RockyMountainNavy’s influential #boardgame from the 2010’s

I want to thank all of you who took the time to make my post RockyMountainNavy’s influential #wargame from the 2010’s my most-read article this year. Sensing a good thing and wanting to keep try and keep the bandwagon going, I now will regal you with my fifteen most influential boardgames that I own or played that were published between 2010 and 2019.

Sorta.

Late Start

Like I said in my wargames of influence post, I ‘rediscovered’ the hobby boardgame industry in late 2016. Sure, I had some hobby boardgames, but I had not seriously tried to get the family into gaming. In late 2016 we started playing more games and by late 2017 we had instituted a Family Game Night on Saturdays.

As a grognard wargamer, moving from wargames to boardgames was a bit jarring. I mean, you often times play with more than one opponent? Although they were not new to me, I really came to understand the Ameritrash vs Eurogamer battle and started looking at games from both a thematic and mechanical perspective. Along the way, I never gave up on wargaming and introduced the RockyMountainNavy Boys to the wargame niche. The challenge was finding good multiplayer wargames that could be played in an evening.

Here comes the Waro

I needn’t have worried, for in late 2017 a new ‘genre’ of boardgames was starting to be talked about. Here came the waro, or wargame-Eurogame. There is no single definition of what a waro is, but to me it is a wargame that incorporates elements, be it mechanical or component-wise, of Eurogames. In 2019 Brian Train used the term, “militarized Eurogame” which I find both very simple and highly descriptive. So the list you are about to see has more than a few waro games on it. That is because as a wargamer these titles often speak to me and have brought gaming joy tot he RockyMountainNavy household.

Unlike my previous list which was presented in order of year of publication, this one will be a vain attempt by me to rank them. Please don’t ask me to define my criteria; this is really a ‘gut feel’ of how I rank these games. Like before, the list is light on pre-2016 games because it was then that I turned hard into the hobby. I am sure some real gems from earlier in the decade deserve to be here; I either don’t own them or simply missed them as I took in the later-half of the decade.

My 15 Influential Boardgames of the 2010’s

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

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Courtesy Academy Games

The ‘dungeon crawl’ is a very popular boardgame format. In the RockyMountainNavy house we tend to stay away from fantasy but the RMN Boys are Star Wars fans so we own and played Star Wars: Imperial Assault after it came out. I recognize that the game is very popular (currently #37 overall on BoardGameGeek) but as big fans as the Boys were the game never really clicked. Indeed, the entire dungeon crawl gaming genre (as well as man-to-man scale skirmish games in general) seemed kinda lost on the Boys and myself. That is, until I played Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon.

 

Maybe its the 3D terrain. Maybe its the fact I am not familiar with the setting and therefore more open minded. Maybe I am more accepting of modern superpowers vice always fighting Star Wars ‘canon.’ Whatever the reason, I really enjoy the game. I really like the character and unit tableaus and how they enable handling them in a very easy manner. There is no need to lookup a table or chart; its’ all really in front of you.

Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon makes my influential list because it shows me how a skirmish / dungeon crawl-like game can be made fast, fun and furious (to steal another RPGs tagline).

14. AuZtralia – Stronghold Games, 2018

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Courtesy Stronghold Games

According to BGG and Stronghold Games, AuZtralia is an “adventure/exploration game.” To me, I think they forgot “wargame.” To me, AuZtralia is a waro but in a slightly different sense of the word. In the first part of the game, AuZtralia is a Eurogame of building railroads and seeking resources. At some point, however, it switches over to a wargame where your armed forces (supported by certain individuals) are fighting the Old Ones. I like this schizophrenic design approach. It is certainly one way to approach a waro; in this case one I really enjoy.

 

AuZtralia is influential because it shows the very direct marriage of a Eurogame and wargame. 

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

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Courtesy GMT Games

I think Cataclysm has an identity crisis. Thematically, the game covers the Second World War periods. Published by GMT Games, it just must be a wargame since that is what GMT publishes, right? To all of you I say, wrong! To me Cataclysm is not a wargame of military conflict, but a game of politics where military action is one possible tool in your kit. Yes, I declare that Cataclysm is a political game. Like the ad copy says, “This is not your father’s panzer pusher.”

 

Cataclysm is influential because it forced me to stretch my definition of wargame and give serious consideration to the politics of conflict, not just the military confrontation.

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

zgLVeSk8Tn+CXkchMq7sMwThe RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself are not really into cooperative games. That said, we always have fun playing the original Pandemic and have used it to introduce hobby boardgaming to others. That said, we are not huge fans so have not sought out other Pandemic titles. That is, until Pandemic: Fall of Rome came out. At first I bought the game because I had dreams of enticing the oldest RMN Boy (the non-tabletop gamer) to play because he loves ancients. That didn’t work, but I discovered a new Pandemic, one that included ‘battles.’ Like AuZtralia, I categorize Pandemic: Fall of Rome as a waro because it very successfully mixes both Eurogame and wargame.

Pandemic: Fall of Rome is influential because it demonstrates the power of mixing a very cooperative ‘stop the spread’ Eurogame with key wargame (battle) mechanics.

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

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Courtesy GMT Games

As I really discovered hobby boardgaming (and wargaming for that matter) in late 2016 I heard about this thing called the COIN-series. At first I was not interested because professionally I tend to pay more attention to rogue nations and peer competitors and never really got into the counterterrorism or counterinsurgency areas. At the same time I also had moved to the East Coast of the US and was studying more Revolutionary history. I passed on COIN until I saw GMT Games getting ready for a second reprint of Liberty or Death. The approach of the game was intriguing; framing the American Revolution as an insurgency? I bought it and was confused at first. This is a complex game! But I persevered and eventually, after several plays, it started to click.

 

Liberty or Death is influential because this game showed me that games can be used to teach and explore very serious political topics.

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

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Courtesy Mighty Boards

Brian Train, co-designer of Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest, writes in the designer’s notes how this title is a “militarized Eurogame.” I adit I bought this game at first because it is a Brian Train design and I like how he sheds light on smaller or less known conflicts in history. The topic of Nights of Fire is very niche, the Soviet invasion of Budapest in 1956. Nights of Fire, however, uses a very Eurogame-approach to model this battle with cards and area control and blocks and tokens. This is really a card game with hand/action management and block wargame put together. I also respect the designers that were able to make the same game play competitive, cooperative, or solo.

 

Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest is influential because I consider it the best example of the ‘bleeding edge’ of waro design.

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

 

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Courtesy Leder Games

Root is a wargame, right? Look at BoardGameGeek where as I write this it is the 19th-ranked wargame (as well as the #33 Strategy Game and #39 overall). With all the battling in the game it must be a wargame, right? As much as I want to agree, I see two games here, but neither of them are truly a wargame. On the mechanical level, I am in awe of the design of Root that incorporates so many different game mechanisms into a well integrated package. Every faction plays differently, be it set collection or action-selection or hand management. I am totally amazed that Cole Wehrle makes this all work together. But none of those mechanisms are ‘wargame.’

 

IMG_0084On the second level, I see Root as a political game. Each faction has a different way to victory and battling is just one lever of power a faction can wield. Once again, you can play Root as a ‘wargame’ but, like Cataclysm before, this is really a political battle where fighting is a tool that can be chosen.

Root is influential because it shows me how one integrates many different game engines into a political game that is vicious despite the cute and fuzzy animals. Truly a wild kingdom!

8. Queendomino – Blue Orange Games, 2017

 

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games

Spoiler Alert – you’re going to see Kingdomino a bit later in this list. As much as we like that game, the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself also really enjoy Queendomino. That is because we view Queendomino as the ‘gamers version’ of Kingdomino. We really enjoy how the designers took the simplicity of Kingdomino and added jus the right amount of new mechanisms to make the game vastly more interesting yet still simple to play.

 

Influential because Queendomino demonstrates how to take a great simple game, add a bit of complexity, but still keep it easy and fun to to play.

7. Quarriors! – WizKids, 2011

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Courtesy WizKids

Finally, you say! A game from before 2016! I think I actually bought this game in 2011 from Petrie’s Family Games when I lived in Colorado Springs. I seem to remember the owner, Cameron, giving me a strong recommendation and, seeking a game to play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys, I purchased it. Then life got in the way and I moved to the East Coast for a job while the RMN Family stayed in Colorado. It was not until 2013 that we were all back together again, but then I was concerned that all the reading on the cards and how to put a strategy together would be too much for my middle boy who is on the Autism Spectrum. As a result, we really didn’t get this game to the table until 2017.

Suffice it to say I was stupid. The RMN Boys can handle this game quite well. They love it so much they both put their own money forth to buy expansions.

Quarriors! is influential because it is one of the most-played games in the RockyMountainNavy collection and often used by the Boys to beat up on old Dad because they are much faster at building synergistic dice pools than I am.

6. Rhino Hero – HABA, 2016

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Courtesy HABA

A yellow- box game from HABA is for kids only, right? Sure, the box says for ages 5-99 but we all just know its really a kids game. WRONG! I cannot even start to count all the hours (and I mean hours) of fun play this game has occupied int he RockyMountainNavy house. Not only hours of fun for the RMN Family, but Rhino Hero is a title we use to introduce others to hobby gaming.

Rhino Hero is influential because it has opened the eyes of many non-gamer friends to a different type of family game and shown them good family fun.

5. Kingdomino – Blue Orange Games, 2017

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games

When I pulled Kingdomino out the first time the RockyMountainNavy Boys were dubious. After all, how hard could it be to place dominos on a 5×5 grid? Years later this game is often the go-to when we need a quick filler game before dinner. Or when we want to introduce somebody to gaming. It is very easy to teach. I also enjoy watching a new player as they play their first game; you can literally see the lightbulb go on in their head as they realize what they can do when selecting a tile. You can see their eyes dart between the tiles and their kingdom, and eventually the other players, as the strategy develops in their head.

Kingdomino is influential because not only do we enjoy every play, it is our gateway game of choice to introduce others to hobby boardgaming.

4. Terraforming Mars – Stronghold Games, 2016

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Courtesy Stronghold Games

Somewhere I think I heard that Terraforming Mars was a good science lesson. Wanting to encourage the youngest RMN Boy to pursue the sciences I purchased this game. At first I was doubtful as the sheer number of cards seemed overwhelming. I also was concerned (again) whether my middle boy could handle all the reading and assemble a strategy. Well, the youngest was taken by the game (“See Mom, it teaches me!”) while the middle boy caught on (maybe faster than I did). Once we added the Prelude expansion that jump-starts your Corporations we find ourselves playing this game even more often than we did before. Now our neighbors have the game, making a inter-family game night a real possibility.

Terraforming Mars is influential because it showed that we all can enjoy a good middle-weight Eurogame and are not limited to simpler titles or wargames.

3. 1775: Rebellion – Academy Games, 2013

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Courtesy Academy Games

(Yes, another pre-2016 title!) Alas, I did not discover this game until I had a conversation with Uwe Eickert of Academy Games at the wargaming conference CONNECTIONS 2017. While discussing his excellent Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear second edition (Academy Games, 2012) I mentioned I was always looking for a good family wargame. Uwe immediately sold me on his Birth of America series so we soon had 1775: Rebellion on the table. We now own the entire Birth of America and Birth of Europe series and we will surely buy any new game in the future.

1775: Rebellion is influential because showed us that a lite family strategy/wargame does not have to be Risk; indeed, there is much better out there that not only is fun to play but also teaches good history.

2. Enemies of Rome – Worthington Publishing, 2017

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Courtesy Worthington Publishing

The lite family strategy/wargames of the Birth of America series (Academy Games) were such a big hit in the RockyMountainNavy house I went looking for more. Given the oldest RMN Boy’s interest in Ancients I chose Enemies of Rome as a good candidate game. Little did I realize how much the other Boys (especially the youngest) would be taken with the game. Enemies of Rome is one of the most-played games in the RMN collection and there is no sign the Boys are going to lose interest. Heck, even I will probably not lose interest because every play has been different. Just last week, I started out in Syria and halted my expansion across Africa because I was sure that card that brings hoards of ‘Enemies of Rome’ out across North Africa was going to come out next. It never did because it was one of the cards removed at setup. But I was so sure it was going to come I I followed a strategy that defended against a non-existent threat. Now the RMN Boys are looking to use this game for the Neighborhood Gaming Gang since it plays up to five.

Enemies of Rome is influential because it is our most-played lite family strategy/wargame that is simple to learn yet offers deep play time and time again.

1. Scythe – Stonemaier Games, 2016

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Courtesy Stonemaier Games

Another recommendation from Uwe Eickert at CONNECTIONS 2017. I had never played a Eurogame of this sort before and my first reading of the rules were daunting. I played it solo a few times then tried to teach it to the RMN Boys.

We all fell in love with it.

First it was the art. Jakub Rozalski is incredible.

Second is the game mechanics. Middle-Heavy Eurogames are not in our usual wheelhouse. Scythe was so different than anything we played before. But the asymmetric powers of the factions and economies makes no two games alike. The expansions are clean and add good flavor; the campaign is an incredible journey.

Scythe is influential because it opened our eyes to a whole new type of boardgame and it keeps us coming back with innovative expansions and endless replayability. I think we will still be playing this game in 20 years.


Feature image from teedep.com

Commanding more in Less Than 60 Miles (trlgames.com, 2019) – or – the #OODA #wargame

The goal is to collapse an adversary’s system into confusion and disorder causing him to over and under react to an activity that appears simultaneously menacing as well as ambiguous, chaotic, or misleading.

John R. Boyd, “Patterns of Conflict

When I was CONNECTIONS 2019 I stopped by a table sponsored by the Army Command & General Staff College. Amongst the games present was Less Than 60 Miles: C3 Module 1 – Fulda Gap (Thin Red Line Games, 2019) designed by Fabrizio Vianello (BGG member Hanbarca) and published in Trezzano, Italy. The ACGSC folks were gushing about the game, throwing terms like “realistic” and insightful” about freely. I recently acquired the game via trade and dug into it the past two weeks. I am now ready to declare that Less Than 60 Miles may be one of the best “professional wargames” in my collection.

A “professional wargame?”

First off, what exactly do I mean when I say “professional wargaming?” In my working life I dabble in defense wargaming. This is why I try to attend the CONNECTIONS wargaming conference every year. I also recall Jim Dunnigan’s description of a wargame found in his Wargames Handbook:

A wargame is an attempt to get a jump on the future by obtaining a better understanding of the past. A wargame is a combination of ‘game,’ history and science. It is a paper time-machine. (Wargames Handbook, Third Edition, 1)

Dunnigan goes on to state:

The object of any wargame (historical or otherwise) is to enable the player to recreate a specific event and, more importantly, to be able to explore what might have been if the player decides to do things differently.

To be a wargame, in our sense of the word, the game must be realistic. And in some cases, they are extremely realistic, realistic to the point where some wargames are actually used for professional purposes (primarily the military, but also business and teaching). (Wargames Handbook, 3e, 1)

In many cases, realism in professional wargaming is a double-edged sword. Realism can often lead to an unplayable design. A perennial question at CONNECTIONS is “how realistic should my wargame be?” Philip Sabin, in his book Simulating War, describes this as accuracy vs. simplicity:

Perhaps the most pervasive trade-off affecting all human attempts to understand the worlds in which we live is that between accurately capturing the almost infinite complexities of reality and keeping our models simple enough to be grasped by ordinary minds and used as a practical guide for action. (Simulating War, 2)

Sabin continues:

Wargames are particularly severely affected by this trade-off between accuracy and simplicity, for two principle reasons. First…wargames have the virtue of combining most other modelling approaches into one, the downside of this eclecticism is that the complexity of each component approach is even further constrained if the overall complexity of the entire wargame model is not to exceed tolerable limits. Second, whereas some modelling techniques need only be understood properly by experts, with their conclusions being at least to some extent ‘taken on trust’ by lesser mortals, wargames are by their very nature participatory devices in which users need to have a certain understanding of the mechanics in order to benefit from the model at all. (Simulating War, 2)

A recent RAND study titled Next-Generation Wargaming for the U.S. Marine Corps points out how commercial wargames are addressing the accuracy vs. simplicity problem:

Closely related to this trend is a focus on increasing the playability of games while maintaining high levels of detail and dynamic gameplay. In the past, one of the key dilemmas of manual-style games was the inverse relationship between complexity and playability. As the level of detail increases in a game, rules typically grow increasingly complex, ultimately reducing playability. Many games from the “golden age” of the 1970s hobby gaming required hours merely to read the rules–a trend taken to parody in Campaign for North Africa (1979). Such games were highly accurate, but required players to learn complicated rules that included many exceptions. These were difficult to track even for experienced players. In response, designers began to experiment with different presentations of game rules to make play more intuitive….Commercial developers argue this will help manual games achieve higher levels of complexity while simultaneously enhancing playability. (Next-Generation Wargaming for the U.S. Marine Corps, 23-24)

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Found at CONNECTIONS 2019

OODA in a Wargame

The Less Than 60 Miles (LT60M) model is a different  look at the (potential) European battlefields of the 1980’s. Instead of focusing on the equipment (like so many wargames often do) the rules present a look at the battlefield through the lens of John Boyd, retired US Air Force officer and the father of the OODA LoopHere is how LT60M first describes itself:

Less Than 60 Miles is a Regiment / Battalion simulation of a hypothetical conflict between North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Warsaw Pact (WP) in 1985. The map covers the central part of West and East Germany, including the whole US V Corps Area of Responsibility and its surrounding areas. Players take the role of US V Corps Commander for NATO, and Soviet Central Front Commander for Warsaw Pact. (Rules of Play, 1. Introduction)

After this very vanilla overview, the differences are then called out:

Rules are centered on the problems of Command, Control & Communications (C3), and will force the players to fight against three equally dangerous foes: the enemy, their own plans and time.

Players will find that even simple actions could be quite challenging and need to be planned and correctly executed. Players will also find that their own troops may move and act quickly while following the initial plan, but reacting to contingencies or unexpected events could be painfully slow and might seal the fate of the entire campaign if poorly managed.

Another key element, not explicitly in the rules but interconnecting them, is the OODA cycle (Observe-Orient-Decide, Act) theorized by John Boyd in “Patterns of Conflict” and used as basis for the “AirLand Battle” doctrine adopted by US Armed Forces during the last years of the Cold War.

In the end, being able to get “inside” the enemy’s OODA cycle, short-circuiting the opponent’s thinking processes, will produce opportunities for the opponents to react inappropriately.

In the Designer’s Notes to LT60M, Mr. Vianello expands on his approach:

As probably any other Grognard, I’ve been reading a devastating number of books about military campaigns and operations.

In almost all of them, I’ve found descriptions of apparently simple plans turning into a disaster due to poor planning, wrong orders or bad execution. Even when planning, orders and execution goes smooth as silk, the plan is sometimes outmaneuvered or outsmarted by the enemy.

….

In most operational and strategic wargames, replicating this kind of events is very difficult. Players have almost complete control, and units react instantly to new directives. During years, several solutions have been developed (random events, variable initiative, command points and similar), but the basic problems remained:

  • The typical time frame of a game turn is tailored to allow execution of almost any desired action within a single phase, thus leaving the enemy no possibility to react.
  • The distance covered in a single turn by a unit could be considerable, thus forcing players to adopt a continuous line of units and zones of control as the only solution to avoid being bypassed or encircled during the enemy’s movement phase.
  • Any decided course of action has no inertia and can be rapidly modified should the need arise. You don’t need a real plan, and you’re not taking anyone really by surprise unless the rules decide so.

Less Than 60 Miles tries to convey a realistic approach to the above problems by giving the correct importance and impact to four basic elements: Time, Posture, Orders and Command Chain.

In the end, the interaction between these four elements will force players to confront the underlying concept: the OODA Cycle.…By using the four elements above better and faster than the opponent, the player will get inside the OODA Loop of the enemy, undermining its capability to react in an appropriate and timely manner to the unfolding events. (Scenarios & Designer’s Notes, Designer’s Notes, 21)

Here is how Mr. Vianello describes using those elements to challenge players of LT60M:

TIME

“Probably the most important factor in war is Time. Every action needs to be executed within a certain time frame and become useless or even dangerous if carried out later.”

“…most actions cannot be completed during a single game turn. A dug-in mechanized battalion that successfully defended a town will not be able to instantly launch a counterattack against the attacker, except when using specific tactics like NATO’s Active Defense. It will need to change to an attack formation, leaving itself vulnerable to enemy reactions for the time needed to change its posture.”

POSTURE

“Posture defines the current tactical formation of a unit and has a heavy impact on its movement and combat capabilities.”

“A unit’s Posture is the result of the last orders received and limits the tactical choices available. No unit can do everything at its best at the same time.”

“Changing a Unit’s Posture will require time, and during the transition the unit will be more vulnerable to enemy actions.”

ORDERS

“Ordering large formations to move out or attack is a complicated business, usually more complicated than expected. Even the over-celebrated 90 degrees turn of Patton’s III Army at the Ardennes took 72 hours.”

“In Less Than 60 Miles, most orders will require more time than desired to be carried out. Players will be forced to prepare and execute a real plan, as changing the course of action once things started moving could be problematic.”

CHAIN OF COMMAND

“In order to issue and execute orders in a timely manner, you will need a Command Chain starting from a higher-level Headquarters and going down to the units executing the order.”

“Command Chain is not a abstract concept you’ll worry about only occasionally. Each side will have to balance the advantage of having Headquarters near the Forward Edge of the Battle Area and directly influencing the battle, with the disadvantage of making them targets for enemy air, missile and artillery strikes.”

Yesterday is today…and tomorrow?

Design-wise, LT60M finds success by drawing from tried and proven designs of the past wrapped in a game system that emphasizes OODA. Mr. Vianello tells us, “In order to handle attrition, Less Than 60 Miles refines one of the most interesting and innovating concepts of SPI’s “Central Front” series: Friction Points, here renamed Attrition Points” (Designer’s Notes, 23). The combat system is, as Fabrizio puts it, “inspired by NATO: Division Commander, in my opinion one of the most realistic portraits of modern mechanized warfare” (Designer’s Notes, 25).

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Lest you think that OODA is best in a wargame of the past, US Marine Corps officer Ian T. Brown, in his book A New Conception of War: John Boyd, the U.S. Marines, and Maneuver Warfare, points out that Boyd’s OODA Loop is highly relevant today. He observes that, “[Boyd] viewed both blitzkrieg and counterinsurgency through the same lens, aimed at the same objective–the adversary’s mind–and implemented with the same tenets of orientation, tempo, ambiguity, deception, and asymmetric application of strength against weakness.” (p. 192) Although LT60M is set in the 1980s, the design is both relevant and easily portable to the modern wargaming battlefield.

Looking at the larger picture, the OODA Loop is not only useful as a basis for the design of LT60M, but for professional wargaming as a whole. Matt Caffrey in his book On Wargaming includes the OODA Loop as one of the three theories or models that explain why wargames writ large work. Caffrey writes:

In time, Boyd realized the F-86’s more-experienced pilots, bubble canopy, and hydraulically boosted controls allowed its pilots to observe, orient, decide, and act (OODA) faster than their adversaries. That, not top speed, made all the difference. In time he realized that staying a move ahead of your adversaries was at least as important at the operational and strategic levels of war also. This lead to the gradual development of his “Discourse on Winning and Losing” (a presentation available on-line). This final theoretical work goes as much beyond his ‘OODA Loop” as Einstein’s general theory of relativity goes beyond E = mc2. 

A fundamental reason why wargames “work” is that the side that makes more-effective use of them (all other things being equal) complete OODA loops more quickly than an adversary that does not use wargaming effectively or at all.

….

The synthetic experience derived from all types of wargames can create virtual veterans far faster than actual combat creates real ones–and at a fraction of the cost in lives, time, and treasure. (On Wargaming, 285-286)

Not a perfect game but once you Observe, Orient, Decide, & Act….

In order to accomplish all the above LT60M can turn fiddly. Units will be stacked with markers for posture and time and maybe more. The map hexes are sized a bit small and the many colors can be confusing (each hex has a Terrain Type and may have Terrain Features). But if you work your way through the fiddling you find a ‘game’ that really makes you think. For some ‘casual’ wargamers the challenges of Time, Posture, Orders, and Command Chain may not be exciting enough and the rules too fiddly. But for a professional wargamer, using the OODA Loop to frame a game design creates insights into the modern battlefield like few other designs deliver.

Less Than 60 Miles is not a perfect game, but it does a very good job of creating a playable version of the 1980s battlefield framed though the lens of the John Boyd’s Patterns of Conflict. I would very much like to see this design pulled forward into today, particularly in a Baltic scenario. I hope the game finds an audience not only with professional gamers, but with ‘casual’ wargamers as well.


Annotated Bibliography

(Unless otherwise noted, annotations are shamelessly stolen from Matt Caffrey in his book On Wargaming)

Brown, Ian T. A New Conception of War: John Boyd, the U.S. Marines, and Maneuver Warfare. Quantico, VA: Marine Corps University Press, 2018. (Download for free online)

Caffrey Jr, Matthew B. On Wargaming: How Wargames Have Shaped History and How They May Shape the Future (Newport Paper; no. 43). Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 2019. (Download for free online)

Dunnigan, James. Wargames Handbook, Third Edition: How to Play and Design Commercial and Professional Wargames. Bloomington, IN: Writer’s Club Press, 2000. (Easy to read, all-around guide to wargame history, design, and application.)

Sabin, Phillip. Simulating War: Studying Conflict through Simulation Games. London: Continuum, 2012; repr London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. (Though the book’s focus is designing and developing wargames as a way to understand a given conflict deeply, it is also the best contemporary book on wargame design.)

Shlapak, David A.; Michael W. Johnson. Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016. (Download for free online)

Wong, Yuna Huh; Sebastian Joon Bae, Elizabeth M. Bartels, Benjamin Smith. Next-Generation Wargaming for the U.S. Marine Corps. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2019. (Download for free online)

 

LOG-ing in #Wargames

“Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.”

 Gen. Robert H. Barrow, USMC (Commandant of the Marine Corps), 1980

WAY BACK LAST MONTH was CONNECTIONS 2019. I have been really busy since with little time to write up many thoughts, but I will take this opportunity to make amends here.

On Day 1 of CONNECTIONS 2019, I attended a seminar given by CAPT George F . Nafzinger, USN (Retired), on Logistics; the Red Headed Stepchild of Wargaming. I went into the seminar sorta expecting a discussion of how to wargame logistics, but unfortunately walked away hearing a siren’s cry on why logistics needs to be considered. I happen to be in the camp of wargamers that accepts (welcomes?) logistics rules in my games, when done right. Even if the seminar was a great missed opportunity by CAPT Nafzinger, it was still a good occasion for me to think about what I like, or don’t like, when it comes to logistics in wargames.

In wargames, probably the most famous supply rule ever is the Pasta Rule in The Campaign for North Africa (SPI, 1979) by legendary (and now sadly passed) designer Richard Berg:

[52.6] The Italian Pasta Rule

One of the biggest mistakes the Italians made during the entire Desert Campaign was to provide their troops with a diet which was composed, in large part, of spaghetti and macaroni. Aside from providing insufficient protein (this wasn’t Buitoni Brand) pasta has one serious drawback in the desert: you need water to cook it! Therefore, each Italian battalion,when it receives its Stores, must receive an additional 1 point of water when stores are distributed. Any battalion-sized unit that does not receive their Pasta Point (one water point) may not voluntarily exceed their CPA that turn. Furthermore, Italian battalions not receiving their Pasta Point that have a Cohesion Level of -10 or worse immediately become Disorganized, as if they had reached -26. As soon as such units get their Pasta Point,they regain the original cohesion level(i.e., the level they had before they disintegrated.)

This rule is always given as an example of the excessive chrome in a wargame. I agree; it’s taking supply rules to the excess. The real trick to me is to have realistic rules that don’t slow down gameplay. In the 1980’s and into the 90’s, many wargames that I played had log sheets. Indeed, some of my favorite games like the Fleet-series of the Great War at Sea/Second World War at Sea-series games tracked fuel or weapons expenditures. This approach was good but time-consuming and at times tedious. If one wasn’t keeping a log the rules ofter called for tracing a legal Line of Supply (LoS) at the start and/or end of movement or when conducting an attack. No LoS = No Move/Attack.

Downtown: Air War Over Hanoi, 1965-1972 (GMT Games, 2004)

Starting somewhere in the 2000’s, I noticed a change in how supply was treated in several of my games. I think it was in Downtown: Air War Over Hanoi (GMT Games, 2004) that I first recognized the concept of “roll for expenditure.” Instead of tracking each individual round expended, aircraft in combat roll against a number that will exhaust their ammo. This sped up play because, instead of tracking on a logsheet, a simple die roll was made. It also made for some interesting situations; a flight could exhaust their anti-air missiles on round 1 or go a few; you just didn’t know. A similar rule is found in the Wing Leader-series where aircraft roll as part of each attack to see if they can attack again.

Courtesy GMT Games

In more recent years, I have come to really appreciate the approach designer Ted Raicer took in several of his games like The Dark Sands: War in North Africa, 1940-42 (GMT Games, 2018). Here, supply is only checked when the Supply Chit is pulled. This makes for some great opportunities; early in a turn (less chance of the Supply Chit coming out) one can be aggressive, cutting away from supply points if they dare. In the mid-turn, as the chance of the Supply Chit appearing increases, one is less daring and naturally tidies up their lines. If it is late-turn, moves often become ones of consolidation as the players wait for the inevitable draw. These logistics rule organically enforce supply but in way that makes it more a flow of the battle.

Courtesy Hollandspiele

Of course, the ultimate supply or logistics wargame to me is the Supply Lines of the American Revolution-series by Tom Russell at Hollandspiele. In these games, supply is the game up front; it’s not a supporting arm. Playing these games may be the best map exercise on the American Revolution a wargamer (or military historian) can get as you immediately are shown why a certain route, or city is important to your campaign.

Not all games can be like Supply Lines, nor should they be. Supply rules are essential to get the fullest understanding of a battle or campaign. The real trick is is to use a mechanic that can be applied quickly and with as little administrative burden as possible. I personally enjoy a game where I don’t have to keep small tick-marks on a logsheet. I really like how designers are using a chit-pull mechanic in conjunction with their supply rules. How about you? What supply rules do you like (or dislike)?


Feature image: The Campaign for North Africa; courtesy War is Boring.

July Gaming Festivities – or – A Good Month of #Wargaming but Better to Have Family Back After Travel

This past July should not have been a good gaming month.

My “regular gaming group” (aka the RockyMountainNavy Boys) were on international travel the entire month. Before they left, we played one game, Queendomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017) together.We didn’t play another game together until they got back and Tiny Epic Galaxies (Gamelyn Games, 2015) launched.

Yet somehow in between I played 23 other games. Better yet, 20 plays were of WARGAMES! Yet even better, and uncounted in my BGG Played log, the RockyMountainNavy Boys shared games with the family in Korea and made some lasting memories along the way.

fullsizeoutput_609The top played wargame of the month was Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games, 2018). I call Cataclysm a wargame though I actually see it as a strategy game of politics. When I tried to play Cataclysm as a wargame it was disappointing; as a strategy game I love it!

Another notable play of the month was the first full scenario run of Battle Hymn Vol. 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games, 2018). The chit-pull activation mechanic makes this game very interesting by showing the friction of war. Additionally, it can’t be the Fourth of July without Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2016) making a rebellious appearance on the table. GMT Games also offered a Fourth of July Holiday Sale where I picked up Washington’s War (GMT Games, 2015 reprint). I am lucky I did so because it is now out-of-stock.

It was on travel this month that I picked up Tiny Epic Galaxies. Played it solo a few times in the hotel. As much fun as it is in the solo mode I enjoy it even more when playing against the RockyMountainNavy Boys.

Alas, July 2018 was also a month of wargaming disappointments. I was supposed to go to the CONNECTIONS 2018 wargaming conference but was pulled off at the last minute by work. I was supposed to go to the World Boardgaming Championships (WBC) but waved off after traveling on official business and getting home late the night before I was supposed to drive. I sorta owe an apology to Alexander and Grant of The Player’s Aid (@playersaidblog on Twitter) because I had planned to meet them. From the looks of it they certainly didn’t miss me as they tweeted and blogged about all the great talks and games at WBC!

When the RockyMountainNavy Boys returned home they brought lots of good stories about playing games with the family in Korea. They took along (and left behind) copies of:

  • Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017) – Very popular with cousins
  • Quartto Mini (Gigamic Edition, 2017) – Good brain game for older family and especially an Uncle who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Chicken Cha Cha Cha (Rio Grande Games Edition, 2011) – Mrs. RockyMountainNavy wanted to get this great game for her nephew’s daughter; she is a bit too young right now but the game will be there when she is ready!
  • Rhino Hero (Haba, 2011) – What is marketed as a kid’s game was the most popular game amongst the adults; so popular the RockyMountainNavy Boys surrendered their copy to their cousin so she could take it to play with her friends (all mid-late 20’s)
  • Happy Salmon (North Star Games, 2016) – I keep hearing stories of an epic night there all the adults stood around and played a game of Happy Salmon; the youngest RMN Boy tells me everyone – players and observers alike – were laughing so hard he couldn’t even record the game.

Though I was able to get alot of good wargaming in by myself this past month, I really and glad the RockyMountainNavy Boys are back. They want to play a game every day in August until school starts.

I like that idea; will keep you posted!

#FirstImpressions – Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing LLC, 2017)

Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing LLC, 2017) is a rules-lite, family-friendly, area control wargame. Well, sort of area control. Maybe too rules lite. Regardless, Enemies of Rome is a simple wargame that looks to be a fun shorter game that engages the entire family.

I missed out on the Kickstarter campaign in early 2017 that raised $17,000 against a $10,000 goal. The game is now reaching retail distribution where I got it. My interest comes thanks to a series of videos that @PastorJoelT posted on Twitter.

Components

The map has a very theme-appropriate presentation. The back of the Event/Action cards are a bit cartoonish as compared to the map but remain loyal to the theme. The card faces are easy to read and understand. The many cubes look overwhelming at first but once separated into color groups and matched with the few cardboard tokens they also support immersion into the theme.

Rules-Lite

The rulebook for Enemies of Rome is eight (8) pages. Actually, it is seven pages as page 8 is a simplified map. The mechanics of the game is very straight-forward; place reinforcements, play “Intrigue Talents” (special bonuses earned during play), play either an Event or Action card to move and maybe battle, then draw your hand back up to two cards. Victory points, called Glory Points here, are earned by conquering a territory and lost if you lose a battle against another player. Total play time is rated at 120 minutes, but even our first game was over in 90.

As simple as the rules are, the rulebook could of used a bit more work. Looking at the names of the designers and play testers, Enemies of Rome looks to be mostly a family affair. That is not bad, but I feel that if an outsider or a professional technical editor had looked at these rules they could be much clearer. Having grown up as a grognard with rigid SPI rules formatting (1. / 1.1/ 1.11, etc.) I find it helpful in breaking down a rule and making them easy to follow or cross-reference. I totally understand that this “rules lawyer” format is not popular with some, especially those who want to read a more “natural language” text.

Who are the “Enemies of Rome”

Enemies of Rome is for 2-5 players, making it high suitable for group or family gaming. What makes this game work is the presence in every game of a non-player, the “Enemies of Rome.” Enemies occupy every territory the players do not. During a players turn, some Event and Action cards allow the player to move the Enemies. This simple mechanic introduces a subtle element of strategy that quickly becomes a focus of all players – do I move my own Legions or do I move the Enemies? This makes for interesting dilemma’s – how do I move/battle the Enemies to my advantage?

Area Control – Sorta

On the surface, Enemies of Rome appears to be an area control game. Indeed, at game end the players with the most territories gains a Glory Point bonus. However, a closer look at the rules reveals that Glory Points are won/lost in battle. If at the end of a battle the player is in sole possession of a territory, a Glory Point is won. If the player battles another player (not the Enemies) and loses, Glory Points are lost. The subtlety of this rule can be lost on beginners. In the RockyMountainNavy family first game, as Red I had the least territories but fought a number of good-odds battles towards the end and tied Blue who had the most Legions and territories. In the tie-breaker I lost to the more numerous Blue Legions. The RockyMountainNavy Boys were a bit confused at first until they realized its the battles won, not the number of territories, that count for Glory Points. A quick glance through the forums at BoardgameGeek seemingly indicate this is not a popular way of determining victory with several alternate VP conditions being bantered about.

Similarities

What struck me after the first play was the similarity of Enemies of Rome to the very popular Academy Games Birth of America-series. This especially applies to the first game in the series, 1775 Rebellion: The American Revolution. The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself have many plays of the Birth of America series and the similar 878 Vikings: Invasions of England which are team-play, area control games. Indeed, @PastorJoelT mentioned in one of his videos that he saw Enemies of Rome and 1775 Rebellion as similar games. His comment is actually what triggered me to buy the game!

In my opinion, although superficially similar to Enemies of Rome, there are enough differences with the Enemies of Rome and the Glory Point scoring mechanics that these games are just that – superficially similar. I view Enemies of Rome as the simpler game of the two.

Collection Worthy?

Although Enemies of Rome is a simple game with a scoring mechanic that is a bit opaque, that does not mean it is not good enough for a gaming collection. If you look closely at the featured image of this post, you will see several Rick Riordan books in the upper right corner of the image. The RockyMountainNavy Boys pulled these out because the geography in the books was also found in Enemies of Rome. The Boys also found my copy of Decision Games’ Strategy & Tactics Quarterly #1 – Caesar. The Boys are making what Mrs. RockyMountainNavy refers to as “connections.” They are studying the map, reading the history on the Event cards, and learning.

Enemies of Rome promotes learning while having fun at the same time. That’s a winning combination in the RockyMountainNavy stronghold. Even if you are not into learning, the simplistic nature of the game, combined with subtle strategy, make Enemies of Rome a good group game, especially when introducing new gamers to wargames.