#Wargame Wednesday – The Charlies are no Angels: Response to the @ADragoons dissection of the 2019 Charles S. Roberts Wargame awards

Regiment members Ardwulf, Cyrano, and Brant over on the Mentioned in Dispatches podcast of the Armchair Dragoons spend Season 2 Episode 10 doing a deep dive on the return of the wargaming Charles S. Roberts Awards, or the ‘Charlies’. It’s their longest podcast ever and its well worth it. For as much as they say I’ve still got a thoughts of my own to add.

First off, let’s be clear that I long ago considered the Charles S. Roberts Awards the ‘Oscars’ of wargaming. Way back in the mid-1970s when they started it was assumed that the awards were only for wargames. Over time, the CSR expanded to cover many non-wargame categories and eventually morphed into the Origins Awards. The ‘new’ Charlies focused on wargames and that excited me. In the end though, the execution of the Charlies disappoints me and leaves our community without a flagship award to recognize luminaries of our hobby.

Categories

A large part of the discussion revolved around the break down of the award categories. A major complaint on the podcast is that the categories, based on time periods which the new Charlies call ‘Milieu Awards’, are too broad.

  • Best Ancients to Pre-Napoleonic Era Board Wargame
  • Best Napoleonic Era Board Wargame
  • Best Post-Napoleonic to Pre-World War 2 Era Wargame
  • Best World War 2 Era Board Wargame
  • Best Post-WW2, Cold War, & Hypothetical Board Wargame
  • Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Wargame

Then, of course, there the final category, Best Board Wargame of the Year.

The second broad category of awards were format awards. Given the history of the Charlies derives from industry awards I am not as concerned. My major concern are those Milieu Awards.

Looking back at the Charles S. Roberts Awards themselves, we see that the categories have evolved over time. Take for example 1975, the 1st Annual Awards. The categories, all four of them, were:

The categories changed significantly over time. Here are some of the highlights:

  • 1978 – Added Best Pre-20th Century Board Game, and Best 20th Century Board Game
  • 1988 – Best 20th Century Board Game divided into Best 1900-1946 Board Game and Best 1947-Modern Day Board Game
  • 1990 – Split categories dropped; change to Best Pre-20th Century Board Game and Best Modern-Day Board Game
  • 1998 – Time categories dropped; return to Best Historical Game
  • 2003 – Best Historical Game dropped
  • 2005 – Best Historical Board Game returns
  • 2006 – Best Historical Board Game dropped
  • 2007 – Best Historical Board Game returns (again)
  • 2012 – Last year of the Charles S. Roberts Awards; fully replaced by the Origins Awards
  • (Source: Origins Awards Winners – Past Winners)

Which is a long way of saying the categories have always been changing and many times have not made good sense.

Like the guests, I want to spend some time on that Hypothetical category. I HATE that name. Wargames, even the ones closely based on a historical event, are HYPOTHETICAL. I play a wargame to see how the history played out; if I just want to rigidly recreate the battle I would run a simulation, not play a game. Besides, how do you define hypothetical? If we say wargames can only be ‘historical’ and hypothetical conflicts like the Cold War Gone Hot don’t count then we need to kick Tactics II designed by Charles S. Roberts himself and published by Avalon Hill in 1958 out of our most sacred pantheon of wargames. After all, it’s an abstract conflict of Red vs. Blue – nothing ‘real’ about it.

Wargame Boat?

This year’s winner, U-Boot, was described on the show as a ‘worker placement game, not a wargame.’ Looking back at the past winners, we see that the winners have not always been, shall we say, ‘classic’ wargames. Indeed, note that in the past there has actually never been a ‘wargame’ catagory!

  • 1975 Best Professional Game – Third Reich (Avalon Hill Game Company)
  • 1976 Best Professional Game – Kingmaker (Philmar/AH)
  • 1977 Best Strategic Game – The Russian Campaign (AH); Best Tactical Game – Terrible Swift Sword (SPI)
  • 1978 Best Strategic Game – Victory in the Pacific (AH); Best Tactical Game – Squad Leader (AH)
  • 1979 Best Pre-20th Century Board GameSource of the Nile (Discovery); Best 20th Century Board Game – To the Green Fields Beyond (SPI)
  • 1980 Pre 20th – Napoleon at Leipzig (OSG); Best 20th – City Fight (SPI)
  • 1981 Pre 20th – Empires of the Middle Ages (SPI); Best 20th – Crescendo of Doom (AH)
  • 1982 Pre 20th – House Divided (GDW); Best 20th – Wings (AH) [Should be Yaquinto]
  • 1983 Pre 20th – Civilization (AH); Best 20th – Storm Over Arnhern (AH)
  • 1984 Pre 20th – The Civil War (Victory Games); Best 20th – Ambush! (VG)
  • 1985 Pre 20th – South Mountain (West End Games); Best 20th – Vietnam (VG)
  • 1986 Pre 20th – Pax Brittanica (Victory Games); Best 20th – World in Flames (Australian Design Group)
  • 1987 Pre 20th – Chickamauga (WEG); Best 20th – Fortress America (Milton Bradley)
  • 1988 Pre 20th – Shogun (MB); 1900-1946 – Scorched Earth (GDW); 1947-Modern-Day – Team Yankee (GDW)
  • 1989 Pre 20th – Gettysburg (AH); 1900-1946Kremlin (AH); 1947+ – The Hunt for Red October (TSR)
  • 1990 Pre 20th – A House Divided (GDW); Best Modern Day – Red Storm Rising (TSR)
  • 1991 Pre 20thRepublic of Rome (AH); Modern-Day – Eurorails (Mayfair)
  • 1992 Pre 20thBlackbeard (AH); Modern-Day – East Front (Columbia)
  • 1993 Pre 20th – SPQR (GMT); Modern-Day Hacker (Steve Jackson Games)
  • 1994 Pre 20th – History of the World (AH); Modern-DayHacker II (SJG)
  • 1995 Pre 20th – Roads to Gettysburg (AH); Modern-Day Australian Rails (Mayfair Games)
  • 1996 Pre 20thColonial Diplomacy (AH); Modern-Day – Empire of the Rising Sun (AH)
  • 1997 Pre 20thAge of Renaissance (AH); Modern-Day – Harpoon4 (Clash of Arms)
  • 1998 Best Historical Board Game – Successors (AH)
  • 1999 Best Historical Board Game – Great War at Sea: Plan Orange (Avalanche Press)
  • 2000 Best Historical Board Game – Great War at Sea: 1904-1905, The Russo-Japanese Naval War (Avalanche Press)
  • 2001 Best Historical Board Game – Axis & Allies: Europe (AH)
  • 2002 Best Historical Board Game – Axis & Allies: Pacific (Hasbro/AH)
  • 2003 (No historical category)
  • 2004 (No historical category)
  • 2005 Best Historical Board Game – Sword of Rome (GMT)
  • 2006 (No historical category)
  • 2007 Best Historical Board Game – Command & Colors: Ancients (GMT)
  • 2008 Best Historical Board GameAge of Empires III: The Age of Discovery (Tropical Games)
  • 2009 Best Historical Board Game – Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (Academy Games)
  • 2010 Best Historical Board Game – Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! (Academy Games)
  • 2011 Best Historical Board GameCatan Histories – Settlers of America: Trails to Rails (Mayfair)
  • 2012 Best Historical Board Game – Strike of the Eagle (Academy Games)
  • (Source: Origins Awards Winners – Past Winners)

Without getting into the never-ending, unwinnable battle over “what is a wargame,” I’ll just say that I agree with Brant; without a tight definition of a wargame there is no reason to expect anything but controversy. What that defintion is; well, I can’t always tell you what a wargame is, but I know one when I see one!

The Process – or Not?

I strongly believe that the reason there is so much controversy over the new Charlies is the process of the awards. I can’t help but feel that this awards cycle was nothing more than a popularity contest. Hence, I am not surprised at the results.

In many ways I feel the new Charlies go too far. The Milieu Awards and Game of the Year are the hallmark awards; the Format Awards, while certainly useful to the industry have less appeal to the consumer. The new Charlies need to focus on their true core, the Milieu Awards.

In addition to a tightening of definitions and enforcement of the rules, I believe the Charles S. Roberts Awards for Wargaming should be judged by a jury. A popular nomination process is maybe inevitable, but there needs to be a winnowing of the list to get to a select group of nominees that a jury can work through. The process the Origins Awards uses, while not perfect, is a good start:

Any publisher or designer can submit their products for consideration during the eligibility period. Submissions in each category are evaluated by a jury of industry professionals who choose their top products. These become the nominees, which are sent to the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. The Academy places their votes by email and the winners are announced during the Awards ceremony.

origins awards.net

Personal Thoughts on the 2019 Charles S. Roberts #Wargame Awards

FROM 1974 TO 2012, THE CHARLES S. ROBERTS AWARDS RECOGNIZED THE BEST GAMES OF THE YEAR. For the wargame industry, the CSR became the defacto top award in much the same way the Spiele de Jahres is for the Eurogame (and now hobby boardgame) crowd. Over time though the CSR lost it’s luster. It also lost out to other awards such as the Origins Awards or the Golden Geek Awards as well as the aforementioned Spiele de Jarhres. It also didn’t help that the wargame industry was being relegated to a niche-within-a-niche of the larger hobby boardgame industry. Following the 2012 awards the CSR disappeared.

I don’t let awards drive my purchasing habits, but they can serve as a bellwether of quality. Unfortunately, more recent hobby boardgame awards seem to double-down on popularity over merit. One need look no further than the 2017 Golden Geek Awards where Gloomhaven swept six of 14 categories including Game of the Year. In 2019 it was Wingspan sweeping eight of 14 categories. This is not to say that the games were not deserving of some award, but I find it hard to believe that in an industry where literally thousands of games are published eery year that these single games rose above all of others in so many ways.

In May 2020, the Charles S. Roberts Awards reappeared thanks to the efforts of more than a few wargame industry stalwarts. A ballot for the revamped awards is available online and can be submitted electronically or mailed in.

I am simultaneously happy and disappointed.

Happy because the CSR Awards are back. I hope this means that worthy wargame designers and publishers are recognized for their achievements.

Disappointed because I’m not sure the worthy will be recognized. My disappointment stems from the fact I feel the revamped CSR Awards – as presently organized – are nothing more than a popularity contest, and a confusing one at that.

The CSR Award should be straight-forward. The charter has only one rule:

RULE ONE

  1. The Charles S. Roberts Awards shall be given annually to honor outstanding achievements in the wargaming hobby and to honor other achievements as provided for in these rules and approved by the Charles S. Roberts (CSR) Board of Governors
  2. Awards shall be announced publicly by July 1, 2020 and formal presentation for this award will be made via live webcast. In future years, awards will be announced earlier in the year.
  3. Awards in the form of a certificate shall be conferred annually for the following achievements to the publisher and designer/graphics artist/developer or individual of each category.

This rule is followed by category definitions – all 29 of them.

The 2019 ballot itself has several additional rules, but the one that catches my attention is this one:

Voters can consult with publishers or game information on https://www.boardgamegeek.com to verify a game was published in 2019. Eligibility for games will be at discretion of the CSR Board of Governors if there is a discrepancy on publication dates.

The 2019 ballot also includes a representative list of eligible games – all 200+ of them. Here is where my real concern kicks in.

First, the list of eligibles only lists tabletop boardgames. What about the computer categories? Is there a sample list of eligibles there too?

The tabletop eligible list draws from the BoardGameGeek database. Looking through the list, I noted a few games that I own that were published in 2019 were not listed. This makes me question the list. I have tried to recreate this list myself using the Advanced Search feature of BGG but can’t.* The eligible list does carry a warning:

IMPORTANT!! THIS LIST MAY NOT LIST ALL ELIGIBLE GAMES. GAMES NOT ON THE LIST ARE ELIGIBLE IF PUBLISHED IN 2019 AND OTHERWISE MEETING THE CATEGORY REQUIREMENTS.

But is that enough?

The eligible list illustrates my two major issues with the CSR Awards as presently organized.

  1. There are too many titles (over 200) for any single voter to be familiar with meaning votes are more likely to be awarded based on name recognition rather than merit (i.e. a popularity contest).
  2. Although the eligibility rules seem simple, the sample list is incomplete leading to an appearance it has been curated (i.e. a transparency issue).

So why not double-down on the curation?

I know curation is hard. If as a consumer and player I can’t be familiar with 200+ titles, how do I expect an eligibility committee to winnow down a list for me?

Because if they don’t then the CSR Awards are nothing more than a popularity contest.

The 2019 ballots are due June 15, 2020. I am torn; I want to recognize good wargames but am familiar with so few. I own or have played only about 10% of the list of eligibles. Sure, I recognize many others, but can I in good conscience cast a vote based upon the word of others or should my vote be cast based on first-hand knowledge gained from actual play?

I want the CSR Awards to succeed; I’m just not sure our definitions of success are the same.


*Using the Advanced Search feature of BGG, I used two different searches:

  1. Year Published Range = “2019 to 2019” & Board Game Category = “Wargame”
  2. Year Published Range = “2019 to 2019” & Board Game Subdomain = “Wargames”

 

#WargameWednesday -The 80’s are calling and they want their 7th Fleet (Victory Games, 1987) back!

AFTER basically taking April off from heavy gaming, I jumped back into my 2019 Charles S Roberts Award Challenge this week with the 1987 Winner for Best Modern Era Boardgame, 7th Fleet from Victory Games. In late 2018, Compass Games announced they would be reprinting the Fleet-series. This got me thinking….

I played 7th Fleet not that long ago so this play was a bit easier since the rules were not stale in my head. This time through I asked myself why this game should be reprinted. The best answer I came up with was, “Because it does operational-level naval combat from the 1980’s so well.” 7th Fleet, and indeed the entire Fleet-series, is an excellent snapshot of what naval combat in the 1980’s at the operational level was expected to be. This is not to say it is perfect; the Fleet-series was informed by the best publicly available information. I want to focus on three issues, sea-skimming missiles, cruise missiles, and intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance (ISR) to help make my point.

The sea-skimming missile shot to fame (no pun intended) in the 1982 Falklands War with the Exocet anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM). As a sea-skimmer it was harder to engage because it usually flew below most weapons engagement envelopes.

In the Fleet-series, “sea-skimmers” like Exocet get their own call out in the rules and prevent the defending Area Anti-Air value from being multiplied when in defense. It is interesting to me that the only missile attribute that gets recognized is sea-skimmers. Other attributes, like speed or steep diving, were simply factored into the SSM Attack Value. This “boutique rule” (my term) makes the Fleet-series a reflection of its time. I wonder what the update is going to do; keep the sea-skimmer “exception” or go further? How should the Fleet-series handle supersonic and hypersonic ASCMs?

The other missile that gets recognized is Cruise Missiles. Rule 10.5 Cruise Missile Combat lays out the use of cruise missiles. In 7th Fleet, only the US Navy mounts cruise missiles so this is, in effect, a bonus US rule. Today, we understand that some of the very large Soviet missiles also had a land-attack capability. Another boutique rule; another limitation of the understanding from the 1980s, and another challenge to the designers and developer’s looking at a reprint.

In the Fleet-series , during the Strategic Detection Segment of the Strategic Cycle, Reconnaissance air units in an air zone can locate an enemy surface unit (or stack) or attempt to place a Strategic Detection marker on a submarine. In other words, all detection is from tactical, organic assets. The role of space-based ISR is ignored. Not that it was unknown; even the CIA took note of a Jack Anderson column in the Washington Post in February 1985 that talked about Soviet threat satellites.

fullsizeoutput_74d

To be clear, I am absolutely NOT accusing designer Joe Balkoski or Victory Games of ignoring the role of space-based ISR. Even though Jack Anderson got a scoop in 1985 the contribution of space-based sensors to ship tracking was actually highly classified at the time. For the designers to not include them in the game is understandable, and another example of how the Fleet-series is a product of its day.

All of which makes 7th Fleet and its sister-games in the Fleet-series so wonderful. To get a good taste of what people popularly thought the Cold War at Sea would look like one either read Tom Clancy or played a Fleet-series game. The game rules capture the essence of naval combat in the 1980s with few boutique rules or rules exceptions. I am fortunate enough to own the entire Fleet-series so I have little pressure to acquire any reprints. I am interested in seeing what is done with the reprints and, if there is enough differences, may look to invest.


Feature image BoardGameGeek

 

2019 CSR #Wargame Challenge – World in Flames (Australia Design Group, 1985+) – Part 3: Nothing to Fear

I CONTINUE my 2019 CSR Challenge Wargame play of World in Flames (Australia Design Group, 1985+). Here in Part 3 I can give you my post-play reactions.

Wow.

I always remembered World in Flames (WiF) as a near-unplayable monster. Too many many maps. Too many rules. Too many counters. Too much time.

But it’s also really fun.

Why do I remember the game so poorly? Looking back, I think my friends and I were too ambitious. After all, we were wargamers! We can play ANY wargame, right? We were so good players we could jump right into the four-map campaign game like every sane grognard does. Truth is that approach doesn’t always work.

This time I took a much smaller bite of the WiF apple. I played the 5-turn introductory Barbarossa invasion scenario. Actually, I played the first turn twice because I messed up 15. Surprise.

My biggest take-away from playing WiF is that I can see how I have matured as a grognard wargamer in the past 20+ years since I last played this game. I now recognize that the Reorganisation action is actually the most important, especially 11.18.2 HQ Reorganisation. I used to hate any logistics or command rules that slowed me down; now I see that they are a critical part of the design elegance in WiF… and what an elegant design it is. So elegant in fact I want to try the other introductory scenario, Guadalcanal, and explore the naval aspects of the game.

Yes, you heard me; I want to play more WiF. I think another intro game is in store, and maybe a two-mapper campaign later this summer. Small bites.

There is a very good game here. The choices of major actions (Naval, Air, Land, Combined) is very interesting. It makes for challenging choices concerning in timing and forces used. WiF is still a big game, but it delivers big decisions too. It’s also much better than I remember.

Rediscovering WiF proves that older games still have much to offer. That thought is easy to miss in this era of FOMO* or CotN**. I have many games in my collection and many of them are criminally underplayed. My 2019 challenges are an effort to rediscover those older games and try each one at least once. As this play of WiF shows me, my memory of some of the games of yesteryear are cloudy and quite possibly incorrect. Thankfully, this is one correction I really enjoy.


* FOMO – Fear of Missing Out

** CotN – Cult of the New

 

 

2019 CSR #Wargame Challenge – World in Flames (Australia Design Group, 1985+) – Part 2: Baby Monster

pic2260119I CONTINUE my 2019 CSR Challenge Wargame play of World in Flames (Australia Design Group, 1985+). In Part 2, I worked on setting up the game.

Going into this part, I was very worried about the area that I would need to setup. Each of the four maps in WiF is ~22″ wide and ~33″ tall. Fortunately, for the introductory scenario 23.2.1 only the north half of the East Europe map is used. Thus, I was able to set up on a small low table (3’x3′) with extra charts and tables handy nearby. (Whew!)

I was also worried about the number of counters because, after all, there are over 3600 counters in the game! Remember that I am using the basic WiF rules and not all the expansions for this replay. This gives the Soviets 29 Land Units, 9 Aircraft Units, and 5 Naval Units at the start defending against a German invasion of 46 Land Units, 16 Aircraft Units, and one Naval Unit. That’s around 100 counters on a map area of 30×26 hexes. Note also the stacking limit is 2 land units per hex (2.3.1 Limits / Land unit limits). In other words, it’s manageable. (Double Whew!)

Sorting the counters did take a bit of time. When rereading the rules I noted 23.1.5 Sorting out the counters. Although the rules recommend sorting national forces by force pools, I instead just had a single large bag by nation. If I was ever to get seriously back into playing WiF I would absolutely need to do a major reorganization of all the counters!

[This is the point my wife usually reminds me that organizing yourself is the key to success.  Yes, dear!]

The rules for the scenario setup are actually quite short. Amazingly, the Players’ notes take up over two-pages of space! This is absolute required reading for a first play…and digesting it takes time. It certainly helps to understand what you are getting yourself into!

So…set up and ready to go. Now for the plan of action….

2019 CSR #Wargame Challenge – World in Flames (Australia Design Group, 1985+) – Part 1: What have I done?

So the next game in my 2019 Charles S Roberts Awards Wargame Challenge is World in Flames (Australia Design Group). This game won the CSR in 1985 for The Best Twentieth Century Game. I own the 1996 World in Flames Final Edition (or Sixth Edition). My WiF Deluxe also included Africa Aflame, Asia Aflame, Planes in Flames, Ships in Flames, and Mech in Flames. That alone is 7 maps and 3600 counters! I later added America in Flames and Carrier Planes in Flames for even more maps and counters. World In Flames is the very definition of a MONSTER GAME. Playing tie is rated on BGG as 120-6000 minutes (that’s right – 100 HOURS).

When I pulled out the box and started thinking about my challenge, I almost gave up. By God, it’s just too big! I don’t have the table space! I don’t have the time!

Instead, am going to take this challenge game in baby steps. Looking over the rulebook, I focused in on 23.2 The 5-Turn scenarios, in particular 23.2.1 Barbarossa ~ “One Kick…” The Player’s notes state, “This is the ideal scenario to try first because it deals mainly with the parts of the game most commonly used in general play, the land and air system.”

Whew. Baby monster!

Before playing a game, and especially before playing a game I have not played in a long while, I need to review the rulebook. In this case, I was able to read the rulebook and skip major sections (like 9. Declaring War) since I know they do not apply. I also decided to forego the Optional rules and focus on a basic game.

In World in Flames, each turn is broken down into Impulses and within each Impulse you can choose an Action. There are only five Actions to chose from; Pass, Air, Naval, Land, or Combination. Another important concept is Reorganisation. Then there is Production….

I vaguely remember back in the day when I got this game not understanding this whole idea of Impulses and Actions. Reorganisation also befuddled me, and I wanted to fight, not plan an economy! Just give me movement points for a counter, by gosh! Looking at it from today’s perspective, I can see that I have matured as a gamer and am more ready to accept alternate design mechanics. What I viewed in 1996 as unfathomable I now see as a very interesting design approach to modeling total warfare at the operational-strategic levels of war.

My next step in the challenge is to set up the scenario. Oh boy….

Social #wargame in Iron Bottom Sound II (Moments in History, 1998) – dedicated to @RBMStudio1 ?

The next game in my 2019 Wargame Challenge – The CSR is Ironbottom Sound (Quarterdeck Games, 1981). Unfortunately, I do not have a Quarterdeck Games first edition but instead I possess Iron Bottom Sound II published by Moments in History in 1998. In 1.0 INTRODUCTION, designer Jack Greene tells us about the new version:

Many of you played and enjoyed the original Ironbottom Sound. Now comes Iron Bottom Sound II (the now accepted spelling). It includes new scenarios, simplified rules of play, and ease of play concepts for some of us graying game players. Now that does not mean that IBS II is AARP approved, but who knows what the future will hold. Most of the scenarios are ideally designed for multi-play use. Usually about four to six ships per player works best.

In fact, this game is really supposed to be a social event. This game should be played as a multi-player game. Gather round the table, split up the commands, and break out the beer…

It has been a long time since I played IBS II and I had totally forgotten (missed?) the designer’s cry for social wargaming. What else did I forget?

Richard Berg

There is a note in the introduction that reads:

Note: Richard Berg is not allowed to play or review this game. If any game player sees Richard with this game, he is authorized by the designer to seize the game, and send it back to the designer. Considering that it is a naval game with Beth Queman graphics, it is best for Richard Berg’s heart condition to have nothing to do with IBS II. We are not responsible for any ill effects he may suffer if he gets a copy of this.

What’s the backstory here? Is this friendly banter or was there an issue between these two gentlemen?

2.43 Ship Types

I totally had forgotten that the size of the counter tells you the ship type. Battleships, cruisers, and merchants are 7/8th of an inch long; all others are “6/8ths of an inch long.” Uh…did somebody forget their math?

4.0 THE GAME TURN – 4.2 Expanded Sequence of Play – E. Gunnery Execution Phase

“Night gunfire is not simultaneous.” This sentence stopped me cold. What about daylight firing? Then I realized that right there, at the bottom of the page, it reads, “IRON BOTTOM SOUND II – Naval Night Surface Actions.” Looking back in the rules, the first sentence of the introduction states, “Iron Bottom Sound II captures the flavor of the bloody night naval surface battles fought off Guadalcanal….”

It never clicked on me before that IBS II actually models a very narrow portion of naval combat – night surface actions – and night surface actions only. By focusing almost exclusively on Guadalcanal, the aperture of the game narrows even more. This narrow focus doesn’t make it a bad game, I’d just forgotten the limited scope of the action.

The rule goes on to state:

The side with initiative will fire one ship first, this will be followed by the other side firing one ship etc. This will be repeated until all ships have fired. Damage is recorded immediately on the ship’s log, so ships that have not yet fired may be damaged before they had an opportunity to fire.

Whoa, this is totally NOT how I remember the game! This goes against almost EVERY wargame rules set out there! But…it’s intriguing and seems appropriate to the warfare being modeled….

6.0 COMBAT / 6.1 Gunnery Combat / 8.1 Radar

  • “All combat is at night so ranges are short and visibility, i.e., the ability to see your enemy, is limited.”
  • “All guns may fire to any range.”

Looking at the scenarios, the Visibility ranges from at best 19 hexes (Scenarios 4 & 5 for the Japanese) to as little as 3 hexes (!!) for Scenario 8 – Channel Action – November 28, 1940. Radar, defined in optional rule 8.1, can see the entire map unless an island lies between the firing and target ships or the target ship is within four hexes of an island and lying between the land and the radar-equipped ship.

Gunfire ranges are really not unlimited as the exception to this rule points out. The smallest guns (all 3″ and 4″ guns) are limited to 20 hexes range. Even so, that still outranges the maximum Visibility in any of the scenarios.

6.4 Torpedo Combat

Torpedo combat uses the concept of “mega-hexes.” I like this solution to the age-old problem of depicting a torpedo run on a hex map.

8.0 OPTIONAL RULES

The optional rules start on page 13. Looking back, once you get through all the front matter the actual “how to play” rules start on page six. This means the core rules literally are just a hair over six double-column pages in length. That’s a really compact set of rules!

9.0 SCENARIOS

There are ten scenarios in IBS II; eight are actions around Guadalcanal while the other two take place in the English Channel or the Mediterranean.

Design Notes

The Design Notes gives a history of the fall of Quarterdeck Games (if you Yen to read it) but also give players of IBS II insight into some of the design decisions behind the various factors or rules in the game. At the end, Mr. Greene doubles-down on his call for social gaming:

I chose the emphasis on multi-player action because I think a big game lends itself to more of a social interactive game. I play almost exclusively IBS II and World In Flames for, in part, this reason. A beer and some chips with the “guys” beats watching For a Few Dollars More for the 8th time.

I have to agree; Mr. Greene gets it. Wargames are commonly seen as two-player affairs. There are several multi-player wargames out there but they often are seen as the exception, not the rule. In the RockyMountainNavy house, the RMN Boys and I actively seek out multi-player wargames because we need to play three-player or more. That said, I had never really considered IBS II as a potential game night title. That is, until now.

Thank you, Mr. Greene, for making me reconsider my position. Like you, I would rather actively play a wargame with my boys than passively watch another ho-hum TV series or movie.


Feature image BoardGameGeek. Note that the artist is the esteemed Rodger B. MacGowan (@RBMStudio1). Iron Bottom Sound II is dedicated to Rodger MacGowan in the credits.

 

Aged #boardgame conspiracy in Illuminati (Steve Jackson Games, 1982) #fnord

So I reached game number 9 in my 2019 Wargame Challenge – The CSR. The game is Illuminati (Steve Jackson Games, 1982) which won the Charles S. Roberts award in 1982 for “Best Science-Fiction Boardgame.” I pulled the game out with every intention of introducing it to the RockyMountainNavy Boys so they could play it with me. You see, it’s hard to play a card game like Illuminati by yourself.

Illuminati is the game that introduced me to the Illuminati. Go ahead, read all about it. It just has to be true, yes? Illuminati is THE game of conspiracy theories. Looking around at today’s world (and especially American politics) this game is so topical. So why am I hesitant to get it to the table?

As I reviewed the rules of the game and ran through a mock session, I discovered two issues that gave me pause. Note that I actually possess a first edition (1982) copy and therefore the components in that copy are the one that I am judging my opinions on. My reasons for passing are:

  1. The groups are outdated.
  2. The game takes too long to play.

Let’s look at each issue in turn.

The Groups are Outdated

The groups to be controlled are certainly a reflection of their time. I came of age amongst the politics and pop culture of the early 1980’s so groups like Cattle Mutilators or the Semiconscious Liberation Army make sense to me but I severely doubt they can resonate with the RockyMountainNavy Boys in any real way. Sure, you can play without understanding the satire and parody but if you do one misses out on so much of the thematic richness of the game. I like Illuminati not just for the game play but more importantly for the satirical narrative it builds in play. Can you imagine Feminists controlling Science Fiction Fans?

[Ok, maybe that’s not the greatest example; believe me, it was a funny thought back in the day.]

Secondly, if I play with the RMN Boys they are going to ask why a group was included or what the group is. How much time will it take for me to explain what the Fiendish Fluoridators are? This feeds directly into my second issue….

The Game Takes Too Long to Play

Officially, Illuminati is rated at 60-120 minutes. I cannot remember a game that was under 2 hours. To teach it to the RMN Boys explaining not just the rules but all the groups means the game will likely take in excess of 2 hours. This is at the upper limit of our preferred play time for a game night. I am not sure that if we were to invest 2+ hours of game time we would really get that enjoyment much back out of it. I might; the RMN Boys? Ehh….

I see right now that Steve Jackson Games has a Kickstarter campaign for Pocket Box Games of the Eighties. I guess if you have a nostalgic hankering you can get a copy….

It’s all a conspiracy, I tell you!

fnord


Feature image BoardGameGeek.

 

#WargameWednesday #Retroplay CSR #Wargame – Wings (Yaquinto Publishing, 1981)

I have been working my way through my 2019 Wargame Challenge – The Charles S Roberts Awards with Wings (Yaquinto Publishing, 1981) being the latest to get played. This game was the 1981 CSR winner for “Best Twentieth Century Wargame,” and deservedly so! I am very fortunate that I still have my Yaquinto First Edition with John Hagen’s beautiful cover art

Wings is designed by the prolific S. Craig Taylor, Jr. whose previous air combat game designs included Air Force (Battleline, 1976) – a game enjoyed by the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself. By 1981, the Battleline games had been taken over by Avalon Hill and Mr. Taylor worked for Yaquinto. In the Designer’s Notes for Wings he comments:

I still take quite a bit of pride in the game system used in that series of games, but now, in 1981, that system is over five years old, and is no longer “state of the art” in wargame design. WINGS presents a new and improved  game system that, while being radically different in many ways, maintains the playability of the earlier game system while being far more accurate, adaptable, and flexible.

My impression of Wings is that the system is more an incremental evolution of the original plotted air combat system in Air Force and less a “radically different” game. I think that is why I was able to pick up the rules for this game quickly back in the day and am able to do the same even now.

Like many Yaquinto games of its day, the rule book for Wings used a landscape 9″x12″ booklet clocking in at 52-pages; a bit “heavy” for its day. However, there literally is five games in the rule book; the Basic Game, Advanced Game, Optional Rules, The Duel Game Rules, and The Mass Game Rules. Each one can be learned in smaller, more easily digestible chunks. Indeed, this is what Mr. Taylor recommends:

These rules may seem to be long and complex, but their bulk is deceptive. The rules need not be memorized, but should be carefully and thoroughly read. To jog the player’s memories, the most commonly used and needed information is given on the Game Cards, the Data Cards, and the Command Sheets for easy accessibility during play. In fact, players will discover that learning the game consists of learning relatively few procedures, and understanding what the information on the Game Cards, Data Cards, and Command Sheets means. The rules should be used as a reference for questions that arise during the actual play of the game, and a Table of Contents is included for ease of locating needed rules. The rules do not have to be learned in one sitting. Games can be and should be played using only the Basic Game Rules, until these are mastered and thoroughly understood. Then, learn the Advanced Game Rules, and play some games with those. The Optional Rules should be learned last, and selected Optional Rules introduced as the player’s mastery of the game increases. The Duel Game Rules should be tried only by players who have fully mastered the Basic and Advanced Games and the Optional Rules, and desire a game of great complexity and detail. If the players master each part of the rules before going into the next part, they will find that learning and mastering the rules will be much easier. There is no need for a new player to read further than to the end of the Basic Game Rules before proceeding to the scenarios to begin setting up the first game. (Emphasis in original)

This is excellent advice for any boardgamer or wargamer. Much like Alexander from The Players’ Aid recently talked about.²

For my game I used the Basic and Advanced Game Rules as well as the Optional Rules for Sighting (The Optional Rules, III. Sighting Rules). I set up according to Scenario TWO: “Dogfights” and used the Suggested Plane Charts on the Wings Set Up Card to pick two aircraft in a mid-1917 battle. Wanting to move away from the classic Western Front match-up, I instead looked for an Italian versus Austria-Hungary confrontation and ended up with a Italian HANRIOT HD.1 against an Oeffeg-ALBATROS D.III (mid 1917).

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Credit – Self

Mechanically, the game flows very well. One innovation introduced in Wings as compared to Air Force is the use of plotting by impulses. Instead of writing out a single plotted line, each turn is divided into impulses and the number of impulses plotted is equal to the aircraft speed. There is also an updated method of plotting for maneuvers which helps ensure the proper pre-maneuver costs are paid. Not shown in the photo above are the very small tokens for the plane counters that show aircraft bank status. Although a bit fiddly, showing the bank status directly on the board (rather than being kept only on the Command Sheet) helps get past some of the “tailing” issues that arise from the simultaneous movement.

Which leads into the only real negative  I have for Wings – the size factor. Aircraft counters are 5/8″ but the little tokens are really tiny. Additionally, the Data Cards are 2.75″x4.25″ with a really tiny font. Both get hard to handle or read.

Combat does require the use of tables but with a little familiarity it can be resolved quickly. Basically, the firer cross-references the number of bursts with the range on the GUNNERY TABLES along with a few modifiers to generate a Hit Table Number that is rolled against on the HIT TABLES. The resulting damage is crossed off the Command Sheet and the impact assessed.

And it all works. Fairly quickly. Realistic feeling yet playable.

Wings is a very good game and I can see why some folks use the rules even these days for miniatures. Indeed, the rise of Wings of Glory (Ares Games) gives Wings grognards like myself a chance to bring out the rules again usinf the pre-painted miniatures. Wings was a winner in 1981 – and it is still a winner today.

Post Script

Attentive readers will note that the Basic Game, Advanced Game, Optional Rules, and Duel Game are only four. So where did the fifth game go?

The fifth game in Wings is The Mass Game. This game is really different from the others being literally a separate game:

These rules have little to do with the other sections of this rulebook, and other rules do not apply unless specifically stated to do so. Dice rolls are handled as explained earlier, and only the Point Values, Notes, and Mass Game Information sections of the Data Cards are used. The Mass Game is intended to provide an abstract game – a simple and fun set of rules that enables players to easily and quickly handle large numbers of planes. Two, or more, players can participate, with each player controlling six to twenty-four individual planes.

I remember playing a Mass Game back in the day with many planes. I remember it as fun. I probably need to try it again….

As though five games was not enough, the Designer’s Notes talk about a “sixth” game:

A second game (as yet untitled) to supplement WINGS is planned for release in 1982 or 1983. This game will contain an additional fifty Data Cards and their accompanying Plane units, additional Optional Rules and Scenarios, and a complete “Strategic Game” that can be played independently, or used to generate tactical games using the Wings rules. Together, the two games should present the most complete and detailed look at World War I in the air ever presented in game form.

I never saw that game. I don’t think it ever got printed.

Too bad.


¹ At the time I drafted this post Mr. Hagen was not credited in BoardGameGeek with this box cover. Correction submitted!

² For another really good perspective on reading rules watch this video from Alexander over at The Players’ Aid


Feature image BoardGameGeek.com

 

CSR #Wargame Challenge Saturday – Azhanti High Lightning (GDW,1980) & Car Wars (Steve Jackson Games, 1981+)

It was a bit cold and windy outside this weekend so it was a good chance to work off another few games of my 2019 Charles S Roberts Wargame Challenge.

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Courtesy BGG.com

Up first was Azhanti High Lightning (GDW, 1980). I played using the VASSAL module since my copy is all electronic on the Far Future Enterprises Classic Traveller CD. AHL is a very “typical” GDW wargame of the 1980’s – heavy on rules and procedures. While billing itself as a game of close quarters combat aboard large spaceships (as compared to Snapshot (GDW, 1979) for small ships) I couldn’t help but think AHL is a fair model of indoor skirmish combat. There are rules here for doors and corners (no, not The Expanse Doors & Corners although….) as well as consoles and elevators and the like.  I mean, the deck plans for the AHL-class of ships are building style since the ship is a tail-sitter (again, ala The Expanse). A part of me wants to rename this Die Hard – The Boardgame.

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The Expanse Doors & Corners (courtesy IMDB.com)

A very good rule I had forgotten about was Morale. I should not be surprised since Frank Chadwick was involved in this game and his designs always seem to emphasize the importance of Morale.

Here are the two most important sections as I see it:

C. Procedure: Roll two dice. If the number rolled is equal to or less than the character’s modified morale value, the character passes the check. If it is greater than the character’s modified morale value the character fails the check. All positive leadership bonuses are added to the checking character’s morale value (not the dice roll), and all negative bonuses are subtracted from the checking character’s morale value.

A character with a leadership bonus (referred to as a leader) uses the bonus to modify the morale values of all friendly subordinates (all who check morale after that leader) within the leader’s line of sight, but only if the leader did check morale that step. A leader may not apply his or her bonus to his or her own morale checks.

If the leader passes all morale checks, that leader’s bonus is added to all subsequent morale checks of friendly subordinates; if the leader fails a morale check then that leader’s bonus is subtracted from all other morale checks of friendly subordinates. The effects of several leaders in the same area checking morale are cumulative.

For example, lntruder officer 3 (bonus of +2) and lntruder NCO 2 (bonus of +3) are leading an assault party across an area swept by covering fire. Officer 3 fails his or her morale check and thus NCO 2 checks morale with 2 subtracted from his or her morale rating. Assuming NCO 2 passes the check, all of the other members of the assault party check morale with a positive modifier of 1 (+3 from NCO 2 and -2 from 02 for a net modifier of +1).

The penalty for failing a morale check is harsh:

D. Effects of Failed Morale: Failure of an exposure to covering fire check causes the character to avoid exposing him or herself; any other movement (or allowable combat action) is permitted as long as the character does not enter a danger space of a covering fire. Failure of a moving adjacent check will cause the character to stop moving before coming adjacent. The character will stop with at least 3 APs left (if possible), and if 3 APs are left will execute a snap shot at the character to whom he or she was intending to move adjacent. Failure of a casualty or unexpected fire morale check will cause the character to panic and flee. Regardless of what was chosen for the character in the decision phase, the character must, in the action phase(s) immediately following the failed check, run away from the location of the enemy characters until he or she reaches a position of complete cover (referred to as cowering). The character will then remain there until he or she successfully makes a morale check. This morale check is made at the start of each decision phase. Any friendly leader who moves to the square containing the cowering character may apply his or her leadership bonus to that character’s morale value. In this case, it is not necessary for the leader to pass a morale check before applying the bonus to the cowering character. Note that any leader may carry out this function for any friendly cowering character. This is the only time that the leadership bonus of a lower-ranking character may be used to assist a higher-ranking character in making a morale check.


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1st Edition (SJ Games)

The second CSR game of the weekend was Car Wars. I have the original pocket box first edition from 1981 but for this game I pulled out my Fourth Edition, Third Printing from 2015.

I was surprised that the rule book for 4th Edition clocks in at 64 digest-size pages! In reality, the “game” itself is not that long as the rules for movement and combat are covered in 37 pages (18 pages if full-size) and the balance is mostly Characters (psuedo-RPG?) and Vehicle Design. I chose to concentrate on the simple game and created a three-way Amateur Night scenario featuring a stock Killer Kart ($3,848), a Stinger Option III ($3,989) and a Stinger Option IV w/spikedropper ($4,293). The game was fun but it does take work to use the Movement Chart with its five phases. I do not have the latest Sixth Edition but I wonder if Steve Jackson Games has leveraged any of the new approaches to graphical play aids like Jim Krohn did for Talon (GMT Games, 2016). Both Talon and Car Wars use “impulse” movement but the new graphical play aid in Talon makes the flow of the turn go much quicker.


With these two games I have now worked played off six of 20 games in my CSR Challenge. In my other 2019 Challenges I still have to play 13 of 15 in my Golden Geek Challenge and 14 of 16 in my Origins Challenge. All that while playing new games too. Ah, the challenges of being a gamer….


Feature image – Azhanti High Lightning VASSAL module