RockyMountainNavy’s influential #boardgame from the 2010’s

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.

Sorta.

Late Start

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.

My 15 Influential Boardgames of the 2010’s

15. Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon – Academy Games, 2019

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Courtesy Academy Games

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).

14. AuZtralia – Stronghold Games, 2018

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Courtesy Stronghold Games

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. 

13. Cataclysm: A Second World War – GMT Games, 2018

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Courtesy GMT Games

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.

12. Pandemic: Fall of Rome  – Z-Man Games, 2018

zgLVeSk8Tn+CXkchMq7sMwThe 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.

11. Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection – GMT Games, 2016

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Courtesy GMT Games

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.

10. Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest – Mighty Board Games, 2019

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Courtesy Mighty Boards

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.

9. Root: A Woodland Game of Might & Right – Leder Games, 2018

 

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Courtesy Leder Games

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.’

 

IMG_0084On 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!

8. Queendomino – Blue Orange Games, 2017

 

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games

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.

7. Quarriors! – WizKids, 2011

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Courtesy WizKids

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.

6. Rhino Hero – HABA, 2016

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Courtesy HABA

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.

5. Kingdomino – Blue Orange Games, 2017

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games

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.

4. Terraforming Mars – Stronghold Games, 2016

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Courtesy Stronghold Games

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.

3. 1775: Rebellion – Academy Games, 2013

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Courtesy Academy Games

(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.

2. Enemies of Rome – Worthington Publishing, 2017

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Courtesy Worthington Publishing

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.

1. Scythe – Stonemaier Games, 2016

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Courtesy Stonemaier Games

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.

We all fell in love with it.

First it was the art. Jakub Rozalski is incredible.

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.


Feature image from teedep.com

RockyMountainNavy’s influential #wargame from the 2010’s (h/t to @playersaidblog for the idea)

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.

Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (second edition) – Academy Games, 2012

pic1236709_mdFor 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.

1775 Rebellion – The American Revolution – Academy Games, 2013

1775-header-v3In 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.

Next War: Poland  – GMT Games, 2015

569After 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.

Wing Leader: Victories, 1940 – 1942 – GMT Games, 2015

pic2569281Before 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.

Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection – GMT Games, 2016

582As 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.

Command & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution – Compass Games, 2017

cctri_ar_lgPrior 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.

South China Sea – Compass Games, 2017

scs-cover-for-web_1Remember 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.

Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 – Hollandspiele, 2017

slar_wb_largeAt 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.

Pavlov’s House – DVG, 2018

pic5126590Solo 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.

Blue Water Navy – Compass Games, 2019

TYt4vmWiRnWl0MUjqKCZUwAs 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. 

Brave Little Belgium – Hollandspiele, 2019

5SEI37l%T5yLJJc7vRLX2wI 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. 

Hold the Line: The American Civil War – Worthington Publishing, 2019

6HSa418vRrKP6Dyy%qokEgThis 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.

Less Than 60 Miles – Thin Red Line Games, 2019

Gi47YGXvSuiIL8pOfxkb3gThe 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.

Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest – Might Boards Games, 2019Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest – Might Boards Games, 2019

nof_packshotBrian 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.

Tank Duel – GMT Games, 2019

zGtfgQKQQ+SJpwWwL2RlAwLike 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
  • 2x Hollandspiele
  • 1x DVG
  • 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.

Entering the matrix doesn’t mean exiting from #wargames

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?
  • “It can take a really long time, be really complicated and can be very difficult to explain to a newcomer.” I challenge you to try any of the Academy Games Birth of America-series or Commands & Colors (Compass Games or GMT Games) or a Hold the Line game (Worthington Publishing). If those games are too complicated for you and difficult to teach a newcomer then you have no place talking to anybody about a Matrix game.
  • “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.

Feature image courtesy BEAR RISING.

A Fifth of the Fourth – or – a day late and a bit short; playing Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (@gmtgames, 2016) #wargame #boardgame #waro

AFTER A VERY FULL DAY OF WARGAMING ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, I was up early again on Friday. Lucky to have the day off, I pulled out Harold Buchanan’s contribution to the COIN-series, Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2016). Knowing that today was going to be a bit busy, I set up the Optional Sprint Scenario of The Southern Campaign. I played the Patriots (of course) and let the ‘bots take the other players.

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.


Feature image GMT Games.

#Wargame First Impression – Campaigns of 1777 (@HBuchanan2 in Decision Games. Strategy & Tactics 316, May-June 2019)

Harold Buchanan already has earned my respect with his entry in the GMT Game COIN -series. Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (2017) is in some ways a revisionist look at the American Revolution. I really enjoy the game; it is amongst the top 10 titles in my collection. So when I heard that Harold was getting another American Revolution game published I waited impatiently for it’s release. Campaigns of 1777 finally arrived in Strategy & Tactics 316. Although Campaigns of 1777 will never replace Liberty or Death (nor was it intended to) in my pantheon of games, the title will get played because it is an enjoyable, challenging exploration of the 1777 campaign year.

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.

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Courtesy BGG

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.

Hmmm….

New COIN Dawn with Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 (@gmtgames, 2017) #boardgame #wargame

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Courtesy GMT Games

This weekend, I finally got a real deep dive into designer Brian Train’s installment in the COIN-series entitled Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 (GMT Games, 2017). This is not the first COIN game I have played; I also own (and have played) Harold Buchanan’s highly thematic Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2016). As much as I love Liberty or Death, I found Colonial Twilight a much easier game to digest and get into playing quickly.

All Sides Count

One reason Colonial Twilight is 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.

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Colonial Twilight Initiative Track (courtesy GMT Games)

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

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Colonial Twilight (courtesy BGG.com)

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 Twilight of 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 Twilight in to better explore the topic of the game and learn COIN better.

More COIN?

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 Twilight except 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….

#Wargame for Train Coups & Nukes – Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 (@GMTGames, 2017)

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Courtesy GMT Games

What do you get when you mix designer Brian Train, COIN in Algeria, and nukes? I’m going to find out soon!

I recently acquired a new-in-shrink copy of Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 (GMT Games, 2017). This is my second COIN-series game (the other being Harold Buchanan’s Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection, GMT Games, 2016). This is also my third owned game by designer Brian Train.

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Event 66

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 Card 66 – 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 Twilight so 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 Twilight as 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.

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Courtesy Hollandspiele

I am also looking forward to Mr. Train’s collaboration with Hollandspiele in his new District Commander-series coming this year. As Hollandspiele’s Tom Russell describes it:

“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.”

(Darn it, Tom! Now I am going to have to get The Scheldt Campaign!)

Wargames; they’re not only for fun, but educational too.

#IndependenceDay 2018 #Wargame – Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2nd Edition, 2017)

For the second year in a row I got Harold Buchanan’s (@HBuchanan2 on Twitter) Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2nd Edition, 2017) to the gaming table on the Fourth of July. I played the medium-length scenario “British Return to New York” that covers four years – 1776 thru 1779.

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.

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The war in 1776

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!).

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The 1777 campaign season ends early – British troops winter outside cities…paid for in dear resources

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!)

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End of 1778 – Patriots control New England colonies

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.

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1779 scenario end

The end game scoring was very close, thanks in part to the Indian raids that reduced support in Pennsylvania and New York. Final rankings:

  1. French +4
  2. Patriots +3
  3. Indians -1
  4. British -4

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.

God Bless America.

Featured image courtesy GMT Games, LLC.

#4thofJulyWeekend #Wargame – Liberty of Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2016)

It seemed fitting that on this Fourth of July weekend I pull out my absolutely favorite game on the American Revolution, Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection. This is Volume V of the COIN-series from GMT Games. I choose the short duration scenario, The  Southern Campaign, using the Optional Sprint Scenario rules.

As I have stated before, LoD is not really a wargame. Each faction must simultaneously cooperate with their allies and fight their enemies while trying to win. Thus, although the Patriots and French are allied, they both have independent victory conditions.

The Southern Campaign covers from 1778 to 1780, although in the Sprint Scenario only the first two years are played.

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Midway thru 1778

Unlike my previous games where I was really just learning the rules, this game I was able to actually try a bit more strategy. I still messed up the rules in a few places, but it didn’t prevent me from having a great time!

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Philadelphia Before the Attack (End of 1778)

Play was not perfect by any measure. The Patriots played a more northern strategy while the Royalists tried to turn the south. As 1779 neared an end, Washington and Rochambeau both took on Clinton in New York City.

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Winter Quarters Ends 1779 – Indecisive in New York City

Alas, the Patriots and French blew their timing, and at the end of 1779 and the Sprint Scenario, Clinton held in New York City. Meanwhile, Tories had been busy in the South. The final score was a Royalist Victory.

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End of The Southern Campaign – Sprint Scenario

The gameplay mechanics of LoD are actually quite simple and I think I have pretty much got them down. The much harder part is taking those “simple” mechanics and executing a “complex” strategy. Unlike many games which get played a few times then collect dust until that far-off next scenario, Liberty or Death will definitely land on the table more often.

 

#WargameWednesday – Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal First Impressions

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Courtesy BGG

Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal – The Pacific 1942 from Academy Games is a 2016 Golden Geek Award Best Wargame Nominee. After reading some of the buzz and looking at comments on BoardGameGeek, I picked this one up in the hope that I could eventually play this with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I like using wargames to teach a bit about what the situation or combat experience was like. In CoH:G what I found was a game of war that challenges many of my perceptions of what I see as a wargame.

CoH:G bills itself as a combined-arms squad-level game. The focus is on the US Marines battles on Guadalcanal from just after the amphibious landing in August 1942 through the arrival of regular Army units in October 1942 (and playable as an expansion). This was my first challenge; I needed to get past my bias for armor over infantry (always a Panzer/88/Armor fan over Squad Leader).

My next challenge was the price; CoH:G retails for $80. Although I saw it in my FLGS I was reluctant to pull the trigger at that price point. Searching online, I found it for less and ordered.

Opening the box, I was stunned at the components. The high quality (huge) counters and mounted mapboard along with full-color glossy books and play-aids and even an organizing insert immediately made me realize that the asking price is actually not unreasonable.

The rulebook is 23 pages which includes many examples. This means that CoH:G is not a complex game. The rules are tied to scenarios (firefights) and use a building-block learning approach to teach players the game mechanics.

What makes CoH:G – and apparently all the Conflict of Heroes series games – interesting is the use of Action Points in Rounds and Turns. Players alternate activating units (or groups of units) and expend Unit or Command Action Points to move or fire. Thus, the classic IGO-UGO turn sequence is overturned. Both players remain engaged through out the entire turn.

Combat is very straight-forward; roll 2d6 and add the Attack Rating of the firing unit. If the AR exceeds the Defense Rating of the unit (modified for terrain) the unit is hit. For each hit a chit is drawn. The chits (about 20) cover everything from no damage to immediate KIA. Once a unit gets a second hit it is eliminated.

Conflict of Heroes also uses cards in play. Command cards, Bonus cards, and various Capability cards bring a bit of randomness and detail flavor to the game. I have written elsewhere about how my perception of Card Driven Games (CDG’s) has changed. CoH is not a CDG, but effectively uses card-driven elements as chrome.

A unique mechanic in CoH:G and not in any other CoH series game is Bushido Points. Bushido Points modify available Command Action Points (CAP) for the Japanese player. Bushido is gained/lost through certain actions. In order to gain Bushido Points (and add to the CAP pool) certain actions must be taken that may not make the most tactical sense, but are in keeping with the “spirit of Bushido.”

In concept the game is very simple; in play the layout is beautiful. I like it…sorta.

The game mechanics are very clean and although I was worried at the chits and markers used in play the board does not get cluttered with the markers. Like in MBT (Second Edition) or Panzer (Second Edition) the markers don’t get in the way. The hit chits actually create a great variety of damage results that make even getting hit interesting. The back-and-forth play keeps the battles moving and demands a players attention at all times.

I am not sure about the Bushido mechanic. I mean, I see what Bushido is supposed to do I’m just not sure I like how I as a player is hamstrung by Bushido. In CoH:G, Bushido is gained/lost for certain actions. Thus, in order to gain/maintain Bushido points (and not always be behind in Command Action Points) certain “sacrifices” must be made. In my several plays to date, the rules specify that Bushido is gained for loss of a Japanese unit is Close or Short range combat. So…to get Bushido the Japanese player has fight – and lose – at very close ranges. This supposedly simulates the Japanese affinity for close assaults.  The player need not make these sacrifices, but doing so gains Bushido points which in turn gives Command Action Points which in turns allows for greater tactical flexibility. The Bushido rues mechanically succeed in making the Japanese player act more is accordance how the Japanese historically acted – I’m just not totally accepting of this loss of “player agency.”

CoH:G is not without a few other challenges. Hexes are VERY hard to see (nee invisible) and with the given countermix (huge counters – but actually very few units) the variety of scenarios is limited.

CoH:G will probably get more plays in the RockyMountainNavy household. As the oldest RMN Boy was leaving, he walked past the board and was immediately taken in by the components. The game is easy enough to teach that I think even the youngest RMN Boy (13 years old) who’ll be able to easily play too.

In the end, I feel that CoH:G is a good game of war. I am a bit reluctant to call it a wargame in my book because the mechanics are so much different than what I usually expect. I am reluctant to totally embrace the Bushido mechanic – it feels like it is forcing me into certain actions. It will get played – it’s too visually stunning not to – but I will tread lightly on using this game to teach the RMN Boys too much of what island combat in the South Pacific was.

Mechanically I guess CoH:G is another step on my path to modernized wargames; I was late to the CDG mechanic, enjoy the COIN series from GMT, and now have exposure to CoH.

RockyMountainNavy Verdict: Explore more; order Storms of Steel: Kursk 1942 (Second Edition) to see what they system is like for armor and without the Bushido mechanic.

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Courtesy BGG