Monday #Memoir44 – First impressions of New Flight Plan Expansion (@days_of_wonder, 2019) #wargame #boardgame

Boardgame publisher Days of Wonder released this month a new expansion for their lite wargame Memoir ’44. The New Flight Plan Expansion brings aircraft into the mix for Memoir ’44. The original Air Pack Expansion (now long out of print) actually won the Dice Tower Awards in 2007 for Best Game Expansion. I never owned or played it so New Flight Plan is our first foray into air warfare for the Memoir ’44 series of games. My initial reaction to New Flight Plan is that of cognitive dissonance; I like the introduction of aircraft into Memoir ’44 but find some of the abstractions very jarring.

The first abstraction that jarred me is the model colors – or lack thereof. Although I looked at the ad copy several times, when I first opened the box I was confused by all the aircraft being the same molded color. I had not seen this in a DoW game since Battlelore 1st Edition. Granted, production cost is probably driving DoW to this decision; nonetheless it was jarring seeing all the aircraft in the same, neutral, off white. The model details are acceptable but even the aircraft recognition nerd in me has some issues immediately recognizing which plane is which on the battlefield. The aircraft stands have a place for a Nation Marker but honestly, the lack of color variation was unexpected and diminishes the play experience.

The second abstraction that jarred me was the choice of aircraft. In New Flight Plan, each nation gets a bomber, a fighter-bomber, and a fighter. For example, the Americans get a B-17 bomber, a P-47 fighter-bomber, and two fighters (P-51 for European Theater and F4U Corsair for the Pacific Theater). When I saw the selection of aircraft, I asked myself, “what about the other aircraft” quickly followed by a rueful comment about a new DoW money-grab with different models. However, after reading the rules I discovered that the actual models are purely representational; all bombers have the same qualities, just like all fighter-bombers or all fighters. At first, this coarse level of abstraction jarred me until I got my head wrapped around the concept of gaming for effect. Thus, the choice of air unit models is not indicative of the capability of that particular aircraft, but a very broad-brush abstraction of that class of aircraft.

That’s not a B-17 or IL-2 or Bf-109 but just an American bomber, a Soviet fighter-bomber, and a German fighter

The next jarring abstraction that hit me was in the rules. Specifically, air units blocking line of sight and other interactions with ground units. Amongst the rules that I found challenging:

  • “…an air unit occupies the hex it is on and will therefore block line of sight.”
  • “An air unit may move through a hex with an enemy or friendly ground unit. It cannot end its move on the same hex as another unit though.”
  • “An air unit may not move through a hex with an enemy air unit.”
  • “A ground unit may move through a hex with a friendly air unit. However, it may not move through a hex with an enemy air unit (this is called ground interdiction).

Although it makes no sense to me that an aircraft blocks line of sight, I have to remind myself that the effect of the air unit can be practically translated as blocked line of sight even when the strict reality is otherwise. As far as the other rules, I have to constantly remind myself that Memoir ’44 has a very loose definition of scale, both in distance and time. Like the abstraction of models, I have to remind myself that it is more important to game the effect of air units, not to strictly simulate them.

It will probably not be until later this month that the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself get New Flight Plan to the gaming table. When we do I believe I will enjoy it, but I will also have to prepare the Boys (like myself) to set aside preconceptions. Yes, that model is a P-47. Yes, that plane could, and could not do, some things better than others. But the model does not represent a P-47, it signifies the (broadly defined) capabilities of a fighter-bomber are available to the player. Abstractions are not automatically negative; but some need to be understood to avoid overthinking a game.

New Air Plan Expansion for Memoir ’44

#Wargame #Retroplay – Beachhead (Yaquinto Publishing, 1980)

My not-so-lazy Sunday was capped off by a solo play attempt of Beachhead: A Game of Island Invasions in the South Pacific 1942-1944 from Yaquinto Publishing in 1980. Beachhead came packaged in what Yaquinto called their “Album Game'” format; the game “box” was basically a dual LP record cover. Very thin – so thin you couldn’t store the counters in the sleeves of the “box” without warping the board! Beachhead was designed by Michael  S. Matheny with a gorgeous cover by Roger B. MacGowan (@RBMStudio1 on Twitter). As I replayed this game I discovered it is not the game I remember; in some ways it is better, in other ways not.

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Small footprint – a 3’x3′ table will do!

As I reread the rules before play, several items jumped out at me. The first concerns serious gaming. Production of Beachhead was led by J. Stephen Peek, formerly of Battleline and obviously a serious gamer. So serious he didn’t call Beachhead a wargame but a “simulation”:

 

002 – BEACHHEAD As a Simulation

BEACHHEAD is a small unit level simulation of combat on an island in the South Pacific during the Second World War.

I pulled Beachhead out because I wanted to play a solitaire game. However, I quickly discovered that there is actually a fairly large degree of hidden information making this game not-so-solo-friendly.

4. All Japanese units are placed on the game board and are turned upside down. (102 PREPARING TO PLAY THE GAME-D-4)

2. Flip over all units that will move this Turn. (202 Basic Game Sequence of Play, STEP B.2.)

4. Return the moved units to the Face up [sic] position. (SoP, STEP C.4)

The next rule that was different than I remember is Sighting. The mapboard has many jungle hexes so as I read the rules I expected to see a rule about jungle blocking line of sight. Instead, I got this:

3. Hexes containing trees do not individually block the line of sight. Though the trees may be up to 25-40 feet in height, there are very few of them in each hex and so so not present a problem in sighting. They will present obstacles to combat. However, if the line of sight passes through three Tree hexes the line of sight is blocked. (205 SIGHTING-B-1-3)

This “terrain as combat obstacles” theme is also applied to buildings:

4. Hexes containing buildings do not block line of sight. There are very few buildings per hex and so do not present a problem for sighting. They will still present obstacles to combat. (205-B-4)

I did remember what made Japanese machine guns so deadly – Fire Lanes:

  1. Only Japanese Machine Gun, Infiltration Machine Guns, and Emplacement units have a ‘Fire Lane’ and are called Fire Lane units.
  2. The base of the Fire Lane is the numbered edge of the playing piece.
  3. The Fire Lane extends ten hexes through the hexside to which the numbered edge of the playing piece is facing.
  4. ….
  5. ….
  6. Any American unit that attempts to cross this ten hex line is immediately fired on by the Fire Lane unit. (This means that the American player will be attacked during the movement portion of his Movement Phase…. (205-F)

Another rule I missed many years ago is Aircraft Spotters (207 COMBAT-C). This rule allows one to use Airstrike units as spotters. A simple way to give the American player a complex choice; bombard or spot?

One rule I did remember and still enjoy is how Preliminary Bombardment is implemented in the game. This is another challenging choice; delay the arrival of landing craft to bombard and risk running out of time or land against more defenders? While rereading the rules, I discovered a little wrinkle that I had missed years before and it comes from the fact the Japanese player’s units are face down (hidden) from the American player:

4. In a normal Firing procedure the Firing player consults the Combat Results Table to determine the effects of fire. In Preliminary Bombardment the Japanese player consuls the Combat Results Table. The American player still rolls the dice, but is not allowed to know the odds column being used. (207 COMBATJ. Preliminary Bombardment)

+VL5G3uHRRuvZp8VK9UhrAVictory Conditions (210 VICTORY CONDITIONS) are based on points differential. I really like the flavor text. It ties neatly back to the introduction where there is an emphasis placed on YOU. As the introduction states, “You are, in fact, on the BEACHHEAD.”

In the OPTIONAL RULES there are several items of “chrome” that I remember and really like such as:

  • Randomly rolling to see what size naval guns are bombarding (303 BOMBARDMENT TYPE)
  • Randomly determining what payload airstrike have (304 AIRSTRIKES)
  • The Duke arrives as SGT. Stryker! (308 SGT. STRYKER)

Near the end of the rules in the HINTS ON PLAY there is a section on GAME ABSTRACTIONS. It directly addresses concerns over the game’s realism. It is interesting to read the designer’s perspective that Beachhead is essentially a game of points with units representing those points. It is a useful perspective that conflict simulations/wargames sometime forget.

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They knew…all the way back in 1980

Given the hidden information needed to play, my solo Beachhead game sort fizzled out. These days, this game is ripe for an implementation using blocks instead of face down counters.

More importantly, the rules of Beachhead, in a mere 16 pages, show a great degree of design elegance and certainly capture – and communicate – the theme of the game. The game is a great reminder that good things sometime do arrive in small packages. For some reason, this game, with its mechanical elegance and smaller footprint reminds me of many Hollandspiele games. That’s a good thing because it means there is at least one publisher is delivering elegant, smaller games to this very niche hobby market.

Now, to get the RockyMountainNavy Boys to play….