#SundaySummary – Slow #Boardgame #Wargame times thanks to @USPS (but a good shout-out to @ADragoons)

Wargames & Boardgames

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.

Harpoon Captain’s Edition (photo by self)

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).

I was happy to see the Compass Games Kickstarter campaign for No Motherland Without by designer Daniel Bullock successfully fund this week. I have had my copy on preorder with Compass Games since October 2019. I backed the original Kickstarter and was disappointed to see it cancelled in May 2018 but am very happy Dan ended up with Compass Games so we can get a copy of what looks to be a very interesting game!

Courtesy Compass Games via BGG

Roleplaying Games

This coming week I continue my Traveller RPG wargame series with a look at the strategic wargames of the Traveller RPG in “#Wargame Wednesday – Searching for My Strategic #TravellerRPG Wargame.”

Regardless of the mail challenges, not all my gaming has been lost. My roleplaying game hobby has reenergized in 2021. To start off the year I went ahead and jumped on the Bundle of Holding offering for The Expanse Roleplaying Game and the Modern AGE materials from Green Ronin. My thoughts on The Expanse Roleplaying Game are coming in this week’s #RPGThursday so stay tuned.

The Expanse Roleplaying Game (photo by self)

I also picked up the latest The Clement Sector offering from Independence Games, Wendy’s Guide to the Fleets of Earth Sector, Volume 2. That’s not the Rochinante from The Expanse on the cover but in some ways it’s close….

Courtesy Independence Gams

Books

This week’s upcoming “#RockyReads for #Wargame” is China as a Twenty Century Naval Power by Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt from Naval Institute Press (2020).

Courtesy Naval Institute Press

Look for my thoughts on The Craft of Wargaming (Naval Institute Press, 2020) and War by Numbers (Potomac Books, 2017) in the coming weeks.

Recent Posts

#RPGThursday – Searching for My Personal/Tactical #TravellerRPG #Wargame

#ThreatTuesday – @RANDCorporation “Command and Control in US Naval Competition with China”

Coming Soon to Armchair Dragoons

Pending the Regimental Commander’s final approval, my thoughts on Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989 (Multi Man Publishing, 2020) will be posted soon to the Armchair Dragoons website. This title was my 2020 Wargame of the Year Runner-Up so you know I like it – read the Armchair Dragoons article to see why! While you’re at it, check out the ACD Digital Convention 15-17 January (that’s next week for you non-military date sorta folks).

#SundaySummary – Jan 03, 2021

Wargames

Shores of Tripoli (Fort Circle Games, 2020) arrived just before the new year. That made it eligible for (and the winner of) my 2020 Wargame of the Year. Really, I can’t extol the virtues of this game enough. Really a great first-outing for new designer Kevin Betram and his Fort Circle Games label.

C3i Magazine Nr 34 is inbound. Thanks to USPS it will arrive sometime in this new year.

Likewise the Kickstarter fulfillment of Buffalo Wings 2 – The Deluxe Reprint is shipping and my copy is somewhere between the publisher (Against the Odds in Philadelphia, PA) and me.

Boardgames

Been playing only very casual, short games with Mrs. RockyMountainNavy and the Boys. Santorini (Roxley Games, 2016) and Crab Stack (Blue Orange Games, 2015) have landed multiple times mostly as we prepare for next semester of Mrs. RMN’s tutoring.

Roleplaying Games

I worked on more than a few posts for the coming year. I am starting a series on ground combat in the Traveller RPG universe. Keep an eye out.

I also dug deep into The Expanse Roleplaying Game. My plan is for an overview impressions post and then a short narrative replay of sorts. I also see that the Bundle of Holding has an offering; very tempted!

#RockyReads

I’m going to try to track more of my reading this year. To that end I started a new hashtag/segment of my blog I’m calling RockyReads. The first one covering Alfred Price’s Instruments of Darkness is already posted.


Feature image: A gull is perched amid the reflection of the Capitol on Dec. 4. (Miki Jourdan/Flickr) via Washington Post

The Influence #Wargame – @markherman54 Waterloo Campaign 1815 (@RBMStudio1, 2020)

THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO, ALONG WITH THE BULGE AND GETTYSBURG, are probably the most published wargame topics out there. So it was a surprise to me to discover that long-time designer Mark Herman had not designed a Battle of Waterloo wargame.

Before now.

Found in C3i Magazine Nr 33, Mark Herman’s Waterloo Campaign 1815 is the latest entry in the C3i Series games. The first, Gettysburg (C3iMagazine Nr 32, 2018), is a small footprint, rules-lite product that delivers tremendously challenging choices while being suitable for play by both new and experienced players alike. Waterloo Campaign 1815 is a (small) step up in complexity from Gettysburg but still fulfills its mission of “history distilled to it’s essence” (to steal a phrase from Mark Herman himself). It is also a wargame that aims to, literally, influence your play.

Small Game with Big Graphical Art

Waterloo Campaign 1815 is played on a single 22″x34″ map with less than 50 counters. Yes, a single map, very low counter density Battle of Waterloo game exists! The map is beautiful and simple to parse. Corps counters are larger and easy for even this glasses-wearing Grognard to read while the smaller 1/2″ Detachments are easy to distinguish because of their smaller size. The rule book, though 24 pages long, is actually only six pages of rules, two pages for scenarios, 12 pages of Example of Play, two pages of Designer’s Notes and front/back covers.

Mark Herman’s Zone of Influence & Detachments

The heart of Waterloo Campaign 1815 is really a single game mechanic – the Zone of Influence (ZoI). As explained in Key Concepts and Definitions:

Zone of Influence (ZoI): All hexes within two hexes of a Corps constitute the unit’s Zone of Influence. ZoIs restrict enemy movement and both friendly and enemy Detachment placement. A Zone of Influence cannot be blocked, it extends through and beyond enemy units. There is no additional effect for a hex having more than one ZoI projected into it.

IMG_0926Long time Grognards need to pay attention and don’t get confused; a Zone of Influence is NOT the same as a Zone of Control (ZoC):

Zone of Control (ZoC): The six hexes adjacent to a unit are its Zone of Control. Corps units and Detachments have a ZoC. ZoCs can halt or limit enemy movement. There is no additional effect for a hex having more than one ZoC projected into it.

Before we come back to that ZoI, Waterloo Campaign 1815 has another difference from Gettysburg that is important – Detachments:

Detachments: Most Corps in Waterloo Campaign have one or more associated Detachment units that can be placed during Step D of the Command Phase (Detachment Placement). Regardless of whether a Detachment shows an infantry or a cavalry symbol. they behave identically in play. Detachments have a ZoC, and are useful for screening, holding flanks, or as the rearguard when on the strategic retreat. The Grand Battery and Old Guard Detachments have special rules.

The interaction of the classic ZoC and Herman’s Zone of Influence, along with Detachments, makes maneuver and combat in Waterloo Campaign 1815 most interesting. The interactions of these rules in turns allows for few units to be placed on the map. To truly understand the brilliance of these interactions requires looking into the Sequence of Play a bit deeper.

Command Phase / D. Detachment Placement Step

To defend your flanks or screen movement, one can place Detachments on the map. First, they must be placed within four hexes of the parent unit OR, within the Command Range of a Headquarters (HQ). Most importantly, the path from the parent unit or HQ to the Detachment must be free of ANY ZoC AND ZoI. A design note states this is to avoid having Detachments used as skirmishers and forces you to use them as intended.

Command Phase / E. Detachment Recall

Once Detachments are placed, a player can Recall any (or all) of their Detachments on the map. Even ones in an enemy ZoC. The Detachments cannot be placed again until the next turn.

Between placement and recall, Detachments become their own game of flanking and screening; and that’s even before the first unit has moved!

Movement Phase

When a Corps enters a hex within an enemy ZoI it must stop. If any unit enters the ZoC of a unit (even a Detachment) the unit ‘flips’ from it’s Advance Formation (better movement) to Battle Formation (less movement) side. Note that even the ZoC of those pesky little Detachments causes a formation change! One needs pay attention to where they are on the map or risk finding their multi-Corps flanking march stopped cold by a lowly Detachment!

The Influence of ZoI

Playing Waterloo Campaign 1815 it becomes immediately apparent that this is a game of maneuver and the decisions made in the Movement Phase are often more important than even the battles in the Attack Phase. When maneuvering your units one ends up paying very close attention to the ZoI and ZoC out there because you don’t want to enter either one unless you absolutely have to – or are forced to by a crafty enemy using their Detachments to funnel you to where THEY want the confrontation. Such is the influence of Zones of Influence; they make a unit watch their flanks and use Detachments to ‘influence’ enemy and friendly movement alike.


Feature image courtesy C3i Magazine (RBM Studio)

 

Slicing up the Mahanian Orange #Wargame – Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War, 1932-1935 (@RBMStudio1 Nr. 29, 2016)

MARK HERMAN’S PLAN ORANGE: PACIFIC WAR, 1932-1935 (C3i Magazine Nr. 29, 2016) is a challenging game. The challenge is not in the game design; mechanically the game is not that complex as it is another implementation of Mr. Herman’s (@markherman54) wonderful Card Driven Game (CDG) series. Nor is the challenge that it is a monster game; though derived from Empire of the Sun (GMT Games, 2005, 2015) it covers nearly the same area of conflict but in a much narrower focus. It’s that narrower focus that is the challenge, because if one goes into Plan Orange expecting to play Empire of the Sun you will get a rude awakening. This is because Mr. Herman has focused the game design of Plan Orange around Alfred Thayer Mahan.

Mr. Herman tells us what he is doing in the Player’s Notes to Plan Orange:

This is still the era of the battleship. Jutland was the battle of record and deeply studied in this period. So, while planes had firmly gained a role as long range reconnaissance and raiding elements in naval warfare, the arbiter of decision was still large caliber rifled guns carried by the battleships. What you will notice is the smaller zones of influence (ZOI) and combat power of the land based air reduces them to a supporting role in the war. This one factor makes Plan Orange a very different experience than Empire of the Sun.

9781591140375.jpgDoubling down on this difference, the victory conditions in Plan Orange emphasize the vision of the times that a naval conflict between the United States and Japan would be decided by a giant clash at sea. This really was the thinking of the day, especially for the Japanese as Sadao Asada explains in his book From Mahan to Pearl Harbor: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States (Annapolis, Naval Institute Press, 2006). When talking about the course of study at the Japanese Naval Staff College in the 1930’s, Mr. Asada points out:

Student officers were schooled in the tradition of Mahan. Taking a leaf from Mahan’s Influence, their manual, the Kaisen yomurei, (Naval Battle Instructions) held that “war once declared  must be waged offensively, aggressively.” Day in and day out they conducted war games against the American fleet that culminated in a decisive Mahanian engagement in the manner of Tsushima. In commencement exercises officers conducted war games in front of the emperor, simulating a magnificent main-fleet battle based on the principle of “big battleships and big guns.” Mesmerized by Mahan’s strategic doctrines, officers developed an obsession with the decisive fleet battle that would annihilate the enemy armada at one stroke. Their bible was the aforementioned Naval Battle Instructions, initially developed by Lieutenant Commander Akiyama Saneyuki at the Naval Staff College and sanctioned in 1910. Reflecting Mahan’s doctrine, it stated, “The battleship squadron is the main fleet, whose aim is to attack the enemy’s main fleet.” “The key to successful naval operations is initiative and concentration.” This manual, though revised five times, essentially remained intact until the mid-1930s. (Asado, p. 163)

In Plan Orange there are five ways to win, two of which are directly influenced by Mahan (but don’t be fooled, the others are too):

  1. Capital Ship Ratio: If at the end of Turn 4 (Jan-Apr 1933) or later, the US has 2 times or more battleship steps on the map than the Japanese have on the map, the US wins an Automatic Victory.
  2. Capital Ship Ratio: If at the end of Turn 4 or later, the Japanese have 1.5 times or more battleship steps on the map than the US, the Japanese win an Automatic Victory.
  3. Surrender: If Japan surrenders due to conquest of Honshu or blockade of the Home Islands the US player wins.
  4. Control the Philippines: If at the end of Turn 6 if either side controls all three Philippine surrender hexes, that player wins.
  5. Outlast the Americans: If at the end of Turn 6 no player has met any of the above conditions, the Japanese player wins.

I played Plan Orange twice this weekend. As I’m playing solo (and CDGs are not the best for solo play) I generally chose a ‘strategy’ for each side at the beginning and try to stick to it. For the Japanese I tried to follow Mr. Herman’s ‘Fabian strategy’ he mentions in the Player’s Notes where the Japanese conquers the Philippines, close out the US western bases, and set up defenses to delay the US advance. The Japanese need to hold onto the Philippines and take any opportunity they can to knock out the US Fleet Train when possible.

In the first game, for the US I tried to implement a quick ‘drive for home’ strategy focusing on hanging onto Midway and Wake, then trying to “strike for Japan’ via Marcus Island and Iwo Jima in order to impose a blockade. This didn’t work from the beginning in great part because I concentrated on bringing the US carriers in first. As a result, I had fewer battleships available and the Japanese hand was full of Zengen Sakusen (Attrition Strategy) cards which ended up taking away precious steps of battleships. This forced the US into a catch-up game and some degree of hesitancy as they were unwilling to risk the decisive battle without a clear battleship advantage. Although the US avoided a Japanese Automatic Victory they also failed to threaten the Philippines and never blockaded Japan. Clear Japanese victory.

IMG_0792

I reset the game for another go. Keeping the same general Japanese strategy, this time I dedicated the Americans to a true central thrust through the Marianas to get to the Philippines. Battleships and troops were given priority. This strategy almost worked, and probably would have if not for a heroic stand by the Japanese Army at Manila/Corregidor. As luck would have it, the Japanese hand for Turn 6 included Samurai Spirit which is the only card that gives the Japanese any sort of real bonus in ground combat. It was enough to disrupt the final push on Manila. The Japanese won, but just barely.

I absolutely love the strategic tension the victory conditions create in Plan Orange. The American player must attack and try to retake the Philippines. If they don’t the Japanese win by default. The Japanese in turn will have to defend, but usually have to decide where and when is the right place to make a stand because in a war of attrition they cannot afford to lose too much. By the same token the Americans must attack but cannot be reckless lest they hand the victory to the Japanese. Although both sides want to preserve their fleet, they must risk their fleet for a win. All this in a relatively short two years, or six game turns.

Awesome game.


Feature image courtesy C3i Ops Magazine

 

#Coronatine insert game – Lonato by Frederic Bey (@SemperVictor, c3iopscenter.com, Issue Nr. 14, 2002)

F5+jMI+0SwuSEWaspNowDQALTHOUGH I AM A GROGNARD WARGAMER, I am not much of a Napoleonic wargamer. I started out playing in World War II and then went heavy into the modern & science fiction genres of the wargame hobby. I mean, it’s not like I ignored Napoleonic’s, it just was never a major period of interest. In late 2018, I picked up C3i Magazine #32 mostly for Mark Herman’s Gettysburg. Interestingly, there was a second complete game in the issue, Battle of Issy, 1815 by Frederic Bey. Battle of Issy, 1815 introduced me to the Jours de Gloire-series of games; a series I had never heard of before. Most excitingly the Jours de Gloire-series uses a chit-pull activation mechanic. I absolutely love chit-pull games, especially for solo play.

Mr. Herman’s Gettyburg was certainly the wargamer darling of Issue #32, but the truth to me is that Battle of Issy, 1815 is the superior game. Part of it may have to do with the fact that the Jours de Gloire traces a long and distinguished gaming legacy starting with the Triumph & Glory system from Richard Berg. Frederic Bey eventually took over the series and developed it into the Jours de Gloire of today. I mean, you just can’t go wrong having a Frenchman in charge of developing a Napoleonic game!

62fc8e9c-74b2-4b8f-b880-91a20727ee88.jpegFast forwarding to today, I recently traded for a copy of Lonato found in C3i Magazine Issue Nr. 14 from 2002. Lonato was a game insert using the Triumph & Glory system. I got Lonato to the table this weekend and discovered again just how much I enjoy the Jours de Gloire system.

“But wait,” you cry, “you just said Lonato is a Triumph & Glory game. Silly boy, you got your Jours de Gloire confused!”

No, I don’t, and that’s what makes Lonato so good.

As published, Lonato comes with only scenario-specific rules; the series rules need to be found elsewhere. My intention was to play Lonato first using the Triumph & Glory rules then see about finding a conversion to Jours de Gloire. When I opened the Lonato bag, I discovered some good soul had printed a copy of the Triumph & Glory Version 2.0 rules from December, 2001. As I read the T&G rules, they seemed awfully familiar. So I pulled out the Battle of Issy, 1815 Rule Book which has the complete JDG -series rules included and compared them.

Nearly identical. You can clearly see the development of Triumph & Glory into Jours de Gloire. So instead of learning T&G, I played Lonato using the JDG rules to begin with. The Battle of Issy, 1815 also includes a Play Aid Card that has the JDG-series Terrain Effects Chart on one side and the Combat Tables on the other. These can be used in any JDG game.

There are a few differences. Most noticeably the counters in Triumph & Glory carry a Defensive Fire DRM whereas the Jours de Gloire don’t. In this case I have to trust that the Defensive Fire DRM from T&G is covered in the Combat Tables of JDG. Second, the counters in T&G don’t have an Engagement Rating used in JDG. Eyeballing the counters from Battle of Issy, 1815 it appears that in many cases the Engagement Rating is the same as or one off from the Cohesion Rating. I decided that, for the sake of simplicity, the Cohesion Rating in Lonato would also count as the Engagement Rating. Not perfect, but it seems like an acceptable compromise. Finally, rule 8.6 Jaegers in T&G does not appear in the JDG series rules. In the scenario specific rules for Battle of Issy, 1815 there is a rule for Light Companies (compagnies legeres) which is a very different approach to skirmishers. I chose to use rule 8.6 Jaegers from T&G and treat it as a scenario specific rule to cover the Austrian Jaeger units in Lonato.

A very nice aspect of the Lonato game is that in includes five scenarios. The first scenario, First Lonato (July 31, 1796), is very small and is a great introduction (or reintroduction in my case) to the JDG game system. Second Lonato (August 3, 1796) is a step up in complexity but not annoyingly so. The third scenario, First Castiglione (August 3, 1796) can be played using the five-turn Historical Battle or a longer, 10-turn Hypothetical Battle. Then you have Third Lonato (August 4, 1796) which is a hypothetical battle. Finally, the fifth scenario ties it all together with Lonato-Castiglione (August 3, 1796) which is literally Second Lonato and First Castiglione put together in a sort of mini-campaign game.

As I write this, I have just finished up the third scenario, First Castiglione, which is also the third scenario I played today. I think I will have time to play the hypothetical Third Lonato and Lonato-Castiglione before the weekend ends. Five games in two days, all from one simple little magazine insert.

There are several reasons this explosion of Lonato gaming is possible. First, the Jours De Gloire system is very easy to learn and play. Second, the chit-pull mechanic of variable unit activation makes every game interesting – and well suited to solo play. Finally, the game is small footprint; the Lonato map is 22″x16″ and there are only 140 counters in the game (and you don’t use all the units except in the final ‘campaign’ scenario).

20E827B8-9ED1-4132-BC14-CA4627399584
Second Lonato scenario with Lonato components & Jours de Gloire series rules from Battle of Issy, 1815

Most importantly, I really enjoyed my dive into Napoleonic’s with Lonato. I think part of the reason I like the Jours de Gloire system is that it doesn’t get bogged down at the tactical level like so many classic Napoleonic games. The JDG-series is set at the battalion, regiment, or brigade level but the focus is on command & control. Combat is simplified into either Fire (artillery) or Shock (infantry & cavalry) with Cavalry Charge thrown in. Where there is chrome it usually is scenario-specific and present for a good reason. It didn’t hurt that the five scenarios in Lonato built upon one another making it something of a programmed learning system.

I think I will keep an eye out for other titles in the JDG-series and see if I can acquire a few more. If they are packages anything like Lonato, they could prove to be highly enjoyable and replayable games that are a prefect weekend afternoon or rainy day title

Oh yeah, good for Coronatine too!


Feature image “Napoleon at Lonato” courtesy http://www.napoleonicsociety.com/english/Life_Nap_Chap7.htm

#Coronapocalypse #Wargame Month-in-Review (March 15 – April 15, 2020)

HERE IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA the DECLARATION OF A STATE OF EMERGENCY DUE TO NOVEL CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) was issued on March 12, 2020. For me the real Coronapocalypse started on March 15, the day before I started my new job. The onboarding was surreal; rushed to get people out soonest, walking into a deserted office, then being told to go home and telework when I don’t even have an office account. Although the teleworking eventually worked out, I still found myself at home more than expected. Looking to fill my time, gaming has been a part of my therapy to avoid going stir-crazy.

IMG_0560

In the first 30 days of my Coronapocalypse, I played 19 different games a total of 38 times. Looking at the list, I think many will be surprised to see Elena of Avalor: Flight of the Jaquins (Wonder Forge, 2017) as one of the top-played games. This of course is because we were helping our friends with taking care of their kids while they were working. Fortunately, it is not a bad game – for kids – and was an unexpected discovery (especially given that we purchased our copy for less than $5).

I am very happy that I got in multiple plays of Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987 (GMT Games, 2019). Getting time to do multiple plays allowed me to get deeper into the design and enjoyment. The same can be said about Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid (GMT Games, 2017) which had the bonus of being a dedicated solitaire design that was perfect for Coronapocalypse gaming. This multi-play approach also enabled me to rediscover Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra, 2018), a game which I had under-appreciated.

Given I am stuck working at home, I tried to find ways to mix my wargaming into “professional training.” So it came to be that Next War: Korea 2nd Editions (GMT Games, 2019) landed on the table. I also ordered a copy of the game poster from C3i Ops Center for my new office but, alas, the California shutdown stopped it from being sent just after the label was created.

As disruptive as the Coronapocalypse is, here in the RockyMountainNavy home we tried to keep some semblance of order. This included our Saturday Boardgaming Night with Azul: Summer Pavilion (Next Move Games, 2019), 878 Vikings (Academy Games, 2017), Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017), and Firefly: The Game (Gale Force Nine, 2013).

This month I also explored a few more solitaire gaming titles in my collection. I continue to insist that AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018) is one of the best ‘waro’ games out there. I also got Mrs. Thatcher’s War: The Falklands, 1982 (White Dog Games, 2017) to the table right around the time the historical conflict started. Late in the month, my copy of Amerika Bomber: Evil Queen of the Skies (Compass Games, 2020) arrived. First impressions will be forthcoming.

Coronapocalypse also gave me the chance to play more one-on-one with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. RockyMountainNavy T continued his punishing win streak by besting me, again, in two plays of Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 2019).

The game of the month was actually the last one I played. I pulled Patchwork (Mayfair Games, 2014) out to play with one of Mrs. RockyMountainNavy’s students. The box was still on the table later that night and I asked Mrs. RMN if she wanted to play. She said yes. You have to understand that Mrs. RMN is a strong advocate of gaming but she rarely plays herself. So we set up an played. She beat me handily (I actually had a negative score). I hope this is a harbinger of future gaming, especially with a title like Azul: Summer Pavilion.

How has your Coronapocalypse lock-down gaming gone?


Feature image courtesy laughingsquid.com

The Pope is Dead – or – a #wargame Grognard has made his final muster. Richard H Berg (1943-2019)

THE WARGAMING WORLD HAS LOST A GIANT OF A MAN. But even from beyond the grave, he still manages to teach me something.

Wargame designer Richard H. Berg passed away on 26 July. Mr. Berg was an important member of the wargame community before even I got into gaming in 1979. Mr. Berg was a prolific game designer; a quick search of BGG reveals he is listed as a “designer” on nearly 200 titles.

As much as I knew about Mr. Berg, I actually own very few of his games. Maybe this is because he focused more on the ancient or medieval and middle ages periods. That said, he won early popularity for his American Civil War games; another time period I avoided in the 1980’s in favor or the modern era.

When I heard of Mr. Berg’s death one of the things I did was check my BGG collection to see what titles of his I own. I only own six.

My Richard Berg game collection

My most highly rated game from Mr. Berg is from a recent issue of C3i Magazine. The Battle of Wakefield: Yorkshire, England 30 December 1460 was my introduction to the Men in Iron-series of games. I liked it although this era is not my usual cup of tea.

A poorly rated game I own is Battle for North Africa: War in the Desert, 1940-1942 (GMT Games, 1996). Amazingly, the game is still for sale on the GMT website! Here is my comment about the game I wrote somewhere around 2006 when I first rated the game on BGG:

Covers the entire NA Campaign…but the rules are challenging. Must be a real Grognard and a Richard Berg fan to get through this one.

Rereading my comment, I asked myself if I was being unfair to Mr. Berg. So, with some trepidation, I pulled Battle of North Africa (BNA) out and took a look at it. Immediately, I was confused. Reading the back of the box the publisher’s blurb was nothing I remembered:

Battle for North Africa takes GMT’s Gameplayer Series into the modern era, allowing players to fight one of the hobby’s favorite campaigns with a totally new and fresh approach that emphasizes ease of play. The randomized features of the innovative Activation Marker system allow gamers to combine logistics, command and use of reserves into one, simple mechanic; one that still provides a maximum amount of uncertainty, tension and fun. The scale of BNA also allows players to recreate the sweeping maneuvers of the desert war with scenarios that can be played in one sitting or that cover the entire two years of fighting.

Battle for North Africa, back of the box

After reading the blurb I just had to look at the rulebook. All 20 pages of it. As I looked at it, I had a nagging feeling I had seen this before. So I pulled out Ted S. Raicer’s The Dark Sands: War in North Africa, 1940-42 (GMT Games, 2018), my “other” chit-pull mechanic North Africa Campaign wargame. The similarities are most striking:

  • Both use a chit-pull mechanic
  • Both have a unit scale of Battalion to Division
  • Ground scale in BNA is 8.5 miles per hex; TDS uses two map scales ranging from 4.5 to 9 miles per hex
  • Game turns in BNA are monthly; TDS turns are 1-2 months
  • Both games use the concept of assets to attach support to fighting formations.

The major rules difference between BNA and TDS is the concept of Resources in BNA. In BNA, Resource Points (RPs), “…cover a variety of actions: supply, construction, air support, refitting troops, anything that requires an influx and use of men and materiel” (9.1 Resource Points). In TDS logistics is abstracted into the chit system.

With my interest now totally piqued, I just had to play a scenario. The one-map Rommel Arrives scenario stood out because it, “…lasts 3 turns and can be finished in about 2-3 hours.” So I gave it a shot. My game of BNA ended up taking closer to 4.5 hours as I was learning the game system (the errata from BGG was also helpful). It was not too hard; my recent infatuation with chit-pull games in general, and TDS in particular put me ahead on the learning curve. Looking back to my original comment, what I discovered was:

  • “Covers the entire NA campaign….” Yes, it certainly can.
  • “…but the rules are challenging.” Uh…not really.
  • “Must be a real Grognard and Richard Berg fan to get through this one.” GMT made it clear in the introduction that, “…the emphasis is on accessibility and playability, with as much historical flavor as we can muster. Given choice between playability and historiticity, we have tended to err on the side of the former.”

So, does Battle for North Africa really deserve a 5.0 (Mediocre – Take it or leave it) rating from me. Certainly not.

The passing of Richard Berg, however sad, has brought joy to my life. I think Mr. Berg is smiling in heaven when he sees that his game from nearly 20 years ago can make someone think. Even one of his lesser titles, Battle for North Africa, still brings learning and wonderment to this little man.

That is the mark of a giant. RIP, Mr. Berg.

#Wargame Wednesday – Strategist wargaming using Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War 1932-1935 (C3i Magazine, 2016) @markherman54 @RBMStudio1

A few posts back I took to task The Great War at Sea Volume III: U.S. Navy Plan Orange (Avalanche Press, 1998) as being too much of a tactical battle generator and not enough of a design to explore the strategic nuances behind Plan Orange. After playing that game and its sister Volume IV: The Russo-Japanese War (Avalanche Press, 1999) where I discussed Bruce Geryk’s notions of strategists versus recreationists, I looked around for another game in my collection that could satisfy my needs. I ended up pulling Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War, 1932-1935 (C3iOps Magazine, 2016).

I am fortunate that I have already played this game a few times so I am past the point of being forced to concentrate on the how to play and instead can focus on the strategy of play. Although Plan Orange is based on Mark Herman’s previous work Empire of the Sun (GMT Games, 2005), I don’t own that game so I don’t play Plan Orange with a World War II bias or conditioning from that game. Thus, I feel empowered to explore the strategy of this war, liberated from trying to impose the next war on the game design.

3fcollid3dbooks_covers_026isbn3d978026203399226type3dThat said, to a large degree I was also motivated to play Plan Orange based on Mark Herman’s essay “Empire of the Sun: The Next Evolution of the Card-Driven Game Engine” found in Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming (ed. Pat Harrigan & Matthew G. Kirschebaum, MIT Press, 2016). When talking about the players role in EotS, Mark writes:

I wanted the players to be the important theater commanders in the Pacific. Specifically, I wanted the players to represent Nimitz, MacArthur, Yamamoto, Mountbatten, and their supporting staffs. I specifically did not want the players to control the decisions made in Washington, London, or Tokyo, but to respond to guidance and the resources allocated to the Pacific Theater. I also wanted to divorce this design from the choreography of a carrier battle by avoiding tactical detail, as that was not the decision space of a theater commander. I wanted to laser focus on running the military campaigns, not the battles. (ZoC, p. 135)

Mark Herman’s Plan Orange comes with only two scenarios. The core scenario, 15.1 Shanghai Incident January 28, 1932, kicks off with the Japanese holding the initiative and two Surprise Offensive cards, Philippine Offensive and Guam Offensive in hand. The entire game is only six turns (2 years) long. There are only a few ways to win:

  1. Capital Ship Ratio: If at the end of turn 4 the US holds a 2:1 ratio in battleships over Japan or Japan holds a 1.5:1 ratio over the US, that player wins.
  2. Japan surrenders due to conquest or blockade of their home islands.
  3. It is impossible to return an involuntarily repositioned HQ to the map.
  4. If none of the above are achieved, then victory goes to the player who controls all three Philippines surrender hexes.
  5. If the US player has not won by the end of turn 6, the Japanese player wins.

These few victory conditions very faithfully represent the thinking of the day; either achieve the Mahanian doctrine of naval superiority or control the Western Pacific through the Philippines.

All together, Mark Herman’s Plan Orange is well suited for a strategist game. For the Japanese player, the challenge is to drive out the US then hold off the inevitable counteroffensive. For the US, the decision is where to make the advance; Go North, Central Drive, Blockade, and Dash Across are all legitimate options. The question is, which one can you pull off?


Feature image: Back Cover, C3i Magazine Nr. 29 (BoardGameGeek.com); Zones of Control cover image courtesy MIT Press.

 

First #Wargame of 2019 – Battle of Issy 1815 (C3i Magazine Nr 32, @rbmstudio1, 2018)

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Battle of Issy 1815 – Early Turn 2

Situation early in Turn 2 or 0430hrs, 03 July 1815. Many units were failing Cohesion Tests left and right…until the Light Companies acted and then the units held firm. (Sigh) 

The French would go on to totally rout the Prussians.

Very enjoyable little game. Set up on the kitchen nook table for the afternoon…done playing and all cleaned up before dinner prep started (little things like that keep Mrs. RMN happy).

A Glorious Little #Wargame – Frederic Bey’s Battle of Issy 1815 – a Jours de Gloire series game (C3i Magazine Nr 32, @RBMStudio1, 2018)

Issue Nr 32 of C3i Magazine contains two feature games. Gettysburg, by designer Mark Herman, is getting most of the attention from grognards, including myself. This is a bit of a shame because the other feature game, Battle of Issy 1815, deserves praise too.

1UtDUJJeR2GUj0S4xssKkwIn the introduction to the Specific Rules & Set Up for Issy 1815, it notes that, “Issy 1815 is the 44th battle in the Jours de Gloire series.”  Now, I have never really been a Napoleonic-era wargamer so I am not familiar with the series, but with 44 games published I would of thought I had heard of it before. I had not; to my eternal shame. The Battle of Issy 1815 by designer Frédéric Bey and published in C3iMagazine Nr 32 (RBM Studio Publications, 2018) shows me that it is possible to make a set of Napoelonic wargame rules in a small package that simultaneously delivers challenging decisions and immersive theme.

Issy 1815 is a small wargame with a 16-page Rule Book (series and battle-specific rules), an 11″x17″ map, a Player Aid card, and ~120 counters. The Jours de Gloire-series rules take up the first 10 pages of the Rule Book. Scales are described in 0.1 Scales:

The games of the series are at the scale of the battalion, the regiment (demi-brigade for the period of the Republic) or the brigade. A strength point represents about 200 infantry or 150 cavalry if each unit represents a regiment and 400 infantry or 300 cavalry if each represents a brigade. A strength point of artillery represents from two to four cannon depending on their calibers.

The scaling is not a hard-and-fast standard. In Issy 1815 each turn is 90 minutes, one hex is ~350 meters, and it uses the battalion scale for infantry (~200 soldiers) and regiment scale for cavalry (~150 horse) (Issy 1815 Specific Rules, 0.1 – Scales).

To represent the Fog of War and command & control challenges of the era, Jours de Gloire calls for placing orders and using a chit-pull mechanism for activation of formations. The combination of these rules immediately create theme and make player decisions important from the start.

In the Orders Phase, players place Received Orders (Ordres Reçus) or No Orders (Sans Ordres) markers. Every Formation or Tactical Group gets one or the other, but the number of Ordres Reçus is limited to the Order Rating of the Commanders-in-Chief. Units with orders have more tactical flexibility while units without orders are much more limited – unless they want to try to use the formation leader’s initiative and try and do more. To do so they have to make a test against the initiative number on the Activation Marker (AM) drawn. Each formation has two AM and the initiative may, or may not be, the same on each. Further, the Die Roll Modifier (DRM) of the Commanders-in-Chief is a negative modifier to the die roll so a strong C-in-C (like Napoleon?) is harder to “override.” Even if one is able to override the lack of orders, in many cases to attack will also require an Engagement Test (ET) against the Engagement Rating of units. The Engagement Rating is an easy, uncomplicated way to portray the training of a unit (morale is covered by the Cohesion Rating which I will discuss later).

Those Activation Markers are important in the Activation Phase. All formations have their AM placed in a cup and drawn out randomly. The player with STRATEGIC INITIATIVE gets to keep one AM out of the cup and starts the turn with that Formation. An activated formation has its order status revealed and then can take actions (artillery fire, movement, shock combat and charges, and rally) depending on the order status or initiative of the formation commander. The draw of AM is repeated until there is only one AM left in the cup, at which point the turn ends! This can lead to interesting situations. In Turn 1 of my first solo game, the main Prussian formation, Steinmetz, did not draw its first AM until the next-to-the-last chit. Thus, the formation had only one Activation Phase and the second was forfeit. Game play-wise this was not a great way to start the battle, but thematically it seemed to represent the inability for the formation to get started at 0300 hrs in the early morning!

OiDKqLxTRD2h7tdoloVWjwThe Jours de Gloire-series uses traditional Zones of Control (ZoC) around units but the nice wrinkle is in unit facing. Unlike most wargames where units face a hexside, in Jours de Gloire games units face a hex vertex. Thus, units have two front hexes and four rear hexes. Given the scale of the game, facing has no effect on movement but it does have an effect on combat. This simple change from “standard” creates greater tactical decision space at the very small rules cost of not facing a hexside.

The Jours de Gloire-series does not use a classic Combat Results Table (CRT) for combat resolution. In ARTILLERY FIRE, 1d10 is rolled and modified by a Firer Mod (generally the Strength Point of the unit), a Target Mod (mostly terrain effects or massed/stacked formations or if in square formation), and a Range Mod. If high enough, the Modified Die Roll results in either Rout (retreat), Disorder (counter flipped), or a Cohesion Test (CT). A CT is one of the principle tests in the game. In a CT, a unit rolls 1d10 with any modifiers against their Cohesion Rating. Pass the CT you are fine; fail and it becomes “challenging.” In ARTILLERY FIRE, a failed CT is a DisorderRout‘ or even elimination depending on what status the unit started in. Again, the rules deliver a very thematic effect as artillery didn’t necessarily “kill” units but affected their orderliness.

Infantry and cavalry attack using SHOCK COMBAT (cavalry also can do the CAVALRY CHARGE). Much like ARTILLERY FIRE, combat resolution in SHOCK COMBAT uses a 1d10 with modifiers. The list of modifiers is a bit more extensive than with ARTILLERY FIRE but the table on the Player Aid can be stepped through quickly. SHOCK and CHARGE results apply to both the attacker and defender. Possible results are Recoil (one hex back), Disorder, Rout, the Cohesion Test, as well as Pursuit, Counter-shock, or Breakthrough. Again, and in keeping with the era, units are rarely destroyed in combat, but instead tend to “come apart” through a lack of morale or “cohesion.” Yet again, uncomplicated rules giving thematically appropriate combat results.

In the Battle of Issy 1815 Specific Rules, there is a nice extra rule for Light Companies. Basically, each formation has a light company marker. Each turn, the player can place some on their related formation and place others in the activation cup. The light company have no ZoC, no Strength Points, no Movement Points, and do not affect rally attempts by adjacent units. What they can do is, when the player wants, force an adjacent enemy unit to make a Cohesion Test. The markers represent the use of skirmishers (voltiguers) by the parent formation. Yet again, Mr. Bey uses a simple, low rules overhead way to represent a capability in a thematically relevant way.

All of the above has been a long winded way of me saying that Battle of Issy 1815 and the Jours de Gloire-series is a small, relatively rules-lite, wargame that is easy to learn, quick to play, and delivers a highly thematic experience. If you have C3i Magazine Issue Nr 32 and have not tried this game (instead focusing on Gettysburg) take the time to learn and play through Issy. If you have never played a Jours de Gloire game before try to find one and give it a shot, even if you are not a huge Napoleonic warfare fan. Battle of Issy 1815 has been a pleasant surprise to me; I think it could be the same for most wargamers.