The simple #wargame joy of Attack! (Eagle Games, 2003)

THE 2003 ORIGINS AWARD FOR BEST HISTORIC BOARD GAME went to Attack! (Eagle Games). Sometime in the late 2000-oughts I bought this game in the hopes that I could use it as an introductory wargame for the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I don’t really know why I did this since I already owned Axis & Allies (in my case, the 1987 Milton Bradley edition). Attack! and Axis & Allies are very similar so having A&A be good enough. I recently pulled Attack! out as part of my 2019 Origins Challenge. After all these year I can say that Attack! is the superior game to A&A, even without the expansion.

As I replayed the game I discovered that while I have focused on heavier wargames, the RockyMountainNavy Boys regularly pull Attack! out to play. They tell me its because of the free-style set-up. Whereas A&A tries to recreate a historical WWII starting in 1942, Attack! is set in the World War II era but is not tied to history. In many ways it is a sandbox WWII game.

Just because the game is cut loose of history does not mean that it is not historical. The same combined-arms so powerful in A&A is also a necessity in Attack!. Here also is a simple economic system using a set-building mechanic. Nothing too complex but enough to make one concerned about managing their hand of cards.

Although the RMN Boys play Attack! they prefer not to play it at family game night, instead getting wargames like Conflict of Heroes (Academy Games) or Battleship Captain (Minden Games) to the table. If they want a lite wargame we tend to go with one of the Birth of America/Europe series from Academy Games or Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing). I suggested that they use Attack! with the Neighborhood Gaming Gang since it can play up to six players. At first they were reluctant because of player elimination concerns; that is, until I pointed out to them that the game ends immediately when any player is eliminated (XXII. Winning the Game). So maybe it will make it out for them. I hope so; the game can be fun.

Over the years I occasionally considered purchasing the expansion. Every time I end up not making the purchase. For this reminiscence I thought about it once again, and once again I am passing on the opportunity. Although I am sure the expansion with expanded naval rules and economics is not bad, for me it’s not necessary. The core Attack! has its niche in my collection as a lite, introductory wargame. If we want something more we have other games that satisfy the need. So we keep it simple, with simple Attack!.

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!

#WargameWednesday My 2016 Wargame Revival

I have been a grognard wargamer longer than I have played roleplaying games or family boardgames. However, in recent years I have fallen off in buying new wargames, partially because of the prices (generally expensive) and partially because I have spent more time and money on RPGs and family boardgames. With the rise of the online publishing industry, RPG games and supplements are way more affordable, and my family boardgames included game series like Star Wars X-Wing, Star Wars Imperial Assault, Memoir ’44, and more recently Tanks: Panther vs Sherman. These “light wargames” favor playability over complexity/realism, and in the case of X-Wing or Tanks are more akin to manual video games. These games sorta scratched my wargaming itch, mostly because I used them to introduce the RMN Boys to the hobby.

But although I was scratching the itch, I was not making it go away.

So in 2016 I made a concerted effort to return to true grognard wargaming. Looking back, my modest effort appears to have paid off.

pic1559499_mdBreaking the Chains: War in the South China Sea (Compass Games) [Naval Combat/Modern-era/Operational-level]. My effort to explore modern naval combat. Moderately successful; the game is a bit too simplified for my taste. Looking forward to the next (upgraded?) version the refines the combat system.

pic3090467_mdDawn of the Battleship (Admiralty Trilogy Group) [Naval Combat/Pre-WWI-era/Tactical-level]. A continuation of the Admiralty Trilogy-series and the first published after the break-up with Clash of Arms.

pic3163917_mdEagle of Lille (GMT Games) [Aerial Combat/WWI-era/Operational-level]. Expansion for Bloody April, 1917: Air War over Arras, France. I personally love operational-level air combat games but the prior planning and time needed to play is immense.

pic2958247_mdMBT Second Edition (GMT Games) [Ground Combat/Modern-era/Tactical-level] Jim Day‘s  Panzer (1979 Yaquinto Press) was my first-ever wargame. Love this implementation of his armor combat system to fight the Cold War.

pic2999397_mdPacific Fury: Guadalcanal 1942 (Revolution Games) [Naval Combat/WWII-era/Operational-level]. A unique game that got to my interest in WWII naval combat.

pic2838345_mdPlan Orange: Pacific War 1930-1935 (RBM Studio) [Strategic Pre-WWII-era]. Aligns with my interest in alternative naval war in the Pacific. Great use of the card-driven game (CDG) mechanic.

pic3236903_mdWing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 (GMT Games) [Aerial Combat/WWII-era/Large-scale Tactical-level]. A different, and very interesting, look at air combat. A nice mix of tactical and operational-levels of aerial combat.

Breaking it down, of the seven wargames purchased this year:

  • Plurality are Naval Combat (3 of 7)
  • Majority are Operational-level (if one counts the large-scale tactical of Wing Leader as “operational” (4 of 7)
  • Plurality are are WWII-era (3 of 7)

Interestingly, I bought no space/science-fiction games this year. That is, unless one counts my pledged

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Courtesy Ad Astra Games

Kickstarter for Squadron Strike:Traveller (Ad Astra Games) that was to deliver in July but I am still waiting on.

I have to say though that my biggest wargaming achievement of 2016 was introducing Little I to miniature-style naval combat using my old copy of pic253396_mdBattleship Captain (Minden Games, 2007). This is the game that really started Little I on the path to grognardia. He had played, and enjoyed, Memoir’44 but with Battleship Captain he started seriously studying the history behind the game. This Christmas season, his attention has been seized by  the Gale Force 9 Tanks game and he is seriously studying WWII armored combat now.

Here’s to hoping 2017 is a year of many more wargame experiences.

All images courtesy BoardGameGeek except where noted.

#WargameWednesday Battle of the Denmark Strait (Battleship Captain, Minden Games)

Over the past few years, I have successfully introduced my boys to the board game hobby, including wargaming. Their favorites are Memoir ’44 and World War I Wings of Glory. Little I has been bothering me to find a naval combat game. This past weekend, I pulled out Battleship Captain (Minden Games, 2007). They love it!

Part of the reason I selected Battleship Captain is an emphasis on playability over strict realism. Personally, I prefer the Admiralty Trilogy System, but I just know that this would be too complex for Little I to start off with. The other reason is that Battleship Captain comes with over 1,000 ships!

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Courtesy BoardGameGeek

The 1,000 ships come on 24 mid-weight cardstock sheets. They really need to be mounted (looking into that now) but are very easy to photocopy. Regardless of how you use the counters, the important part is the the RMN Boys will have MANY ships at their disposal. If there is one thing I have learned from their experiences with Memory ’44 and Wings of Glory it is that we NEVER have enough equipment!

The other advantage Battleship Captain offers is a very simple game engine and easy-to-use game charts. The Sequence of Play is very straight-forward. Each turn:

  1. Both players secretly plot speed.
  2. First Movement – Ships move half their speed with the slowest ships moving first.
  3. First Fire Combat – Players secretly decide to fire this phase or not. Ships can only fire in one of the two Fire Combat Phases each turn.
  4. Second Movement – Ships move the remaining half of their movement.
  5. Second Fire Combat – Ships can fire in this phase if they didn’t fire in the First Fire Combat Phase.

Resolving fire combat is also very easy and almost all rolls are 1d6:

  1. Determine range; this gives a gunfire factor (derived from printed factors on the ship counter)
  2. Determine target armor; convert to odds
  3. Roll on Table A FIRE COMBAT TABLE (very few modifiers)
  4. If HIT roll on Table B HIT TABLE (again, very few modifiers)
  5. Occasionally one moves to Table C PLUNGING FIRE TABLE (again, few modifiers)
  6. Occasionally one uses Table D INTERNAL DAMAGE TABLE (few modifiers)
  7. For particularly devastating hits, players move from Table B to Table E SPECIAL DAMAGE TABLE (few modifiers)

Hits are noted using tokens on the table. There are rules for torpedoes, and other optional rules for added realism, but at its heart Battleship Captain is a very simple procedural game. All the information you really need to play is either on the ship counter or the Reference Card. The game doesn’t have submarines or aircraft which helps it stay simple.

For our game night, we decided to play the Battle of the Denmark Strait. Little I studied this battle after I got him an Airfix set of plastic models.

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Courtesy ScaleModelingNow.com

To assist in learning the game the first time I was the Referee. Little I took the Germans (Bismarck and Prinz Eugen) and T took the British (Prince of Wales and Hood).

The battle started out well, with both sides starting a slow circle to keep broadsides bearing but the ranges (beyond 16,000 yards) led to few hits. As both sides gradually felt their way to as little as 12,000 yards there were still only a few hits. Little I attributed this to poor die rolls (at one point he rolled three “1”s in a row) and switched out dice several times during the game. T had just as poor luck.

Getting frustrated, Little I decided he wanted to explore the Torpedo Combat rules, but to do so meant having to get within 9,000 yards of the British battle line. So Prinz Eugen broke from Bismarck and began an epic charge into the British squadron. Again, the British were plagued by bad luck (poor die rolls) and Prinz Eugen made it to within 2,000 yards before launching a salvo of torpedoes – and missed.

Not to be deterred, Prinz Eugen gamely hung in the fight at close range; so close we had to look at the Ramming rules. Prinz Eugen and Prince of Wales scrapped sides, and the luckless Prince of Wales got the worst of it. Prinz Eugen loosened its second (and last) torpedo salvo and hit Prince of Wales, though not in a devastating manner. At the same time, Hood and Bismarck were exchanging salvos with Hood having a slight advantage in hits.

At this point, we had been playing for 2 1/2 hours and it was getting late so we decided to end the game. We reviewed the damage to the ships:

  • Bismarck had light Flotation Damage and some Turret Damage for slightly reduced speed and firepower
  • Prinz Eugen had significant Flotation and Turret (firepower) damage
  • Prince of Wales had moderate Flotation damage and was severely slowed
  • Hood had light Flotation damage but what she had was slowing her more than Bismarck.

We mutually agreed that Bismarck escaped to back to port (she was headed that direction) and that Prinz Eugen was sunk. Hood and Price of Wales also returned to port. Little I understood this meant that Bismarck did not break out into the Atlantic shipping lanes (its historical mission) but he said it was more important that it not be sunk!

So our first play of Battleship Captain was a success. The RMN Boys have already grabbed my Ziplock Edition of Graf Spee (an earlier, slightly simpler version of Battleship Captain) and are playing it as I write this report. I can hear their good nature laughter and I am getting constant updates from Little I as the battle progresses. For our family, Battleship Captain is a win!