As much as I keep talking about the feature game in C3i Magazine, it’s always good to remember that there is other gaming goodness in every issue. The latest issue is no exception as a solo folio game, Firebase Vietnam by Pascal Toupy is included and also needs to be explored.
Of course, we all know that we don’t just get C3i Magazine “just for the game,” we read it too, right? The latest edition has the first of a new column by Harold Buchanan (Liberty or Death, Campaigns of 1777) called “Harold Buchanan’s Snakes and Ladders.” In this column he discusses wargamer archetypes. I have problems with his taxonomy and since he invited comments I am working on just a few. Look for them in the coming weeks!
Boardgaming this week was very slow as wargames dominated my gaming time. I did get to play a fun game of Dragomino (Blue Orange Games, 2020) with young Miss A. She’s 6 years old; almost 7, and sometimes is too anxious to see the best connections. A gentle “Are you sure?” comment near the beginning of the game is usually enough to get her to stop, relook at her tableau, and grin as she realizes she needs to slow down a bit and think to get a better score.
While I keep plowing through the huge The Secret Horsepower Race: Western Front Fighter Engine Development by Calum Douglas I also took the time this week to revisit some of my older US Constitutional Law texts from college because of recent national events. Along the way I stumbled upon “The Case of the Smuggled Bombers” in Quarrels That Have Shaped the Constitution (Harper Row, First Perennial Library Edition, 1987) which discusses U.S. v. Curtis Wright Export Corp, et al., 299 US 304. In this Supreme Court case, the Curtis Wright Corporation in the 1930’s was selling warplanes to various South American countries (sometimes even to BOTH sides of the same conflict!). The US Government wanted to stop these arms sales but Curtis tried an end-around and was caught violating the Chaco Arms Embargo. Being a wargamer who thoroughly enjoys Wing Leader: Origins 1936-1942 from GMT Games (2020) the topic really interested me. Plus, I learned a bit more about some 1930’s aircraft!
I am really looking forward to getting the last few games mailed in 2020 to the gaming table. That is, once they arrive. Kudos to the US Postal Service for the 18th century service! I mean, my C3i Magazine Nr 34 with designer Trevor Bender’s Battle for Kursk is ‘only’ on day nine of the 2-8 days expected delivery with a present status of “In Transit” but unlocated. Then there is my Buffalo Wings 2 – The Deluxe Reprint (Against the Odds, 2020). The good folks at ATO, recognizing the mailing mess, sent all the packages by 2-day Priority Mail but the USPS was so helpful they let it sit for the first THREE days at the initial mailing point with a status of “Shipment Received, Package Acceptance Pending.” I know; First World Gamer problems and all those that ship international ain’t impressed!
Without new games I went to the shelves and pulled out an old game that I recently acquired but had not played. Harpoon Captain’s Edition bills itself as, “fast, simple, and fun to play.” Six hours and 16 (!) scenarios later…well, you’ll have to wait a few weeks and see what I thought.
By the way, playing Harpoon Captain’s Edition 16 times now “officially” makes this game the most-played wargame in my collection since I started (sorta) keeping records in 2017.HCE is just ahead of Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 14 plays), Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 12 plays), Root (Leder Games, 11 plays), Table Battles (Hollandspiele, 11 plays), and Tri-Pack: Battles of the American Revolution (GMT Games, 10 plays).
Goodbye #advancedsquadleader Won 2 Australian tournaments, played 100s of games but had a damascene moment designing scenarios when I realised ASL had actually taught me little about WWII and nor could it. Play the rules, not the period. All game, no history.
I was added to the thread for my thoughts. Sorta hard to condense it into one short tweet but I tried:
Mountain Navy @Mountain_Navy ·
Thinking about what a #wargame means to me. Went to the tomes of Dunnigan, Perla, & Sabin as well as Zones of Control book for thoughts. My Answer: A wargame is an interactive model to explore conflict; it doesn’t define it. I use wargames for fun (to game) & inspire learning.
Complexity as Realism…or Not?
First, a disclaimer. I am not an active Advanced Squad Leader player. I played long ago but my ASL-like game was actually Star Fleet Battles (SFB). Like ASL, SFB is also accused of being overly complex. But when I was reading through Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming (Edited by Pat Harrigan & Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, MIT Press, 2016) I was drawn to Chapter 10, “Design for Effect: The “Common Language” of Advanced Squad Leader” by J.R. Tracy. Tracy starts out by stating:
Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) (1985) holds a unique place in the wargaming hobby. Nearly thirty years old, it is still going strong, with a large, ardent fan base and a smaller, but no less ardent body of detractors. More a game system than a game, ASL is both respected and reviled as representing the best and worst aspects of wargaming. ASL itself is considered a benchmark of complexity and comprehensiveness, while its player possess a devotion bordering on fanaticism. Though its roots are firmly in the “design-for-effect” philosophy, it is viewed by many as the paragon of realism with respect to tactical World War II combat. This is born of a misguided equation of complexity and verisimilitude – ASL is at its heart more game than simulation, but it is a richly rewarding game, offering dramatic, cinematic narrative as well as competitive experience. (p. 113)
Mr. Tracy goes on to point out that Squad Leader designer John Hill was, “striving for an impressionistic depiction of combat…based on his interpretation of eyewitness accounts and recollections” (p. 113). He goes on to say, “For Hill, ‘Realism is in the stress and snap decisions of small unit combat’….” (p. 113).
“Realism is in the stress and snap decisions….” More than anything else that line captures for me why I play wargames. For the longest time I was caught up in that ASL-like versimiltude of equating complexity with realism. My favorite games were the likes of Harpoon, the Fighting Wings Series, or Panzer. Those games all bordered more on simulation than games.
Or so I thought.
Wargames as Insight
Years later I have acquired a more nuanced approach to gaming. These days I recognize that all games are models – and models are often imperfect. I now approach games more in line with the thinking of designer Mark Herman who tell us, “As a designer, I always strive to develop game systems that allow the players to compete in a plausible historical narrative that allows for the suspension of disbelief and offers insight into a period’s dynamics.” (ZoC, p. 133)
My undergraduate degree is in History and I always have viewed myself as an amateur historian. Starting in my youth, I used wargames to help me explore history. Robert M. Citrino, in his Zones of Control contribution “Lessons from the Hexagon: Wargames and the Military Historian,” gives us three ways wargames augment the study of history:
Wargames are a visual and tactile representation of the real-life event.
Wargames help illustrate the various levels of war: tactical, operational, and strategic.
Wargames are the ultimate “Jomini-Clausewitz conundrum.”
Wargames are Jominian at their core; they quantify, order, and prescribe military activity.
Wargames incorporate a Clausewitz artifact – the die as a randomizer
I find Citrino’s conclusion most powerful:
Beyond the informational content or fun quotient, however, wargames offer the operational military historian a means to interpret past events, to unpack the calculations that go into planning a campaign and then to analyze the reasons for success or failure. Wargames allow for compelling analysis of time, space, and force dilemmas; they clearly delineate the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war; and they allow the player to appreciate the truths inherent in both Jomini and Clausewitz, rather than choosing one and rejecting the other. In the end, war itself is a violent, bloody, and unpredictable game, with time-honored Jominian principles serving as the “rules” and Clausewitzian Zufall interfering as the randomizer. (ZoC, p. 445)
Games, Not Simulations
Remember when I said that I loved all those more “simulation games?” I didn’t really understand why I thought this, but Robert MacDougall and Lisa Faden in “Simulation Literacy: The Case for Wargames in the History Classroom” (Zones of Control, Chapter 37) helped me understand maybe why I feel this way.
MacDougall and Faden make the case that simulations are often used to model social phenomenon. “They try to distinguish between dependent and independent variables, to make generalizations that will be applicable in many places and times, and ultimately, to uncover the laws of human behavior” (ZoC, p. 450). Games, however, are different, especially with respect to decisions:
Game designer Sid Meier once defined a game as “a series of interesting decisions.” In a historical simulation game, the players take on the roles of those who made interesting decisions. The rules of the game define the structure that constrained those decisions. “Play can be defined as the tension between the rules of the game and the freedom to act within those rules,” writes Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011, 18). Play, in other words, explores the boundaries of agency and structure – and the “ability to make interesting decisions” is about as succinct a definition of historical agency as we are likely to find.
Wargames make for interesting decisions. When I started wargaming, I thought for th elongest time that complexity led to more intereting decisions. These days, I find that it is often the simplest games, with less decisions, that are the most fun. Games like Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing), 878 Vikings (Academy Games), or Command & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games) will never be held up as detailed models of conflict, but each is fun and offer up interesting decision spaces. They do teach, at least in broad strokes of history, and that is part of what makes them interesting too. But in the end, I play most wargames these days for fun.
It looks like the boardgame/wargame publishing industry is coming back, but at a bit of a slower pace. Let’s look at my forecast and then discuss the reality.
One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020) – Kickstarter Boardgame. An update from mid-May stated that shipping in July was expected. I have not seen an update since. Academy Games does not have the best track record for keeping to timelines but that negative is more than compensated by the top-quality game that usually ends up being delivered. UPDATE from July 8 – “August 11, 2020 Arrival Date: Jacksonville, FL, USA. Note, that shipping to Florida takes 10 days longer than to our normal shipping destination in Cleveland. To Cleveland, the product is shipped to Seattle, WA and then transported by rail to Cleveland. Whereas to Florida, the ship needs to steam to Panama, cross through the Panama Canal, and them make its way up to Florida. USA and Canadian pledges will be shipped from Quartermaster Logistics, which is based in Orlando, FL.”
Philadelphia 1777 (Worthington Games, 2020) – Kickstarter Wargame. A late June update reported the game is arriving at the freight-forwarder and Worthington expects to take possession early in July and start shipping immediately. UPDATE: Delivered July 17.
The Shores of Tripoli (Fort Circle Games, 2020) – Kickstarter Waro. Coronavirus delays have pushed this one back from April, but it looks like July is seriously in play. UPDATE from July 21 – “My post-pandemic expectation was that our print run would be ready to ship from China in early July. Because of a bottleneck at one of the factories (our manufacturer, Panda, uses three different factories for our game – one for the dice, one for the wood pieces and one for the printing and final assembly), the games will not be ready to ship from China until mid-August. The slow boat from China takes five to six weeks, so I am looking at alternatives – mainly, having enough copies airmailed to our distribution points (we are using Quartermaster Logistics and their overseas partners) so we can ship to all of our backers before the end of August. If it is not cost-prohibitive, that is the plan. But if it is cost-prohibitive, then we are looking at delivery in late September. Ugh, I do not even want to contemplate that. As I know more, I will keep all of you updated.”
Heights of Courage: The Battle for the Golan Heights, October 1973 (MMP, 2013) – Sale Wargame. Bought as part of an amazing MMP sale in June. Having never ordered before from MMP I don’t know how fast they usually fulfill orders and realize coronavirus restrictions may be slowing them down. I had hoped to have these games in hand before July but it looks like they will not arrive until after the new month starts. DELIVERED JUNE 30.
It appears to me that shipping, not actual production of games, is a new long pole in the tent. Not surprising given the lack of air transportation worldwide. I know that many games are not airshipped, but the maritime shipping, rail, and truck industries are picking up other cargoes that air shipping used to handle leading in turn to a general slow down of those transportation modes. If you look close even Amazon Prime is sometimes backordered.
How about the look ahead to August? Here are what games may be in play (pun fully intended).
First, my Preorder & Kickstarter GeekListsits at 23 games. Of the three carry-overs from July (One Small Step, Shores of Tripoli, and Undaunted: North Africa) there is a good chance that all but Shores of Tripoli will deliver in August. Of the remaining 20 games:
French & Indian War 1757-1759 (Worthington Publishing): Kickstarter Wargame. From a July 29 Update– “The ship carrying both CRUSADER KINGDOMS and FRENCH & INDIAN WAR will hit the port in New York Auugust 13. We should expect for us to receive the games within 2 weeks of that barring a customs snag. Thats means it is possible we may be shipping the last week of August, and if not then the first week of September!!!”
Looking ahead to the end of the year, it is possible that as many as eight or nine of the games on my current Preorder & Kickstarter GeekList could deliver. Like I said before, that would not only be good for me, but more importantly good for the gaming industry.
In a previous posting, I discovered that three of my six least-liked wargames are air combat-related. This got me thinking – do I actually dislike air combat games? The answer I discovered is, “No, actually there are many air combat games I do like.” Here are my personal Top 10 Air Combat Wargames.
A comment on ratings: These games are ranked subjectively by me out of my personal collection. As such, this is my Top 10 Air Combat Wargames that I own.
At first look I denigrated this game as a side-scroll video game wannabe. WAY WRONG! This unique look at operational air combat just works and clearly brings out the “why” of a dogfight rather than the usual “how.”
Operational-level campaigns of modern air warfare. As a former US Navy Squadron Intelligence Officer this is so much like real-life mission planning that I should dislike it as too realistic but I feel just the opposite.
Air war over Finland. Technically part of JD Webster’sFighting Wingsseries, this one has a cleaner basic game that makes it worthy to be counted as a separate game in my thinking. Detailed air combat that takes a bit of dedication to learn, but once it “clicks” for you it is an easy, fast-paced game that seems realistic yet playable.
Fighting Wings goes to the Pacific. The last real iteration of the Fighting Wings series of games makes it the most refined of the lot and the topic of most interest to me. Maybe too complicated for many but I find it a playable level of realism.
Another operational-level look at an air campaign. Makes one realize that the grunt work, like artillery spotting and photo-recce, are really important to air campaigns. Dogfights have a role but often in support of the others.
It should be obvious that there are many air combat games I like, but just as obvious that tactical dogfighting is not my preference. Seven of my Top 10 Air Combat Games are not dogfight games but rather raids or operational-level simulation. Maybe that is the key; dogfighting games, which can be very technical (see Birds of Prey), tend to not catch my attention as much as sweeping campaign systems. This does not necessarily mean the games are bad. Rather, it probably reflects a change in my attitude towards gaming. When I first started in this hobby back in 1979, I think I was a simulationist. It is reflected in my favorite games of that time, Panzer and Star Fleet Battles. I thought that games needed to be technical (and full of chrome) to be “realistic.” These days, I think I seek more “design elegance” (however that is defined!) and desire playability with “just enough” realism.
After a long time of no gaming (funny how housework/yard work/kids soccer games seems to dominate weekends) this weekend featured a return to some game time.
First up was a game of Star Wars Miniatures using the Youngest Jedi’s newly purchased Clone Wars Starter Set. The Youngling now has the right amount of math skills to be able to figure out his own numbers. He still is a bit young to understand all the text on the cards relating to special powers but If it is explained to him at the beginning of the game he tends to remember a good deal of it. That and a little bit of prompting during play makes it a most enjoyable gaming experience. The Youngling still uses the minis for pure imagination adventures, but he seems much more interested in playing the game too. Even Mrs. RMN was impressed with his zeal for play!
The second game of the day was a solo play of Buffalo Wings. Set up was Scenario 16.3 Italian Sports Planes which featured an Finnish Fiat G.50 with a Veteran pilot versus a Russian I-16 with a Regular pilot. The first few turns were a relearning experience for me and they went a bit slow, but as the cobwebs were dusted off the later turns went faster and better. Starting in a neutral head-on encounter, the battle became a climbing dogfight as each tried to get superior position on the other. A few shots were traded, usually at longer ranges with very little chance of a hit. The dogfight ended in a draw when the Finnish pilot extended to disengage after the better-turning I-16 had tailed him for a few turns. All-in-all it was refreshing to get back into a J.D. Webster Airpower game. I found the initial learning curve a bit hard, but after a few turns it was clicking along quite well. Buffalo Wings would serve as a great intro game to the Airpower series.
Finally, I was messing around with BSG: The RPG the other day. In particular I was experimenting with the starship combat system. One important concept in combat is that range is relative. This works well for one-vs-one but what if you have a pair of Vipers flying CAP for a stray freighter when the Cylon Raiders come after it? After messing around with a few concepts on paper I hit upon the idea of using range templates. Each ship has a template with range circles around. As each ship moves relative to another the templates are moved. When they are “together” at Skirmish Range they are totally overlapped. I fought a small battle with the Vipers protecting the freighter against two pairs of Raiders. It seemed to work well; the templates can be used without adding to the existing rules. Indeed, they serve as a simple visual aid and cues to rules. I still want to experiment with the presentation. Maybe I will create a generic template or maybe ship-specific ones.