As an old Grognard, at first glance Tank Duel should not be in my wheelhouse. After all, it has NO map, NO counters (only markers), NO Combat Results Table, and NO dice! Instead it has ‘tableaus’ and stacks of cards (oh, the heresy)! So what makes it so great?
Narrative. Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs consistently delivers a story with every play. In the RockyMountainNavy house, our first battle will forever be remembered.
Somewhere on the steppes of Mother Russia….
The battle didn’t look like much, just a pair of Soviet T-34/M43 versus a Panzer IV AUSf G and a Stug III AUSf G. The Boys took the Soviets with each commanding one tank. I faced them with my German Panzers. At first it looked like German technological superiority would dominate with the Stug getting a penetrating hit on one T-34 that caused an ammo fire. Luckily for RockyMountainNavy Jr, the tank didn’t brew up but he now had to hold his crew’s morale up and fight the fire.
Then the incredible started to happen.
RockyMountainNavy Jr. put the fire out and keep his crew together. As the steel behemoths stalked each other across the battlefield, it was that very same T-34 that got off the next good shot – and brewed up the Stug III with a Catastrophic Hit. RockyMountainNavy T was not to be left alone for he was stalking the Panzer IV. His first shot missed but his second hit true, and the Panzer IV exploded right in front of him. New Panzers entered the battlefield and soon RockyMountainNavy T found his T-34 mount shot out from beneath him. But the Soviet commanders were learning quickly and using Leadership and Tactics to their advantage. Forcing the enemy into Mud at the right moment immobilized the Stug, and getting too close to the Panzer IV forced him to ‘pop smoke’ and go totally defensive.
The German Stug got out of the mud and found a good place to shoot from at that pesky T-34 that had put out the fire and killed the first Stug. The German crew took its time and, coaxed by the Tank Commander, lined up a good shot (Fire card with To Hit +15 plus +20 from a Leadership card). The final To Hit number was 98. Looking at the Battle Card deck – about half depleted – I was pretty sure that cards 96-100 (Auto Miss) were already out. Smirking, I flipped over the top Battle Card and prepared to blow up the Red Devil.
The damn Battle Card was 100 – Auto Miss (and even without the Auto Miss it still would have missed). RockyMountainNavy Jr jumped up from the table hooting & hollering. He high-fived his brother, he ran to his mother and kissed her, he jumped about with uncontrollable joy.
I stared at the Battle Card. At that moment my morale wavered. I knew the battle was coming close to an end and I was going to lose.
And end it did. My Stug was flanked and brewed up – again – by Jr.’s T-34 (his second kill). The Panzer IV vainly tried to get a flanking shot on his pesky tank but it was able to Conceal itself in a building. Before I could dig it out higher command recalled the attack (Game End).
The after battle report was miserable for the Germans; 2x Stug III and one Panzer IV lost against a single T-34. Most importantly the Soviet Commanders morale was extremely high and they are absolutely itching for another battle.
Game as Story – Story as Game
A play of Tank Duel practically writes its own story. Components reinforce the feeling of commanding your own iron stead as you drive (manipulate chits) your tank (tableau). Game mechanics reinforce the story-making aspects, like drawing an extra card when at Close Range to simulate extra adrenaline or playing that Tactics card at just the right time to prevent a flanking maneuver. All delivered in 18 pages of (basic) rules. The RockyMountainNavy Boys have already decreed that I ‘will’ buy future expansions.
Tank Duel – Enemy in the Crosshairs. The RockyMountainNavy Game of the Year for 2019.
This time of the year everybody in the gaming world seems to be doing a Top 10 list. As I get ready to consider my Game of the Year I first looked back on all the games I acquired this year and decided to do some simple analytics. Along the way, I discovered a few surprises in my gaming acquisitions and plays. So here is my 2019 ‘By the Numbers.”
After 2018 Mrs. RockyMountainNavy asked me to slow down in my gaming acquisitions. Didn’t quite work; this year I acquired 56 games as compared to 45 last year (an increase of 25%). Whoops! Sorry, dear!
As a wargamer I’m not surprised that over 60% of my acquisitions were wargame or waro designs. I am surprised at the number of expansions I bought; I usually don’t buy that many but this year there were so many good ones offered!
I try to not be a slave to the Cult of the New but apparently I can’t help myself with just over half my new acquisitions being published this year.
Game Titles by Era
World War II = 15 (26.7%)
Science Fiction = 14 (25%)
Post-WWII/Cold War = 13 (23.2%)
Modern = 8 (14.3%)
Fantasy = 5 (9%)
18th/19th Century = 4 (7%)
Was mildly surprised by how many science fiction titles I acquired. I usually see myself as more of a historical gamer but maybe not as much as I thought….
Purchase Secondary Market = 16 (28.5%)
Purchase Direct from Publisher = 15 (26.7%)
Kickstarter = 13 (23.2%)
GMT P500 = 8 (14.3%)
Trade/Chain of Generosity = 4 (7%)
Almost one-third bought on the secondary market (i.e. not direct from publisher but through another seller)? Those games usually cost more money; I hope I was buying them on sale or on some sort of discount!
So…compared to 2018 I played more games overall but for a fewer number of times. Not surprised since last year ~25% of my game plays were quick, easy, family and kid games like Rhino Hero or Happy Salmon, Animal Upon Animal or ICECOOL.
I gave myself three challenges in 2019. I came close but actually didn’t finish any of them.
The challenges accounted for nearly half of the different games played and something like a quarter of my total game plays. Between the challenges and new titles I didn’t have much other room to play games. Next year – fewer challenges to give myself more ‘me’ game time.
2019 was a pretty good year for gaming in the RockyMountainNavy household. This year, I played 119 games a total of 221 times. Compared to 2018, this was fewer plays (221 vs 357) but more actual games (119 vs 105). This year I only had two ‘Dimes’ (played 10 or more times) and three ‘Nickels’ (played 5-9 times).
Dimes & Nickels
Quarriors! (WizKids, 2011) – 21 Plays
Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 2019) – 10 Plays
The Mind (Pandasaurus Games, 2018) – 7 Plays
Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2016) – 6 Plays (including the first three episodes of the Rise of Fenris Campaign).
Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs (GMT Games, 2019) – 5 Plays
Eight (8) other games sat at four plays during the year and another seven (7) were played three times. Basically these top 20 most -played games account for around half of the game plays during the year.
What comes in 2020?
In an upcoming blog post I’m going to dig deeper into the numbers for 2019 but suffice it to say for now that it was a good year.
How was your year? What games are you looking forward to playing next year? For myself, I have a few new Gaming Challenges I am going to reveal just after the new year.
SUMMER IS NOT THE BEST TIME for boardgames or wargames in the RockyMountainNavy house. There are so many outdoor activities to be had and family events on the weekend that games get pushed to the back burner. So it was for August in the RockyMountainNavy home. I recorded a measly 13 plays of 9 different games…my worst month in almost two years of recording plays.
The best family night game was a long overdue session of 1812: Invasion of Canada (Academy Games, 2012). With the beginning of the school year and a return to a somewhat normal cycle of weekend family games I am sure that the many Birth of America / Birth of Europe-series titles will land on the table regularly.
On a recommendation at CONNECTIONS 2019 I picked up Cowboy Bebop: Boardgame Boogie (Jasco Games, 2019). I haven’t written up my thought yet but (spoiler alert…again) this tune is a bit flat to me.
I attended CONNECTIONS 2019, the professional wargaming conference in mid-August. I have yet to compose all my thoughts but I did get to see a bit of wargame history with Upton’s US Infantry Tactical Apparatus.
Looking ahead, designer John Gorkowski was kind enough to send me an e-kit to playtest with for the next game in South China Sea-series from Compass Games. Indian Ocean Region is already available for preorder and this is my chance to try and influence the game and make it better for everyone.
As mentioned before, the return to school means a return to a more regular schedule of gaming. I also still have several games in my 2019 CSR, Origins, and GameGeek Challenges to complete before the end of the year.
Although we didn’t go to all the same sessions, Major Tom Mouat (British Army) captures many important points of the recent CONNECTIONS 2019 professional wargame conference. Worthwhile reading for professional and hobby gamers alike.
WARGAMES ON NEAR-FUTURE OR CONTEMPORARY CONFLICTS ARE RISKY. Although very interesting, they can just as often turn out to be “right” as often as they are “wrong.” Fortunately, we got through the mid-1990’s without a major conflict on the Korean Peninsula so Crisis: Korea 1995 (GMT Games, 1993) is now an alt-history title. I recently pulled the game out for my 2019 CSR Wargames Challenge to play and think about. The game emphasizes ow three parts of then-modern warfare were viewed in that day. Taking a retrospective look at this title is a great chance to study the game model and see how it holds up against time.
The three areas Crisis: Korea 1995 emphasize are:
Exploitation or breakthrough by mechanized forces
North Korean Special Forces
Joint Air Warfare.
In 1993, the memory (lessons?) of DESERT STORM were undoubtably fresh in the mind of all involved in development of Crisis: Korea 1995. Battles like that of 73 Easting were already becoming legendary stories. However, as designer Gene Billingsley notes in the introduction to 7.0 COMBAT, he did not let any sort of victory fever taint his game model:
In contrast to what we witnessed during the Persian Gulf War, it is our belief that combat in Korea will inflict heavy casualties on both sides. The major reasons for this are terrain and massed firepower. With very little clear, flat terrain to speak of, and line-of-sight limited to an average of less than one mile by the numerous hills and ridges, even stand-off fights (tank engagements, TOW missile shots, etc.) will be fought at relatively short distances. Artillery firepower will be telling, as both sides deploy large numbers of guns with pre-plotted fires concentrated on likely routes of advance and reinforcement. Unit cohesion will play a telling role as huge losses take their toll on troop organization and morale.
Crisis: Korea 1995; 7.0 COMBAT
Further, instead of simply making Crisis: Korea 1995 a game about Air-Land Battle in Korea, it appears that the designer tried to reflect some of the then-current thinking about how North Korea would fight. In 1991, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) publicly released North Korea: The Foundations of Military Strength. Although this title is not directly referenced anywhere in Crisis: Korea 1995 I am sure the designer and researchers used it. With regards to North Korean offensive operations, DIA makes the point that:
North Korean infantry and armored elements of the first-echelon divisions of the forward conventional corps would attempt to penetrate the allied forward defense. The mechanized corps, brigades augmented with attached self-propelled artillery, and combat support elements would attempt to pass through any openings the frontline corps create. The mechanized corps quickly would penetrate deep into South Korea, bypassing and possibly isolating many allied units.
North Korea: Foundations of Military Strength; Chapter 6 – Employing the Armed Forces, Offensive Operations
In the game Crisis: Korea 1995, “exploitation” is found in the Initiative Turn Sequence of Play where the initiative player can perform exploitation movement and combat. When I first saw this part of the SoP I tried to rectify it with my understanding of the US Air-Land Battle concept. However, after rereading the DIA product, I see it as reflective of the North Korean doctrine of war. Adding exploitation movement and combat to the initiative player is an elegant way to model the NK doctrine of the day.
The second combat area Crisis: Korea 1995 really digs into is Special Forces. The intelligence assessments of the day also emphasized the North Korean Special Forces and is reflected in the lengthy treatment it gets from DIA; eight full paragraphs or the same as Ground Forces which were the core of the North Korean Peoples Army. As DIA tells us:
North Korea classifies its special operations units as reconnaissance, light infantry, or sniper. Team-sized elements conduct reconnaissance to collect intelligence or targeting information. Light infantry operations are combat operations conducted with company- or battalion-sized units against military, political, or economic targets. Sniper operations basically are the same as light infantry except they are conducted in team-sized units.
North Korea: Foundations of Military Strength; Chapter 5 – Military Forces, Special Operations Forces
I again wonder if the designers didn’t use the DIA publication because that paragraph basically describes the game system in Standard Game 10.0 SPECIAL UNITS and Advanced Game 21.0 SPECIAL FORCES!
The emphasis on Special Forces in Crisis: Korea 1995 is also not surprising given the involvement of Joe Bermudez, author of the book North Korean Special Forces which was first published in 1988. Joe gets a shout-out from Mr. Billingsley in the Game Credits, and Gene tells us why in his More Design Notes:
I’ve always liked games that let you resolve Special Forces Missions. I used to love ambushing enemy Supply Convoys in Mark Herman’s GulfStrike (still one of my favorite all-time games!). But I never liked keeping track of each detachment or mission on a separate piece of paper. Thus, the Special Forces Mission markers. In Korea, the North’s Special Forces are very, very important. The North Koreans have so many eggs in that basket, that you could almost say that, regardless of whether the NKPA Special Purpose Forces succeed or fail, they will have a decisive impact on the conflict. If they succeed, the US/ROK command structure, mobilization capabilities, air power, and reinforcement capacity will be in serious trouble. If they fail, the North, in my view, doesn’t have a prayer of winning the war.
Crisis: Korea 1995; More Design Notes
A third area of then-contemporary warfare that Crisis: Korea 1995 looks deeply into is the air war. It is amazing to look at the Advanced Air Game in Crisis: Korea 1995 and compare it to the the Gulf War Air Power Summary Report from 1993. The report, assembled by the RAND Corporation, may not have been released until 1993 but it is obvious that many within the Services were already thinking about and incorporating the lessons learned from DESERT STORM. Again, the best insight into the model comes from designer Gene Billingsley in another part of his More Design Notes:
This air game took a long time to put together. I want to especially thank Matt Caffrey, J.D. Webster, and a host of F/A-18 Hornet pilots who helped me though the various part of the host of redesigns and modifications to get the game where it is now. Basically, I wanted to create a system that would allow for interaction between Detection, SAMS, Strikes, and SEAD aircraft without bogging the player down in counting hex ranges and plotting interception points. I really like Mo Morgan’s Tac Air game, as it represents the interaction really well, though at a different scale. For this scale, I couldn’t find any system that really gave that kind of feel without reverting to Mark’s GulfStrike-like approach, which would take WAY too long for this game. The Air Defense Tracks seem to do the trick, and are an aspect of the design that I personally enjoy very much. Even after they win the Air Superiority battle, the US/ROK planes have to duel with that huge air defense system. then again, if they wipe outs its detection capabilities, essentially blinding it, they can pull off something akin to Desert Storm. We’ve tested this system in theory in other parts of the world already, and it should port (if we decide to do another in this series) without much trouble. I want to keep improving it, however, so if you have suggestions on how to make it better, let’s hear them.
Crisis: Korea 1995; More Design Notes
Beyond the three areas of emphasis, as a former Navy Guy I was very disappointed that Crisis: Korea 1995 abstracted the naval aspects of the war. Designer Gene Billingsley tried to explain why in his notes for 6.81 Sea Control:
In game terms, we have greatly simplified and abstracted this sea battle. At one time we had about 200 counters representing virtually everything that floats in the theatre. Unfortunately, each turn of naval combat at that scale added about three hours to each game turn, with marginal enhancement to game play. Basically, after three or four turns, the North and South Koreans were virtually wiped out, and the US was in form control of the majority of the waters around Korea….The only essential information to determine from the sea battle is “Can you move troops and supplies to and from ports and beachheads?” Thus, we’ve opted for sea control die rolls to determine control, with a built-in assumption that once the United States Navy gains control of the sea, it will not relinquish control.
Crisis: Korea 1995; 6.81 Sea Control
As much as it pains me to admit, the “assumption” that Mr. Billingsley makes is reflected by DIA. Here are a couple of pull-quotes about the North Korean Navy from DIA:
“Although largely a coastal defense force, the Navy can support some offensive operations.” (p. 44)
“North Korea has a limited capability to provide support troops on shore. Therefore, it would have to curtail naval support to he ground forces soon after landing.” (p. 59)
“The Navy and Air Force could act in a strong supporting role in the initial stage of an offensive. the level of sustained operations would depend on the size and composition of US air and naval force augmentation. If confronted by strong forces, the North Korean air and naval forces would revert to largely defensive roles.” (p. 59)
In retrospect, Crisis: Korea 1995 is a game that took on a then-contemporary potential conflict and faithfully portrayed its most dynamic parts. The fact that Crisis: Korea 1995 and its other sister Crisis games became the jumping off point for GMT Games very successful Next War-family of games is a testimony to it’s solid core foundations. I am confident that, had war on the Korean Peninsula broken out in the 1990’s, then Crisis: Korea 1995 would have been more “right” than “wrong” about the conflict.
IN A HOUSE FULL OF BOYS, IT IS A BIT AMAZING THAT ONE of the more popular filler games on our shelf is all about romance.
Love Letter (AEG, 2012) is thematically about delivering letters to a princess and wooing her; the reality is this game makes Game of Thrones look like a children’s nursery. Back-stabbing and double-crossing others is the norm. The game is not about love, it’s about using your power nakedly to eliminate opponents and win the prize.
The simple 16-card game of Love Letter won the 2013 Golden Geek Award for Best Family Game / Best Party Game / Best Card Game/ Most Innovative Game. I certainly agree with the last two categories. Love Letter was the first 16-card game we played and the innovative nature astounded us. I will agree that it is a good party game…with adults. I am not so sure about the family game aspects because it is very easy for the game to devolve into a bloody power contest. Some younger players may not fully understand what is happening and get hurt.
I also appreciate that Love Letter has been rethemed. RockyMountainNavy Jr. always takesLetters to Santato school during the holidays for a quick play around the lunch table; it’s so much fun even high schoolers can get into the game. Indeed, for my challenge I actually played a game of Love Letter: Batmanwith Middle RMN Boy. It’s the same mechanics of Love Letter, except with villains.
One criticism often leveled at wargamers from outside the hobby niche is that wargames are too perfect in terms of information and the ability for a player/commander to control their units. The critics claim that rarely is it the case where a commander simply orders a unit and the unit receives the orders and executes flawlessly. In Silver Bayonet, designer’s Gene Billingsley and Mitchell Land introduce a bit of uncertainly through rule 7.0 Attack Coordination.
Rule 7.0 Attack Coordination is simple in its mechanics but very realistic in its impacts on combat. Basically, after all pre-combat actions, the Combat Resolution Phase begins by resolving Attack Coordination when attacks are coming from multiple hexes against a defender’s hex. There are a few times when coordination is automatic, but in most cases a d10 die roll will be made against an Efficiency Rating or Nominal Command Value; roll UNDER this coordination value (CV) and the attack is coordinated and all proceeds as normal. But, if the roll is not under the CV then how the combat develops depends on how much the CV was missed:
If the Attack Coordination roll is EQUAL to the CV, then the attack is Partially Coordinated with the biggest drawback being no Maneuver Combat Support Fire (air and artillery) allowed
If the Attack Coordination roll is GREATER than the CV by one (1), it is an Uncoordinated Attack which has the same penalties as the Partially Coordinated attack and more (unfavorable column shifts or die roll modifiers – DRMs – in combat)
The worst case is when the Attack Coordination roll is TWO OR MORE GREATER THAN the CV; in that case the Assault or Maneuver Combat is automatically changed to an Uncoordinated Frontal Assault where only one hex can be used to attack (with unfavorable DRMs) while the others stand idly by.
This simple rule helps recreate realistic combat situations. US only attacks by units in the same battalion are automatically coordinated (7.2.1) while Lt. Col. Hal Moore can automatically coordinate attacks between battalions (12.1.1). ARVN attacks with Col Truong are automatically coordinated, but without the Colonel the ARVN default to a Nominal Command Value of 5 meaning there is only a 40% chance of a Fully Coordinated Attack. NVA units within command range of their HQ are probably going to do OK as most have an Efficiency Rating of 6 meaning there is a 50% chance of a Fully Coordinated Attack. The worst is the PAVN with a Nominal Command Value of 3; meaning there is only a 20% chance of a Fully Coordinated Attack but a 60% chance of an Uncoordinated Frontal Assault.
It’s a simple rule. It helps explain how PAVN attacks so easily devolve into that classic, World War II Banzai charge. The rule creates realistic narratives that the players would avoid if they could…but they can’t.
Every time I play Silver Bayonet I find a new reason to respect the design. There are many ways to try and reflect command limits in wargames, and often the mechanics of the rules are cumbersome or feel artificial. Rule 7.0 Attack Coordination in Silver Bayonet is an elegant, simple solution to a complex modeling challenge of command in combat that is both mechanically smooth while retaining a realistic, natural feel.
Both the Battletech 2018 Beginner Box and 2011 Introductory Box Set contain Quick-Start Rules. I fully realize that the Quick-Start Rules are NOT what won the 2007 Origins Award but it’s what I can directly compare between these two sets. The 2011 and 2018 Quick-Start Rules are near-identical with the exception of Combat. Specifically, the new 2018 Quick-Start Rules use an attack process named G.A.T.O.R. This simple pneumonic makes combat fast and easy. Everything in G.A.T.O.R. was in the 2011 version but it was not called out as such. The new version is much simpler to teach and learn.
Another major improvement in the 2018 BattleTech Beginner Box is the ‘Mech sculpts. The 2011 ‘Mech sculpts were, to put it kindly, crap.
The 2018 Beginner Box has only two BattleTech ‘Mech sculpts but they are of much higher quality. RockyMountainNavy Junior wasted no time in painting them up.
The Fifth Edition Beginner Box is really bare-bones. Two miniatures, a paper double-sided map, and Quick-Start Rules. Background material is a 24-page fiction booklet and a short source booklet. The BattleTech 2011 Introductory Box Set included the full 80-page Introductory Rulebook and mounted maps as well as 24 miniatures. Actually 26 the Introductory Box Set has 26 minis as it included two “premium” miniatures that had to be assembled. Sadly, the “premium” should of been the standard!
RockyMountainNavy Jr. seems to be happy with the BattleTech Universe. I think we will be playing more (and he will be investing more) in this game universe. After my disastrous experience with the 2011 Introductory Box Set I was hesitant to support him but now I see the BattleTech Beginner Box as a good investment and starting point. So BattleTech is welcomed back into the RockyMountainNavy household…as long as they avoid the pitfalls of the past.
THE 2003 ORIGINS AWARD FOR BEST HISTORIC BOARD GAME went to Attack! (Eagle Games). Sometime in the late 2000-oughts I bought this game in the hopes that I could use it as an introductory wargame for the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I don’t really know why I did this since I already owned Axis & Allies (in my case, the 1987 Milton Bradley edition). Attack! and Axis & Allies are very similar so having A&A be good enough. I recently pulled Attack! out as part of my 2019 Origins Challenge. After all these year I can say that Attack! is the superior game to A&A, even without the expansion.
As I replayed the game I discovered that while I have focused on heavier wargames, the RockyMountainNavy Boys regularly pull Attack! out to play. They tell me its because of the free-style set-up. Whereas A&A tries to recreate a historical WWII starting in 1942, Attack! is set in the World War II era but is not tied to history. In many ways it is a sandbox WWII game.
Just because the game is cut loose of history does not mean that it is not historical. The same combined-arms so powerful in A&A is also a necessity in Attack!. Here also is a simple economic system using a set-building mechanic. Nothing too complex but enough to make one concerned about managing their hand of cards.
Over the years I occasionally considered purchasing the expansion. Every time I end up not making the purchase. For this reminiscence I thought about it once again, and once again I am passing on the opportunity. Although I am sure the expansion with expanded naval rules and economics is not bad, for me it’s not necessary. The core Attack! has its niche in my collection as a lite, introductory wargame. If we want something more we have other games that satisfy the need. So we keep it simple, with simple Attack!.