Recently been reading several article on nuclear wargaming. This has got me thinking…
Gaming Social Media
Hmm. As I put together this post I see that designer Bruno Cathala “protects” his tweets. That’s ok; he very likely has good reasons to not allow random follows. I also see that designer Ted S. Raicer blocks me. Well, fortunately for his royalty checks I don’t have to agree with a designer’s politics to play their games.
My number 2 go-to place for wargame news is Twitter. I work hard to curate my wargame list to deliver news and wargame-related postings I want to see while eliminating much of that other, mostly negative, trash that constantly flames Twitter. Here I will share a secret, or at least some insight into how I (subjectively) curate content in Twitter.
I actually have four levels of list for Twitter. The first group is wargamers I follow. I want the content from these wargamers pushed to me automatically. The problem is there is good and great content out there and to both into my timeline clobbers it and makes separating the “wheat from chaff” difficult. So I curate.
A second group of wargamers I curate is kept on my Wargame list but NOT followed. This is a pull list…I have to make the decision and take the time during the day to look at this list. One can move between my following and wargame list pretty regularly; if I feel a user is straying away from wargaming content (like maybe being too involved with their favorite sports team) I unfollow but keep them on the wargame list for a while. If over time I see them getting “more wargame” they can always be put back on the follow list.
Every once in a while I review my followers to see if they need to go on my following or wargame list. I try to be generous; if you followed me and have a feed with at least some wargame content I will likely put you on the list at the very least. It’s also possible you might end up on another list of mine; I have History and Military Wonk and the like that one might find a home on. Minis and plastic modelers often end up on my Hobby list.
The third group of wargamers I curate are those I mute. Maybe you said something that annoyed me. You’re entitled to your opinion but I want to keep my feed free of content that I don’t enjoy—I don’t want to doomscroll. Sometimes these muted accounts show back up in my timeline as a muted feed when other wargamers like or retweet or quote them. That can kick off a round of reappraisal and, if I feel like it, a return to the list or following.
The fourth list of wargamers are accounts I block. There are a few out there. What they did to deserve being blocked is a very personal judgement. I’ll say I don’t use the block button lightly; it is far more likely I’ll simply mute the account for a while (a cooling off period for both of us). Honestly, most of the content I block is not necessarily from a wargamer but more often something they liked or retweeted that offended me. I am occasionally surprised by the wargamers who have blocked me. I usually don’t autoblock back…they have their reasons and I although I may not understand I respect them.
I heavily use the subscription feature on BGG. I am subscribed to almost every game in my collection and many families—series if you will—of wargames too. I used to subscribe to companies but found it cluttered my feed too much. I also focus on some key wargame designers. I also follow a few guilds and some key geeklists.
Where available, I’m signed up for newsletters or whatever news feed many wargamer companies push from their websites. I use a separate wargame email account so Mrs RMN doesn’t have to sort through my wargamer mailings to get to the important family emails.
A newsfeed I see more useful these days is Kickstarter. Over time I have backed more projects or favorited others. When content producers post updates I get the news. It’s pleasantly surprising how much info is conveyed in this manner. Actually, there is at least one wargame company I love that is terrible at updating their website but great at publicizing themselves via Kickstarter. I’ll take what I can get…
I have a curated list of wargame/boardgame podcasts that I subscribe to, but I only listen during my commute which means I don’t often go back to check the links or otherwise explore any news they relate. Of course, if there is one podcast you listen to it should be Mentioned in Dispatches. That is, if you can occasionally suffer my ramblings…
This blog is hosted through WordPress which does have a Reader feature. It’s there and I subscribe to some fellow gaming blogs but I find the selection rather sparse and marginally (very marginally) useful for wargame product news (better Mr. Train?).
I subscribe to several wargame/boardgame related feeds. I actually don’t get many chances to watch videos; it just isn’t a priority source of entertainment, much less information, for me. I know that some game companies regularly use a weekly video feed to deliver news and updates…I’ll let Brant spend the time watching and pick out the best and compile it for me.
Nope. Just nope.
What about you?
If you are a follower of mine and don’t see yourself on a list please don’t be offended. Like I said, I review my settings every once in a while. In recent months I actually made some effort to reduce my social media time and focus on other activities which means I don’t always get around to reviewing. Also, don’t take it personally if you move between lists. Above all else be understanding; don’t be that one gamer who DM’d me after I unfollowed them and ranted about how I hurt their feelings. If you’re that fragile and view your world through the lens of Twitter likes and followers, well, you just might have some issues—and not being on my wargame list is probably the least of them.
I was able to get in a play ofUndaunted: North Africa by designer DavidThompson from Osprey Games. RMN T and myself replayed Scenario 1: Landing Ground 7 with him as the LRDG (actually LRP) and myself as the Italians. This time we made sure to play the Recon action correctly; it’s the main action that enables you to discard those pesky Fog of War cards and cycle the useful cards in your deck more efficiently. It was a good fight but he kept his Engineer safe and was able to win after destroying three objectives.
New Arrival –1979: Revolution in Iran by Dan Bullock from The Dietz Foundation via Kickstarter. Let me first join the chorus of voices in congratulating Jim Dietz on one of the best Kickstarter campaign I’ve participated in. Jim communicated often and clearly throughout the process. I don’t know how he did it—in this time of worldwide shipping disruption he delivered a mere ONE MONTH later than the campaign originally advertised. Towards the end of the campaign the near-daily updates unabashedly conveyed his joy that the project was nearing fulfillment and that giddy excitement infected me. When a new game arrives, it usually takes a few days for it to get to the table as it must “wait for a spot” of table space. With 1979 I swept the existing game off the table and unboxed it immediately.
Speaking of shipping, is it just me or has UPS really taken a turn for the worst? Twice this month I’ve had UPS shipments “delayed” by 2-3 days. This is not to say USPS doesn’t have issues too but any delay there seems to be one day at most. I read that USPS was changing their terms of service and to expect slower delivery times but I didn’t read anything about UPS. Even normally reliable Amazon has gone wonky on me recently with one shipment showing up three days late and another showing up but still listed as ‘not delivered’ in my orders record. I guess I can rationalize these delays as part of the overall slowdown in shipping from containers but the UPS issues seem a bit more wrong.
New Arrival – Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons by Jon Peterson (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2021). This is definitely a hobby business history and NOT a history of D&D as a game. So all you Edition Wars fighters out there looking for Jon’s vote need to look elsewhere. I wish Jon would do the history of Marc Miller and Traveller someday. I know, not as dramatic but nonetheless of intense interest to a Traveller RPG fan like me.
I scored myself an excellent “Like New” copy of Tapestry (Stonemaier Games, 2019) from a fellow local gamer. Like many Stonemaier Games, there was much pre-release hype and huge expectations behind this game. As I compose this post, Tapestry is ranked the #179 Strategy game and #239 game OVERALL on BoardGameGeek. However, there seems to be a very vocal crowd on BoardGameGeek and the like that never seem to miss a chance to criticize this game. After some consideration, I found that I like Tapestry in great part because it is both a “kinder, gentler 4X” as well as an efficient game with regards to rules, game mechanisms, and narrative building.
Civilization games are not actually a preferred category of boardgames in the RockyMountainNavy home. I have a few civilization games going back to Twilight Imperium First Edition (Fantasy Flight Games, 1997) which, while rated at four-hours game play time, never seemed to be playable in that short a time. Tiny Epic Kingdoms (Gamelyn Games, 2014) is a relatively recent acquisition and got a favorable reception from the RMN Boys for its quick play time.Space Empires: 4X (GMT Games, 2017) is another recent addition that promises to play in three-hours. Finally there isEnemies of Rome (Worthington Games, 2017) which is a huge favorite with the RMN Boys. My point here is that the RMN Boys and myself are predisposed towards smaller 4X/civilization games with streamlined game mechanisms and quicker play time. It is through the lens of those older, smaller and more streamlined civilization games we look at Tapestry.
Kinder, Gentler 4X
The classic definition of a 4X game is “Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate.” In Tapestry, Jamie Stegmaier takes that classic defintion and modifies it slightly into what I call a “Stonemaier 4X—Explore, Experiment, Expand, and Extrapolate.” In the case of Tapestry:
Explore relates to the Exploration Track,
Experiment relates to the Science Track
Expand relates to the Military Track
Extrapolate relates to the Technology Track
In Tapestry the classic elements of a civilization building 4x game are present but just renamed a bit. Could this be the cause of some people saying that Tapestry is something of a lesser civilization building game? For those “progressive gamers” does the renaming of exploitation or extermination stages make that much of a difference? As a wargamer, I kinda expected a combat mechanism in the Conquer Action but have to admit I don’t really miss the lack of a combat roll. Does this renaming and lack of explicit combat make the game less offensive to some players? Maybe Tapestry should get a Newspeak award!
Tapestry bills itself as a two-hour civilization building game. That’s a tall order, especially when so many seem to equate civilization building games to Twilight Imperium (rated 4-8 hours play). A very vocal crowd of critics claim that Tapestry lacks depth and is nothing more than an efficiency game.
Uh, yes. That’s the point.
Unlike many of the “it’s an efficiency game” critics, I embrace the efficiency of Tapestry. Jamie Stegmaier set out to create a two-hour, medium-weight civilization building game in Tapestry and he achieved his design objectives. A great part of the games success is a straight-forward, relatively uncomplicated, efficient design.
Play by Symbol – Efficient Rules
How uncomplicated is Tapestry? Let’s start by looking at the rule book; yes, all four pages of it. This may be part of why some people don’t like the game for Tapestry is extremely visual and requires demands one to “read” and process the meaning of many symbols. Like some other symbology-heavy games I’ve played (One Small Step from Academy Games immediately comes to mind) to learn Tapestry requires reading of a different sort. The rules as written actually recommend you don’t read everything in advance. Take for example the rules under “advance:”
The core benefits associated with each track are explained on page 3, and all benefits are explained in detail on the reference guide. We recommend teaching new players the core benefits before starting the game, but not the other specific benefits until they are reached (emphasis mine).
Tapestry-Gameplay-Advance, Rule Book p. 2
In addition to having to learn to “read” the language of Tapestry, in many ways the rule book tells you what game mechanisms you have at your disposal, but almost nothing about why you do certain actions. I think many critics want to see rules written in the language of the narrative, not the game mechanism. For instance, the rule for each of the core actions (Exploration/Science/Technology/Military) is exclusively the game mechanism explained; there is no hint given to the theme behind the action.
Strategies of play is absent in the rule book for Tapestry; it is up to the players to discover (very much) on their own strategies of play. I found in our early games that players tended to start the game focused on one track, only to discover that a second or third was also needed. For example, in our first game:
The Militants began by focusing on the Military Track, but quickly discovered they needed the Exploration and Science Tracks to remain competitive.
The Architects focused on the Technology Track, but quickly discovered they needed to add in some Science.
The Nomads focused on Exploration, but also quickly discovered they needed Technology and Military to stay in the game.
What each player quickly discovered while playing Tapestry is that, while it may look to be the most efficient to focus on one track, the effectiveness of that approach drops off if other tracks are ignored. Finding the right combination and building an efficient engine that generates resources to move ahead on several tracks is the core of the game.
An Equity Game of Efficient Game Mechanisms
In Tapestry, Jamie delivers to us a game that captures the essence of civilization building though the use of multiple game mechanisms that all players have equal access to. Yet, while all the players use the same Actions, each civilization has unique ways to alter those Actions and, as one plays theirTapestry Cards, one further alters how their civilization uses those Actions. Like any engine-building game, how you use your asymmetric or special scoring powers to maximize the efficiency of your game engine is fundamental to winning. In our house at least, games like Tapestry or Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2017) often come down to which player is the first to discover and implement the most efficient set of actions given their starting position and asymmetric powers. Just as important as finding your strategy, when another player frustrates your strategy the ability to work around the obstacles while not allowing your game engine to become totally derailed is just as great a challenge. At its core, games like Tapestry come down to the challenge to find and execute your efficiencies.
For instance, in or first game of Tapestry the Militants and Nomads began on the same continent. The Militants score by conquering territory, and the Nomads score by exploring new territory and placing buildings there. At first the Nomads tried exploring, but quickly discovered that all their new explorations were at risk of being overrun by the Militants. So the Nomads had to “fight back” and build a buffer of conquered territories to keep the Militants away so they could explore (Exploration Track) and build (Technology Track) unmolested. At the same time, the Militants realized they needed to be able to conquer from a distance and thus tried to move down the Military track quickly, only to discover they also needed to explore away from the Nomads to have the territories needed to advance. If the Militants were able to access some useful Technology it would make the job that much easier. Of course, at the same time the Architects were minding their own business and trying to get more buildings, which the Nomad also needed. Thus, each civilization came into conflict with another, usually in unexpected (or at least not immediately obvious) ways.
Efficient Puzzler Leads to Narrative
Other people complain about the capital city mats in Tapestry, declaring they are nothing more than a puzzle. In a two-hour game, just how complex a sub-system do you want? To me, equating city planning to a puzzle is actually a great analogy. It’s a game mechanism that is evocative without simulation. You can build your capital city haphazardly or you can plan efficiencies. In Tapestry all that city planning is reduced to a puzzle. I even like the rule that landmarks need not be placed all within the city limits (i.e. they can go off the edges of the mat). How many times has the gov’mt build something outlandish and it just doesn’t fit the area right? My bottom line on cities is in a two-hour game that simple sub-system should be appreciated for its efficiency instead of criticized.
End of Civilization
One aspect of Tapestry that many people see as inefficient is the different end of play times. In Tapestry gameplay ends for an individual player after their 5th Income Turn. Since this event can happen at different times for each player it is possible that some players will be “waiting” for others at the end game. In practice the “wait” doesn’t seem excessive and, if the player was able to plan ahead, they still might score based on other players actions. Admittedly, this approach seems to fly in the face of many game design lessons which favor play balance with an end-game trigger where all players either get an equal number of turns or a last chance to play.
The seemingly obvious use of Income Turns in Tapestry also hides another efficiency of play. In the early stages of our first games the standard approach for Income Turns was to wait until all resources are exhausted before taking the turn. About mid-game something changed as players started looking at the Tapestry Cards in their hand and thinking about when would be a good time to play them. Do you wait until you are resource exhausted and then unlock that special Tapestry Card action? Or, do you take your Income Turn now to access that Tapestry Card? Once again, the goal is efficiency and playing Tapestry Cards at the most opportune moments is another way you tune that efficiency engine.
In the RockyMountainNavy home, we try to get a weekend Family Game Night in on a regular basis. A game night is usually the RMN Boys and myself, meaning three-player games are preferred. We also look for games that we can play in 2-3 hours (or less) of time as we usually start after dinner and go into the evening. By the nature of our requirements, the games we tend towards are medium-weight without too many complicated subsystems. Tapestry is a perfect fit from a game weight and play time perspective. Just as important, it delivers enough of a narrative experience that it is not reduced to a meaningless, unconnected game of simply taking actions, but a bit of a story emerges to engage the players.
In our game, the Militants and Nomads confronted each other often and both seemed to be neck-and-neck in points. The Architects seemingly fell further behind, but several mid-game actions brought them up to the others. At that point the Militants and Nomads realized the Architects could not be ignored, and attempted to pivot their engines to meet the new threat. The main confrontation of civilizations became the Nomads versus the Architects as both tried to get buildings and landmarks out ahead of the other with the Militants looking for spoiler opportunities. All this play created a fun story in the postgame talk as one can look back on the “story” of their civilization and see pivotal moments of discovery, conquest, growth, and even falls.
This is also as good a time as any to discuss the components of Tapestry. Critics seem to love to complain that Tapestry is overproduced. The major complaint seems to revolve around the painted landmarks that some apparently see as too cartoonish. I disagree; the painted landmarks are just fine. Their size, which some seem to complain about, is perfect for viewing across a game table in less-than-optimal lighting—you know, like many family dining rooms! They also are great for grabbing across the table. Further, the gritty mats that protect against the occasional (accidental) bump are really welcome!
With 16 different civilizations and six different Capital City Mats, there is plenty of replay variability in Tapestry. Add into the mix 50 different Tapestry Cards, 33 Technology Cards, and 48 Territory Tiles and a further 15 Space Tiles the chances of any two games of Tapestry ever being the same is very, very small.
Critics of Tapestry cite the lack of a civilization-building experience as a drawback of the game. They point to the apparent randomness of tech development (conveniently missing the fact that certain tech cannot be upgraded unless in the right era). They point to the medium-weight rules and efficient game design as creating a game that fails to build a narrative of civilization building. I disagree; Tapestry is a “lite civ builder game” that allows one to build a civilization in two-hours. The narrative of play is not out front in the rules, but rather requires one to “read” the board as one progresses up various tracks or lays down a Tapestry Card. Granted, the narrative of Tapestry may not create a Game of Thrones epic, it doesn’t try to (and remember too how the TV series of GoTended…not pretty). While many people seem to expect the Myth Arc of a civilization game to be expansive, in Tapestry it’s small and efficient much like a single TV season series…
The other day I was looking at a new arrival wargame and exploring where on the BoardGameGeek rankings of War Games it sat. In a bit of a careless moment I accidentally hit the “War Game Rank” header and resorted by lowest to highest rankings. I was a bit surprised to see a game I own ranked very near the “top” of the new page. I scrolled down a bit and found a few more. Which got me thinking; do I really have that many turkeys in my wargame collection? Let’s look at my “Bottom Eight” and see what we discover. Why eight? Because, surprisingly, that is the number of titles I have in the last group of 100 BGG ranked War Games 3387-3486.[Edit – I actually have nine but one is not noted as part of my collection though it is].
Let me be clear about something up front. I firmly believe that BoardGameGeek ratings and rankings of wargames are very suspect. I use BGG to manage my collection and not to rank or rate titles. I further believe that in the early days of BGG, and to a lesser extent today, there was/is an anti-wargame bias within the BGG community writ large. I believe this bias derives from early times when BGG postured itself as a Eurogame-centric website and relished in trashing, uh, Ameritrash games. This is despite the fact the BGG glossary goes out of its way to say wargames are NOT Ameritrash, but in a somewhat condescending manner.
In more recent years, “crossover” wargames, or wargames that are recognized as combining Eurogame mechanics with wargame themes—sometimes called a “waro”—have somewhat reduced the bias but at its heart BGG started anti-wargame and remains so. Additionally, the algorithms used to derive BGG ratings and ranking are a trade secret which only serve to further obfuscate just how games are rated and ranked. If there is one thing the past year+ of COVID taught me, and hopefully many others, it’s that statistics are easy to manipulate. Like they say, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Here are the “Bottom Eight” wargames in my collection as ranked by BoardGameGeek (note that this is amongst NUMERICALLY ranked games; there are 104 pages for over 10,000 wargames listed on BGG with the majority having no numerical ranking):
“You mean a war game, like Risk” can barely be applied to this title. Bought for the RockyMountainNavy Boys who were into the IP at the time. They never liked it. Absolutely deserves to be at the bottom.
The market and high levels of abstraction always put me, and apparently many others, off on this game yet somehow it stays dear to my heart. Looking back, I wonder if Supremacy was trying to be a “waro” before people understood what a waro was. I understand that updated versions exist. I often wonder what the game could become if a good developer had worked it, then or even now.
In the past few years I rediscovered this game on my shelf when I went looking for games using the chit pull mechanism. It’s clunky and not-so-elegant but serviceable as a wargame. Part of the low ranking may be subject matter; the Battle of Arakan in Burma is not well known.
Ambitious in that it tries to model 3D flight on a 2D board in increments of mere seconds. Way too complicated a model to easily manipulate. I at least remember playing this one—a battle between two American F-106 Delta Darts and a pair of TU-26 Backfire strategic bombers trying to get to New York. Of course, we now know the Tu-26 never existed for the TU-22 Backfire never was converted to a strategic bomber. It also showed our misunderstanding of how to employ weapon systems as we tried to “dogfight” the bombers vice standing off with those nuclear-tipped missiles and rockets hosing away at the Red intruders. Then again, we kinda realized that those nuke-armed babies were “a bad day” and tried to restrain ourselves.
Yup, restraint in a wargame. Like I said, we kinda didn’t know what we were doing. I remember driving one of the Backfires and desperately dodging the F-106s but ending up low, slow, and vertically banked mere feet off the deck. I almost made it to New York, but ultimately ran out of ideas, airspeed, and altitude short of the target.
Is this a wargame? I bought this for RockyMountainNavy Boy A who was a big HALO fan at the time. I think it got played once. You also needed a DVD player, making this a “media-assisted” game. In the RMN house that made this game difficult to play since the RMN students had TV restrictions on weekdays and limited time on weekends. Altogether not a memorable title.
Not officially listed in my collection though I have a copy. The BGG tagline reads, “Will you conquer the world in this multi-player push-your-luck wargame?” I guess that is one way to look at Risk but when doing so is one unconsciously buying into that BGG anti-Ameritrash heritage?
It took a few extra days but my hardcopy of the Compass Games catalog arrived. Several games are given “provisional” (my term) delivery dates which, alas, all are in 2022 (one actually doesn’t have even a provisional date—which is kinda worrisome). We’ll see how that works out! Now to mark the catalog up with already have, on order, and like to haves.
74 major Titles in catalog
6x Titles of Interest (3 available now)
I really need to be careful and not get too carried away with ordering from Compass right away. I already owe Mrs. RMN (aka “Family Accountant”) an explanation of why GMT Games and Canvas Temple Publishing are charging within days of each other. I also won a local auction for Sekigahara (GMT Games, 2011) that I’m picking up this weekend—only a week after Tapestry (Stonemaier Games, 2019) arrived…
I have to say I heartily agree, especially with the “most Traveller thing.” Which is funny in a way because if you ask me to point to what Traveller looks like I’m probably going to show you this—the Little Black Books of 1977-1980.
Thumbing through the books I challenge you to find artwork. There is a single black and white drawing of a persons head on page 25 of Book 1 and nothing in Book 2 or Book 3. Even the box back only has a single, somewhat abstract, image of a soldier firing a weapon. The next picture is that of a “Mercenary Striker” in the front of Book 4 Mercenary. Even Book 5 High Guard has no images. Those iconic Traveller ships like the Free Trader (which I swear I saw in Foundation Season 1 Episode 1) don’t appear until Supplement 7 Traders and Gunboats in 1980.
For a while it looked like Traveller was going to be a Star Wars knockoff. Look at the box art for the 1981 wargame Invasion: Earth with what looks something like an Imperial Star Destroyer on the cover. Fortunately, Traveller never became a Star Wars or Star Trek RPG, both of which have their own distinctive and iconic visions.
Since the 1980’s, and especially with the rise of the internet, there has been moreTraveller RPG artwork. Much of it revolves around starships. In the early 1980’s it was black & white artwork in the pages of new supplements or adventures or the pages of The Journal of the Travellers’ Aide Society or Challenge magazine. Marc Miller’s Traveller (Traveller 4) used Chris Foss artwork with little success.
The computer graphics artwork of Andrew Boulton, though primitive compared to today’s computer graphics, was “right” in the vibe it communicated.So sad he left us so early…
The modern work of Ian Stead has graced the pages of many Traveller products in recent years and more than a few feel he has captured the vibe of Traveller the best since those early days. But, like so much of that early art, it is almost exclusively focused on the ships.
Marc Miller himself has two more recent visions of Traveller. The first is expressed in Traveller 5 which is sparsely illustrated using mostly recycled artwork from previous editions. Then there is his book, Agent of the Imperium, which has no illustrations at all and cover art that is…questionable.
It’s in your head…
Such is the power of the Traveller RPG— the game creates in many minds a vast, sweeping vision with relatively sparse artwork. What I’m hearing is that Traveller RPG created, in many minds, the vision of a vast empire spanning from a long dynastic center to a very unsettled frontier. This despite a majority of artwork that is of ships—not imperial palaces or emperors or harsh frontiers.
What’s most incredible is that very “in-your-head” vision is being “found” onscreen in the Foundation TV series. Take note that starships are NOT a prominent feature of the first three episodes of Foundation; they appear but are very much “background” whereas Traveller RPG tends to put starships in front. Traveller RPG delivers a vision of an entire universe without the need for lots of artwork because it stimulates the mind. That many seem to find Traveller in Foundation is in reality incredible praise for the Marc Miller and his vision expressed in plain text over 40 years ago..