While my summer gaming has been languishing lots of work from Kickstarter campaigns continues. Some of the news is better than others and all seem to be feeling the effects of the shipping industry challenges.
Speaking of playtesting, I am overdue in getting the playtest kit for Warsaw Pact by Brad Smith to the table after he also graciously provided it to me. Looks like I have some printing, cutting, and taping in the (overdue) near future!
Recently visited the Seattle area and found The Waffler, a most excellent breakfast restaurant!
As a forever wargamer, I often find myself removed from the whole Eurogame-Ameritrash conflicts and instead find the fault-lines of my gaming collection falling along that of boardgame versus wargame. I mean, I understand the whole mechanism versus theme arguments, I just don’t really care. That is, until I see it up close and personal in my game collection.
Tiny Epic Defenders is another entry in the Tiny Epic series of games designed by Scott Almes. These game traditionally come in small boxes (7″x4.5″x1.5″) and are known for their small footprint but deep play. Tiny Epic Defenders is a cooperative game set in the world of a previous Tiny Epic game, Tiny Epic Kingdoms (Gamelyn Games, 2014 – and also part of the package deal). In Tiny Epic Defenders, 1-4 players must work together in a card-based game to defend the capital city against hordes of enemy attackers. Along the way you can use allies and ancient artifacts to help.
Samurai Spirit is also a cooperative game where between 1-7 players are samurai that must defend the village against raiders. In this card-based game, the samurai must choose between confronting raiders or defending against them while managing the barricades of the village and protecting the villagers. If you can’t already tell, Samurai Spirit is based on the movie Seven Samurai with the major difference being that in the game the samurai unleash a “beast mode” when wounded enough.
Both Tiny Epic Defenders and Samurai Spirit are variants of a tower defense game. In both games the players are defending a territory against invaders. Another tower defense game, Castle Panic (Fireside Games, 2009), is a family favorite.
Both Tiny Epic Defenders and Samurai Spirit play loose with the definition of a “defensive structure.” In both of these games “defensive structures” are characters which, through game actions, act to block, impede, attack, or destroy enemies. That said, though both Samurai Spirit and Tiny Epic Defenders are tower defense games and both even use cards, they are not identical in the game mechanisms used in gameplay.
Given how closely related Tiny Epic Defenders and Samurai Spirit are mechanically, how do I separate them? That is where theme come in. This is a pure matter of personal preference. For me, the theme of Samurai Spirit, derived as it is from the movie Seven Samurai, is the hands-down winner. I realize that there are some players out there that love everything Scott Almes touches and therefore will faithfully play anything related to Tiny Epic, but I am not one of them.
While Samurai Spirit leans hard into the theme of Seven Samurai, it does so with a nice family twist. That twist is the beast mode which unlocks not only a nicely illustrated side of the character board, but also provides a game mechanism that simultaneously is used to “refresh” a player for later rounds as well as pace the game to face the major foe. I also realize the theme of Samurai Spirit is far more likely to appeal to the RockyMountainNavy Boys who, taking after their wargamer Dad, often use the theme of a boardgame to help them assess if a game should be played. This is not to say Tiny Epic Defenders will be left to collect dust in the collection or be sold off quickly. The small footprint and portability of a Tiny Epic game makes it a good choice to pack when going on vacation.
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.
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.
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.
Innovative: Haven’t played any of the 10 nominees. I tried to nominated Atlantic Chase (GMT Games)but it likely didn’t get enough buzz because though is listed as a 2020 game by the publisher though it did not ship until early-mid 2021..
Light Game of the Year (GotY): Again, none of the 10 played. I note that this is a perfect category for Children’s games but they seem to be slighted in this category (and every other).
Medium GotY: Of the 10 I only played Fort, which I hardly call a medium-weight game.
Heavy GotY: None of the 10 nominees played.
Print & Play: None of the nominees played.
Solo Game: None of the nominees played.
Thematic Game: None of the nominees played (are you sensing a theme here?). Too bad that Moonrakers (IV Games) didn’t make it through the nomination process….
Wargame: Finally, a category in which I played at least a few games. Here I played Atlantic Chase (GMT Games 2020 but not released until 2021 – strange), The Shores of Tripoli (Fort Circle Games), and Undaunted: North Africa (Osprey Games). I at least recognize all the other nominees!
Zoomable Game: Huh? None of the 10 nominees played.
Best Podcast: I regularly listen to So Very Wrong About Games and occasionally Five Games for Doomsday.
Best Board Game App: For digital implementation of a board game that totally ignores Vassal or TableTop Simulator. Of the 12 nominees I only playedRoot (Dire Wolf).
So, what does this list of nominees tell me? First, I guess I’m not part of the “in” crowd because I missed so many apparently awesome games. Second, I guess I need to take Fort to game gatherings because it is cute art in a medium-weight card game. Third, if I want to introduce hobby boardgamers to 2-player conflict strategy (aka “wargames”) then The Shores of Tripoli or Undaunted: North Africa is a good bet. Lastly, I apparently don’t play the right “popular” wargames any way.
Despite COVID, the hobby boardgame industry is generally having a great time. ICv2 columnist Scott Thorne even noticed:
I find it rather strange that, in the midst of a pandemic, a large number of game and comic retailers have reported that March 2021 was their best March ever in terms of sales; with a number of them commenting it was their best month ever in terms of revenue.
There are hundreds—if not thousands—of new game titles being published each year. I partake just a corner of it, mostly in the niche wargame market. But like history my gaming interests runs in cycles and here in 2021 I feel like I’m at an inflection point. These days, the RockyMountainNavy Boys don’t have the same interest in gaming as I do and our weekly family game nights have basically ended. Call it COVID fatigue—we did so much gaming in the last year we sorta burned ourselves out. Further, though Mrs. RMN always indulges my hobby game spending habits she’s well within her rights to complain about it at times. In 2020 my game collection grew by ~8% to over 1000 items. For these reasons I needed to reconsider my hobby direction.
As I am a wargamer first the most dramatic changes are going to be in that part of my hobby. What I decided upon is to focus on what I like best – those games that I enjoy the most and keep me coming back – in effect, those games that form a “ZOC Bond” for me and make up the core of my War(gaming) Engine.
Wargaming – Investing in War Engines
I take the term “War Engine” from the excellent chapter “War Engines: Wargames as Systems from the Tabletop to the Computer” by Henry Lowood in Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming (MIT Press, 2016) which was edited by Pat Harrigan and Matthew Kirschenbaum. Lowood calls games that combine a game system plus scenarios a “war engine” as contrasted with early wargames that were monographic (unique game system and one battle/campaign focus). The earliest example is PanzerBlitz of which Lowood writes,
“In contrast to monographic games, PanzerBlitz introduced the game system as a generator for multiple mini-games. Wargamers came to call these mini-games “scenarios,” possibly borrowing from the term’s currency among RAND’s Cold War gamers to describe synopses or imagined or hypothetical political crisis….Henceforth, I will call this combination of system + scenarios a “War Engine.”
Lowood, Zones of Control, p. 93-94
In the most practical of terms, I see “war engines” as series-type games. Thus, I am going to focus more on certain series and less on “new” designs. Oh, I’m sure I’ll still buy a few non-War Engine titles, but I’m going to be more picky about it. The main draw with going to proven war engines is that my time investment to get into the game and enjoy it is usually less than a totally new title.
Here are a few of the War Engines that I enjoy the most and why I will maintain a focus on them. This list is not all-inclusive but a (fair?) start at what I’m trying to focus on:
Admiralty Trilogy (Admiralty Trilogy Group) – Although these naval wargames tend towards the simulation-end of the spectrum of gaming they are my tactical go-to series for nearly 40 years now; I have no intention of changing that!
Conflict of Heroes(Academy Games) – I discovered this series in 2016 and absolutely love the “new-age” mechanics in what outwardly appears to be standard hex & counter wargame; top-notch production quality is also a major draw as well as the innovative Firefight Generator and Solo Expansion (most incredible AI in any game).
Next War (GMT Games) – Modern (or near-future) warfare is all speculation but this system uses a good framework to try to get at the problem in a reasonably playable manner.
Panzer/MBT (GMT Games) – The 1979 Yaquinto Publishing edition of Panzer was my first wargame and this series is my tactical go-to system for ground warfare in World War II or the Cold War.
South China Sea (Compass Games) – The modern day spiritual successor to the 1990’s Fleet Series from Victory Games; my operational level modern war at sea game (with some politics thrown in).
Standard Combat Series (Multi-Man Publishing) – I don’t have (nor will buy) every game in the series but if the topic is right I know the base game is easy to learn and will have an interesting “gimmick” rule to represent an important element of the battle/campaign.
Wing Leader (GMT Games) – While Fighting Wings is all about the dogfight, Wing Leader looks at the larger picture of why the dogfight is taking place, not the details of “turning & burning.”
If I had to point to a trend here it’s that I have grown leery of The Cult of the New. Which has advantages and disadvantages. There are some great one-off (or small series) wargames out there but my reality is I can’t play (nor afford) them all. A plan of focus is important.
The Rest of the Story
Wargames are just one part of my hobby (albeit the major portion). Boardgames and role-playing games also compete for my hobby time and will also see changes.
Boardgames – REDUCE
I must sadly face that the heady days of playing new boardgames almost every week with the RMN Boys is past. Instead I need to focus on fewer boardgames. This means that as much as I personally love games likeRoot (Leder Games) and the completionist in me wants all the new Marauder Expansion material, the truth is it will likely never get those items to the gaming table in any reasonable quantity. Instead I will commit to spending half the money and be satisfied with just the new factions and a taste of the hirelings rules. This same approach will be my driver of boardgame purchases in the near future.
Like wargames there are certain boardgame series that I like. I really enjoy Root (Leder Games), if for no other reason than it is incredible to play a design that somehow incorporates so many mechanics. It really is a design tour-de-force.
This has actually been my approach for a few years now. I’ll be honest; I turned away from much of the role-playing industry because of the wave of political correctness that infects it. [Truth be told, the boardgame industry is going the same sad way] I am going to focus on the Traveller ruleset and especially Cepheus Engine materials. I also want to reexamine the various Traveller-related wargames (and several near-adjacent rules/settings like Twilight: 2000 or Traveller: 2300).
Shelves of Shame
I own many games I played a just few times (or not at all in the last decade). I need to get more games into a replay rotation. My collection is quite sufficient to keep me going for a long time. I need to look at selling more than a few too. There is a very decent local fleamarket listing on BGG that I use occasionally; maybe I need to be a seller instead of a buyer.
I really enjoy my recent combining of reading a book and playing a related wargame. I need to make this a normal thing. Of course, that may mean more trips to the local used book store.
My real shelf of shame is my plastic model collection. I really meant to get more built over the winter months but it didn’t happen. To clear that shelf will take real effort. Hmm…maybe I need to combine wargaming and plastic modeling….
If you are a follower of my blog, you might recall me making occasional references to Mrs. RockyMountainNavy and her students. In this year of COVID schooling she really leaned in to help the young daughter of a friend. Miss A is in first grade and, coming from a family that speaks nothing but Korean at home, is an at-risk learner. As a first-grader, this was the year she needed to really learn to read. So Mrs. RMN tutored her. Well, actually she did more than that. Miss A was at our house two of the four online school days each week while her parents worked and Mrs. RMN tutored her as well as helped her with online learning. We also played lots of games—but only after the school day or her tutoring was finished. But before I tell you about a game let me tell you a bit of the backstory.
Miss A started the year as an English as a Second Language (ESL) student in a Title I school. That’s a school where over 40% of the students qualify for reduced price or free lunches. Although Miss A’s teacher tried, online learning is NOT what those economically—and often educationally—disadvantaged children needed.
Mrs. RMN basically did all the teaching for Miss A this year—and it shows. She had taught all four of our children to read, even our Autism Spectrum boy. She went back to school to study Early Childhood Education. In other words she knows what she’s doing. She has a phonics reading program she knows and believes in. We have all the sight words cards a child needs. We have a children’s library with literally a thousand books (that’s just K-3…and I kid you not for we bought through the Scholastic Book Club for something like 15 years straight). All the books are marked with their Accelerated Reader level so we could make sure Miss A was reading the right books for her stage of learning.
Miss A is doing so well in reading that she left the ESL classes. She is doing so well in reading that she is at the top of her regular class—far ahead of many of her peers. The tutoring Mrs. RMN provided was certainly helpful, but also the environment we gave Miss A was very important. Where her fellow students lacked books to read because the school or local library was closed Miss A had hundreds to choose from (we try to get her to read 8-10 books a month – or or two or three each week). Where her fellow students lacked social opportunities, Miss A had “three older brothers” in the RMN Boys. Miss A also had plenty of opportunities to play games and benefit from all the great learning and socialization skills they build.
Last week Miss A completed the phonics readers that Mrs. RMN uses—all 68 books. It’s a great achievement so we decided to reward her. We made a nice certificate and printed it on heavier card stock. We also decided to buy her a game because as often as she is at our house she has picked up gaming too.
Of course, after we gifted Dragon’s Breath: The Hatching to Miss A we had to play it with her. Actually, she had to play it with me as I am her “game teacher” while Mrs. RMN is her “school teacher.” Thus, it fell on me to quickly learn the game and teach it to Miss A and Mrs. RMN.
Here is how HABA describes the Dragon’s Breath: The Hatching:
“Oh no! The nest, complete with dragon egg and sparkling stones, is frozen inside an ice column! Help Dragon Mom melt the thick layer of ice, but be careful that the egg doesn’t fall out of the nest! Earn points by collecting the fallen sparkling stones and placing them on your amulet.”
Dragon’s Breath: The Hatching is a light dexterity, set-collection game. Players take turns being the Dragon Mom and melting the ice tower full of crystals and topped by the Dragon Egg. As the Dragon Mom blows (melts) the ice tower, the player removes a ring and watches as crystals fall. If the Egg drops then Dragon Mom covers one of two holes on the treasure box. The other players now take turns collecting the different color crystals that fell and place them on their cards. As a card is completed, it is retired for scoring and replaced by a new card. The Dragon Mom player does not have cards to collect, but instead can put one or two crystals in the treasure chest on their turn, effectively keeping them away from the other players. A round consists of removing the three levels of the ice tower, and the game ends after each player has been the Dragon Mom once. At the end of play, scored cards are added up with the winner being the player with the highest score.
Miss A absolutely loved Dragon’s Breath: The Hatching because of the “cute” Dragon Mom wooden character and all the “pretty diamonds.” Both Mrs. RMN and myself realized the game could have a darker side since the Dragon Mom player effectively “hate-drafts” crystals to keep them away from others. Miss A realized that too, and was always very sad when she lost out on a crystal, but squealed with glee every time she kept a crystal away from me! In other words, she loves the game.
I am very proud of Miss A who has come so far in this horrible year of COVID schooling. I am also very proud of my wife and all she has done for Miss A this year. In a year where schools failed our children, Mrs. RMN has worked wonders to keep Miss A not only on track, but to push her ahead. Miss A is very proud of herself because she can read. She is also proud of herself because she does good in school. We constantly tell her she can do anything because she is smart. We also have given her a passion to play games. In this year of COVID, I think Miss A will not only enjoy Dragon’s Breath: The Hatching but also remember it for a long time.
Like the title says, didn’t get much gaming in this week as I return to basically full-time in the office. After a year of semi-telework it’s a bit of a shock to the system but, honestly, I love to be back at the grind.
This week I leaned hard into learning Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #1 (Multi-Man Publishing, 2004+). Kind of amazing (embarrassing?) that after playing wargames for 42 years I finally played Advanced Squad Leader for the first time. I found some good points and some bad. I’m working up a post that you should see in a few weeks!
I was very busy at work this week so my evening reading fell off. That said, I had way too much fun reading Strategy & Tactics Nr. 82, the magazine that Fifth Corps was included in. There were more than a few articles that triggered nostalgic thoughts and others that were plain interesting, especially when read with 40 years of hindsight added in. Hmm…I sense a “Rocky Reads for Wargames” column is almost writing itself….
Mrs. RMN and I gave RockyMountainNavy T an airbrush for his birthday and both he and his brother have been learning how to use it. I may even have to get in on the fun as I have way too many 1/144th scale aircraft that I need to complete!
RockyMountainNavy Jr. has been bitten by the Gundam bug, specifically the SD Gunpla variant. He picked up a few kits for assembly during Spring Break and already has added several others. We even got the young girl we tutor into building a few Petit’gguy bears….