Sunday Summary – Summer Heat Wave of #Wargames, #Boardgames, and #Books

Not only is the heat arriving in waves, but so are the games!

Wargames

Boardgames

2 Minutes to Midnight: Fight the Cold War. USA vs Soviet Union – 1949-1991. A Strategic Historical Game (Preview Copy) (Stuart Tonge, Plague Island Games, 2021) – Stuart was kind enough to send me a preview copy. Plan is to share thought s around the kickoff of the Kickstarter campaign in mid-late June! Stay tuned!

2 Minutes to Midnight Preview Copy

Books

Am reading Most Secret and Confidential: Intelligence in the Age of Nelson by Steven E. Maffeo (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000) and sitting down with the wargame 1805: Sea of Glory (Phil Fry, GMT Games, 2009). I am working to make this a “#Wargame to History” (or is it “History to #Wargame?”) or “Rocky Reads for #Wargame” entry.

Puzzles

No, not puzzles, but actual jigsaw puzzles. As I type this I just got my shipping notice for my Academy Games historical puzzles. More relaxing summer fun!

Sunday Summary – Too busy to play but NEVER too busy to dream about new #wargame & #boardgame arrivals @FoundationDietz @msiggins @HABA_usa @compassgamesllc @gmtgames @Academy_Games @LeeBWood @Hobiecat18 @SchilMil @Bublublock

Like the title says, didn’t get much gaming in this week as I return to basically full-time in the office. After a year of semi-telework it’s a bit of a shock to the system but, honestly, I love to be back at the grind.

Wargaming

Ended up doing a deep-dive of Fifth Corps: The Soviet Breakthrough at Fulda (Jim Dunnigan, Strategy & Tactics Nr.. 82, Sept/Oct 1980). There is alot of “professional” in this “hobby” title! I also had a real fun trip down memory lane with the accompanying magazine.

Boardgaming

Supercharged (Mike Siggins, Dietz Foundation, 2021) raced to the table. Also gifted (and taught) Dragons Breath: The Hatching (HABA, 2019).

Incoming!

It’s been awhile since I looked at my preorders. I presently am tracking 27 titles in my preorder GeekList. Here are some highlights:

Kickstarter

After complaining a few weeks back about the sheer number of Kickstarter campaigns and their costs I have not been doing a very good job controlling myself since. So far this month I added:

Sunday Summary – Stellaris Infinite Legacy from @Academy_Games and shoutouts to @fortcircle, @compassgamesllc, @gmtgames

Boardgame/Kickstarter

I love Academy Games. I particularly love the the tactical World War II combat series Conflict of Heroes and the lite family wargames of the Birth of America/Europe series. I don’t play enough of the 3D deconstructive superhero Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon nor the team worker placement One Small Step. I am a backer on the 3D racing game Reality Shift. So I was very excited to see Academy Games bring the 4X boardgame Stellaris Infinite Legacy to the tabletop.

Then I saw the price.

For a mere $110 you can back Stellaris Infinite Legacy and get the Standard Edition. That is the 2-4 player version but includes NO stretch goals. If you want the stretch goals you must back the Deluxe Edition at $170 which should deliver the Standard Edition PLUS expansions for the 5-6 player version as well as any stretch goals.

Sorry, that’s just too much me. For either edition. Granted, it looks like I am on the wrong side of the decision matrix here as there are already nearly 12,000 people who backed this project driving it to over $2 million in pledges.

My non-backing decision is not an easy one. I am very drawn to short (few hours) game time and the promised ability to “drop-in/drop-out” of the game. This could suit my family gaming style well. As I’ve mentioned before, this is also not a “woo is me during COVID I’m strapped for cash” kinda thing, this is more a current appraisal of my gaming condition. In my mind I have a very loose “cost to gaming” equation and the gut-check here says Stellaris Infinite Legacy does not work. YMMV.

Regardless of my feelings on cost, I wish Academy Games the best of luck here. I hope that once they get Stellaris Infinite Legacy out the door they can get back to Conflict of Heroes – First Men In Normandy 1944 and Conflict of Heroes – Blitzkrieg France and the Lowlands 1940 for my future gaming table.

Speaking of Kickstarter, Root: The Marauder Expansion (Leder Games) closes around 48 hours from the time of this posting. The funding campaign is successful (who expected otherwise?) with nearly 20,000 backers and ~$1.75 million raised.

Wargames

I was very fortunate to get a Play Tester Kit for Halls of Montezuma by designer Kevin Bertram at Fort Circle Games. Very fortunate since the game kit itself physically is a highly professional looking product. I kinda feel embarrassed because this looks and feels like a $45 game already but he sent these out for free AND paid the shipping to boot. I gotta figure out if he has a PayPal or something to throw some money his way just out of appreciation. Now I just HAVE to do a good scrub of the product to give Kevin (hopefully) valuable feedback since he has already invested so much in ME.

Last week I wondered what happened to South China Sea: Indian Ocean Region (Compass Games) that was scheduled for an early March delivery. Well…according to the developer the counters for the second edition of South China Sea were somehow delayed and they want to push back the release of both Indian Ocean Region AND South China Sea so they can be released closer together. The latest update to the production schedule on the Compass Games homepage shows April for IOR and May for SCS. Honestly, since Indian Ocean Region is a stand-alone game, I don’t agree with this reasoning. Not my decision, but not my happiness either. I guess I should be getting used to these delays as even customers of flagship publisher GMT Games (like me) are suffering delays.

Books

Stepped away from non-fiction this week to take a bit of some fictional downtime. Went back to some old sci-fi standbys, especially a few titles that I love for role-playing game inspiration.

Let me tell you a tale of longships and woe – A #boardgame story from 878: Vikings – Invasions of England (@Academy_Games, 2017)

The ships. I remember the ships.

The first sign of the Invasion was when the longships filled with helmeted warriors sailed up to Winchester. After they came ashore it was barbaric as they pillaged the land. It was not long before most of the south of Wessex, including Exeter and Canterbury were to fall to the invading hordes.

We English tried to fight. We struck back where able. Led by Housecarl and stiffened by the Thegn we fought – and died. Many a Fryd-man suffered but it didn’t turn back the Norsemand tide.

London and Thetford and most of the Kingdom of Guthrie fell. There were few rebellions; most were brutally put down. Even attempts to turn the Vikings warriors from their pagan beliefs failed. Then another wave arrived and Manchester fell. Only English and Danish Merica held.

Desperately seeking a new leader, we raised an army for King Alfred. He fought well, but not well enough. When he fell in battle, it was clear to all that the Treaty of Wedmore was the only answer.


This past Saturday Night Game Night in the RockyMountainHouse saw a return of an old friend and the joining of a newer one. The new friend was Gavin, best buddy of RockyMountainNavy Jr., who joined us for Game Night. The old friend was 878: Vikings – Invasions of England, the very family-friendly, area control, team lite wargame from Academy Games (2017).

Being bestest buds, RMN Jr. and Gavin took the Norseman and Berserkers, respectively. RockyMountainNavy T and myself took the English with T playing Housecarl and myself playing Thegn.

Teaching 878 or any of the Birth of America/Europe series games is easy. The fact that a new player plays on a team makes it even easier with experienced teammates. Gavin had no problem learning the rules and the few questions he had during gameplay mostly related to understanding Event Cards and their unique effects. That, and the fact the Vikings started out with a very aggressive move that cost the English dearly from the beginning didn’t hurt them either.

The aggressive move was to play Card 12 – Viking Ships (Norseman) on the first turn. The card reads:

The Norsemen may play this Event during their Movement Phase to move an Army from one Coastal Shire to any other Shire located on the same sea coast if they have a Unit participating in the move. This sea move costs the Army or Leader one Move, the same as if it had moved into an adjacent Shire. The Army may continue moving if it has any moves remaining.

Norseman Card 12 – Viking Ships

Normally, the first Viking invaders must enter from the North Sea. RMN Jr. landed at Canterbury and then pointed to the fact the shire adjoins both the North Sea and English Channel. After easily defeating the defenders of Canterbury in the first Battle Round, the Viking proceeded to Winchester as their second move using the Viking Ships card. We debated the interpretation of the card but in an attempt not not derail the game out of the gate we ended up allowing it. The result was a very uphill game for the English who lost their best reinforcement cities right out of the gate. This made massing of forces difficult for defense of the realm.

[The next day I searched the BGG forums for any comments and noted a very similar move was played at the 2018 WBC tournament – so it appears legal.]

The Vikings actually played both Treaty of Wedmore cards in Round IV but we had to play through Round V and the arrival of King Alfred before the game end. Going into Round V the Vikings held 12 Shires (three more than necessary for the win). After back-to-back activations of Norseman and Berserkers to start Round V they held 14 Shires. The English used the arrival of King Alfred to take back two shires but it was not enough and he fell in the last battle of the game. With 12 shires held at the Treaty the Vikings won.

This was Gavin’s first “wargame” that he has played (“other than Risk“). He liked it and was curious about the other titles in the Birth of America series. As much as we want to play more wargames with him, RockyMountainNavy Jr. also realizes Gavin is more of a mass-market gamer. That said, he does have experience in some hobby games like Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder, 2004), Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2016) and Here to Slay (Unstable Games, 2020). With that thought in mind, Jr. asked that we consider other games, like maybe starting with the deck-builder Trains (AEG, 2012) for another game night.

Most importantly, we also reaffirmed in the RMN Home that Weekend Games Nights are ESSENTIAL. In the past six weeks we have let Game Night slide in a combination of apathy and depression from the social situations surrounding COVID-19. We all enjoyed Game Night and we realized it is an essential part of our mental happiness. We agreed that we MUST get back to regular play – and we will!


Feature image courtesy ancientpages.com

Sep/Oct #Wargame #Boardgame Acquisitions featuring @gmtgames @hollandspiele @worth2004 @MultiManPub @LnLPub @Academy_Games @FFGames @UnstbleUnicrns @MoonrakersGame

In early September I wrote about how many games might be arriving into the RockyMountainNavy gaming collection given the reawakening of the publishing industry as they struggle to recover from COVID-19.

Boy, did I underestimate myself.

Turns out that between September 1 and October 15 I took delivery of 16 (!) items into my gaming collection. This includes:

  • 8 wargames (+3 expansions)
  • 3 boardgames (+1 expansion)
  • 1 accessory

I also diversified my acquisition chain. In addition to Kickstarter and publisher pre-order systems, I also used a local flea market, online digital, BGG trading, publisher direct sales, and (gasp) my FLGS!

Wargames

Washington’s Crossing (Revolution Games, 2012) – A not-so-complex look at the Trenton Campaign of 1776. My more detailed thoughts are here.

Flying Colors 3rd Edition Update Kit (GMT Games, 2020)(Expansion) So many Age of Sail games take a super-tactical view of ships that playing them can become unwieldy. Flying Colors takes a more ‘fleet commander” point of view; here you can be Nelson at Trafalgar, not Captain Hardy. The 3rd Edition Update Kit brings my older v1.5 up to date with the latest counters and rules, allowing me to set sail for new games in the future.

White Eagle Defiant: Poland 1939 (Hollandspiele, 2020) – The follow-on to the gateway wargame Brave Little Belgium (Hollandspiele, 2019). Don’t let the low complexity of the rules fool you; the game is full of impactful decisions. I have more thoughts here.

French and Indian War 1757-1759 (Worthington Games, 2020) – Another entry in my collection of Worthington block wargames. Simple rules but deep decisions. It’s been a long-time since I labeled a wargame a “waro” but this one crosses over between the wargame and boardgame crowds.

Harpoon V: Modern Tactical Naval Combat 1955-2020 (Admiralty Trilogy Group, 2020) – More a simulation model than a game. I’ve played and owned Harpoon titles since the early 1980’s. Can’t help myself; I love it.

Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989 (Multi-Man Publishing, 2020) – Another entry in the Standard Combat Series from MMP. I like the multiple eras of play and the ‘Road to War’ rules that deliver replayability in a (relatively) small package.

Konigsberg: The Soviet Attack in East Prussia, 1945 (Revolution Games, 2018)Acquired via trade. I like chit-pull games as they are good for solo play. I am also interested in this title because of the time period; I have played Operation Barbarossa to death and am interested in a late war perspective when the Soviets were on the offensive and it was the Germans rocked back on their heels.

Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010)Acquired via trade. Got through a trade more on a whim than with any real thought. First look is a very simple ‘Cold War Gone Hot’ wargame. Realistically it has only seven pages of rules!

Nations at War: White Star Rising (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010) – I don’t really need another World War II tactical game system; I’m very happy with my Conflict of Heroes series from Academy Games. Acquired through trade with no real big expectations. First impression is this platoon-level game is reminiscent of PanzerBlitz (Avalon Hill, 1970) but with chit-pull activation and command rules (both of which I really like). Maybe some interesting potential here, will have to see…. (Acquired at same time were two expansions: Nations at War: White Star Rising – Operation Cobra and Nations at War: White Star Rising – Airborne)

Boardgames

One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020) – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; worker placement games is not really my thing. However, I really do like One Small Step. Not only does the theme engage me but the team play version of worker placement makes it a good game night title for the RMN household.

Star Wars: Rebellion (Fantasy Flight Games, 2016) Acquired via flea market. I jumped at an opportunity to get this game via a local flea market at an excellent price. Thematically excellent but I still have doubts concerning gameplay. It does create a very good narrative though….

Here to Slay: Warrior and Druid Expansion (Unstable Games, 2020) (Expansion) Here to Slay is the #1 played game in the RMN home. The RMN Boys (and their friends) love it. The game is far from perfect; like many others I don’t feel it is anything like an RPG as it proclaims and it’s too easy to win with “six classes in your party” versus slaying three monsters. Maybe this new expansion will change that with a bit more focus on the warrior class. Maybe….

Moonrakers (IV Games, 2020)Fresh arrival. Bought because I keep looking for a decent Traveller RPG-type of boardgame or something that captures the same vibe as Firefly: The Game (Gale Force Nine, 2013). My other attempts to find these types of games, Scorpius Freighter (AEG, 2018) and Star Wars: Outer Rim (Fantasy Flight Games, 2019) were less-than-successful. This title just screams OPA in The Expanse. Playing it will have to wait as there is a backlog of games in front of it in the to-play queue (obvious from the above).

Accessories

Sirius Dice: Spades (Sirius Dice) – I picked these up sorta on a whim. They look and feel good. If I ever get back to playing RPGs they may come in handy.

That’s One Small Step for me, one giant leap for #boardgames – First Impressions of One Small Step (@Academy_Games, 2020)

Worker placement games are really not my thing. The Advanced Search function in BoardGameGeek tells me I only own two these days; Table Battles (Hollandspiele, 2017) and One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020). A while back I owned Raiders of the North Sea (Garphill Games, 2015) but traded it away because it felt like “COO of the North Sea.” So why even back the game?

One big reason: I trust Gunter and Uwe Eickert of Academy Games. The good news is that One Small Step didn’t let me down. Indeed, it may just be the giant leap I needed to jump into more worker placement games.

This is how the publisher describes One Small Step:

Command the United States or Soviet Union Space Agency in this engine building, worker placement Eurogame for 2 to 4 players.

Place two kinds of workers – Engineers and Administrators – to gather resources, draft cards, and launch unmanned and manned missions all in an effort to be the first to achieve a Moon landing!!

Coordinate your actions with your teammate in order to maximize the benefits and minimize the drawbacks. Gain upgrades to your space program, but be aware that your rival may also gain those same upgrades with every success you achieve.

Blast into space and have fun learning about the development of the United States space program. One Small Step as also perfect for a US History curriculum at home or in the classroom.

Nicely laid out One Small Step game from Academy Games (because I can’t take as nice a picture)

Mercury – A Quick Race

I feel that One Small Step is a medium-light Eurogame. Most important to the RockyMountainNavy home, the game can be played in two hours or less; making it perfect for our Saturday Night Family Game Night. It’s not that the game is too short; it really is a race. The first team to move six Moon Path Spaces wins. Six moves! The game forces you to take risks to stay ahead of your opponent. You know, like the real Space Race!

Gemini – Team Worker Placement

I already mentioned that we are not really into worker placement games. One Small Step challenges our prejudices in a very good way by delivering a different kind of worker placement game – team worker placement. The team aspect is very important to the RMN home because we usually play three-players on Saturday Nights. In One Small Step there are two teams each with an Administrator and an Engineer. A side can be played by one – or two – players. Workers placed on an Earth Space or a Card Draft space each use the space differently (and sometimes they can’t use the space at all). At first I was worried that the game would exacerbate the Alpha Gamer problem but with players that understand the social contract of the game it really proves to be no problem. Indeed, looking at one player trying to play both workers can be entertaining as they try to use both in the best possible way but always seem to come up short with too much to do. Two players, on the other hand, allows each player to concentrate (and negotiate with their partner) to optimize their move.

Apollo – System Engine(ering) Your Way to the Moon

Much like the Apollo missions, One Small Step is uses game mechanics that build upon one another. In addition to the worker placement where Administrators and Engineers use the Earth Spaces and Card Draft spaces differently, the Event Cards themselves have many different uses. When in the Card Draft space they become another area for your worker to, uh, work. When in your hand you use them as a Development Card to gain a bonus. Certain cards are Personnel Cards reflecting those special individuals that make an outsized contribution to your agency. The multi-use cards make every card worthwhile; it can be frustrating seeing a Development Card you need in the Card Draft area where you can use only the action space.

Multi-use Event Cards in One Small Step. Development Card cost and reward on right and first row below image. Worker Action Space is second row showing which worker can use and the action.

The Event Cards are not the only cards in One Small Step. I really enjoyed reading the history of each Satellite and Crewed Mission card. More practically, I also was impressed by how the designers related the history of the cards to the resources needed to complete the mission. The same can be said about the Hazard and Advancement Cards – they each just make sense and fit the thematic narrative of the game.

I said before that the first to the Moon wins in One Small Step. That’s not strictly true; the first to the Moon triggers the end of the game. Victory in One Small Step is scored in Victory Points that one gains in many different ways. While focusing on VP seems easy, the truth is that the Media is probably the most important track in the game. The Media Track determines initiative; a higher Media Track means that agency moves first in the different Phases. But one cannot stay at the top forever. Eventually an agency gets too high on the Media Track and has to take a Media Bonus that 1) awards a one-time bonus but 2) reduces the agency’s position on the track. It’s a simple mechanic that accentuates another great thematic element of the game.

Sputnik – Seeing Red

While learning One Small Step is not that difficult, one challenge that must be conquered early on is interpreting the extensive symbology of the game. At first I was overwhelmed; indeed I think Gunter and Uwe knew this could be a challenge since they included two Summary Sheets in the game and the back of the rule book is a Symbol Reference. Early plays can come to a crawl as players struggle to understand the symbology and then decide if the action/event serves them well. That said, the symbology in the game does have a certain logic to it and once you catch onto the basics of the “language” it becomes surprisingly rich in the information communicated.

It looks complicated but once you learn there is a certain logic to it all.

A major part of the Deluxe version of One Small Step is the many plastic miniatures. Honestly, they don’t do anything for me. The wooden worker meeples, chits, and cubes look perfectly fine on the table. I actually think the simpler approach of chits and cubes makes the game more understandable as too many little “gadgets” get too fiddly on the board.

Wooden meeples and chits on the left, plastic on the right. It’s a matter of taste but for me the plastic looks too “toy-like” and actually hinders the game experience.

“We choose to go the moon….”

One Small Step has earned itself a spot in the Saturday Night Family Game Night rotation. It is in many ways a perfect game for that occasion; it plays fast enough for three or four players, it is fairly easy to learn and teach, and it teaches history (an important point that Mrs. RMN likes to see when a game lands on the table). We have not tried the Mission Command or Hidden Figures expansions yet. I’m sure they will add interesting elements to the game without needlessly complicating the mechanics.

It’s true; in my house it’s One Small Step for boardgaming, one giant leap for fun!

#Boardgame Education – 2020 #COVID Back to (Virtual) School Special Edition featuring @BlueOrangeGames, @FlyingMeeple, @playrooment, @Academy_Games, @SJGames

The local school district here chose online (virtual) school for this year. I’m not going to go into the absolute disaster the superintendent and school board have wrought upon our youth, but instead try to find something positive to say using boardgames and wargames. I will try my best to keep political rants out of here but, oh boy, things here are so screwed up it’s hard!

Mrs. RockyMountainNavy, who is an Early Childhood educator, strongly believes that learning comes from doing. Unfortunately, as we observe our own high schooler (11th Grade), a friends middle schooler (6th Grade), and another friends elementary schooler (1st Grade) in their online classrooms we are disappointed in the amount of actual learning taking place. In response, we have looked for games to support learning.

Mrs. RMN and I strongly believe that games help educate in many different ways. First, there is the social aspect. I am proud to say that my kids actually look at your face when they talk to you not down at a phone screen. In great part we believe this is because we always push the most important social aspect of gaming; playing with others. Just the other day, Miss A, the 1st grader, lost a game of Dragomino (Blue Orange Games, 2020). She immediately declared she didn’t like the game AT ALL. We reminded her that she actually won the previous three games, and asked her to remember those. She sheepishly smiled and challenged us to another game (which she won).

Mrs. RMN believes that when learning is made tangible it means so much more. We are fortunate to live in the Washington D.C. area so we take advantage of the many museums and historical sites to help teach. In these COVID times and online schooling, finding the tangible is so much harder. We see the younger grades losing the most as they are unable to really learn from passively watching a checkerboard of faces on a small screen for hours on end. To learn they need more than listen; learning from an interactive experience is often the strongest way to imprint something in the brain.

With the first grader suffering the most, we try to find games that challenge her to think logically. She is an emergent reader right now and pretty good at math, but ‘putting it all together’ is a bit harder. Recently, we introduced her to Dragomino (already mentioned) and Dig Dog Dig (Flying Meeples, 2019). She likes both, but Mrs. RMN wanted to gift her a copy of Dig Dog Dig because it is one of the rare games that really engages a 5 or 6 year old child. When the game arrived, we sat down to teach her mother how to play so they could play at home. We need’t have worried because Miss A quickly took control and taught the game to her mother! Sure, her teach was not perfect but she got all the gross mechanics correct. This was all the more impressive given she had played the game with us maybe a half-dozen times. Most importantly, it showed she engaged with the game and internalized it. She ‘learned’ how to learn, and teach, the game.

Dig Dog Dig (Flying Meeples, 2019)

The sixth grader is much more challenging. Miss C came to us because she was falling far behind in math. RockyMountainNavy Jr. actually tutored her as his summer job since she had so many negative experiences with older tutors that she was rebelling. With a focus on math we tried some math games we had around, like Math Dice (ThinkFun, 2003), but it is too ‘school-like’ and she refused it. Digging deeper into the drawers of the gaming collection, we found a copy of Top Dogs (Playroom Entertainment, 2005). When we first brought the game out, she was immediately taken by the cute artwork. For us, the fact you need to do three-factor multiplication meant it hit exactly at a weakpoint of her learning. When we played the game she enjoyed it, even though she was a bit slower at calculating than others. Unlike Math Dice, she continued to play Top Dogs because she saw it more as a game and less as a lesson.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pic448118.jpg
Top Dogs (Playroom Entertainment, 2005)

More recently, we discovered that Miss C actually is very weak at quickly adding and subtracting numbers. We tried increasing her speed by using flash cards but, again, she rebelled because that feels too much like school. Digging through our shelves (again) I came across Sumoku (Blue Orange Games, 2010). This game hit several needs for Miss C; she needs to know factors of certain numbers and she needs to add groups of numbers. More importantly, she likes to play the game, especially against RockyMountainNavy Jr. (I admit there is a certain degree of ‘puppy love’ in play here too).

Sumoko (Blue Orange Games, 2010)

Speaking of RockyMountainNavy Jr., boardgames and wargames fully support his learning environment. He first real learning of American geography came from Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder, 2004) to Air Force (Battleline, 1976) where he learned the very basic of flight. This school year his US/Virginia history class started with an online quiz of the 13 colonies. The teacher challenged the class to beat his time of 14 seconds. RockyMountainNavy T quickly clocked times of 13 and 12 seconds. He also freely admitted that the reason he knows his colonies so well is the many times we played 1775: Rebellion (Academy Games, 2013).

1775: Rebellion (Academy Games, 2013)

Just the other night RockyMountainNavy Jr. was talking to me about learning vectors in his Physics class. Not only was he learning about vectors in Physics, but Miss C had asked him a question about her science homework earlier in the day (the question concerned movement is space). As he talked to me, I calmly walked to the game shelves and returned with a copy of Triplanetary: The Classic Game of Space Combat – Third Edition (Steve Jackson Games, 2018). I proceeded to pull out the contents and we sketched a few vectors about. He instantly grasped the basics of 2d vectors (and asked that we add Triplanetary to the Saturday Game Night rotation).

Triplanetary – Third Edition (Steve Jackson Games, 2018)

As much as we play games for learning, we also play games for relaxation. With great number of hours the kids are spending online during the day it becomes important for them to have offscreen activities. Here is where boardgames and wargames really shine. We are of course a gaming family, but we have also brought games to others (especially younger families) and are always on the lookout to share good games for families. Recent hits in the RockyMountainNavy home include Here to Slay (Unstable Games, 2020) and Fort (Leder Games, 2020).

In several ways COVID has ruined dreams plans I had for introducing boardgames into history classes at RockyMountainNavy Jr’s high school. Last year, right as the plandemic pandemic hit I was in contact with Jr’s history teacher about introducing 1775: Rebellion into the classroom. In particular, we were looking at some sort of implementation of the based on the Teaching the American Revolution through Play – 1775 Teacher’s Manual available through Academy Games.

1775: Rebellion Teachers Manual

In these COVID times boardgames and wargames serve as a very helpful coping mechanism not only for the immediate RockyMountainNavy family but also for our ‘extended’ family of students and friends. I don’t see that ever stopping.


Feature image Plan Orange: Pacific War 1930-1032 (C3iMagazine Nr. 29, 2016) and related reading.

#Boardgame Bits – Early Thoughts on One Small Step (@Academy_Games, 2020)

My Kickstarter Deluxe Edition of One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020) arrived this past week. The Kickstarter campaign ended in August 2019 and the game was supposed to be delivered in December that same year – an ambitious schedule given inevitable Academy Games production delays and COVID-19 which conspired to push delivery all the way mid-late 2020. Now that I have it in hand I am seriously reading the rules and getting ready to get it to the gaming table, possibly as soon as this weekend. Presented here, without full play, are some of my early thoughts as I ready for our first game:

  • Apollo at 50: Part of the original marketing for One Small Step was being able to play the Space Race in the 50th anniversary year of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. Well, that didn’t happen. I still have a great interest in the topic but the thrill of associating history with first play is kinda lost.
  • Worker Placement: The RockyMountainNavy house and worker placement games haven’t met with much success in the past. We anxiously tried Raiders of the North Sea (Garphill Games, 2015) and found it wanting. In One Small Step each team has two workers, an Administrator and an Engineer, each of which ‘activate’ spaces and cards differently. Looks interesting…we’ll see how it really works.
  • Three Players: Given my usual gaming partners are the two RockyMountainNavy Boys, we need good three-player games which are surprisingly hard to find. Other Academy Games like the Birth of America series allow us to play four-way games with three-players. Here’s to hoping One Small Step with the two teams of players (and each team playable as a single player) keeps up that tradition.
  • Plastic Bits: My Kickstarter Deluxe Edition shipped with several bags of plastic bits. They all look good but I can’t help but wonder if some good differently shaped wood bits with screen printing wouldn’t look, and feel, better. It’s a tough call: I really enjoy the wood bits in a game like 1775: Rebellion (Academy Games, 2013) but also enjoy all the little plastic ‘dudes on the map’ in a game like 878 Vikings (Academy Games, 2017).

Lest all this sounds negative, rest assured that I am anxious to play One Small Step. I do not regret buying the game and from what I have seen so far I am encouraged and looking forward to experiencing the game and sharing it with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Whatever happens I will let you know!

September #Wargame #Boardgame Forecast – It’s Raining Games!

In late June I made a bold forecast that as any as nine (9) of 27 games I had on preorder or Kickstarter could deliver by the end of July. Alas, it didn’t quite turn out that way.

August looked much better. Let’s see what happened this month and look a bit ahead to September….

Delivered

  1. Undaunted: North Africa (Osprey Games, 2020)Preorder Waro. DELIVERED. Good game slightly marred by the printing errors….
  2. Fort (Leder Games, 2020): Publisher-direct Preorder. DELIVERED. Who are your friends? Only the ones you play with!
  3. Quartermaster General: The Cold War (PSC Games, 2018)Online Retailer Purchase. Strategy Wargame? – DELIVERED. BGG lists this as a wargame. Not so fast….
  4. Scythe Complete Rulebook (Stonemaier Games, 2020): Publisher-direct Preorder. DELIVERED. Having recently started replaying Scythe and nearing completion of our The Rise of Fenris campaign its good to get all the rules in one organized place. Email Update 28 Aug“To-date we have not found a single instance of a rules error impacting gameplay in the 136-page document. Except in one section. The Automa rules need some work. I apologize for this and we take full responsibility. We believe these errors are large enough to justify a reprint. The good news is that many of you don’t play using the Automa (solo mode), and may never reference this section of the rulebook. But if you use the Automa or plan to in the future, we will send you a new spiralbound Scythe Complete Rulebook for free.” Here’s what we’ll do. Simply fill out this form and we’ll send you another Scythe Complete Rulebook when it’s reprinted in a few months using the mailing address from your previous order.”
  5. Dragomino (Blue Orange Games, 2020): Bonus Purchase – DELIVERED. Billed as “My First Kingdomino” I was a bit dubious as to how they could accomplish this. After all, Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017) is already a very simple game. Ordered as part of the Gen Con Online specials. SO HAPPY! Mrs. RMN introduced this game to all her students; all love it. Even RMN Jr (Mr. Kingdomino in the RMN House) likes to play!
  6. Dig Dog Dig (Flying Meeple, 2019): Bonus Purchase – DELIVERED. Another game bought to support the younger students of Mrs. RMN. This title is criminally under-appreciated. At heart a memory game, the toy factor and play makes this perfect for the early reader or younger gamers in your family.

Still Waiting

  1. One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020)Kickstarter Boardgame. UPDATE from August 7– “The container ship Seaspan Raptor is currently off the coast of Mexico and will arrive at the Panama Canal today. It is expect it to arrive in Florida August 10th! Your games will be shipped to you by Quartermaster Logistics, located in Orlando, FL hopefully by the end of next week.” NOTHING SEEN/HEARD SINCE.
  2. The Shores of Tripoli (Fort Circle Games, 2020)Kickstarter Waro. August 10 Update: “I also have some bad news. The shipping date from China has been pushed back further – to September 7. Just as you all have shown patience with me, I know I have to show patience with the folks manufacturing the game. But it is still extremely frustrating. And, unfortunately, airmailing the games here is truly cost-prohibitive – sink the company, never to be seen again level of cost-prohibitive. So this means it won’t be in anyone’s hands until October.”
  3. French & Indian War 1757-1759 (Worthington Publishing): Kickstarter Wargame. From a July 29 Update “The ship carrying both CRUSADER KINGDOMS and FRENCH & INDIAN WAR will hit the port in New York August 13.  We should expect for us to receive the games within 2 weeks of that barring a customs snag. Thats means it is possible we may be shipping the last week of August, and if not then the first week of September!!!”
  4. Flying Colors 3rd Edition Update Kit (GMT Games): P500. Charged 05 August. To ship shortly thereafter. Enroute!

New Orders

  1. Empire of the Sun, 4th Edition (GMT Games, 202?): New to the P500 this month. Could. Not. Resist.
  2. Supercharged (The Dietz Foundation, 2021?): Kickstarter. Looks like a good racing game. As the husband of a mother that uses boardgames to teach I also like what the Dietz Foundation stands for. Here he talks about how to use racing games (like Supercharged) for learning. At the time of this post, it sits just under 80% funded with about 20 days to go. HEY, RACING FANS! LEt’s get behind this!

“All game, no history.” Really? Musings on why I play #wargames

Recently on Twitter, the following tweet was reupped for comments:

The Tactical Painter @PainterTactical ·

Goodbye #advancedsquadleader Won 2 Australian tournaments, played 100s of games but had a damascene moment designing scenarios when I realised ASL had actually taught me little about WWII and nor could it. Play the rules, not the period. All game, no history.

I was added to the thread for my thoughts. Sorta hard to condense it into one short tweet but I tried:

Mountain Navy @Mountain_Navy · 
Thinking about what a #wargame means to me. Went to the tomes of Dunnigan, Perla, & Sabin as well as Zones of Control book for thoughts. My Answer: A wargame is an interactive model to explore conflict; it doesn’t define it. I use wargames for fun (to game) & inspire learning.

Complexity as Realism…or Not?

First, a disclaimer. I am not an active Advanced Squad Leader player. I played long ago but my ASL-like game was actually Star Fleet Battles (SFB). Like ASL, SFB is also accused of being overly complex. But when I was reading through Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming (Edited by Pat Harrigan & Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, MIT Press, 2016) I was drawn to Chapter 10, “Design for Effect: The “Common Language” of Advanced Squad Leader” by J.R. Tracy. Tracy starts out by stating:

Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) (1985) holds a unique place in the wargaming hobby. Nearly thirty years old, it is still going strong, with a large, ardent fan base and a smaller, but no less ardent body of detractors. More a game system than a game, ASL is both respected and reviled as representing the best and worst aspects of wargaming. ASL itself is considered a benchmark of complexity and comprehensiveness, while its player possess a devotion bordering on fanaticism. Though its roots are firmly in the “design-for-effect” philosophy, it is viewed by many as the paragon of realism with respect to tactical World War II combat. This is born of a misguided equation of complexity and verisimilitude – ASL is at its heart more game than simulation, but it is a richly rewarding game, offering dramatic, cinematic narrative as well as competitive experience. (p. 113)

Mr. Tracy goes on to point out that Squad Leader designer John Hill was, “striving for an impressionistic depiction of combat…based on his interpretation of eyewitness accounts and recollections” (p. 113). He goes on to say, “For Hill, ‘Realism is in the stress and snap decisions of small unit combat’….” (p. 113).

“Realism is in the stress and snap decisions….” More than anything else that line captures for me why I play wargames. For the longest time I was caught up in that ASL-like versimiltude of equating complexity with realism. My favorite games were the likes of Harpoon, the Fighting Wings Series, or Panzer. Those games all bordered more on simulation than games.

Or so I thought.

Wargames as Insight

Years later I have acquired a more nuanced approach to gaming. These days I recognize that all games are models – and models are often imperfect. I now approach games more in line with the thinking of designer Mark Herman who tell us, “As a designer, I always strive to develop game systems that allow the players to compete in a plausible historical narrative that allows for the suspension of disbelief and offers insight into a period’s dynamics.” (ZoC, p. 133)

My undergraduate degree is in History and I always have viewed myself as an amateur historian. Starting in my youth, I used wargames to help me explore history. Robert M. Citrino, in his Zones of Control contribution “Lessons from the Hexagon: Wargames and the Military Historian,” gives us three ways wargames augment the study of history:

  • Wargames are a visual and tactile representation of the real-life event.
  • Wargames help illustrate the various levels of war: tactical, operational, and strategic.
  • Wargames are the ultimate “Jomini-Clausewitz conundrum.”
    • Wargames are Jominian at their core; they quantify, order, and prescribe military activity.
    • Wargames incorporate a Clausewitz artifact – the die as a randomizer

I find Citrino’s conclusion most powerful:

Beyond the informational content or fun quotient, however, wargames offer the operational military historian a means to interpret past events, to unpack the calculations that go into planning a campaign and then to analyze the reasons for success or failure. Wargames allow for compelling analysis of time, space, and force dilemmas; they clearly delineate the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war; and they allow the player to appreciate the truths inherent in both Jomini and Clausewitz, rather than choosing one and rejecting the other. In the end, war itself is a violent, bloody, and unpredictable game, with time-honored Jominian principles serving as the “rules” and Clausewitzian Zufall interfering as the randomizer. (ZoC, p. 445)

Games, Not Simulations

Remember when I said that I loved all those more “simulation games?” I didn’t really understand why I thought this, but Robert MacDougall and Lisa Faden in “Simulation Literacy: The Case for Wargames in the History Classroom” (Zones of Control, Chapter 37) helped me understand maybe why I feel this way.

MacDougall and Faden make the case that simulations are often used to model social phenomenon. “They try to distinguish between dependent and independent variables, to make generalizations that will be applicable in many places and times, and ultimately, to uncover the laws of human behavior” (ZoC, p. 450). Games, however, are different, especially with respect to decisions:

Game designer Sid Meier once defined a game as “a series of interesting decisions.” In a historical simulation game, the players take on the roles of those who made interesting decisions. The rules of the game define the structure that constrained those decisions. “Play can be defined as the tension between the rules of the game and the freedom to act within those rules,” writes Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011, 18). Play, in other words, explores the boundaries of agency and structure – and the “ability to make interesting decisions” is about as succinct a definition of historical agency as we are likely to find.

…But Fun

Wargames make for interesting decisions. When I started wargaming, I thought for th elongest time that complexity led to more intereting decisions. These days, I find that it is often the simplest games, with less decisions, that are the most fun. Games like Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing), 878 Vikings (Academy Games), or Command & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games) will never be held up as detailed models of conflict, but each is fun and offer up interesting decision spaces. They do teach, at least in broad strokes of history, and that is part of what makes them interesting too. But in the end, I play most wargames these days for fun.

I still play the more complex games, but my approach to them has changed. While I still use them to explore conflict, I also try to enjoy it. My attitude these days is one of wanting to game a conflict, not simulate it. I think many designers and publishers get this. This is why the new Harpoon V from Admiralty Trilogy Games is more player-friendly. It’s why Buffalo Wings 2 (Against the Odds) is having a successful Kickstarter. And yes, it’s why even Advanced Squad Leader is still a money-maker for Multi-Man Publishing (especially when one looks at the face-to-face tournament play aspect).

All of which is to say I play wargames for the fun of learning and making interesting decisions. They don’t teach me history, but they offer a pathway to further insight.

“All game, no history.” Not true for me.


Feature image courtesy BoardGameGeek.