I was able to get in a play ofUndaunted: North Africa by designer DavidThompson from Osprey Games. RMN T and myself replayed Scenario 1: Landing Ground 7 with him as the LRDG (actually LRP) and myself as the Italians. This time we made sure to play the Recon action correctly; it’s the main action that enables you to discard those pesky Fog of War cards and cycle the useful cards in your deck more efficiently. It was a good fight but he kept his Engineer safe and was able to win after destroying three objectives.
New Arrival –1979: Revolution in Iran by Dan Bullock from The Dietz Foundation via Kickstarter. Let me first join the chorus of voices in congratulating Jim Dietz on one of the best Kickstarter campaign I’ve participated in. Jim communicated often and clearly throughout the process. I don’t know how he did it—in this time of worldwide shipping disruption he delivered a mere ONE MONTH later than the campaign originally advertised. Towards the end of the campaign the near-daily updates unabashedly conveyed his joy that the project was nearing fulfillment and that giddy excitement infected me. When a new game arrives, it usually takes a few days for it to get to the table as it must “wait for a spot” of table space. With 1979 I swept the existing game off the table and unboxed it immediately.
Speaking of shipping, is it just me or has UPS really taken a turn for the worst? Twice this month I’ve had UPS shipments “delayed” by 2-3 days. This is not to say USPS doesn’t have issues too but any delay there seems to be one day at most. I read that USPS was changing their terms of service and to expect slower delivery times but I didn’t read anything about UPS. Even normally reliable Amazon has gone wonky on me recently with one shipment showing up three days late and another showing up but still listed as ‘not delivered’ in my orders record. I guess I can rationalize these delays as part of the overall slowdown in shipping from containers but the UPS issues seem a bit more wrong.
Very happy to see Regimental Commander Brant and other members of the Armchair Dragoons at Origins Game Fair this week. Origins started out as a wargame convention and over the years it, uh, changed.
The Dragoons bring wargaming back to the Fair and it’s good to see. Some of the games played included Tank Duel (GMT Games), Second World War at Sea (Avalanche Press), Team COIN, and Command & Colors Napoleonics (GMT Games). I am very sad that I missed the Persian Gulf game with the admiraltytrilogy.com folks.
The October Sale from Revolution Games is underway. Great chance to pick up more than a few bargains. Personally I recommend Pacific Fury. If you are willing to purchase folio-packaged games some of the prices are really low and (hopefully) more affordable.
I continued my local acquisitions support program by picking up a copy of Jamie Stegmaier’s Tapestry (Stonemaier Games, 2019) from a nearby gamer. Used but in great condition. Will try to get this to the table soon, maybe as the season kickoff for the Weekend Family Game Night Return.
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 & Colorsderivative 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.
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.”
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.
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…).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.