Retroplay Retrospective – Air Force (Avalon Hill Battleline Edition, 1977)

Air Force is a very old school-style wargame that has, for the most part, aged well. This week it was my Game of the Week. It is actually a very simple game that can mechanically be reduced to “Spot-Plot-Scoot-Shoot.” The game strikes a good balance between realism and playability – with a welcome emphasis on the playability. This week I have come to appreciate how awesome this game still is even after 40 years.

Spot – Maybe the only real negative. The rules only account for lack of spotting at the start of a scenario. Outside of a night scenario, spotting is almost automatic. Add in the lack of initiative or movement advantage for tailing and it’s hard to see value of the spotting game mechanic. But does it matter? This is one area that playability was obviously emphasized over realism.

Plot – A very old school mechanic that I know many “modern” gamers cringe at. Although there may be mechanisms that could achieve similar design effects, the truth is that plotting is fast and simple; it plain works. Among the greatest criticisms of the pre-plot mechanics in Air Force is the fact the rules do not have any initiative or tailing considerations. This can lead to situations where your opponent surprises you by going one way when you were expecting (plotted for) another. At first I was appalled by the lack of any sort of tailing rules, but after playing am not so sure this is a real negative. Given the limitations the flight model creates (see below) the ability to (generally) predict your opponents moves exist.

Scoot – I am coming to admire the simplicity of the flight model in Air Force the more I play. Fighter pilots talk about “energy management” in combat. In Air Force, your aircraft’s energy is a combination of speed and altitude. You lose speed for maneuvers or climbing and you gain speed through engine power or diving. The speed of the aircraft is also important for maneuverability. Staying at Maneuver Speed makes for the most cost-efficient maneuvers. Going faster (Level Speed) or diving (Dive Speed) means maneuvers cost more.

Altitude becomes a very precious commodity in Air Force as it can be traded for speed (energy) and more maneuvers. In several of my play-thrus this week, I found myself clawing for an altitude advantage as it allows you to dive into the target and maybe gain an extra maneuver to line-up the shot. If you are beneath the target your options are much more limited unless you have powerful engines.

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Battleline ADC (Courtesy BGG.com)

The flight model defines how aircraft move, and a worthy opponent will pay attention to not only where the opponent is, but what altitude and at what Bank they are. These are key considerations for plotting and if one is paying attention it signals the limits of what the opponent can do. For example, an aircraft in a Right Bank is going to have hard time turning left! Using the FW-190A ADC above, if the aircraft starts in a Bank Right attitude at altitude 15.0 (15,000 feet), it will have to move 1 hex forward before it can Bank Left to Level attitude, then 1 hex again before it can Bank Left again to get to a Left Bank attitude for a left turn. Now it can turn left, but needs to move 3 hexes ahead before the turn happens. This maneuver needs a speed of 5, which is actually Level Speed which penalizes maneuvers, meaning each Bank needs 2 hexes and the turn 4 hexes (speed 8). The flight model actually limits the ability for an opponent to rapidly change direction in a single turn, making plotting against this aircraft more predictable – assuming one is paying attention!

Shoot – Combat is dead-simple…and resolved with a single d6. Modifiers move you across the table. Damage is simple.

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Fan-made plot sheet (Courtesy BGG.com)

Look-n-FeelAs I alluded to before, the look-n-feel of Air Force is very dated. The physical components are very plain and simple. The plot sheets are ergonomically horrible (too small) and the tables poorly laid out. I own the later Avalon Hill version of Air Force with its rainbow Aircraft Data Cards. It would be interesting to see Air Force redone today with modern graphics or player interfaces.

Over the past 40 years I have changed my view of wargames. I am constantly balancing my gaming interests between my simulationist and gamer sides. Air Force has been criticized as not being a realistic model of flight, but does that really matter? To me, it is “realistic enough” that I get a taste of what air combat is using a fun, playable flight model that considers a few key factors. The real bottom line is that the game is simple FUN; easy to set up, easy to teach, easy to play, and downright enjoyable!

Game of the Week QuickNote 2 – Quick Play for Air Force (Avalon Hill Battleline Edition, 1977)

I played my Game of the Week, Air Force, again tonight. That’s two plays in two days. I am struck by how quickly the game moves. The Sequence of Play is simple and although one must plot movement it goes fast. Combat, when it happens, is resolved quickly. BoardGameGeek says playing time is 60 minutes so I should not be surprised. I am playing solo meaning I am doing double work. Even so, I can play a 2v2 dogfight in under 60 minutes. Although the game plays fast, I am enjoying it immensely!

Game of the Week QuickNote – Scale in Air Force (Avalon Hill Battleline Edition, 1977)

As I played Air Force (Avalon Hill Battleline Edition, 1977) for my Game of the Week I noticed that – unlike many wargames – the scale of the game is hidden away. Nowhere on the box exterior does the scale appear (for that matter, there is nothing on the box bottom at all). Nor is the scale easily found in the rulebook. To figure it out, one has to search through the rules to find:

  • Each counter represents a single aircraft (I. INTRODUCTION).
  • Altitude is specified in thousands-hundreds of feet (BASIC GAME, III. INTERPRETING THE AIRPLANE DATA CARD, B. KEY PARTS OF THE AIRPLANE DATA CARD, 3.)
  • Each turn represents approximately 10 seconds of time (BASIC GAME, V. SEQUENCE OF PLAY)

What does not appear is hex scale (distance) nor a conversion factor for speed. Not hard to figure out, but not a given.

Makes me wonder how we gamers ever made purchasing decisions with so little info on the boxes. Word of mouth? Avalon Hill’s The General magazine?

Oh yeah, since when did half-inch counters get so small? Did we really play with these tiny pieces of cardboard?

 

 

Game of the Week for 05 March 2018 – Air Force (Avalon Hill Battleline Edition, 1977)

I started wargaming in 1979. At that time, the “new hotness” was Avalon Hill Battleline games. In particular, for World War II aerial combat there were just two games; Dauntless and Air Force. I own both, an actual 1977 Battleline First Edition of Dauntless (Pacific combat) and the 1977 Avalon Hill Battleline Edition of Air Force (air war over Europe). For this week’s Game of the Week I pulled out Air Force.

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Courtesy BGG.com

Looking over the game, I am immediately struck by how simple the graphics are. The box art is very appropriate for the air war in Europe, showing a formation of B-17 bombers dropping their bombs over a US Army Air Corps logo. The materials inside are very primitive. The rulebook and Airplane Data Cards all look like they were done on a typewriter. The mapboards (three sections, each folded and mounted) are plain light blue with numbered hexes. The counters come in three colors; Allies white on red, Germans white on black, and markers white on bright blue. By today’s standards, this product looks like a somewhat amatuer production.

 

The rulebook itself is 16-pages of two-column text. I have to remind myself that in 1977 these guys did not use computers for layout. They had to type the text and insert cut-out graphics to a master page. There are at least two different type fonts used indicating to me that when Avalon Hill took over distribution of the game there was at least some attempt to update the rules. My favorite rule may be II.C. COUNTER-SORTING TRAYS [sic]. Yup, there is a hyphen between “counter” and “sorting,” but it’s what follows that I love:

Two counter-sorting trays, included in previous editions, have been eliminated due to the petroleum crunch. Trays may be purchased from Avalon Hill while supply lasts.

Rules for the Basic Game start on page 3 and end on page 8. Optional Rules go from page 9 to 14, with Scenarios from pages 14 to 16. As I reread the rules, I kept looking for the usual Historical Commentary or Designer’s Notes. There are none to be found, which reminded me why the Avalon Hill house organ, The General, was so important (and thanks to the Internet Archive, still available).

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Courtesy BGG.com

The counters are bagged in matching small plastic ziplock bags. Similar bags are also found in my Battleline Edition of Dauntless leading me to believe these were included in both games at the time. I can’t remember for sure; maybe I bagged them all later. And speaking the counters, I now see it a a bit humorous that the aircraft silhouettes are fairly accurate, but the other counters (tanks, Flak, clouds, etc.) are a bit comical.

For my game this week, I think I am going to take the recommendation of the Basic Level Game and go with a simple 2v2 air combat. One of the recommended match-ups is Spitfire I vs. Me-109E – a classic Battle of Britain dogfight. This is also inspired in part by a recent Timeline documentary, 13 Hours that Saved Britain. Not your usual documentary as it focuses on the memories of people who were kids and youngsters on that day. Well worth your 49 minutes.

Dragging it out – A Circus Maximus Session Report

Mrs. RockyMountainNavy usually has a student on Sunday afternoons, so the RMN Boys and myself are usualy exiled out of the house or to the basement. With all the rain this weekend we decided to stay in and play another session of Circus Maximus (Avalon Hill, 1980). Unlike our first game, we played with the Advanced Rules that really are nothing more than an expansion on the Basic Game that details what happens after a chariot flips. In the Basic Game the chariot is removed; in the Advanced Game there are Wrecks and Runaway Teams and Dragged Drivers and Drivers Running to deal with.

This afternoon was a full eight-chariot race. I took three chariots, Brown, Yellow and Orange, while the Middle RMN Boy took three others (Black, Green, and Purple) and the Youngest RMN Boy took two (Red and Blue). In Chariot Generation we all ended up with at least one heavy chariot (in my case, a +2 Driver in a Heavy Chariot with a Slow Team and Low Endurance) and one fast chariot (again, in my case a +0 Driver in a Light Chariot with a Fast Team and High Endurance).

This race featured a lot more tactical play then our first game. The speedy chariots pulled out ahead and the heavies fell behind, patiently waiting for the speedy teams to lap them, if they could. Both RMN Boys recognized the danger of my “enforcer” team and took measures to interfere with him. In quick order, Brutus (as I had named him) lost one horse and had another severely injured. He fell way behind the pack as he had to stop and cut the dead horse from the reins.

Meanwhile, Blue tried to get around a corner but was a bit too fast. A super high roll on the Corner Strain Table resulted in a flipped chariot and a dragged driver. He eventually cut himself loose after taking only light wounds. He raced for the wall but could not find an exit.

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The Chariot Race from Ben Hur, 1908; courtesy michenermuseum.org

As Blue was searching for a way out of the arena, the leaders of the pack came around again. Slow Brutus maneuvered himself into position and threatened Red (the Youngest RMN speedster) and forced him to brake hard and evade attacks. Meanwhile, Orange (my speedster) tried to take advantage of the situation and slip past Red. It almost worked, but once again Corner Strain resulted in Orange being spit out of his lane in a Double Sideslip…directly into the wrecked Blue chariot.

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Courtesy movpins.com

Red was in a tough bind as Brutus moved first and blocked his path to a safer lane. Red was forced to keep in his lane and ended up running over the Blue driver who was still unsuccessfully searching for an exit. Running over the driver forced a Movement Factor loss of five. Orange then rolled off the wreck and damaged both wheels. This meant that going too fast would risk the wheels coming off and flipping the chariot. As it was the final stretch there really was no choice and Orange went all-out. The first Wheel Damage roll was passed but the second failed. The Orange chariot flipped and the rider was dragged. Youngest RMN was jumping for joy as he could see his second victory at hand!

After taking damage, I elected not to cut the driver loose and stay dragging. Fate smiled and Orange went first, crossing the finish line first with the driver still dragging. The driver wound roll was made and the result was the driver surviving – just barely. Brutus almost got one last run at Red but Red was able to move away and ended up just short of the finish line.

Total game time was just under two hours from set up to end of clean up. There was much good nature ribbing given during the game. In this game, more than the first, a real narrative feeling came through during play. Youngest RMN was exasperated at the Blue driver constantly failing his exit rolls. I told him there was obviously a centurion on the other side of some gate who refused to open it for him. Apparently not a favorite of the gods, he was unceremoniously run over by Red. The final dramatic victory of Orange, literally being dragged across the finish line barely alive, was the stuff of legends.

Circus Maximus, a long-ago childhood favorite of mine, has been reborn in the 21st century RockyMountainNavy household. Hail to Michael S. Matheny and Don Greenwood for bringing this game to life. It is also interesting to note that the the first credited playtester is Alan R. Moon. Yes, Alan R. Moon the famous designer of Ticket to Ride!

Race for Your Life – Retroplaying Circus Maximus (Avalon Hill, 1980)

Following last week’s retroplay of Wooden Ships & Iron Men, this weekend I pulled out another old game from the shelf to play at the weekend RockyMountainNavy Family Game Night. Circus Maximus (Avalon Hill, 1980) is a game of chariot racing in ancient Rome. The game, a mix of race and combat, was once again a great hit.

Before the RockyMountainNavy Boys and I started playing, I pulled up a few YouTube videos of the 1959 movie Ben Hur. In particular, I pulled up the Parade of the Charioteers and The Chariot Race.

Unexpectedly, the RMN Boys focused on the cinematic aspects of the film. They were awed by the grand sets, spectacular costumes, and real racing. The epic scene captivated them and helped them understand the theme of the game to follow.

If you are not familiar with Circus Maximus, the publisher’s blurb tells you the whole story:

Violent and bloody, Circus Maximus details the chariot races that occurred in ancient Rome. Eight teams race around the track three times to determine victory. Players prepare for the race by selecting the composition of their team of horses, their rider’s skills, and the type of chariot that will be driven. Once the race begins the players are free to do as they wish to hamper the other racers including whipping the rider, ramming chariots with scythed wheels, smashing into horses, and running over crashed opponents. A campaign game of multiple races, in which players have to manage their teams and can increase their income by betting on races, is also possible. (BGG)

For our race we randomly set up six chariots. We quickly generated our chariots according to the rules for the Basic Game and were off!

The Boys were hesitant going down the first stretch, staying in their lanes with only me moving towards the inside. In an attempt to “get into the spirit” of the game I tried to Lash a Driver as I passed one of the Youngest RMN Boy’s chariots and, just like in the movie, lost my whip! Going into the first turn, I could see the Boys having a bit of some difficulty understanding the rules for Corner Strain, so I made sure at least one of my chariots was a bit quick to show them how the rules work. As it was, we all passed our Corner Strain rolls the first part of the turn, and for myself I got a bit overconfident. With my purple chariot still in the corner, I plotted a bit of a fast speed to try and get a good lead coming out of the turn. Instead, I rolled poorly (17 on 3d6) and even with my measly +1 Current Driver Modifier (in this case subtracted to make the roll a 16) I Flipped my chariot leaving a wreck behind.

[In the Advanced Game, one determines if the driver is dragged behind the horses and able to cut themselves loose. Once loose, he has to run off the track before getting trampled under the hooves of another team. We didn’t play this part but I explained it to the Boys.]

Now the Boys started understanding the game. The yellow chariot of the Youngest RMN was a real speed demon (Extra Endurance with a Fast Team) and pulled out ahead of the pack. My brown chariot was a Light Chariot with a Fast Team and tried to keep up. The other three chariots fell behind.

This is where the chaotic nature of the game started to really show. The yellow chariot was not fast enough to pull away from my brown chariot. If the yellow chit draw came first, he was safe; if the brown chit pull came first I was able to get close. Luck seemed to be with yellow, and I only got a few chances to attack. When I got close I went after his horses in an effort to slow him down. The results were mixed as my Light Chariot was at a disadvantage in inflicting damage. I hurt his horses a bit and slowed him down some, but not nearly enough. The race was decided on the last chit pull; if brown was pulled first I was positioned for another attack that could slow him down just enough to maybe lose. If yellow was pulled first and he Whipped his Horses using Strain he could probably just make the finish line. The first chit of the turn was pulled…and was yellow! He immediately used his whip and got just enough extra speed for the win!

We all shook hands and congratulated each other on a great race. The Youngest RMN Boy asked me if I had played the game a lot when I was younger. I pointed to the well-worn counters and asked him what he thought. At this point, Mrs. RMN arrived home and saw the game. She said it looked very old. I checked the date and told them it was a 1980 game meaning I played it when I was 13 years old. At this moment the Youngest RMN Boy and I looked at each and both realized the same thing – he is 13 years old right now. It sounds silly to say, but at that moment there was a bond between us.

The Youngest RMN Boy asked if there was a newer version and I told him there was not. He wondered why not, and I answered that a new game would likely be very expensive as modern gamers would demand miniatures or the like. I even ruefully wondered out loud if someone would change the spirit of the game by making a cooperative version or how the Campaign Game would be rebranded as a Legacy Edition.

I have to admit the look and feel of the game is dated. The very simple two-tone board with track and game charts could not pass in todays market where components and theme are so important. Looking at Circus Maximus reminds me that theme is more important than the look of a game. The Boys stated that as they were playing they very vividly could imagine themselves in the race. The game let them see themselves on that track in Ben Hur. It is a real testimony to the game designers that they were able to capture the glamor chariot racing so well with a game that looks so plain. We looked through some of the photos on BoardGameGeek and both Boys asked if they could find miniatures, paint them, and make a race board like many others have. Something we will have to look into to, though I feel the Lego board in the basement may be repurposed in the very near future!

The RockyMountainNavy Boys want to play Circus Maximus again, next time with the Advanced Rules. I get the feeling the next race will be a bit less gentlemanly and a lot more destructive. We have a few racing games on the shelf, such as PitchCar and Formula Dè, but these don’t get played that often because, like skirmish miniatures games such as Star Wars: Imperial Assault, the theme just doesn’t seem to resonate with us. Circus Maximus, with its delicious mix of racing and combat, hits a sweet spot in between the two. I am looking forward to many more years of enjoying this fine game.

 

Sinking with Buoyant Feelings – Retroplaying Wooden Ships & Iron Men 2nd Edition (Avalon Hill Game Co., 1981)

The RockyMountainNavy Game Night this week went Old School. As in real Avalon Hill wargaming with Wooden Ships & Iron Men (Second Edition, 1981). This is one of the oldest games in my collection and I have not recorded a play since joining BoardGameGeek in 2004. The last game of WS&IM I can remember playing was with the Sea Cadets in Pearl Harbor in 1997 or ’98.

The Youngest RMN Boy had been asking about the older games in my collection. He also has an interesting naval warfare (being a big Battleship Captain from Minden Games fan). I have fond memories of WS&IM and remember how much fun the Sea Cadets had playing it. I pulled out the rulebook on Friday night and reread the Basic Game in preparation for the weekend.

Our scenario was a home-brew; during the Napoleonic Wars I sailed two French 74-gun Ships-of-the-Line (SOL) with Crack crews attempting to escape a blockaded harbor. The RMN Boys sailed two British 74-gun SOL also with Crack crew to stop the French from escaping.

Both sides started with the wind off their aft quarter (up to full speed in the game). In the first turns the range quickly closed, and the lead French ship actually got past the British and looked to be home free. Unfortunately, the British did get multiple Rigging Hits and succeeded slowing the ship down – significantly. In the meantime, the training French ship got caught in between the two British ships and was pounded, eventually losing all Rigging and “surrendered by striking her colors” and otherwise met the conditions to “surrender by immobility.” 

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The French SOL (2206) just before striking her colors.

The first French ship should of kept on and tried to escape. Before the game, we specified that simply exiting the board edge was the Victory Condition. However, I was too heroic and instead of running away turned parallel to the battle to offer some long-range fire support. This was a mistake, and once the first French ship surrendered the British used their (slightly) superior speed to pursue the French ship. Faced with a hopeless situation, the French SOL turned to flee, but in doing so offered her stern for several Raking shots. Shortly thereafter, this ship too “surrendered from immobility.”

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End of the game. There will be no escaping the blockade for the French today!

Total game time was just over an hour. There were some mistakes and we didn’t have more than one Melee with Boarding Parties. Both RMN Boys agreed the game was fun and want to play again using the Advanced or Optional Rules. During the game, we discussed basic naval tactics and the advantages of shooting Rigging or Hull. The RMN Boys became painfully aware of the wind and its impact on movement as well as the dangers of Raking shots. Overall, the

Compared to many games published today the graphics and components of WS&IM are simple – even crude. That said, the game play is simple and quick. Movement rules are easy to grasp even if they require one to plot their movement (oh, the horror!). The Combat Phase requires a Hit Determination Table lookup and rolling against Hit Tables but the actual mechanics play fast. The RMN Boys were amazed that the entire game can be played with a single old-fashion d6!

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Courtesy BGG

Of course, Wooden Ships & Iron Men is one of the oldest Age of Sail fighting games. I also have Close Action from Clash of Arms and most of the Flying Colors series from GMT Games. The Youngest RMN Boy asked about The Ironclads (Yaquinto/Excalibre) that he sees on my game shelf. I was not sure the RMN Boys would accept “old School” wargames but after playing WS&IM this weekend I think they can handle the game mechanics. Indeed, I think they will even enjoy it!

#GameNight old is…old. #NexusOps (1st Ed, Avalon Hill, 2005)

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Courtesy BoardGameGeek

The RockyMountainNavy Saturday Family Game Night series continued this week with Nexus Ops. I have the original Avalon Hill Games, Inc. version from 2005. This game is good, but showing its age. In it’s day it probably seemed innovative enough; by today’s standards its a bit stale but still makes for a good light, family wargame.

The players each lead a corporation exploring a strange planet. Each corporation is trying to explore the planet, gaining the most income from mines while buying units to fight and control areas. Victory Points are scored for winning battles or completing Secret Missions. The first player/corporation to 12 VP wins. Each player/corporation has the same player mat with identical cost and capabilities. The only difference is the starting money; starting earlier means less initial income. The middle of the board is an area known as the Monolith; only certain units can enter this space and possession gives the owner two (2) Energizer Cards (special abilities for reinforcement, movement, or combat) each turn.

IMG_1946We played a three-player game with Little RMN starting off, Middle RMN second, and myself third. Play initially was slow as all three corporations explored the board. Little RMN jumped out and took the Monolith, only to be ejected by me. I took full advantage of my Secret Mission cards and laid down many, but most were only one VP making my march toward victory slow. Little RMN eventually caught on and started playing his Secret Mission cards, and was quickly catching up as his were of the two and three VP-each variety. Middle RMN was accumulating money and making both of us worried. Eventually, Little RMN and I clashed over the Monolith and mines along our exploration boundaries, but I was unable to devote my full attention to him because I was worried about the storm that might come at me from the other direction. Eventually, my slow but steady strategy worked and I made my 12 VP on a few fortunate plays of Secret Mission cards just ahead of Little RMN sweeping me away, and just as the Middle RMN was making a giant purchase of killer units that surely would of swept me away too!

After the game we talked about the game mechanics. We all agreed that it was very simple with little variety. Sure, the board will be different each time, and the Exploration chits vary, and going first starts with less money, but the corporations themselves are symmetrical with no difference other than the color of the bits. After playing games like Scythe or 1775 – Rebellion recently this symmetry was very…vanilla. This doesn’t make Nexus Ops a bad game  – just not as interesting as more recent designs.

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Scythe Faction Mat – Each faction is different (Courtesy BoardGameGeek)

Nexus Ops will stay in the Saturday Game Night series rotation, but I don’t expect it to be played that often. Maybe when we are looking for a quick game on a short game night or if we introduce new players it may land on the table. 

 

 

 

#WargameWednesday Retrospective – Victory in the Pacific (Avalon Hill, 1977 Second Edition)

pic188896_mdVictory in the Pacific (VITP) is one of the oldest games in my collection. Originally published in 1977, it won the Charles S. Roberts Award for Best Strategic Game that year. My copy is a Second Edition with a 1988 Avalon Hill Game Company catalog inside. For many years the game sat on my shelf partially because – as itself states – it is an Introductory-level wargame and my personal tastes run to other difficulty levels. However, with the RMN boys now getting into more wargaming, I pulled VITP out to see if it would make a good game for them. What I discovered is that VITP is a “diamond in the rough.” The game itself (mechanics and gameplay) are wonderful, but the game suffers from early wargame publishing issues that present challenges.

1.0 Rules

pic669500_md1.01 The rulebook for VITP is short but difficult to understand. It is laid out in the old SPI style (numbered paragraphs) that should make it easy to cross reference. However, the arrangement of the rules is not intuitively easy to follow; finding even basic game concepts like the Sequence of Play or the Combat Round Action Sequence [my term] is very difficult. It’s all there, but buried within walls of text with little real cross-reference or even logical order. I do not want to turn this game over to the RMN boys “as-is” because the rules will likely create confusion. Even if I was to introduce the game to them, I eventually will need to let them go it alone; the rules as written are not very supportive of that course of action.

Mapboard

pic669499_mdThe mapboard is functional. The colors are very 1970’s – not totally hideous but abstract in a classic Monopoly sort of way. The mapboard is in some ways too big; there is some real estate around the edges that could possibly be used for port holding boxes (like Yokosuka or Truk or Ceylon or Pearl Harbor). This would certainly help with stacking counters on the map!

Counters

pic175059_mdSpeaking of counters, they are nice and big. This makes them easy to stack or sort. The counters themselves are a great example of functional simplicity with easy-to-read factors. The color palate is a bit bland, but once again it was the 1970’s!

Game Mechanics

Reinforcements – Movement – Combat – Control. Speed Rolls can be a bit confusing because the Speed Factor on the counter is not a “speed” in terms of areas moved but number that must be rolled under to move an additional area. Combat resolution is from the school of “Yahtzee combat”; roll a number of d6 equal to your Attack Factor and try to get 6’s (or 5-6 if the firing unit has an Attack Bonus). A 5 Disables, a 6 is a Hit with another d6 rolled for the amount of Damage. When Damage exceeds the Armor Factor (defense rating) a ship is Sunk (removed from the game) or an air unit/amphib destroyed (to return two turns later). Doesn’t really get much simpler.

Now that I look at it, I see that movement is “roll low” but combat is “roll high.” Another rules area of potential confusion?

Gameplay

Although VITP is an Introductory-level game, I was pleasantly surprised (and delighted) with the “historical feel” of the game. At the strategic level, the Japanese start out dominating in force but must husband ships for the long conflict. This is neatly in contrast to the Allies who over the course of several turns build up huge forces. Thus, the Allies will likely favor a longer view of battle (i.e. the Allies must be patient and not rush for a quick victory). This in turn drives a strategy that is very historical where the Japanese player pushes out to establish a defensive perimeter and then tries to attrite the Allied player as they start the island-hopping campaign across the Pacific. Having the US move second in each phase also is a nice nod to the historical intelligence advantage the US possessed.

At the operational level, the choice of Patroller or Raider makes for an interesting dynamic. Patrollers move first and can control an area at the end of the turn. Raiders move later in the turn (after Patrollers have been set) but cannot control an area. Like at the strategic level, having the Allies move second is a nice nod to the operational advantage intelligence gave Allied commanders.

At the tactical level the choice of Day (air strikes) or Night (surface gunnery) actions is evocative of the era. Even the use of a simple Attack Bonus creates the feel more capable/better trained/elite forces.

All that said, it is indicative of just how “game changing” the Japanese battle plan for the opening of the war was that it requires special rules to handle. The Turn 1 Pearl Harbor Air Raid and Indonesia rules actually “break” the game to force a more historical opening. I look forward to playing where the Japanese forego the Pearl Harbor Air Raid and see how that war develops.

Metagaming

pic207078_mdIf I had to pick a weakness of the game, I would point to the Order of Appearance charts. Not that they are ahistorical, but I wonder if they give too much information to the players. The Japanese player can easily see that the forces they start with are pretty much going to be it for the war, whereas the Allied player will see his forces grow turn after turn. This potentially creates a metagame situation for the players; does knowing what reinforcements are coming unduly influence player decisions? I understand that this is addressed by the Japanese player bidding Points of Control at the beginning of the game, but this is a mechanic to balance between players and in effect recognizes that the game (like the historical situation?) is not balanced. In effect, VITP is “play with what you get” not necessarily “what you need.” Does this make it a failed game? No, but it explains other strategic Pacific War games that introduce resources and variable reinforcements. It certainly gives me a new appreciation of the Card Driven Game (CDG) mechanic used in games like Mark Herman’s Empire of the Sun (GMT Games, 2005) which has, to borrow an RPG term, more player agency (and complexity).

Conclusion

Even given its warts, VITP is a good introductory-level wargame. Like I did for GDW’s Mayday game before, I come back to my “simply complex” characterization; the game is simple in mechanics but complex in the depth of gameplay. That said, on the scale of game vs. simulation VITP certainly falls on the game side of the spectrum. That doesn’t make it bad, but highlights to me how I need to frame any “history lesson” that my boys may derive from play. I will eventually hand VITP over to the boys, but not before I search grognard.com or ConSimWorld for some player aids to help “smooth the edges” of this great game.

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All images courtesy BoardGameGeek

#WargameWednesday Retrospective – My 1980’s Skirmish Wargames

As part of my RPG Retrospective, I looked at the game Commando by SPI published in 1979. I found it interesting that Commando is considered both a wargame and an RPG.

Looking through my collection, I found several other near-contemporary skirmish combat games from the early- to mid-1980’s. These games are Close Assault (Yaquinto, 1983), Firepower (Avalon Hill, 1984), and Ranger (Omega Games, 1984). Now Close Assault and Firepower are literally the same game just covering different time periods (World War II for Close Assault, post-1965 for Firepower). Ranger is more a simulation than a game; it plays like a tactical training aid for the military.

What I Thought About Them Back Then – Super-tactical, or skirmish-scale combat was not the preferred scale for my wargaming group. We were heavy into tactical battles, be it land (Panzer-series from Yaquinto), sea (Harpoon), air (the Battleline version of Dauntless), or space (Star Fleet Battles by Task Force Games). I had Close Assault/Firepower and later Ranger because we thought they could be used as an adjunct combat system for our Traveller RPG adventures. It never panned out that way though.

What I Think of Them Now – Each of these games still stand the test of time. Close Assault/Firepower are a bit more chart-heavy than more modern games, and the combat system still has a strong I-go/U-go feel to it, but it still feels like a good simulation (and fun wargame). Ranger is an interesting creation, and could serve as a great story/adventure engine for an RPG.