#SundaySummary – My Kursk Kampaign with @RBMStudio1, Standard Combat with @MultiManPub, Going Social with @consimworld, a Dice-y Podcast with @ADragoons, and Going West with @IndependenceGa6

Wargames

I continue to work on my Kursk Kampaign History-to-Wargame (or is it Wargame-to-History?) project. This is a special series I am working on to look at the Battle of Kursk using both books and wargames. The “core wargame” I am using is Trevor Bender’s Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning, 1943 from RBM Studio as found in C3i Magazine Nr. 34 (2020). I don’t know if the series will feature here or at Armchair Dragoons yet.

Multi-Man Publishing found some wayward stock in their warehouse. Good for me because I was able to pick up another Standard Combat Series title; Karelia ’44: The Last Campaign of the Continuation War (2011). As with every SCS game, I am interested in the “gimmick” rule; in this case the “Boss Point” system which varies game length.

Do you know that ConSimWorld has a new social site? I’m trying it but am really unsure. I can be found there as (you might of guessed) RockyMountainNavy. What do you think?

Boardgames

Not a very busy boardgaming week except for recording an episode of Mentioned in Dispatches for the Armchair Dragoons. Look Listen for the episode to drop next week. In the meantime check out my meager dice collection here.

My pre-order for No Motherland Without by Dan Bullock from Compass Games should be shipping next week. As a guy who spent nearly 1/3 of my military career on the Korean peninsula to say I am “interested” in this title is an understatement.

Role Playing Games

I’m not really into Western RPG’s but I am sure tempted with the release of Rider: A Cepheus Engine Western from Independence Games. I love what John Watts has done in The Clement Sector setting for his Alternate Traveller Universe and am sure he has brought the same level more love to this setting. Here is how he described Rider in a December blog post:

Rider will use the Cepheus Engine rules as a base with modifications made to fit with the “Old West” setting. Rider will draw inspiration from both fictional and historical Western lore but will definitely side with fictional portrayals. To paraphrase Larry McMurtry (who was misquoting “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence”), we will be “printing the legend”.

Books

As part of my Kursk Kampaign series this week I read parts of The Battle of Kursk by David Glantz and Jonathan House (University of Kansas Press, 1990) and The Battle of Prokhorovka: The Tank Battle at Kursk, The Largest Clash of Armor in History by Christopher A. Lawrence from Stackpole Books (2017).


Feature image nolimitzone.com

#Wargame Wednesday – Battle for Kursk (@RBMStudio1, 2020) – Bigger on the Inside

When I saw the advertisement for C3i Magazine (Issue Nr. 34) and the feature game of Trevor Bender’s Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning, 1943 the first thought that came to my mind is the Battle of Prokhorvka. I recalled the words of David Glantz and Jonathan House in their seminal work The Battle of Kursk (University Press of Kansas, 1999):

The mythology has accepted the German framework and defintion of the battle and maintains that it took place from 5-23 July 1943….This myth argues that Kursk was a battle of tank against tank, that Kursk was the famous battle of Prokhorovka and little else, that the tank clash at Prokhorovka was the greatest tank battle in history and Prokhorovka was the field where Germany’s wartime fate was determined.

Glantz & House, The Battle of Kursk, p. xii
Courtesy goodreads.com

So imagine my surprise upon spreading out the contents of the Battle for Kursk and discovering a map that covers almost the entire Eastern Front in 1943. Imagine my surprise in finding a wargame where each turn is 2-4 weeks, meaning the entire “Battle for Kursk” is only two turns of 12 in this game. Where are the Tiger tanks? What is this abomination?

Battle for Kursk at setup…where is Prokhorovka? (Photo by RMN)

This is Not the Battle You Are Looking For…

Above I talked about the German myth of Kursk. All too often we also ignore the Soviet myth that Glantz and House also discuss:

Yet the sheer drama of the battle juxtaposed against the limited quantities of exploited Soviet source materials has given rise to a certain mythology that has surrounded the battle….In doing so, it ignores the essential Soviet framework for Kursk, which placed the defensive battle in the Kursk salient within the proper context of the Soviets’ two-month-long Kursk Strategic Offensive Operation.

Glantz & House, The Battle of Kursk, p. xi-xii

Battle for Kursk is NOT about the tank battles around Kursk. As much as I was expecting it this is not a competitor with Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, 1943 – Kursk 3rd Edition (Academy Games, 2019) or other tactical armored combat games on that topic. With each turn representing 2-4 weeks and the map covering the entire frontage of German Army Group Center and South, the battles around Kursk are just one part of a far larger campaign played out here. Battle for Kursk clearly and heavily leans into a “mythbusting” interpretation of the Battle of Kursk through the use of a relatively simple game design with a very interesting Posture mechanic to show the ebb and flow of not a battle but a huge campaign.

A “Family” Wargame

Battle for Kursk is the first volume in what Rodger MacGowan is calling the C3i Combined Arms Series. Designer Trevor Bender admits that Battle for Kursk uses very similar mechanics to Battle for Moscow (found as a free downloadable in C3i Magazine Issue Nr. 25, not 24 as listed in the Battle for Kursk rules) and Objective: Kiev (C3i Magazine Issue Nr. 26). I have seen Battle for Moscow before; indeed, the Victory Point Games or a print-n-play version is often trotted out at the CONNECTIONS professional wargaming conference as an example of a very easy-to-teach/learn wargame to get people started in the field of professional wargaming. The fact that Battle for Kursk is built upon the foundations of Battle for Moscow (which goes all the way back to a 1986 Frank Chadwick design at GDW) means the game has proven “chops.” That said, Battle for Kursk is a different game built using this proven foundation.

You Need to Work on Your Posture…

The majority of the game design in Battle for Kursk is in many ways a simple, classical approach to a wargame. Each player alternates executing their turn which is composed of four phases; Replacement, Armor & Rail Movement, Combat, and Movement. Replacement awards Infantry or Armor Replacement Points that can be used to replace step losses or rebuild units. Armor & Rail Movement allows armor units to move and Infantry to “strategically redeploy” if on a rail line. Combat uses a classic combat odds mechanic with no die roll modifiers but column shifts instead. Movement is for all units and references a simple Terrain Effects Chart.

The innovative enhancement that Battle for Kursk includes is an additional segment at the start of the Sequence of Play – the Posture Selection Segment. Here each player secretly choses their Posture for the turn. Possible choices are Pause, Reposition, Deploy, and Engage. Each posture in Battle for Kursk has advantages and limitations:

  • Pause – Delivers additional replacements but does not allow any form of movement or combat; you only execute your Replacement Phase.
  • Reposition – Delivers your replacements as listed and allows you to move; execute your Replacement and Movement phases only.
  • Deploy – Reduces the number of Armor Replacement Points but allows one to execute all phases of their turn except Combat.
  • Engage – Reduces both Infantry and Armor Replacement Points but allows one to execute ALL phases of their turn – Replacement, Armor & Rail Movement, Combat, and Movement.

There are limits here. In Battle for Kursk you can always choose any Posture lower than your current but you can only go up one step in Posture every turn unless you use an Offensive chit (see below). Also, if you get “caught” where your opponent declares Engage while you are in a Pause, you can use an Offensive chit to change to Reposition.

Another important mechanic in Battle for Kursk is the Offensive chits. In addition to their uses above to change Posture, these chits (each side only has three) can be “expended” for additional replacement points or used in combat to allow non-adjacent units of the same formation to participate in the fight. The rarity of the Offensive chits (they become non-expended according to a schedule on the Turn Track) makes every use an agonizing decision.

Posturing Play

The Battle for Kursk starts in March 1943. The first four turns, labeled Turns A-D, are in many ways the lead-up to the historical start of Operation Citadel. If the German player does not chose the Engage Posture on Turn 1 or any prior turn, a Strategic Objective marker which starts German-side up on Kursk and awards an extra Victory Point if that city is taken is instead flipped to its Soviet side and moved to Kiev to signify the loss of strategic initiative to the Soviets. This puts pressure on the German player to fight which is harder than it sounds for one quickly discovers that replacements don’t come fast enough or units are not in the right place and to get a better chance in combat means the use of Offensive chits which are so useful but in short supply. It becomes vitally important that both players control the ebb and flow of the battle by carefully managing their Posture selection.

Beyond the rules for Posture and the Offensive chits the rest of Battle for Kursk is kinda vanilla, but definitely the sweet kind. The game uses Zones of Control, has rules for Mud, and advance after combat. There are no specific supply rules, but at several points in a turn units may have to check to see if they are In Communication to allow an action (or prevent a column shift). Victory in Battle for Kursk is very straightforward; control of Victory Point cities, a bonus for inflicting more casualties, and that Strategic Objective marker.

Mr. Bender thoughtfully provides a Historical Posture table in his Designer’s Notes for Battle of Kursk. If you study the table, you discover the Germans only “Engaged” three turns between mid-March and early-November 1943. The Soviets “engaged” five turns which covers their historical offensives of Operation Kuznetsov (12 July -18 August), Operation Rumyantsev (3-23 August), and Operation Suvarov (7 August – 2 October). Historically speaking, half the game of Battle for Kursk has NO COMBAT.

“Historical Posture” Table from Battle for Kursk (RBM Studio, 2020)

You won’t miss it. That’s because in Battle for Kursk the Posture Selection Segment is the heart of the game. Knowing when to pause, when to ramp up, and when to fight becomes just as more important than actual combat. Combat is the culmination of your plans, not the heart of them. To be successful in combat you have to “set the conditions” and skillful management of your Posture is the key.

Clean Sweep

A few words on component quality of Battle for Kursk. “Clean design” comes to mind when I talk about the game mechanics, but when talking about the components I have just one word:

Incredible.

Charles Kibler’s 22″x34″ map is gorgeously simple. In additional to the map the side area has every table, chart, or track needed for play – for both players. The rule book shows the care and attention developer Harold Buchanan gave the game, and the Art Direction by Rodger MacGowan is evident on every page for the 16-page rule book which uses color in very useful ways, is nicely illustrated, but is also deceptive. Deceptive in that the rules for Battle For Kursk are very compact coming taking up 11 of the 16 pages with the balance being the cover and Designer’s Notes along with a 2-page interview of the designer.

Finally, a word about the countersheet in C3i Magazine Nr. 34. Traditionally, I am a counter-clipper. I cannot stand tufts on the corner of my counters or corners that have become undone/unglued as they are punched out of the sheet. When I opened my copy of C3i Magazine Nr. 34 all the counters were in the tree, but as I started punching them out I couldn’t help but notice how cleanly they fell. Of the 114 counters for Battle for Kursk, I find not one with tufts on the corners, and really only two have separated corners (my fault, as they were falling out so cleanly I was getting excited and tried to go faster which didn’t help). I played this game using the counters as they fell, a true exception for me in the hobby these days.

Sitting Up Straight…

I am looking forward to future titles in the C3i Combined Arms Series. I am interested in seeing the use of the Posture Selection and Offensive chits in other theaters. In the meantime though, I’m going to get Battle for Kursk to the table a few more times and explore not just the battles of Kursk and Prokhorovka, but the entire 1943 spring-summer campaign. Trevor Bender has given us a useful tool to explore some of the major what-ifs, like what might have happened if Operation Zitadel was launched in May instead of July.

The innovative of mechanics and focus on posture makes Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning, 1943 worthy of attention. It’s well worth it if you sit up and take notice.

#RockyReads for #Wargame – C3i Magazine Nr. 34, @RBMStudio1, 2020

BLUF

If you’re buying C3i Magazine for only the feature game than you are missing out on a great deal of highly interesting wargame-related content. Even if you don’t own the subject game there is still plenty of useful content between the covers.

A Hobby Gem

We are very fortunate in the hobby wargame community to have the excellent gaming publication C3i Magazine from RBM Studios. Not only because every issue ships with a nice game (or two), but it also holds to a high editorial standard in the writing it prints.

What, you didn’t know that C3i Magazine has articles (gasp!) to read? Surely, you don’t just buy the magazine for the game, right? I hope you don’t because there is lots of wargaming goodness inside every issue.

Issue Nr. 34

From the Editor’s Desk (p.2) – Heads up from Rodger MacGowan on Deluxe versions of games. I’m looking at those C3i-themed dice because, uh, who doesn’t need a few more dice in their collection, right @ACDragoons? For our European gaming partners there is good news about Hexasim and their efforts to bring C3i Magazine across the pond in an affordable manner.

“Lessons Learned” by James Dunnigan (p. 4) – The Godfather of Wargaming gives us his thoughts on happenings in the commercial and professional wargaming worlds. Nice to read more about the history of our hobby and the profession of wargaming from somebody who has been in the business for 30 years…or longer.

“A Developer’s Look Back at 20 Years of the Great Battles of History” by Alan Ray (p. 10) – I personally own only one GBoH title, Samurai (currently on sale for $35), and don’t play it enough. I still found the article an interesting romp through the history of all the titles in the series. A few might even be adding to my wishlist….

“Infantry Tactics Behind Fields of Fire: Part 2 – Offensive Tactics” by Ben Hull (p. 14) – Another title I don’t own; nonetheless it was very interesting to read and see how the game system of Fields of Fire is used to portray infantry tactics. If I find a copy at a decent price I could be tempted….

“The Hunters: C3i Expansion Pack Nr 1” by Gregory M. Smith (p. 19) – Alas, I own another solitaire wargame by Greg Smith, Amerika Bomber: Evil Queen of the Skies (Compass Games, 2020) and not The Hunters. The background and rules for the Type XI U-cruiser are very interesting and makes me more curious about the base game. So this article and the attached insert goes into my “need the base game” collection.

“Battle of Agrigentum, 262 BC – C3i Renaissance Battle Scenario #3 for SPQR Deluxe” by Dan Fournie (p. 20) – Yes, another title I don’t own (and at $105 a bit too rich for my wallet) but the history article and playtesting and design notes that goes along with the scenario card in the magazine are excellent.

“Mark Herman’s Clio’s Corner, Nr 11 – Designing unbalanced games or how to create strategic surprise” by Mark Herman (p. 24) – If you want to be a wargame designer or, heck, if you just want to be a game designer you cannot go wrong reading Mr. Herman’s columns. Yeah, we all can’t put together a game design as often or as cleanly as Mark does, but we can read and get inspiration to design or even just understand a design better. Oh yeah, don’t we all wish we could be taught the mastercraft level of game design through something like Mark’s CBI Blitz? (If you are not an Empire of the Sun fan you may not know what that is but suffice it to say that if Mr. Herman runs the CBI Blitz on you then you have really arrived in the hobby).

“Undaunted: Normandy – Walking in the Footsteps of the US 30th Infantry Division” by David Thompson (p. 34) – This is a beautiful, in many ways intimate, look at the history of the U.S. 30th Infantry Division and the design of Undaunted: Normandy from Osprey Games. It is not often a gamer gets to honor their very own relatives like David was able to with his design. We are all fortunate he was able to retrace his grandfather’s step and give us a great wargame out of that experience.

“France 1944 – General Strategies, Objectives and Guidelines – Compass Games” by Judd Vance (p. 40) – Mr. Vance was the Game Developer for France 1944. Think about that a moment; a developer for a Mark Herman title! Again, I don’t own this game but reading the article revealed much of the thinking behind the game design to me. I may never play the game, but I still learned a bit of history and game design from this article.

“OCS – Wargaming with a Purpose” by Steve Carey with Peter Mogensen (p. 43) – Only in the past year have I gotten into the Standard Combat Series (SCS) from Multi-Man Publishing. I did purchase Operation Mercury last year which is part of the Grand Tactical Series. I’ll admit it, the physical scale of the game is intimidating daunting to me. After reading this article I may be encouraged to dig back into it…maybe.

“Harold Buchanan’s Snakes & Ladders, Mr 1 – Why do we play what we play?” by Harold Buchanan (p. 46) – I’ll admit it, this is actually the primary reason I purchased this issue of C3i Magazine. I had heard/read Harold mentioning his taxonomy of a player (his Historical Simulation Engagement Profile) on his podcast and maybe on a forum. I was ver curious. He asked for thoughts, and in the coming weeks you will probably see what I thought about this very interesting column. I was especially pleased to see that Mr. Patrick Carroll, who wrote an article 31 years ago that inspired Harold, was able to add his comments too.

I’ll admit it, this is actually the primary reason I purchased this issue of C3i Magazine.

RockyMountainNavy on Harold Buchanan’s Snakes & Ladders

“C3i Interveiw: Chad Jensen” by Sam Sheikh (p. 51) – Sadly, Chad Jensen passed from this world in 2019. This interview is a very nice and fitting tribute to a fine designer, husband, and father. I missed out on his Combat Commander titles but they rightfully occupy prominent positions on my wishlist.

“Opening Waterloo Strategy – Waterloo Campaign, 1815” by Mark Herman (p. 55) – Waterloo Campaign, 1815 was the feature game in C3i Magazine Nr. 33. If you have never heard or read Mark talk about his “distilling history to it’s essence” then you really are missing something. Both Waterloo Campaign, 1815 and Gettysburg (C3i Magazine Nr. 32) are real lessons in taking a huge topic and distilling it down to the bare bones to get an easy-to-learn and quick-to play wargame design that remains very engaging.

“Drop Zone: Southern France – Designer’s Notes” by Daniel Fournie (p. 60) – This game languished on the GMT P500 for a while with little movement. At the end of 2020 Dan announced that this game was moving to Worthington Publishing for release in 2021.

“Post Cold War: Making of Post-Cold War World Order” by VPJ Arponen (p. 66) – This article is basically the Designer’s Notes for the game Post Cold War. From the looks of it the game is a commercial wargame that has professional wargaming uses. Hmm….

Don’t Forget…

France 1944 Game Errata. A countersheet with 114 counters for Battle for Kursk (this issues feature game), 16 replacement counters for Issy Campaign (C3i Magazine Nr. 33), and counters for several more games.

…the Games!

Two complete games; Trevor Bender’s Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning, 1943 and Firebase: Vietnam, a solitaire game by Pascal Toupy.

C3i Magazine Issue Nr. 34 is available direct from RBM Studios on the web though I have also bought issues through Amazon in the past.

#SundaySummary – Some new #wargame arrivals to play thanks to www.atomagazine.com, @RBMStudio1, & @Hollandspiele

Wargames & Boardgames

FINALLY, after waiting several weeks in some cases, the last of my 2020 shipments arrived. Buffalo Wings 2 – The Deluxe Reprint, a 2020 Kickstarter campaign by Against the Odds Magazine, arrived. It’s beautiful! Then C3i Magazine Nr. 34 from RBM Studios arrived with the feature game Battle for Kursk. Both these games were unboxed and rules deeply explored though the first true playthru’s are still pending.

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.

Firebase Vietnam from RBM Studios

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!

My first “true” wargame of 2021 also arrived this week. Empire at Sunrise is a new Hollandspiele title designed by John Gorkowski. This look at the early days of World War I in the Pacific features three “nested” maps and telescoping scales. I enjoyed several of Mr. Gorkowski’s previous designs, especially South China Sea (Compass Games, 2017) and even The Lost Provinces: The Thai Blitzkrieg in French Indo-China, Janauary 10-28, 1941, another Hollandspiele title of his published in 2018. I always enjoy the “experimentation” I get when playing Hollandspiele games and Empire at Sunrise looks to keep that fine tradition going.

Empire at Sunrise from Hollandspeile

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.

Books

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!

#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.

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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).

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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.

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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