#FirstImpressions of Washington’s War (GMT Games, 2nd Printing, 2015)

I was fortunate to pick up Washington’s War by designer Mark Herman (@markherman54 on Twitter) during GMT Games 4th of July special sale. They had three games on sale at a deep discount; I already own Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection by Harold Buchanan and The American Revolution Tri-Pack so I rounded out my collection. I’m fortunate because GMT Games is now out-of-stock for Washington’s War.

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Guess we won’t see this for a while (Courtesy GMT Games via BGG.com)

I am ashamed to say I am late to the party, for Washington’s War has all the elements of a great game that meets many RockyMountainNavy Family Game Values; an awesome mix of mechanics and theme that teaches as much as it entertains and is playable in an evening.

Washington’s War (WW) is the GMT Games update of the Avalon Hill’s We the People (by…Mark Herman!). For many years I passed on We the People, and WW, because they are Card Driven Games (CDG) and CDG is just not my cuppa tea. I think this is because CDG’s are hard to play solo. However, my gaming tastes have changed over the past two years and the RockyMountainNavy Boys are my game group. As such, we don’t usually go for classic hex & counter wargames favoring instead more varied mechanics. So WW looks like it could be a good addition to the game collection.

Now, my first impressions are not the greatest because the RMN Boys are traveling this month and I have no built-in game group. So my impressions are based on several solo walkthrus of the rules and game mechanics.

Components

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Courtesy BGG.com

The game board is functional and thematic but not to the degree that Liberty or Death or Supply Lines of the American Revolution is. Artist Charles Kibler and a supporting cast delivered a very good game board that not only has the map of the area in question but also many game-related spaces for cards or counters or the like. The result is a good balance of theme and functionality. Of the counters, I really like the oversize, tall standees for the Generals. The gives WW a very “Kriegsspiel” look and feel.

The rules are in two books; a Rulebook and Playbook. The rules are not overly complex and contained in the nice 24-page rulebook. There are lots of nice color illustrations and examples of play and a handy index, meaning the rules themselves are actually quite short and succinct. I also think as this is the Second Reprint of a 2009 game based on a title first published in 1993 the rules have been criticized and torn apart and reworked and generally exist now in a very good state.

Game Play

Now, I said above that CDGs have not been my thing, but I see beauty in the mechanics of WW and this game could exist without CDG. The choice of Event Cards or Ops Cards (with different values) makes for a ton of choices. Developer Joel Toppen (@PastorJoelT on Twitter) also makes this important observation in the Player’s Notes:

Like the American Revolution that the game models, Washington’s War, is both a political conflict as well as a military conflict. In my opinion, the biggest challenge that the players will face in this game is balancing political initiatives with military action.

So, as I write this blog post, I am asking myself, “Do I dislike CDG because its not solo-friendly, or is it that I have been too in love with just hex & counter wargames?”

I am more than just a grognard!

Washington’s War has arrived at a time of gaming change for me, and I now see that as much as I love hex & counter, that very love has blinded me to some really great games. As my wargaming has evolved into boardgaming, and especially family boardgames. I am embracing games with a much broader set of mechanics than hexes and a CRT. Game mechanics that turned me off years ago (CDG!) I now recognize are actually wonderful, playable games/models that teach me (and the RMN Boys) more than a hex & counter military simulation can deliver.

So thank you Mark Herman, and GMT Games, and all the other game publishers out there that keep advancing the hobby and delivering quality gaming for not only die-hard grognards (guilty as charged) but also family strategy boardgamers.

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Courtesy nohighscores.com…but I’ve seen this many places around the interwebs

 

#WargameWednesday – Deep Play of Patton’s Vanguard (Take Aim Designs/Revolution Games, 2017)

Patton’s Vanguard: The Battle of Arraourt, 1944 covers key battles in September 1944 in the Lorraine region of France. Designed by Mike Rinella (Michael Rinella on BGG) with graphics by Charles Kibler (BGG link), the game was published by Take Aim Designs and Revolution Games in 2017. Although I had played the game twice while on a road trip, it was not until this last weekend that I really played a deep dive of the First Scenario.

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Patton’s Vanguard comes with two scenarios, each covering four days battle. Turns are a single day, units are Company-level, and the map uses areas to segment the battlefield. The really interesting game mechanic is found in 8.0 Impulses. Each Impulse the German then the American player performs one action. If the first American die roll (DR or 2d6) of the turn is equal to or greater than the Impulse number, the next Impulse is played. If the DR equals the Impulse number the weather also changes. If the DR is less than the Impulse number the Daylight Phase of the turn ends and the Refit and End Phase is executed and play goes to the next Turn. This mechanic is called the Sunset DR. It is what makes Patton’s Vanguard a tense game; one can never be sure just how long each turn will last. With only four turns to achieve victory the pressure is on the Germans to attack.

Using an area map also means there are no Zones of Control. Well, not officially. One of the hardest concepts for me to wrap my head around is the concept of Contested Areas in the game. Contested Areas first appears in 7.0 Stacking and Control.

7.4 Contested – An area is considered Contested if it contains units of both sides. Contesting an Area that is controlled by the enemy does not alter control of that Area. Units within a Contested Area may only conduct a Ranged Attack (8.1.2) or Bombardment (8.1.3) against enemy units within that Contested Area.

Sounds simple enough. An Area with units from both sides is Contested. Units in Contested Areas can only use Ranged Attacks or Bombardments. Looking at 8.1.2 The Ranged Attack Impulse further specifies in part:

….A ranged attack may not be declared in Fog Weather (9.1)….Units in the Active Area may attack (only).

The sticky wicket here is that each turn the weather starts at Fog Weather and it stays that way until the Sunset DR changes it or Impulse 6 when the fog automatically burns off. So units in a Contested Area cannot move –  or attack – in Fog Weather.

OK you say, so armor and infantry can’t attack if stuck in a Contested Area during Fog Weather. Just use your artillery to bash’em.

Hold on. 8.1.3 The Bombardment Impulse states in part:

Artillery and Air Bombardment may not be declared in Fog Weather (9.1).

So OK, find a way to move them. Maybe 8.1.4 The Regroup Impulse? Be careful though:

….Units within a Contested Area may not Regroup into another Contested Area, even if friendly controlled….

In my postgame review I discovered the counterbalance to Contested Areas. It is 11.1 Mandatory Attacks and 11.2 Optional Attacks. Specifically, 11.1 says in part:

….If a Mandatory Attack results in a Repulse (11.5.4) all participating units must retreat (14.2).

11.2 Optional Attacks states in part:

….Moving units may not join with units already within a Contested Area (7.3) to make one combined attack.

Which shouldn’t make a difference until one reads Repulse in 11.5.4 Computing Results:

….Retreat is required in cases of Mandatory Attacks (11.1). Attacking units making an Optional Attack (11.2) may not retreat.

Why this detailed discussion? Because I totally messed up Mandatory Attacks and the Repulse part of 11.5.4 in my deep dive game. I didn’t retreat correctly (i.e. often enough) meaning I missed many opportunities for an Assault (move & attack) by making units too sticky with Contested Areas.

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End of First Scenario…sort of

You might be thinking I am hating on Contested Areas and all the nuanced interactions with movement and attack and retreat. YOU. ARE. WRONG. I actually think Contested Areas is a BRILLIANT game mechanic and the very heart of Patton’s Vanguard. I am not disappointed or angry after my deep dive game, I am immensely happy that I unlocked another level of understanding in this game.

I am also amazed at the amount of chrome that is found in the short 16-page rulebook. Chrome like US airpower or weather or historical leaders. Chrome that is seamlessly integrated into the game and contributes to the experience rather than a useless bolt-on mechanic put there to be “historically accurate” with no real game reason.

Patton’s Vanguard is a refreshingly different operational-level view of the Battle of Arracourt. Kudos to Mike Rinella for delivering a tight, tense game. Even though I made mistakes the game continues to intrigue me. Will have to get it back to the table for the larger Second Scenario covering September 25-28, 1944.