RockyMountainNavy’s influential #wargame from the 2010’s (h/t to @playersaidblog for the idea)

Grant over on The Players Aid blog laid out his 15 Influential Wargames from the Decade 2010-2019. In the posting Grant asked for others to give their list. Although I have been a wargaming grognard since 1979 in the early 2010’s I was focused more on role playing games. That is, until 2016 when I turned back into hobby gaming and wargaming in particular. So yes, my list is a bit unbalanced and definitely favors the later-half of the decade. Here is my list of ‘influential’ games arranged by date of publication along with an explanation of why the title influences me.

Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (second edition) – Academy Games, 2012

pic1236709_mdFor the longest time I considered myself near-exclusively a naval wargamer. I’m not sure why, but in early 2017 I picked up a copy of Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (Second Edition). I think at the time I was looking for a good tactical WWII game to play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I am glad I did, as along the way I also discovered the excellent Firefight Generator and Solo Expansion, and eventually other titles to include the latest Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 (2019) where I have a small credit in the rulebook. This game, like no other, awakened me to the ‘new look’ of wargames and the positive influence the Eurogame segment of the hobby market can have on wargaming.

1775 Rebellion – The American Revolution – Academy Games, 2013

1775-header-v3In 2017 I attended the CONNECTIONS Wargaming Conference. There I met a fine gentleman, Uwe Eickert, of Academy Games. As we talked about his Conflict of Heroes series (I even helped him demo a few games) I mentioned my boys and our search for good family wargames. Uwe strongly recommended his Birth of America series, especially 1775 Rebellion. So I ordered it and the RMN Boys and myself sat down to play this lite-wargame – and we haven’t looked back since. We now own all the Birth of America and Birth of Europe series. 878 Vikings is one game the oldest (least gamer) RMN Boy will play with us. Most influential because it shows that there are much, much better ‘family-wargames’ than Risk. As an added bonus, I am working with one of my youngest boy’s high school teachers to bring this game into his classroom.

Next War: Poland  – GMT Games, 2015

569After attending CONNECTIONS 2017, I tried to become a bit of a wargaming advocate at my job. So I looked at more ‘serious’ wargames. One of the hot topics of the day is the Baltics and Russia. I looked for wargames that could build understanding of the issues, especially if it comes to open conflict. Sitting on my shelf from long ago was were several GMT Games ‘Crisis’ series titles, Crisis: Korea 1995 and Crisis: Sinai 1973. I had heard about updated versions but had been reluctant to seek them out. Now I went searching and found a wargame that is a master-level study into the military situation. This game influenced me because it shows that a commercial wargame can be used for ‘serious’ purposes.

Wing Leader: Victories, 1940 – 1942 – GMT Games, 2015

pic2569281Before 2017, an aerial combat wargame to me was a super-tactical study of aircraft, weapons, and maneuver. The most extreme version was Birds of Prey (Ad Astra, 2008) with it’s infamous ‘nomograph.’ I had all-but-given-up on air combat games until I discovered the Wing Leader series. But was this really air combat? I mean, the map is like a side-scroll video game? The first time I played the level of abstraction in combat resolution was jarring. But as I kept playing I discovered that Wing Leader, perhaps better than any other air combat game, really captures ‘why’ the war in the air takes place. Units have missions they must accomplish, and those missions are actually the focus of this game, not the minutia of flap settings or Pk of a missile hit. Influential because it shows me that model abstraction is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when done right like it is here.

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

582As I returned to wargaming in 2016-2017, I kept hearing about this thing called the COIN-series. I looked at a few titles but was not quite ready to go ‘full-waro’* so I backed off. At the same time, having moved to the East Coast, I was much more interested in the American Revolution. By late 2017 I was becoming more ‘waro-friendly’ so when I had a chance to purchase Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection I took it. I’m really glad I did. LoD is influential because it taught me that a wargame can be political and a real tool of learning. I understand that LoD is the designer’s ‘view’ of the American Revolution but I enjoy experimenting within that vision and seeing what I can learn.

Command & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution – Compass Games, 2017

cctri_ar_lgPrior to my wargaming renaissance, I acquired Memoir ’44 for the RockyMountainNavy Boys. We also had Battlelore and in an effort to entice the oldest RMN Boy (an ancient history lover) into gaming had given him Commands & Colors: Ancients. That is to say, Commands & Colors was not new to the RMN House. As part of my American Revolution kick I picked up Commands & Colors Tricorne thinking I would try to get the RMN Boys to play this version. Instead, I fell in love with the game. Influential because it showed me that with just a few simple rules tweaks a highly thematic, yet ‘authentic’, gaming experience is possible even with a simple game engine.

South China Sea – Compass Games, 2017

scs-cover-for-web_1Remember I said I was a naval wargamer? Notice the lack of naval wargames on this list? That’s because I found few that could match my experiences with the Victory Games Fleet-series of the 1980’s. That is, until I played South China Sea. All the more interesting because it started out as a ‘professional’ wargame designed for a DoD customer. Not a perfect game, but influential because it shows me it is possible to look at modern warfare at sea by focusing less on the hardware and more on the processes of naval warfare as well as being an example of a professional-gone-commercial wargame.

Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 – Hollandspiele, 2017

slar_wb_largeAt CONNECTIONS 2017, Uwe Eickert sat on a panel and recommended to all the DoD persons in the room that if they want logistics in a wargame they need to look at Hollandspiele’s Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 game. I found the game online and ordered it (from a very strange little company using a Print-on-Demand publishing model..WTF?). When it arrived and I put it on the table and played I was blown away. First, it has ‘cubes,’ not armies or dudes. Second, it really teaches why certain locations were crucial for the American Revolution. Third, it’s challenging and just darn fun to play. Influential because this was the first game I recognized as a ‘waro’, and the first of many quirky Hollandspiele titles that I enjoy.

Pavlov’s House – DVG, 2018

pic5126590Solo wargames are very procedural, right? So procedural they are nothing more than a puzzle to be solved, right. Not Pavlov’s House. I was blown away by the strategy and story that comes thru every play of this game. This is a solo game that makes you want to play because it’s the strategy that counts, not the procedure. Influential because I showed me what a solo game can be as well as how a game that screams ‘Euro’ is actually a wargame.

Blue Water Navy – Compass Games, 2019

TYt4vmWiRnWl0MUjqKCZUwAs the decade came to a close, I had all-but-given up on naval wargaming. When I first saw Blue Water Navy I had thoughts of one of my favorite strategic WW3 at Sea games, Seapower & the State (Simulations Canada, 1982). The play length of BWN, 1-16 hours, kinda put me off at first as I prefer shorter games. As I read more I became more intrigued so I finally purchased it. Now it sits on this list as an influential game because it shows me how abstraction and non-traditional wargame mechanics (cards?) can be used to craft a game that literally plays out like a Tom Clancy or Larry Bond novel. 

Brave Little Belgium – Hollandspiele, 2019

5SEI37l%T5yLJJc7vRLX2wI have been a grognard since 1979. Why do I need a simple wargame that doesn’t even use hexes? I mean, this game uses a chit-pull mechanic (good for solo play) and point-to-point movement. In a game this simple there can’t be much depth, right? Hey, where is the CRT? Speak about a small war…. Influential because this game shows that simplicity can be a very high art. Brave Little Belgium is my go-to quick intro wargame for hobby boardgamers. 

Hold the Line: The American Civil War – Worthington Publishing, 2019

6HSa418vRrKP6Dyy%qokEgThis one is very personal. My Middle Boy is on the autism spectrum and when his younger brother started an evening program once a week the Middle one was a bit lost without his companion. So I looked around for a wargame we could play in a sort of ‘filler-wargame’ mode – short and simple on a weeknight. And play we did; ten times in 2019. He beat me seven times. Influential because this game – sometimes derided as a simplified ‘Command & Colors wannabe’ – connected me closer to my Middle Boy than any game before.

Less Than 60 Miles – Thin Red Line Games, 2019

Gi47YGXvSuiIL8pOfxkb3gThe folks from the US Army Command & General Staff College at CONNECTIONS 2019 had a copy of Less Than 60 Miles on their table and were singing praises of the game. I was fortunate enough to be able to trade for the game later on BGG. What I discovered was a wargame built around John Boyd’s OODA Loop. At the same time I was reading A New Conception of War: John Boyd, the U.S. Marines, and Maneuver Warfare. Putting the two of them together was like lightening in a bottle. This is a heavy, serious game that is also playable and enjoyable. Influential for no other reason than it shows me that OODA applies far beyond the cockpit; indeed, I need to look at OODA for many more games.

Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest – Might Boards Games, 2019Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest – Might Boards Games, 2019

nof_packshotBrian Train is a designer that often looks at lesser or different wars and always brings forth an interesting perspective in his games. He calls this game, ‘a militarized Eurogame.’ He’s right; this title is the full embodiment of a waro game. I often argue with myself if this is even a wargame; after all, you can play solo, head-to-head, teams, or cooperative. Hobby boardgame or wargame? Influential for that very reason as it represents to me the full arrival of the ‘waro’ to the hobby gaming market.

Tank Duel – GMT Games, 2019

zGtfgQKQQ+SJpwWwL2RlAwLike Nights of Fire, this can’t really be a wargame. It has no board, no dice, and no CRT. Instead it has ‘tableaus’ for tanks and (lots of) cards! You can also play up to eight players. There is no player elimination – tanks respawn! What on earth is this? Influential because it challenges all my traditional views of a wargame only to deliver some of the best wargaming experiences I have ever had at the gaming table.

There are many more games from 2010-2019 that influenced me. Games with the chit-pull mechanic are now my favorite to solo with, but I didn’t put one on the list. Maybe I should of….

Hmm…I see it’s also hard to pin down one particular publisher that particularly influences me. In this list of 15 games we have:

  • 4x GMT Games
  • 3x Compass Games
  • 2x Academy Games
  • 2x Hollandspiele
  • 1x DVG
  • 1x Mighty Boards Games
  • 1x Thin Red Line Games
  • 1x Worthington Publishing

Not a bad spread!


*’Waro’ – A combination of ‘wargame’ and ‘Eurogame. To me it is a wargame that incorporates Eurogame like look/components or mechanics vice a traditional hex & counter wargame.

Entering the matrix doesn’t mean exiting from #wargames

Over on Rex Brynen’s excellent PAXSIMS website, he posted a link to BEAR RISING, a Matrix game looking at the Baltic in the post-INF Treaty era. As a wargaming professional, I appreciate that Matrix games can be used to explore policy issues and generate greater insight into the issue. Matrix games are a part of wargaming, but apparently some out there want to distance themselves from that connection. Taking a look at BEAR RISING you find this:

What are matrix games? Matrix games are different to normal Wargames. In most of those games you will probably compare lists of statistics and peer at complicated books of rules containing someone else’s idea about what things are important, before making a decision, checking that it is covered by the rules and rolling dice to see if you succeed. It can take a long time, look really complicated and can be very difficult to explain to a newcomer. Instead, in a matrix game you simply use words to describe why something should happen, the Facilitator or the players (or both) decide how likely it is, and you might roll a dice to see if it happens (but equally, in the face of a compelling argument, you might not need to). If you can say “This happens, for the following reasons…” you can play a Matrix Game. The games themselves are not intended to be fiercely competitive, with obvious winner and losers. Instead they operate with the players working to generate a credible narrative. It is from examination of this narrative after the game that the player gain insights to the situation being portrayed. The player roles have objectives that will place them in conflict with other players, but it is perfectly possible for all of the players to achieve at last some of their objectives by the end of the game.

Let’s take a few of these sentences apart:

  • “In most of those games you will probably compare lists of statistics and peer at complicated books of rules containing someone else’s ideas about what things are important before making a decision, checking that it is covered by the rules and rolling dice to see if you succeed.” I guess you have only played wargames like Advanced Squad Leader, right? You totally have missed out on many “light” wargames like Brave Little Belgium or uncountable others? I hope you are consistent in your views and have the same disdain for heavy Eurogames out there and especially for anything designed by Phil Eklund, right?
  • “It can take a really long time, be really complicated and can be very difficult to explain to a newcomer.” I challenge you to try any of the Academy Games Birth of America-series or Commands & Colors (Compass Games or GMT Games) or a Hold the Line game (Worthington Publishing). If those games are too complicated for you and difficult to teach a newcomer then you have no place talking to anybody about a Matrix game.
  • “Instead, in a matrix game you simply use words to describe why something should happen, the Facilitator or the players (or both) decide how likely it is, and you might roll a dice to see if it happens (but equally, in the face of a compelling argument, you might not need to).” But you just disparaged rolling dice above….
  • “The games themselves are not intended to be fiercely competitive, with obvious winner and losers.” Ah…another bias. Wargames “must” be “fiercely competitive.” Let’s not talk anything about the learning that can come from exploring the situation; it’s war and war is automatically evil! To that I say si vis pacem, para bellum.*
  • “Instead they operate with the players working to generate a credible narrative. It is from examination of this narrative after the game that the player gain insights to the situation being portrayed.” I would argue that some of the best wargames, like the new Tank Duel (GMT Games, 2019) or Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid (GMT Games, 2018) generate a “credible” narrative during the game and don’t need a scribe to explain it to the players afterwards.
  • “The player roles have objectives that will place them in conflict with other players, but it is perfectly possible for all of the players to achieve at last some of their objectives by the end of the game.” Is this not the hallmark of a good game design? A good design will see all players work towards their objective, with the end result being a measure of how well they achieved those objectives. The objectives themselves do not have to the same (for example, who controls the most territory) but can be different like in Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest (Mighty Boards, 2019) where the Revolutionaries try to save civilians while the Soviets try to control the city. Or maybe the designers of BEAR RISING are not familiar with a GMT Games COIN game like Colonial Twilight (see Grant from The Players Aid comments about terror) or the asymmetric Root from Leder Games?

I will repeat what I said before; Matrix games are useful to explore policy issues and generate insight. But they are one tool in the vast kit available to designers. To maximize that insight, I prefer designers and players to have open minds and to avoid/remove as much bias as possible. In the case of the BEAR RISING designers, they show me that they have deep biases that make me doubt the assumptions their game is built on.


* “If you want peace, prepare for war.” In my case I strongly advocate studying warfare to understand – and avoid – military disasters of the past.

Feature image courtesy BEAR RISING.

Shedding some daylight on Nights of Fire: Battle for Budapest (@mighty_boards, 2019) #wargame #boardgame

IN MANY WAYS I AM A CLASSIC WARGAMER. The first games I played in the late 1970’s were traditional hex & counter with Combat Results Table (CRT) affairs. My wargames usually portrayed the tactical or operational-levels of warfare. In the 40 years since, not only have my interests evolved, but so has the art of wargame design. Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest (Mighty Boards, 2019) is one of the latest designs to land on my table. The game is a wargame, but a very non-traditional one. It’s probably best to let co-designer Brian Train explain what happened:

During development of this game, David [Turczi] and I batted many mechanisms and processes back and forth. I would say in general terms it steadily evolved away from “numbers-heavy wargame” and towards something we would call “militarized Eurogame.”

Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest, Designer’s Notes, p. 25

Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest (NoF) portrays the second week of the conflict (23-30 October 1956). This was the Soviet invasion of Budapest proper. The Soviet player is bent on occupying the city whereas the Revolutionary player must slow down the juggernaut long enough for civilians to escape. NoF externally looks like a hidden-information, area control game. Mechanically under the hood NoF is a card-driven game (CDG) but of a totally different ilk many wargamers may expect. The unique cards are the heart of Nights of Fire and what sets the game apart.

Nights of Fire components (courtesy Mighty Boards)

Nights of Fire: Battle Budapest can be played with 1-3 players. In multiplayer versions, one player is the Soviet while the Revolutionary side can be played by up to two players. Unlike so many GMT Games CDG designs, the cards in NoF don’t follow an Event/Operations model. Instead, the Revolutionary player has their own deck of Revolutionary Cards where the cards have an Ops Value and in some cases functional symbols. To execute an action the Revolutionary player must discard ops points. Additionally, to perform certain actions an Insurgent block must be in the District or the player must discard a card with the right symbol. The Soviet player has a deck of Tactics Cards which broadly break down into three categories; Mobile, Encounter, and Siege. Each of these cards has three of eight different symbols giving each card a unique set of abilities. When playing solo, the Soviet player is represented by the Konev AI deck; twelve cards that give present a very challenging opponent.

There are other very Eurogame-type mechanics, like tracking Prestige or Morale which in turn effect the number of cards drawn. The game also has strong narrative elements like fleeing Civilians escaping Arrest or even ones who Defy the Soviets.

As Mr. Train notes:

As I said, I am primarily a wargame designer. David has a background in designing Eurogames, and I can say I learned a lot from him about how wargames can be designed differently.

Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest, Designer’s Notes, p. 25

In this age of the internet, there are folks out there which will likely balk at mixing Eurogames, with all it’s passive connotations, and militarized together. Too bad. Designers Brian Train and David Turczi have advanced the art of boardgaming with this hybrid wargame-Eurogame design. Wargame players in particular will benefit.

At the recent CONNECTIONS 2019 professional wargaming conference, I saw the continuation of a schism I noted two years back when I attended my first CONNECTIONS. The old grognards, which I am age-wise associated with, seem very reluctant to give up their traditional hex & counter and CRT. There is a very strong “Matrix Games” faction and then there is a smaller group that is pushing the edge of game design by bringing in many Eurogame or other game theory elements to the table. This is where folks like Brian Train excel.

And this is where I want to play my wargames.


Feature image Mighty Boards

April #Wargame #Boardgame Drought?

What do they say? “April showers bring spring May flowers?” Well, my gaming April was a drought.

IMG_0237April was also a very busy month outside of gaming. For the first time in a few years we took a family Spring Break vacation. Sorry friends, spending a week at DisneyWorld, even when not playing games, is quite the mental health break the family needed.

Not that the month was a total loss. I got three very exciting plays of Harold Buchanan’s excellent Campaigns of 1777 (Decision Games/Strategy & Tactics 316). After playing the full campaign first I went back and played the shorter scenarios. I strongly recommend that one play the shorter scenarios first and then jump into the campaign; the locations and strategy decisions come easier and make more sense leading to a deeper game experience.

I was also very pleasantly surprised by WW2 Deluxe: The European Theater (Canvas Temple Publishing, 2018). What looks to be a too-simple game is actually a very neat classical hex & counter wargame with enough fresh innovation to keep it from appearing stale. WW2 Deluxe exceeded my expectations!

The RockyMountainNavy Boys continue their fascination with Quarriors! (WizKids, 2012). This month they dug into their own pockets and bought two expansions for the game.

I have been a bad Kickstarter boy this month. First it was Terraforming Mars: Turmoil that ended a very abbreviated campaign with over $13 MILLION(!!) raised with over 26,000 backers. Here’s hoping the game delivers on the hype. I also caved and pledged for the Traveller 5.10 roleplaying game campaign. Hey Marc! Don’t fail me, please!

After two years of waiting (at least for me) it appears that the new edition of Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! – Kursk 1943 (Academy Games) is getting real close (finally).  According to a May 01 production update:

Production for ‘Conflict of Heroes – Storms of Steel 3rd Ed’ and ‘Conflict of Heroes – Awakening the Bear 3rd Ed’ is nearing completion! The Map Boards printed by Ludofact in Germany have arrived on the coast in Norfolk, VA and are working their way through customs. Once cleared, they will be shipped on to Ludofact USA to await the arrival of the rest of ‘Conflict of Heroes’ components being produced in China for final assembly.

The Chinese printer has completed production on the three (3!) individual Game Trayz that will be included in each game, dice, and cards. We just received final proofs for the unit counters, rule books, track sheets, etc. and have given approval for final production. We are implementing final tweaks to the SoS3 Mission book.

Our printer knows how important it is that we receive these games for early June release, so they are working diligently to get everything shipped soon. We are estimating they will be finished printing within the next two weeks for shipment to Ludofact USA for final assembly with the map boards. We are currently estimating we will receive the games for fulfillment by mid-June.

We had a lot of fun showing off the new maps and game system at Little Wars last weekend. Thanks for all of your great comments and those of you who kept coming back to play even more of the 3rd Ed Missions!

We want to thank everyone for their support, great suggestions, and feedback on the 3rd Ed Conflict of Heroes system.

If all goes well, it looks like May/June/July could be a busy month for the postman it’s possible to see delivery of not only Storms of Steel but (maybe) Agents of Mayhem (Academy Games), Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington), Tranquility Base/Soviet Moon (History in Action Games), Castle Itter (with Pavlov’s House) (DVG), Nights of Fire: Battle for Budapest (Might Boards), and Memoir ’44: New Flight Plan (Days of Wonder). Hopefully it makes my summer gaming interesting!