Further thoughts on @ADragoons “What is a #Wargame?” Mentioned in Dispatches podcast Season 5 Episode 13

Brant over at the Armchair Dragoons was kind enough to invite me to appear on another episode of Mentioned in Dispatches (Season 5, Episode 13) where the topic is “What is a wargame?”

Oh boy.

If you suffer through me stumbling through the first part, we eventually get to the point where I offer a defintion:

“An inclusive and concise defintion may be proposed as: an imaginary military operation, conducted upon a map or board, and usually employing various moveable devices which are said to represent the opposing forces, and which are moved about according to rules representing conditions of actual warfare.”

A Brief History of War Gaming: Reprinted from Unpublished Notes of the Author, Dated 23 October 1956 (AD 235 893, Armed Forces Technical Information Agency, 15 Oct 1960)

As though you haven’t suffered enough listening to my ramblings on the podcast, I’m going to offer a few more here.

Randomizers

One item that many folks might insist is missing in the definition is that wargames need some sort of a randomizer. Most often this takes the form of dice but it doesn’t have to be. In Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs (GMT Games, 2019) which, if you listened to the episode you can kinda tell that I like, a deck of cards is used to generate the random numbers for results.

Interestingly, the early editions of Flat Top (Battleline/Avalon Hill, 1977) did not have a random die combat resolution mechanic. The outcome of an attack was determined by looking up a cross-reference table. So maybe the randomizer is not actually a requirement but nothing more than an oft-called upon, easy to explain, option to introduce a random resolution element into a game design.

UBOOT & the Charlies

Full disclosure here: I didn’t vote for UBOOT: The Board Game (PHALANX, 2019). I initially backed it on Kickstarter but dropped my pledge because the worker placement and app-assist didn’t attract me. I have already gone on record saying that I feel the Charlies need a different award selection process. Does that make me biased against it? Maybe. So read on if you dare!

Back to the Well – Is UBOOT a Wargame?

We hashed this out on the podcast and said, “No.” Upon reconsideration, do I still think so? As you can probably tell during the discussion, if there is one part of the definition that’s going to trip people up it’s likely will hinge on what they perceive to be a “military operation.” In regards to the Charlies Award sweeper UBOOT:

  • Does the ‘fact’ the game takes place during a combat patrol make it a “military operation”?
  • Does the ‘fact’ the crew (workers) represent a military group make it a “military operation”?
  • Does the ‘fact’ the U-Boat has a military mission to sink enemy shipping make it a “military operation”?

I know that Moe repeatedly made the point that UBOOT is a worker placement game. He is obviously very focused on the core mechanic of the game. A legitimate question is; can a worker placement game be a wargame?

In UBOOT, on every turn the players are responsible for certain crew positions. Moe (or was it Brant?) also made the point that the artificial three-order limit was not very realistic. After the podcast, it struck me that UBOOT in some ways is not unlike the old FASA title Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator (FASA, 1983). That game features Command and Control Panels for the different crew positions. It is possible to play the Starship Tactical Combat Simulator as a team…not too much unlike UBOOT. Now, I certainly consider the FASA Trek game a ‘wargame’, so why is UBOOT different?

FASA Star Trek Starship Combat Game Command & Control Panels (Photo by RMN)

I Know a Wargame When I See It

I think if you listen to our discussion of UBOOT and then Root (Leder Games, 2018) you will hear that, at least to me, what makes a game a wargame comes down to a matter of degrees. The question becomes, “when is enough, enough?” To Moe it sounds like the core mechanic trumps theme. I want to agree with that but my own track record is spotty. In the end, I can only say that I think theme can be both helpful and hurtful.

For instance, take a look at Pandemic: Fall of Rome (Z-Man Games, 2018) which gets mentioned but not discussed. In my mind, Pandemic: Fall of Rome is clearly a wargame.

Here is how the ad copy for Fall of Rome reads:

A weakened military has left the borders open to invasion from countless tribes such as the Anglo-Saxons, Goths, Vandals, and Huns. As you march through the Roman Empire, you must recruit armies, fortify cities, forge alliances, and face off against the invading hordes in battle.

In my mind, the fact the game explicitly tries to represent the march of forces, the recruitment of armies, fortification of cities, and even making alliances is all representative of a “military operation.” Fall of Rome does this without almost any use of “classic” wargame mechanics (though I note that Fall of Rome is also the first game in the Pandemic family to have a combat resolution mechanism).

What about AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018)? Billed by the publisher as an “adventure / exploration” game I think it is much more. Again, lets go to the ad copy:

Military units will help you to locate, fight and defend against the nightmarish beings that may be lurking on your doorstep. As well as hardware, you’ll need to recruit some Personalities who have the skills and resources to help you.

Previously I described AuZtralia as a Eurogame for Grognards. The first part of the game is all about exploration and expansion and resource collection but at some point the game becomes a fight against the Old Ones and their minions. Does that make it a wargame? Let’s see:

  • “Real or imaginary military operations” – You need both military forces and personalities to FIGHT the Old Ones – CHECK.
  • “….map or board….” – You actually have two to chose from in the base game – CHECK.
  • “Moveable pieces” – Weak; most of the pieces do not represent ‘opposing forces” until that Old Ones wake up; then again, do your railroads and farms count as your ‘forces’? – Heck, I’m still going to say CHECK!
  • “….rules representing conditions of actual warfare” – There is clearly a combat resolution mechanic in the game – CHECK.

In my mind, and to be fair, AuZtralia is a wargame PLUS. In other words, it is not a “pure” wargame from the start but after the Old Ones awake it certainly BECOMES a wargame. The wargame elements it has in the second half are ‘sufficient’ in my mind to make it a wargame. When I think about it, this same approach is most likely why I consider Root a wargame; it has sufficient wargame elements to tip the scale for me.

So what is is about UBOOT that doesn’t tip that scale for me? Am I simply looking too askance at the worker placement mechanic and refusing to accept that mechanism can have a place in a wargame? How does the fact the crew must work as a team to Find, Fix, Track, and Target (F2T2 in military jargon) a merchant ship NOT make it a wargame? It works in Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator; why not here?

Maybe Moe is right. Maybe it’s all about that worker placement mechanic. Maybe I see the emphasis in UBOOT on the mechanic with a theme wrapped around it rather than a theme supported by a mechanic. Come to think of it, that’s a good way to explain how I look at all the games I talked about here.

I’m an old Grognard, So I Can Be Grumpy

Lastly, I’m going to expand a bit on a topic we talked about on the podcast. I fully agree that wargamers, as a niche group of hobby boardgaming, spend too much time defending our hobby. Indeed, the ‘elitism’ of some segments of the hobby boardgame crowd is hugely offensive. I’ll even go so far as to say that even the self-anointed ‘consciousness” of the wargame community can be offensive too. If you don’t want to play wargames, or certain wargames, you don’t have to and I won’t force you. I fully believe in our community good game designs will rise to the top; socially engineered bootstraps are not needed. But don’t you dare pretend you are superior to another gamer and can dictate what they (or I) can play. If a topic is that offensive then reasonable people will avoid it – gatekeepers are not needed.

#Coronapocalypse #Boardgame #GuiltyPleasure – Why AuZtralia (@StrongholdGames, 2018) is a game for real grognards

I DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHY THIS GAME IS NOT MORE POPULAR. The game I am talking about is AuZtralia: The Great Designers Series #11 (Stronghold Games, 2018). First off, it’s designed by Martin Wallace who is one of the star Eurogame designers out there.

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Courtesy Stronghold Games

A Eurogame? I can hear you asking now, “Hey, RockyMountainNavy, has that quarantine thing sent you batty? I thought you were a wargamer?”

Yes, I am still a grognard, but I always look for new and innovative games. That’s why AuZtralia ended up in my collection. According to the ad copy:

AuZtralia is an adventure/exploration game for 1-4 players set in an alternate reality 1930s. The theme is inspired by Martin Wallace’s A Study in Emerald. Following the Restorationist war, the northern hemisphere lands lay poisoned and starvation was the norm. Intrepid adventurers set out to explore and settle new lands. Little did they know, after the war, the surviving Old Ones and their remaining loyal human armies made their way to the outback of Australia to lick their wounds.

Build a port, construct railways, mine and farm for food. You’ll need to prepare for the awakening. You’ll need to fight.

Everything you do in the game costs time, which is one of AuZtralia’s most valued resources.

At a point in time, the Old Ones will wake up and become an active player. They begin to reveal themselves and move, with potentially devastating outcomes.

You’ll need to prepare wisely for the awakening and may have to co-operate with others to defeat the most dangerous Old Ones.

Military units will help you to locate, fight and defend against the nightmarish beings that may be lurking on your doorstep. As well as hardware, you’ll need to recruit some Personalities who have the skills and resources to help you.

Well, that pretty much sums up the entire game. The first part of the game is almost a pure Eurogame; build railroads, farms, mine resources, and recruit Personalities with special powers. The key mechanic is Time. Everything you do takes Time.

Then the Old Ones start to awake. They stalk you. They Blight your farms. You have to defend yourself before they destroy everything, especially your Port.

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Old Ones Card – Courtesy Stronghold Games

This is when the “conflict” game starts. For those squeamish Eurogamers out there you can breathe easy because you don’t fight another player – you fight the Old Ones driven by their own deck of cards. There are even no dice in this game; everything is resolved by another special deck of cards. Players will need to cooperate to defeat the Old Ones. To use designer Brian Train’s description of another crossover game, it’s a “militarized Eurogame.” I prefer the term Waro.

AuZtralia is designed for 1-4 players. I played the Solo Mode. My randomly drawn Solo Objective was Frenetic Farmer – Reward: 20 VP, Place at least TWO of each type of Farm and end with at least FOUR non blighted Farms. Uh…alot easier said then done!

I lost, but I had a good deal of fun. Playtime was a little bit under an hour. As always the real stressor is finding the balance in time and resources between building your infrastructure and preparing – then fighting with – your military. This is not a serious game by any stretch of the imagination but nor is it cheesy. Strategy choices are real and supported by the game mechanics and play.

Looking at the BGG Stats on AuZtralia, I guess the boardgame community embraces the game far more than grognards. At the time of this writing, AuZtralia is ranked #682 Overall and the #362 Strategy Game. This makes it the #47 BGG Overall ranked game and the #10 BGG Strategy Game in my collection.*

That’s too bad. I know grognards often like to focus on “the fight” and don’t always want to be involved in the “why” or “how” of the situation. Especially if the “how” involves logistics (resources). AuZtralia challenges those notions by combining elements of a Eurogame with a wargame. The resulting Adventure game is both fun and interesting – even for this grognard.


*My Top 10 BGG Ranked Strategy Games in collection

  1. Terraforming Mars (BGG #5)
  2. Scythe (BGG #11)
  3. Root (BGG #29)
  4. Raiders of the North Sea (BGG #71)
  5. Pandemic (BGG #98)
  6. Tiny Epic Galaxies (BGG #202)
  7. Pandemic: Fall of Rome (BGG #219)
  8. Trains (BGG #296)
  9. Settlers of Catan (BGG #344)
  10. AuZtralia (BGG #362)

 

RockyMountainNavy’s influential #boardgame from the 2010’s

I want to thank all of you who took the time to make my post RockyMountainNavy’s influential #wargame from the 2010’s my most-read article this year. Sensing a good thing and wanting to keep try and keep the bandwagon going, I now will regal you with my fifteen most influential boardgames that I own or played that were published between 2010 and 2019.

Sorta.

Late Start

Like I said in my wargames of influence post, I ‘rediscovered’ the hobby boardgame industry in late 2016. Sure, I had some hobby boardgames, but I had not seriously tried to get the family into gaming. In late 2016 we started playing more games and by late 2017 we had instituted a Family Game Night on Saturdays.

As a grognard wargamer, moving from wargames to boardgames was a bit jarring. I mean, you often times play with more than one opponent? Although they were not new to me, I really came to understand the Ameritrash vs Eurogamer battle and started looking at games from both a thematic and mechanical perspective. Along the way, I never gave up on wargaming and introduced the RockyMountainNavy Boys to the wargame niche. The challenge was finding good multiplayer wargames that could be played in an evening.

Here comes the Waro

I needn’t have worried, for in late 2017 a new ‘genre’ of boardgames was starting to be talked about. Here came the waro, or wargame-Eurogame. There is no single definition of what a waro is, but to me it is a wargame that incorporates elements, be it mechanical or component-wise, of Eurogames. In 2019 Brian Train used the term, “militarized Eurogame” which I find both very simple and highly descriptive. So the list you are about to see has more than a few waro games on it. That is because as a wargamer these titles often speak to me and have brought gaming joy tot he RockyMountainNavy household.

Unlike my previous list which was presented in order of year of publication, this one will be a vain attempt by me to rank them. Please don’t ask me to define my criteria; this is really a ‘gut feel’ of how I rank these games. Like before, the list is light on pre-2016 games because it was then that I turned hard into the hobby. I am sure some real gems from earlier in the decade deserve to be here; I either don’t own them or simply missed them as I took in the later-half of the decade.

My 15 Influential Boardgames of the 2010’s

15. Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon – Academy Games, 2019

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Courtesy Academy Games

The ‘dungeon crawl’ is a very popular boardgame format. In the RockyMountainNavy house we tend to stay away from fantasy but the RMN Boys are Star Wars fans so we own and played Star Wars: Imperial Assault after it came out. I recognize that the game is very popular (currently #37 overall on BoardGameGeek) but as big fans as the Boys were the game never really clicked. Indeed, the entire dungeon crawl gaming genre (as well as man-to-man scale skirmish games in general) seemed kinda lost on the Boys and myself. That is, until I played Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon.

 

Maybe its the 3D terrain. Maybe its the fact I am not familiar with the setting and therefore more open minded. Maybe I am more accepting of modern superpowers vice always fighting Star Wars ‘canon.’ Whatever the reason, I really enjoy the game. I really like the character and unit tableaus and how they enable handling them in a very easy manner. There is no need to lookup a table or chart; its’ all really in front of you.

Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon makes my influential list because it shows me how a skirmish / dungeon crawl-like game can be made fast, fun and furious (to steal another RPGs tagline).

14. AuZtralia – Stronghold Games, 2018

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Courtesy Stronghold Games

According to BGG and Stronghold Games, AuZtralia is an “adventure/exploration game.” To me, I think they forgot “wargame.” To me, AuZtralia is a waro but in a slightly different sense of the word. In the first part of the game, AuZtralia is a Eurogame of building railroads and seeking resources. At some point, however, it switches over to a wargame where your armed forces (supported by certain individuals) are fighting the Old Ones. I like this schizophrenic design approach. It is certainly one way to approach a waro; in this case one I really enjoy.

 

AuZtralia is influential because it shows the very direct marriage of a Eurogame and wargame. 

13. Cataclysm: A Second World War – GMT Games, 2018

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Courtesy GMT Games

I think Cataclysm has an identity crisis. Thematically, the game covers the Second World War periods. Published by GMT Games, it just must be a wargame since that is what GMT publishes, right? To all of you I say, wrong! To me Cataclysm is not a wargame of military conflict, but a game of politics where military action is one possible tool in your kit. Yes, I declare that Cataclysm is a political game. Like the ad copy says, “This is not your father’s panzer pusher.”

 

Cataclysm is influential because it forced me to stretch my definition of wargame and give serious consideration to the politics of conflict, not just the military confrontation.

12. Pandemic: Fall of Rome  – Z-Man Games, 2018

zgLVeSk8Tn+CXkchMq7sMwThe RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself are not really into cooperative games. That said, we always have fun playing the original Pandemic and have used it to introduce hobby boardgaming to others. That said, we are not huge fans so have not sought out other Pandemic titles. That is, until Pandemic: Fall of Rome came out. At first I bought the game because I had dreams of enticing the oldest RMN Boy (the non-tabletop gamer) to play because he loves ancients. That didn’t work, but I discovered a new Pandemic, one that included ‘battles.’ Like AuZtralia, I categorize Pandemic: Fall of Rome as a waro because it very successfully mixes both Eurogame and wargame.

Pandemic: Fall of Rome is influential because it demonstrates the power of mixing a very cooperative ‘stop the spread’ Eurogame with key wargame (battle) mechanics.

11. Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection – GMT Games, 2016

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Courtesy GMT Games

As I really discovered hobby boardgaming (and wargaming for that matter) in late 2016 I heard about this thing called the COIN-series. At first I was not interested because professionally I tend to pay more attention to rogue nations and peer competitors and never really got into the counterterrorism or counterinsurgency areas. At the same time I also had moved to the East Coast of the US and was studying more Revolutionary history. I passed on COIN until I saw GMT Games getting ready for a second reprint of Liberty or Death. The approach of the game was intriguing; framing the American Revolution as an insurgency? I bought it and was confused at first. This is a complex game! But I persevered and eventually, after several plays, it started to click.

 

Liberty or Death is influential because this game showed me that games can be used to teach and explore very serious political topics.

10. Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest – Mighty Board Games, 2019

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Courtesy Mighty Boards

Brian Train, co-designer of Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest, writes in the designer’s notes how this title is a “militarized Eurogame.” I adit I bought this game at first because it is a Brian Train design and I like how he sheds light on smaller or less known conflicts in history. The topic of Nights of Fire is very niche, the Soviet invasion of Budapest in 1956. Nights of Fire, however, uses a very Eurogame-approach to model this battle with cards and area control and blocks and tokens. This is really a card game with hand/action management and block wargame put together. I also respect the designers that were able to make the same game play competitive, cooperative, or solo.

 

Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest is influential because I consider it the best example of the ‘bleeding edge’ of waro design.

9. Root: A Woodland Game of Might & Right – Leder Games, 2018

 

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Courtesy Leder Games

Root is a wargame, right? Look at BoardGameGeek where as I write this it is the 19th-ranked wargame (as well as the #33 Strategy Game and #39 overall). With all the battling in the game it must be a wargame, right? As much as I want to agree, I see two games here, but neither of them are truly a wargame. On the mechanical level, I am in awe of the design of Root that incorporates so many different game mechanisms into a well integrated package. Every faction plays differently, be it set collection or action-selection or hand management. I am totally amazed that Cole Wehrle makes this all work together. But none of those mechanisms are ‘wargame.’

 

IMG_0084On the second level, I see Root as a political game. Each faction has a different way to victory and battling is just one lever of power a faction can wield. Once again, you can play Root as a ‘wargame’ but, like Cataclysm before, this is really a political battle where fighting is a tool that can be chosen.

Root is influential because it shows me how one integrates many different game engines into a political game that is vicious despite the cute and fuzzy animals. Truly a wild kingdom!

8. Queendomino – Blue Orange Games, 2017

 

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games

Spoiler Alert – you’re going to see Kingdomino a bit later in this list. As much as we like that game, the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself also really enjoy Queendomino. That is because we view Queendomino as the ‘gamers version’ of Kingdomino. We really enjoy how the designers took the simplicity of Kingdomino and added jus the right amount of new mechanisms to make the game vastly more interesting yet still simple to play.

 

Influential because Queendomino demonstrates how to take a great simple game, add a bit of complexity, but still keep it easy and fun to to play.

7. Quarriors! – WizKids, 2011

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Courtesy WizKids

Finally, you say! A game from before 2016! I think I actually bought this game in 2011 from Petrie’s Family Games when I lived in Colorado Springs. I seem to remember the owner, Cameron, giving me a strong recommendation and, seeking a game to play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys, I purchased it. Then life got in the way and I moved to the East Coast for a job while the RMN Family stayed in Colorado. It was not until 2013 that we were all back together again, but then I was concerned that all the reading on the cards and how to put a strategy together would be too much for my middle boy who is on the Autism Spectrum. As a result, we really didn’t get this game to the table until 2017.

Suffice it to say I was stupid. The RMN Boys can handle this game quite well. They love it so much they both put their own money forth to buy expansions.

Quarriors! is influential because it is one of the most-played games in the RockyMountainNavy collection and often used by the Boys to beat up on old Dad because they are much faster at building synergistic dice pools than I am.

6. Rhino Hero – HABA, 2016

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Courtesy HABA

A yellow- box game from HABA is for kids only, right? Sure, the box says for ages 5-99 but we all just know its really a kids game. WRONG! I cannot even start to count all the hours (and I mean hours) of fun play this game has occupied int he RockyMountainNavy house. Not only hours of fun for the RMN Family, but Rhino Hero is a title we use to introduce others to hobby gaming.

Rhino Hero is influential because it has opened the eyes of many non-gamer friends to a different type of family game and shown them good family fun.

5. Kingdomino – Blue Orange Games, 2017

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games

When I pulled Kingdomino out the first time the RockyMountainNavy Boys were dubious. After all, how hard could it be to place dominos on a 5×5 grid? Years later this game is often the go-to when we need a quick filler game before dinner. Or when we want to introduce somebody to gaming. It is very easy to teach. I also enjoy watching a new player as they play their first game; you can literally see the lightbulb go on in their head as they realize what they can do when selecting a tile. You can see their eyes dart between the tiles and their kingdom, and eventually the other players, as the strategy develops in their head.

Kingdomino is influential because not only do we enjoy every play, it is our gateway game of choice to introduce others to hobby boardgaming.

4. Terraforming Mars – Stronghold Games, 2016

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Courtesy Stronghold Games

Somewhere I think I heard that Terraforming Mars was a good science lesson. Wanting to encourage the youngest RMN Boy to pursue the sciences I purchased this game. At first I was doubtful as the sheer number of cards seemed overwhelming. I also was concerned (again) whether my middle boy could handle all the reading and assemble a strategy. Well, the youngest was taken by the game (“See Mom, it teaches me!”) while the middle boy caught on (maybe faster than I did). Once we added the Prelude expansion that jump-starts your Corporations we find ourselves playing this game even more often than we did before. Now our neighbors have the game, making a inter-family game night a real possibility.

Terraforming Mars is influential because it showed that we all can enjoy a good middle-weight Eurogame and are not limited to simpler titles or wargames.

3. 1775: Rebellion – Academy Games, 2013

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Courtesy Academy Games

(Yes, another pre-2016 title!) Alas, I did not discover this game until I had a conversation with Uwe Eickert of Academy Games at the wargaming conference CONNECTIONS 2017. While discussing his excellent Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear second edition (Academy Games, 2012) I mentioned I was always looking for a good family wargame. Uwe immediately sold me on his Birth of America series so we soon had 1775: Rebellion on the table. We now own the entire Birth of America and Birth of Europe series and we will surely buy any new game in the future.

1775: Rebellion is influential because showed us that a lite family strategy/wargame does not have to be Risk; indeed, there is much better out there that not only is fun to play but also teaches good history.

2. Enemies of Rome – Worthington Publishing, 2017

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Courtesy Worthington Publishing

The lite family strategy/wargames of the Birth of America series (Academy Games) were such a big hit in the RockyMountainNavy house I went looking for more. Given the oldest RMN Boy’s interest in Ancients I chose Enemies of Rome as a good candidate game. Little did I realize how much the other Boys (especially the youngest) would be taken with the game. Enemies of Rome is one of the most-played games in the RMN collection and there is no sign the Boys are going to lose interest. Heck, even I will probably not lose interest because every play has been different. Just last week, I started out in Syria and halted my expansion across Africa because I was sure that card that brings hoards of ‘Enemies of Rome’ out across North Africa was going to come out next. It never did because it was one of the cards removed at setup. But I was so sure it was going to come I I followed a strategy that defended against a non-existent threat. Now the RMN Boys are looking to use this game for the Neighborhood Gaming Gang since it plays up to five.

Enemies of Rome is influential because it is our most-played lite family strategy/wargame that is simple to learn yet offers deep play time and time again.

1. Scythe – Stonemaier Games, 2016

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Courtesy Stonemaier Games

Another recommendation from Uwe Eickert at CONNECTIONS 2017. I had never played a Eurogame of this sort before and my first reading of the rules were daunting. I played it solo a few times then tried to teach it to the RMN Boys.

We all fell in love with it.

First it was the art. Jakub Rozalski is incredible.

Second is the game mechanics. Middle-Heavy Eurogames are not in our usual wheelhouse. Scythe was so different than anything we played before. But the asymmetric powers of the factions and economies makes no two games alike. The expansions are clean and add good flavor; the campaign is an incredible journey.

Scythe is influential because it opened our eyes to a whole new type of boardgame and it keeps us coming back with innovative expansions and endless replayability. I think we will still be playing this game in 20 years.


Feature image from teedep.com

RockyMountainNavy #Boardgame of the Year for 2018

This is the first in my series of 2018 “of the Year” posts. This one will cover boardgames, a second will look at wargames, the third will be expansions, and the last is my Game of the Year. Candidate games are taken from those published and which I acquired in 2018.

For my 2018 Boardgame of the Year the candidates are:

…and my winner is…

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Courtesy Stronghold Games

As I recorded in my First Impressions post, I was a bit cool to AuZtralia at first. After playing it a few more times (and especially after solo play) I have really warmed up to this title. What I initially called “schizophrenic” in the game I now see as a well-accomplished blending of sometime disparate game mechanisms into a complete game playable in about 2 hours.

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Photo by self

At the time I wrote this post, AuZtralia has nearly 900 ratings on BoardGameGeek with a rating of 7.7. It was also ranked 197th in the Thematic Game category. I personally think the Geek Rating is a bit low and the game should get more respect than it seems to be garnering. I have heard some people criticize the randomness in the game (“this game has way to much randomness, the scoring sucks”) while others don’t like the blending of mechanism, especially when the game devolves into a wargame (oh the horror!). I think designer Scott Muldoon (sdiberar on BGG) says it best, “I don’t think the work is a stroke of genius, but it’s a solid game that has staked out some new territory (“Rails to Cthulhu, Now With More Combat”).”

Other Candidates

Let me also say that Pandemic: Fall of Rome (BGG rated at 7.9) and Ticket to Ride: New York (BGG rated at 7.1) are also excellent games. My opinion of Fall of Rome may change as the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself play it more. Ticket to Ride: New York makes an excellent gateway game or filler game. As far as Villainous; let’s just say the less said the better.

Never tell me the odds – except in AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018)

Saturday Game Night at Casa RockyMountainNavy saw designer Martin Wallace’s AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018) on the table. This was a three-player game with myself and the two younger RockyMountainNavy Boys. If there is one thing tonight’s game proved to me it’s that AuZtralia is best described as a schizophrenic game; it starts as a Eurogame but ends as a wargame.

Set up and teaching the game took about 30 minutes. Usually I set up the game while the RockyMountainNavy Boys are taking care of after-dinner chores but in AuZtralia the set up is an important part of understanding the game so this time we did it together.

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At start – That’s alot of Level 2 Old Ones sitting there….

In no particular order here are some thoughts:

  • I started out closest to many unrevealed Old Ones (see the Blue Port above). I built a few railroads and farms but then started arming. as I was worried about the horde of Old Ones ready to descend upon me. In hindsight I might of armed a turn or more too early and lost a chance for a few more farms. With just two more farms and if Middle RockyMountainNavy won his last battle (see below) I could of been victorious with a two point margin of victory.
  • Pay attention to the combat effectiveness chart. At least one time I threw away a combat by bringing along a combat unit that cost me time but was ineffective against that particular Old One. If I had not thrown away that attack and built a farm instead (as above) it might of made all the difference.
  • Gold is definitely the most precious commodity. Not only do you purchase Military Units but it is what enables you to repeat an already taken action on your tableau. I ran out of gold in the endgame and was unable to make an attack that (once again) could of swung the victory to me.
  • Final score was Old Ones – 28 / RockyMountainNavy – 22 / Middle RockyMountainNavy – 18 / Youngest RockyMountainNavy – 18.
  • Victory in the game can really come down to one battle. Middle RockyMountainNavy Boy played the odds with an attack at the endgame – and lost. If he has scored one last hit he would have won the whole game with 24 points and the Old Ones would have tied for second at 22 points.
  • Total game time was about 2 hours. This was on top of the 30 minute setup/teaching. With a bit of some familiarity the game can probably get down to the 30 minutes/player range of play time with 10 minutes to set up.

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Cthulhu himself – courtesy Stronghold Games

AuZtralia will land on the table again, but it is competing in a crowded part of the RockyMountainNavy game collection. AuZtralia is in the sweet spot for game length and players for Game Night. Given its schizophrenic nature, the RockyMountainNavy Boys are a bit unsure what to make of the game. Generally, they lean towards wargaming although with three or four players we tend towards the “waro” style of wargame. At the endgame, AuZtralia fits this category. It’s the beginning Eurogame (build railroads, farms, and claim resources) that we are hesitant to dive into. The Boys are also not well-versed in the Cthulhu Mythos so the theme of the game is not a factor.

Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.

 

Tough Game Night Moments – thoughts on rules, factions, and “take that”

After missing the RockyMountainNavy Game Night for two weeks the boardgame Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017) landed on the table. Although there are other games unplayed waiting for a slot at the table, like AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018) we pulled Enemies of Rome out at the request of the youngest RMN Boy as it matches what he is studying in history at school.

It did not go so well.

I have said before that Enemies of Rome is not the game it appears to be. What looks like an area control game is actually a Battle Royale. Glory Points are scored by winning battles which means one must think very offensively. Although the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself have played Enemies of Rome ten times now, and even discussed the victory demands, it has yet to fully sink in to the Middle RMN Boy. In tonights game, like the last one, he “turtled” early and fell far behind in points as he built up his forces without attacking any of the enemies of Rome. Unfortunately, the enemies of Rome also were building up their forces right in his neighborhood. It also did not help that the Youngest RMN Boy chose to lash out at his brothers outposts and seized several provinces. As a result, Middle RMN fell far behind in points and was very sullen and not fully into the game.

It would be very easy for me to blame this on his Autism Spectrum condition but that’s too easy. Tonight was a good reminder that, no matter how familiar one is with a game, it behooves players to review some of the basic rules and mechanics of a game. In this case, a gentle reminder to all that Glory Points are earned by attacking is only part of it. A review of the die odds is also helpful. If one waits for overwhelming odds in their favor they will fall behind. I know that I often gamble with 2:1 or 3:2 attacks because I recognize the need to generate Glory Points. I save the 3:1 or 4:1 attacks for battles against other Legions because the penalty for losing those battles is loss of Glory Points.

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Courtesy Z-Man Games

I think Enemies of Rome will sit on the shelf for a bit and cool off. This doesn’t mean we will be hurting for games; indeed, it clears the way (and maybe even creates a demand) to get the semi-cooperative AuZtralia to the table. All the RMN Boys are also excited that the cooperative Pandemic: Fall of Rome (Z-Man Games, 2018) has been shipped. As a family, we really enjoy Pandemic and the Middle RMN Boy has proven to be a bit of a whiz at playing. I hope that these games in particular bring joy to the gaming table.

Dk_yqCEWsAki4_HIn the same vein, this weekends events have forced me to reconsider introducing Root (Leder Games, 2018) to the RMN Boys. The asymmetric nature of the different player factions in Root demands that each player play a bit differently. For the Middle RMN Boy this may be challenging. I remember the first time we played with the Invaders from Afar Expansion to Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2016) and the Middle RMN Boy got a whole new faction. He struggled mightily to figure out how the faction worked. When he tried to watch his brother and I play our factions it was of little help because every faction plays differently. Root may work if I can convince him to play the first time the using the Marquis de Cat as I think that faction is mechanically the most straight forward.

As a wargamer, a game with a “take that” mechanic doesn’t offend me. However, events like this weekend’s game reminds me that not all players are like me. I don’t think I will ever fully turn into a Eurogamer with their “let’s just all get along and make a farm” attitude but bringing out more games with less “take that” for the Family Game Night probably won’t hurt.

Featured image courtesy Worthington Publishing.

The holiday season is upon us – Limited November gaming but still lots of joy.

November was a VERY slow gaming month. Lots of moving parts conspired to reduce the number of games played this past month. The RockyMountainNavy tribe missed two (2!) weekends of game nights. This is the first time since August 2016 that we missed  more than one week at a time. It also doesn’t help that the Youngest RMN Boy started Indoor Track season which digs into my weeknight game time. It also doesn’t help that my gaming space has been overtaken by the gift wrap station….

So how did the month look?

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According to BGStats, I played 18 games in November. Once again, the way BGG Stats tracks plays is off as I actually played 16 games and two expansions. The multi-game play was Terraforming Mars (Stronghold Games, 2016) using both the Prelude and new Colonies expansion.

box-heroThe game of the month was definitely AuZtralia (Stronghold Games). All my plays to date are solo play as this game has yet to reach the RMN Game Night table. My initial impression was a bit weak, but as time has passed the game has grown on me more. I really want to get this one to Game Night and see what the RMN Boys say!

pic360048My Grognard Game of the Month was Tokyo Express (Victory Games, 1988). It was a real treat to play it again after so many years. A solid design with alot to teach about what a real solitaire wargame can be.

It was also Black Friday in the States with many sales. Actually, the entire month of November featured many sales, a few of which I took advantage of. That is how I welcomed Brian Train’s Finnish Civil War (Paper Wars, Compass Games 2017) to my collection.

pic23647501The biggest surprise of the month was the Kickstarter fulfillment of Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games) after a delay of over two years. I will have many more thoughts on this game coming at you in the future. Actually, there are several Kickstarter and pre-order fulfillments coming that I did not expect as recently as two weeks ago. My preorder copy of Pandemic: Fall of Rome (Z-Man Games) is enroute, and Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk, 1943 (Academy Games) may be in hand before the end of the year! I will also likely add several more games to my order list as Hollandspiele is having their Hollandays sale starting the day this posts.

December will continue to be gaming challenge as we are busy and my gaming space is preempted. On the plus side, I earned a generous amount of vacation time and I plan on using it at the end of the year (after Christmas). I feel that the last week of December may see an explosion of gaming as I make up for lost time.

Here’s wishing all of you a Happy Holiday. May you spend it gaming with family and making memories for a lifetime.

 

#Zombies & #Cthulhu are not my usual thing but for #AuZtralia (@StrongholdGames, 2018) I will make an exception

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Cthulhu (courtesy BGG.com)

In the boardgame community zombies are probably the most overused theme for a game. Right up there with Cthulhu. While many gamers obviously like these themes (based on how many games are made – and purchased) I don’t. Horror stories just don’t grab my attention and horror gaming even less so. Given my attitude, I never should have pre-ordered designer Martin Wallace’s AuZtralia: The Great Designers Series #11 (SchilMil Games/Stronghold Games, 2018). After all, the game has both zombies and Cthulhu! However, after listening to several podcasts discussing the game I succumbed to the Cult of the New and ordered it. I am very glad I did because AuZtralia is a good game that smartly uses a mixture of game mechanics to bring a theme I have no real interest in to life. It does such a good job that I find myself wanting to play AuZtralia despite my negative attitude towards the theme.

AuZtralia is thematically linked to an earlier Martin Wallace title, A Study In Emerald. ASiE is a game I will probably never play if for no other reason than both the theme and core mechanic (deck-building) do not appeal to me at all. AuZtralia, on the other hand, was described as something near a waro, a category of gaming I positively love. After getting the game in hand, I discovered that AuZtralia is not a waro because there is no player-vs-player combat possible. Instead, BoardGameGeek describes AuZtralia as an adventure/exploration game. The game actually mixes multiple game mechanics together. Using the BGG description I see the following game mechanics in play:

  • Resource Management – Build a port, construct railways, mine and farm for food.
  • Time Management – Everything you do in the game costs time, which is one of AuZtralia’s most valued resources.
  • Opponent AI – At a point in time, the Old Ones will wake up and become an active player. They begin to reveal themselves and move, with potentially devastating outcomes.
  • Semi-Cooperative -You’ll need to prepare wisely for the awakening and may have to co-operate with others to defeat the most dangerous Old Ones.
  • Combat/Hand Management – Military units will help you to locate, fight and defend against the nightmarish beings that may be lurking on your doorstep. As well as hardware, you’ll need to recruit some Personalities who have the skills and resources to help you.

Although I was expecting a waro I am happy with the game nonetheless. AuZtralia’s mix of game mechanics delivers a relatively quick-playing game that builds a play narrative that in turn fits the theme perfectly.

Time, the most precious of resources, is constantly ticking away. Actions cost not only resources (money, commodities) but most importantly time. The time track is used to not only show who goes next but also serves as a countdown timer for the game. This simple mechanic puts pressure on the players and both literally and figuratively builds towards a climatic showdown.

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Old Ones Card  (prototype courtesy BGG.com)

One of the most interesting mechanics in AuZtralia is the Old Ones AI. A set of 40 Old Ones Cards is used for movement and combat. Being a wargamer, I focused in on the combat mechanic. There are no dice used for combat in AuZtralia; instead, the Old Ones Cards are used to allocate hits. The combat results feel plausible and build a narrative of desperate battles.

Even the solo version of AuZtralia is not really solo since the Old Ones are controlled by an AI. In my first solo game, I lost to the Old Ones by a large margin, mostly because I didn’t understand the strategy needed and the Scoring rules made me pay for it. In my second solo play, I barely eeked out a victory (52-49) even though I lost my Port and all my farms were blighted. The difference between victory or defeat was my Solo Objective Card which gave me a bonus 20 points for being a Railroader (place all Railroads on the board by game end). As the game was winding down I really felt the pressure of losing time and made the decision to forego protecting my farms and concentrated on building the last of my railroads. I placed my last railroad the turn before I lost my Port. The game made me feel like a heartless railroad tycoon absolutely determined to get the last rail of track laid regardless of the insanity happening around me. All very dramatic.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys have watched me as I played several games of AuZtralia solo. I think this game will be a perfect fit for our Game Night. AuZtralia is a game that should be playable in a few short hours but more importantly delivers a compelling narrative of play without a difficult set of rules to parse. AuZtralia really is an adventure/exploration game built on a solid foundation of mixed game mechanics that fit the theme and make it interesting to play.

Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.

The COO Viking – Raiders of the North Sea (English 2nd Edition, Graphill/Renegade Game Studios, 2017)

Or – a wargaming family’s journey into a true Eurogame.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys love Vikings. Not long ago we were in our local FLGS, Huzzah Hobbies, and my youngest saw Raiders of the North Sea (English 2nd Edition, Graphill/Renegade Game Studios, 2017) and it caught his attention. I eventually ordered it and the game arrived on Halloween and we slotted it for play on Saturday night. However, the Boys got done with all their homework and chores early enough on Thursday that they asked to learn the game.

According to BoardGameGeek rankings, Raiders of the North Sea is a very strong game with an average rating of 7.8. At the time of this post it was ranked 104th overall and 73rd in the strategy category. The publisher’s blurb certainly makes Raiders of the North Sea sound interesting:

Raiders of the North Sea is set in the central years of the Viking Age. As Viking warriors, players seek to impress the Chieftain by raiding unsuspecting settlements. Players will need to assemble a crew, collect provisions and journey north to plunder gold, iron and livestock. There is glory to be found in battle, even at the hands of the Valkyrie. So gather your warriors, it’s raiding season!

Raiders of the North Sea is a Eurogame using a worker placement mechanism. Every turn players use their worker (err…Viking) to Work or Raid. Workers Vikings come in three colors and not every action space is accessible by all colors. Players start with the black Viking which is the most common color. A white Viking is is most powerful with access to the best spaces. There is also a gray Viking that is more versatile than the black Viking but cannot access the better spaces like the white one. Each turn players get two actions; the first uses the Viking in their hand which is placed on the board and the second is from another Viking taken from the board into their hand.

Like so many Eurogames there is little actual player interaction. A few cards have a “take that” effect on another player but it usually is limited to taking a few items, trading cards Townfolk, or at worst swapping a worker Viking on the board.

Raiders of the North Sea is rated at 60-90 minutes. In our first game, which took nearly 2 hours as we learned, we quickly discovered the game can drag. The turns may be quick but the game is not. I think this is because there is a limit to the number of cards, coins, and Townfolk/Hired Crew you can have in your hand or on the table. This means your “game engine” has a governor on it. It takes a few rounds to assemble your team Hired Crew and gather Provisions to make a Raid. That assumes you get the right color worker in your hand at the right time….

After playing the game and considering it, I have two major problems with Raiders of the Lost Sea. One is the game, the other is me.

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Courtesy BGG.com

First, Raiders of the North Sea appears to hit the Viking theme to a T. The artwork is highly evocative of the theme (even if it is a little cartoonish). However, the use of the worker placement game mechanic doesn’t fit what I expected in a Viking game. Sure, the reality is that Vikings needed to do more than just raid and plunder (i.e Work) but I want to Raid!  In the end, the Viking worker placement mechanic actually doesn’t support the theme. The players are nothing more than a Chief Operating Officer (COO) of a unit trying to organize their workers Vikings by Working in the town and occasionally getting out of the office Raiding. Indeed, the players are not really in charge as they need to make offerings to the CEO Chieftain!

Secondly, Raiders of the North Sea shows me that the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself are more waro-gamer than Eurogamer. Truth be told, I am a wargamer first and a waro-gamer second. There are a many thematic Eurogames we like such as Ticket to Ride, Scythe, Firefly: The Game, or Battlestar Galactica: The Boardgame. Given our druthers playing a good waro is the most satisfying. Unlike 878: Vikings – Invasions of England (Academy Games, 2017) the core game mechanic in Raiders of the North Sea fails to create a compelling gaming narrative of Viking raids that we can immerse ourselves into and enjoy.

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Courtesy auztralia.net

Now, I am not ready to trade away Raiders of the North Sea just yet. I think it has a place in our collection, just not the prominent role that I was expecting given the ratings and hype around the game. Our reaction to this game does make me worry about another game I have on pre-order, AuZtralia (Stonghold Games, 2018). There is alot of buzz about that Martin Wallace title and I jumped at it because it was described as a waro. I certainly hope it is.

 

 

#SPIEL18 – My ESSENtial thoughts including AuZtralia, ICECOOL, lots of Plastic Soldiers, and wars across the world

The Essen Game Fair, or International Spieltage 2018, is going on as I write this post. BoardGameGeek collected a list of around 1200 games that either debut or will be available at Essen. Like so many others I reviewed the list to see what strikes my fancy. Apparently, I am too much of a niche-gamer because my list of “Must Have” or “Interested” is very small.

I have seven games on my “Must Have” and “Interested” list. All but one are wargames or a “waro.” One is a kids game because, you know, reasons!

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Spiel18 My Picks via BGG.com

AuZtralia (Stronghold Games)MUST HAVE

I am not a Cthulhu Mythos fan and for that reason alone this game should not be on my list. However, this Martin Wallace-designed waro looks so interesting with its mix of multiple Eurogame mechanics (worker placement, resource collection, track laying, and action selection) combined with a semi-cooperative wargame. My preorder is already placed.

ICECOOL2 (Brain Games)MUST HAVE

The RockyMountainNavy house already owns the original ICECOOL. It is a favorite game amongst Mrs. RMN’s students (especially Little Clara). This expansion takes the possible player count to eight making it a great candidate for a Party Game.

1918: Death on the Rails (2D6.EE)Interested

Chosen mostly on the basis of the topic. Admittedly, the game does not appear to offer any really new or innovative mechanic but (hopefully) is a solid implementation of a block wargame. I have few European publishers in my collection; interested to see their perspective on wargames too.

Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy (Lautepelit.Fi)Interested

The original Eclipse was strongly recommended to me by Uwe Eickert of Academy Games but I never got around to picking it up. Maybe I will be better this time!

Lincoln (PSC Games)Interested

Card-based wargames are not really my thing but just maybe this one will work for me. Almost pulled the trigger during the Kickstarter campaign but several design controversies made my shy away. Still a bit reluctant to go all-in.

Radetzky: Milano 1848 (Post Scriptum) Interested

A cooperative wargame? Sounds interesting!

Wings of Glory: Tripods & Triplanes (Ares Games)Interested

Technically speaking, the RockyMountainNavy collection of Wings of Glory “belongs” to LittleRockyMountainNavy. He likes Wings of Glory over Fantasy Flight Games’ X-Wing because it is more historical and less tournament-based. That said, he does have an interest in the steampunk genre through games like Scythe (Stonemaier Games) or AuZtralia.

Undecided

Not shown above, I have another seven games in my “Undecided” category.

Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles – Starter Set (Ares Games)

Am interested in the topic but if this is another cinematic movement system and not vector movement (more thematically correct) then I am going to pass. Have some hope since the publisher’s blurb mentions, “…unique dynamics of the battles….”

Expedition Zetta (Ion Game Design)

Topic interests. Looks thematically appropriate. Need to learn more.

Hannibal & Hamilcar (Phalanx)

Another asymmetric card game. Not sure about card games.

Normandy: The Beginning of the End (Draco Ideas)

Need to explore what the Paths to Hell system really is. Another question is, “Do I really need another WWII tactical combat system?” After all, I am already all-in on Conflict of Heroes and the Panzer (Second Edition) series.

Quartermaster General: The Cold War (PSC Games)

Looks interesting…may be suitable for family game night with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Few games out there in that 3-6 player category (with three-players key for the RockyMountainNavy Game Night).

Scorpius Freighter (AEG)

“Recruit Crew, Customize Ships, Smuggle Goods.” Sounds alot like Firefly: The Game, which I already own, only with the serial number filed off. Although thematically close it is much different graphically. Interesting, but once again I have to ask myself is another “pick up and smuggle” game worth my investment?

SHAEF (PSC Games)

Another PSC Games card-driven title. But only 2-player.

So there is my Essen. Of the 14 games here I think three or four maybe will get into the RockyMountainNavy collection within the next 12 months. Maybe.