Very happy to see Regimental Commander Brant and other members of the Armchair Dragoons at Origins Game Fair this week. Origins started out as a wargame convention and over the years it, uh, changed.
The Dragoons bring wargaming back to the Fair and it’s good to see. Some of the games played included Tank Duel (GMT Games), Second World War at Sea (Avalanche Press), Team COIN, and Command & Colors Napoleonics (GMT Games). I am very sad that I missed the Persian Gulf game with the admiraltytrilogy.com folks.
The October Sale from Revolution Games is underway. Great chance to pick up more than a few bargains. Personally I recommend Pacific Fury. If you are willing to purchase folio-packaged games some of the prices are really low and (hopefully) more affordable.
I continued my local acquisitions support program by picking up a copy of Jamie Stegmaier’s Tapestry (Stonemaier Games, 2019) from a nearby gamer. Used but in great condition. Will try to get this to the table soon, maybe as the season kickoff for the Weekend Family Game Night Return.
The rebels ― identified as the Donghaks ― claimed to number several millions and had sworn to the death that they would rid the country of the foreign vermin. They didn’t in 1893 and, according to Sallie, they didn’t on September 15, 1894:
As a result of the threat, the “doors and windows were barred and the gates guarded by the legation soldiers but the night passed quietly and the excitement has entirely abated.”
However, the abatement was short lived. A few days later, Alice (Sallie’s sister who resided with the Sill family in Seoul), insisted she did not worry about the Chinese and Japanese soldiers rather “the danger now [in Seoul] is from the [Donghaks], Koreans who hate all foreigners and try to exterminate them whenever they can ― so a guard will be kept during the winter at least and perhaps longer.” A few days later she reported the rebels had advanced to a point about 50 kilometers south of Seoul. She insisted she was not worried and expressed the greatest confidence in the American marines guarding the legation in Seoul.
The attack on Seoul never materialized. However, for the next couple of years, the regions outside Seoul were almost in a constant state of unrest.
Robert Neff, “Rebels at the Gate,” Korea TImes, May 1, 2021
It turns out that 1894 was an important year in Korean history. The book Korean History in Maps: From Prehistory to the Twenty-First Century (Michael Shin, Editor, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press, 2014) devotes an entire map titled, “The Year 1894: Gabo Peasants’ War, Sino-Japanese War” to this one year which shows not only significant battles but also the many peasant uprisings.
After reading Robert Neff’s article and looking at the 1894 map, the thought, “This really could be a COIN game” crossed my mind. Certainly, the historical events of 1894 are ripe for narrative exploration using the lens of a COIN game. One of the most powerful aspects of the COIN game system is the system’s ability to depict the interactions of multiple, often asymmetrically powered factions. In this case there are four factions:
Tonghak (aka Donghan) – “…the growing Christianity, the declining village economy, and certain government mismanagement led to the development of the strong anti-government and anti-foreign sentiments of the conservative Confucian literati as well as those of the Tonghak believers. The Tonghak had been seeking the legitimacy of their religion, exoneration of Ch’oe Che-u, the founder of the Tonghak sect, who was executed in 1864, and the prevention of the spread of foreign religion. At the same time, they were antagonized by illegal taxes which the local officials collected from the peasants.”1
Joseon (Korean Government) – “When the Tonghak Uprising became an open rebellion, the weak Korean government asked for Chinese help. Meanwhile, a truce was reached between the Tonghak rebels and the government…[which] issued a twelve-point reform program.”2
China – “The Chinese government whose aim was to strengthen its control over Korea sent an army of 3,000 soldiers and a naval force to Korea, violating the agreement which it had signed with the Japanese in April 1885.”3
Japan – “Meanwhile, the Japanese government concluded that it now had legitimate cause to fight a war with China, and the time was right. Consequently, it sent an army of 8,000 troops and a naval force to Korea.”4
Missionaries/Diplomats/Westerners – I don’t see these as a separate faction, but rather events or “terrain” that factions must be wary of.
These faction snippets can help define victory conditions, as well as thinking about the various Commands and Special Activities of each faction. At this point, my limited familiarity with COIN hinders me to design further but once I get another few games in house as examples I might be better suited to explore a possible design.
Focusing on the year 1894 also seems to make sense as that one year had a good ebb and flow of events. Broadly speaking, the year went though at least three distinct phases.
Gabo Peasant War Begins: Starting in January the first peasant uprisings in the South broke out. These uprisings spread into a full rebellion and by May troops from China and Japan arrived. At this point there was turmoil within the Korean government with palace intrigue in Seoul as a deposed king tried to place his son on the throne.
Sino-Japanese War Begins: By July, the Chinese and Japanese enter into open conflict. While the two outside powers fight, another peasant uprising begins which unites the Japanese and Daewongun Koreans (an alliance which eventually falters thanks to coup planning by the Daewongun). Interestingly, the Korean government fights alongside the Japanese against the rebels even as they try to implement reforms (carrot and stick approach?).
War Moves On/Peasant Rebellion Collapses: By November, the Chinese-Japanese fighting moves into Qing China and the peasant army is defeated with it’s main leader, Jeon Bongjin, captured. He was executed on April 24, 1895 just days after the Treaty of Shimonoseki ends the Sino-Japanese War and the tributary relationship between the Joseon and Qing dynasties.
Like I said, I’m no COIN game designer but this is a very interesting topic—and a great thought exercise.
Feature image from The History of Korea by Han Woo-Keun (Seoul: Eul-Yoo Publishing, 1970)
1-4. Nahm, Andrew C., Introduction to Korean History and Culture, Seoul: Hollym, 1993, p. 158-162.
I want to thank all of you who took the time to make my post RockyMountainNavy’s influential #wargame from the 2010’s my most-read article this year. Sensing a good thing and wanting to keep try and keep the bandwagon going, I now will regal you with my fifteen most influential boardgames that I own or played that were published between 2010 and 2019.
Like I said in my wargames of influence post, I ‘rediscovered’ the hobby boardgame industry in late 2016. Sure, I had some hobby boardgames, but I had not seriously tried to get the family into gaming. In late 2016 we started playing more games and by late 2017 we had instituted a Family Game Night on Saturdays.
As a grognard wargamer, moving from wargames to boardgames was a bit jarring. I mean, you often times play with more than one opponent? Although they were not new to me, I really came to understand the Ameritrash vs Eurogamer battle and started looking at games from both a thematic and mechanical perspective. Along the way, I never gave up on wargaming and introduced the RockyMountainNavy Boys to the wargame niche. The challenge was finding good multiplayer wargames that could be played in an evening.
Here comes the Waro
I needn’t have worried, for in late 2017 a new ‘genre’ of boardgames was starting to be talked about. Here came the waro, or wargame-Eurogame. There is no single definition of what a waro is, but to me it is a wargame that incorporates elements, be it mechanical or component-wise, of Eurogames. In 2019 Brian Train used the term, “militarized Eurogame” which I find both very simple and highly descriptive. So the list you are about to see has more than a few waro games on it. That is because as a wargamer these titles often speak to me and have brought gaming joy tot he RockyMountainNavy household.
Unlike my previous list which was presented in order of year of publication, this one will be a vain attempt by me to rank them. Please don’t ask me to define my criteria; this is really a ‘gut feel’ of how I rank these games. Like before, the list is light on pre-2016 games because it was then that I turned hard into the hobby. I am sure some real gems from earlier in the decade deserve to be here; I either don’t own them or simply missed them as I took in the later-half of the decade.
The ‘dungeon crawl’ is a very popular boardgame format. In the RockyMountainNavy house we tend to stay away from fantasy but the RMN Boys are Star Wars fans so we own and played Star Wars: Imperial Assault after it came out. I recognize that the game is very popular (currently #37 overall on BoardGameGeek) but as big fans as the Boys were the game never really clicked. Indeed, the entire dungeon crawl gaming genre (as well as man-to-man scale skirmish games in general) seemed kinda lost on the Boys and myself. That is, until I played Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon.
Maybe its the 3D terrain. Maybe its the fact I am not familiar with the setting and therefore more open minded. Maybe I am more accepting of modern superpowers vice always fighting Star Wars ‘canon.’ Whatever the reason, I really enjoy the game. I really like the character and unit tableaus and how they enable handling them in a very easy manner. There is no need to lookup a table or chart; its’ all really in front of you.
Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon makes my influential list because it shows me how a skirmish / dungeon crawl-like game can be made fast, fun and furious (to steal another RPGs tagline).
According to BGG and Stronghold Games, AuZtralia is an “adventure/exploration game.” To me, I think they forgot “wargame.” To me, AuZtralia is a waro but in a slightly different sense of the word. In the first part of the game, AuZtralia is a Eurogame of building railroads and seeking resources. At some point, however, it switches over to a wargame where your armed forces (supported by certain individuals) are fighting the Old Ones. I like this schizophrenic design approach. It is certainly one way to approach a waro; in this case one I really enjoy.
AuZtralia is influential because it shows the very direct marriage of a Eurogame and wargame.
I think Cataclysm has an identity crisis. Thematically, the game covers the Second World War periods. Published by GMT Games, it just must be a wargame since that is what GMT publishes, right? To all of you I say, wrong! To me Cataclysm is not a wargame of military conflict, but a game of politics where military action is one possible tool in your kit. Yes, I declare that Cataclysm is a political game. Like the ad copy says, “This is not your father’s panzer pusher.”
Cataclysm is influential because it forced me to stretch my definition of wargame and give serious consideration to the politics of conflict, not just the military confrontation.
The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself are not really into cooperative games. That said, we always have fun playing the original Pandemic and have used it to introduce hobby boardgaming to others. That said, we are not huge fans so have not sought out other Pandemic titles. That is, until Pandemic: Fall of Rome came out. At first I bought the game because I had dreams of enticing the oldest RMN Boy (the non-tabletop gamer) to play because he loves ancients. That didn’t work, but I discovered a new Pandemic, one that included ‘battles.’ Like AuZtralia, I categorize Pandemic: Fall of Rome as a waro because it very successfully mixes both Eurogame and wargame.
Pandemic: Fall of Rome is influential because it demonstrates the power of mixing a very cooperative ‘stop the spread’ Eurogame with key wargame (battle) mechanics.
As I really discovered hobby boardgaming (and wargaming for that matter) in late 2016 I heard about this thing called the COIN-series. At first I was not interested because professionally I tend to pay more attention to rogue nations and peer competitors and never really got into the counterterrorism or counterinsurgency areas. At the same time I also had moved to the East Coast of the US and was studying more Revolutionary history. I passed on COIN until I saw GMT Games getting ready for a second reprint of Liberty or Death. The approach of the game was intriguing; framing the American Revolution as an insurgency? I bought it and was confused at first. This is a complex game! But I persevered and eventually, after several plays, it started to click.
Liberty or Death is influential because this game showed me that games can be used to teach and explore very serious political topics.
Brian Train, co-designer of Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest, writes in the designer’s notes how this title is a “militarized Eurogame.” I adit I bought this game at first because it is a Brian Train design and I like how he sheds light on smaller or less known conflicts in history. The topic of Nights of Fire is very niche, the Soviet invasion of Budapest in 1956. Nights of Fire, however, uses a very Eurogame-approach to model this battle with cards and area control and blocks and tokens. This is really a card game with hand/action management and block wargame put together. I also respect the designers that were able to make the same game play competitive, cooperative, or solo.
Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest is influential because I consider it the best example of the ‘bleeding edge’ of waro design.
Root is a wargame, right? Look at BoardGameGeek where as I write this it is the 19th-ranked wargame (as well as the #33 Strategy Game and #39 overall). With all the battling in the game it must be a wargame, right? As much as I want to agree, I see two games here, but neither of them are truly a wargame. On the mechanical level, I am in awe of the design of Root that incorporates so many different game mechanisms into a well integrated package. Every faction plays differently, be it set collection or action-selection or hand management. I am totally amazed that Cole Wehrle makes this all work together. But none of those mechanisms are ‘wargame.’
On the second level, I see Root as a political game. Each faction has a different way to victory and battling is just one lever of power a faction can wield. Once again, you can play Root as a ‘wargame’ but, like Cataclysm before, this is really a political battle where fighting is a tool that can be chosen.
Root is influential because it shows me how one integrates many different game engines into a political game that is vicious despite the cute and fuzzy animals. Truly a wild kingdom!
Spoiler Alert – you’re going to see Kingdomino a bit later in this list. As much as we like that game, the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself also really enjoy Queendomino. That is because we view Queendomino as the ‘gamers version’ of Kingdomino. We really enjoy how the designers took the simplicity of Kingdomino and added jus the right amount of new mechanisms to make the game vastly more interesting yet still simple to play.
Influential because Queendomino demonstrates how to take a great simple game, add a bit of complexity, but still keep it easy and fun to to play.
Finally, you say! A game from before 2016! I think I actually bought this game in 2011 from Petrie’s Family Games when I lived in Colorado Springs. I seem to remember the owner, Cameron, giving me a strong recommendation and, seeking a game to play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys, I purchased it. Then life got in the way and I moved to the East Coast for a job while the RMN Family stayed in Colorado. It was not until 2013 that we were all back together again, but then I was concerned that all the reading on the cards and how to put a strategy together would be too much for my middle boy who is on the Autism Spectrum. As a result, we really didn’t get this game to the table until 2017.
Suffice it to say I was stupid. The RMN Boys can handle this game quite well. They love it so much they both put their own money forth to buy expansions.
Quarriors! is influential because it is one of the most-played games in the RockyMountainNavy collection and often used by the Boys to beat up on old Dad because they are much faster at building synergistic dice pools than I am.
A yellow- box game from HABA is for kids only, right? Sure, the box says for ages 5-99 but we all just know its really a kids game. WRONG! I cannot even start to count all the hours (and I mean hours) of fun play this game has occupied int he RockyMountainNavy house. Not only hours of fun for the RMN Family, but Rhino Hero is a title we use to introduce others to hobby gaming.
Rhino Hero is influential because it has opened the eyes of many non-gamer friends to a different type of family game and shown them good family fun.
When I pulled Kingdomino out the first time the RockyMountainNavy Boys were dubious. After all, how hard could it be to place dominos on a 5×5 grid? Years later this game is often the go-to when we need a quick filler game before dinner. Or when we want to introduce somebody to gaming. It is very easy to teach. I also enjoy watching a new player as they play their first game; you can literally see the lightbulb go on in their head as they realize what they can do when selecting a tile. You can see their eyes dart between the tiles and their kingdom, and eventually the other players, as the strategy develops in their head.
Kingdomino is influential because not only do we enjoy every play, it is our gateway game of choice to introduce others to hobby boardgaming.
Somewhere I think I heard that Terraforming Mars was a good science lesson. Wanting to encourage the youngest RMN Boy to pursue the sciences I purchased this game. At first I was doubtful as the sheer number of cards seemed overwhelming. I also was concerned (again) whether my middle boy could handle all the reading and assemble a strategy. Well, the youngest was taken by the game (“See Mom, it teaches me!”) while the middle boy caught on (maybe faster than I did). Once we added the Prelude expansion that jump-starts your Corporations we find ourselves playing this game even more often than we did before. Now our neighbors have the game, making a inter-family game night a real possibility.
Terraforming Mars is influential because it showed that we all can enjoy a good middle-weight Eurogame and are not limited to simpler titles or wargames.
(Yes, another pre-2016 title!) Alas, I did not discover this game until I had a conversation with Uwe Eickert of Academy Games at the wargaming conference CONNECTIONS 2017. While discussing his excellent Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear second edition (Academy Games, 2012) I mentioned I was always looking for a good family wargame. Uwe immediately sold me on his Birth of America series so we soon had 1775: Rebellion on the table. We now own the entire Birth of America and Birth of Europe series and we will surely buy any new game in the future.
1775: Rebellion is influential because showed us that a lite family strategy/wargame does not have to be Risk; indeed, there is much better out there that not only is fun to play but also teaches good history.
The lite family strategy/wargames of the Birth of America series (Academy Games) were such a big hit in the RockyMountainNavy house I went looking for more. Given the oldest RMN Boy’s interest in Ancients I chose Enemies of Rome as a good candidate game. Little did I realize how much the other Boys (especially the youngest) would be taken with the game. Enemies of Rome is one of the most-played games in the RMN collection and there is no sign the Boys are going to lose interest. Heck, even I will probably not lose interest because every play has been different. Just last week, I started out in Syria and halted my expansion across Africa because I was sure that card that brings hoards of ‘Enemies of Rome’ out across North Africa was going to come out next. It never did because it was one of the cards removed at setup. But I was so sure it was going to come I I followed a strategy that defended against a non-existent threat. Now the RMN Boys are looking to use this game for the Neighborhood Gaming Gang since it plays up to five.
Enemies of Rome is influential because it is our most-played lite family strategy/wargame that is simple to learn yet offers deep play time and time again.
Another recommendation from Uwe Eickert at CONNECTIONS 2017. I had never played a Eurogame of this sort before and my first reading of the rules were daunting. I played it solo a few times then tried to teach it to the RMN Boys.
Second is the game mechanics. Middle-Heavy Eurogames are not in our usual wheelhouse. Scythe was so different than anything we played before. But the asymmetric powers of the factions and economies makes no two games alike. The expansions are clean and add good flavor; the campaign is an incredible journey.
Scythe is influential because it opened our eyes to a whole new type of boardgame and it keeps us coming back with innovative expansions and endless replayability. I think we will still be playing this game in 20 years.
Grant over on The Players Aid blog laid out his 15 Influential Wargames from the Decade 2010-2019. In the posting Grant asked for others to give their list. Although I have been a wargaming grognard since 1979 in the early 2010’s I was focused more on role playing games. That is, until 2016 when I turned back into hobby gaming and wargaming in particular. So yes, my list is a bit unbalanced and definitely favors the later-half of the decade. Here is my list of ‘influential’ games arranged by date of publication along with an explanation of why the title influences me.
For the longest time I considered myself near-exclusively a naval wargamer. I’m not sure why, but in early 2017 I picked up a copy of Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (Second Edition). I think at the time I was looking for a good tactical WWII game to play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I am glad I did, as along the way I also discovered the excellent Firefight Generator and Solo Expansion, and eventually other titles to include the latest Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 (2019) where I have a small credit in the rulebook. This game, like no other, awakened me to the ‘new look’ of wargames and the positive influence the Eurogame segment of the hobby market can have on wargaming.
In 2017 I attended the CONNECTIONS Wargaming Conference. There I met a fine gentleman, Uwe Eickert, of Academy Games. As we talked about his Conflict of Heroes series (I even helped him demo a few games) I mentioned my boys and our search for good family wargames. Uwe strongly recommended his Birth of America series, especially 1775 Rebellion. So I ordered it and the RMN Boys and myself sat down to play this lite-wargame – and we haven’t looked back since. We now own all the Birth of America and Birth of Europe series. 878 Vikings is one game the oldest (least gamer) RMN Boy will play with us. Most influential because it shows that there are much, much better ‘family-wargames’ than Risk. As an added bonus, I am working with one of my youngest boy’s high school teachers to bring this game into his classroom.
After attending CONNECTIONS 2017, I tried to become a bit of a wargaming advocate at my job. So I looked at more ‘serious’ wargames. One of the hot topics of the day is the Baltics and Russia. I looked for wargames that could build understanding of the issues, especially if it comes to open conflict. Sitting on my shelf from long ago was were several GMT Games ‘Crisis’ series titles, Crisis: Korea 1995 and Crisis: Sinai 1973. I had heard about updated versions but had been reluctant to seek them out. Now I went searching and found a wargame that is a master-level study into the military situation. This game influenced me because it shows that a commercial wargame can be used for ‘serious’ purposes.
Before 2017, an aerial combat wargame to me was a super-tactical study of aircraft, weapons, and maneuver. The most extreme version was Birds of Prey (Ad Astra, 2008) with it’s infamous ‘nomograph.’ I had all-but-given-up on air combat games until I discovered the Wing Leader series. But was this really air combat? I mean, the map is like a side-scroll video game? The first time I played the level of abstraction in combat resolution was jarring. But as I kept playing I discovered that Wing Leader, perhaps better than any other air combat game, really captures ‘why’ the war in the air takes place. Units have missions they must accomplish, and those missions are actually the focus of this game, not the minutia of flap settings or Pk of a missile hit. Influential because it shows me that model abstraction is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when done right like it is here.
As I returned to wargaming in 2016-2017, I kept hearing about this thing called the COIN-series. I looked at a few titles but was not quite ready to go ‘full-waro’* so I backed off. At the same time, having moved to the East Coast, I was much more interested in the American Revolution. By late 2017 I was becoming more ‘waro-friendly’ so when I had a chance to purchase Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection I took it. I’m really glad I did. LoD is influential because it taught me that a wargame can be political and a real tool of learning. I understand that LoD is the designer’s ‘view’ of the American Revolution but I enjoy experimenting within that vision and seeing what I can learn.
Prior to my wargaming renaissance, I acquired Memoir ’44 for the RockyMountainNavy Boys. We also had Battlelore and in an effort to entice the oldest RMN Boy (an ancient history lover) into gaming had given him Commands & Colors: Ancients. That is to say, Commands & Colors was not new to the RMN House. As part of my American Revolution kick I picked up Commands & Colors Tricorne thinking I would try to get the RMN Boys to play this version. Instead, I fell in love with the game. Influential because it showed me that with just a few simple rules tweaks a highly thematic, yet ‘authentic’, gaming experience is possible even with a simple game engine.
Remember I said I was a naval wargamer? Notice the lack of naval wargames on this list? That’s because I found few that could match my experiences with the Victory Games Fleet-series of the 1980’s. That is, until I played South China Sea. All the more interesting because it started out as a ‘professional’ wargame designed for a DoD customer. Not a perfect game, but influential because it shows me it is possible to look at modern warfare at sea by focusing less on the hardware and more on the processes of naval warfare as well as being an example of a professional-gone-commercial wargame.
At CONNECTIONS 2017, Uwe Eickert sat on a panel and recommended to all the DoD persons in the room that if they want logistics in a wargame they need to look at Hollandspiele’s Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 game. I found the game online and ordered it (from a very strange little company using a Print-on-Demand publishing model..WTF?). When it arrived and I put it on the table and played I was blown away. First, it has ‘cubes,’ not armies or dudes. Second, it really teaches why certain locations were crucial for the American Revolution. Third, it’s challenging and just darn fun to play. Influential because this was the first game I recognized as a ‘waro’, and the first of many quirky Hollandspiele titles that I enjoy.
Solo wargames are very procedural, right? So procedural they are nothing more than a puzzle to be solved, right. Not Pavlov’s House. I was blown away by the strategy and story that comes thru every play of this game. This is a solo game that makes you want to play because it’s the strategy that counts, not the procedure. Influential because I showed me what a solo game can be as well as how a game that screams ‘Euro’ is actually a wargame.
As the decade came to a close, I had all-but-given up on naval wargaming. When I first saw Blue Water Navy I had thoughts of one of my favorite strategic WW3 at Sea games, Seapower & the State (Simulations Canada, 1982). The play length of BWN, 1-16 hours, kinda put me off at first as I prefer shorter games. As I read more I became more intrigued so I finally purchased it. Now it sits on this list as an influential game because it shows me how abstraction and non-traditional wargame mechanics (cards?) can be used to craft a game that literally plays out like a Tom Clancy or Larry Bond novel.
I have been a grognard since 1979. Why do I need a simple wargame that doesn’t even use hexes? I mean, this game uses a chit-pull mechanic (good for solo play) and point-to-point movement. In a game this simple there can’t be much depth, right? Hey, where is the CRT? Speak about a small war…. Influential because this game shows that simplicity can be a very high art. Brave Little Belgium is my go-to quick intro wargame for hobby boardgamers.
This one is very personal. My Middle Boy is on the autism spectrum and when his younger brother started an evening program once a week the Middle one was a bit lost without his companion. So I looked around for a wargame we could play in a sort of ‘filler-wargame’ mode – short and simple on a weeknight. And play we did; ten times in 2019. He beat me seven times. Influential because this game – sometimes derided as a simplified ‘Command & Colors wannabe’ – connected me closer to my Middle Boy than any game before.
The folks from the US Army Command & General Staff College at CONNECTIONS 2019 had a copy of Less Than 60 Miles on their table and were singing praises of the game. I was fortunate enough to be able to trade for the game later on BGG. What I discovered was a wargame built around John Boyd’s OODA Loop. At the same time I was reading A New Conception of War: John Boyd, the U.S. Marines, and Maneuver Warfare. Putting the two of them together was like lightening in a bottle. This is a heavy, serious game that is also playable and enjoyable. Influential for no other reason than it shows me that OODA applies far beyond the cockpit; indeed, I need to look at OODA for many more games.
Brian Train is a designer that often looks at lesser or different wars and always brings forth an interesting perspective in his games. He calls this game, ‘a militarized Eurogame.’ He’s right; this title is the full embodiment of a waro game. I often argue with myself if this is even a wargame; after all, you can play solo, head-to-head, teams, or cooperative. Hobby boardgame or wargame? Influential for that very reason as it represents to me the full arrival of the ‘waro’ to the hobby gaming market.
Like Nights of Fire, this can’t really be a wargame. It has no board, no dice, and no CRT. Instead it has ‘tableaus’ for tanks and (lots of) cards! You can also play up to eight players. There is no player elimination – tanks respawn! What on earth is this? Influential because it challenges all my traditional views of a wargame only to deliver some of the best wargaming experiences I have ever had at the gaming table.
There are many more games from 2010-2019 that influenced me. Games with the chit-pull mechanic are now my favorite to solo with, but I didn’t put one on the list. Maybe I should of….
Hmm…I see it’s also hard to pin down one particular publisher that particularly influences me. In this list of 15 games we have:
4x GMT Games
3x Compass Games
2x Academy Games
1x Mighty Boards Games
1x Thin Red Line Games
1x Worthington Publishing
Not a bad spread!
*’Waro’ – A combination of ‘wargame’ and ‘Eurogame. To me it is a wargame that incorporates Eurogame like look/components or mechanics vice a traditional hex & counter wargame.
Over on Rex Brynen’s excellent PAXSIMS website, he posted a link to BEAR RISING, a Matrix game looking at the Baltic in the post-INF Treaty era. As a wargaming professional, I appreciate that Matrix games can be used to explore policy issues and generate greater insight into the issue. Matrix games are a part of wargaming, but apparently some out there want to distance themselves from that connection. Taking a look at BEAR RISING you find this:
What are matrix games? Matrix games are different to normal Wargames. In most of those games you will probably compare lists of statistics and peer at complicated books of rules containing someone else’s idea about what things are important, before making a decision, checking that it is covered by the rules and rolling dice to see if you succeed. It can take a long time, look really complicated and can be very difficult to explain to a newcomer. Instead, in a matrix game you simply use words to describe why something should happen, the Facilitator or the players (or both) decide how likely it is, and you might roll a dice to see if it happens (but equally, in the face of a compelling argument, you might not need to). If you can say “This happens, for the following reasons…” you can play a Matrix Game. The games themselves are not intended to be fiercely competitive, with obvious winner and losers. Instead they operate with the players working to generate a credible narrative. It is from examination of this narrative after the game that the player gain insights to the situation being portrayed. The player roles have objectives that will place them in conflict with other players, but it is perfectly possible for all of the players to achieve at last some of their objectives by the end of the game.
Let’s take a few of these sentences apart:
“In most of those games you will probably compare lists of statistics and peer at complicated books of rules containing someone else’s ideas about what things are important before making a decision, checking that it is covered by the rules and rolling dice to see if you succeed.” I guess you have only played wargames like Advanced Squad Leader, right? You totally have missed out on many “light” wargames like Brave Little Belgium or uncountable others? I hope you are consistent in your views and have the same disdain for heavy Eurogames out there and especially for anything designed by Phil Eklund, right?
“Instead, in a matrix game you simply use words to describe why something should happen, the Facilitator or the players (or both) decide how likely it is, and you might roll a dice to see if it happens (but equally, in the face of a compelling argument, you might not need to).” But you just disparaged rolling dice above….
“The games themselves are not intended to be fiercely competitive, with obvious winner and losers.” Ah…another bias. Wargames “must” be “fiercely competitive.” Let’s not talk anything about the learning that can come from exploring the situation; it’s war and war is automatically evil! To that I say si vis pacem, para bellum.*
“Instead they operate with the players working to generate a credible narrative. It is from examination of this narrative after the game that the player gain insights to the situation being portrayed.” I would argue that some of the best wargames, like the new Tank Duel (GMT Games, 2019) or Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid (GMT Games, 2018) generate a “credible” narrative during the game and don’t need a scribe to explain it to the players afterwards.
“The player roles have objectives that will place them in conflict with other players, but it is perfectly possible for all of the players to achieve at last some of their objectives by the end of the game.” Is this not the hallmark of a good game design? A good design will see all players work towards their objective, with the end result being a measure of how well they achieved those objectives. The objectives themselves do not have to the same (for example, who controls the most territory) but can be different like in Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest (Mighty Boards, 2019) where the Revolutionaries try to save civilians while the Soviets try to control the city. Or maybe the designers of BEAR RISING are not familiar with a GMT Games COIN game like Colonial Twilight (see Grant from The Players Aid comments about terror) or the asymmetric Root from Leder Games?
I will repeat what I said before; Matrix games are useful to explore policy issues and generate insight. But they are one tool in the vast kit available to designers. To maximize that insight, I prefer designers and players to have open minds and to avoid/remove as much bias as possible. In the case of the BEAR RISING designers, they show me that they have deep biases that make me doubt the assumptions their game is built on.
* “If you want peace, prepare for war.” In my case I strongly advocate studying warfare to understand – and avoid – military disasters of the past.
Earlier this year, I was able to experience Brian Train’s two-player COIN game, Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 (GMT Games, 2017). Although I have played Liberty or Death for several years now, it was not until I played Colonial Twilight that I grokked the relationship of Commands, Limited Commands, and Special Activities. Now that I grok those relationships, it helped make this play of Liberty or Death go much faster and with more meaning as I am now able to better understand how to “pull the levers” of the game.
I don’t pull my COIN games out enough. Glancing at the Rules of Play, I am amazed that the core rules are delivered in the first 22 pages. When it comes right down to it, the mechanics of a COIN game are not very complex. Instead of “mechanical complexity,” COIN has “thematic complexity” as many similar actions are named thematically for each faction which makes it look like there is alot to learn, but in truth they are very similar (though not necessarily identical).
Familiarity with the terminology makes the game go faster; building familiarity demands more plays. I don’t know how I am going to get more plays of COIN to the table but I really need to as each delivers unique insight into the issue it covers.
Campaigns of 1777 is a classic campaign battle game, but with a few innovative twists to make it fresh. It is not hex-and-counter but uses point-to-point movement. The game also uses a chit-pull mechanic for activation of leaders. Those leaders are most important because, once activated, they use their leadership rating to execute actions. The leader chit-pull mechanic and action points thematically portray many campaign issues. The chit-pull mechanic also makes the game solo-friendly. In his video review, marnanudo even went so far as to characterize Campaigns of 1777 as a near-hybrid of wargame and eurogame mechanisms. I agree; Harold Buchanan has drawn from a toolkit of several varieties and assembled a very interesting game.
As rich as the game is thematically and mechanically, it also has excellent components. The map by Terry Leeds is beautiful; I also really appreciate that many of the charts and tables are on the map for it saves flipping through the rulebook. The 1/2″ counters are easy to distinguish and cut well. They really look good once the corners get clipped!
Unlike so many magazine games, so far I have found Campaigns of 1777 to be “well baked.” The rules are pretty tight and gameplay executes in a fluid fashion.
If I have one (little) complaint it is that I worry about replayability. Campaigns of 1777 comes with three scenarios; the “historical” campaign and two short scenarios. In the historical scenario victory is determined by British control of Philadelphia and five other spaces. That is it. On the other hand, when I think about it the single historical and two shorter scenarios they are not all that bad if you use the game for a group game night or convention play. The simple, straight-forward scenarios and victory conditions in many ways make the game simpler to teach and play.
One reason Colonial Twilightis easier to absorb stems in part because it is a two-player game, unlike Liberty or Death which is a two-sided but four-way affair. The four factions in Liberty or Death are highly thematic, but that deep theme comes at the cost of additional rules overhead. Colonial Twilight, being a two-sided affair, is by nature more streamlined.
Rules and Theme
That said, I found the rule book for Colonial Twilight even more thematically connected than the already highly thematic rules for Liberty or Death. For some reason, I was able to very quickly grok the Colonial Twilight rules whereas it always takes a slow refresher for me to assimilate Liberty or Death when I pull it out.
I also have to say that the Initiative Track in Colonial Twilight was a key factor in developing my understanding of the COIN series. This new track opened my eyes to the real beauty of the COIN system. The simple graphical representation is actually the same initiative track found in other COIN games but the layout and shading instantly lets me see the relationship of Events, Operations, and Limited Operations. It just makes so much more intuitive sense to me than the Sequence of Play in Liberty or Death.
I will admit that the hardest part of playing Colonial Twilight is the history and geography. I have great trust in Mr. Train that he has captured many of the key events of the era and every play of the game is educational. It is also challenging because, unlike Liberty or Death where I often “know” what the event is relating, in Colonial Twilight it is much murkier. Sure, the text of the card tells you the effect, but what it “means” is found in the Playbook. Fortunately, the streamlined two-player/faction situation and rules means the “brain burn” is balanced between play and “understanding” the unfolding events.
The Real COIN Payoff
The best side-effect of learning and enjoying Colonial Twilight is that I have a better understanding of the COIN-series writ large. Through Colonial Twilight, I now see (and understand) the core game mechanics of COIN better than I did before. It’s not that it simplified COIN, it’s just streamlined to the core essentials and the rules are matched to theme so well. For example, the Government Operations in Colonial Twilightof Train, Garrison, Sweep, or Assault is actually not that different than the British Commands of Muster, Garrison, March, or Battle in Liberty or Death. I have to smile ruefully when I see that the FLN Operations of Rally, March, Attack, and Terror is not that different from the Patriots Rally, March, Battle, or Rabble-Rousing in Liberty or Death. After playing Colonial Twilight, I have an itch to get Liberty or Death to the table well ahead of my traditional 4th of July gaming event. That said, I think I am going to get a few more games of Colonial Twilightin to better explore the topic of the game and learn COIN better.
I realize I am very late to the COIN party; Andean Abyss(COIN #1) is already seven years old. I also missed out on the GMT Games P500 COIN-fest reprint in late 2018. Not every COIN title appeals to me, but I would have not tried Colonial Twilightexcept for it being a Brian Train title so I apparently cannot depend solely on the subject as the measure of my interest. That said, I get the feeling that Fire in the Lake: Insurgency in Vietnam(GMT Games, 2014+) may be acquired in the near future….
I never really thought I would be interested in the French-Algerian War, but curiosity is sometimes born in unusual places. In my case, it was an article I ran across recently. A “Nuclear Coup”? France, the Algerian War and the April 1961 Nuclear Test is a paper that details the days before an April 1961 French nuclear test in the Algerian desert. The test takes place at the same time there is a coup by French generals in Algeria against DeGaulle. That event is captured on Event Card66 – Coup d’Etat, and reflects the “General’s Putsch” to seize power. Nuclear tests do not appear in any of the event cards in Colonial Twilightso one cannot play out the scenario of the rebels getting a device. Granted, that situation exceeds the design focus of the game but it’s an interesting thought experiment. Hopefully by playing Colonial Twilight I will get a better sense of the background and the general situation in Algeria during that time.
I also am looking forward to playing this game because of the designer. I always find Brian Train’s games interesting to play and educational. He certainly picks topics that are not the usual. I have played his Reichswehr & Freikorps(Strategy & Tactics, 2012) and more recently his Finnish Civil War(Compass Games, Paper Wars, 2017) – both games of civil wars. I am very happy to finally own Colonial Twilightas I believe Mr. Train is one of the foremost designers on “civil war” and counter-insurgency games and look forward to what his design can teach me. It also doesn’t hurt that Colonial Twilight is also a 2-player version of the COIN-series; a player-count that I want to explore more.
“One more series we’re proud to be launching is Brian Train’s District Commander. These four diceless games for two players cover counter-insurgency operations in the twenty and twenty-first century. Our plan is to release the first two games (Maracas and Bin Dinh) in 2019, with the other two games seeing your table in 2020. Brian is one of our favorite designers – there’s a reason why one of his designs got our very first hex number – so we’re very pleased to be working with him on this project.”
This year I committed to playing solo with Bots. I felt I was ready to tackle the automated opponents thanks to the great work of Ben Harsh and his Harsh Rules series of videos. Part 5 in his Liberty or Death-series covered the solo play system:
Like the historical situation, the war in 1776 focused on the New England colonies. Massachusetts was a hotbed of activity with the Patriots Rallying forces while the Indians led Scouting with British troops to Skirmish against the Rebels.
1777 was a short campaign season (Winter Quarters came out early) and as a result many British troops were not in cities. In order to stay in play the British would have to spend resources. As @HBuchanan2 pointed out on Twitter, it was going to be expensive to keep the British troops outside of cities. But stay they did (OK, I was not strictly following the Bot…still learning, alright!).
Early in 1778 the French played the Treaty of Alliance and entered the war. With the arrival of Rochambeau the French fleet – and blockades – started. By the end of 1778 the Northern Colonies were firmly in Patriot control. Like history, the British were going to have to look South (the “Southern Strategy”) to try and put down this insurrection.
(I misplayed blockades a bit…should have paid attention to the Howe special leader abilities. Relearning, ugh!)
Sure enough in 1779 the British shifted their effort to the South by landing in Savannah. Indian Raids, led by Cornplanter, struck the frontier of New York and Pennsylvania sapping away Patriot support. Luckily for the British, just as the French were preparing to land Spanish troops in Florida (Don Bernardo Takes Pensacola was the next card to play) the season ended when the final Winter Quarters came out.
The end game scoring was very close, thanks in part to the Indian raids that reduced support in Pennsylvania and New York. Final rankings:
I had a very fun time with this play of Liberty or Death. Mechanically it took me a little while to get back into the game but thanks to the Harsh Rules videos it was easier than before. I did not play flawlessly; I missed some of the nuances on the Non-Player Cards and misapplied (or outright missed) some rules. None of that detracts from the overall game experience. Liberty or Death teaches so much about the American War of Independence that I always have to make an effort NOT to look up every card during play and read the historical background!
Volko Runke (@Volko26 on Twitter), the master-designer of the COIN-series, says all games are models. Every time I play Liberty or Death this model teaches me more about the American Revolution. It helps me appreciate what our Founding Fathers went thru over 200 years ago.