#Wargaming, it’s in the Cards – Challenging commentary on @gmtgames Washington’s War, For the People, and Paths of Glory

I AM STILL (HAPPILY) WORKING MY WAY THROUGH MY 2019 GAMING CHALLENGES. These past few weeks I was fortunate to arrive at a time in my challenge where I got to play three Card-Driven Game (CDG)* designs:

  • For the People (GMT Games, 1998) won the 1998 Charles S Roberts Award for Best Pre-World War II Boardgame
  • Paths of Glory (GMT Games, 1999) won the 1999 Charles S Roberts Award for Best Pre-World War II Boardgame
  • Washington’s War (GMT Games, 2010) won both the 2010 Charles S Roberts Award for Best Ancient to Napoleonic Era Wargame and the 2010 Golden Geek Award for Best 2-Player Game / Best Wargame.

In playing these three games, I gained a new appreciation for the range of complexity the Card-Driven Game mechanic can support and how each creates a insightful historical experience.

Complexity

I ended up playing these three games in order of the wars; the American Revolution in Washington’s War followed by the American Civil War in For the People and lastly World War I in Paths of Glory. Not only was playing in this order the same as the historical timeline, the sequence also reflects the increasing complexity of the games.

My copy of Washington’s War (2nd Preprint, 2015) is the “latest published” of the three games I played but is the simplest in terms of rules. Based on Mark Herman’s We the People (Avalon Hill, 1993), Washington’s War features a single deck of Strategy Cards supporting a very streamlined selection of actions. Having not played a CDG in a while this was a good reintroduction to the CDG meachanic as the game focuses on the basics with little frills. Using the BGG complexity or “weight” scale, I put Washington’s War as a Medium Light 2.0 given the simple, rather direct rules.

My copy of For the People is the GMT Games 2nd Edition from 2006. There was a Third Edition in 2015 and I am not sure what changed. Doesn’t really matter; I enjoy my version of the game. In terms of complexity, For the People is similar to Washington’s War in the use of a single Strategy Card deck. Beyond that, For the People is more complex with the designation of Divisions, Corps, and Armies. Victory is determined not so much by area control (ala Washington’s War) but through Strategic Will (more on that later). The added rules make For the People more complex than Washington’s War, but the new rules overhead is not onerous. In terms of complexity I rate For the People a Medium 3.0 on BGG but in reality it plays more like a 2.5.

Paths of Glory, originally published in 1999, is the game that has undergone the most development since its first publication. I have a 1999 first edition, far removed from the English Deluxe Edition, Sixth Printing (2018) that is now available. I have not kept up on this game although I see lots of support available on the GMT Games website. I played the game using the Rules as Written out of the box; maybe not an optimal playing but it’s what I had on hand. Paths of Glory is the most complex of the three games played, most readily demonstrated by the use of two Strategy Card decks (separate for Allied and Central Powers). The cards themselves are also more complex, going beyond the usual Event or Operations Card values and introducing a Strategic Redeployment value and Replacement Points. However, like Washington’s War and For the People, another more subtle mechanic outside of combat is the true heart of the game. In Paths of Glory (PoG) that mechanic is War Status (also more later). Of the three CDG games I played, Paths of Glory is probably the most complex. On BGG I see that over 45% of the people voting rate Paths of Glory at Medium Heavy 4.0. I think that’s overdoing it and a solid Medium 3.0 is more appropriate.**

The progressive complexity level of the games made learning (relearning?) how to play each a simple exercise. I have tried to jump straight into Paths of Glory before and struggled. This time I built a foundation before I started and it worked much better. I guess this means that one needs several games in their collection to build up to the big one, right?

Evocative History

Although nominally a wargame, each of these games goes far beyond depicting their given conflict by looking beyond the battles. Indeed, each of these games is equal parts, if not more, a political game than a combat game.

Looking at Washington’s War, the major pieces scream wargame and combat. The Generals are standee’s and there are many chits for depicting the number of Combat Unit (CU) strength points on the board. In reality, the most important chit in the game is the Political Control (PC). Victory in Washington’s War is determined by colonies controlled, and colony control depends not on your army but on the amount of PC spaces controlled. Generals with armies can “flip” a PC, but it is the use of Operations Cards to “place” PC that is actually the most powerful action in the game. This is highly evocative of the history; armies could certainly protect areas of political control and even changed it at times but it was the political actions of rabble-rousing and the like, often in the background of the fighting, that determined control of the colony. Washington’s War captures this factor of history to a tee.

In For the People, the most important rule is not 7.0 Battle, but 12.0 Strategic Will. As designer Mark Herman notes in the introduction to 12.0:

The Strategic Will model in this game should drive a player’s actions….It is the absolute and relative value of each side’s Strategic Will that determines the current state of the war.

12.0 Strategic Will, Design Note

Rule 12.0 gives the player’s of For the People (FtP) ten different ways that affect Strategic Will. Understanding all these conditions is important because if one plays FtP and just focuses on combat, they are bound to lose the game.

Of all three games, Paths of Glory (PoG) is the most wargame-like. That said, like For the People the most important game mechanic is not Combat, but War Status. As designer Ted Raicer’s Design Notes point out:

War Status in PoG has several elements. First, it represents the progression of each alliance towards a state of modern industrialized Total War….Second, through the rules for Combined War Status, it shows the various effects of such a prolonged and costly struggle on national morale, politics, and diplomacy….Finally, through the Armistice mechanism, the effect of war weariness outside of Russia is introduced.

Design Notes, War Status

Like Strategic Will in For the People, in Paths of Glory careful management of one’s War Status and not simply winning a combat is the true key element essential for victory.

a Waro Awareness

One of the new gaming terms I discovered in the last few years is “waro.” A combination of “wargame” and “Eurogame,” the term attempts to define a new sub-domain of tabletop gaming that mixes conflict simulation with Eurogame mechanics. The poster child games for this genre is the GMT COIN-series. However, after playing these games, I would argue that the Card-Driven Game mechanic, as exemplified by Washington’s War, For the People, and Paths of Glory, are among the first waro games out there. This is not a new argument to the gaming community; long have gamers argued if any of these titles are even a wargame. Regardless of how you think about the issue, for me just playing these games has grown my understanding of what a waro can be.

putting my cards on the table

In some ways I had put CDG designs on the back shelf. I usually play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys so we need three-player games. These games are solidly two-player. CDG designs also tend not to be solo-friendly given the hidden information factor of the cards. There are some attempts to work around this but I have not delved deep into them. However, my recent plays have shown me that these games deserve to be brought down off the shelf, even if played in a sub-optimal solo manner. There is still much to be learned about the history of the times represented and these are amongst the best models to do so.


*Per BGG, a CDG is a game where, “Cards or campaign text depict events, and the challenge is in making decisions and plan their usage to win.”

**I am well aware that my complexity ratings on BGG tend to track lower than the average. I beleive this is because wargames tend to be overrated in complexity by the Eurogamers who dominate BGG.

Blog Look Back – A 2018 RockyMountainNavy Gamer Year in Review

It’s a new year (Happy 2019!) and I guess this is the time for some introspective thoughts. In my case, I finally decided to look at my blog stats. I have been writing my blog, Bravo Zulu, since sometime in 2007. I have never before looked at my stats in any sort of serious manner. This year I will be different! Be warned though – I use a free wordpress.com account so the available stats are not all that deep.

Stats

  • Views: 14,464 (+2,387 or +16% vs 2017)
    • USA – 8,155, UK – 1,750, Canada – 845…all the way down to a single view from Vatican City?
  • Visitors: 9,250 (+2185 or +23% vs 2017)
  • Posts Published: 164 (+29 or +17% vs 2017)
  • Likes: 497
  • Comments: 112
  • Month with the most views was December (1,740) although July had the most visitors (1,679)

Top Posts for the Year

  1. Starship Construction in Mongoose Traveller (Originally posted March 2014!)
  2. Game of the Week – Silver Bayonet…Game Mechanics (Posted in 2018 and linked to by GMT Games…thanks guys!)
  3. Traveller 5 Character Generation (Another March 2014 post)
  4. #TravellerRPG Ship Combat (MgT2E) (January 2016)
  5. SOLO Campaigns (April 2017)
  6. The Old South China Sea – 7th Fleet (March 2018..discussing a game published in 1987)
  7. #FirstImpressions – Cataclysm (July 2018)
  8. #WargameWednesday – Carrier Battles 4 Guadalcanal iOS (November 2017)
  9. #TravellerRPG Character Generation (MgT2E) (January 2016)
  10. The Gygax Rule for GMs (July 2018)

What I See

In 2018 I really focused my blog on the wargame and boardgame portion of my hobbies. I actually all-but-ignored my roleplaying games. Yet 60% of my top posts are RPG related, and most of those from as long as five years ago! I guess there are some older search engines or linked pages that continue to drive folks searching for Traveller RPG items my direction.

My top wargame post was picked up by GMT Games so their page is driving people to my posting. My top boardgame post would be #15 on the list if I went that far.

Way Ahead in 2019

Writing my blog is very therapeutic. I want to write more and am considering restarting my #ModelMonday, #ThreatTuesday, #WargameWednesday, and #RPGThursday structure of postings. I really enjoyed my Game of the Week series last year as it gave me the chance to really dig into a game and get more familiar with it. I also want to continue my weekend Family Game Night postings too.

Technically, I long ago named my blog “Bravo Zulu” which is Navy code for “Good Job.” Over the years I have taken more the identity of RockyMountainNavy and even folks like GMT Games reference my site that way. Maybe I need to rename my blog?

RockyMountainNavy Game Year for 2018 (#Boardgame & #Wargame)

This is the last in my series of 2018 “of the Year” posts. This one covers my Game of the Year. The first post looked at boardgames, the second was wargames, and the third was game expansions. The game had to be published and acquired in 2018.

Looking back over the candidates for my Boardgame / Wargame / Game Expansion of the Year there is one game that I left off the list. That is because it is my Game of the Year.

Although I am a grognard wargamer at heart, my Game of the Year is not a wargame. Well, not in the traditional sense of a hex & counter wargame. Some people call my Game of the Year a wargame, others a Eurogame with combat (waro).

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Courtesy BoardGameGeek.com

Root by designer Cole Wehrle and published by Leder Games is unlike other boardgames or wargames. Some people claim it is a Eurogamer-version of the GMT Games COIN-system. In part this claims comes from the fact both games feature asymmetric factions each with different victory conditions. To take that comparison any further is unfair because Root carries the asymmetric powers to another level.

In a typical COIN game, each faction has an asymmetric selection of actions to choose from. The actions themselves have a subtle difference but for the most part factions are distinguished by which actions they can take. On the other hand, factions in Root have almost entirely different game mechanisms as to how they operate. While basic movement and combat rules are common across every faction, each faction plays differently from the others. From the Marquis de Cat that plays a resource game and builds to the Eyrie that use a programmed turn or the Woodland Alliance (Communists, not Star Wars Rebels mind you) who subvert the others with influence and the lone Vagabond who can be a pure soulless thief or White Knight, each faction plays differently. Even the Otters and Lizards in Root: The Riverfolk Expansion play differently.

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Courtesy Twitter

That is what makes Root such a special game. From a game design perspective it is impressive to see the seamless integration of all these different game mechanism on the table at the same time. The artwork – whimsical yet functional – fits the game perfectly.

I will be one of the first to admit Root is not easy to learn. It takes time to learn the basics of the game and how each faction operates. Players in early games often spend their time “heads down” on their own tableau figuring out how to play and miss looking at the other players. As time goes on that skill emerges and the interaction between different players becomes the making of many tales of woe – and victory.

Root occupies a special place in my game collection; a game that I can play against other serious gamers or solo. It is a game that I want to get expansions for because I want to play on different terrain (boards) and with different factions.

For its innovative blending of theme, artwork, and game mechanisms, I can see no other game than Root for my Game of the Year.

Merry Christmas – The George Washington Way

Today is the 242nd anniversary of one of the greatest moments in American military history. On this day in 1776, General George Washington led his small Continental Army across the Delaware River. The crossing led the American victory at the Battle of Trenton the next day.

As we all sit warm and cozy in our homes, surrounded by family or friends and eating a festive meal, it is important to remember the sacrifice of General Washington and his small army. What a different world it might be if not for the actions of a few good soldiers.

Merry Christmas

 

When National Security & Wargames Collide – the 2018 China Military Power Report and South China Sea (Compass Games, 2017)

Every year, the US Department of Defense must prepare a report to Congress titled “Annual Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,”

The report shall address the current and probable future course of military-technological development of the People’s Liberation Army and the tenets and probable development of Chinese security strategy and military strategy, and of the military organizations and operational concepts supporting such development over the next 20 years. The report shall also address United States-China engagement and cooperation on security matters during the period covered by the report, including through United States-China military-to-military contacts, and the United States strategy for such engagement and cooperation in the future.

The 2018 China Military Power Report was released this past week. I decided to read-through the report while having my copy of designer John Gorkowski’s South China Sea: Modern Naval Conflict in the South Pacific (Compass Games, 2017) nearby.

Making a modern wargame is difficult as so much changes so rapidly. The hardest part may be the military hardware since games are based on open sources and not privy to the latest classified assessments. Wargames may rapidly become OBE and not of relevancy (and interest).

South China Sea does not suffer from this problem, at least yet. This may be because SCS actually is two games, one political and one military.

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Arms Exports & Sales

As I read the 2018 China Military Power Report, I found myself flipping through the Political Cards in SCS. I found many cards directly related to events in the Report. Previously, I stated that I found the Political Turn in SCS not necessarily to my liking. After looking at the Report and comparing it to the SCS Political Cards I now see that the game actually does a very good job at capturing the political factors around the issue. Indeed, if one really wants to understand why a fight may happen in the South China Sea, one really needs to play the Political Turns in SCS and not just focus on the military.

That is not to say the military is not important. The Report also lays out the high-level factors related to combat in the South China Sea. The Report makes it clear that China is on a ship-building spree; a spree that may not be fully captured in SCS. While one can argue about the order of battle in the game, the underlying truth is that the game system accounts for the growth of the PLAN. More importantly to wargamers, the underlying combat mechanics of the Military Turn in SCS, that of detection and strike, remains a useful model of modern naval conflict.

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CV Liaoning

Reading the 2018 China Military Report has convinced me I need to get South China Sea to the table a few more times. Most importantly, I need to give the Political Turns more attention.  I am also now even more anxious to see how Harold Buchanan’s Flashpoint: South China Sea currently in the GMT Games P500 (Not There Yet) looks at the same subject.

 

 

 

Summer Doldrums – My Games of June 2018

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Ah, summer has arrived. A time for more outdoor activities by the RockyMountainNavy family. It is also the end of the school year, meaning Mrs. RMN has fewer students. The net result is less gaming.

June gaming breakdown:

  • Total Games Played: 16 ( -7 from May)
  • Actual “Full” Game Plays: 10 (-12 from May)
  • “Rules Familiarization” Plays: 6 (+5 from May)

June was one-third less games as compared to May. Whereas 22 of 23 games in May were “Full” games, in June a bit over half the games were “Full” and the rest were “Rule Familiarization.” Between May and June six new games arrived and I had to explore these before full plays.

Highlights:

Personal Quick Take – 2018 Spiel des Jahres Nominations

The 2018 nominations for the coveted Spiel des Jahres Awards are now public. Thank goodness for BoardGameGeek to provide a translation from German to English for me!

As the BGG posting notes, the Spiel des Jahres are primarily aimed at family gamers. Of the three nominees, I don’t own any (although I have come close to ordering Azul). If BGG rankings are to be believed, Azul should be the run-away Gloomhaven-like hit given it is ranked as the #1 Abstract and #1 Family Game on BGG.

The Kennerspiels des Jahres, the “connoisseur’s game of the year” according to BGG, is an even weaker category for me. I know nut-thing about the nominees nor am I likely to anytime soon. As I have stated before, my gaming tastes tend to be more narrow and reflect my legacy of playing wargames. I just don’t buy into full eurogames or the “heavy cardboard” part of the hobby.

On the other hand, the Kinderspiel des Jahres (Children’s Game of the Year) is a category I watch out for because of my wife’s teaching and a new niece that I hope to introduce to proper gaming someday! Alas, I don’t recognize any of the nominees, nor do they look interesting to me for family play. I am pleased to see that the jury recommended Rhino Hero: Super Battle which I do own and the family finds enjoyable.

So what do I personally take away from the Spiel des Jahres nominations? I see another sure sign that the boardgame/tabletop gaminghobby is alive and well. But as much as hobbyists will try to say that there is no split between Eurogames and Ameritrash, a straight up comparison of the Spiel des Jahres and 2018 Origins Awards nominees or (worse yet) the 2017 Golden Geek [Fan Service] Awards shows that there is still a difference. This is not bad for the hobby. This year I tend to be an outlier in the hobby; I refuse to bow to the Cult-of-the-New (COTN) nor do I spend my precious dollars frivolously chasing away a FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)-phobia. As a result, the awarded games and my collection are diverging.

The divergence doesn’t bother me; indeed, it makes me happy that the hobby is strong enough that I can build my collection to my tastes and not have it dictated to me like so many mass-market game companies try to.