“All game, no history.” Really? Musings on why I play #wargames

Recently on Twitter, the following tweet was reupped for comments:

The Tactical Painter @PainterTactical ·

Goodbye #advancedsquadleader Won 2 Australian tournaments, played 100s of games but had a damascene moment designing scenarios when I realised ASL had actually taught me little about WWII and nor could it. Play the rules, not the period. All game, no history.

I was added to the thread for my thoughts. Sorta hard to condense it into one short tweet but I tried:

Mountain Navy @Mountain_Navy · 
Thinking about what a #wargame means to me. Went to the tomes of Dunnigan, Perla, & Sabin as well as Zones of Control book for thoughts. My Answer: A wargame is an interactive model to explore conflict; it doesn’t define it. I use wargames for fun (to game) & inspire learning.

Complexity as Realism…or Not?

First, a disclaimer. I am not an active Advanced Squad Leader player. I played long ago but my ASL-like game was actually Star Fleet Battles (SFB). Like ASL, SFB is also accused of being overly complex. But when I was reading through Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming (Edited by Pat Harrigan & Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, MIT Press, 2016) I was drawn to Chapter 10, “Design for Effect: The “Common Language” of Advanced Squad Leader” by J.R. Tracy. Tracy starts out by stating:

Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) (1985) holds a unique place in the wargaming hobby. Nearly thirty years old, it is still going strong, with a large, ardent fan base and a smaller, but no less ardent body of detractors. More a game system than a game, ASL is both respected and reviled as representing the best and worst aspects of wargaming. ASL itself is considered a benchmark of complexity and comprehensiveness, while its player possess a devotion bordering on fanaticism. Though its roots are firmly in the “design-for-effect” philosophy, it is viewed by many as the paragon of realism with respect to tactical World War II combat. This is born of a misguided equation of complexity and verisimilitude – ASL is at its heart more game than simulation, but it is a richly rewarding game, offering dramatic, cinematic narrative as well as competitive experience. (p. 113)

Mr. Tracy goes on to point out that Squad Leader designer John Hill was, “striving for an impressionistic depiction of combat…based on his interpretation of eyewitness accounts and recollections” (p. 113). He goes on to say, “For Hill, ‘Realism is in the stress and snap decisions of small unit combat’….” (p. 113).

“Realism is in the stress and snap decisions….” More than anything else that line captures for me why I play wargames. For the longest time I was caught up in that ASL-like versimiltude of equating complexity with realism. My favorite games were the likes of Harpoon, the Fighting Wings Series, or Panzer. Those games all bordered more on simulation than games.

Or so I thought.

Wargames as Insight

Years later I have acquired a more nuanced approach to gaming. These days I recognize that all games are models – and models are often imperfect. I now approach games more in line with the thinking of designer Mark Herman who tell us, “As a designer, I always strive to develop game systems that allow the players to compete in a plausible historical narrative that allows for the suspension of disbelief and offers insight into a period’s dynamics.” (ZoC, p. 133)

My undergraduate degree is in History and I always have viewed myself as an amateur historian. Starting in my youth, I used wargames to help me explore history. Robert M. Citrino, in his Zones of Control contribution “Lessons from the Hexagon: Wargames and the Military Historian,” gives us three ways wargames augment the study of history:

  • Wargames are a visual and tactile representation of the real-life event.
  • Wargames help illustrate the various levels of war: tactical, operational, and strategic.
  • Wargames are the ultimate “Jomini-Clausewitz conundrum.”
    • Wargames are Jominian at their core; they quantify, order, and prescribe military activity.
    • Wargames incorporate a Clausewitz artifact – the die as a randomizer

I find Citrino’s conclusion most powerful:

Beyond the informational content or fun quotient, however, wargames offer the operational military historian a means to interpret past events, to unpack the calculations that go into planning a campaign and then to analyze the reasons for success or failure. Wargames allow for compelling analysis of time, space, and force dilemmas; they clearly delineate the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war; and they allow the player to appreciate the truths inherent in both Jomini and Clausewitz, rather than choosing one and rejecting the other. In the end, war itself is a violent, bloody, and unpredictable game, with time-honored Jominian principles serving as the “rules” and Clausewitzian Zufall interfering as the randomizer. (ZoC, p. 445)

Games, Not Simulations

Remember when I said that I loved all those more “simulation games?” I didn’t really understand why I thought this, but Robert MacDougall and Lisa Faden in “Simulation Literacy: The Case for Wargames in the History Classroom” (Zones of Control, Chapter 37) helped me understand maybe why I feel this way.

MacDougall and Faden make the case that simulations are often used to model social phenomenon. “They try to distinguish between dependent and independent variables, to make generalizations that will be applicable in many places and times, and ultimately, to uncover the laws of human behavior” (ZoC, p. 450). Games, however, are different, especially with respect to decisions:

Game designer Sid Meier once defined a game as “a series of interesting decisions.” In a historical simulation game, the players take on the roles of those who made interesting decisions. The rules of the game define the structure that constrained those decisions. “Play can be defined as the tension between the rules of the game and the freedom to act within those rules,” writes Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011, 18). Play, in other words, explores the boundaries of agency and structure – and the “ability to make interesting decisions” is about as succinct a definition of historical agency as we are likely to find.

…But Fun

Wargames make for interesting decisions. When I started wargaming, I thought for th elongest time that complexity led to more intereting decisions. These days, I find that it is often the simplest games, with less decisions, that are the most fun. Games like Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing), 878 Vikings (Academy Games), or Command & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games) will never be held up as detailed models of conflict, but each is fun and offer up interesting decision spaces. They do teach, at least in broad strokes of history, and that is part of what makes them interesting too. But in the end, I play most wargames these days for fun.

I still play the more complex games, but my approach to them has changed. While I still use them to explore conflict, I also try to enjoy it. My attitude these days is one of wanting to game a conflict, not simulate it. I think many designers and publishers get this. This is why the new Harpoon V from Admiralty Trilogy Games is more player-friendly. It’s why Buffalo Wings 2 (Against the Odds) is having a successful Kickstarter. And yes, it’s why even Advanced Squad Leader is still a money-maker for Multi-Man Publishing (especially when one looks at the face-to-face tournament play aspect).

All of which is to say I play wargames for the fun of learning and making interesting decisions. They don’t teach me history, but they offer a pathway to further insight.

“All game, no history.” Not true for me.


Feature image courtesy BoardGameGeek.

March #Wargame & #Boardgame Madness – but not really.

March was a bit of a slow gaming month here at Casa RockyMountainNavy.

IMG_0221The numbers are a bit deceptive; 23 plays of 12 different games but if you throw out the 11 plays of Quarriors (WizKids, 2011) than that is a single play of most other games. Quarriors dominated the family gaming time this month with many games played in the short time after evening chores and bed time. Great family filler game!

After flirting with Villainous, I picked up the expansion. It kinda fell flat. There is not anything necessarily wrong with the game, it just didn’t grab us. Same goes for Illuminati; mechanically the game doesn’t know when to end and my older version has political and social references lost on the younger generation (to their detriment).

Four of the wargames played this month, Great War at Sea: 1904-1905, The Russo-Japanese War, Great War at Sea: U.S. Navy Plan Orange, Plan Orange: Pacific War 1930-1935, and World in Flames (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), are larger games requiring more time to play. In terms of gaming hours each individual play takes up more time than a quick scenario of something like Commands & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution. Unfair accounting?

Speaking of Commands & Colors, there are some interesting developments in the series. I always understood that the main designer is Richard Berg, but didn’t realize until this month how the game license is divided up amongst publishers by era. GMT Games has Ancients, Medieval, Samurai, and Napoleonics; Compass Games has The American Revolution; Fantasy Flight Games has fantasy; PSC Games has World War I and space; and Days of Wonder does World War II. The question becomes who is going to do the American Civil War or the French & Indian War? This is important for my gaming budget!

My @BoardGameGeek Challenge for 2019 – Golden Geek Edition

This is the time of the year that many in the boardgame community start their “challenges” for the coming year. The classic is the 10 x 10 – pick 10 different games and play each ten times during the year.

But I want something a bit different.

The other night I was messing around with the Advanced Search function of BoardGameGeek and sorting my collection in different ways. As I was browsing and sorting, I noticed that some of the games I own were winners the BoardGameGeek Golden Geek Award.

I have written before about the award and my mixed feelings towards it. However, after looking at my collection, I see that I own 15 Golden Geek winners. Sounds like a good challenge; play each Golden Geek winner at least once in 2019.

Thus, my 2019 Golden Geek Challenge games are:

  1. Commands & Colors: Ancients – 2007 Best 2-Player (tie)
  2. BattleLore – 2007 Best 2-Player (tie)
  3. Zooloretto – 2007 Best Family Game / Best Children’s Game
  4. Pandemic – 2009 Best Family Game
  5. Washington’s War – 2010 Best 2-Player / Best Wargame
  6. Forbidden Island – 2010 Best Children’s Game
  7. King of Tokyo – 2012 Best Family Game / Best Party Game /  Best Children’s Game
  8. Love Letter – 2013 Best Family Game / Best party Game / Best Card Game / Most Innovative Game
  9. Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures – 2013 Best 2-Player
  10. 1775: Rebellion – 2013 Best Wargame (PLAYED Sat 05 Jan)
  11. Patchwork – 2014 Best Abstract Game
  12. Codenames – 2015 Best Family Game / Best Party Game
  13. Tiny Epic Galaxies – 2015 Best Solo Game
  14. Scythe – 2016 Game of the Year / Best Strategy Game / Best Thematic / Best Artwork/Presentation / Best Solo Game
  15. 878: Vikings – Invasions of England – 2017 Best Wargame

I will keep this blog and a GeekList over on BoardGameGeek updated with my progress throughout the year.

I am running this challenge in parallel to my 2019 CSR Awards Wargame Challenge. Between the 20 games there and the 15 here I should have a fun year. Not to mention all the new games I’m sure to get this year….

So, what’s your 2019 Boardgame Challenge? 


Feature image courtesy BoardGameGeek

RockyMountainNavy #Boardgame #Wargame Expansion of the Year for 2018

This is the third in my series of 2018 “of the Year” posts. This one covers boardgame & wargame expansions, the first looked at boardgames, the second was wargames, and the last is my Game of the Year. Candidate expansions are taken from those published and which I acquired in 2018.

My candidates for the RockyMountainNavy Boardgame/Wargame Expansion of the Year in 2018 are:

…and the winner is…

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Courtesy Stronghold Games

I absolutely cannot imagine ever playing Terraforming Mars without the Prelude expansion. The Prelude Cards jumpstart your corporate engine and gets the game going faster in the early turns. It doesn’t really shorten the game, but it does make it alot more fun!

Other Games

Several of the other expansions are also great but for each the base game can be enjoyed without them, unlike Prelude which has made itself an essential part of the game. That said, The French and More! is more like a bonus box then an expansion and is practically inseparable from the base game. Both MBT: BAOR and MBT:FRG add new “factions” and optional rules that make the overall game more interesting but can easily be ignored if desired.

Kingdomino: Age of Giants occupies an interesting spot in my game collection. Although ostensibly an expansion for Kingdomino, the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself feel that it doesn’t really fit that game because it adds a bit too much of a “take that” element that spoils the feeling. On the other hand, adding it to Queendomino, which has more “take that” mechanics than Kingdomino, feels much more organic.

History to #Wargame – French carry the Battle of Savannah this time (Commands & Colors Tricorne: The French & More!, @compassgamesllc, 2018)

October is a very historical month in American history, especially when studying the American Revolution. October 7 is the anniversary of the Battle of Kings Mountain and October 9 is the anniversary of the Battle of Savannah. Later this month, we get the anniversary of the attacks on Redoubt #9 and #10 during the Battle of Yorktown (October 14). All of these battles are included in the new French & More! expansion for Compass Games’ Commands & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution.

Here in the United States, Monday, October 8, was a holiday. Even though it was one day ahead of the actual anniversary I played out the “Savannah – 9 October 1779” scenario from the French & More! expansion. This is a somewhat brutal battle where the French under d’Estaing and Americans under Benjamin Lincoln throw themselves against a British line dug in using Field Works. In C&C Tricorne, Field Works allow Infantry and Artillery units to ignore one hit from ranged combat (except when attacked by artillery) as well as giving the unit the Morale Effect of ignoring one flag (retreat) except again from artillery. In effect, Field Works force the attacker to either bombard or close and Melee Battle (close assault) to remove the dug in defenders.

When setting up this game I missed a crucial new rule; a French Regular Infantry unit is composed of five blocks vice the usual four for British, German, or Continental. Thus, the French units fought at a disadvantage in my game.

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Continental-French view of Battle of Savannah at start

The French ended up carrying most of the fight this time. The draw of Command Cards for the Continental-French side ended up favoring the American right flank. Over the 15 rounds, I think something like nine Command Cards were for the right or a Line Command that was utilized in that section of the battlefield.

To win this battle, one needs to get nine Victory Banners. In addition to the usual banner awarded for destroying a unit, the Continental player also gains a banner for each unit exited off the British side of the board (relief to Savannah) or when occupying a Field Works at the start of their turn. The British gain a banner when there is no enemy in a Field Works at the beginning of their turn or when playing a Scout Command Card (representing the arrival of reinforcements). In this game the British never played a Scout card (indeed, one was never even drawn) and instead had to rely on destruction of enemy units and trying to eject any intruders in the Field Works.

The French attack on the right was a real slog and saw six complete units destroyed. As three of these were Regular Infantry I have to wonder if the fifth block could have saved these units! The Americans only lost one Light Cavalry unit under Pulaski. One American Light Cavalry and one French Light Infantry unit exited the board (two Victory Banners). Even with the artificially-weak French Regular Infantry the final score after 15 rounds was 10 Victory Banners for the Continental-French army (+7 for units destroyed – including the death of Leader Tawes, +2 for exited units, +1 for occupying a Field Works)  versus seven Victory Banners for the British (+7 for units destroyed).

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End of game. British right rolled up but at high cost to French.

Like many Commands & Colors games, the fickle hand of Fate played a major part in this battle. A French Grenadier Elite Infantry unit failed its Rally Check even with a +1 die advantage and Routed off the battlefield. Although the British had a 4:1 advantage in Light Artillery the draw of Command Cards saw very few actual bombardments take place. After a few rapid advances by the American cavalry on the left the Continental infantry in the center and left barely got moving and did little to contribute to the battle.

This game was my seventh play of C&C Tricorne since I got the base game in 2017. I am definitely becoming more familiar and comfortable with the game system and as a result it is playing much faster. At 15 rounds I think this was the longest C&C Tricorne scenario I have ever played but even so it still took just under 2 hours. I sometime hear hardcore grognards belittle the Commands & Colors-series as being “too simple” but I believe such criticism is misguided. Sure, the game mechanics are highly simplified but the game delivers a somewhat-realistic version of warfare with little rules overhead. Additionally, the table-presence of the game with the terrain tiles for a variable board set up and colorful blocks (all readily marked for easy reference) make it easy to play.

And it is fun!

Featured image “Siege of Savannah – Death of Kazimierz Pulanski” from pinterest

History to #Wargame – No scaling Kings Mountain this time (#CommandsandColorsTricorne from @compassgamesllc)

The real Battle of King’s Mountain was fought on 7 October 1780. Historically, the battle resulted in an American Patriot victory. But not today.

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Battle of Kings Mountain – Setup. Continental Baseline is at top, British on bottom.

I refought this major Revolutionary War engagement on the 238th anniversary of the battle using Commands & Colors Tricorne: The French & More! expansion from Compass Games. This battle started out well for the Americans, with Provincials and Rifle units under Servier, Campbell, and Shelby (left of photo above) pushing in from the Continental right and forcing Ferguson back (left of British line as seen above).  Meanwhile, Militia under McDowell and Winston (bottom right) advanced along with two other Militia units coming across Clark’s Ford (upper right). Servior reached the mountain first, gaining the Continentals a Temporary Victory Banner. However, Turn 6 proved to be devastating to the Continentals when the British used Line Volley to decimate American units. Even at long range, the British were able score hits against Militia under Williams and Provincials under Cleveland (both at top-center of photo above) scoring just a few hits but also forcing a Retreat off the board and thus scoring a Victory Banner. Combined with Militia failing to Rally and Routing off the board the British were able to hold on even as their defenses collapsed on their camps.

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End of Turn 7 – British 6 Victory Banner vs Continental 2

One of the Special Rules in this scenario is “racing against time.” The British player can earn one Permanent Victory Banner for each Scout Command card he plays. This didn’t happen this game but it looks to be an interesting scoring mechanic that I want to see more of.

The best part of this game was making the History to Wargame connection. The RockyMountainNavy Boys saw the board and asked about the battle. This led to a nice discussion of the battle history. In the past year I have come to realize that I had pretty good knowledge of the northern campaigns and battles of the American Revolution but games like the “War in the South” scenario for Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (found in C3i Magazine #30) or Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy have taught me that I missed out on an understanding of the battles in the south which were often nasty, highly personal affairs.

The anniversary of the Battle of Savannah is 09 October, and within the French & More! expansion is the scenario “Savannah – 9 October 1779.” Historically, this was a very bloody affair:

On October 9, at dawn, thousands of French and Americans attacked the British positions and were cut down. It was the bloodiest hour in the Revolutionary War. Pulaski and Marion expressed strong disagreement with the plan proposed by D’estaing, but obeyed orders. As the 5 units attacked the British resistance stiffened. Still, Continental soldiers broke through the redoubt in at least two places near Spring Hill. As the Americans carried the wall of the redoubt, the flags were planted to show the soldiers the breach in the line. Suddenly, British Regulars, under the command of Col. John Maitland, advanced and turned back the combined French and Continental Army.

The American line at the redoubt began to crumble under the intense pressure of Maitland’s Regulars. Pulaski, seeing the line pull back, rode up and tried to rally the men as well when he was mortally wounded by cannister. American hero, Sgt. Jasper, was killed on the ramparts trying to save his unit’s battle flag. Polish patriot Casimir Pulaski was killed in a calvary charge. Black troops from Haiti in the French reserve came forward to cover the retreat of the shattered attackers. In an hour, a thousand casulaities resulted. During a truce, hundreds of French and American soldiers were buried in a mass grave. The city was held by the British until 1782 although guerrilla efforts by men like Col. Francis Marion, a survivor of the siege, continued.

Next week is also the anniversary of the Battle of Yorktown and there is a scenario “Yorktown (Assault on Redoubt #9 & #10) – 14 October 1781” also available. This was siege warfare unlike anything seen before in the American Revolution:

By October 14, the trenches were within 150 yards (140 m) of redoubts #9 and #10.  Washington ordered that all guns within range begin blasting the redoubts in order to weaken them for an assault that evening.  Washington would use the cover of a moonless night to lend the element of surprise to the enterprise.  To reinforce the darkness, he added silence, ordering that no soldier should load his musket until reaching the fortifications- the advance would be made with only “cold steel.” Redoubt 10 was near the river and held only 70 men, while redoubt 9 was a quarter of a mile inland, and was held by 120 British and Germans.  Both redoubts were heavily fortified with rows of abatis surrounding them along with muddy ditches which surrounded the redoubts at a distance of about 25 yards.  Washington devised a plan in which the French would launch a diversionary attack on the Fusiliers redoubt, and then a half an hour later, the French would assault redoubt 9 and the Americans redoubt 10.  Redoubt 9 would be assaulted by 400 French Regular soldiers under the command of the German Lieutenant Colonel Wilhelm von Zweibrücken and redoubt 10 would be assaulted by 400 light infantry troops under the command of Alexander Hamilton.  There was briefly a dispute as to who should lead the attack on redoubt #10, Lafayette named his aide, the Chevalier de Gimat, to lead the attack, but Hamilton protested, saying that he was the senior officer. Washington concurred with Hamilton and gave him command of the attack.

I look forward to playing these scenarios and getting the French Army into battle!

These games, like Commands & Colors Tricorne, have helped open my eyes to the history of these battles. This learning from wargaming is a part of the hobby I enjoy best and am happy to pass onto the RockyMountainNavy Boys.

History to #Wargame – Battle of King’s Mountain using #CommandsandColorsTricorne from @compassgamesllc

The real Battle of King’s Mountain took place on October 7, 1780. Today I am going to refight the battle using Commands & Colors Tricorne: The French and More! expansion from Compass Games. I really enjoy it when I get to play a battle on its anniversary because it makes for yet another a great connection to history from wargaming. This is a big reason I love the wargaming hobby!

September Schooling

bg-stats-icon-small-e1454598933841I am trying out Board Game Stats this month. Nothing fancy; just the basic module with no Cloud Sync or Deep Stats or the like. I am, after all, mostly a solo or family gamer. After using it for a month I am convinced I don’t need more because it pretty much proves I am a tame boardgamer.

IMG_0057In September, I played 20 different games 25 times. I surprised myself that five games got two plays apiece. Three of them are wargames (Cataclysm: A Second World War, Rockets Red Glare, and Operation Shoestring: The Guadalcanal Campaign, 1942). Two of those games were a “grogpiphany” – an older wargame that is joyfully rediscovered. I also got a rare 4-player game of Enemies of Rome to the table. Finally, there were two games of Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game, a very fun Four Solo play and a 3-player game night.

The other stats are mildly interesting to me and, like all stats, some are a bit misleading. I see that I played 43% of the time with “Mr. Solo” who, honestly, is not a person but my second-player gaming alter ego. Twenty percent (20%) of the games were with both the RockyMountainNavy Boys and the rest were with various solo personalities or bots (as in the Mechanical Marquis from Root: The Riverfolk Expansion). Unsurprisingly, Saturday is the day when most games are played (Saturday Game Night is surely a factor) and all my games were at the RockyMountainNavy Home. On another screen (not included above) the app tells me I had a 57% win percentage this month.

There is one stat here that makes me sad, and that one is the fact I only got to play six  games this whole month with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Outside of our once-a-week dedicated Game Night this is only two other random plays. The small number is a real (sad) testimony to just how busy our schedules are with work and school. For the good of all of us I probably need to work on getting more short family games to the table.

New Games this Month

Upcoming Kickstarter or Other Expected (or Overdue) Deliveries

  • Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! – Kursk 1943 Second Third Edition (Academy Games – Late 2017 release>OVERDUE) – Printing?
  • Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon (Academy Games – Kickstarter August/September delivery) – Per 14 September update now looking to ship in November.
  • Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing – Kickstarter August/September delivery?) – Per 12 September update caught in Essen printer backlog; to print and ship soon after.
  • Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game (Cam Banks/ Magic Vacuum – Kickstarter April 2018>OVERDUE…BackerKit paid for…promised before Dec 2018)
  • Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games – Kickstarter July 2016>OVERDUE…BackerKit paid for…last update 31 May)

Wargaming the Battle of Eutaw Springs – September 08, 1781 & 2018

The Battle of Eutaw Springs was the last major battle in South Carolina in the American Revolution. The main battle was fought on September 8, 1781. Luckily for me, September 8 fell on a Saturday in 2018 so I was able to get some historical wargaming in!

The Battle of Eutaw Springs has two parts to the engagement. The first part is the Meeting Battle where the American army runs into the British foraging party. Historically, the “rooting party” was overrun but a few soldiers escaped and alerted the British camp. The main battle followed. The two wargames I used to refight Eutaw Springs took different approaches to the battle and the relevant events.

The first wargame I pulled out was Commands & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games, 2017).  This is Compass Games’ version of venerable designer Richard Borg’s Commands & Colors-series for the American Revolution. The scenario is one of the larger ones in the base game and focuses on the main battle starting after the events of the foraging party. As with the historical situation, the Americans are deployed in two lines with the Milita forward and Regular troops behind.

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Opening setup from British perspective

In today’s game the British could just not get anything going and the American dice were hot. The turning point was the death of a British Leader (+1 VP) followed by the Rout of three units. The Morale rules in Commands & Colors Tricorne are maybe the most important to consider. In this case, all three units were forced to retreat and then conduct a Morale Check. A Morale Check is a die roll using the number of dice equal to the remaining blocks in the unit. To pass the check the roll has to have at least one Flag rolled. There are a few modifiers but that’s essentially the rule. In today’s battle, two FULL STRENGTH units that were forced to retreat outright FAILED their Morale Check and Routed away! The end result was a run-away victory for the Americans.

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Endgame – British routed away….

The second game pulled out was the American Revolution Tri Pack from GMT Games (2017). Although not listed in the subtitle (Guilford, Saratoga, Brandywine) this game actually has a fourth battle included; Eutaw Springs! This battle has two versions that can be played; a Historical Battle that starts after the events of the foraging party (around 10am in the morning) or a Campaign Game that begins at 7am before the foraging party is encountered. Depending on the result of the foraging party battle the British may be alerted or caught unawares. Having already played out the battle, I set up the Campaign Game to see what might happen differently. Alas, the battle of the foraging party resulted in a Retreat which meant the historical result, an alerted British camp, happened again.

After that though, nothing went historically for the British. Once again the American dice were hot with many Disruption results in combat. Disruption results force retreats but more importantly reduce the army Morale Track. The battle saw many British units Disrupted with few actually Eliminated. The Americans were able to continuously push the British back as they were unable to keep a solid line to stop the American advance. By noon (Turn 6) the battle was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Even with the late arrival of British reinforcements was unable to stem the tide. As with the historical situation, once the Americans got into the British camp there was some Looting (though less than historically) but it did slow down any pursuit of the British.

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Disruption after Disruption….

As with my Fourth of July Gaming, it is always fun to play a wargame battle on the anniversary of the event. Doing so brings fresh insights into the battle and the events around it. It demonstrates the real teaching power of wargames which match fun with learning.

Featured image “Battle of Eutaw Springs” by Granger courtesy fineartamerica.com

 

There’s a good game in here…somewhere. Thoughts on Yarmuk (Command Magazine / XTR Corp., 1997)

Yarmuk (XTR Corp., 1997) was the second game in Command Magazine Issue #45 (Oct 1997). The game recreates an epic battle in 636AD between Byzantine and Moslem armies. Yarmuk is a relatively simple game that decently captures its theme but suffers from unclear rules and lack of a “gimmick” mechanic to make it truly unique and memorable.

Spelling errors litter the rules of Yarmuk. Thankfully, the rules are short and fairly simple. In some ways Yarmuk is an early Command & Colors-style game with alternating formation activations, a very simple combat resolution system, and several possible special “events” playable each turn. After going through the rules and playing the game, these are the ones that stand out to me:

5.2.A.2. Parley Check. One in six chance of skipping a full day in the game (the battle is six days long). In my play through I rolled Parley on Day 1.

5.2.A.3. Sandstorm Check. One in six chance of a sandstorm for the day. Reduces combat effectiveness.

5.2.A.4. Duel of Champions. First day only. Good chrome that makes the game “feel” more thematic with little rules overhead.

5.3 The Sword of Allah. One of two “unique” game rules that reinforce theme. Twice each day, the Moslem player gets an extra Action Phase using Moslem cavalry. This is the only time Moslem cavalry can charge (9.8).

6.0 Zones of Control. Units must stop when entering an enemy ZoC. To leave an enemy ZoC is a morale check. Units starting the Combat Phase in an enemy ZoC MUST attack. Units retreating though the attacking units ZoC must make a morale check.

7.0 Stacking. What should be a simple rule is actually confused by the rules layout. Rule 7.1 Stacking Generally specifies that at the end of each phase only two units can be in a hex. However, in the second half of rule 7.2 Stacking Specifics (which is unfortunately found on the next page from the rule header) states that, “only the top units in a single hex may attack or be attacked in a single combat. The stacking order in a hex may be changed only by shifting an activated units during its movement phase….” I missed this part of the stacking rule in the first few days of my game and it totally changed the complexion of combat.

9.1 Combat Generally. Combat is a simple affair. The difference of attacking units to defending units yields a column used on the Combat Results Table (CRT). Or it should be, but again the rules as written get in the way:

  • “…undisrupted units…may attack. Any such unit starting its combat phase in an enemy ZOC must attack.” (Units in enemy ZOC must attack, or may they?)
  • “A single unit may attack up to six adjacent defending units.” (One unit, six attacks?)
  • “Up to six units may attack a single hex.” (Surrounded unit)
  • “Each attacking unit may participate in only one combat per combat phase.” (So one unit – one attack, not up to six attacks as above?)
  • “A single defending unit may be attacked only once per combat phase….” (What about a single defending unit with two enemy units in its ZoC? Attack by only one? Or both? Per above both must, or may?)

I think the intent of the rules is that each unit can only attack (or be attacked) once per combat phase. I think this is the rule, but as written it is difficult to determine what the rules actually say.

9.3 Retreat. Requires very careful reading. A retreating unit that is forced to retreat into a ZoC of a non-attacking unit is fine, but if it retreats into the ZoC of the attacking unit it must make a morale check and, if it fails, disrupts of routs and must continue to retreat until reaches a hex not within ANY enemy ZoC.

10.0 Supreme Effort. The second unique game mechanic. Each formation has a Supreme Effort (SE) chit that can be played for extra combat power. Well, each formation should have a chit except for a printing error on the counters which has the back side of one formations SE chit on a combat unit. To offset the power of SE, using SE can lead to backlash (10.3 SE Backlash) which is a negative combat effect and risks morale.

At first glance, Yarmuk appears to be a game with simple rules and just enough theme. The sad reality is that confusing rules get in the way of enjoying the thematic elements. Furthermore, Yarmuk has a very Command & Colors feel to it. I cannot find a Yarmuk scenario for C&C so maybe making one is worth it. Doing so is more likely to result in a positive game experience because trying to sort through the Command Magazine/XTR Corp. version of Yarmuk is probably more effort than it’s worth.

Featured image courtesy boardgamegeek.com. By the way, the setup shown is wrong because, according to 3.0 Setup, “Each leader must be stacked with any unit under his command.”  None of the leaders visible are stacked with a unit but in a separate hex. Appears I’m not the only one confused by the rules….