UPS. Even normally reliable Amazon has gone wonky on me recently with one shipment showing up three days late and another showing up but still listed as ‘not delivered’ in my orders record. I guess I can rationalize these delays as part of the overall slowdown in shipping from containers but the UPS issues seem a bit more wrong.
New Arrival – Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons by Jon Peterson (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2021). This is definitely a hobby business history and NOT a history of D&D as a game. So all you Edition Wars fighters out there looking for Jon’s vote need to look elsewhere. I wish Jon would do the history of Marc Miller and Traveller someday. I know, not as dramatic but nonetheless of intense interest to a Traveller RPG fan like me.
I scored myself an excellent “Like New” copy of Tapestry (Stonemaier Games, 2019) from a fellow local gamer. Like many Stonemaier Games, there was much pre-release hype and huge expectations behind this game. As I compose this post, Tapestry is ranked the #179 Strategy game and #239 game OVERALL on BoardGameGeek. However, there seems to be a very vocal crowd on BoardGameGeek and the like that never seem to miss a chance to criticize this game. After some consideration, I found that I like Tapestry in great part because it is both a “kinder, gentler 4X” as well as an efficient game with regards to rules, game mechanisms, and narrative building.
Civilization games are not actually a preferred category of boardgames in the RockyMountainNavy home. I have a few civilization games going back to Twilight Imperium First Edition (Fantasy Flight Games, 1997) which, while rated at four-hours game play time, never seemed to be playable in that short a time. Tiny Epic Kingdoms (Gamelyn Games, 2014) is a relatively recent acquisition and got a favorable reception from the RMN Boys for its quick play time.Space Empires: 4X (GMT Games, 2017) is another recent addition that promises to play in three-hours. Finally there isEnemies of Rome (Worthington Games, 2017) which is a huge favorite with the RMN Boys. My point here is that the RMN Boys and myself are predisposed towards smaller 4X/civilization games with streamlined game mechanisms and quicker play time. It is through the lens of those older, smaller and more streamlined civilization games we look at Tapestry.
Kinder, Gentler 4X
The classic definition of a 4X game is “Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate.” In Tapestry, Jamie Stegmaier takes that classic defintion and modifies it slightly into what I call a “Stonemaier 4X—Explore, Experiment, Expand, and Extrapolate.” In the case of Tapestry:
Explore relates to the Exploration Track,
Experiment relates to the Science Track
Expand relates to the Military Track
Extrapolate relates to the Technology Track
In Tapestry the classic elements of a civilization building 4x game are present but just renamed a bit. Could this be the cause of some people saying that Tapestry is something of a lesser civilization building game? For those “progressive gamers” does the renaming of exploitation or extermination stages make that much of a difference? As a wargamer, I kinda expected a combat mechanism in the Conquer Action but have to admit I don’t really miss the lack of a combat roll. Does this renaming and lack of explicit combat make the game less offensive to some players? Maybe Tapestry should get a Newspeak award!
Tapestry bills itself as a two-hour civilization building game. That’s a tall order, especially when so many seem to equate civilization building games to Twilight Imperium (rated 4-8 hours play). A very vocal crowd of critics claim that Tapestry lacks depth and is nothing more than an efficiency game.
Uh, yes. That’s the point.
Unlike many of the “it’s an efficiency game” critics, I embrace the efficiency of Tapestry. Jamie Stegmaier set out to create a two-hour, medium-weight civilization building game in Tapestry and he achieved his design objectives. A great part of the games success is a straight-forward, relatively uncomplicated, efficient design.
Play by Symbol – Efficient Rules
How uncomplicated is Tapestry? Let’s start by looking at the rule book; yes, all four pages of it. This may be part of why some people don’t like the game for Tapestry is extremely visual and requires demands one to “read” and process the meaning of many symbols. Like some other symbology-heavy games I’ve played (One Small Step from Academy Games immediately comes to mind) to learn Tapestry requires reading of a different sort. The rules as written actually recommend you don’t read everything in advance. Take for example the rules under “advance:”
The core benefits associated with each track are explained on page 3, and all benefits are explained in detail on the reference guide. We recommend teaching new players the core benefits before starting the game, but not the other specific benefits until they are reached (emphasis mine).
Tapestry-Gameplay-Advance, Rule Book p. 2
In addition to having to learn to “read” the language of Tapestry, in many ways the rule book tells you what game mechanisms you have at your disposal, but almost nothing about why you do certain actions. I think many critics want to see rules written in the language of the narrative, not the game mechanism. For instance, the rule for each of the core actions (Exploration/Science/Technology/Military) is exclusively the game mechanism explained; there is no hint given to the theme behind the action.
Strategies of play is absent in the rule book for Tapestry; it is up to the players to discover (very much) on their own strategies of play. I found in our early games that players tended to start the game focused on one track, only to discover that a second or third was also needed. For example, in our first game:
The Militants began by focusing on the Military Track, but quickly discovered they needed the Exploration and Science Tracks to remain competitive.
The Architects focused on the Technology Track, but quickly discovered they needed to add in some Science.
The Nomads focused on Exploration, but also quickly discovered they needed Technology and Military to stay in the game.
What each player quickly discovered while playing Tapestry is that, while it may look to be the most efficient to focus on one track, the effectiveness of that approach drops off if other tracks are ignored. Finding the right combination and building an efficient engine that generates resources to move ahead on several tracks is the core of the game.
An Equity Game of Efficient Game Mechanisms
In Tapestry, Jamie delivers to us a game that captures the essence of civilization building though the use of multiple game mechanisms that all players have equal access to. Yet, while all the players use the same Actions, each civilization has unique ways to alter those Actions and, as one plays theirTapestry Cards, one further alters how their civilization uses those Actions. Like any engine-building game, how you use your asymmetric or special scoring powers to maximize the efficiency of your game engine is fundamental to winning. In our house at least, games like Tapestry or Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2017) often come down to which player is the first to discover and implement the most efficient set of actions given their starting position and asymmetric powers. Just as important as finding your strategy, when another player frustrates your strategy the ability to work around the obstacles while not allowing your game engine to become totally derailed is just as great a challenge. At its core, games like Tapestry come down to the challenge to find and execute your efficiencies.
For instance, in or first game of Tapestry the Militants and Nomads began on the same continent. The Militants score by conquering territory, and the Nomads score by exploring new territory and placing buildings there. At first the Nomads tried exploring, but quickly discovered that all their new explorations were at risk of being overrun by the Militants. So the Nomads had to “fight back” and build a buffer of conquered territories to keep the Militants away so they could explore (Exploration Track) and build (Technology Track) unmolested. At the same time, the Militants realized they needed to be able to conquer from a distance and thus tried to move down the Military track quickly, only to discover they also needed to explore away from the Nomads to have the territories needed to advance. If the Militants were able to access some useful Technology it would make the job that much easier. Of course, at the same time the Architects were minding their own business and trying to get more buildings, which the Nomad also needed. Thus, each civilization came into conflict with another, usually in unexpected (or at least not immediately obvious) ways.
Efficient Puzzler Leads to Narrative
Other people complain about the capital city mats in Tapestry, declaring they are nothing more than a puzzle. In a two-hour game, just how complex a sub-system do you want? To me, equating city planning to a puzzle is actually a great analogy. It’s a game mechanism that is evocative without simulation. You can build your capital city haphazardly or you can plan efficiencies. In Tapestry all that city planning is reduced to a puzzle. I even like the rule that landmarks need not be placed all within the city limits (i.e. they can go off the edges of the mat). How many times has the gov’mt build something outlandish and it just doesn’t fit the area right? My bottom line on cities is in a two-hour game that simple sub-system should be appreciated for its efficiency instead of criticized.
End of Civilization
One aspect of Tapestry that many people see as inefficient is the different end of play times. In Tapestry gameplay ends for an individual player after their 5th Income Turn. Since this event can happen at different times for each player it is possible that some players will be “waiting” for others at the end game. In practice the “wait” doesn’t seem excessive and, if the player was able to plan ahead, they still might score based on other players actions. Admittedly, this approach seems to fly in the face of many game design lessons which favor play balance with an end-game trigger where all players either get an equal number of turns or a last chance to play.
The seemingly obvious use of Income Turns in Tapestry also hides another efficiency of play. In the early stages of our first games the standard approach for Income Turns was to wait until all resources are exhausted before taking the turn. About mid-game something changed as players started looking at the Tapestry Cards in their hand and thinking about when would be a good time to play them. Do you wait until you are resource exhausted and then unlock that special Tapestry Card action? Or, do you take your Income Turn now to access that Tapestry Card? Once again, the goal is efficiency and playing Tapestry Cards at the most opportune moments is another way you tune that efficiency engine.
In the RockyMountainNavy home, we try to get a weekend Family Game Night in on a regular basis. A game night is usually the RMN Boys and myself, meaning three-player games are preferred. We also look for games that we can play in 2-3 hours (or less) of time as we usually start after dinner and go into the evening. By the nature of our requirements, the games we tend towards are medium-weight without too many complicated subsystems. Tapestry is a perfect fit from a game weight and play time perspective. Just as important, it delivers enough of a narrative experience that it is not reduced to a meaningless, unconnected game of simply taking actions, but a bit of a story emerges to engage the players.
In our game, the Militants and Nomads confronted each other often and both seemed to be neck-and-neck in points. The Architects seemingly fell further behind, but several mid-game actions brought them up to the others. At that point the Militants and Nomads realized the Architects could not be ignored, and attempted to pivot their engines to meet the new threat. The main confrontation of civilizations became the Nomads versus the Architects as both tried to get buildings and landmarks out ahead of the other with the Militants looking for spoiler opportunities. All this play created a fun story in the postgame talk as one can look back on the “story” of their civilization and see pivotal moments of discovery, conquest, growth, and even falls.
This is also as good a time as any to discuss the components of Tapestry. Critics seem to love to complain that Tapestry is overproduced. The major complaint seems to revolve around the painted landmarks that some apparently see as too cartoonish. I disagree; the painted landmarks are just fine. Their size, which some seem to complain about, is perfect for viewing across a game table in less-than-optimal lighting—you know, like many family dining rooms! They also are great for grabbing across the table. Further, the gritty mats that protect against the occasional (accidental) bump are really welcome!
With 16 different civilizations and six different Capital City Mats, there is plenty of replay variability in Tapestry. Add into the mix 50 different Tapestry Cards, 33 Technology Cards, and 48 Territory Tiles and a further 15 Space Tiles the chances of any two games of Tapestry ever being the same is very, very small.
Critics of Tapestry cite the lack of a civilization-building experience as a drawback of the game. They point to the apparent randomness of tech development (conveniently missing the fact that certain tech cannot be upgraded unless in the right era). They point to the medium-weight rules and efficient game design as creating a game that fails to build a narrative of civilization building. I disagree; Tapestry is a “lite civ builder game” that allows one to build a civilization in two-hours. The narrative of play is not out front in the rules, but rather requires one to “read” the board as one progresses up various tracks or lays down a Tapestry Card. Granted, the narrative of Tapestry may not create a Game of Thrones epic, it doesn’t try to (and remember too how the TV series of GoTended…not pretty). While many people seem to expect the Myth Arc of a civilization game to be expansive, in Tapestry it’s small and efficient much like a single TV season series…
The other day I was looking at a new arrival wargame and exploring where on the BoardGameGeek rankings of War Games it sat. In a bit of a careless moment I accidentally hit the “War Game Rank” header and resorted by lowest to highest rankings. I was a bit surprised to see a game I own ranked very near the “top” of the new page. I scrolled down a bit and found a few more. Which got me thinking; do I really have that many turkeys in my wargame collection? Let’s look at my “Bottom Eight” and see what we discover. Why eight? Because, surprisingly, that is the number of titles I have in the last group of 100 BGG ranked War Games 3387-3486.[Edit – I actually have nine but one is not noted as part of my collection though it is].
Let me be clear about something up front. I firmly believe that BoardGameGeek ratings and rankings of wargames are very suspect. I use BGG to manage my collection and not to rank or rate titles. I further believe that in the early days of BGG, and to a lesser extent today, there was/is an anti-wargame bias within the BGG community writ large. I believe this bias derives from early times when BGG postured itself as a Eurogame-centric website and relished in trashing, uh, Ameritrash games. This is despite the fact the BGG glossary goes out of its way to say wargames are NOT Ameritrash, but in a somewhat condescending manner.
In more recent years, “crossover” wargames, or wargames that are recognized as combining Eurogame mechanics with wargame themes—sometimes called a “waro”—have somewhat reduced the bias but at its heart BGG started anti-wargame and remains so. Additionally, the algorithms used to derive BGG ratings and ranking are a trade secret which only serve to further obfuscate just how games are rated and ranked. If there is one thing the past year+ of COVID taught me, and hopefully many others, it’s that statistics are easy to manipulate. Like they say, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Here are the “Bottom Eight” wargames in my collection as ranked by BoardGameGeek (note that this is amongst NUMERICALLY ranked games; there are 104 pages for over 10,000 wargames listed on BGG with the majority having no numerical ranking):
“You mean a war game, like Risk” can barely be applied to this title. Bought for the RockyMountainNavy Boys who were into the IP at the time. They never liked it. Absolutely deserves to be at the bottom.
The market and high levels of abstraction always put me, and apparently many others, off on this game yet somehow it stays dear to my heart. Looking back, I wonder if Supremacy was trying to be a “waro” before people understood what a waro was. I understand that updated versions exist. I often wonder what the game could become if a good developer had worked it, then or even now.
In the past few years I rediscovered this game on my shelf when I went looking for games using the chit pull mechanism. It’s clunky and not-so-elegant but serviceable as a wargame. Part of the low ranking may be subject matter; the Battle of Arakan in Burma is not well known.
Ambitious in that it tries to model 3D flight on a 2D board in increments of mere seconds. Way too complicated a model to easily manipulate. I at least remember playing this one—a battle between two American F-106 Delta Darts and a pair of TU-26 Backfire strategic bombers trying to get to New York. Of course, we now know the Tu-26 never existed for the TU-22 Backfire never was converted to a strategic bomber. It also showed our misunderstanding of how to employ weapon systems as we tried to “dogfight” the bombers vice standing off with those nuclear-tipped missiles and rockets hosing away at the Red intruders. Then again, we kinda realized that those nuke-armed babies were “a bad day” and tried to restrain ourselves.
Yup, restraint in a wargame. Like I said, we kinda didn’t know what we were doing. I remember driving one of the Backfires and desperately dodging the F-106s but ending up low, slow, and vertically banked mere feet off the deck. I almost made it to New York, but ultimately ran out of ideas, airspeed, and altitude short of the target.
Is this a wargame? I bought this for RockyMountainNavy Boy A who was a big HALO fan at the time. I think it got played once. You also needed a DVD player, making this a “media-assisted” game. In the RMN house that made this game difficult to play since the RMN students had TV restrictions on weekdays and limited time on weekends. Altogether not a memorable title.
Not officially listed in my collection though I have a copy. The BGG tagline reads, “Will you conquer the world in this multi-player push-your-luck wargame?” I guess that is one way to look at Risk but when doing so is one unconsciously buying into that BGG anti-Ameritrash heritage?
It took a few extra days but my hardcopy of the Compass Games catalog arrived. Several games are given “provisional” (my term) delivery dates which, alas, all are in 2022 (one actually doesn’t have even a provisional date—which is kinda worrisome). We’ll see how that works out! Now to mark the catalog up with already have, on order, and like to haves.
74 major Titles in catalog
6x Titles of Interest (3 available now)
I really need to be careful and not get too carried away with ordering from Compass right away. I already owe Mrs. RMN (aka “Family Accountant”) an explanation of why GMT Games and Canvas Temple Publishing are charging within days of each other. I also won a local auction for Sekigahara (GMT Games, 2011) that I’m picking up this weekend—only a week after Tapestry (Stonemaier Games, 2019) arrived…
I have to say I heartily agree, especially with the “most Traveller thing.” Which is funny in a way because if you ask me to point to what Traveller looks like I’m probably going to show you this—the Little Black Books of 1977-1980.
Thumbing through the books I challenge you to find artwork. There is a single black and white drawing of a persons head on page 25 of Book 1 and nothing in Book 2 or Book 3. Even the box back only has a single, somewhat abstract, image of a soldier firing a weapon. The next picture is that of a “Mercenary Striker” in the front of Book 4 Mercenary. Even Book 5 High Guard has no images. Those iconic Traveller ships like the Free Trader (which I swear I saw in Foundation Season 1 Episode 1) don’t appear until Supplement 7 Traders and Gunboats in 1980.
For a while it looked like Traveller was going to be a Star Wars knockoff. Look at the box art for the 1981 wargame Invasion: Earth with what looks something like an Imperial Star Destroyer on the cover. Fortunately, Traveller never became a Star Wars or Star Trek RPG, both of which have their own distinctive and iconic visions.
Since the 1980’s, and especially with the rise of the internet, there has been moreTraveller RPG artwork. Much of it revolves around starships. In the early 1980’s it was black & white artwork in the pages of new supplements or adventures or the pages of The Journal of the Travellers’ Aide Society or Challenge magazine. Marc Miller’s Traveller (Traveller 4) used Chris Foss artwork with little success.
The computer graphics artwork of Andrew Boulton, though primitive compared to today’s computer graphics, was “right” in the vibe it communicated.So sad he left us so early…
The modern work of Ian Stead has graced the pages of many Traveller products in recent years and more than a few feel he has captured the vibe of Traveller the best since those early days. But, like so much of that early art, it is almost exclusively focused on the ships.
Marc Miller himself has two more recent visions of Traveller. The first is expressed in Traveller 5 which is sparsely illustrated using mostly recycled artwork from previous editions. Then there is his book, Agent of the Imperium, which has no illustrations at all and cover art that is…questionable.
It’s in your head…
Such is the power of the Traveller RPG— the game creates in many minds a vast, sweeping vision with relatively sparse artwork. What I’m hearing is that Traveller RPG created, in many minds, the vision of a vast empire spanning from a long dynastic center to a very unsettled frontier. This despite a majority of artwork that is of ships—not imperial palaces or emperors or harsh frontiers.
What’s most incredible is that very “in-your-head” vision is being “found” onscreen in the Foundation TV series. Take note that starships are NOT a prominent feature of the first three episodes of Foundation; they appear but are very much “background” whereas Traveller RPG tends to put starships in front. Traveller RPG delivers a vision of an entire universe without the need for lots of artwork because it stimulates the mind. That many seem to find Traveller in Foundation is in reality incredible praise for the Marc Miller and his vision expressed in plain text over 40 years ago..
Very happy to see Regimental Commander Brant and other members of the Armchair Dragoons at Origins Game Fair this week. Origins started out as a wargame convention and over the years it, uh, changed.
The Dragoons bring wargaming back to the Fair and it’s good to see. Some of the games played included Tank Duel (GMT Games), Second World War at Sea (Avalanche Press), Team COIN, and Command & Colors Napoleonics (GMT Games). I am very sad that I missed the Persian Gulf game with the admiraltytrilogy.com folks.
The October Sale from Revolution Games is underway. Great chance to pick up more than a few bargains. Personally I recommend Pacific Fury. If you are willing to purchase folio-packaged games some of the prices are really low and (hopefully) more affordable.
I continued my local acquisitions support program by picking up a copy of Jamie Stegmaier’s Tapestry (Stonemaier Games, 2019) from a nearby gamer. Used but in great condition. Will try to get this to the table soon, maybe as the season kickoff for the Weekend Family Game Night Return.
I am subscribed to Geoff Engelstein’s email newsletter, GameTek, which discusses “The Math and Science of Gaming.” GameTek #8 is “What if…?” and talks about counterfactuals. As wargamers, counterfactuals are arguably the foundation of our hobby. Even Geoff takes note of it:
Exploring “What If” is one of the interesting aspects of simulation games. What if the Germans moved their forces from Calais to Normandy before D-Day? What if Stonewall Jackson had survived to be with the Confederate army at Gettysburg? What if the Warsaw Pact had attacked Western Europe?
Geoff goes on to talk about designers who try to “tune” their game designs around the historical result:
When creating a model for a historical event, the most important thing, of course, is to make sure that what happened historically is a possible outcome from the game. If it is impossible to recreate the historical result, the game will be criticized (rightfully, in my opinion).
However, how likely does the historical result need to be?
I haven’t done a scientific survey – I’m not sure anyone has – but anecdotally I think almost all designers tune their models so that the most likely outcome is the historical outcome. You can think of the historical results of a game as creating a bell curve. The peak of this curve could coincide with the historical outcome.
I was very happy to see Geoff acknowledge that the historical result is not always the “norm” but may have been the extreme:
As I mentioned, I’ve been working on a new design, and I’m facing this issue head on. It’s going to be a solitaire-only design, but the more I research and learn about the actual event, the more I am convinced that the historical result was all the way at the tail end of the bell curve. Pretty much everything went right. It’s hard to point to any areas where things could have gone significantly better. Perhaps some of that is due to the nature of the historical record, which only wants to highlight the positive. But even so, I still think that’s the case.
Geoff is discussing here a very important issue for wargame designers—balancing player expectations against historical facts. When playing a wargame, I often know how the battle historically turned out but I want to see what I could do different. To be honest, if I play a wargame and the historical result is most often the “normal” outcome I am more likely to never to pick up that game again as I start to view it as too “rigid” an interpretation of the history. I start to view the design, no matter how “realistic” or well researched, as simulation instead of game—and I want to play wargames not do another simulation run.
Geoff has a good solution for his game, which many a designer should pay attention to:
I am currently leaning towards making the historical result, in game terms, correspond to a very strong victory – something for players to strive for.
However, I need to make sure that this is clear through the design notes. The details of this event are not that well known, so many players will be learning about it for the first time. If I take this route, the history the players experience in the game most likely will not match up with what occurred. I feel a sense of responsibility to make sure the players are properly able to contextualize their in-game experience, and the history surrounding it.
Geoff’s approach probably only applies when the players are expected to learn something about history from the game. This, of course, is an area that wargames excel at. All of which reinforces that every wargame needs some sort of design notes. I grew up wargaming in the 1980’s and 90’s and design notes were standard—today less so. Geoff hits the nail on the head; design notes are ESSENTIAL, “to make sure the players are properly able to contextualize their in-game experience, and the history surrounding it.”
I recently wrote an article for the Armchair Dragoons about The Hunt for Red October (TSR, 1988). One of the points I tried to make but didn’t quite deliver on is the notion that without design notes, The Hunt for Red October had no message. That’s not strictly true—I acknowledge in the article that The Hunt for Red October has much to say but, without design notes, I had to fill in the blanks. To crib off Geoff, without design notes I found it difficult to contextualize my in-game experience. Given that The Hunt for Red October was aimed at the mass market, being able to contextualize The Battle of the Atlantic in a hypothetical World War III might be beyond the goals of the design.