Christmas 2020. The year the Grinch brought COVID to the world. In the RockyMountainNavy home we actually had a good year in great part because our family bonds are strong (and stayed strong regardless of how much the Governor of Virginia tried to keep us down). Gaming played an important part in keeping the RockyMountainNavy family going this year as you will see in a series of posts coming before the end of the year. Christmas 2020 also brought several “new” games and other hobby items to my collection.
Harpoon III (GDW) / Harpoon 4 (Clash of Arms). Included also was a copy of Harpoon III with more than a few sourcebooks as well as Harpoon 4 with the 1997 Harpoon Naval Review and two other modules. I already own these but having secondary copies on hand is not a bad thing. The counters alone are worth it.
From Fort Circle Games
The Shores of Tripoli (Fort Circle Games, 2020). Again, not a true gift but still a nice present to get this Kickstarter fulfillment before the end of 2020. I have the original PnP version and like it so much that backing the Kickstarter campaign for a “professional” copy was a real no-brainer.
OK, a bit of a cheat here. I took advantage of a US Naval Institute book sale to get two new books to read. I really am looking forward to digging into The Craft of Wargaming for, ah, “professional” reasons.
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. Yarmukis 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 Yarmukscenario 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….
I don’t envy wargame magazine publishers. It can’t be easy to consistently meet a production schedule of both magazine content and wargame. Even when using a “tried and true” system I am sure that there is lots of development work needed. To often the delivered product is just not-quite-ready for primetime.
Components: The game has a very small footprint using an 11″ x 34″ fold-out map. There are 172 counters for units and markers. The rulebook is a short 16-pages in double-column layout. There is also a single page Turn Record Sheet in way-too-small print and with no way to mark off items. Already I can see the state-of-the-art for wargame presentation has come along way since 1997. Today this would likely be a nice cardstock play aid with plenty of graphical hints suitable for photocopy or even maybe dry-erase ready.
Game Length: In the Introduction, it does does say “OSL takes from four to six hours and is suitable for solitaire play.” The game is so small surely this can’t be true? Later, in 4.0 How to Win, I read that the “winner is determined on or before the end of Game Turn 80.” Eighty turns! This means that every turn needs to be no more than 4 1/2 minutes long.
Set Up: Easy for the British. If it has a hex on the unit place it there. It it has a two-digit turn of entry place it in the Misc. Holding Box. All other units to the Reinforcements Available Box. Similar ease for the Germans.
Command Points: Players must use Command Points (CP) to activate their units. Per 6.7 German CP Limits the Germans automatically have two (2) CP each turn and can “earn” up to four more for a total of six per turn (see 6.6 German CP Awards). The British on the other hand roll a die per 6.8 British CP Awards. By the way, the British CP Awards Chart is in the rulebook and not on the map. On certain turns the CP can be affected by 6.9 RAF/RN Surge. If a surge is chosen, then the effect is rolled on the RAF/RN Surge Effects Table (again only in the rulebook). Regardless of the surge effect, the CP awarded via the die roll on the British CP Awards Chart is reduced by one. HOWEVER, Rule 6.11 First Week British Flatfootedness is in effect for Turns 1 through 4 which reduces the British CP die roll by one. All this decision space is presented on Turn 1 of the game; it took far longer than the expected 4 1/2 minutes for the turn just to figure out these rules interactions and determine the British CP.
Reinforcements: Arrive on the map using CP. With so few CP available and with CP also used to activate a unit already on the map it certainly appears the game will be “static.” Maybe that small map is not inappropriate?
Movement: Terrain effects are very limited and generally impact combat, not movement. +1 for ease of play.
Combat: There is no Combat Results Table (CRT) in OSL. Units roll against an Anti-Armor or Anti-Infantry Rating. Using a d10, if the number rolled is less than or equal to the rating it is a hit and the target unit loses a step. There are rules for Artillery (13.5 Artillery) and Retreat (13.6 Retreat). Modifiers to combat are given in 14.2 Terrain, 14.3 Supply, 14.4 German Ground Attack Support Aircraft, and 14.5 German Super-Heavy Artillery in France. The later rule may be the most useless as the Super-Heavy Artillery can only fire up to four hexes from their on-map site. The range covers exactly six hexes of Britain. Could this be the definition of a useless chrome rule?
Gameplay Experience: I spent about 30 minutes setting up the game and reviewing the rulebook. I then played for about 2 hours. It was a slog. Early turns took much longer than the 4 1/2 minutes needed (the first turn was over 10 minutes) and, although later turns moved faster as more of the rules “clicked,” I still only made it out to just past Turn 15. At this point I was looking at 4.4 Winning which has a method of ending the game early (based on a die roll) if at the end of any turn the German VP is 46 or greater. Personally, I hate a wargame mechanic that artificially ends a game based on a chancy die roll like this. But in OSL the game seems so endless this “early out” mechanic is most welcome!
Cost: OSL has a cover price of $29.95. This converts from 1997 dollars to just under $47 today. Pricey…not sure it is really worth it absent a full play aid overhaul and tighter game development.
Tone: I have very mixed feeling about the editorial tone in the rulebook. The writers try to be welcoming to new and veteran gamers alike. There are Beginners Notes and Old Hands Notes as well as Design Notes and Historical Notes thrown in throughout the rulebook. In many ways the writing seems condescending to new gamers. If one was to follow the writer’s advice, then most Markers (rule 2.9) and rules 8.0 Replacements,9.0 Supply, good portions of 13.0 Combat and 14.0 Fire Modifiers as well as all of 15.0 Optional Rules are not used. I question what game is left without these sections; simpler maybe but interesting? Probably not.
Bottom Line: Operations Sea Lion: Britain’s Finest Hour?is in many ways a classic hex-and-counter wargame. Classic in most game mechanics and certainly in presentation. Combat is “innovative” in that it doesn’t use a CRT and Command Points limit the amount of “boom & zoom” across the map. But at 80 turns this game is TOOO LOOOONNGGG. If the mechanics could be tweaked to make this game absolutely no more than 3 hours it might match thematic appeal to game mechanics.