#SundaySummary – Made in China White Box wargaming while 1979: Revolution in Iran breaks out @ADragoons @atlasgames @djackthompson @OspreyGames @Bublublock @FoundationDietz @HobieCat18 @gmtgames #wargame #boardgame

Wargaming

This week was an Armchairs Dragoon week for me. Regimental Commander Brant was generous enough to publish my Made in China Wargaming? article and I contributed The White Box for (ta da) Unboxing Day.

I was able to get in a play of Undaunted: North Africa by designer David Thompson 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.

Boardgaming

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.

Shipping

According to Gene’s October 22 update, GMT Games is shipping again. I’m looking for tracking numbers for my Tank Duel Expansion 1 North Africa and Tank Duel: Tank Pack #1. The RMN Boys are looking forward to these arrivals; RMN Jr. wants to run a Crusader! I also need to warn Mrs. RMN that the next charge will be around November 1.

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.

#SundaySummary – New arrivals need a Quartermaster General so not lost in Forgotten Waters while reading Game Wizards of North Korea (@AresGamesSrl @PlaidHatGames @compassgamesllc @docetist @TravellerNews #TravellerRPG @toadkillerdog @gmtgames)

Wargames

New ArrivalIan Brody’s Quartermaster General WW2 (Ares Games, Second Edition 2020). Described by some as “Card driven RISK” that’s an unfair characterization as the game is much more fun than it looks. This is also supposed to be a decent 3-player game playable in 2-hours or less making it a great candidate for the weekend Family Game Night. We already have Quartermaster General: Cold War (PSC Games, 2018) which we enjoy playing so we look forward to going back to the “classic” version.

Quartermaster General WW2. Photo by RMN

Boardgames

New ArrivalForgotten Waters (Plaid Hat Games, 2020). Another candidate for Weekend Family Game Night. Also my first foray into the “Crossroads System” as well as my first “app-assisted” boardgame. I traded for my copy of Pacific Tide: The United States versus Japan, 1941-45 (Compass Games, 2019). I like Pacific Tide, but Forgotten Waters will be played with both RMN Boys vice one at a time. That said, when it comes to cooperative games the RMN Boys prefer classic Pandemic (Z-Man Games, 2008) and then the “Forbidden“-series (Forbidden Island and Forbidden Skies specifically) so we will see how unforgettable this one becomes.

Forgotten Waters. Photo by RMN

Role Playing Games

New ArrivalGame 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.

Game Wizards. Photo by RMN

Professional Wargames

The Defense Intelligence Agency released the 2021 edition of North Korea Military Power: A Growing Regional and Global Threat. This product is a must-read for any professional wargamer that wants to include North Korea as a threat. Given that it’s unclassified and for public release, even commercial wargame designers like Mitchell Land can use it to update Next War: Korea (GMT Games).

Courtesy DIA

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2021 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#FamilyGamingFriday: TAPESTRY (@stonemaiergames, 2019) the friendly & efficient 4X civilization #boardgame

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.

Tapestry box back (Photo by RMN)

Few Civs

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 is Enemies 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!

Efficiency

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
Tapestry Reference Guide (Photo by RMN)

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.

Tapestry rules (Photo by RMN)

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.

Militants (red) face off against Nomads (blue) while Architects (green) try to be inconspicuous (Photo by RMN)

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.

“…a game mechanism that is evocative without simulation.

RockyMountainNavy, October 2021
City Mats as puzzles? I’m ok with that! (Photo by RMN)

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.

Small Civ

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!

Tapestry landmarks…good family game sized (Photo by RMN)

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.

Civilization Discovered

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 GoT ended…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…

…and I’m ok with that.

“We march to victory, or we march to defeat. But we go forward. Only forward.”

Stannis Baratheon, Game of Thrones, obviously talking about advancing on different tracks in Tapestry, yes?

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2021 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#SundaySummary – Family Obligations (mentions canvastemple.com @gmtgames @Hobiecat18 @compassgamesllc @FoundationDietz @Bublublock @ADragoons @gengelstein #wargame #boardgame #CepheusEngine #SquidGame)

Not much to report on in gaming this week due to family obligations.

Wargame

Imperial Campaigns #1: Boer War (Joseph Miranda, Canvas Temple Publishing via Kickstarter) is moving along nicely with the mounted maps unlocked just before the funding campaign expired.

GMT Games is charging for Mike Bertucelli’s Tank Duel Expansion #1: North Africa and Tank Duel: Tank Pack #1. I just need to update my credit card…

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 Owned
    • 5x Pre-ordered
    • 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…

Boardgame

Jim Dietz updated the shipping timeline for 1979: Revolution in Iran (Dan Bullock via Kickstarter) and it looks like this game may be the first of many COVID shipping-delayed games to (finally) arrive.

Speaking of Tapestry, I was able to get the game tabled this weekend. Bottom line: I like it! I think I see where many critics are coming from—I just disagree with them.

Role Playing Games

Cepheus Journal #8 is now out. Some adventure seeds for SPAAAACCCCEEE FFFFOOOORRRCCCEEE as well as Orbital 2100 from Zozer Games.

Game Design

Please take a moment to look at the well-done research article on Armchair Dragoons regarding “Nineteenth Century Military Wargames – H.G. Wells’ Little Wars as Kriegsspiel.”

For all you Squid Game fans out there make sure you check out Geoff Engelstein’s GameTek#9 newsletter this week featuring “The Game Design of Squid Game” (Warning- MAJOR Spoilers).

#SundaySummary: @ADragoons goes @originsgames, @CatastropheGam2 ZURMAT emerges, kicking BOER WAR canvastemple.com, @stonemaiergames TAPESTRY unfurls, & almost 1979 again | @FoundationDietz @Bublublock @AcademyGames revolutiongames.us admiraltytrilogy.com #wargame #boardgame

Wargame Origins

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 new game Zurmat (currently on Kickstarter from Catastrophe Games) was also prominently featured; this “small COIN” game looks very interesting! Check out the Armchair Dragoons Twitter feed (@ADragoons) or their webpage for pictures and the like.

I look forward to talking with Brant about how this year’s convention went and what he sees (or doesn’t ) as the future of wargaming at Origins. So far it looks good

Kickstarter Wargame

This week I also backed Imperial Campaigns Series Game Nr. 1: Boer War by designer Joseph Miranda from Canvas Temple Publishing on Kickstarter. Several reasons drove my decision; the topic is interesting, Joseph Miranda can be a hit-or-miss designer but Jon Compton at CTP is involved in development, CTP is a smaller publisher somewhat local to me so I think of them as my FLGP*, and the price is not outrageous.

Revolution Wargames

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.

Boardgames

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.

Reality Shift from Academy Games is closing in on final production. It was also demo’d at Origins.

Jim Dietz has been doing a great job communicating the shipping status of 1979: Revolution in Iran (which I affectionally call Volume II of the Axis of Evil Series following No Motherland Without). For many games we are happy just to hear that “it’s printed” or “it’s shipped” but Jim is giving us shipping movement details at the near-daily level. Certainly helps build anticipation!


*FLGP – Friendly Local Game PUBLISHER

Sunday Summary – Go with the flow of #wargames & #boardgames? Finding Foundation and running blades in LA with @FreeLeaguePub // @FoundationDietz @stuarttonge @gmtgames @compassgamesllc @MultiManPub #roleplayinggames

Shipping woes…slowly ending?

Slowly, ever so slowly, it looks like the flow of wargame and boardgame pre-orders is starting to move again. Let’s review what I know about my incoming games.

At least two games I have on Kickstarter are moving forward and reported being a step closer to delivery. 1979: Revolution in Iran (Kickstarter) is supposed to arrive to Jim Dietz at Dietz Foundation for in early October for immediate turnaround to fulfillment. 2 Minutes to Midnight (Kickstarter) by designer Stuart Tonge opened the pledge manager this week. However, not all is coming up totally roses—AuZtralia Revenge of the Old Ones and TaZmania! (Kickstarter) reported that production started but they will miss the planned November delivery due to the draconian (my description) lockdowns in New Zealand.

I am hoping that GMT Games finds a way to get the four titles that are at “At the Printer- No Ship Date Yet” moving. The latest update from Gene tells me that Tank Duel Expansion 1: North Africa is in a container somewhere between China and California and will be charging early October. Hopefully this means that backlog will work off over the next few months. I look forward to a regular GMT P500 delivery schedule.

I might also be better informed if I watched the Compass Games Live / Town Hall on YouTube every week but it goes live at an inconvenient time for me to easily catch it. I have five titles on preorder form Compass and, as best I can tell, none are scheduled for delivery through the end of this year (deep sigh).

My lone Multi-Man Publishing title on preorder shows that the preorder goal was passed. I guess that means it is moving forward in production, but when that is remains a mystery to me.

Boardgame Profits

The big boardgame industry news this week is that Asmodee is looking for a buyer...and they want 2 BILLION Euros. This past year+ of COVID certainly has seen the boardgame industry do well, but with the current raw material shortages and shipping challenges is it truly sustainable at those high levels? I almost feel like the VC group that owns Asmodee is trying to take their money and run. Remember, one of the oldest adages in business is“Buyer beware.”

Foundation and Role Playing Games

I rarely watch TV these days, but I did indulge in the first two episodes of Apple TV’s new series, Foundation:

I thought about rereading the books before the series started but I am glad I didn’t as I am looking at the series with (sorta) fresh eyes and just taking it in. I am especially enthralled with the world-building. I read articles about how the producers were trying to establish a look for the series that is neither Star Wars or Star Trek (Warning: Minor spoilers at the link). If I was put on the spot, I would say that there are many elements of Marc Miller’s Third Imperium setting for the Traveller roleplaying game. Or maybe it’s better to say there are many classic space opera elements in the Third Imperium and Foundation is just catching up. I have to admit I also enjoy watching the series with the RockyMountainNavy Boys who have not read the books (I know, Bad Dad!). They are taking it in without any preconceived notions. So far they like it, which is high praise from the hardcore Stars Wars fans they are.

From Foundation to Blade Runner

What’s this? Hot on the heels of ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game, Free League has announced publication of Bladerunner: The Roleplaying Game in 2022.

Free League put up a website which gives a few details about the new Bladerunner RPG. From a game mechanism perspective it appears that Free League’s Year Zero Engine will be used like it was in ALIEN: The RPG but with some new wrinkles:

The core game and its line of expansions will push the boundaries of investigative gameplay in tabletop RPGs, giving players a range of tools to solve an array of cases far beyond retiring Replicants. Beyond the core casework, the RPG will both in setting and mechanics showcase key themes of Blade Runner – sci-fi action, corporate intrigue, existential character drama, and moral conflict – that challenge players to question your friends, empathize with your enemies, and explore the poisons and perseverance of hope and humanity during such inhumane times.

Bladerunner: The Roleplaying Game, The Game

Investigative RPG’s are an interesting subgenre of roleplaying games. Some game systems, like Gumshoe from Pelgrane Press, are designed from the ground up for investigations. Other systems rely on a form of “social combat” game mechanism to handle player vs. PC interactions. Indeed, The Expanse Roleplaying Game (Green Ronin, 2019) has a separate mode of play called Social Encounters that covers investigations. It will be interesting to see how Free League adapts the Year Zero Engine to handle Bladerunner-style investigations.

Although I didn’t totally enjoy ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game I am nonetheless happy to see Free League lean into the 1980’s sci-fi IPs and turn them into RPGs. Philip K. Dick’s short story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” was the basis for the movie Bladerunner and is a very deep story. I hope the game does real justice to the IP.

#Wargame Wednesday – Clausewitz Cosplay with Commands & Colors Samurai Battles (@gmtgames, 2021)

THE LATEST version of Richard Borg’s Commands & Colors series from GMT Games takes players to the battlefields of Medieval Japan. Indeed, Commands & Colors Samurai Battles (GMT Games, 2021) bills itself on the box cover as, “The exciting medieval Japan battlefield game.” If you are a Grognard and are looking for a lite, family wargame you will find a great one in Commands & Colors Samurai Battles…which at first appears to demand you buy into some fantasy. Just be warned; what looks at first to be “fantastical” will eventually lead you to a deeper understanding of Carl von Clausewitz.

Commands & Colors Samurai Battles takes Richard Borg’s proven (and very popular) card-driven Commands & Colors system and moves it to Medieval Japan. From a game mechanism perspective the move is a good one given the armies of the day were a mix of close combat and ranged attack units. The core rules for Commands & Colors is a relatively simple translation to this new era and long time Commands & Colors players will find the transition to this rules set very easy. New players to Commands & Colors will likewise have an easy time learning the rules and, like so many games in the series, can usually be taught how to play without even needing to read the rules.

Here there be Dragons…

Like every Commands & Colors game, there is usually some customized rules to reflect the peculiarities of the era being gamed. Be it Elephant Rampage in Commands & Colors Ancients or routing militia in Commands & Colors Tricorne or Form Square in Command & Colors Napoleonics, these extra rules add period flavor for their given game and take what otherwise is a very generic game system and make it highly thematic. Commands & Colors Samurai Battles is no different in adding customized rules for the period. The major difference between Commands & Colors Samurai Battles and previous iterations of the Command & Colors system is that one of those special rules outwardly appears fantastical and not historical. Thus, some have accused Commands & Colors Samurai Battles as being closer to the fantasy Commands & Colors derivative Battlelore than to more historic-centric designs like Ancients or Tricorne or Napoleonics.

In Commands & Colors Samurai Battles the period flavor rules are few but important how they portray the popular perception of combat in medieval Japan. The few special rules of concern in Commands & Colors Samurai Battles and the page in the rule book the rules appears are:

  • Army Commander & Bodyguards (p. 10)
  • Enemy Command Tent (p. 10)
  • Leader Seppuku (p. 19)
  • Retreat & Loss of Honor (p. 20)
  • Lack of Honor (p. 20)
  • Honor & Fortune (p. 21)
  • Dragon Cards (p. 22)

Commands & Colors Samurai Battles treats some of these rules in a very straight-forward, historical manner. The Army Commander & Bodyguards rule works in conjunction with the Enemy Command Tent and is a good interpretation of medieval Japanese battlefield headquarters.

Other flavor rules in Commands & Colors Samurai Battles seem drawn more from popular films and samurai myths than the historical record. Leader Seppuku has some historical basis, but the way the rule is invoked in Commands & Colors Samurai Battles seems to be based more on trying to recreate popular samurai movies on the battle board than true history. Historical or not, the rule admittedly does make Samurai Battles feel more dramatic.

A key game mechanism in Commands & Colors Samurai Battles is Honor & Fortune. Both players have a pool of Honor & Fortune tokens that they must manage. The tokens, “in a roundabout way serves to measure an army’s discipline, its honor and the fortunes of war” (p. 21). At first glance, Honor & Fortune doesn’t appear unlike morale rules in many wargames. When units retreat or are routed or otherwise defeated you lose Honor & Fortune tokens. If one doesn’t have a sufficient reserve of tokens, then the Lack of Honor rule takes effect. Lack of Honor is a quick path to defeat making it imperative one manages their Honor & Fortune tokens carefully.

Fortune from Above or just a Dead Hand?

The special rule for Dragon Cards in Commands & Colors Samurai Battles is seemingly generating the most controversy. From all outward appearances, the play of Dragon Cards appears to be an appeal to mysticism rather than the employment of sound tactics and strategy on the battlefield. I say “appears to be” because that is the easy (lazy?) interpretation of what Dragon Cards represent. Let me show you another viewpoint; I see the Dragon Cards as the dead hand of Carl von Clausewitz influencing the design of Commands & Colors Samurai Battles.

How are Dragon Cards in Commands & Colors Samurai Battles and Carl von Clausewitz related? According to the Samurai Battles rule book, Dragon Cards are, “the gateway to legendary and mythical actions on the battlefield” (p. 22). While that certainly sounds like an appeal to mysticism, a closer look at the the 40 Dragon Cards in the game reveal they are less mystical and more fog and fortunes of war; factors even Dead Carl considered.

In short, absolute, so-called mathematical, factors never find a firm basis in military calculations. From the very start, there is an interplay of possibilities, probabilities, good luck and bad, that weaves its way throughout the length and breadth of the tapestry. In the whole range of human activities, war most closely resembles a game of cards.

Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Chapter 1, 21 (p. 86)

It seems fitting that Dragon Cards in Commands & Colors Samurai Battles are used in that “game of cards” for this battlefield game. A close examination of the Dragon Cards reveals that even the most “mystical” of them really are no different than a random event table in many wargames. Take for instance the “Blue Dragon.”

BLUE DRAGON

Play alongside your Command card.

Target: All enemy units on or next to a terrain hex with water.

Before ordering units, roll one die against each targeted unit. A symbol rolled will score one hit on the unit. Flags, Swords, Honor & Fortune and other unit symbols rolled have no effect.

“Blue Dragon” Dragon Card

If we could ask the Panzer drivers who got bogged down in the marshes at Kursk I think they would agree that they came face to face with the “Blue Dragon.” So go all (but one) of the Dragon Cards in Samurai Battles—what outwardly appears as mysticism is really just the fickle hand of fate in war.

Panzer crew deals with “The Blue Dragon” (courtesy hürtgenwald on pintrest)

There is one Dragon Card in Commands & Colors Samurai Battles that is not fate, but a special nod to the period. The Dragon Card “Personal Challenge” again draws on popularized history to allow players to have those dramatic samurai movie moments. There is a historical basis for this card, and given that there are only two in the deck of 40 Dragon Cards and they can only be played if there are opposing leaders in a hex, it will likely they will be used only occasionally but in a very dramatic way.

Popular Samurai Battles

Some of you might of picked up on my repeated use of the words “popular” versus “historical” and “mysticism” in Commands & Colors Samurai Battles and maybe think this Grognard doesn’t like the game. Quite the contrary, I love Commands & Colors Samurai Battles and am very pleased to get this game in my collection. At first I was a bit worried by some of the comments on “dragons” in the game and other “mystical” aspects but once I got the game to the table I see that Carl von Clausewitz is simply doing some cosplay here. Maybe samurai in medieval Japan sought to understand how fortune and fate worked on the battlefield and the easiest explanation was to describe it in terms of mystical events. In Commands & Colors Samurai Battles that frame of reference reinforces the theme of the game, but don’t for a moment think the game strays into fantasy. For historical and family wargamers alike, Commands & Colors Samurai Battles deserves to be part of your Commands & Colors shelf (but not the top shelf or you risk the weight tipping over the bookcase and destroying your printer as a multi-pound box full of mounted boards and little wood blocks comes crashing down…not that I would know…).

Carl von Clausewitz is simply doing some cosplay here.

RockyMountainNavy, September 2021

Sunday Summary – Red October #wargame in September thanks to @6xW_a, some #boardgame Santorini (@roxleygames, 2016), conned into Firefly for generations, running guns with @BaenBooks, and hoping a Hail Mary reads well thanks to @DragonCon

Wargame

Say what you want about the dumpster fire Twitter can be, the wargame community in the Twittersphere is awesome. Fellow gamer Nicola sent me a game that I coveted for a long time but never got around to acquiring. Now The Hunt for Red October (TSR, Inc., 1988) is sitting on my game table being dissected. First impression…a lite family wargame that Grognards (and Grognard spawn) can embrace.

The hunt has ended…or has it only started?

Boardgame

With RockyMountainNavy Jr. supporting his high school team, it was left for RockyMountainNavy T and myself to find entertainment for a short evening. So it was that Santorini (Roxley Games, 2016) landed on the table for several rounds. We usually play without the God Powers but this time added Simple Powers. We’re both not really sure what to make of it as the basic game is a great challenge while the God Powers seem…well, we’re unsure.

Books

I came across the DragonCon book awards for 2021 and several caught my attention. That of itself is pretty incredible because I have a distrust of the political motivations of many industry awards these days. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir won Best Science Fiction Novel so I decided to give it a shot. Other ones are Gun Runner by Larry Correia and John D. Brown which won Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel (yeah…fantasy NOT!) and Firefly: Generations by Tim Lebbon for Best Media Tie-In Novel.


RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2021 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Sunday Summary – From Reading Charlies to #wargame #roleplayinggames slamming ALIENS to #boardgame Tiny Epic Kingdoms with @ADragoons groundzerogames.net hammers-slammers.com @freeleaguepub @Gamelyn_Games dietzfoundation.org @SchilMil

Humbled

All great reads…

It appears that the article that I wrote for the Armchair Dragoons, “An Active Defense of Fifth Corps: The Soviet Breakthrough at Fulda, Central Front Series, Volume 1” is in a second round of voting for the 2020 Charles S Roberts Awards. Thanks to all who voted so far. Like I told Brant, the only way to be wrong is NOT to read all the articles.

Wargames Cross Over with Roleplaying Games

My published thoughts this last week focused on why Traveller: The Role Playing Game is the best way to “wargame” David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers universe. Comments about how RPGs are basically skirmish wargames will be addressed in a future Wargame Wednesday.

This weekend I did a deeper comparison of Hammer’s Slammers wargames by digging into how Striker II (GDW, 1993), Dirtside II (Ground Zero Games, 1993), and Hammer’s Slammers: The Crucible (Pireme Publishing, 2010) stack up against each other. Look for these thoughts in Wargame Wednesday.

Roleplaying Games Cross Over with Wargames

I’ve been exploring Free League Publishing’s ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game this week. Thoughts coming in next week’s #RPGThursday. **Spoiler – A skirmish wargame**

Bored Enough for a Boardgame

Not really, but we finally got a boardgame to the table. On a weeknight no less. This summer I traded for Tiny Epic Kingdoms (Gamelyn Games, 2014) which is a really simple action-selection game. My Humans took on the Undead of RockyMountainNavy Jr. and the Dwarves of RockyMountainNavy T. Our first play took more than the 30 minutes advertised but was rather fun. RMN T took the win as often does by laying low and breaking away at the end. RMN Jr. gave it a thumbs up. I expect to see this one land on the table regularly as a quick weeknight after dinner adventure.

A Slow Ship From China

International shipping challenges continue to, uh, challenge the wargame/boardgame industry. Several of my Kickstarter projects updated with news this week. It’s mixed messaging.

Sunday Summary – Back to school, back to work, and back to #boardgame, #wargame, and maybe even #TravellerRPG #gamenights with @gmtgames @Academy_Games @IndependenceGa6

With Labor Day weekend just around the corner (at least for us ‘Mericans) it is officially the end of the summer season. This traditionally means back to school, back to work after summer laziness, and in the RockyMountainNavy household a return to tabletop gaming.

School

RockyMountainNavy Jr. is a high school senior this year. After being sidelined in online learning last year he is anxious to get back to school in-person and (more importantly) back to regularly seeing friends. He also has a driver’s license now which also means he has, perhaps inevitably, discovered that girls like coffee dates, ice cream, and movies. I have a sneaky suspicion that, given the choice between a family game night and, uh, “social engagements,” he will chose the later.

16 Candles

Work

The summer vacation season is coming to a close. Aside from vacation, I was already back to work 5-days a week. I suspect I will be just as busy between now and the Thanksgiving holiday. RockyMountainNavy T, my middle boy, is also gainfully employed (i.e full time—or more) as an Electrician’s Apprentice and his company which specializes in HVAC controllers (a COVID-era Upgrade of ChoiceTM for many buildings) has more work than staff. For both of us this means the occasional lite games in the evenings may become even more occasional.

Centralized HVAC Controller

Boardgame

The return to school and work also usually means a return to Family Game Nights. Given the, uh, “distractions” in RMN Jr’s life I am not sure I can totally count on him to be there for game nights. That said, there is a chance that we might have a multi-family game night at times with maybe as many as six-players. More likely, RMN T and myself will have Father vs. Son Game Nights…on weekends. One of the new-to-me games sitting on my shelf of shame that makes a good candidate for play is Space Empires 4X by designer Jim Krohn from GMT Games (2017 Third Printing).

Foundations Edge – Representative of Space Empires 4X?

Wargame

As always, wargames will be the core of my gaming time. Production and shipping delays mean that I will have time to work off my shelf of shame and get games to the table. I have plenty of Game of the Week titles waiting for me:

I am very interested in using Commands & Colors: Samurai, Strike of the Eagle, and even Space Empires 4X as possible games that RMN T and myself can play head-to-head on those Father vs. Son Game Nights.

There is also a possibility that new titles will trickle in although I am very unsure as to any timelines. I am positive that my uncertainty is nothing compared to the uncertainty that publishers have over the same issue. This past week, Gene from GMT Games dropped his monthly update that shows many of my titles are stuck. As Gene puts it:

Supply Chain and Shipping Slowdown. We haven’t made much progress from last month on the “P500 games shipping to us from the printer” front. Our printers are in the process of printing and boxing some of the 21 new products that are currently being printed. But the same global supply chain and shipping issues that are hampering businesses worldwide are hitting us, too. We THINK at this point that we will see three games shipped to us this month (to arrive in late September), but we can’t tell you dates with any certainty at this point.

Aug 2021 GMT Update

I guess this means I need to look at small, independent retailers to fill out existing-but-unowned titles in both my boardgame and wargame collections.

This is what I imagine my wargames look like waiting for shipping….

Traveller/Cepheus Engine Role Playing Game

This past week I also had a small, friendly interaction on Twitter with John Watts of Independence Games that served as a good reminder that the RMN Boys also asked for a return to some sort of RPG adventuring. I picked up a new ship book from Independence Games, the Brightwater-class Personal Yacht, that is yet another good adventure seed ship design. The real question is where do I fit an RPG campaign into the schedule?