The MAD #Wargame – Ultimatum: A Game of Nuclear Confrontation (Yaquinto Publications Inc., 1979)

OVER ON TWITTER, MARK JOHNSON (@WargamesToGo) tweeted about playing some Cold War wargames. “Hey self,” I said to myself, “you have maybe the ultimate Cold War wargame!” So I went deep in the back of the wargame shelves and brought Ultimatum (Yaquinto Publications Inc, 1979) to the table. I remember playing this game more than a few times back in the day. I mean, come on now, any game where almost half the counters are mushroom clouds has to be great, eh?

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Look at all them mushroom clouds!

I must be getting old, because this is not the Ultimatum I remember.

“Mr. President, about, uh, 35 minutes ago, General Jack Ripper, the commanding general of, uh, Burpelson Air Force Base, issued an order to the 34 B-52’s of his Wing, which were airborne at the time as part of a special exercise we were holding called Operation Drop-Kick. Now, it appears that the order called for the planes to, uh, attack their targets inside Russia. The, uh, planes are fully armed with nuclear weapons with an average load of, um, 40 megatons each. Now, the central display of Russia will indicate the position of the planes. The triangles are their primary targets; the squares are their secondary targets. The aircraft will begin penetrating Russian radar cover within, uh, 25 minutes.” – General “Buck” Turgidson – Doctor Strangelove (Movie)

I first was blown away by the Initial Set-Up:

Once both players have picked out the forces appropriate to the scenario, they should begin their deployments. ICBM’s are first, then ABM’s, if any. Then place bombers, then interceptors. Finally place the SLBM’s upside down in the sea station boxes. When all the units have been placed, the player’s may study the opposing player’s deployment. They may not overturn upside down SLBM stacks. The players determine who will launch the first strike. This can be done by agreement, or if there is none, then by the roll of the die. The first strike player then picks whichever launch sequence he desires and launches his first attack.

That’s it. That’s the game.

That’s….mad.

Well, that’s the Basic Game for Ultimatum. Victory is determined by counting the difference in population points destroyed. You have to to kill more to win.

Doubly mad.

I looked through the rules of Ultimatum carefully, looking for some sort of decision to be made. There are a few (very few) decisions to be made, like does the First Strike (FS) player employ a Simultaneous or Phased Launch strategy.

I set up and played the first scenario, The Cuban Missile Crisis. Here you have a bomber-heavy USAF with a few ICBM and several Polaris submarines and some homeland interceptors against a Soviet Union with few bombers, fewer ICBMs and subs, but many interceptors on defense. The war started with a Soviet First Strike using Simultaneous Launch. The result? A US victory but still many mushroom clouds across America.

I felt empty. This Ultimatum is not a game (like nuclear war ever is) but barely even a tabletop exercise.

General “Buck” Turgidson: Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing. But it is necessary now to make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless *distinguishable*, postwar environments: one where you got twenty million people killed, and the other where you got a hundred and fifty million people killed.
President Merkin Muffley: You’re talking about mass murder, General, not war!
General “Buck” Turgidson: Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.
– Doctor Strangelove (Movie)

I kept reading the Ultimatum rule book and came to the Tournament Game. I found the description intriguing:

The Basic Game is designed primarily to familiarize the players with the principles and strategies of nuclear war, and to inform them of the strengths and weaknesses of the various nuclear weapons systems….In the Tournament Game the players make the same kinds of decisions about weapons system procurement, global strategy, and diplomacy that the leaders of the two Super-powers faced in the arms race. There is a distinct possibility of nuclear war, and this is the driving force behind the Tournament Game decisions. If such a war occurs, it is fought  under virtually the same rules as the Basic Game except a scenario sheet is not used. But the Tournament Game adds the possibility of winning the Game through non-nuclear means. Such a victory can include conventional warfare or even diplomacy.

Victory in the Tournament Game of Ultimatum is far different than the Basic Game. Whereas in the Basic Game you score for ‘killing the mostest,’ in the Tournament Game you have must 1) Preserves your own population while 2) score points through control of Crisis Areas or destruction of enemy population. Most important is that own population factor; the first measure of any victory level is how much population you have.

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Crisis Areas around the edge. Notice “The Button.”

A Tournament Game of Ultimatum is really the Cold War played out. Each turn both players execute three phases:

  1. Allocation Phase – Determine income and spend money
  2. Deployment Phase – Distribute money to Crisis Areas and deploy or activate units
  3. Decision Phase – Call for Confrontations in Crisis Areas or start the nuclear war.

The Allocation Phase in Ultimatum is full of decisions. What do I buy? What do I upgrade? Do I invest in my economy? How much do I spend in a Crisis Area? Just like in the real world there is never enough money (Money Factors – MF) to do everything you want.

I set up a Tournament Game scenario starting in 1960, the game runs to a maximum of 20 turns (10 years). Every turn in that Allocation Phase one must divvy up their budget between new systems, Qualitative Improvements (mostly Accuracy or MIRVs), Defensive Improvements (SAMs and ECM), ASW, and Aircraft on Alert. Oh yeah, you also need to set money aside for Crisis Areas and maybe your Economy (invest now, in 15 turns get 150% return).

The real heart of the Tournament Game in Ultimatum is those Crisis Areas. Both players are spending money (influence) and final control will be determined by a Confrontation. In that Confrontation, both players will announce a strategy. Different strategies give different die modifiers to the confrontation die roll. Strategies range from Economic to Political/Social to Guerrilla to Conventional War to Tactical Nuclear conflict! Here is how the Ultimatum rule book itself talks about Crisis Areas:

One of the most important ways to spend money factors is on the seven Crisis Areas. Money spent on these areas can result in points for the player without endangering the player’s own population through nuclear war. On the other hand, MF’s invested in qualitative improvements and defense measures do not directly result in points gained unless there is a nuclear war and the player’s own population is in severe danger. Because gaining control of the Crisis Area is a safer way of getting points, players should usually allocate a substantial portion of their MF’s to the Crisis Areas.

As I so often do in these coronatine days, I played two-handed solo. For each side I chose a general strategy to follow. For the US I decided to invest in a smaller but more capable nuclear force and focus on the First to Third World for Crisis Area investment. For the Soviets, the strategy was a more numerous but less capable force with priority of investment in Crisis Areas going from Third to First World. Almost immediately both sides changed their investment strategy as I realized how stupid it was for the superpowers to compete that way for the Soviets would fall far behind. So while both power maintained relative parity in Europe (65 Points), Japan-Korea (40 Points), and the Middle East (35 Points) the real areas of confrontation were Latin America (20 Points), Central East Asia (15 Points) and South Asia (15 Points). Southeast Asia, at only 10 Points, became a real backwater.

“Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face.” – General Jack D. Ripper: Doctor Strangelove (Movie)

My Tournament Game play of Ultimatum came out much different than my first play. As the game progressed toward the late stages the need to gain control of Crisis Areas led to Confrontations. Both sides were relatively even, but quickly Latin America went to the Americans while Central East Asia and South Asia went to the Soviets. A massive US investment in Japan-Korea followed to ensure it entered the US sphere. It was at this point that the one Optional Rule I was playing with came to the forefront.

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Uncontrolled Crisis Area Event ‘Cards’

Optional Rule 6. Uncontrolled Crisis Area Events is a set of 26 ‘cards’ that depict events that can greatly alter history. At the beginning of each game turn, the American player rolls one die and, if a six is rolled, turns over the top card. That’s how it came to pass that a severe depression hit the Common Market (Europe) countries, Ireland invaded Northern Ireland, the Communists took power in France and Italy and withdrew from NATO all while Greece and Turkey went to war and NATO dissolved. The net impact to the game was a die roll to see how many MF the Soviets gain. A roll of 5 gave the Soviets +16 – a nearly 50% boost in their budget that turn. It was enough to embolden the Soviets to confront in Europe and tip it into the Soviet sphere.

“Well, boys, I reckon this is it – nuclear combat toe to toe with the Roosskies. Now look, boys, I ain’t much of a hand at makin’ speeches, but I got a pretty fair idea that something doggone important is goin’ on back there. And I got a fair idea the kinda personal emotions that some of you fellas may be thinkin’. Heck, I reckon you wouldn’t even be human bein’s if you didn’t have some pretty strong personal feelin’s about nuclear combat. I want you to remember one thing, the folks back home is a-countin’ on you and by golly, we ain’t about to let ’em down. I tell you something else, if this thing turns out to be half as important as I figure it just might be, I’d say that you’re all in line for some important promotions and personal citations when this thing’s over with. That goes for ever’ last one of you regardless of your race, color or your creed. Now let’s get this thing on the hump – we got some flyin’ to do.” –  Major T.J. “King” Kong: Doctor Strangelove (Movie)

Clearly falling behind, the Americans decided the Soviets had to be stopped – at any cost. So the nukes started flying with a US First Strike using a Phased Launch strategy. The Soviets had not invested in Aircraft on Alert nor much ASW so many Soviet bombers were caught on the ground while US submarines got good strikes launched. Many mushroom clouds later the (gruesome) tally was counted up. In the future, historians would write much about the American Marginal Victory (have at least 100 population points left while scoring 10-25 points more than opponent) and try to make sense out of it.

That was a mad game…and it left me wanting more.

Ultimatum is a snapshot in time representing the world of nuclear warfare in the 1960s and early 1970s. This is the world before the START Treaty. It also has many interesting optional or special rules. Like letting the US build “silo busters” when they didn’t. Like adding Cruise Missiles to American bombers in later periods. Like adding a Directed Energy ABM for the Americans (aka Star Wars). It could use an update; indeed, I found my handwritten notes for US vs Soviet nuclear forces from the mid-1980s.

“It is the stated position of the U.S. Air Force that their safeguards would prevent the occurrence of such events as are depicted in this film. Furthermore, it should be noted that none of the characters portrayed in this film are meant to represent any real persons living or dead.” – Title Card: Doctor Strangelove (Movie)

As I often do, I always read the Designer’s Notes. Here’s where Ultimatum may have the greatest understatement by a wargame designer ever written:

There is one final note to be made on the design on this game. Several hours were spent attempting to give the players some reason (moral, love of fellow man, nationalism) for avoiding nuclear war. The destruction of a nation of tens of millions of people weighs heavily on the minds of the leaders of both the Soviet Union and the United States. But in a game the players have no such weight balancing their decisions. It becomes an abstraction and the players easily forget what the game is simulating. More than any other game on the market, this can create problems in the simulation of reality.

In Ultimatum, it is best to think of the Basic Game as the ‘Combat Game’ and the Tournament Game as the ‘Cold War Campaign.’ As much as I remember playing the ‘Combat Game,’ I totally had forgotten about the Tournament Game. However, it is that Tournament Game that teaches the most about the Cold War. I agree with the designer; at heart Ultimatum is a flawed simulation of reality, but that very flaw actually teaches us maybe the most important lesson of the Cold War. Ultimatum is a mad game about a very MAD* time.

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*MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction

 

 

 

Coronatine Comments – Random #Wargame & #Boardgame Shoutouts to @ADragoons, @Bublublock, & @tomandmary with mentions of @compassgamesllc, @StrongholdGames & @hollandspiele

Rule Books

DragoonsLogoHEADER-2-1RECENTLY, THE GENTLEMEN AT ARMCHAIRDRAGOONS WERE KIND ENOUGH TO POST A REVIEW I WROTE. My major knock on the game is that, “play is unfortunately marred by a rule book that makes learning the game harder than it should.”

In the case of Blue Water Navy: The War at Sea (Compass Games, 2019) a better rule book has:

  • An index
  • Deeper numbering of paragraphs to ease cross-reference
  • Consistency in terms & language

A rule book needs to be governed by a style guide. I won’t tell you what to use, but when you don’t it’s really noticeable! There is no one-size-fits-all solution. There is not a magical wargame rule book template that an aspiring (or well-established) designer can just download from the internet. What is needed is not a format as much as an attitude.

Complexity

IMG_0574In a Twitter reply to my Armchair Dragoons article, Dan Bullock (@Bublublock) said, “Every time I see BWN referred to as medium complexity, I feel marvelously stupid.” Indeed, an underlying theme of my post this week, Hard Core #Wargame? Assault – Tactical Combat in Europe: 1985 (GDW, 1983) is complexity as how each individual sees it. In the case of Blue Water Navy a great deal of the complexity is learning complexity from the less-than-stellar written rules. In Assault for the mystery reviewer I talk about it appears mechanical complexity, i.e. using the game components, was far too complex for them. I feel a longer think-piece coming…but it’s not quite fully formed yet.

Name Games -or- BGG Don’t Fail Me Now!

Picked up on a small thread on BoardGameGeek about BGG renaming wargame titles. You know, like taking the last two games I discussed on my blog, Assault and Dawn of Empire, and making sure the database names are Assault – Tactical Combat in Europe: 1985 and Dawn of Empire: The Spanish-American Naval War in the Atlantic, 1898. Personally it doesn’t bother me as I clearly see a subtitle as part of the title. Apparently I am too simple, because the BGG policy appears to not only incorporate subtitles, but also any box cover description. Taken to the extreme, games like Terraforming Mars from Stronghold Games becomes either:

  • “Terraforming Mars: Coming to Mars was a Big Step. Making it Habitable Will Give Us a New World” or
  • “Coming to Mars was a Big Step. Making it Habitable Will Give Us a New World: Terraforming Mars”.

Yes, leave it to the hobby boardgame community on BGG to make this an issue. Well, if this is the new policy I can’t wait to see the update for Supply Lines of the American Revolution – The Northern Theater, 1775-1777: being a Game of War, or Logistics & Deception; & a suitable & commendable past-time for gentlemen & ladies both; invented by Mr. Tom Russell, a Patriot born in these United States with cartographical embellishment by Ania B. Ziolkowska. I mean, it’s about time Tom and Mary Russell (@tomandmary) of Hollandspiele got recognition for this fine work!

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Courtesy Hollandspiele

Feature image courtesy pinterest.com

#Coronatine #Wargame Arrivals – April 2020

A few new arrivals for the gaming table. With all this Coronatine time they should get to the table quickly.

25575CAF-6D59-449D-A2C9-80652BF2A819Operation Battleaxe: Wavell vs. Rommel, 1941 (Revolution Games, 2013)

This area-impulse design is both easy to learn and plays quickly. I also have enjoyed several of designer Michael Rinella’s other designs, including Counterattack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 and Patton’s Vanguard. I particularly like these Revolution Games titles as they are perfectly sized for a rainy afternoon or a Coronatine day.

62FC8E9C-74B2-4B8F-B880-91A20727EE88Lonato (C3i Magazine #14, 2002)

This is an experiment. I am not a Napoleonic wargamer but I enjoyed Jours de Gloire: Battle of Issy, 1815 in C3i Magazine #32. Although an older title, Lonato should be useable with the Jours de Gloire rules from Issy. It might take some work to kludge it together, but if there is one thing coronatine has delivered it’s time to work projects like this one.

BONUS! The game includes a printed a copy of the Triumph & Glory Rulebook v2 (Dec. 18, 2001) in the bag. Lonato was made expressly as a module for the Triumph & Glory rules which eventually evolved into Jours de Gloire. Looks like I have a very good jumping-off point!


Feature image: “Family respects social distancing while playing board games.” Courtesy msn.com

#Coronatine #Wargame Thoughts – Why to fight in Blue Water Navy: The War at Sea (@compassgamesllc, 2019)

A navy’s purposes deal with the movement and delivery of goods and services at sea; in contrast, an army’s purpose is to purchase and possess real estate. Thus a navy is in the links business, while the army is in the nodes business. Seen that way, a navy performs one or more of four functions and no others: At sea, it (1) assures that our own goods and services are safe, and (2) that an enemy’s are not. From the sea, it (3) guarantees safe delivery of goods and services ashore, and (4) prevents delivery ashore by an enemy navy. – Captain Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, Second Edition, Annapolis (Naval Institute Press), p. 9

ALL TOO OFTEN WHEN WE GROGNARDS PLAY WARGAMES, we focus on the ‘how’ of the fight and forget ‘the why.’ My history of playing naval wargames shows this to be very true for myself. My first naval wargames were Wooden Ships & Iron Men (Avalon Hill, 1974) and Harpoon II (Adventure Games, 1983). Both of these game are very tactical; in each you are often fighting an individual platform (or groups of platforms) executing a specific mission or task. This makes it very easy to get focused on ‘how’ a platform fights but not necessarily understanding ‘why’ the ship/sub/plane is there. Operational-level wargames, like the venerable Fleet-series from Victory Games in the 1980s, do a bit better of a job by forcing you to combine platforms to execute missions. But at the end of the day the real reason for a navy does not always come thru. In true wargamer form, the battles are often fought out to the last with no objective other than the complete an utter destruction of the enemy. Fun (in a way) but not very informative.

Thus, I was surprised at Blue Water Navy: The War at Sea (Compass Games, 2019).  The game is another in the recent renaissance of ‘Cold War Gone Hot’ wargames, this time focusing on the naval war in the North Atlantic, Arctic, Mediterranean, and Baltic. As the ad copy says:

Blue Water Navy covers the war at sea, air, close-ashore and low-earth orbit from the Kola Peninsula in Northern Russia to the Mediterranean Sea and West over the Atlantic Ocean to the United States and Cuba. The game models the full order of battle that could be expected in 1980’s wartime, from multi-regiment Soviet Tu-22 Backfire bombers to multiple US carrier groups.

I posted some thoughts on Blue Water Navy before. At that time, I focused in on the ‘how’ to play the game. With my extra Coronatine-time I pulled the game out again for a deeper dive into the system. I happily discovered another layer of the game that I had missed; one that makes Blue Water Navy a great example of ‘why’ navies fight. It is so obvious. I mean, designer Stuart Tonge put it in the Introduction, “Always remember the game is about the convoys – if they get through, NATO wins the war.”

Of the 32 numbered major rules in the book, the two most important for this discussion are 18.0 Amphibious Landings & NATO Troop Delivery and 20.0 War & Invasion Tracks. Indeed, buried within 20.0 is the actual victory condition for the Campaign Game:

Hammer and Sickles: This shows when the game is won. To win the Soviet player must be able to count four hammer and sickle symbols on War Tracks overrun by Soviet armies.

“But wait,” you say. “I thought Blue Water Navy is a naval wargame! What is this talk of Soviet armies?” The truth is no matter what you do in Blue Water Navy, as a player you are trying to move the Invasion Marker along the War Tracks.

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Blue Water Navy Invasion Tracks (North to South): Norwegian, Danish, Europe North and Europe South. Hammer & Sickles for the win!

The Soviet player advances along the Norway and Denmark Invasion Track by putting Troops ashore using Amphibious Landings. NATO can strike Soviet troops to stall the advance. One advance is cancelled for every three hits scored by NATO. This means NATO needs to project power ashore, in this case using airpower or cruise missiles to slow the Soviet advance.

 

The North and South War Track both represent the invasion of Europe. The North Invasion Track is the classic Central Germany front and the South Invasion Track is the route through Yugoslavia to Italy. Every turn the Soviets advance one box westward. On the North War Track, NATO can cancel the advance by expending Supplies or Partial Supplies. These ‘supplies’ can only be delivered by NATO Convoys to Western Europe ports. On the South War Track, the advance is cancelled by hits by NATO, much like the Norway or Denmark War Track.

Rule 28.0 NATO Losses also forces the NATO player to think about what he is fighting with. A Convoy Massacre (destruction of a Convoy) earns one NATO loss point. Another point is lost for a carrier damaged (2 if sunk). If the carrier is lost north of the SOSUS line it’s another loss point. If the NATO loss marker ever reaches six points, it’s worth one  Hammer and Sickle of the four needed to win for the Soviet player.

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From my NORTHSTAR ’92 cruise above the SOSUS line. Nice to know if sunk I would’ve been worth an extra NATO loss point!

There are several other rules that have an outsized impact on the number of Hammer and Sickle. Rule 22.1 First Strike Points (FSP’s) , “…represents the nuclear posturing of both sides. If the Soviets can maintain a credible First Strike capability, the Politburo…will feel able to take aggressive actions such as using nuclear weapons or assassinating high-value targets.” FSP’s play directly into 27.0 Soviet Stability which tracks the political climate in Moscow. If the Soviets trend toward instability, the advances may be slowed, more ‘supplies’ arrive, and at worst they lose a Hammer and Sickle. Oh yes, less you think nuclear weapons are a quick route to victory, once the genie is out of the bottle and Battlefield Nuclear Weapons are used those Hammer and Sickle spaces on the Invasion Tracks with more than one are reduced to a single symbol.

 

The Rule Book for Blue Water Navy is 56 pages. Realistically speaking, 52 pages are ‘how’ to fight the war but there are four essential ‘why’ to fight pages. That is part of the lesson here; the fight is complex even when the reason or objective is simple. All those rules for ships and submarines and different aircraft exist for a few simple reasons. Going back to Captain Hughes’ words at the beginning of this post, Blue Water Navy very clearly illustrates that the role of the navy in war is, At sea, it (1) assures that our own goods and services are safe, and (2) that an enemy’s are not. From the sea, it (3) guarantees safe delivery of goods and services ashore, and (4) prevents delivery ashore by an enemy navy.


Postscript Note: Bit worrisome that in this day of return to near-peer competition the ability of the US Navy to protect the movement of forces across the Atlantic is doubtful. See Navy Drills Atlantic Convoy Ops for First Time Since Cold War in Defender-Europe 20. I particularly note this quote, “The Navy is exercising a contested cross-Atlantic convoy operation for the first time since the end of the Cold War, using a carrier strike group to pave the way for sealift ships with a cruiser escort to bring the Army ground equipment for the Defender-Europe 20 exercise.” First time since the Cold War? First time since 1986? Looks like the USN needs to find a way to play the 1:1 scale version of Blue Water Navy more often.

#Coronapocalypse #Wargame Month-in-Review (March 15 – April 15, 2020)

HERE IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA the DECLARATION OF A STATE OF EMERGENCY DUE TO NOVEL CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) was issued on March 12, 2020. For me the real Coronapocalypse started on March 15, the day before I started my new job. The onboarding was surreal; rushed to get people out soonest, walking into a deserted office, then being told to go home and telework when I don’t even have an office account. Although the teleworking eventually worked out, I still found myself at home more than expected. Looking to fill my time, gaming has been a part of my therapy to avoid going stir-crazy.

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In the first 30 days of my Coronapocalypse, I played 19 different games a total of 38 times. Looking at the list, I think many will be surprised to see Elena of Avalor: Flight of the Jaquins (Wonder Forge, 2017) as one of the top-played games. This of course is because we were helping our friends with taking care of their kids while they were working. Fortunately, it is not a bad game – for kids – and was an unexpected discovery (especially given that we purchased our copy for less than $5).

I am very happy that I got in multiple plays of Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987 (GMT Games, 2019). Getting time to do multiple plays allowed me to get deeper into the design and enjoyment. The same can be said about Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid (GMT Games, 2017) which had the bonus of being a dedicated solitaire design that was perfect for Coronapocalypse gaming. This multi-play approach also enabled me to rediscover Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra, 2018), a game which I had under-appreciated.

Given I am stuck working at home, I tried to find ways to mix my wargaming into “professional training.” So it came to be that Next War: Korea 2nd Editions (GMT Games, 2019) landed on the table. I also ordered a copy of the game poster from C3i Ops Center for my new office but, alas, the California shutdown stopped it from being sent just after the label was created.

As disruptive as the Coronapocalypse is, here in the RockyMountainNavy home we tried to keep some semblance of order. This included our Saturday Boardgaming Night with Azul: Summer Pavilion (Next Move Games, 2019), 878 Vikings (Academy Games, 2017), Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017), and Firefly: The Game (Gale Force Nine, 2013).

This month I also explored a few more solitaire gaming titles in my collection. I continue to insist that AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018) is one of the best ‘waro’ games out there. I also got Mrs. Thatcher’s War: The Falklands, 1982 (White Dog Games, 2017) to the table right around the time the historical conflict started. Late in the month, my copy of Amerika Bomber: Evil Queen of the Skies (Compass Games, 2020) arrived. First impressions will be forthcoming.

Coronapocalypse also gave me the chance to play more one-on-one with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. RockyMountainNavy T continued his punishing win streak by besting me, again, in two plays of Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 2019).

The game of the month was actually the last one I played. I pulled Patchwork (Mayfair Games, 2014) out to play with one of Mrs. RockyMountainNavy’s students. The box was still on the table later that night and I asked Mrs. RMN if she wanted to play. She said yes. You have to understand that Mrs. RMN is a strong advocate of gaming but she rarely plays herself. So we set up an played. She beat me handily (I actually had a negative score). I hope this is a harbinger of future gaming, especially with a title like Azul: Summer Pavilion.

How has your Coronapocalypse lock-down gaming gone?


Feature image courtesy laughingsquid.com

History to #Wargame – Retracing World War I in Paths of Glory: The First World War, 1914-1918 (@gmtgames, 1999)

WHEN IT COMES TO THE HISTORY OF CARD DRIVEN GAMES (CDG), Ted Raicer’s Paths of Glory: The First World War, 1914-1918 (GMT Games, 1999+) is one of the grandfathers of the hobby.  The game has gone thru many iterations, the most recent being the Deluxe Edition currently on sale. My copy is an original 1999 version. Although I know the game has been updated, my copy is good enough to get the experience. As another day of Coronapocalypse passes, so does another wargame land on my gaming table. So it came that Paths of Glory landed for play. There are surely folks out there that will claim the early versions of Paths of Glory are broken. After all, the game has undergone multiple revisions up to today. Although my copy is the first version it still delivers a very engaging game experience.

My original intention was to play with with RockyMountainNavy Jr. as he is working on a First World War segment in school. Unfortunately, I chose to put Paths of Glory on the table the same day his distance learning classes began. So he was busy and I ended up playing a modified solo game by myself. Playing a CDG solo is possible (there are variants available on BGG) but in the interest of time I played my usual “schizoid solo” where I switch between sides.

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Early game situation

My plan was to play just the Introductory Scenario with RMN Jr but when I instead found myself and my arch-nemesis, Mr. Solo, on opposite sides of the table I extended the game to continue through the Limited War Scenario. I really wanted to keep going but decided to end the game at the transition to Total War. At this point the Central Powers almost had the Victory but was one VP shy at 16 which forced a Draw.

I really enjoyed the game and was reminded that a wargame does not always mean you need to fight. This is most apparent when the War Commitment Level is at Mobilization. The challenge in the first portion of the game is to balance a need to mobilize (build forces that can enter the war later) against an urge to strike quickly. In my game, the Central Powers struck quickly whereas I adopted a ‘hold and build” strategy for the Allies. Of course, the many Mandated Offenses interfered with both sides by either dictating an offense when it was not desired, or an offense on a front that was not ready for it. Such is the learning potential of the game; Paths of Glory is not a game recreating World War I, it is a game that shows what World War I could of been. The historical result is but one possibility.

I still hope to sit down with RMN Jr. and play the Introductory Scenario. I think it will give him a taste of the situation in August 1914 and give him more insight into what the leaders of the day faced. Paths of Glory is not a perfect model, but it is certainly good enough.

Doing a little #coronapocalypse #wargame Morning Recon all by myself in Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987 (@gmtgames, 2019).

KDiDKYRhSZyzuc78FsjBeAIN A PAST LIFE AS A US NAVY SQUADRON INTEL OFFICER, I did more than a fair share of Mission Planning for airstrikes. That is part of the reason I love designer Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s Downtown: Air War Over Hanoi, 1965-1972 (GMT Games, 2004). In 2019 the latest addition to the series, Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987 (GMT Games) designed by Douglas Bush arrived after a not-to-long stint on the P500. This week, as I fight off the zombies-of-boredom of the Coronapocalype, I pulled Red Storm out and committed to a deeper learning experience.

First off, I must commend designer Douglas Bush and GMT for publishing such a high quality product. Not only do the game components look great, but the errata is quite small for such a ‘complex’ game. Part of this is surely the result of previous titles working out many of the kinks in the system design but Red Storm kicks the complexity of the simulation up a notch from the others so I expected more errata than exists. Kudos!

For my day of Red Storming, I decided to start at the beginning and use scenario RS1: Morning Recon. This is a solo introductory scenario where a flight of 2 SU-24MR have to Recon four targets. Victory is determined by the NATO player accomplishing four tasks. In the scenario as written, there is no actual combat (though the combat sequences are exercised). The scenario note is what made for my repeated plays:

Note: Player should try this scenario at least twice, once with the WP [Warsaw Pact] flight at Medium or High altitude (and faster speed) and once at Deck (lower speed, harder to detect). That will give a feel for the difference between “going high” and “going low” when trying to both get to a target and intercepting flights doing so. In addition, during the second playing of the scenario, players should let the NATO side attack the WP flight in order to further learn the combat rules.

Deciding to take the game one step further, I decided to play a fifth time, but in this case incorporating as much of Rule 33.2 Full Solitaire Rules as possible. To further mix it up, I used the Order of Battle Tables in the Appendices Book to randomly generate the forces. For NATO this meant rolling on the NATO QRA Flight / 2ATAF table for a result of “6-4” giving a flight of two Belgium F-16A. For the Warsaw Pact the roll randomly between the USSR and GDR [German Democratic Republic – East Germany] getting GDR than a “4” on the WP Special Missions / Tactical Recon table which launched a flight of two GDR MiG-21M. I decided to make this a “Combat allowed” version of RS1.

The resulting game was MUCH different than the regular Morning Recon scenarios. Not only were the fighters different but the lack of real BVR capability on the Belgium F-16A’s meant this was destined to be a knife fight. The GDR MiG-21M is armed with only an internal 23mm cannon so it really is in their best interests to avoid a fight.

I let the Bot run the GDR but gave it one input at start using a random die to chose between “going high” and “going low.” The random was “go high” so off we went. NATO was able to quickly gain a Detection on the flight but gaining a Visual Identification proved a bit more difficult as early Engagement rolls by me were whiffed. Amazingly, the simple Noise Jammer on the MiG-21M also slowed Full SAM Acquisition. However, the superior maneuverability and radar suite of the F-16A eventually prevailed and both MiG-21 were downed…although the second was just before it passed back over the inter-German border. All in all a very good fight!

844At present, an expansion for the game, Red Storm: Baltic Approaches is on the GMT Games P500 and at 485 pledges. I hope it comes “makes the cut” soon so I can get more Red Storm goodness to the table. Then again, I’m being greedy for there are 29 other scenarios in the base Red Storm and two campaigns (not to mention four Solo Scenario) to help me get through my coronapocalypse isolation before then.

So what?


Feature image: Three aircraft from the U.S. Air Force in Europe in flight on 6 April 1987 near Ramstein Air Base, Germany. These aircraft were part of a larger, 15-aircraft formation taking part in an aerial review for departing General Charles L. Donnelly Jr., commander in chief, U.S. Air Force Europe and commander, Allied Air Forces Central Europe. The visible aircraft are (front to back): McDonnell Douglas F-4G Phantom II (s/n 69-0237), 81st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 52nd Tactical Fighter Wing, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany; Fairchild Republic A-10A Thunderbolt II (s/n 81-0995), 510th TFS, 81st TFW, RAF Bentwaters, Suffolk (UK); McDonnell Douglas RF-4C-39-MC Phantom II (s/n 68-0583), 1st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, RAF Alconbury, Cambridgeshire (UK). Courtesy wikimedia.org.

#Coronapocalypse #Boardgame #GuiltyPleasure – Why AuZtralia (@StrongholdGames, 2018) is a game for real grognards

I DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHY THIS GAME IS NOT MORE POPULAR. The game I am talking about is AuZtralia: The Great Designers Series #11 (Stronghold Games, 2018). First off, it’s designed by Martin Wallace who is one of the star Eurogame designers out there.

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Courtesy Stronghold Games

A Eurogame? I can hear you asking now, “Hey, RockyMountainNavy, has that quarantine thing sent you batty? I thought you were a wargamer?”

Yes, I am still a grognard, but I always look for new and innovative games. That’s why AuZtralia ended up in my collection. According to the ad copy:

AuZtralia is an adventure/exploration game for 1-4 players set in an alternate reality 1930s. The theme is inspired by Martin Wallace’s A Study in Emerald. Following the Restorationist war, the northern hemisphere lands lay poisoned and starvation was the norm. Intrepid adventurers set out to explore and settle new lands. Little did they know, after the war, the surviving Old Ones and their remaining loyal human armies made their way to the outback of Australia to lick their wounds.

Build a port, construct railways, mine and farm for food. You’ll need to prepare for the awakening. You’ll need to fight.

Everything you do in the game costs time, which is one of AuZtralia’s most valued resources.

At a point in time, the Old Ones will wake up and become an active player. They begin to reveal themselves and move, with potentially devastating outcomes.

You’ll need to prepare wisely for the awakening and may have to co-operate with others to defeat the most dangerous Old Ones.

Military units will help you to locate, fight and defend against the nightmarish beings that may be lurking on your doorstep. As well as hardware, you’ll need to recruit some Personalities who have the skills and resources to help you.

Well, that pretty much sums up the entire game. The first part of the game is almost a pure Eurogame; build railroads, farms, mine resources, and recruit Personalities with special powers. The key mechanic is Time. Everything you do takes Time.

Then the Old Ones start to awake. They stalk you. They Blight your farms. You have to defend yourself before they destroy everything, especially your Port.

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Old Ones Card – Courtesy Stronghold Games

This is when the “conflict” game starts. For those squeamish Eurogamers out there you can breathe easy because you don’t fight another player – you fight the Old Ones driven by their own deck of cards. There are even no dice in this game; everything is resolved by another special deck of cards. Players will need to cooperate to defeat the Old Ones. To use designer Brian Train’s description of another crossover game, it’s a “militarized Eurogame.” I prefer the term Waro.

AuZtralia is designed for 1-4 players. I played the Solo Mode. My randomly drawn Solo Objective was Frenetic Farmer – Reward: 20 VP, Place at least TWO of each type of Farm and end with at least FOUR non blighted Farms. Uh…alot easier said then done!

I lost, but I had a good deal of fun. Playtime was a little bit under an hour. As always the real stressor is finding the balance in time and resources between building your infrastructure and preparing – then fighting with – your military. This is not a serious game by any stretch of the imagination but nor is it cheesy. Strategy choices are real and supported by the game mechanics and play.

Looking at the BGG Stats on AuZtralia, I guess the boardgame community embraces the game far more than grognards. At the time of this writing, AuZtralia is ranked #682 Overall and the #362 Strategy Game. This makes it the #47 BGG Overall ranked game and the #10 BGG Strategy Game in my collection.*

That’s too bad. I know grognards often like to focus on “the fight” and don’t always want to be involved in the “why” or “how” of the situation. Especially if the “how” involves logistics (resources). AuZtralia challenges those notions by combining elements of a Eurogame with a wargame. The resulting Adventure game is both fun and interesting – even for this grognard.


*My Top 10 BGG Ranked Strategy Games in collection

  1. Terraforming Mars (BGG #5)
  2. Scythe (BGG #11)
  3. Root (BGG #29)
  4. Raiders of the North Sea (BGG #71)
  5. Pandemic (BGG #98)
  6. Tiny Epic Galaxies (BGG #202)
  7. Pandemic: Fall of Rome (BGG #219)
  8. Trains (BGG #296)
  9. Settlers of Catan (BGG #344)
  10. AuZtralia (BGG #362)

 

#Coronapocalypse #Boardgaming #FirstImpression – Summer starts early with Azul: Summer Pavilion (nextmovegames.com, 2019)

I guess I got lucky in that I got an order from Miniatures Market in before the #Coronapocalypse shutdown kicked in really hard. Although I am a Grognard wargamer, I also want to play family boardgames. As much as the RockyMountainNavy family plays games, Mrs. RMN is a reluctant gamer. Sure, she encourages others to play, but she is reluctant to play herself. So I decided to try a new game that would (hopefully) attract her to the table.

The game I settled upon is Azul: Summer Pavilion (Next Move Games, 2019). Why Azul? Well, it aligns well with her (limited) gaming interests:

  • It’s colorful
  • It’s an abstract game (Qwirkle is a favorite)
  • It’s easy to learn.

To date I have had limited success. I have yet to get Mrs. RMN to play even though we are now being detained ordered by the Governor to Stay at Home. However, the RMN Boys and I have played a few times. Our general reaction is that the game is more “thinky” than we expected. If your fellow gamers are prone to Analysis Paralysis this may NOT be the game to bring to the table if time is essential to you. I mean, the game is not hard to learn (the rules are rather simple) but the choices to make can be challenging. If you are really into puzzle games then Azul: Summer Pavilion will be right up your alley.

I have not given up yet on Mrs. RMN. I think that once she plays she will enjoy the game. Even if she doesn’t, the game is a good candidate for her older students. The ease of learning in many ways makes this a gateway game, however the strategy challenges makes it a lite-medium weight game.

Regardless of Mrs RMN plays, Azul: Summer Pavilion will stay on the gaming shelf (and table) in our Medium Gateway category.

When #boardgames are a little too close to life – #Coronavirus & Pandemic (@Zmangames_, 2008)

WHEN IS A GAME MORE THAN A GAME?

Given all the news about coronavirus, it seems only logical that Pandemic (Z-Man Games, 2008) would end up on the table for the RockyMountainNavy Game Night. Truth is, it was a very hard game for me to play.

This week my father-in-law passed away in Korea. We sadly made the decision that not all of us could travel to the funeral, but we put Mrs. RockyMountainNavy on a plane to go. On the day we got the news (early Wednesday morning) there were about 25 cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) reported in Korea. By the time she landed in Seoul Thursday night (Korea time) there were over 100 cases and a death. As I write this post Saturday night stateside, the Sunday numbers from Korea are 556 602 confirmed cases and three five deaths. The number of confirmed cases has practically DOUBLED EVERY DAY this week.

To say I am worried is an understatement. When I talked to her earlier this evening she told me that everyone is going out as little as possible. Before she left, we paid extortion prices for a package of face masks – now I am unsure she took enough. The US State Department is recommending ‘Extra Caution’ for travelers to Korea, and I fear that soon we may have more restrictions – restrictions that may make it harder for her to get home. That is, as long as she stays healthy.

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The RockyMountainNavy Boys wanted to play Pandemic because they felt it was timely. I almost said no as I am deeply worried. I know it’s just a game, but I was sure that losing would be a bad sign. I eventually relented, telling myself that the Boys needed to play so that they can feel like we are doing something, anything, to fight COVID-19. Even if it is just feeling good from playing a game. So I soldiered on and we played.

When we drew our Roles I almost bailed out. I was the Dispatcher, RockyMountainNavy T was the Medic, and RockyMountainNavy Jr. was the Researcher. The initial Outbreak was heavy in Latin America/Africa (Yellow) and Eastern Europe/Middle East/India (Black). I was trying not to feel despondent but it was hard. As we played though, we immediately started to mesh and support each other. We quickly Cured and Eradicated three diseases, BlueRed, and Black. The Medic had four Yellow City Cards in his hand and I was able to move him to myself and give him a fifth Yellow City Card so he could then move to a Research Station and Cure the final disease with four Player Cards to spare.

This win felt really good, maybe because I see it as a kind of sign. Yes, I know the fight against COVID-19 is not a game, but we beat the diseases in Pandemic. That was the sign I needed to see more hope. In its own way, playing Pandemic has given me hope that we can beat back COVID-19 and, more importantly, bring our family back together safe and healthy .