Sunday Summary – A colorful Slammers week of #wargame and #TravellerRPG fun mentioning @ADragoons @gmtgames

Short update follows…

Wargame

I will have another article coming to Armchair Dragoons this week talking about Rand Game Associates 1975 wargame Hitlers Last Gamble: The Battle of the Bulge by Dave Isby. “What,” you say, “another Bulge game?”

Commands & Colors Samurai from GMT Games is scheduled to arrive Monday, UPS says.

Traveller RPG

While my Wargame Wednesday looked at Hammer’s Slammers and wargames, this week I’m turning my attention to RPGs and Hammer’s Slammers.

#Wargame Wednesday – Looking sharp with Commands & Colors Napoleonics 3rd Edition, 4th Printing (@gmtgames, 2019)

The RockyMountainNavy family loves the Commands & Colors family of lite wargames. I say “lite” in reference to the rules because these games, often coming with many wooden blocks, are anything but “light” on the shelf! The RockyMountainNavy Boys play the heck out of their copy of Memoir’44 (Days of Wonder, 2004) and over the years we have added several other games in the family to the collection. The latest arrival, a present on my birthday from the RMN Boys, is Commands & Colors Napoleonics, 3rd Edition, 4th Printing, from GMT Games (2019).

Commands & Colors Napoleonics (GMT Games, 2019)

Wargame Block

Commands & Colors Napoleonics (C&CN) is a block version of the game (as compared to the little plastic minis of Memoir’44). The game ships with nearly 400 wooden blocks of three sizes and three different colors. Most any Commands & Colors owner has a story about how long it takes to put stickers on all those blocks. What I’ll tell you is that it is very therapeutic; there is a certain calm that comes over you when working through the stickers and watching your armies form in front of you. In many ways it’s not all that different a feeling than corner-clipping counters—repetitive, even a bit tedious, but extremely satisfying in the outcome. In some ways stickering-up wood blocks in Commands & Colors helps me relate to miniatures wargamers who spend all that time basing and painting figures for their army.

Sticker Day for C&CN

War Engine the Napoleon Way

Commands & Colors Napoleonics builds upon the long-proven war engine of the Commands & Colors family of wargames. All Commands & Colors games share a common baseline set of rules. Using a set of Command cards, players first play a Command card, then Order units, Move those units, conduct Combat, and then Draw a new Command card. Units themselves often are just a few types and the rules for movement and combat of each is easy to remember (or easily referenced on a single player aid card). This baseline set of rules is easy to learn and follow and helps make the game just as easy to teach or learn for beginners and Grognards alike.

Like every Commands & Colors game, Commands & Colors Napoleonics also uses special “flavor” rules to recreate battles of this period. In the case of C&CN the rules are 6.0 NAPOLEONIC TACTICS AND ACTIONS which introduces “Cavalry Retire and Reform,” “Infantry Square,” and Combined Arms Combat.” These rules, covered in a little over 3.5 pages of well-illustrated rules, work hand-in-hand with the colors of blocks, the images on units, and text of the Command Cards to make this C&C game “feel” Napoleonic.

Levee En Mass (Market)

If I have a quibble with Commands & Colors Napoleonics it is the components. Not the wood blocks—I had only a few useless blocks included—but in the quality of the terrain tiles and cards. The hexagonal terrain tiles seem a bit thin to me; they are perfectly functional but just seem thin. Same goes for the (few) cardboard chits in the game—thin. More importantly, the cards also seem thin to me. I occasionally sleeve my cards, but usually only when I feel they need to be protected and I question their durability. This is one of those times. I also am not a fan of the dice included. Not only did I have to sticker them myself, but they seem too large and heavy. I own a dice tray and use it when necessary but generally avoid doing so as it adds another component that demands real estate on the table which is not always available. For myself, a fully laid out game of C&CN takes up the entire 3″x4″ gaming table in the loft; I simply don’t have room for a large dice tower or tray.

Napoleon’s True Colors

Quibbles over components aside, I will admit that Commands & Colors Napoleonics looks beautiful on the gaming table. There is real beauty in seeing lines of blue French soldiers squaring off against red-coated British. The highly visual element of C&CN is a great part of the charm of the entire series—the game simply looks good, is easy to learn, plays with just enough theme, and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.

Wellesley’s view at Rolica. Easy to see at least one line unit certainly needs to redress itself!

First Play – Battle of Rolica, Aug 17, 1808

Battle of Rolica (French First Position) at Set Up

In my Battle of Rolica, Wellesley got off to a slow start with only his left flank advancing (all the Command Cards initially were for the left!). However, aggressive action by a lone French Hussars (Light Cavalry) unit forced the British infantry into squares that slowed the advance buying time for French infantry to arrive. In a series of devastating melee actions the British infantry collapsed. Wellesley was furious because his leader on that flank, Fergusson, hung back behind the lines and therefore was unable to rally the infantry to stand. Even a desperate charge by British Dragoons (Heavy Cavalry) to seize the initiative was repulsed when the French Foot Artillery got a First Strike (battle first when attacked) and used canister at point-blank range to mow down the hapless riders. Apparently unable to get a courier through with orders (again, no Command Cards for that flank), Wellesley watched his left flank disintegrate with only a lone Foot Artillery unit left to halt any French advance (bolstered by Fergusson—finally).

French right flank – British advance evaporates

As Wellesley watched his left flank disappear, he took some solace in watching his Portuguese allies on the right finally advance. They actually made it parallel to the French main line before a foray by two French line infantry units struck out. Again, the Gods of War (and Luck?) smiled on the French who drove the Portuguese back to their starting positions. As night feel, Delaborde held the field, but Wellesley had a strong center that might make the next days battle interesting.

Delaborde looks on as his infantry drives the Portuguese back on his far left, but Wellesley is in a strong position in front of him….

At this point the battle ended with the French having gained the requisite five Victory Banners to win. My Battle of Rolica was a classic Commands & Colors game with Wellesley never seemingly having the right “cards in his hand” and being frustrated commanding his forces. Delaborde started out with a “poor hand” but was able to order units at just the right moment to arrest any British advances. His right flank far exceeded all expectations and seemingly couldn’t be stopped. Along the way I got to play all the new Napoleonic-era rules of Cavalry Retire and Reform, Infantry Squares, and Combined Arms. It felt grand and epic like one imagines a Napoleonic battle to be.

I’ve already gone ahead and placed P500 orders on GMT Games for what else is in production for Commands & Colors Napoleonics. I will be checking my favorite FLGS and online retailers to see if I can get some expansions at a fair price.

Sunday Summary – Commanding Napoleonic colors, 2 Minutes to Midnight launches, Kickstarter sputterings, & moving to the IO #wargame #boardgame @gmtgames @stuarttonge @Academy_Games @DietzFoundation @PatrickLeder @compassgamesllc

Game of the Week

My Game of the Week was Commands and Colors Napoleonics (GMT Games, 2019). I really enjoyed the game this week as I got to play both the Battle of Quatre Bras and the Battle of Waterloo on their anniversary week. Look for my extended comments on the game forthcoming in the week ahead.

2 Minutes to Midnight

Stuart Tonge’s kickstarter for 2 Minutes to Midnight (Plague Island Games, forthcoming) launched this week and quickly funded. The game has already passed through several stretch goals and is still going. I was one of the previewers of this game and really like it. It’s not too late for you to check it out!

2 Minutes to Midnight (Plague Island Games)

Kickstarter

Sigh. Reality Shift from Academy Games is now mid-August delivery, several months removed from the planned May date. On the plus side, 1979: Revolution in Iran by Dan Bullock from The Dietz Foundation is moving along nicely but shipping problems may add some delay. Patrick Leder of Leder Games tweeted about that this week:

Family Boardgaming

I am very happy to see Dragomino (Blue Orange Games, 2020) win the children’s Game of the Year Kinderspiel des Jahres 2021 award. This game is a favorite of Mrs. RockyMountainNavy and her student, Miss A. I am also very pleased that after a recent play of Dragomino, Mrs. RMN asked me to teach her Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017) which was the 2017 Spiel de Jahres (Game of the Year) winner. It was a pleasant game though Mrs. RMN wracked her brain (over)thinking all the different combinations. Her Verdict—She liked it!

Books

I was pleased with the (small) reception my Rocky Reads for Wargame post on Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command by Kent Masterson Brown received. I hope to do more of that style of book to wargame (maybe even boardgame or even roleplaying game) comparisons.

Alas, it looks like my exploration of the Battle of Gettysburg is not finished yet. Father’s Day also saw the arrival of Longstreet at Gettysburg: A Critical Reassessment by Cory M. Pharr (Jefferson: McFarland & Co., 2019). So now to look at a study of command on the Confederate side….

Longstreet at Gettysburg

Up Next

Indian Ocean: South China Sea Vol. II (Compass Games, 2020) moves from the Shelf of Shame to the Game of the Week.

IOR: SCS vII

History to #Wargame – The Battle of Waterloo, 2021 Edition with Commands & Colors Napoleonics (@gmtgames, 2019)

This has been a very good Grognard week for me.

My Game of the Week right now is Commands & Colors Napoleonics (GMT Games, 2019). For a GotW I try to get deeper into the title and, as luck would have it, the anniversary of two major Napoleonic-era battles fell in the same week. I already wrote about my Battle of Quatre Bras; next is the Battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815).

Commands & Colors Napoleonics (GMT Games, 2019)

The Battle of Waterloo scenario is the last scenario presented in the base game of Commands & Colors Napoleonics. Like Quatre Bras before it, the scenario is large with a wide variety of forces. This makes setting up the game interesting as I paused at times to “pass in review” new units to ensure I understood their unique characteristics. After all, I want to make sure the Old Guard is used properly!

Waterloo set up. Note the “tipsy” British unit at La Haye Sainte in the middle of the board- must of been at Lady Richmonds Ball the night before (or was that Happy Hour at the local pub?)

One reason I like most Commands & Colors-series games is that even the “big” scenarios like Waterloo are still playable in about an hour. My game took ~75 minutes and it was a see-saw battle the whole way. The battle developed in a classic Commands & Colors way complete with elation and frustration.

Specifically, elation and frustration is about the only way to explain how the game went for the French. Elation came early with the French advancing on both flanks and taking the Victory Banner towns of Hougoumont on the left and Papelotte on the right. Then the frustration set in it became almost impossible for the French to draw a Command Card for the center. Even then, there were some highly thematic moments like when the French drew the La Grande Manouevre card and made a bold move to retake the initiative in the center. However, it was not enough, and in the end the British were the first to the requisite eight Victory Banners (final score 8-6).

The French center can’t push the British and Allies away at Waterloo

Playing the Battle of Waterloo, indeed playing Commands & Colors Napoleonics this week, also reminded me a bit about our collective wargame roots.The word Grognard, often used to refer to a long-time wargamer, is a modern derivation in use of the original Grognard which referred to an old soldier from Napoleon’s army. Although I hate citing it as a source, Wikipedia has a good summation of how the term came to be used by the gamer community:

Grognard is also a slang term used by the tabletop role playing and wargaming community to refer to older, long term players of such games. The usage started with Napoleonic miniature war gaming, and originally referred to those who would seek out minor details that were wrong with another’s painting or modeling, mostly in terms of historical accuracy. Various online forums have popularized the usage among the tabletop role playing and war gaming community.

Wikipedia entry for “Old Guard (France)”

I”m very happy that this 21st Century Grognard was able to honor 19th Century Grognards in a game of Commands & Colors Napoleonics.


Feature image courtesy wickedwilliam.com

#Wargame Wednesday – Battle of Quatre Bras, June 16, 2021?

Today is the 206th anniversary of the Battle of Quatre Bras, so it is fitting that my Game of the Week on the table right now is Commands & Colors Napoleonics (GMT Games, 2019). I played the Quatre Bras scenario and boy, did it live up my expectations.

First, this is a grand battle with a full compliment of troops deployed on both sides. One needs nine (9) Victory Banners to win which means this scenario is also one of the longer ones published in the game.

Ney looks on at Quatre Bras in Commands & Colors Napoleonics

My play of Commands & Color Napoleonics featured several moments that make a wargame memorable. Like early in the battle when the French right led by Bachelu pushed ahead but ran headlong into British rifle troops under Picton. The hazards of leading from the front were clearly demonstrated here with Bachelu falling in nearly the first volley of the battle.

(In Commands & Colors Napoleonics, when a unit with a leader is attacked and a hit is scored a second roll is required to determine a Leader Casualty. The roll requires “crossed sabers” on two dice—a 1-in-36 chance. Guess what happened here….)

Bachelu falls in battle….

Neither Ney or Wellington seemed able to get their center moving and the battle switched from left to right and back again. The French took the low hills on the right only to be thrown off, and on the left the British allied troops surged ahead. It took Kellerman and his French cuiarassier’s to push them back, and once they got started even infantry in squares seemed unable to stop them. By the end of the day Ney had ejected Wellington from the battlefield and was close to securing the crossroads.

Ney pushes Wellington from Quatre Bras

As big as this Commands & Colors Napoleonics scenario was it still played in less than 90 minutes. Next, on to Waterloo!


Feature image courtesy britishbattles.com.

Sunday #Wargame #Boardgame #Book Summary – One day to 2 Minutes to Midnight (@stuarttonge) while Napoleonics from @gmtgames kicks off the summer Game of the Week series (mentions of @compassgamesllc @Academy_Games @UNC_Press)

Boardgames

Countdown to Midnight

A reminder that the Kickstarter campaign for 2 Minutes to Midnight by Stuart Tonge and his new company Plague Island Games starts tomorrow! Read my comments here and then please look at the campaign. I’ve said it before that “cubes as influence” games are not really my thing but I really enjoyed the thematic elements of 2 Minutes to Midnight—it’s good enough to overcome my bias. I think many of you will find the game interesting and worth the investment!

Wargames

New Arrivals

Several GMT Games P500 preorders arrived this week. Going into the “To Play” pile is Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s Wing Leader: Legends 1937-1945 (Wing Leader Expansion Nr 4). Also arriving is Ted Raicer’s The Dark Summer: Normandy, 1944.

I am very interested in getting Wing Leader: Legends to the table as it includes the “Decision Over Kursk” campaign system. Some readers may recall several “My Kursk Kampaign” postings from earlier this spring where I dove in-depth into that battle. At the time I wanted to explore the air war more:

As I start this exploration, my copy of Wing Leader: Legends 1937-1945 (GMT Games, forthcoming in 2021) is “At the Printer” meaning it may deliver sometime in mid-2021. If it delivers in time I would certainly like to play the campaign system which focuses on the air battles supporting the Battle of Kursk. I really want to explore a point Glantz makes on page 63 in his book; “Red aircraft might be inferior to their German counterparts, but they were certainly sufficient in numbers to deny the Luftwaffe undisputed command of the air.”


History to #Wargame – My Kursk Kampaign – Part 1 Introduction

Although you can’t see it in the photo of The Dark Summer, I am, frankly, a bit surprised the game shipped in a 1.5″ deep box. One can interpret this as a sign that the game is smaller, and with a single 22″x34″ map and two countersheets that appears true. I guess I thought a Normandy campaign game just “has to be” big but this one-mapper is already challenging my preconceptions.

Game of the Week

Now that I’m back to a pretty regular work schedule (office is basically 100% reconstituted) I need to work on getting back to a “regular” gaming schedule. Thus, I will be starting a “Game of the Week” approach to play. Basically, the Game of the Week approach gives me seven days to unbox, learn, play, and consider a game. I have a rough idea of how a week might progress:

  • Sunday – Unbox new game, start rules learning/review
  • Monday – Rules learning/review, set up first play
  • Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday – Play
  • Friday – (Skip Day)
  • Saturday – Considerations/Clean up (Family Game Night?)
Sticker Day for Commands & Colors Napoloenics

I have a backlog of games on the “To Play” shelf that I need to get to over the next few weeks of summer before getting to Wing Leader: Legends and The Dark Summer: I’m trying to play games in the order of their arrival:

Looking (Further) Ahead

I need to work off some of the excess in the “To Play” group because more games are scheduled to arrive over the summer. If all goes well, I’ll be adding Panzer Expansion Nr 1 (which will complete my collection), Tank Duel (Expansion #1: North Africa and Tank Pack #1), and Wing Leader: Supremacy (Second Edition Upgrade Kit), all from GMT Games, in the next 60 days or so. There is also a (theoretical) chance that Reality Shift from Academy Games might arrive but Uwe and Gunter making a delivery date is rare.

Books

While playing games I also am also committed to reading more. When possible, I like to mix a book with the Game of the Week but that’s not always possible as I have other books on the “To Read” pile. I finished up Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command by Kent Masterson Brown (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2021) and it will be the subject of this coming week’s “Rocky Reads for Wargame” column. I am pretty sure that 2034: A Novel of the Next War by Eliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis will likely be read in conjunction with Indian Ocean Region when it is up for Game of the Week.

Plastic Models

One of my favorite online sources for plastic models closed due to bankruptcy late in 2020. Thanks to a new owner, www. squadron.com is back. The reopening has not been the smoothest, but they are trying to work out the kinks. Given how few good plastic model retailers there are online I hope they make it!

Foodie Watch

The RockyMountainNavy family tried a new-to-us restaurant this week. The Capital Burger bills itself as purveyors of “luxe” burgers. They use a proprietary blend of beef to make their burgers; I never imagined it could make a difference—but it does. Their Kung Pao Brussel Sprouts are my new favorite and a great replacement for french fries. Oh yeah, it all pairs well with a good ale….

Roasted Wild Mushroom and Swiss Burger (Roasted Portobello Mushrooms, Jarlsberg Swiss, 15-year Aged Balsamic, Truffle Aioli)

Sunday Summary – How’d it get to be so busy? #wargame #boardgame @gmtgames @compassgamesllc @stuarttonge @Zmangames_ @Gamelyn_Games @Funforge

Wow…no entries on this blog since last Sunday. Tangible proof that the post-COVID recovery is in full swing. Where I live all the COVID mask restrictions were (finally) lifted yesterday by the state dictatorship. Well, except for schools because the dictatorship has already crippled their learning in the past year so why stop now? I guess in future years gamers will look back on the Year of COVID as “happy times” with plenty of gaming. On a personal level, I’ve been back to work full time for a couple of months now and it’s cutting into my gaming time!

Huzzah!

Wargames/Books

I finished reading Most Secret and Confidential: Intelligence in the Age of Nelson (Stephen Maffeo, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2014) and pulled 1805: Sea of Glory (Phil Fry, GMT Games, 2009) out for some comparisons. I’ve got John Gorkowski’s Indian Ocean Region – South China Sea: Vol. II (Compass Games, 2020) ready for a deeper dive now that I’ve finished reading Eliot Ackerman and Admiral Jame Stavridis’ 2034: A Novel of the Next World War (New York: Penguin Press, 2021).

This week was also my birthday. The family really knows what I like, hence the arrival of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics (GMT Games) and Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command (Kent Masterson Brown, Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2021). This all-but-ensures my Fourth of July Gettysburg Memorial Wargame will be Eric Lee Smith’s Battle Hymn Vol. 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games, 2018). Oh yes, and a new power drill to replace my old light duty one that wasn’t up to the demands of Mrs. RockyMountainNavy’s “Honey Do” list!

Boardgames

I worked on my first impressions piece of Stuart Tonge’s 2 Minutes to Midnight from his new Plague Island Games label (coming to Kickstarter next month). Spoiler Alert – It’s a big game that some might feel is unnecessary given the powerhouse Twilight Struggle (GMT Games, now in 8th printing) but it deserves a serious look as it builds a very compelling narrative in play.

I had an opportunity to pick up Space Empires 4x by Jim Krohn and GMT Games (2017 Third Edition). At the same time the seller had several smaller games he was looking to unload so a deal was struck. These are lighter games that I thought might be suitable for the family (or vacation travel) gaming table. Thus arrived:

I spent the past week looking through and learning each of the smaller games. Star Wars: Destiny will be turned over to the RockyMountainNavy boys as I know it’s not my thing but they are “modern” Star Wars fans so they can enjoy the characters. Samurai Spirit and Tiny Epic Defenders are actually quite similar cooperative tower defense-like games and either will make for a good family game night title—though I think the look of Samurai Spirit is more appealing. Tiny Epic Kingdoms will compete with Tiny Epic Galaxies (Gamelyn, 2015) which is already in the collection. Sylvion is actually more of a solo game and as such it will land on my table occasionally; if it has a drawback it’s because it’s more eurogame-like and therefore not my personally preferred gaming genre given it’s obvious preference for mechanism over theme (but the theme—what there is of it—is cute). Space Empires 4x is in the “wargame to play” pile…just behind Indian Ocean Region and Stalingrad ’42.

#Wargame Commentary – @littlewarstv asks “Is Historical Wargaming Dying Out?” Not in my house!

So the gentlemen at Little Wars TV seem to have stirred up a bit of controversy with their provocatively-titled episode “Is Historical Wargaming Dying Out?”

Little Wars TV

In a word – “No.”

OK, it all depends. First one is your definition of a wargame. A later Little Wars TV episode narrows their definition to “historical minatures wargames.” Using that definition the “tabletop hobby boardgame wargame” sector of the hobby is excluded. For me, I am a tabletop hobby boardgame wargamer first with very few miniatures. Coming at the problem from that perspective, I can confidently say that in my little corner of the world, and especially in the RockyMountainNavy house, “wargaming” is far from dying.

For myself, I am a huge wargamer first, boardgamer second, and roleplaying game player third. I am fortunate to be able to pass my love of gaming to the RockyMountainNavy Boys who play games with me. For the future of the hobby I rest my hopes on the youngest RMN Gamer who this year has taken to evangelizing games to his friends. I am also fortunate that Mrs. RMN believes in the power of games (although she is more boardgamer than wargamer-focused).

Further, I support the hobby through the purse – I am a large consumer of wargames. So far in 2020 I have purchased taken delivery of 53 hobby boardgaming related items, of which 23 are wargames and a further three (3) are wargame expansions. This compares to 2019 where I purchased 56 items, of which 21 were wargames, seven (7) were “waros” (hybrid wargames with strong Eurogame mechanics) and a further seven (7) expansions. I am doing my part to support the hobby by not only playing games, but by financing the industry.

(See my 2019 Wargame of the Year post here.)

The RockyMountainNavy Boys support the hobby through play. My middle boy, RockyMountainNavy T, is my usual 2-player wargame partner. The youngest RMN Gamer, now 16, started playing boardgames at age 4 and played his first “wargame” – Memoir ’44, around age 8. He actually has his own wargames – Wings of Glory (Ares Games, 2012) and Team Yankee: Hammerfall (Battlefront Miniatures, 2017).

Little Wars TV focused on historical miniature wargaming. As you can see from RMN Jr’s list, both are historical. According to BoardGameGeek I have 71 ‘miniatures’ games in my collection. Of those 71 games, 32 are historical or modern and 39 are science fiction/fantasy. Although there are more than a few good historical miniatures games, I will also say the science fiction/fantasy crowd is very good too. I see the schism in the miniatures wargames crowd between historical and sci-fi but feel it is unnecessary at best, and damaging to the hobby at worse.

To me, the two most important actions the hobby can take to keep it from ‘dying out’ is to 1) encourage ‘gateway’ or ‘foundation’ wargames and 2) control costs. Games like the Commands & Colors series, especially Memoir ’44 with a high ‘toy factor’ are both easy to learn and look good on the table yet are rich in decision space. As an added bonus, there are so many different Commands & Colors games that finding one that covers a period that appeals to potential gamers should be easy. In fact, there is even a space ship battles version!

The major drawback to wargaming is cost. Wargaming, and for that matter hobby boardgaming as a whole, are not inexpensive hobbies. Most of the wargames I bought (new) recently were in excess of $50 retail, and could reach into the low $100 range easily. That, of course, is for a single game – let’s not talk about buying expansions and the like. This cost can quickly make wargaming prohibitively expensive. For instance, RMN Jr. started out loving Wings of Glory and Team Yankee when he got their respective Starter Kits. He loved the potential – and bought a few more items. That was when he realized the price of the hobby. As a high school kid he does not have the financial wherewithal to afford the hobby. Sure, he often uses his ‘Amca’ (Short for Amma Card – or Mom’s card) and he is making his own money at work but still, miniatures wargaming takes lots of money.

Back to the original question: Is wargaming dying? No, but there are some structural challenges in the hobby that could make it difficult to remain strong into the future. On the plus side there are many potential ‘gateway’ games and, generally speaking, I think there are fewer barriers to entry as even the hardcore, SPI hex & counter grognards are more accepting of ‘alternative’ designs. That said, if the cost of the hobby continues the way it is going, then even if right games are published they may not be affordable to play. Indeed, if the cost of “pay to play” gets out of hand nothing else matters.


Feature image courtesy militarymortgagecenter.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.