BREAKING #BOARDGAME NEWS Coruscant News Network Exclusive – Emperor Palapatine proclaims Week of Celebration for crushing the rebellion. A Star Wars: Rebellion (@FFGames, 2016) News Event

Capital /Coruscant News Network (CNN) – Emperor Palapatine proclaimed a Week of Celebration today following the news the devious rebel alliance was crushed by loyal forces of the Empire in the Ryloth System. An Imperial Navy news release stated, “The upstart rebellion, those miscreants who talked of law and order but were actually forces of anarchy, met their end in the Ryloth System when Imperial Navy and Army forces led by Grand Moff Tarkin and Lord Vader discovered their secret base and utterly destroyed it.” Grand Moff Tarkin himself was quoted as saying, “The more we tightened our grip, the fewer systems slipped through our fingers.”

Sources tell CNN that forces under General Veers originally tracked the rebels to Yavin, but the rebels escaped at the last minute. “The pursuit necessitated subjugating several systems, like Kashyyyk, which was in total rebellion. The indigenous Wookies, who refused to culturally assimilate into the Galactic Order, were dealt with severely, but fairly,” according to a staff officer of who was not authorized to talk on the record. (Several million Wookies were unavailable for comment.)

Meantime, confusion continues with regards to the Bothawui System. Rumors persist that Bothawui suffered a “serious seismic event” that resulted in the catastrophic destruction of the entire planet. The Imperial Palace itself denies any knowledge of what actually happened, although the social media network Gliiter continues to carry a ‘gleet attributed to Emperor Palapatine himself in which he says, “BOOM! FULLY OPERATIONAL!” Amateur hyperspace trackers also report that the unfortunate event was preceded by the arrival of Imperial Battlestation #1, more commonly called Death Star, which may have been present for the destruction of the planet. (Imperial Navy HQ was queried about these reports but CNN was advised to submit a Freedom of Information Act request, which was subsequently denied.)

In celebrity news, Lord Vader was sighted with a strapping young man dressed in all black and carrying his own “light saber.” Gossip is that the young gent, known as Luke to to his oldest friends, hails from Tatooine. The always secretive Lord Vader also has not commented on several HoloTube vids that surfaced recently where Luke is overheard addressing Lord Vader as “father.”

In other news from Tatooine, Jabba the Hutt announced a new exhibition called “Smugglers in Carbonite.” He also invites all to see the latest sexy accessory in his entourage, the former Princess Leia of Alderaan.


Feature image courtesy businessinsider.com.au

#Wargame Wednesday – Chronicling my French and Indian War 1757-1759 (@worth2004, 2020)

One of the new wargame arrivals this past week was my Kickstarter Exclusive edition of French and Indian War 1757-1759 from Worthington Publishing (2020). In a ‘Wargame Wedge’ posting I talked about my expectations going into the game, in particular how this game could serve as a weekday filler game, the simultaneous hidden movement, and it’s possible use as a ‘gateway wargame.’ After my first play, my initial impression is very favorable and I feel French and Indian War 1757-1759 is indeed a both an ideal ‘weekday filler’ and ‘gateway wargame.’ My thoughts on the Simultaneous Hidden Movement await further play.

Pre-Game

Game day started out with the obligatory stickering of the blocks in preparation for play. Here I realized that my game shipped with two DIFFERENT sticker sheet; the standard and the Kickstarter Exclusive. Both sheets have a complete set of stickers and a spare set. I used one of the Kickstarter Exclusive sets; I’m not sure what I really can do with the others.

Standard Stickers (left) & Kickstarter Exclusive (right)

A note on components of French and Indian War 1757-1759 here. In a word – Gorgeous. Hats off to Sean Cooke who did the Artistic Design and Layout. It starts with the box which features Washington at the Battle of Monogahela by Emanuel Leutz (ca. 1858) which depicts the moments George Washington takes charge of the British cannons. The use of the tomahawk in the logo is also inspired. I’m not sure which painting the inside box edge uses but it certainly is period-correct. The map is simple yet functional. It doesn’t matter which sticker set you use; both are easy to understand.

Box Cover featuring ‘Washington at the Battle of Monogahela’

I also didn’t find a bad block in my entire set. In my past experience with Worthington Publishing block games there is usually a few blocks that are chipped or dinged.

Blocks as shipped – No chips or dings in this set!

The Way of War

For my first play of French and Indian War 1757-1759 I used the historical set up. Here I feel designers Mike & Wylie Grant of Worthington missed a (small) beat. The units in FaIW are named but the set up only calls out the different classes. For a ‘historical’ game where I see named units, I sorta expected to see a ‘historical set up’ that uses those named units. I don’t think it adds any extra work as I’m sure the designers had the information; they just needed to put it in the historical set up.

Set Up Player Aid

When I first looked at the Sequence of Play for French and Indian War 1757-1759 I thought there was no way it would play fast. After all, each of the three Campaign Years (1757-1759) is composed of 11 (or 12!) turns. However, given each side can only move one unit or group each turn, each turn is very, very quick. I used the alternating movement method each turn where both sides roll a d6 with the high roll choosing who goes first.

Mounted Map (folded) showing Turn and Casualty Tracks

[Here I found it useful to use two of the extra blocks (one from each side) and stacked them according to the initiative order near the Turn Track to help players remember.]

(My) French and Indian War 1757-1759

Game set up and ready to play

The French started out the first three turns of 1757 gaining the initiative. They pushed down the Montreal – Fort St. Frederic – Fort Carillon line and ejected the British from Fort William Henry. After the fall of Fort William Henry the French were so swollen with victory fever that when they got the initiative again they set off against Albany. Here the French were rebuffed and forced to retreat back to Fort William Henry. The balance of 1757 saw both sides reinforcing their thinned out forces at Fort William Henry for the French and Albany for the British. As winter approached, the French realized that Fort William Henry, being an opposing location, could not supply the number of forces there. In FaIW, each winter turn features Winter Attrition where units in excess of the capacity of an area lose strength points due to overcrowding. Fort William Henry has a Winter Attrition Value of 1 meaning any unit past the first suffers attrition (except for the first Irregular unit). Furthermore, in opposing locations (enemy spaces) the Strength Point (SP) loss is doubled. Not wanting to face this awful attrition, the French actually spent the last few turns of 1757 withdrawing forces back to Fort Carillon (Winter Attrition Value = 2), Fort Saint Frederic (Winter Attrition Value = 1), and Montreal (Winter Attrition Value =3).

[What an awesome way to sneak supply rules into the game without forcing players to trace supply lines or the like. It also captures the feel of the campaign season during this age of warfare and the risk of pushing too far into the fall before getting into winter quarters.]

At the end of 1757 there had been casualties but little actual exchange of land. The British also controlled the Atlantic (worth 2 Victory Points (VP)). Although the French occupied Fort William Henry and Oswego the year actually ended in a 5-5 VP tie.

If 1757 was a good year for the French then 1758 proved a near complete disaster for them. British reinforcements consisting mostly of Regulars flowed into New York and marched up through Albany into Fort William Henry. In 1758 the French get far fewer reinforcements and it proved difficult to get forces to the right place to oppose the British. The British set off from Fort William Henry and quickly defeated the French at Fort Carillon and Fort St. Frederic. Much like the French in 1757 looked at Albany, the British could not avoid the lure of Montreal which they took after a short fight. Alas, just like the French the year before the British too proved incapable of holding a prize city. French reinforcements from Quebec finally arrived and ejected the occupying British from Montreal. Part of the reason the British proved incapable of holding Montreal is because two French Militia troops set out through Hampshire and Deerfield before actually threatening Boston. The British needed to shift forces to defend Boston and New York; forces urgently needed to reinforce the battle lines at Montreal. After the French ejected the British from Montreal the British, like the French the year before, moved back through Fort Saint Frederic to Fort Carillon to find safer winter quarters.

A comment about battles in French and Indian War 1757-1759. The use of the custom dice make this simple ‘roll a 6 to hit’ game quite a bit more interesting. When rolling in combat, units hit on a roll that is the same as their unit type – Tomahawks for Irregulars, national flags for Regulars, and muskets for Militia. Naval Units hit on ships and the star is used for retreats.

Custom Battle Dice

Further, the Battle Sequence nicely captures the difference in capabilities of Irregular, Regular, and Militia forces. Although you will find the usual defenders fire first in combat, the Battle Sequence actually has three stages. In the first stage, Irregulars fire suffering a -1 die in the first round if attacking a port or a fort. In the second stage, Regulars fire, and in the 3rd stage Militia fire suffering a -1 die in the first round against Forts or Ports. Retreats are also possible, but when doing so the retreating unit must roll a custom die and if they roll their symbol or the special starburst they suffer a hit. Taken together the combat system neatly captures the essential element of 18th century combat in the frontiers of America in a set of short, easy to learn and easy to use rules.

Battle Board

[In combat I also found another use for those extra blocks. Since larger battles are moved off the main map to the Battle Board, I found it useful to place a block of the attackers color in the space of the battle to help remember who was the attacker and where the battle took place.]

The year 1758 ended with the British not occupying any French locations while the French held only Oswego. The British retained control of the Atlantic. The British were slightly ahead on eliminated French units. The year ended with 11 British VP against 8 VP for the French.

In 1759 British reinforcements, consisting entirely of Militia forces, streamed towards the frontiers while only two lone French units arrived. With neither side finding success up and down the Hudson River Valley both looked for alternate lines of approach. The year started out with the French winning the initiative for several turns which allowed them to launch a mixed Irregular/Militia force from Fort Dusquesne through Cumberland into Alexandria. Once again, the British shifted forces from New York and Philadelphia to face the threat. Meanwhile, the British finally took advantage of their control of the Atlantic and launched another drive into New France, this time from Halifax to Quebec whose defenses were weakened by the French in a quest to build a solid front above Fort William Henry.

[A comment about Naval Units. In the basic rules when ships are hit they simply return to their respective holding box. I strongly recommend the use of Optional Rules 13.2.3 where hit ships are turned face down and unplayable for TWO turns and retreating naval units are turned face down for ONE turn. The simple rule change adds to the value of the Naval Units and makes you really think about how long you want to stand in to combat.]

At the end of 1759 the British had ‘clearly’ won the war. The British ended the year with 20 VP against 9 VP for the French. To win the game of French and Indian War 1757-1759 the British need 10 VP more than the French. Surprisingly, as lopsided as the score was it actually was a very narrow British victory.

Post Game

As tight as this first game of French and Indian War 1757-1759 was it still was played in less than 90 minutes. Thus it appears the title will indeed be that good ‘weeknight filler’ game I hoped it would be. The game also proved easy to learn and quick to play yet still captured much of the feeling of combat in that era. The use of blocks, the simple ‘roll a 6 to hit’ variant combat system and easy retreat rules as well as the winter attrition rules all comes together in a game that doesn’t feel like a complicated wargame. Indeed, I think many boardgamers looking for to add a bit of conflict simulation to their collection can’t go wrong if they invest in this game.

I think we are going to get a few more play of the basic rules under our belt before we try the Simultaneous Hidden Movement rules. I also need to try the solo bot – but that’s going to be yet another day.

#Wargame AAR – Defiant Poland in White Eagle Defiant: Poland 1939 (@hollandspiele, 2020)

This weekend I put White Eagle Defiant: Poland 1939 (Hollandspiele, 2020) on the gaming table. As I wrote recently, White Eagle Defiant is the latest game from Ryan Heilman and Dave Shaw based on their previous Brave Little Belgium (Hollandspiele, 2019). Both are billed as ‘gateway wargames’ but don’t let that put you off; White Eagle Defiant, like Brave Little Belgium before it, is another quick-play, easy-to-learn wargame that delivers an always tense situation full of challenging decisions.

In my campaign, the Germans started out on the backfoot. Army Group North (AGN), rather aggressively, directly attacked several Polish Forts (Torun, Modlin, and Lomza). All three attacks failed with heavy losses. These three (foolish?) attacks gutted AGN and severely weakened it for the entire campaign. Meanwhile, Army Group South (AGS) faced difficult terrain and advanced slowly against Katowicz and Krakow.

The slow pace of the German advance meant that Victory Points were slow to accumulate. Turn 4 (Sep 11-16) was especially challenging because the four End Turn chits came out before either AGN or AGS activated. This forced two Blitzkrieg Breakdown rolls, both of which failed. In White Eagle Defiant if the Germans accumulate five (5) Blitzkrieg Breakdown it is an automatic defeat. In one turn they had moved 2/5 of the way to losing.

Turn 5 (Sep 17-20) is important because this is the first turn the Soviets can enter. Fortunately for the Poles, the Germans needed to have at least 6 VP to trigger Soviet Entry and they only had 5 VP at the start of the turn – no Soviet entry. The situation did not get any better for the Germans the next turn where they still had only 5 VP holding off the Red Horde for another few days (the Soviets did not enter until Turn 7 (Sep 25-28)).

The next major Victory Check is on Turn 8 (Sep 29-Oct 2). If the Germans have at least 9 VP they win an Automatic Victory. However, the Polish Central Army had held strong and the Germans had 8 VP going into the turn – no auto victory. On the next turn (Turn 9, Oct 3-6) if the Germans have 9+ VP the game ends in a draw. Instead of game end, the Poles actually Liberated several cities the Germans left open as they tried to mass forces for a push against Warszawa.

Turn 10 (Oct 7-10) was the last chance for the Germans. Going into the turn with 6 VP, they needed at least 9 VP to achieve a Draw. The Polish assumed risk as they occupied three cities with single units.

German Attacks in Turn 10 – Poznan (left), Lodz (center), and Krakow (bottom)

The first battle was at Krakow where the Polish Prusy Cavalry fought two reduced 14th Infantry. The subsequent Polish defeat was very bittersweet as the Prusy Cavalry had ranged as far north as Danzig (which it Liberated for a while) and then back south. If there was a heroic Polish unit the Prusy Cavalry was the one.

Prusy Cavalry defeated at Krakow

The Poles were also defeated at Poznan. This brought the German VP total to 8 – one point away from a Draw.

Poles defeated at Poznan

This meant the final battle was at Lodz. Here, the Polish Narew Infantry of the North Army had moved south to bolster the defenses. Unfortunately, they were facing two full strength Panzer units, the 10th and 14th of AGS. Further, the Germans supported this attack with their Ju87 Stuka (+1 to one combat). In this alternate history, this battle would likely be the source of many Blitzkrieg myths. The Panzer units, each rolling 2d6, both rolled ‘boxcars’ which by the rules counts as four hits total – far more than the two hits needed to destroy the luckless Polish infantry unit.

German Panzers with Stuka dive-bombers utterly destroy the last Polish defenders in Lodz

The common myth of the German invasion of Poland in 1939 is that the campaign was a total walk-over for the Germans. Wargamers know this is not true. I previously played the chit-pull Poland Defiant: The German Invasion, 1939 (Revolution Games, 2019) and learned much about the campaign from that game. White Eagle Defiant delivers similar lessons. In this game, like history, the Poles are likely to lose, but they can make the Germans pay a stiff price for their victory.

End of German Invasion – technically a Draw as Poland has most definitely been DEFIANT

Most importantly to gamers, White Eagle Defiant delivers a game that is easy to learn (12 page rule book), quick to play (even my extended game took less than 90 minutes) and is very challenging (Turns 6 and 7 were very good for the Poles, and it was very tight up to the final battle on the last turn). White Eagle Defiant will certainly find its way to the gaming table again!

The Legend Begins – The #Wargame Saga of Lieutentant T in Undaunted: North Africa (@OspreyGames, 2020)

DATE/ 1940.09.18
FROM/ Long Range Patrol (LRP) Detachment 2020 
TO/ HQ Western Desert Group 
SUBJ/ RAID ON LANDING GROUND 7 
BODY/ Last evening, LRP Detachment 2020 with Lieutenant T commanding proceeded to Jalo-Kufra Road IVO Italian Landing Zone 7 with mission to destroy enemy infrastructure. Team proceeded directly to aircraft and destroyed it in place using demolitions [+1 Objective Point LRP]. Team attempted to proceed to hanger but strong Italian forces were firmly in control of building [+1 Objective Point Italian]. Team then proceeded to Italian motor pool but faced withering suppressive fire by Italian machine gun team. Sapper Mit was critically wounded [2x hits] but able to rig final demolition charge and destroy motor pool [+2 Objective Points LRP - VICTORY] as Italian riflemen arrived. Respectfully recommend Sapper Mit be awarded for gallantry and mentioned in dispatches for heroic action under fire.

This was the first play of Undaunted: North Africa (Osprey Games, 2020) by RockyMountainNavy T. He caught on to the game quickly (too quickly, sigh). At the end of the game, as we both fought for the motor pool, he had the better initiative card to play at the right time along with the one of his two remaining Engineer cards (two wounds inflicted – meaning two cards removed from game). That, and a bit of some luck rolling the dice, earned him the win. First game, including teach, took only 45 minutes.

We both enjoyed playing Undaunted: North Africa and it will probably become our Monday Night Wargame for a few weeks/months. With school (sorta) restarting RockyMountainNavy Jr is busy Monday nights so RockyMountainNavy T and I look for good, shorter, two-player games to play after dinner. Undaunted: North Africa joins Commands & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games, 2018), Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Games, 2019), and Philadelphia 1777 (Worthington Games, 2020) on the short-list of must-play Monday Night Wargames.


Feature image “Two men of an LRDG (Long Range Desert Group) patrol on a road watch in North Africa, 25 May 1942” (Wikicommons)

#Wargame Mechanics – The ‘Morale’ of the game in The Battle of Rhode Island (@gmtgames, 2020)

A3E5A5FB-AC7F-4CE2-8E02-C49CB346DE4EVOLUME IX IN THE BATTLES OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION SERIES FROM GMT GAMES covers The Battle of Rhode Island (August 29, 1778). Historically, the battle was one of a British pursuit that ended up stalemated against good prepared American positions. In my play of The Battle of Rhode Island (GMT Games, 2020) it played out a bit differently. The key difference was Morale.

Will to Fight and Opportunity

In GMT’s Battles of the American Revolution Series (BoAR) morale is one of the most important factors modeled in the system. Army Morale ranges from High Morale to Fatigued to Wavering to Demoralized. Individual units are given a Unit Morale factor that has both combat and Rally effects. Most importantly, combat results can affect the Army Morale level:

  • Captured units are +1/-1 to the Army Morale (AM) level
  • Artillery vs Artillery duels can cause AM losses
  • Every time a unit suffers a level of Disruption there is a -1 AM loss
  • When there is a “1” step combat loss there is a +1/-1 AM change
  • A “2” step combat result is +1/-2 AM shift
  • When a unit rallies from a Disrupted or Shattered result there is a +1 AM shift
  • ‘Spiking the guns’ losses -1 AM
  • Breaking a ‘Pin’ or leaving a battle is -1 AM
  • The death or capture of a Leader also shifts AM; the more important the Leader the greater the impact.

To show the dramatic impact of morale, in GMT’s Battles of the American Revolution game series one way a player can win and immediately end the game is by reducing their opponents Army Morale to 0 for a Substantial Victory.

A ‘new to me’ aspect of The Battle of Rhode Island is the addition of Opportunity Cards to the game. These cards serve as a sort of combination random event and special ability generator. The Americans started out with Partisan Guide giving one unit extra movement on one turn. They also held a card to influence the Initiative Check. The British started with Inspired Leadership which is a positive modifier when the Hessian light infantry unit von der Malsburg is leading a Close Assault. They also held Oppressive Heat which can be played after Turn 5 and gives a -2 modifier to American Rally attempts.

Sullivan’s Sorry Day

There sat Sullivan, in Butt’s Hill Fort. Just waiting for the British to arrive. And he waited, and waited, and waited….

In the “Rhode Island” scenario, the British start out at Army Morale 14 and the Americans are at 13. As the British enter the map (south end of Aquidneck Island) they face an American rear guard (Livingston’s and Laurens’ Advanced Guards) while the bulk of the American army is in garrison near Butt’s Hill Fort (British objective) and Durfee’s Hill (the Artillery Redoubt). Historically, the British pushed back the American rear guard but by the American army as they sallied forth from their garrison near the Fort.

In my Battle of Rhode Island the British and Hessians started out as they historically did with the British marching up the east road and the Hessians the west. Along the west road, Laurens’ and Talbot, both Continental Regulars, skirmished with the Hessian von der Malsburg light infantry and got very lucky; at one point stopping the Hessian advance near Union Street just below Middletown. A major factor in the ability of Laurens’ to hold is the fact the unit is a Demi-Leader which means it has access to more options when it comes to using a Tactics Card in battle. Usually in Close Combat, units can select from Skirmish, Attack en Echelon, Stand Fast, or Withdraw. If a Leader is present (or the unit is a Demi-Leader) then additional options of Frontal Assault, Commit Reserve, Turn Flank, and Refuse Flank are available. The interaction of attacker vs. defender tactics is a die roll modifier on the Combat Results Table. This simple ability, coupled with the Zones of Control rules, made the Hessian advance slow along the west road.

Coming up the east road the British Regulars ran head long into the Continental Regulars led by Colonel Livingston. The single American artillery battery here, ‘Jackson Bty A’ not once, not twice, but three times drove back the British regiments. [This was very incredible shooting as in the game it required a roll of 7 or more at range 1 and 9 or more at range 2 or 3 – on a D10 to hit – and 0 is ‘zero’ not 10!] 

Coming out of Turn 6 (Noon) the Americans gained 2x VP for holding two objective hexes against the very slow British advance. Although the American light infantry of Talbot was captured (-1 AM), all else was going well as the British advance seemingly bogged down.

Then it all came apart.

On Turn 7 (1PM) Laurens’ was caught in a deadly skirmish and was eliminated (-2 AM) by von der Malsburg using Inspired Leadership. Several other units took Disrupted results (-3 AM) dropping the Americans into Fatigued status (Army Morale 7) which lost them an Initiative Bonus and added a -1 Morale Factor to each combat.

Turn 8 (2PM) became a disaster as the various units under Livingston to the east proved unable to Rally (thanks in great part to the Oppressive Heat played by the British) and therefore in turn were unable to battle effectively given their Disrupted status. Livingston’s Picket Guard was decimated by the 43rd Foot, suffering a dramatic ‘2’ combat result that not only eliminated the unit in one stroke but also dropped Army Morale -2 (Army Morale = 5). This also led to the draw of an Opportunity Card for the British – The Great Storm which reminded the Americans that a quick French naval victory was not coming and dropped their Army Morale another point (-1 AM). Following the loss of the Picket Guard, the remaining units of Livingston’s force (Colonel Livingston, Jackson’s Detachment of infantry and ‘Jackson Bty A’ of artillery) were cut off and surrounded, Disrupted, and eventually captured (-3 AM).

American morale was now Wavering at 1. Too late, American general Sullivan started pushing forces out of their garrison near Butt’s Hill Fort. As it was, the last unit of Livingston’s Advance Guard, Wigglesworth, was subjected a Close Assault combat suffering a Disruption (-1 AM). This reduced the American Army Morale to 0.

We couldn’t believe our eyes. Less than a 400 yards in front of us the last of the Advance Guard, Colonel Wigglesworth’s regiment, was pushed back by the green-clad Germans. Few men were standing, most were bloody, and their ranks looked very thin. We all looked at each other, each man knowing that all that now stood between us and the enemy was a an earthen redoubt…or nothing from where I was standing. One by one, men started falling back. Soon, it was a headlong rush up the island. As we passed Butt’s Hill Fort we saw General Sullivan riding his horse about, waving his sword and trying to stop the rush of humanity.

Me? I didn’t stop ’til Newport.

In game terms the battle immediately ended. Narratively, it is easy to imagine the American forces under Sullivan watching in horror as Laurens’ and Livingston’s forces sell themselves dearly in the rear guard. Perhaps too dearly; they really needed to fall back in good order and let the British come to the main force dug into a fort and redoubt with plenty of artillery. Although their strength and position is strong, watching the fate of their comrades has sapped them of the will to fight. Instead they turn and flee leaving the British in command of the battlefield.

The Army Morale rules in BoAR remind us that in this era of warfare the last army left standing on the battlefield was ofter determined not by how many casualties they suffered, but by their morale. This battle reminded me that a good general of this era not only fought the enemy, but also fought to keep up the will of their army. Morale in the BoAR series is very fleeting; once you start losing it it becomes very hard to get back. Further, fate can intervene (in the form of Opportunity Cards) making another mark of a good commander (or wargamer) their ability to adapt to embrace opportunity and overcome adversity.

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Post Script – or – Use the Hand You’re Dealt

Although it was sitting right net to me the whole time, I forgot to use Pastor Joel Toppen’s “Solitaire Tactics Methods for playing The Battles of the American Revolution Series Games” found in C3i Magazine Nr. 33. I really meant to use his Method 1 – Combat Tactic Selection Tables which is a simple ‘pseudo-AI’ approach to determining which Tactic Card is used for Close Combat. When playing solo, it’s refreshing to have a system that presents a logical, yet to-a-degree unpredictable, assistant for this key decision point.


Feature image – ‘Desperate Valor’ by David R. Wagner shows the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, the Continental Army’s only all African-American and Indian regiment, at the Battle of Rhode Island 

Operation Zet #Wargame AAR – Wing Leader: Origins 1936-1942 (@gmtgames, 2020)

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Courtesy GMT Games

SATURDAY AFTERNOON OF MY AT HOME GENCON 2020 TURNED UP RAINY, so it was a great opportunity to get one of my favorite wargames, Wing Leader, to the gaming table. GMT Games released the latest expansion, Wing Leader: Origins 1936-1942 in July and I wanted to explore some pre-World War II battles a bit more. The scenario I selected was O05 “Operation Zet” which takes place on 04 January 1938 over Wuhan, China. Playing the game, I was once again reminded how a different, yet very interesting perspective of air combat is delivered in Wing Leader. To say I enjoyed my play is an understatement!

Operation Zet

In the first months of war Chinese losses were so severe that the Soviets initiated Operation Zet, a secret plan to dispatch aircraft and volunteer pilots to the Guomingdang. Soviet pilots flew operations immediately on arriving in China, but were unable to prevent Nanjing from falling in December 1937. The Japanese had supposed the Chinese government would collapse, but Chiang Kai-Shek simply relocated his capital west to Wuhan–the ‘triple-city’ of Hankou, Wuchang, and Hanyang. The Soviet volunteers, now famous after their Nanjing exploits, focused on the defense of the new capital against Imperial Japanese Navy Raids. (Scenario O05 Background)

The scenario begins with the Japanese Raider bombers at Altitude, or Flight Level (FL) 6 and just about to enter a series of Broken and Wispy clouds. The two squadrons of G3M2 ‘Nell’ bombers are escorted by two squadrons of A5M4 ‘Claude’ fighters. The fighters set up one just above the lead bomber squadron (FL7) and one just below (FL5).

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The Hawk III uses the Goshawk Air Data Card

The Chinese Defenders (actually Soviet ‘volunteers’) are climbing to intercept the bombers and start with a single squadron of I-16 Type 5 ‘Ishak’ (Donkey) at FL4, two squadrons of I-15 ‘Chaika’ (Seagull) at FL3, and one squadron of Hawk III (export BF2C Goshawk) at FL2. One of the Chinese squadrons in Green Quality; assigned the Hawk III because it is the least capable fighter type, the lowest, and the least likely to get into the battle anyway.

In Wing Leader, the map is a side-view of the battlespace. In this scenario, the Japanese bombers start about in the middle of the map and must exit the enemy side, or the left-edge of the map. Given the distances and movement rates, they can be expected to exit on Turn 8. Every squadron that exits scores 6 VP; if it is Disrupted it scores 3 VP. Per the scenario Special Rules if a G3M squadron suffers 3 or more Losses (bombers shot down) it aborts its mission and returns to base, trying to exit off the right-edge of the map.

Set up presented the first interesting decision for the Chinese side. The set up dictates the altitude of the defenders, but not their square (location on map). The defenders have to climb to reach the Nells, in some cases as many as 4 levels (Hawk III). Squadrons which are Alerted in Wing Leader, like the defenders in this scenario, have a basic 3 Movement Points (MP). In the case of each fighter type for the Chinese, Climbing cost 2 MP for each level near the bomber’s altitude. Unalerted fighters, like the Japanese escorts, as well as the bombers, have 2 MP each turn. So where to set up?

The Chinese elected to place the I-16 at FL4 below the leading bomber facing the same direction. The two I-15’s were set up ahead of, but below the bombers at FL3 facing the opposite way along with the poor Hawk III behind them and below at FL2. This set up was intended to minimize the time to intercept and (hopefully) avoid tail-chases.

Turn 1

Each turn in Wing Leader starts with a Tally Phase where squadrons attempt to sight each other. Raiders tally first, followed by Defenders. The Japanese low escort squadron attempted to tally the I-16s below and behind them but fail. The Chinese I-16 and the lead I-15 squadron both tally the lead Japanese bomber squadron successfully.

[At a range of 1 square the Japanese squadron needed to roll a 2 or higher on a single D6 to Tally. However, a roll of 1 resulted in no tally.]

Next is the Movement Phase. The Move Order saw the escorts move first (straight ahead 2 squares) followed by the bombers (straight ahead 2 squares) followed by the Alerted defenders. The I-16 climbs to FL5 and ends up behind the low escort and below the trailing bomber squadron. The I-15’s both climb to FL4 (the Hawk to FL3) with the bombers still in front of them. There is no combat this turn so play proceeds to Turn 2.

Turn 2

In the Tally Phase the Japanese high squadron fails to Tally anybody; it had a choice to try and tally the climbing I-16 but they are behind them (-2 modifier) or to try and tally an I-15 through Wispy clouds (-1 modifier). Likewise, the low escort would have trouble to tally the I-16 behind it. Instead, they try to Tally the climbing I-15 squadron in front of them. After a successful tally, the Japanese low escort squadron is now Alerted (3MP) and use their Tactical Flexibility to split the squadron into two flights of 4 aircraft each.

In the following Movement Phase, the Unalerted high escort and bombers plod on ahead 2 squares. The Alerted fighters move in Initiative Order:

  1.  Lowest Altitude – Hawk III (ahead 2 spaces because of the -1 Speed from the Climb the previous turn). Likewise the I-15’s also move straight ahead 2 squares.
  2. Same Altitude: The I-16 and low escort flights are both at FL5. Lowest Basic Speed moves first. The Claude has a Basic Speed of 3 at FL5 whereas the I-16 has a Basic Speed of 4.
    • The first of the two low escort flights moves and dives into the lead I-15 squadron.
    • The second low escort flight stays at the same altitude but moves 3 squares ahead.
    • The I-16 moves ahead 2 squares, ending up behind and below the trailing bomber flight at FL5.

In the Combat Phase, the lead I-15 and diving Japanese escort flight (now on a Sweep Mission) are in the same square. Both have a Tally on each other, making this a Mutual Attack. Per the rules, the squadron/flight that moves last is the attacker. Additionally, since the Japanese flight entered the square from ahead of the I-15, this is a Head-On Combat.

  1. The first step in combat is to determine the type of attack. A Turning Fight will use the Turn Factor (Claude=4 / I-15=4). A Hit-and-Run Attack uses the Speed Factor (Claude=3 / I-15=2). However, in the case of a Head-On attack Hit-and-Run MUST be declared.
  2. The attacking Claude starts with a Speed Factor of 3. It gets +1 for Diving but -1 for being a Flight. Final combat factor is 3. The I-15 starts with a Speed Factor of 2, but since it the defender using Rigid Doctrine they is not as flexible to respond to threats and get a -1 modifier. Final combat factor is 1, for a Combat Differential of +2 for the attacker and -2 for the defender.
    • The attacking Claude, rolling on the +2 Column, rolls 2d6 getting a 6. Attacker Die Roll Modifiers (DRM) are -2 for Head-On and -2 for fighting in Broken clouds for a final total of 2; no Losses.
    • The defending I-15 rolls on the -2 Column rolls a 12 (!). There is a DRM of -2 for Head-On and -2 for Broken skies making the final total 8; 1 hit. Each hit must be immediately confirmed against the Protection Factor of the Claude (3). Each hit is a roll of a single d6 and a roll of 6 confirms 1 Claudes is a Loss (shot down).
    • Each squadron/flight must now make a Cohesion Check to see if they hold together.
      • The attacking Claudes get a +1 DRM (attacker) but also a -1 DRM (1 Loss) and another -1 for not having a radio. Their 2d6 roll of 3 (modified to 2) means 2 levels of Disruption. This is enough make the flight Broken. A Broken flight loses all tallies changes its mission to Return to Base. The defending I-15 rolls a 9, modified to 8, and passes its Cohesion Check.
    • Both the attacking Claude and defending I-15 are given a Low Ammo -1 marker.

[Not the result the Japanese wanted. One aircraft shot down and a broken flight effectively taking 25% of their fighters out of the battle – for no enemy losses. Some gamers might scream ‘its unrealistic’ that the Claudes simply drop out of combat so quickly. But that is the real genius of the Cohesion Check. As designer Lee Brimmicombe-Wood tells us:

“Fighter squadrons break apart due to high-speed maneuvers. a broken squadron is an expanding bubble of aircraft, with aircraft heading home in ones or twos due to loss of contact, damage, or a failure of nerve.”

“Put simply, a broken fighter squadron has shattered and gone home, while a broken bomber squadron has ceased to be an effective fighting formation.”]

Turn 3

In the Tally Phase, the high escort squadron once again fails to tally a threat squadron. The low sweepers keep their tally on the lead I-15 flight. The I-16 still has a tally on the trailing bomber and the lead I-15 successfully transfers its tally to the low sweeper. The trailing I-15 tries to acquire the sweeper and is successful. The Hawk III, although lower and further away, somehow successfully acquires the lead bomber squadron even though the target is ‘in the Sun’ and they are of Green quality!

Movement Phase:

  1. High escort moves 2 squares ahead.
  2. Bombers move 2 squares ahead.
  3. Unalerted fighters move; the Broken Claude flight dives to the deck and turns for home.
  4. Alerted fighters move in Initiative Order
    • Hawk III climbs ahead to FL 4. It is still two levels below the lead bomber.
    • The trailing I-15 squadron climbs to FL5 and turns to the same heading as the bombers ending up one square ahead of but still below the lead bomber. The lead I-15 does the same but ends up one square below the lead bomber.
    • The low sweeper Claude flight moves next, moving two squares ahead then turning (circling) in the square to end up with the I-15 flight it has tallied.
    • The I-16 climbs to the bombers altitude but is still one square behind the trailing bomber.

Combat Phase:

  • The sweeping Claude flight and I-15 squadron engage. The Claude is the attacker. They elect to use a Hit-and-Run attack for a Speed Factor of 3 against the I-15’s Speed Factor of 2. After modifiers the Combat Differential is Attacker +1 / Defender -1. On the Air Combat Table the Claude scores no losses, but the I-15 scores a single hit that causes a Straggler. The Claude passes its Cohesion Check but gains a Low Ammo -1 marker. The I-15 rolls a 6, modified to 4 (no radio and Low Ammo) and suffers 1 level of Disruption. Their ammo is now also Depleted (-2).
  • Next, it must be determined if a Dogfight begins. The Japanese want a Dogfight (to slow the fighters from getting to the bombers) but the Chinese don’t. Both sides roll 1d6 and add their Basic Speed Factor. The Chinese roll a modified 6, the Japanese a modified 5; no Dogfight begins.

[The Japanese low escort, having already lost half its force, desperately needs help as that single flight of 4 Claudes face off against several Chinese squadrons (8 aircraft each).] 

Turn 4

Tally Phase – The high escort tries to tally the climbing I-16 but fails. One I-15 successfully switches their tally to the trailing bomber squadron; all else is as before.

Movement Phase:

  1. High escort moves 2 squares ahead.
  2. Bombers move 2 squares ahead.
  3. Unalerted fighters (i.e. the broken flight) move; the Claude continues towards home on the deck.
  4. Alerted fighters in Initiative Order
    • Hawk III climbs vertical to FL 5. It is one level below and one square behind the trailing bomber.
    • One I-15 squadron climbs into the square of the trailing bomber it has tallied.
      • The high escorting fighters can React. They roll for a Successful Reaction which tallies the enemy and changes their mission to Sweep. Using Tactical Flexibility the squadron splits into two flights. A successful reaction also stops the enemies movement before it enters the bombers square. Both reacting flights now dive to the enemy square.
      • The second I-15 climbs into the square behind the trailing bomber. The Claude flight follows.
      • The I-16 moves ahead 2 squares, ending up in the same square as the I-15 and Claude.

Combat Phase:

  • Reacting Fighters vs Climbing I-15 – Attacking Claudes chose a Hit-and-Run attack.  Attacker rolls on the +4 Column; the defender on the -4 column. Attacker scores 1 hit, confirmed as a Loss. The defender miraculously rolls a single hit, confirmed as a Loss. In the following Cohesion Checks the Claude takes 2 levels of Disruption and is Broken! The defending I-15 passes their Cohesion Check; both combatants gain a Low Ammo -1 marker. The Japanese try to start a Dogfight but the Chinese successfully avoid a it.
  • I-15 vs ‘low’ Claudes – Attacking Claudes chose a Hit-and-Run attack. Attacker rolls on +1 column; defender on -1 column. Attacker scores 1 hit, confirmed as a Loss. Defender score nothing. In the following Cohesion Check the Claude passes but the I-15 takes another level of Disruption, making it Broken.

[Now half of the initial Japanese fighters are out of the battle, but at least one squadron of Chinese is also leaving.]

Turn 5

Tally Phase: ‘Low’ Claude now tallies the I-16. The I-16 moves its tally to the ‘low’ Claude flight. The unbroken I-15 tallies the attacking Claude flight. The Hawk remains fixated on the lead Japanese bomber….

Movement Phase:

  1. Bombers move 2 squares ahead.
  2. Unalerted fighters (i.e. the broken flight) move; all dive or move away from the battle, effectively escaping.
  3. Alerted fighters in Initiative Order
    • Hawk III climbs to FL 6 and is 3 squares behind the bombers.
    • I-15 climbs to FL6 and is 2 squares behind the bombers.
    • ‘Reacting’ Claude circles and climbs with the I-15.
    • Both the ‘low’ Claude and I-16 move into the same square as the I-15 and reacting Claude (it’s really busy there!).

Combat Phase: 

  • ‘Reacting’ Claude vs I-15 – Combat Differential is 0. No losses for either side. Cohesion Check for attacker is passed; defender is is Disrupted. The Japanese successfully begin a Dogfight.
  • ‘Low’ Claude vs I-16 – I-16 is the attacker and chooses a Hit-and-Run attack. Combat Differential is +3/-2 (Claude has the Edge* whereas the I-16 doesn’t so it shifts one column right on the Air Combat Table). I-16 scores 3 hits, confirmed as one Loss and a Straggler. The Claude fails to score any hits. In the following Cohesion Checks the I-16 passes; the Claude fails miserably and becomes Broken.

[Now 75% of the Japanese fighters are out of the battle.]

Turn 6

In the Dogfight the the I-15 gets the best of the Claudes and shoots down the two fighters of the flight; the flight then becomes Broken. However, the I-15 fails to maintain Cohesion and also becomes Broken.

The I-16 jumps the trailing bombers. In the Turning Fight the I-16 shoots down a bomber for no losses. Both the I-16 and bomber squadron maintain Cohesion.

[All the Japanese fighter flights are Broken or shot down. The Chinese fighters are free to savage the bombers.]

Turn 7

The I-16 and Hawk III attack the trailing bomber squadron. The bombers suffer another Loss against one Loss for the I-16. The I-16, with no radio, Depleted Ammo, and suffering a Loss becomes Broken and heads for home. The Hawk III, Green and with no radio, somehow holds together. The Japanese bomber squadron is Disrupted.

[The Japanese bombers are almost to the edge of the map. As it stands right now, if they exit they will get 9 VP (+6 for the lead undisrupted squadron and +3 for the Disrupted squadron. The Japanese will also get +3 VP for shooting down Chinese fighters for a total of 12 VP. The Chinese right now sit at 10 VP for shooting down six fighters and two bombers. The differential of +2 is a narrow Chinese Victory.]

Turn 8

It all comes down to one final combat between the Green Chinese Hawk III and the Disrupted trailing bomber squadron. The Hawk III scores another Loss, which forces the bomber squadron to return to base. Both squadrons pass their Cohesion Check; the Hawk III now has Depleted Ammo but the Disrupted bomber has a long way to go before they are safe.

[The remaining Japanese bomber is really in a bad place. Forced to turn back near the exit-edge of the map, safety lies at the other edge – a long way across the board. The Hawk III, although Green and with little ammo and no radio, has somehow held it together. Maybe they’re too scared to get separated. Maybe they are true heroes. Such is fate – or Cohesion Checks.]

Turn 9

The lead bomber squadron exits the board (6 VP) but the trailing bomber suffering losses and now Disrupted turns for home. The Hawk III follows and gets another chance for blood. In the combat they create a Straggler for the bombers against no losses. However, in the Cohesion Check, the Hawk III is Disrupted whereas the bomber becomes Broken.

Turn 10

The Hawk III attacks yet again but scores no hits. The defending bombers, although unorganized, cause a Straggler to fall out of the Hawk III squadron. Somehow the Hawk III holds it together and passes their Cohesion Check (they have to roll a 7 or higher, with a -4 modifier, to avoid a another level of Disruption and become Broken).

Turn 11

How lucky can the Hawk III get? Apparently very lucky since they shoot down another two bombers. In return they lose another fighter, take another level of Disruption, and are finally Broken.

Victory Check

  • Japanese: +6 (Bomber Squadron exit), +4 (Chinese fighters shot down) = 10
  • Chinese: +10 (Bombers shot down), +6 (Fighters shot down) = 16

Subtracting the Chinese from the Japanese VPs, the -6 is a decisive Chinese Victory.

After Action Comments

Wow! What a battle. I actually played this scenario twice earlier in the day ending once with a Japanese Victory and once in a Draw. Both of those games didn’t go past Turn 7. Here the Japanese fighters just seemed unable to catch a break, literally ending up Broken rather quickly. Then there was the heroic actions of the Chinese Hawk III; the Green squadron that was flying the lowest-performance fighter that ended up shooting down the most bombers. Historically both the Chinese and Japanese lost four aircraft apiece; this time it was a bloodbath for the Japanese losing almost an entire squadron’s worth of bombers and fighters!

This battle was so different, and once again I am amazed at how fickle fate – or Cohesion Checks – can be. Wing Leader, while being a somewhat coarse simulation of air combat, certainly captures the essentials and essence of situation. In Wing Leader: Origins the impact of no radios and rigid doctrine combined with slow aircraft with less firepower is easily understood.

Interesting Decisions

Most importantly, it’s also fun to play! What do I mean by fun? Wing Leader delivers, in my opinion, the right set of interesting decisions. Wing Leader scenarios are battles and the players are charged with fighting the battle, not flying the airplanes. Sure, you move them and fight them, but you don’t ‘set the flaps’ or the like.

Instead, players of Wing Leader must manage the impact of doctrine – the doctrine that went into the development of a particular aircraft or doctrine that limits how it can fight. Most importantly, the players must ‘manage the chaos.’ For instance, the Claudes in this scenario outclass the Hawk III and are a good match for the I-15. Against the I-16 the Claude’s Edge may be enough to make it the better fighter. Defenders are further handicapped because they fight using a Rigid Doctrine. With 2020 hindsight we know this was stupid but at the time it was all they had.

Most interestingly, once the fighting begins the real measure of a fighter becomes not how fast it is or what guns it mounts; instead the measure is a squadron’s ability to hold together. This means combat losses, being the attacker, not having radios, low ammo, and weather as well as experience are the difference.

The key interesting decision is not how to fight, but when to fight. Are you set up from the beginning in the best way? When is the right time and place to commit your forces? From the above it sounds like game turns are very procedural, but in play it simply flows from decision point to decision point. It also doesn’t hurt that one can easily find a narrative emerging through play.


*What is Edge? Because of the coarse combat model, some aircraft are given an edge to represent that little extra combat potential. 

Feature image from SDASM Archives – Flickr: Curtiss : Model 68 : Hawk III in Nationalist Chinese markings, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30116945

 

Doing a little #coronapocalypse #wargame Morning Recon all by myself in Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987 (@gmtgames, 2019).

KDiDKYRhSZyzuc78FsjBeAIN A PAST LIFE AS A US NAVY SQUADRON INTEL OFFICER, I did more than a fair share of Mission Planning for airstrikes. That is part of the reason I love designer Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s Downtown: Air War Over Hanoi, 1965-1972 (GMT Games, 2004). In 2019 the latest addition to the series, Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987 (GMT Games) designed by Douglas Bush arrived after a not-to-long stint on the P500. This week, as I fight off the zombies-of-boredom of the Coronapocalype, I pulled Red Storm out and committed to a deeper learning experience.

First off, I must commend designer Douglas Bush and GMT for publishing such a high quality product. Not only do the game components look great, but the errata is quite small for such a ‘complex’ game. Part of this is surely the result of previous titles working out many of the kinks in the system design but Red Storm kicks the complexity of the simulation up a notch from the others so I expected more errata than exists. Kudos!

For my day of Red Storming, I decided to start at the beginning and use scenario RS1: Morning Recon. This is a solo introductory scenario where a flight of 2 SU-24MR have to Recon four targets. Victory is determined by the NATO player accomplishing four tasks. In the scenario as written, there is no actual combat (though the combat sequences are exercised). The scenario note is what made for my repeated plays:

Note: Player should try this scenario at least twice, once with the WP [Warsaw Pact] flight at Medium or High altitude (and faster speed) and once at Deck (lower speed, harder to detect). That will give a feel for the difference between “going high” and “going low” when trying to both get to a target and intercepting flights doing so. In addition, during the second playing of the scenario, players should let the NATO side attack the WP flight in order to further learn the combat rules.

Deciding to take the game one step further, I decided to play a fifth time, but in this case incorporating as much of Rule 33.2 Full Solitaire Rules as possible. To further mix it up, I used the Order of Battle Tables in the Appendices Book to randomly generate the forces. For NATO this meant rolling on the NATO QRA Flight / 2ATAF table for a result of “6-4” giving a flight of two Belgium F-16A. For the Warsaw Pact the roll randomly between the USSR and GDR [German Democratic Republic – East Germany] getting GDR than a “4” on the WP Special Missions / Tactical Recon table which launched a flight of two GDR MiG-21M. I decided to make this a “Combat allowed” version of RS1.

The resulting game was MUCH different than the regular Morning Recon scenarios. Not only were the fighters different but the lack of real BVR capability on the Belgium F-16A’s meant this was destined to be a knife fight. The GDR MiG-21M is armed with only an internal 23mm cannon so it really is in their best interests to avoid a fight.

I let the Bot run the GDR but gave it one input at start using a random die to chose between “going high” and “going low.” The random was “go high” so off we went. NATO was able to quickly gain a Detection on the flight but gaining a Visual Identification proved a bit more difficult as early Engagement rolls by me were whiffed. Amazingly, the simple Noise Jammer on the MiG-21M also slowed Full SAM Acquisition. However, the superior maneuverability and radar suite of the F-16A eventually prevailed and both MiG-21 were downed…although the second was just before it passed back over the inter-German border. All in all a very good fight!

844At present, an expansion for the game, Red Storm: Baltic Approaches is on the GMT Games P500 and at 485 pledges. I hope it comes “makes the cut” soon so I can get more Red Storm goodness to the table. Then again, I’m being greedy for there are 29 other scenarios in the base Red Storm and two campaigns (not to mention four Solo Scenario) to help me get through my coronapocalypse isolation before then.

So what?


Feature image: Three aircraft from the U.S. Air Force in Europe in flight on 6 April 1987 near Ramstein Air Base, Germany. These aircraft were part of a larger, 15-aircraft formation taking part in an aerial review for departing General Charles L. Donnelly Jr., commander in chief, U.S. Air Force Europe and commander, Allied Air Forces Central Europe. The visible aircraft are (front to back): McDonnell Douglas F-4G Phantom II (s/n 69-0237), 81st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 52nd Tactical Fighter Wing, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany; Fairchild Republic A-10A Thunderbolt II (s/n 81-0995), 510th TFS, 81st TFW, RAF Bentwaters, Suffolk (UK); McDonnell Douglas RF-4C-39-MC Phantom II (s/n 68-0583), 1st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, RAF Alconbury, Cambridgeshire (UK). Courtesy wikimedia.org.

#WargameWednesday – Napoleon at Ligny

img_1359Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign, 1815; Avalon Hill Second Edition, 1977.

June 15, 1815. Napoleon has massed his Army du Nord from Soire to Phillipeville. The Prussians are aggressively deployed with parts of the army as far forward as Charleroi. The British are much more conservative, arrayed from Renaix and Oudenaarde to Brussels and Wavre.

Our first game in almost forever. I played against my boys many years ago and they have come a long way as wargamers since then. Little I is the British, and has started in a rearward, somewhat passive defense. T is more aggressive and is set up far forward; literally daring the French to come. As the French, I take the center like Napoleon did. None of our set ups are ideal as we are learning the game for the first time or once again after many years.

June 16-17: As the French move towards Charleroi, the Prussians fall back to the east. The French catch a small force at Ligny. Both sides trade a small amount of fire and the Prussians withdraw. After their passive start, the British push aggressively out of Brussels. The French turn to oblige Wellington and the two sides clash at Waterloo. After a long exchange, the British lose an infantry corps and withdraw.

After starting out in a very forward deployment, T gets very defensive and keeps falling back as the consolidating French army pushes across the Belgium border. It is the rearward deployed British who come out to contest the French, but seemingly lose their nerve in battle and retreat.

June 18-19: The Prussians are massing their forces, but the French try to consolidate forces in the face of the now rapidly massing British. Seeing a chance to attrite the Prussians, the  French cavalry go on a long raid and enter Liege with a strong cavalry force. They leave behind a small infantry force that took casualties at Waterloo. The British attack this group at Quattre Bras. Declining battle, the French retreat, but in the pursuit battle all three corps are lost! Although the Prussians have supply problems (losing a corps with Liege occupied), Blucher fails to take the bait and instead moves against the French main body massed at Ligny. The French recall their calvary force and they race to rejoin Napoleon.

Although feeling time pressure, the French (me) fails to act aggressively and instead I wait for one of the Allied players to make a mistake. The cavalry raid is intended to draw off the Prussians (T) and allow the French to take on the British (Little I) alone. The Prussians don’t take the bait, and instead the British catch a wounded detachment and in the pursuit battle get extremely lucky destroying all the units. This alone gets the Allies 1/3 of the way to victory. Now the French must fight!

June 20: In the morning light, the French in Ligny sight a strong British force  of eight corps approaching from Quattre Bras while another six Prussian corps marches from Gembloux. The French decide to stand and the Second Battle of Ligny begins. In the course of the day, the British will lose six corps and quit the battlefield. However, the Prussians stand and the battle rages on. The entire French cavalry is committed on the right, but the Prussians stubbornly stand. In the end, it is the French left that crumbles, and with the loss of a ninth corps, Napoleon surrenders.

Going into the battle the French need to destroy six British corps and four Prussian corps to win. The Allies need to destroy five French corps. At the Second Battle of Ligny, the French concentrate on the British to try and knock them out of the war. There was also extremely poor die-rolling for my French; at one point on the right wing six French cavalry corps fail to destroy a single weakened Prussian infantry corps. If the optional Command Control rule had been used the Allied attack could not have taken place like it did. Regardless, the battle ends with the British defeated, but a defiant Prussian army completing the job and forcing Napoleon’s surrender.


Comments

Napoleon plays much better than I remember. The game is rated Introductory for the rules but the strategy is demanding! Battles on the Battle Board capture the essence of Napoleonic combat. The blocks are a simple – yet effective – fog of war mechanism. Road movement limits from town to town means each General must organize their forces and ensure they have sufficient mass for battle and nearby reinforcements. We messed up the Battles rules in the first engagement, but got better as the game progressed.

The Victory Conditions build great tension. The French are racing against the clock and must defeat the Allied armies before the end of the game. The French are stronger than each individual Allied army, but inferior if the Allies mass together. The Allies really just have to survive, but the Logistics rules can force them to fight or slowly waste away if the French get to one or more of the supply hubs.

Playing a three-way game was most exciting. Both boys had their own army (relatively similar in size and power) and neither felt that they had taken the “weaker” side. Game play also keeps players engaged; in a 90 min game we got through 16 turns which included three major battles and two smaller engagements.

The RockyMountainNavy boys loved the game and challenged each other to another round the next day. Little I is already reading up on the Battle of Waterloo and wants to learn more. Although this game is 40 years old, it has stood the test of time well and still makes for a fun campaign.

RockyMountainNavy Family play verdict – WINNER!

#Wargames AAR: The Fires of Midway – Exploring a Wake Island Disaster

pic675839_md
Courtesy BGG

The Fires of Midway: The Carrier Battles of 1942 (Clash of Arms, 2010) is a Steven Cunliffe designed game that recreates carrier battles in the early days of the Pacific War in World War II. This card driven game (CDG) uses a hand management mechanic where players have Action Cards that can add to fighter combat, bomber strikes, or carrier defense.

Although the game is focused on the great carrier battles of 1942 (Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons or Santa Cruz) there is also an alternative scenario which postulates US carriers attempting to relieve Wake Island at the end of 1941. This smaller scenario pits an American Task Force consisting of Lexington and Saratoga going against the Japanese Hiryu and Soryu.

The American fleet is led by Admiral Fletcher. The Admiral Card for Fletcher is Torpedo Doctrine meaning he must always send a torpedo bomber in any strike. Unfortunately, the US Navy is using the Devestator – an old, slow, limited range airplane. Additionally, the Lex is carrying Buffalo fighters – another old, less effective aircraft. On the plus side, the US task force has nine (9!) squadrons of Dauntless dive bombers. Indeed, the Americans have an abundance of aircraft with two Buffalo fighters, two Wildcat fighters, and three Devastator torpedo bombers to go along with the aforementioned nine dive bomber squadrons.

The Japanese fleet is led by Admiral Nagumo. The Admiral Card for Nagumo reflects his cautious attitude meaning he can never “steal” the #1 Action Card. The Japanese carriers each carry two Zero fighters, two Val dive bombers, and two Kate torpedo bomber squadrons.

The game began with the Search Phase. Each side explores a grid arrangement of Search Cards attempting to locate the opponents fleet. Along the way, the players build their Action Card hand. The Japanese proved much luckier than the Americans and built a stronger hand before the last fleet was located.

In the first Strategy Phase, the order to Carrier Turns was US-Japan-Japan-US.

  1. US strike from Saratoga. Due to the longer range strike the entire strike group arrives “smoking” from fuel spent. The Japanese do not spot the strikers and there is no CAP launched. Attacking Hiryu, the strike group losses a Devastator and heavily hits the carrier.
  2. Hiryu launches its own strike package. This group runs into the CAP (Wildcat, Buffalo) and ends up downing the Buffalo but misses the Wildcat. The strike hits Lexington with great damage inflicted.
  3. Soryu launches her strike. Again, the CAP engages, but both fighters survive. The strike package hits Saratoga, but with only minor damage.
  4. Lexington launches her own strike. The range means the strike arrives “smoking” which also means the Japanese player gets to pick the target. Seeking to protect Hiryu, the Soryu is struck and, like Saratoga, there is only minor damage inflicted.

In the Admiral Phase, seeing that both sides have exhausted their Action Cards, seek to reload their hand in preparation for another round of combat. In the End Phase of Turn 1, after Carrier Carnage and Explosion Tests have been administered, both Lexington and Hiryu are sunk.

At this point both players look at their situation. The scenario Intensity is 7, meaning 7 VP are needed for victory. The Japanese player is leading 6 VP to the Americans 5 VP. Although both sides have a carrier, Japanese air fleet is half the size (six squadrons) it started with whereas the Americans still have over half their original airpower. To retreat is to give victory to one’s opponent, and the Japanese player elects to fight on. The American gladly obliges him.

In the second turn, the Japanese player steams into an area with low clouds. This means that even if the American player moves closer, the weather will make it more likely his planes will arrive in a smoking condition. In the Strategy Phase, the Americans win the first strike and take it. Although the planes do arrive smoking, they still wreck devastation on Soryu. The smaller Soryu strike gets lucky; the Americans fail to spot the strike and the CAP does not get to jump the the incoming bombers. Although the Americans mount a heroic defense, Saratoga is hit hard. Once again, Carrier Carnage and Explosion Tests are made, and although the Americans have superior damage control and can reroll Explosion Tests hoping for a better result it is all for naught. Both Soryu and Saratoga are sunk.

In the final VP calculation, the Japanese have 10 VP to the American 9 VP. The winning margin is the extra VP scored by the Japanese for locating the last fleet in the Search Phase.

Lessons Learned

One major lesson learned is the importance of damage control. Neither side really used any Repair Points and as a result the progressive damage of fires and floods made passing Explosion Tests impossible. Additionally, although the Americans have an advantage in aircraft, too many were old relics (Buffalo and Devastator) and to be effective the American carriers had to close – too close to – the Japanese carriers.

prd333620In John B. Lundstrom’s book The First Team there is a passage where the great naval historian Samuel Elliott Morison criticizes Fletcher. Following the recall order after the fall of Wake Island, Morison cites an unidentified cruiser captain who said, “Frank Jack should have placed the telescope to his blind eye like Nelson.” (Lundstrom, p. 44) This little scenario shows just how any carrier battle in these early days of the Pacific War could of gone very badly for the Americans. The Fires of Midway, although a seemingly unconventional carrier duel game using a CDG mechanic instead of traditional hex searches across the vast ocean, succeeds in bringing key points of history alive. For that reason above all else this game is recommended.

#Wargame AAR – Command & Colors: Ancients Battle of Akragas (406BC)

 

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commandandcolors.net

Command & Colors: Ancients (C&C:A) was a Christmas present for A. He likes the historical subject, but has actually played very few wargames over the years. We finally got a chance to go head-to-head in a real game and not a rules walk thru.

We started out with the first scenario; the Battle of Akragas in 406BC.  A took the Carthaginians who fielded a mostly mercenary infantry force. I was Syracuse with a seasoned force of heavy infantry.

Syracuse pushed forward their right flank drew the attention of the Carthaginians. Both sides battled to a relative tie, with both commanders gaining two victory banners. But while the right flank fought on, the Syracuse heavy infantry slowly plodded their way forward. With both the center and left flank staying in line, the fortuitous play of Line Command allowed the entire force to advance and engage in combat. The Syracuse heavy infantry mercilessly sliced through the Carthaginian line and gained the necessary five victory banners for the win.

Observations

A almost turned the Syracuse right flank, but by the time he was threatening his units on this flank had been attrited down to an ineffective condition. Being this was A’s first real game, he also failed to realize the power of the Syracuse heavy infantry and was not prepared for the fury of combat (the five Close Combat die) when the battle lines finally clashed.

Both of us appreciate the way C&C:A give the flavor of combat in the ancient era without a huge rules overhead. Expect to see this one on the table more often this yer!