#Wargame Wednesday / History to #Wargame – Bias discovered in Konigsberg: The Soviet Attack on East Prussia, 1945 (Revolutiongames.us, 2018)

In a previous post I talked about the lack of historical background provided in Konigsberg, The Soviet Attack on East Prussia, 1945 (Revolution Games, 2018). A comment on Twitter from Scott Mansfield (@scotts_table) on that post asked:

Interesting post. With what you know of the operation and with limited designer notes do you feel Stefan portrays the decisions of Konigsberg accurately or does it feel like his well developed mechanic (chit pull) is what comes through with the narrative taking backseat?

Hey Scott, thanks for the lead-in to this post!

Photo by RockyMountainNavy Gamer

After playing the game I still can’t tell if Konigsberg is an ‘accurate’ depiction of the battle portrayed. What I can tell you is that the game is very engaging. The engagement comes from the interaction of two game mechanics, the ‘well-developed’ chit-pull and 4.0 Command, as well as a challenge to my own biases. Let me explain.

Konigsberg uses that ‘well-developed’ chit-pull mechanic in the best possible way. This comes from how the chit-pull and the rules for Command interact. The interaction creates several factors that make play engaging:

  • Random: Every turn the Command Chits are drawn randomly from the cup (4.1.1 Command Chit Draws)
  • Limited: The Turn Track tells how many Command Chits can be drawn for each force (German, 2nd Belorussian (2BF) or 3rd BF); once this limit is reached NO MORE can be activated for that force (4.1.1)
  • Higher HQ: During the game, extra commands chits (2BR & 3BR for the Soviets or HGM for the Germans) enter the game awarding ‘bonus’ activations (4.1.2 & 4.1.3)
  • Independent Units: When a Command Chit is drawn, the player can activate all units under that command as well as independent combat units (2 for Soviets, three for Germans) that are within the Command Range of the HQ (4.2.1, 4.2.2, 4.2.3, & 4.2.4)

Accurate, but Game

Konigsberg is in effect a race game. One side (the Soviets) are trying to grab as many victory hexes as possible in a given amount of time. The other side (Germans) are trying to delay the Soviets as much as possible. The chit-pull mechanic and Command rules ensure that the players must be flexible in their planning, taking opportunities as they come. The Soviets must maneuver their HQs to keep the front moving. The Germans have to position their HQs to build a flexible defense in depth that not only slows down the Soviets but also maintains integrity as it inevitably collapses.

Is this accurate? From what (little) I have read yes. More importantly, it is engaging.

Revealing My Biases

For me, the lack of historical background in Konigberg forces me to look not only at the game mechanics more closely to divine what I am supposed to do, but the lack of historical ‘prejudice’ means I approach the game in a much more open-minded manner than I usually do. As I played Konigsberg I found myself paying much more attention to command, unit capabilities, and terrain. I came to realize that so often I use my historical knowledge as a form of bias in my decision making during play. I mean, we all ‘know’ it is folly to mount an airborne operation to seize key bridges across the Rhine, right? So why would we ever do it? In Konigsberg, my lack of historical understanding meant I didn’t know ‘what works’ (or didn’t) which forced me to fall back on my understanding of the strategy and doctrine of the time. It made me think about what I was doing.

Conclusion -or- Why to Play?

In my first play of Konigsberg the end Victory Conditions saw the Germans holding seven Victory Point Hexes. This is a Soviet Historical Victory. In a way this tells me that the game is ‘accurate’ in that it can recreate the historical condition. More important, however, I discovered through this play of Konigsberg that ‘knowing’ too much can actually be detrimental to my play experience. This play of Konigsberg taught me that the combination of game mechanics and the absence of my own bias still can deliver a very engaging game; engaging in that I thought my way thru this game more deeply than most games I recently played. In this case, the lack of historical background I lamented before actually delivered a better game.


Feature image “Knock out German tank, 1945″ courtesy WWII in Color (yes, I know it’s B&W).

#RPGThursday – Wonders of Wondrous Menagerie (Gypsy Knight Games, 2017)

In my science fiction RPG adventures,I often have alien characters or NPCs. The Star Trek universe is full of aliens, most of the “rubber-forehead” variety; i.e. an alien species only one or two facial features away from humans. Star Wars got a bit away from that trope and brought on humanoid aliens that look like humans in shape but are nothing like us. The Third Imperium setting for Traveller RPG introduced a version of humanoid aliens with the Vargr. Playing Classic Traveller was where I first ran into the concept of an uplifted species. As much as I read about them, I never actually played an uplifted character.

In several Ships of the Clement Sector stories, one can find uplift characters so I understood that they were part of that setting. Gypsy Knight Games has now released The Wondrous Menagerie: Uplifts in Clement Sector. This lavishly illustrated 82-page sourcebook lays out the good, and the bad, of uplifts in the Clement Sector. Wondrous Menagerie provides background for how uplifts are treated or dealt with in the four Clement sectors and the colonies. Many uplift species are detailed with some more suitable for NPCs while others could be used as Player Characters.

When generating a character, the player is immediately forced to deal with three broad legal status’;is the uplift a slave, free but segregated, or totally free (living in a mixed community)?

Yes, your character may be a slave. There is even an Uplift Slave Career detailed within the book.

At first this bothered me; I don’t want to play a slave! However, as I read on I was challenged by the author. John Watts very thoughtfully added an Author’s Note at the back of the book. Within this note, Mr. Watts makes observations as to how he has seen uplifted characters played in the past. He talks about uplifts as comic relief and uplifts as combat driven characters. He then talks about uplifts in the Clement Sector, and the opportunities the setting gives players to explore “more serious undertones” of racial bias and prejudice. He also offers the challenge of playing uplifts through method acting.

Few games offer a “series undertones” approach like GKG is offering here. Even Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game, set in the (now decanonized)  Dark Times -era with its speciesism mostly avoids that element of the setting in the core book.

For some, the good news is that you can play uplifts in Clement Sector without the serious undertones. But if you want a challenge, then take the one Mr. Watts offers.