I’m very glad to see this game as it has been on my Kickstarter/Preorder GeekList since it funded on Kickstarter in December 2020. Originally projected for delivery in May 2021, arrival in July 2022 leaves five games ordered earlier than Reality Shift that are yet to deliver. Sigh…
Flashpoint: South China Sea is a two-player strategy game that simulates the complex geopolitical contest currently taking place between the United States and China in a disputed region of the South China Sea. The game is driven by a card deck that captures developments ripped straight from today’s headlines, bolstered by cards with a context-setting reading of recent history, and a set of speculative cards capturing a diverse range of potential future events.
The Chinese player works to influence other countries in the region, establish territorial claims and regional hegemony, and improve its world standing. The U.S. player works to maintain influence with allied countries in the region, secure freedom of navigation, and keep China in check. Success for both players hinges on the support and allegiance of non-player countries in the region. The game stops short of dealing with a potential full-scale military conflict. Rather, it requires the nuanced exercise of political, economic, and military resources, in a form of prima facie diplomacy – on the waters, in the air, and ultimately in the minds of the people – to achieve victory.
GMT Games Ad Copy
If you are looking for a wargame that depicts a potential military conflict between the United States and the People’s Republic of China then you need Next War: Taiwan (Mitchell Land, GMT Games, 2014) or South China Sea (John Gorkowski, Compass Games, 2017). Flashpoint South China Sea stops short of military conflict. In military planning terms, this is the Competition Phase of an operations plan. In some ways Flashpoint South China Sea is the Political Phase in South China Sea. Hmm….
The other new arrival this week was a micro-expansion published by designer Dan Bullock for No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War (Compass Games, 2020). One comment I had about the original Compass Games publication was the very “red” look to the game; many of the original markers were “lost” in the color scheme on the board. This micro-expansion includes new markers that use a different color scheme that is easier to see on the board. It also includes eight (8) new Policy Cards for the West player to use in the Songun Era of play.
Both of these games will be landing on my office desk in the next few weeks (months) as “office-al” gaming. I especially am looking forward to Flashpoint as it is supposed to be playable in 30-60 minutes; i.e. lunchtime!
The BrahMos PJ-10 is credited with a speed of Mach 2.0-2.8 depending on cruise height. While the full-up domestic version has a range of 500 km (6 hexes in the wargame South China Sea), the version sold to the Philippines may be limited to 290 km (4 hexes in South China Sea) like a version designed for Vietnam in order to stay below the 300 km threshold of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).
With 2021 “in the books” I surveyed my outstanding preorders and Kickstarter list. At one point in 2021 this list reached maybe close to 30 titles; today it stands at 20. That’s not so much a testimony to late deliveries but more an accounting of how I cancelled out of more than a few.
GMT Games is the top publisher in the wargame space. Last year I “acquired” 14 GMT Games products, almost as many as the next three publishers combined. Every month Gene sends his GMT Update with the status of the business. The monthly newsletter often (always?) includes at least one—often more—new games for the P500. For a while there I jumped in on whatever caught my fancy. After all, it’s “pledge now, pay later” so it don’t matter, right?
One of the products I acquired this past year was Panzer Expansion #1: The Shape of Battle – The Eastern Front, 2nd Printing. I pledged for this product sometime back in 2017, meaning it took nearly 4 years to fulfill, and then only because somebody decided that the entire Panzer line deserved a reprint regardless of the P500 pledge numbers (which Expansion Nr. 1 never had enough of to “Make the Cut”).
When the reprinting was announced I looked hard at what I had on order and that was when I started making cuts. The entire issue forced me to reconsider my entire approach to P500, preorders, and Kickstarter.
I recently paid close attention to the December 2021 GMT Games P500 GeekList on BGG. What shocked me is how long so many games have been on the list. Like five (5) years in some cases! There is actually one expansion that has been listed for almost 10 YEARS. Hey look, I love that P500 helps gets game published but the timeline is getting ridiculous.
Now, before all the rabid GMT Games fanboys get uppity (Harold, I’m watching YOU!) I realize it is not always GMT’s fault. For example, designer Brian Train of China’ War, 1937-1941 admitted in his end-of-the-year roundup:
China’s War 1937-41: Development screeched to a halt when I lost my gaming space to renos in summer 2020. In the fall of 2021 I developed a 1938 scenario for the game. I recently heard from the GMT developer who also got sidetracked on things, and work will begin again in early 2022. We hope to finish testing and development by the end of summer. Over 1,500 pre-orders now.
Of my 20 games on P500/Preorder/Kickstarter eight (8) are P500. Two might deliver in early 2022 and maybe one or two more by year’s end but all seven? No chance…
China’s War, 1937-1941 – My P500 since October 2019. Made the Cut – In Art and Final Development
Next War Supplement #3 – My P500 since February 2020. Made the Cut – In Art and Final Development
Red Storm: Baltic Approaches – My P500 since April 2020. At the Printer
Red Dust Rebellion – My P500 since October 2020. Made the Cut – In Art and Final Development
Stuka Joe’s CDG Solo – My P500 since January 2021. At the Printer
Next War: Taiwan – My P500 since February 2021. Not There Yet
Panzer North Africa – My P500 since July 2021. Made the Cut – In Art and Final Development
Flashpoint: South China Sea – Had been on my P500 when first announced how many years ago? Put back on in Dec 2021 but if something needs to fall off this is the best candidate.
Now, I get the “desire” of GMT and the P500—Gene and company (and don’t forget, it is a COMPANY) are looking at where to invest their capital. My disappointment is that the P500 has become the “preorder fanboy cult” as many new games are quick to “make the cut” followed by no real commitment as to follow-on timelines.
I presently have five (5) games on preorder all with Compass Games. Four of the five supposedly have a chance at releasing in 2022:
Blue Water Navy: World War III – The Pacific. Since September 2020. Now “late 2022”
Carrier Battles: Philippine Sea – Since September 2020. Now “mid -2022”
Eastern Front: Operational Battles – Since February 2021. No date scheduled
2040: American Insurgency – Since February 2021. Now “late 2022”
Air & Armor: Operational Armored Warfare in Europe – Designer’s Signature Edition – Since February 2021. Now “late 2022”
Like GMT’s P500, Compass Games use preorders to measure interest. I (stupidly) hit the wrong button on a few and preordered—not pre-pledged—which means my money is paid. Now Compass has my money and I wait for my “interest” to be paid back in the form a game. Maybe Compass is better off going the Kickstarter route and taking my money just before production. Speaking for myself I certainly feel my money is being used better that way.
There appears to be some major churn over just what Kickstarter’s NFT-related announcement really means. I can’t tell you because I can’t make sense out of it. The best explanations I have heard talk about a using blockchain not for monetary transactions but as some sort of new IT backbone. Practically speaking, I already feel I have too much Kickstarter exposure and am reluctant to back new projects. Exceptions will likely be with known publishers that use Kickstarter as their preorder mechanism (like Worthington Games and increasingly more Compass Games).
Reality Shift (Academy Games) – Funded December 2020 with a projected May 2021 delivery. Maybe mid-February 2022 according to Nov 2021 update…
Root: The Marauder Expansion + Root: The Clockwork Expansion 2 (Leder Games)- Funded March 2021 with a projected January 2022 delivery. Per December 2021 update – “Right now there are a number of scenarios with delivery dates ranging from late Q1 to mid Q2. We won’t have more specific guesses for at least another month.”
AuZtralia: TaZmania + AuZtralia: Revenge of the Old Ones (SchilMil Games) – Funded April 2021 with a projected November 2021 delivery. Per December 2021 update – “Shipments have not yet been booked/confirmed, so I am waiting to hear an expected ETA for port arrivals”.
2 Minutes to Midnight (Plague Island Games) – Funded July 2021 with a projected December 2021 delivery. Per December 2021 update – “Currently the game is in the production queue.”
Imperial Campaigns Series 1: The Boer War (Canvas Temple Publishing) – Funded September 2021 with a projected August 2022 delivery. Per November 2021 update Jon Compton has urgent family issues he must handle and will return to production as soon as possible.
That last update is important; family first. Yes, I want my game and, yes, it can’t get here soon enough but, yes, FAMILY FIRST.
As regular readers likely know, I am, always have been, and will very likely forever be a Grognard. My first real “game” was a wargame—Jim Day’s Panzer from Yaquinto Publishing—found under the Christmas tree in 1979. Over forty years later I still play wargames.
That said, I took in six titles this year that were published in 2021 and thus are candidates for my 2021 Wargame of the Year:
Atlantic Chase (Jeremy White, GMT Games) – Atlantic Chase is a very different wargame—in some ways too different for me. As much as I am a naval wargamer (look at my nickname!) this one didn’t click with me. At heart it’s a game of trajectories and time much more than locations. There are many out there who sing praises to the rule book but I found the 10-episode tutorial a bit much. (Status Update – SOLD!)
North Africa: Afrika Korps vs Desert Rats, 1940-42 (Multi-Man Publishing) – Released late in the year, this one barely makes the list. I’ve yet to explore this title too deeply but the Standard Combat Series version of the very popular Operational Combat Series (OCS) DAK looks to be yet another “playable monster” game.
…and the winner is…
…Empire at Sunrise.
Empire at Sunrise was released so early in the year it’s easy to forget. Also, not coming from from the larger GMT Games but tiny Hollandspiele it tends to get drowned out in the marketing and social media “talk.” Empire deserves attention because that telescopic scale takes what could be three separate games and relates them to one another to make a coherent story. It’s an interesting game design on an under-appreciated historical topic. While Hollandspiele may not deliver the production quality of a larger publisher, the games are perfectly functional and do what they are supposed to do; enable gaming, exploration, and learning.
As my 2021 “By the Numbers” show, I really backed off on acquiring boardgames this year. While my overall acquisition rate was down 13% (and down nearly 52% for boardgames) compared to 2020, it would be worst if I did not do a trade for a collection of smaller games. That said, of the 18 core or standalone boardgames I acquired in 2021, only 4 were newly published in the year. Thus, my candidates for 2021 Boardgame of the Year are:
Well, I guess you can call 2021 the “Year of Dan Bullock” or the “Year of The Dietz Foundation” because both are in two of the four games eligible.
Dan Bullock amazed me this year with his “Axis of Evil” series. Well, that’s what I call his games on Iran and North Korea. Associating his games with the “Axis of Evil” meme is actually a bit of a disservice to his outstanding designs. No Motherland Without pits the North Korean player trying to build infrastructure and improve the North’s standard of living against a West that is trying to hinder that progress and bring about the Kim Dynasty’s collapse. 1979: Revolution in Iran actually covers Iranian history post-World War II and pits politicians against oil. Both are deep political games, but done in a way that avoids being in-your-face regarding a certain position.
Jim Dietz at The Dietz Foundation is the only non-profit boardgame publisher I know of. He has a mission of delivering games for learning. 1979 is highly educational and Supercharged is a great family game that encourages gamers of all ages coming together for easy fun with just a touch of history thrown in.
All of which makes the my choice for my 2021 Boardgame of the Year quite difficult. So here goes…
…and the winner is…
I can’t decide!
For a FAMILY game, both Kingdomino: Origins and Supercharged are awesome. For a STRATEGY game I like both No Motherland Without and 1979 (though I have to give No Motherland Without a slight edge given the solo module).
Oh, boy…must pick one…[Squints eyes]…
Visually, Supercharged is nothing special. Mechanically, it’s quite simple—just keep flipping cards. The history is there but a bit thin. Most importantly, the RockyMountainNavy Boys whole-heartedly embraced the game. Since it plays in about an hour, it is an easy after-dinner filler game to follow chores. They love playing using the financial scoring; while one expects an A-class team to win the top positions, the middle finishers become the real contest, especially if your C-class team (the slowest) can drive smart (lucky?) and finish in the top 6.
Supercharged is so easy to learn and play it can be a gateway game. Youngest RMN Boy already asked for a second copy to take to college. Then there is the non-profit Dietz Foundation reminding you that games exist for fun and learning. At the end of the day the game is a winner because everything comes together to make an excellent family game.
Notable Not Mentioned
While I limited my 2021 Boardgame of the Year to games published in 2021, there were two other “new to me” games this year that, though published outside the eligibility window, deserve to be talked about.
The week was a bit slow in Casa RockyMountainNavy. This is the first holiday we celebrated in our “new” nuclear family configuration since Eldest RMN Boy is in Tech School for the U.S. Air Farce. It also follows three months with the Mother-in-Law in town and a simultaneous major health challenge for Mrs. RMN (not COVID…but while the vaccine might of protected it appears it brought on other health issues). So we have much to be thankful for. For my part, much of the Christmas shopping is also complete, at least as the major presents for each RMN Boy and especially Mrs. RMN go.
Huzzah Hobbies, my FLGS, had a 50% off sale this weekend. I didn’t make it up there but the RMN Boys did and sent me a photo of the shelves and asked for suggestions. We’ll see if anything shows up under the tree this Christmas.
Recently, I tested the tolerance of my bosses and took my copy of No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War by designer Dan Bullock from Compass Games to the office. My job is tangentially related to the game topic, so I figured I could come up with a good cover story to explain why I had it laid out on my desk. During the week I played the solitaire scenario during my lunch times. By the end of the week the game was finished and I had rediscovered the interesting insights No Motherland Without delivers while also showing my office the power of “serious gaming.”
No Motherland Without…another player
While No Motherland Without is technically a two-player game with one side playing North Korea and the other the West, designer Dan Bullock also includes a solitaire scenario. Here, the player plays the North Korean regime and the “solo bot” plays the West. Technically, I’m not sure you can actually call it a “bot” as the solitaire scenario rules lay out some exceptions and a decision flowchart for how to execute the West card play. Fortunately, the rules changes for the solitaire version are not too numerous and are both easy to learn and implement. All told my play of a complete 7-turn solitaire game took about two hours of lunch times.
The solitaire decision flowchart in No Motherland Without very clearly focuses the West on three priorities; place Outages to hinder infrastructure building, placement and movement of Defector Routes and Defectors, and Investment of Action Points for future use. It is a good guide to strategy for West players.
In my solo game of No Motherland Without the single most important event was not a Missile Test (though there were two—both successful) but the event “Thailand Tightens Its Borders.” This card is an Enduring Event meaning it goes on the three-card track and stays in play until three other Enduring Events are played and it gets “pushed” into the discard pile. The game effect is the removal the Defector Routes in Thailand and a prohibition for the West to use Activities to rebuild the route. This forces defectors to use the route through Mongolia which, although shorter than the Thailand route, has a 2-in-3 chance of the defector dying in the desert. In my game “Thailand Tightens Its Borders” came out early in the fifth turn and didn’t get pushed off the Enduring Events track until the last turn. This meant all defector attempts in turns 5-7 had to use the risky Mongolia route (in the last turn by rule all defectors must use the Mongolia route). By the end of the game a majority of the Final Turn (Kim Jong Un-era) generation was dead. Although the West had supported many defectors, through the Enduring Event card North Korea was able to gain favorable treatment from Thailand and it was enough to stem the flow of defectors—and the accumulation of Victory Points–to ensure a North Korean victory even without a final successful Missile Test to raise Prestige.
If one had any thoughts that No Motherland Without may provide some background as to why Korea has been an intractable problem for as long as it has this game offers no real policy insight. That said, No Motherland Without sets itself apart by showing the interrelation of many historical events from a very human perspective as the plight of defectors is prominently showcased. It’s an important perspective, just not very mainstream.
After my recent solo play of No Motherland Without I reconsidered my statement. The core conflict of the game, North Korea building infrastructure versus the West supporting defectors, is a policy statement. While North Korea gets plenty of worldwide attention for its missile and nuclear programs, it still must build a society for its people. On the other side, though support for defectors is usually the realm of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) rather than governments, it still can be a government policy (like is was in South Korea for a long time). This last year-plus of COVID, with it’s closed borders, has limited the flow of defectors. At the same time, North Korea, like many other countries, is trying to build better infrastructure for its populace (look at all the apartment building projects). Although they seemingly are disconnected now, once borders reopen we will see how “happy” the North Korean people are if Kim Jong Un can complete all those buildings, or if they will become his 21st century Ryugyong Hotel that sat unfinished for decades.
During the week my play of No Motherland Without got some attention in the office. At one end of the response spectrum, and by far the largest in number, were those who scoffed at somebody “playing a game” at the office. I responded to these folks by pointing out the history lessons in the game and the interesting perspective of the designer. Generally they seemed to accept my points, but often visibly remained doubtful. This group was also the ones to most often try to compare No Motherland Without to Risk or Monopoly(sigh).
A second smaller group of coworkers was able to look past the “game” of No Motherland Without and see the learning value. Some of these folks would casually flip through the cards and then look at the historical notes. While they learned, several were quick to point out that the randomness of the cards meant events could occur out of historical order, thereby making the game “incorrect.” To that criticism I responded by pointing out it was not the specific events but the situation in many cases that the cards capture, and while the events may happen “out of order” they still capture the essence of the flow of history vice a specific timeline. This group had a few gamers amongst its members, but it quickly became apparent that their preferred gaming was online and not very complex; indeed, more than one marveled at the “obvious” complexity of No Motherland Without.
One last, very small, group of my coworkers understood what No Motherland Without was trying to communicate. For one of them, when I explained the core conflict of infrastructure versus defectors you could see the “eureka” moment as they blinked and said, “Of course!.” With these few I had very serious conversations as to how an Event Card could be played or how the different Activities paid for in Action Points could be spent. One coworker wanted to take the game to their office to play and show their coworkers the insights from the game. Another who is well connected to several NGOs and the North Korean defector community really was interested in the game, although they pointed out that the ability to only play North Korea in the solo game may be “upsetting” to some. This small group was able to see the “serious gaming” potential of No Motherland Without as the designer’s core message is shown through game play.
Next – A Revolutionary Game…of waiting
Overall, I feel my “office-al” gaming was a success. I was planning to take designer Dan Bullock’s latest game, 1979: Revolution in Iran (The Dietz Foundation, 2021), into the office next and play that one. Belatedly I realized it does not have a solo mode! During the Kickstarter campaign Dan was asked about a solo module stretch goal to which he responded:
No Motherland Without features a solitaire scenario in addition to the two-player game. The solitaire scenario only allows you to play the role of the DPRK, but the West opponent is easy to control and challenging. Unfortunately, the event card draft makes 1979 difficult to adapt a solo bot. I tested a short solo scenario leading up to the Islamic Revolution, but ultimately scrapped it because it didn’t feel robust enough.
So, Dan, do y’all think you could share that scenario and let us see how it works? Maybe somebody out there can make it work better, or develop something else that does. Please? I need another title to play during lunch in the office…
The opinions and views expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and are presented in a personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of any government or private agency or employer.
New Arrival – Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons by Jon Peterson (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2021). This is definitely a hobby business history and NOT a history of D&D as a game. So all you Edition Wars fighters out there looking for Jon’s vote need to look elsewhere. I wish Jon would do the history of Marc Miller and Traveller someday. I know, not as dramatic but nonetheless of intense interest to a Traveller RPG fan like me.
It took a few extra days but my hardcopy of the Compass Games catalog arrived. Several games are given “provisional” (my term) delivery dates which, alas, all are in 2022 (one actually doesn’t have even a provisional date—which is kinda worrisome). We’ll see how that works out! Now to mark the catalog up with already have, on order, and like to haves.
74 major Titles in catalog
6x Titles of Interest (3 available now)
I really need to be careful and not get too carried away with ordering from Compass right away. I already owe Mrs. RMN (aka “Family Accountant”) an explanation of why GMT Games and Canvas Temple Publishing are charging within days of each other. I also won a local auction for Sekigahara (GMT Games, 2011) that I’m picking up this weekend—only a week after Tapestry (Stonemaier Games, 2019) arrived…
I am hoping that GMT Games finds a way to get the four titles that are at “At the Printer- No Ship Date Yet” moving. The latest update from Gene tells me that Tank Duel Expansion 1: North Africa is in a container somewhere between China and California and will be charging early October. Hopefully this means that backlog will work off over the next few months. I look forward to a regular GMT P500 delivery schedule.
I might also be better informed if I watched the Compass Games Live / Town Hall on YouTube every week but it goes live at an inconvenient time for me to easily catch it. I have five titles on preorder form Compass and, as best I can tell, none are scheduled for delivery through the end of this year (deep sigh).
My lone Multi-Man Publishing title on preorder shows that the preorder goal was passed. I guess that means it is moving forward in production, but when that is remains a mystery to me.
The big boardgame industry news this week is that Asmodee is looking for a buyer...and they want 2 BILLION Euros. This past year+ of COVID certainly has seen the boardgame industry do well, but with the current raw material shortages and shipping challenges is it truly sustainable at those high levels? I almost feel like the VC group that owns Asmodee is trying to take their money and run. Remember, one of the oldest adages in business is“Buyer beware.”
Foundation and Role Playing Games
I rarely watch TV these days, but I did indulge in the first two episodes of Apple TV’s new series, Foundation:
I thought about rereading the books before the series started but I am glad I didn’t as I am looking at the series with (sorta) fresh eyes and just taking it in. I am especially enthralled with the world-building. I read articles about how the producers were trying to establish a look for the series that is neither Star Wars or Star Trek (Warning: Minor spoilers at the link). If I was put on the spot, I would say that there are many elements of Marc Miller’s Third Imperium setting for the Traveller roleplaying game. Or maybe it’s better to say there are many classic space opera elements in the Third Imperium and Foundation is just catching up. I have to admit I also enjoy watching the series with the RockyMountainNavy Boys who have not read the books (I know, Bad Dad!). They are taking it in without any preconceived notions. So far they like it, which is high praise from the hardcore Stars Wars fans they are.
From Foundation to Blade Runner
What’s this? Hot on the heels of ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game, Free League has announced publication of Bladerunner: The Roleplaying Game in 2022.
The core game and its line of expansions will push the boundaries of investigative gameplay in tabletop RPGs, giving players a range of tools to solve an array of cases far beyond retiring Replicants. Beyond the core casework, the RPG will both in setting and mechanics showcase key themes of Blade Runner – sci-fi action, corporate intrigue, existential character drama, and moral conflict – that challenge players to question your friends, empathize with your enemies, and explore the poisons and perseverance of hope and humanity during such inhumane times.
Bladerunner: The Roleplaying Game, The Game
Investigative RPG’s are an interesting subgenre of roleplaying games. Some game systems, like Gumshoe from Pelgrane Press, are designed from the ground up for investigations. Other systems rely on a form of “social combat” game mechanism to handle player vs. PC interactions. Indeed, The Expanse Roleplaying Game (Green Ronin, 2019) has a separate mode of play called Social Encounters that covers investigations. It will be interesting to see how Free League adapts the Year Zero Engine to handle Bladerunner-style investigations.
Although I didn’t totally enjoy ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game I am nonetheless happy to see Free League lean into the 1980’s sci-fi IPs and turn them into RPGs. Philip K. Dick’s short story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” was the basis for the movie Bladerunner and is a very deep story. I hope the game does real justice to the IP.