Sunday Summary – Commanding Napoleonic colors, 2 Minutes to Midnight launches, Kickstarter sputterings, & moving to the IO #wargame #boardgame @gmtgames @stuarttonge @Academy_Games @DietzFoundation @PatrickLeder @compassgamesllc

Game of the Week

My Game of the Week was Commands and Colors Napoleonics (GMT Games, 2019). I really enjoyed the game this week as I got to play both the Battle of Quatre Bras and the Battle of Waterloo on their anniversary week. Look for my extended comments on the game forthcoming in the week ahead.

2 Minutes to Midnight

Stuart Tonge’s kickstarter for 2 Minutes to Midnight (Plague Island Games, forthcoming) launched this week and quickly funded. The game has already passed through several stretch goals and is still going. I was one of the previewers of this game and really like it. It’s not too late for you to check it out!

2 Minutes to Midnight (Plague Island Games)

Kickstarter

Sigh. Reality Shift from Academy Games is now mid-August delivery, several months removed from the planned May date. On the plus side, 1979: Revolution in Iran by Dan Bullock from The Dietz Foundation is moving along nicely but shipping problems may add some delay. Patrick Leder of Leder Games tweeted about that this week:

Family Boardgaming

I am very happy to see Dragomino (Blue Orange Games, 2020) win the children’s Game of the Year Kinderspiel des Jahres 2021 award. This game is a favorite of Mrs. RockyMountainNavy and her student, Miss A. I am also very pleased that after a recent play of Dragomino, Mrs. RMN asked me to teach her Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017) which was the 2017 Spiel de Jahres (Game of the Year) winner. It was a pleasant game though Mrs. RMN wracked her brain (over)thinking all the different combinations. Her Verdict—She liked it!

Books

I was pleased with the (small) reception my Rocky Reads for Wargame post on Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command by Kent Masterson Brown received. I hope to do more of that style of book to wargame (maybe even boardgame or even roleplaying game) comparisons.

Alas, it looks like my exploration of the Battle of Gettysburg is not finished yet. Father’s Day also saw the arrival of Longstreet at Gettysburg: A Critical Reassessment by Cory M. Pharr (Jefferson: McFarland & Co., 2019). So now to look at a study of command on the Confederate side….

Longstreet at Gettysburg

Up Next

Indian Ocean: South China Sea Vol. II (Compass Games, 2020) moves from the Shelf of Shame to the Game of the Week.

IOR: SCS vII

Rocky Reads for #Wargame – Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command by Kent Masterson Brown, Chapel Hill: @UNC_Press, 2021 (mentions @RBMStudio1 @compassgamesllc @MultiManPub @markherman54)

As a wargamer, there are a few battles one can count on to be the subject of a wargame. The number of Battle of the Bulge wargames is uncountable and, in a similar way, the Battle of Gettysburg has been getting the wargame royalty treatment since the Avalon Hill Game Co. published Gettysburg by the Father of Wargaming, Charles S. Roberts, way back in 1958. The book world is much the same—it is no stretch of the imagination to say that Gettysburg may be one of the most written about battles in American history. Which means that picking up any Gettysburg book, or wargame, runs the risk of of it simply being a rehash of the old.

Author Kent Masterson Brown, in his new book Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command shows us General George Gordon Meade in a new light that takes on many of his detractors. The criticism started quickly after the Battle of Gettysburg, led by none other than President Lincoln himself. As Brown tells us:

Much of the criticism emanated from Lincoln’s notion that Lee’s army, somehow, could have been destroyed if Meade had only vigorously pursued the enemy then blindly attacked it when the Army of the Potomac came face to face with it on 13 July. Incredibly, no civilian official from inside Lincoln’s administration ever gave Meade credit for out-generaling General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg and thereby delivering the first victory of the Army of the Potomac since its formation in November 1861. Few historians have done so either.

“Epilogue”, p. 371

In Meade at Gettysburg, Kent Masterson Brown uses published and unpublished papers as well as diaries, letters, and memoirs to try and gain a better understanding of Meade at the Battle of Gettysburg. He does so by looking at Meade in four phases: From assuming command on 28 June 1863 through the advance to Gettysburg on 1 July, his tactical actions on 2 July, his decisions on 3 July, and the pursuit of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s army after the battle.

Book to Wargame…Almost

When I first picked up Meade at Gettysburg I had every intention of playing one of the two Gettysburg wargames I have in my collection. The most recent title is Mark Herman’s Gettysburg (RBM Studios, 2018) which appeared in C3i Magazine Nr. 32. The second game in my collection is Eric Lee Smith’s Battle Hymn Volume 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games, 2018). However, as I read the book, I discovered that neither game is really “the big picture” of the operational campaign as it developed. For that I probably need to get Roads to Gettysburg II: Lee Strikes North from Compass Games (2018) but the price tag of $194 is a bit rich for me. So instead of playing a wargame and commenting how the book relates to it, I’m instead going to talk about how several places in the book made me think about how we play wargames and what they sometimes get right, but more often get wrong.

Maps

In wargames, we take the mapboard for granted. Indeed, a mapboard is often a necessity by defintion for a wargame. It is amazing to me that Meade and many of his generals fought the Gettysburg campaign without a decent map. As Brown tells us, “What Meade could not discern from the maps were any topographical features such as hill and ridges. Meade was using what were called residential maps, and they did not include such topographical features, although the Frederick County, Maryland and Adam County, Pennsylvania, maps provided outlines of the South Mountain range, but nothing more” (p. 57). Further, not only did Meade lack detailed maps, but he had a hard time understanding where his own forces were, much less that of the enemy. To use more modern terms, the Union generals in the field had no “common operating picture.” Indeed, Meade’s understanding of both the terrain and location of his own forces was so poor that on 1 July he ordered his corps commanders to sketch “their respective corps, their artillery, infantry, and trains” and to share this sketch with the army headquarters (p. 208).

The lack of maps and hidden force location is hard to duplicate in a wargame which all-too-often delivers a “God’s-Eye,” information-rich view of the battlefield. For example, Roads to Gettysburg II is played on a map with lots of information—far more than either army commander had at hand at the time.

What Meade never had—a detailed map and clear disposition of forces (Courtesy BGG User Brian @kasch18)

There are ways that a poor map can be duplicated in a game, but the cost in playability is astronomical. Maybe a computerized version can simulate the gradual “discovery” of map details as units move and scouts operate, but I prefer tabletop wargames not screens. The reality is the lack of maps, topographical knowledge, and “common operating picture” that Meade faced at Gettysburg is not easily duplicated in a wargame.

What Year Did You Graduate West Point?

Whether one wants to admit it or not, whenever you play a historical wargame you almost always, inevitably, benefit from hindsight. Nobody wants to be like Sickles’ Third Corps and push out ahead only to be shattered by Longstreet. Often times players do things “differently” than in the past because they “know” what works…and doesn’t (didn’t?). On the other hand, sometimes players want to “try to get it right” and do one-better than history. After reading Meade at Gettysburg I found just such a moment in Meade’s orders to Reynolds’ First and Eleventh Corps: “Meade’s directive that the First Corps, followed by the Eleventh Corps, ‘advance on Gettysburg’ was not an order directing Reynolds to occupy the town or hold a position near there; rather, Meade intended for the presence of the First Corps along the turnpike axis to cause the enemy to coalesce and show its intentions” (p. 99).

Kent Masterson Brown in Meade at Gettysburg demonstrates the power of understanding not what we know today, but what the historical participants understood when describing Reynold’s mission as assigned by Meade on 30 June:

To force the enemy to concentrate and deploy so as to reveal its intentions was what Meade ordered Reynolds and his First Corps—followed by the Eleventh Corps—to do; it is identified as one of the most dangerous tasks in mid-nineteenth century warfare. Th strategy requires using an “Advance Guard,” according to Dennis Hart Mahan, professor of military and civil engineering and the science of war at West Point. Mahan published a book on the use of an advance guard in 1847, entitled An Elementary Treatise on Advance-Guard, Out-Post and Detachment Service of Troops and the Manner of Posting and Handling Them in the Presence of an Enemy. Mahan taught military science to Generals Meade, Reynolds, Slocum, Sedgwick, Hancock, Howard, and many others in the Army of the Potomac when they were West Point cadets. General Reynolds and Mahan had in fact taught strategy and tactics together at West Point just before the war. Likewise, many of Lee’s lieutenants studie under Mahan at Wet Point, and Lee was superintendent of West Point during Mahan’s tenure. Much of what Mahan taught was incorporated in the Revised Regulations of the Army of the United States of 1861.

“Force Him to Show His Hand”, p. 101-102

One of the key requirements of a leader is to understand the commander’s intent. As wargamers, we don’t always have a professional military education and, if we do, it more often than not the military science of today and not that of the past. In Meade at Gettysburg, author Kent Masterson Brown explains Meade’s intent as his fellow generals likely understood it. After reading the book, now I understand it too. This new understanding totally changes how I would play out a 1 July scenario in a Battle of Gettysburg wargame.

The Tactical General

The Army of the Potomac was about to enter the struggle of its life. What happened on 1 July was difficult enough. Now, the insubordination of a corps commander had placed not only his own Third Corps but the entire army at risk. No cavalry screened the army’s left flank. The troops would have to fight as they had never done before, and even that might not be enough, given the sheer magnitude of the attack the enemy was about to unleash on Meade’s left. Although Meade was the operational commander of the army, he was about to take tactical command of the fighting on 2 July.

“I Wish to God You Could, Sir”, p. 228

While Meade at Gettysburg focuses on the operational campaign, for 2 and 3 July it digs into the tactical level. That’s because Meade personally took command on the battlefield. This situation is most often what wargamers experience—direct tactical command of the pieces on the board. Here is your chance to “out-general” General Lee (or Rob, your longtime wargame partner). As a wargamer, this part of Meade at Gettysburg was what I could most easily relate to. It was also very disappointing. That’s because I suddenly felt “railroaded” by certain wargames.

Take for instance Mark Herman’s Gettysburg. The game starts on 1 July with Buford’s cavalry to the northwest of Gettysburg as they were historically. The Union First and Eleventh Corps enter on turn 1 from the south again like history. It is at this point the game diverges from history.

Mark Herman’s Gettysburg is played for up to six turns (three days) and victory is determined as follows:

The game usually ends at the conclusion of game turn 6. However, if at the end of any turn the Confederate player can trace a continuous road path from Entry Point A to any one or combination of Entry Points I, J, or K, uninterrupted by Union units or Zones of Control, not Influence, they win the game. If this condition does not occur by the conclusion of turn 6, then the player with the higher VP total wins. Each player receives 1 VP for each eliminated enemy unit. The Union player wins ties.

C3i Magazine – Battle of Gettysburg, 1863 – Rules of Play, p. 11

In other words, Mark Herman’s Gettysburg assumes that Meade wanted the battle to be fought at Gettysburg and not at Big Pipe Creek like he planned and Kent Masterson Brown explains in Meade at Gettysburg. Mark Herman’s entire game is predicated on the assumption that the player will be like Sickles and violate his commander’s intent and bring on a general engagement at Gettysburg. Sure, it makes for a nice wargame, but at this point is it even really historical, or just another counterfactual?

[Don’t take the above part wrong—Mark Herman’s Gettysburg is a very well designed wargame from the perspective of mechanics and does a great job for what is designed to do—”distilling history to it’s essence.”. It’s just that this game, like many other Gettysburg wargames, is designed to play the battle as it historically occurred—not as it was planned—and in the process makes several assumptions as to how the battle developed and the decisions of non-player commanders.]

In many ways, Meade at Gettysburg is a good primer for wargamers playing almost any Gettysburg game. Here you, the player, nominally are the commander at the head of the Army of the Potomac (like Meade). However, you often also assume the role of a corps or division commander, and depending on the game you might even devolve down to the brigade level. This “sliding command perspective” is part-and-parcel of wargames. Meade made it work; can you?

Let’s Play Operation!

Reading Meade at Gettysburg not only provided an interesting look at the campaign around the Battle of Gettysburg, but it also helped me understand more about my taste in wargames in general. Meade at Gettysburg reminded me that it is the operational level of war that is the most fascinating to me. Now, I certainly like tactical games and getting down to the nuts & bolts of battle. There is a certain joy at employing a weapon system in such a way to outfight your enemy, but to out-campaign an opponent is truly another level of achievement.

I understand that when a wargamer picks up a Battle of Gettysburg wargame they kinda expect to fight a battle at Gettysburg and not someplace else. Meade at Gettysburg shows readers—and wargamers—that fate is fickle and what one calls history is sometimes accidental and far from what the participants intended.

But what if….

What if you could do as good as Meade did? Wargames let us be like General Henry Jackson Hunt, Meade’s Chief of Artillery, who was not a fan of Meade after the Battle of Gettysburg. Yet, in 1888, he saw the battle in a new light:

Meade was suddenly placed in command. From that moment on all his acts and intentions, as I can judge of them, were just what they ought to have been, except perhaps in his order to attack at Falling Waters on the morning of the 13th, and especially on the 14th of July, when his Corps Commanders reported against it, and I was then in favor of the attack, so I can’t blame him. He was right in his orders as to Pipe Creek, right in his determination under certain circumstances to fall back to it; right in pushing up to Gettysburg after the battle commenced; right in remaining there; right in making his battle a purely defensive one; right, therefore in taking the line he did; right in not attempting a counter attack at any stage of the battle; right as to his pursuit of Lee. Rarely has more skill, vigor, or wisdom been shown under such circumstances as he was placed in, and it would, I think, belittle his grand record of that campaign by a formal defense against his detractors, who will surely go under as will this show story.

“Epilogue”, p. 375

As a wargamer, how good can you do?

Sunday #Wargame #Boardgame #Book Summary – One day to 2 Minutes to Midnight (@stuarttonge) while Napoleonics from @gmtgames kicks off the summer Game of the Week series (mentions of @compassgamesllc @Academy_Games @UNC_Press)

Boardgames

Countdown to Midnight

A reminder that the Kickstarter campaign for 2 Minutes to Midnight by Stuart Tonge and his new company Plague Island Games starts tomorrow! Read my comments here and then please look at the campaign. I’ve said it before that “cubes as influence” games are not really my thing but I really enjoyed the thematic elements of 2 Minutes to Midnight—it’s good enough to overcome my bias. I think many of you will find the game interesting and worth the investment!

Wargames

New Arrivals

Several GMT Games P500 preorders arrived this week. Going into the “To Play” pile is Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s Wing Leader: Legends 1937-1945 (Wing Leader Expansion Nr 4). Also arriving is Ted Raicer’s The Dark Summer: Normandy, 1944.

I am very interested in getting Wing Leader: Legends to the table as it includes the “Decision Over Kursk” campaign system. Some readers may recall several “My Kursk Kampaign” postings from earlier this spring where I dove in-depth into that battle. At the time I wanted to explore the air war more:

As I start this exploration, my copy of Wing Leader: Legends 1937-1945 (GMT Games, forthcoming in 2021) is “At the Printer” meaning it may deliver sometime in mid-2021. If it delivers in time I would certainly like to play the campaign system which focuses on the air battles supporting the Battle of Kursk. I really want to explore a point Glantz makes on page 63 in his book; “Red aircraft might be inferior to their German counterparts, but they were certainly sufficient in numbers to deny the Luftwaffe undisputed command of the air.”


History to #Wargame – My Kursk Kampaign – Part 1 Introduction

Although you can’t see it in the photo of The Dark Summer, I am, frankly, a bit surprised the game shipped in a 1.5″ deep box. One can interpret this as a sign that the game is smaller, and with a single 22″x34″ map and two countersheets that appears true. I guess I thought a Normandy campaign game just “has to be” big but this one-mapper is already challenging my preconceptions.

Game of the Week

Now that I’m back to a pretty regular work schedule (office is basically 100% reconstituted) I need to work on getting back to a “regular” gaming schedule. Thus, I will be starting a “Game of the Week” approach to play. Basically, the Game of the Week approach gives me seven days to unbox, learn, play, and consider a game. I have a rough idea of how a week might progress:

  • Sunday – Unbox new game, start rules learning/review
  • Monday – Rules learning/review, set up first play
  • Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday – Play
  • Friday – (Skip Day)
  • Saturday – Considerations/Clean up (Family Game Night?)
Sticker Day for Commands & Colors Napoloenics

I have a backlog of games on the “To Play” shelf that I need to get to over the next few weeks of summer before getting to Wing Leader: Legends and The Dark Summer: I’m trying to play games in the order of their arrival:

Looking (Further) Ahead

I need to work off some of the excess in the “To Play” group because more games are scheduled to arrive over the summer. If all goes well, I’ll be adding Panzer Expansion Nr 1 (which will complete my collection), Tank Duel (Expansion #1: North Africa and Tank Pack #1), and Wing Leader: Supremacy (Second Edition Upgrade Kit), all from GMT Games, in the next 60 days or so. There is also a (theoretical) chance that Reality Shift from Academy Games might arrive but Uwe and Gunter making a delivery date is rare.

Books

While playing games I also am also committed to reading more. When possible, I like to mix a book with the Game of the Week but that’s not always possible as I have other books on the “To Read” pile. I finished up Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command by Kent Masterson Brown (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2021) and it will be the subject of this coming week’s “Rocky Reads for Wargame” column. I am pretty sure that 2034: A Novel of the Next War by Eliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis will likely be read in conjunction with Indian Ocean Region when it is up for Game of the Week.

Plastic Models

One of my favorite online sources for plastic models closed due to bankruptcy late in 2020. Thanks to a new owner, www. squadron.com is back. The reopening has not been the smoothest, but they are trying to work out the kinks. Given how few good plastic model retailers there are online I hope they make it!

Foodie Watch

The RockyMountainNavy family tried a new-to-us restaurant this week. The Capital Burger bills itself as purveyors of “luxe” burgers. They use a proprietary blend of beef to make their burgers; I never imagined it could make a difference—but it does. Their Kung Pao Brussel Sprouts are my new favorite and a great replacement for french fries. Oh yeah, it all pairs well with a good ale….

Roasted Wild Mushroom and Swiss Burger (Roasted Portobello Mushrooms, Jarlsberg Swiss, 15-year Aged Balsamic, Truffle Aioli)

Rocky Reads for #Wargame – Finding the Most Secret and Confidential in a Sea of Glory (@USNIBooks @gmtgames)

When reading about the naval war at sea during the Napoleonic Wars one cannot avoid coming across the name Nelson. Horatio Nelson by far the most famous naval commander in the Royal Navy, if not in the world in those days. What was the secret of his success? Many have written about his style of leadership, but author Steven E. Maffeo, a former US Navy intelligence officer, writes in Most Secret and Confidential: Intelligence in the Age of Nelson (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2014) about the role intelligence played in not only Nelson’s success, but of the Royal Navy writ large in those days.

Shhh….

In the modern world, a naval commander has at his disposal a vast array of intelligence tools. Strategically, that enterprise is devoted to delivering the commander knowledge of the enemies capabilities and (hopefully) intentions. At the operational and tactical levels, the burning intelligence question is often, “Where is the enemy?” In the Age of Nelson the operational question was often the most important, and where intelligence made the greatest contribution towards victory.

Sorta.

In Most Secret and Confidential the reader learns that there really was no national intelligence organization in the early 19th century. For a military organization like the Royal Navy, intelligence had a role but it was organized far differently from what many are familiar with today:

Without doubt, the collection, assessment, dissemination, and use of intelligence information was present throughout the fleet. Equally clear is that, subordinate to the Admiralty at whatever operational level one cares to consider, the most senior officer present on a given station was de facto the local premier intelligence officer. No other person had the time, availability, access to information, responsibility, qualifications, experience, or overview. Finally, no senior officer had anything resembling adequate staff support to even partially share such important responsibilities….

Most Secret and Confidential, p. 281

Wargaming Operational Intelligence in the Age of Nelson

The wargame 1805: Sea of Glory (designer Phil Fry, GMT Games, 2009) is an operational level wargame focused on the war at sea in the pivotal year of 1805. Reading the ad copy for the game hints at the role of intelligence in the game:

1805: Sea of Glory places you in command of the Royal Navy or the allied fleets of France and Spain. You direct your far flung forces, raid enemy ports, and bring your wooden warships into combat with the enemy. Key ports must be protected and enemy harbors blockaded. With a constant eye to wind and weather, your ships must cross the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean Sea, and the West Indies. Your opponent will not know the composition of your forces until combat is joined. The fog of war complicates every decision. The fate of nations will once again be determined by wooden ships and iron men. 

The cat and mouse game of breakout and pursuit has begun.

1805: Sea of Glory, publisher’s ad copy

After reading Most Secret and Confidential and as I started pulling out 1805: Sea of Glory, I expected that the “God’s Eye” wargaming view of the battle space would mean wargame mechanisms and the reality of intelligence in those days would not be compatible. What I discovered is that, while an imperfect simulation of intelligence, 1805: Sea of Glory actually captures the essence of the intelligence problems of the day and is much closer to replicating intelligence challenges described in Most Secret and Confidential than I expected.

Most Secret and Confidential in wargame format

Wargaming the “Nelson Touch”

From the intelligence perspective, a player of 1805: Sea of Glory is thrust into a very similar role to an operational naval commander of the Age of Nelson. To begin, with the player is their own intelligence officer and, though one could argue about qualifications, is solely responsible for all intelligence operations.

1805: Sea of Glory is played on a map around the size of Admiral Nelson’s sea desk. Sword is for cosplayers only….

Like Nelson, players in Sea of Glory do not always know their enemy’s objectives but, through careful analysis and deduction from what they can see they may be able to divine their intention.

The British player is not allowed to examine the Napoleon objectives, nor the Allied player the Pitt objectives. Each player may examine his own objectives at any time. These Objectives remain in place throughout the game unless scored by the Allied player, in which case the marker is moved to the Allied VP box. The Allied player is not allowed to look at Pitt Objectives he has scored until the end of the game.

21.3 REVEALING OBJECTIVES

For naval commanders in the Age of Nelson the major question in their day—and any game of 1805: Sea of Glory—is how to find the enemy. At first I looked at the blocks, used to represent fleets, transports, and frigates in Sea of Glory, I thought they revealed too much information. Although I couldn’t see exactly what the block was, I could see it on the map, seemingly an advantage over naval commanders of the day. Further, in 1805: Sea of Glory when a French or Spanish fleet sorties from port a destination is often secretly selected based on the secret objectives of the game. This turns Sea of Glory into that cat and mouse pursuit game.

Fleet blocks represent a group of ships, and have no limit to the number of ships and admirals they may contain, but must always contain at least one ship while not in port. If a fleet is without any ships while not in a port due to weather or combat, it is removed from the map for later use, and any admiral with that block is removed from play.

7.1 FLEETS

After reading Most Secret and Confidential I reconsidered my opinion and now see that the use of blocks is actually very appropriate to the actual intelligence revealed. As Most Secret and Confidential tells us, commanders often had fair intelligence as to the composition of the enemies forces and especially what ports they used. The presence of blocks reflects the collection and analysis of intelligence from a myriad of sources like passing merchant ships or intercepted coastal semaphore and even newspapers. To get more details the player must resort to similar tactics of their real historical counterparts like sending ships closer inshore to “count masts.” For fleets that sortie, players—like commanders in Most Secret and Confidential—must start looking for clues as to where the enemy could be going and then use their forces (like blockades, fleets, or frigates) to search the oceans to gain contact and bring them to battle. Even though players can “see” the block on the map it may not be enough to find the fleet as weather and chance play a role in the game—just like reality.

Players may “Count Masts” to determine the approximate number and type of enemy vessels in a port or in an Inshore enemy force under the following circumstances….

13.5 COUNTING MASTS

For each fleet or frigate that searches, the controlling player indicates which block is searching, then rolls two dice and adds or subtracts any applicable modifiers from the Search Attempt and Seasonal Modifiers tables. On a modified roll of 7 or lower, the result is “No Contact.” On a modified roll of 8 or higher, the result is “Spotted.”

14.0 SEARCH ATTEMPTS

At the end of the day, to win in 1805: Sea of Glory the players really do need to be a bit like Nelson. In Most Secret and Confidential, author Steven Maffeo quotes C.S. Forester, the author of the Horatio Hornblower series, on why Nelson was a great intelligence officer and along the way also tells us what being a player in 1805: Sea of Glory really means:

It is hard to decide what to admire most: the accuracy of the deduction, the self-confidence which believed in it, or the force of mind with which he brought himself to [expose] England’s most valuable colonial possessions solely on deductions made from a series of individually conclusive facts.

C.S. Forester as cited in Most Secret and Confidential, p. 287
My Hornblower collection inherited from my father—well-read by both of us

Maffeo concludes Most Secret and Confidential with a challenge that is appropriate to any wargamer and a reminder that, regardless of the era or game, intelligence has a role:

Whatever the specific case, in the final analysis the degree to which the naval commander uses, or fails to use, available intelligence in the decision-making process is crucial. Indeed, the commander’s possession and use of intelligence have been decisive in history, they are decisive now, and they will be decisive in the future.

Most Secret and Confidential, p. 288

Sunday Summary – How’d it get to be so busy? #wargame #boardgame @gmtgames @compassgamesllc @stuarttonge @Zmangames_ @Gamelyn_Games @Funforge

Wow…no entries on this blog since last Sunday. Tangible proof that the post-COVID recovery is in full swing. Where I live all the COVID mask restrictions were (finally) lifted yesterday by the state dictatorship. Well, except for schools because the dictatorship has already crippled their learning in the past year so why stop now? I guess in future years gamers will look back on the Year of COVID as “happy times” with plenty of gaming. On a personal level, I’ve been back to work full time for a couple of months now and it’s cutting into my gaming time!

Huzzah!

Wargames/Books

I finished reading Most Secret and Confidential: Intelligence in the Age of Nelson (Stephen Maffeo, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2014) and pulled 1805: Sea of Glory (Phil Fry, GMT Games, 2009) out for some comparisons. I’ve got John Gorkowski’s Indian Ocean Region – South China Sea: Vol. II (Compass Games, 2020) ready for a deeper dive now that I’ve finished reading Eliot Ackerman and Admiral Jame Stavridis’ 2034: A Novel of the Next World War (New York: Penguin Press, 2021).

This week was also my birthday. The family really knows what I like, hence the arrival of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics (GMT Games) and Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command (Kent Masterson Brown, Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2021). This all-but-ensures my Fourth of July Gettysburg Memorial Wargame will be Eric Lee Smith’s Battle Hymn Vol. 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games, 2018). Oh yes, and a new power drill to replace my old light duty one that wasn’t up to the demands of Mrs. RockyMountainNavy’s “Honey Do” list!

Boardgames

I worked on my first impressions piece of Stuart Tonge’s 2 Minutes to Midnight from his new Plague Island Games label (coming to Kickstarter next month). Spoiler Alert – It’s a big game that some might feel is unnecessary given the powerhouse Twilight Struggle (GMT Games, now in 8th printing) but it deserves a serious look as it builds a very compelling narrative in play.

I had an opportunity to pick up Space Empires 4x by Jim Krohn and GMT Games (2017 Third Edition). At the same time the seller had several smaller games he was looking to unload so a deal was struck. These are lighter games that I thought might be suitable for the family (or vacation travel) gaming table. Thus arrived:

I spent the past week looking through and learning each of the smaller games. Star Wars: Destiny will be turned over to the RockyMountainNavy boys as I know it’s not my thing but they are “modern” Star Wars fans so they can enjoy the characters. Samurai Spirit and Tiny Epic Defenders are actually quite similar cooperative tower defense-like games and either will make for a good family game night title—though I think the look of Samurai Spirit is more appealing. Tiny Epic Kingdoms will compete with Tiny Epic Galaxies (Gamelyn, 2015) which is already in the collection. Sylvion is actually more of a solo game and as such it will land on my table occasionally; if it has a drawback it’s because it’s more eurogame-like and therefore not my personally preferred gaming genre given it’s obvious preference for mechanism over theme (but the theme—what there is of it—is cute). Space Empires 4x is in the “wargame to play” pile…just behind Indian Ocean Region and Stalingrad ’42.

Sunday Summary – Summer Heat Wave of #Wargames, #Boardgames, and #Books

Not only is the heat arriving in waves, but so are the games!

Wargames

Boardgames

2 Minutes to Midnight: Fight the Cold War. USA vs Soviet Union – 1949-1991. A Strategic Historical Game (Preview Copy) (Stuart Tonge, Plague Island Games, 2021) – Stuart was kind enough to send me a preview copy. Plan is to share thought s around the kickoff of the Kickstarter campaign in mid-late June! Stay tuned!

2 Minutes to Midnight Preview Copy

Books

Am reading Most Secret and Confidential: Intelligence in the Age of Nelson by Steven E. Maffeo (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000) and sitting down with the wargame 1805: Sea of Glory (Phil Fry, GMT Games, 2009). I am working to make this a “#Wargame to History” (or is it “History to #Wargame?”) or “Rocky Reads for #Wargame” entry.

Puzzles

No, not puzzles, but actual jigsaw puzzles. As I type this I just got my shipping notice for my Academy Games historical puzzles. More relaxing summer fun!

Rocky Reads for #Wargame – A super dud – The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, A Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War by Malcolm Gladwell (New York: Little Brown, 2021)

I had high hopes for The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, A Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War (Malcolm Gladwell, New York: Little Brown, 2021). I was hoping to gain some good insight into B-29 Superfortress operations in World War II. I was hoping that I would get some more background for some of the scenarios for Wing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 (Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, GMT Games, 2016). The ad copy of The Bomber Mafia looked to be a nice comparison of “Bomb them back to the Stone Age” Curtis LeMay versus General Haywood Hansell, proponent of precision bombing. That story is somewhere in this book, but the way Gladwell tells it makes me doubt every bit of what he writes.

AVOID!

I should know better. The signs that The Bomber Mafia should be avoided were all there in the various ad copy and comments. This “story” started out as an audiobook birthed from the authors Revisionist History podcast. “Revisionist” in this case is what I call “pop history;” soundbites of words allegedly concerning a historical subject that the author contends to be an authority on but in reality has little more (maybe less?) knowledge of than that of a middle school student. I loathe to even call The Bomber Mafia a history book. At best (and if I feel extremely generous) it is a story from history but the depth of research is, well frankly, I think the author would be out of his depth in a puddle. Almost all the sources cited are secondary or even tertiary. More than a few quotes are from history professors and what they think in interviews. There is almost no original critical thought here. Reading The Bomber Mafia is very much akin to reading a Wikipedia compilation.

When reading The Bomber Mafia you first have to get past the word “absurd.” The author repeatedly, and I mean repeatedly, tell us that “war is absurd” or such and such a situation was “absurd” or a persons actions were “absurd.” Fine, Malcom, I get that you have an opinion. Sometimes I even agree with your opinion. But I want to read the facts and make a judgement for myself. Not here!

Oh yeah. Then you have the hyperbole of The Bomber Mafia:

If you were the United States and you wanted to drop bombs on Japan, how would you do it? Solving that problem took the better part of the war. The first step was building the B-29 Superfortress, the greatest bomber ever built, with an effective range of more than three thousand miles.

The Bomber Mafia, p. 125

“Greatest bomber ever built.” This must be the “revisionist” history part and where I missed the memo. Given Malcom’s apparent coziness with current(ish) US Air Force senior brass, it becomes obvious somebody drank the Billy Mitchell/Douhet-laced punch.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me and the point where I totally wanted to forget ever reading The Bomber Mafia was in the discussion of B-29 operations in the Marianas. Read this paragraph and tell me what you think:

The sole thing the Marianas had going for them was that they were within range of Japan. But even that was an exaggeration. The truth is that they were within range only under perfect conditions. To reach Japan, a B-29 first needed to be loaded up with twenty thousand pounds of extra fuel. And because that made the plane dangerously overweight, each B-29 also needed a ferocious tailwind to lift it off the runway. This was as crazy a situation as anyone faced throughout the whole war.

The Bomber Mafia, p. 128

A tailwind? To reduce take-off distance? Really? Let’s just skip all those fundamental of flight, shall we? The flow of air over wings has nothing, nothing I tell you, to do with generating lift, eh?

The Bomber Mafia is three stories; the story of General Hansell, the story of Curtis Le May, and the story of Malcolm Gladwell traveling the globe and rubbing elbows while “researching” the other two. Unfortunately, Malcom shines no new light on the first two and is insufferable in the third. Do yourself a favor and just stay away from The Bomber Mafia. The angst isn’t worth it.


For a very enjoyable literary takedown of The Bomber Mafia, see “Narrative Napalm” from The Baffler that has wonderful passages like this:

And then there are books whose fusion of factual inaccuracy and moral sophistry is so total that they can only be written by Malcolm Gladwell. His latest piece of narrative napalm, The Bomber Mafia, is an attempt to retcon the history of American aerial warfare by arguing that developing the capacity to explode anything, anywhere in the world has made America and, indeed, the rest of the globe, unequivocally safer.

Noah Kulwin, “Narative Napalm”

Sunday Summary – A Supercharged week of #boardgames, birthday #wargames, and restocking the #book library with @FoundationDietz, @MiniMartTalk, @gmtgames, @compassgamesllc, @USNIBooks

Boardgames

Played multiple solo sessions of the card-driven auto racing game Supercharged: Racing in the Golden Age of Cars (Mike Clifford & Mike Siggins, Dietz Foundation, 2021). Loved my solo plays, and then Circuit de Rocky went all family for a weekend race. Much mayhem ensued! Supercharged will likely make it into the summer lakeside vacation bag as it’s small, rules-light, relatively short to play, and lots of FUN! By the way, please look at The Dietz Foundation and their mission; like them I personally (and professionally) fully support gaming and education. Whether it’s boardgames or RPGs in a classroom or homeschool, or a “professional” wargame for business or government, we all have stories of how games and education mix together for the better.

Supercharged at start

Wargames & Books

Happy Birthday to Me – Thanks to Miniatures Market for remembering my birthday and sending a coupon. I decided to use it before it expires and it was enough to cover tax and shipping for Stalingrad ’42: Southern Russia June – December 1942 (GMT Games, 2019). This will be my second game in Mark Simonitch’s ZoC-Bond series to accompany Holland ’44: Operation Market Garden (GMT Games, 2017) in the wargame library.

This week, Compass Games charged for Indian Ocean Region: South China Seas Vol. II (designer John Gorkowski) so delivery should be getting close. Coincidentally, I’m reading 2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Eliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis which makes for a nice tie-in.

Useful Fiction?

Here is the dust jacket copy of 2034. Looks like the authors are trying to mix Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising (1998) with August Cole & P.W. Singer’s Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War (2015):

On March 12, 2034, US Navy Commodore Sarah Hunt is on the bridge of her flagship, the guided missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones, conducting a routine freedom of navigation patrol in the South China Sea when her ship detects an unflagged trawler in clear distress, smoke billowing from its bridge. On that same day, US Marine aviator Major Chris “Wedge” Mitchell is flying an F35E Lightning over the Strait of Hormuz, testing a new stealth technology as he flirts with Iranian airspace. By the end of that day, Wedge will be an Iranian prisoner, and Sarah Hunt’s destroyer will lie at the bottom of the sea, sunk by the Chinese Navy. Iran and China have clearly coordinated their moves, which involve the use of powerful new forms of cyber weaponry that render US ships and planes defenseless. In a single day, America’s faith in its military’s strategic pre-eminence is in tatters. A new, terrifying era is at hand.

So begins a disturbingly plausible work of speculative fiction, co-authored by an award-winning novelist and decorated Marine veteran and the former commander of NATO, a legendary admiral who has spent much of his career strategically out maneuvering America’s most tenacious adversaries. Written with a powerful blend of geopolitical sophistication and literary, human empathy, 2034 takes us inside the minds of a global cast of characters–Americans, Chinese, Iranians, Russians, Indians–as a series of arrogant miscalculations on all sides leads the world into an intensifying international storm. In the end, China and the United States will have paid a staggering cost, one that forever alters the global balance of power.

Everything in 2034 is an imaginative extrapolation from present-day facts on the ground combined with the authors’ years working at the highest and most classified levels of national security. Sometimes it takes a brilliant work of fiction to illuminate the most dire of warnings: 2034 is all too close at hand, and this cautionary tale presents the reader a dark yet possible future that we must do all we can to avoid.

2034: A Novel of the Next World War, dust jacket

Speaking of books, the rest of my U.S. Naval Institute Press “Clear the Decks” sale books arrived. It looks like I will be able to get at least a few History to #Wargame or Rocky Reads for #Wargame postings (along with associated wargame plays) out of this group.

New Naval Institute Press arrivals

Rocky Reads for #Wargame – From Submarine 2nd Edition (Avalon Hill, 1981) to Star Fleet Battles (@ADBinc_Amarillo, 1979) with The Enemy Below by Cdr. D.A. Rayner (Henry Holt & Company, 1957)

I recently pulled my copy of the novel The Enemy Below by Commander D. A. Rayner off my bookshelf for rereading. I am fortunate to have a first edition, second printing hardcover version (sans dust jacket) from 1957 published by Henry Holt and Company. This book was originally my father’s and although the dust jacket is gone the interior flaps of the jacket were preserved in the front of the book. Growing up, I think I read the book before I saw the 1957 movie on syndicated TV. As good as the movie is, I am very much in the camp of “book over movie” critics.

Action Stations!

When I started wargaming, one of the earliest games I acquired was Submarine designed by Steve Peek from the Avalon Hill Game Company. My copy is a 1981 Second Edition which I bought brand new soon after release. Even today, I recall sitting down and learning the rules to Submarine with The Enemy Below at my side. Back then, and even today, I judge the “realism” of Submarine on the basis of how well it can recreate situations in The Enemy Below. The book is ripe for a wargame setting as communicated on the dust jacket:

Then, for forty merciless hours, it was depth charge vs. torpedo, destroyer vs. submarine, crew vs. crew, and, ultimately, Captain vs. Kapitan. Attack after attack, the stratagems of the two masters cancelled each other out. Each hour the U-121 drew closer to its rendezvous and, sensing the fact, the Captain radioed for reinforcements. But before the Cecilie or fleet destroyers could influence the outcome, the absolute battle between absolute equals was played out to a startling conclusion….

The Enemy Below, Dust Jacket

Compare this to the introduction for Submarine:

One of the few remaining campaigns of World War II yet to be covered on a tactical level has been the submarine war against commerce shipping and naval fleets. It was a war of no fronts; of hit and run tactics; a one-on-one duel reminiscent of the air war of World War I, complete with aces and acts of chivalry. But it was also fought with no holds barred, a struggle in which a second’s hesitation or lapse in concentration meant the difference between death and survival….

Submarine is a tactical recreation of the submarine war. A player assumes the role of either a submarine or escort captain. He can launch torpedoes at convoys or combat ships or hunt down submarines with depth charge runs.

Submarine, 1.0 Introduction

Looking at those words, is there any real wonder how one could not link The Enemy Below and Submarine together?

Pop History?

In retrospect, I sorta laugh at myself when I think about how I judge Submarine. After all, I studied to be a historian so I should be looking at any wargame critically from a historical perspective, not through the lens of popular culture. It’s akin to gamers today who play the videogame Call of Duty and praise it for being “realistic.” Then again, The Enemy Below is popular not for being a techno-thriller (ala The Hunt for Red October) but for being a deeply human story. Which makes me admire The Enemy Below even more; the book simultaneously captures the human and technical with a proper balance between the two of them. When I play Submarine, it is the influence of The Enemy Below that helps me remember the human side battle which barely gets a nod in the game system (see rule 49.0 Crew Quality).

Interestingly, I have a second submarine-themed wargame designed during this era. Up Scope! Tactical Submarine Warfare in the 20th Century was designed by Joe Balkoski for SPI in 1977. I’ve owned this game since the early 1980s but have never played it (and only rarely opened it) in part because the Designer’s Notes make reference to it being a counterpart to Air War (SPI, 1977) and placing realism over playability. With regards to The Enemy Below, Up Scope! has even less human connection. That design approach, and lack of connection to the book, can explain why Up Scope! rarely (or never) hit my gaming table over the years.

The Enemy Below…the Stars

I also must thank The Enemy Below for its influence on another wargame from my early years. In 1966 the Star Trek original TV series Season 1 episode “Balance of Terror” featured the USS Enterprise hunting a Romulan Bird of Prey equipped with a cloaking device. It’s easy to see how the writers for this episode adapted The Enemy Below story. Romulan warships equipped with cloaking devices appear in the wargame Star Fleet Battles (Task Force Games, 1979) which uses Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) as canon for the setting. I spent many, many hours of my youth playing Star Fleet Battles and always enjoyed the challenge of hunting a Romulan under cloak.

History to #Wargame – @gmtgames COIN Inspiration? Rebels at the Gate – From the Tonghak Uprising to the Sino-Japanese War in Korea, 1894

For tabletop wargamers, a popular game series in the past decade is GMT Games’ Counter Insurgency (COIN) Series. Starting in 2012 with Volko Ruhnke’s Andean Abyss – COIN Vol I , the system now (nearly) encompasses 14 volumes spanning conflicts from the past, present, and even future. I personally own two titles, Harold Buchanan’s Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection – COIN Vol. V and Brian Train’s Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 – COIN Vol. VII with two more on order (Brian Train’s China War: 1937-1941 – COIN Vol. XII and J. Carmichael’s Red Dust Rebellion: The Martian Revolts – COIN Vol XIII). All of which means I have limited familiarity with the COIN system as a player and am far, far from being a COIN designer.

That said….

I recently read an article by Robert Neff called “Rebels At the Gate” in the May 1, 2021 edition of The Korean Times Online. The article discusses events from 1894 on the Korean peninsula focusing on a peasant rebellion that took place amidst the Sino-Japanese War. This passage in particular got me thinking about a possible game design:

The rebels ― identified as the Donghaks ― claimed to number several millions and had sworn to the death that they would rid the country of the foreign vermin. They didn’t in 1893 and, according to Sallie, they didn’t on September 15, 1894:

As a result of the threat, the “doors and windows were barred and the gates guarded by the legation soldiers but the night passed quietly and the excitement has entirely abated.”

However, the abatement was short lived. A few days later, Alice (Sallie’s sister who resided with the Sill family in Seoul), insisted she did not worry about the Chinese and Japanese soldiers rather “the danger now [in Seoul] is from the [Donghaks], Koreans who hate all foreigners and try to exterminate them whenever they can ― so a guard will be kept during the winter at least and perhaps longer.” A few days later she reported the rebels had advanced to a point about 50 kilometers south of Seoul. She insisted she was not worried and expressed the greatest confidence in the American marines guarding the legation in Seoul. 

The attack on Seoul never materialized. However, for the next couple of years, the regions outside Seoul were almost in a constant state of unrest.

Robert Neff, “Rebels at the Gate,” Korea TImes, May 1, 2021

It turns out that 1894 was an important year in Korean history. The book Korean History in Maps: From Prehistory to the Twenty-First Century (Michael Shin, Editor, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press, 2014) devotes an entire map titled, “The Year 1894: Gabo Peasants’ War, Sino-Japanese War” to this one year which shows not only significant battles but also the many peasant uprisings.

Korean History in Maps, p. 108

After reading Robert Neff’s article and looking at the 1894 map, the thought, “This really could be a COIN game” crossed my mind. Certainly, the historical events of 1894 are ripe for narrative exploration using the lens of a COIN game. One of the most powerful aspects of the COIN game system is the system’s ability to depict the interactions of multiple, often asymmetrically powered factions. In this case there are four factions:

  • Tonghak (aka Donghan) – “…the growing Christianity, the declining village economy, and certain government mismanagement led to the development of the strong anti-government and anti-foreign sentiments of the conservative Confucian literati as well as those of the Tonghak believers. The Tonghak had been seeking the legitimacy of their religion, exoneration of Ch’oe Che-u, the founder of the Tonghak sect, who was executed in 1864, and the prevention of the spread of foreign religion. At the same time, they were antagonized by illegal taxes which the local officials collected from the peasants.”1
  • Joseon (Korean Government) – “When the Tonghak Uprising became an open rebellion, the weak Korean government asked for Chinese help. Meanwhile, a truce was reached between the Tonghak rebels and the government…[which] issued a twelve-point reform program.”2
  • China – “The Chinese government whose aim was to strengthen its control over Korea sent an army of 3,000 soldiers and a naval force to Korea, violating the agreement which it had signed with the Japanese in April 1885.”3
  • Japan – “Meanwhile, the Japanese government concluded that it now had legitimate cause to fight a war with China, and the time was right. Consequently, it sent an army of 8,000 troops and a naval force to Korea.”4
  • Missionaries/Diplomats/Westerners – I don’t see these as a separate faction, but rather events or “terrain” that factions must be wary of.

These faction snippets can help define victory conditions, as well as thinking about the various Commands and Special Activities of each faction. At this point, my limited familiarity with COIN hinders me to design further but once I get another few games in house as examples I might be better suited to explore a possible design.

Focusing on the year 1894 also seems to make sense as that one year had a good ebb and flow of events. Broadly speaking, the year went though at least three distinct phases.

  • Gabo Peasant War Begins: Starting in January the first peasant uprisings in the South broke out. These uprisings spread into a full rebellion and by May troops from China and Japan arrived. At this point there was turmoil within the Korean government with palace intrigue in Seoul as a deposed king tried to place his son on the throne.
  • Sino-Japanese War Begins: By July, the Chinese and Japanese enter into open conflict. While the two outside powers fight, another peasant uprising begins which unites the Japanese and Daewongun Koreans (an alliance which eventually falters thanks to coup planning by the Daewongun). Interestingly, the Korean government fights alongside the Japanese against the rebels even as they try to implement reforms (carrot and stick approach?).
  • War Moves On/Peasant Rebellion Collapses: By November, the Chinese-Japanese fighting moves into Qing China and the peasant army is defeated with it’s main leader, Jeon Bongjin, captured. He was executed on April 24, 1895 just days after the Treaty of Shimonoseki ends the Sino-Japanese War and the tributary relationship between the Joseon and Qing dynasties.
Korean History in Maps, p. 109

Like I said, I’m no COIN game designer but this is a very interesting topic—and a great thought exercise.


Feature image from The History of Korea by Han Woo-Keun (Seoul: Eul-Yoo Publishing, 1970)

Footnotes:

1-4. Nahm, Andrew C., Introduction to Korean History and Culture, Seoul: Hollym, 1993, p. 158-162.