Sunday Summary – Local #wargame players make for great gaming medicine with @Decisiongames @compassgamesllc @gmtgames

Wargames

Out of the blue, this week a fellow local wargamer reached out and offered two games for sale. Thus, I now am the proud owner of two very near-mint copies of designer John Butterfield’s solitaire wargames D-Day at Omaha Beach (Decision Games, 4th Printing 2020) and Enemy Action: Ardennes (Compass Games, 2015). Both games are highly rated on BoardGameGeek coming in at Geek Ratings of 8.27 and 8.6 respectively. Indeed, D-Day at Omaha Beach is the #4 War Game on BGG with Enemy Action Ardennes coming in at #29 (which makes no sense given their ratings…but it’s BGG so who really knows how their ratings work?). Solitaire games are not my usual thing but I always liked the original RAF by Butterfield for West End Games back in 1986 so he has long been on my “approved” designer list.

COVID and Gaming

These two titles are the 46th and 47th gaming items to enter my collection this year. Looking at where each was “sourced” from the majority (20 of 47 or 42.5%) are Retail Purchases. The next major acquisition source is by Trade/Local Purchase with 17 of 47 (36%) Even if I combine Kickstarters and Pre-Orders together, I only get 9 of 47 (19%). When I did my “By the Numbers” year in review of 2020 I didn’t track acquisition source so I don’t have hard data for comparison. What I do know is that I have 24 items on Preorder/Kickstarter and maybe nine might already be delivered if there were no shipping delays from COVID. The bottom line is that COVID is altering my game purchase patterns with a greater focus on retail and local purchase/trade, usually of older titles. The dearth of Kickstarter/PreOrder delivery of new games is likely affecting those who suffer from Cult of the New by giving them withdrawal symptoms!

Shelf of Shame

With the new game arrivals my Shelf of Shame also continues to grow, adding an additional incentive NOT to purchase more games. Yeah, I’m one of those who WANT to play my games, not just admire the boxes on the shelf. I’m really falling far behind and need to get back to a Game of the Week approach to gaming. Alas, Real LifeTM continues to interrupt. My Shelf of Shame, in order from oldest to newest arrivals, is presently occupied by:

That list might grow soonish. When I picked up these two games, the seller “mentioned” he has Combat Commander: Europe and Combat Commander: Mediterranean as well as several Battle Packs (all from GMT Games) he is thinking of unloading, but only as a complete set. I already have Combat Commander: Pacific so this is very tempting….

Dug in like an ox – my thoughts on a BGG variant for Chantilly: Jackson’s Missed Opportunity, 1 September 1962 (Decision Games, 2013). #coronapocalypse #wargame

Over on BoardGameGeek user Tom Krynicki (@krygfam) posted a set of variant rules for Chantilly: Jackson’s Missed Opportunity, 1 September 1862 (Decision Games, 2013). I have a soft spot in my heart for this Mini Series game not because of the game play (I rate it a 5 – Mediocre Take it or leave it on BGG) but because the battle took place not far from my home. The game uses a QuickPlay version of DG’s Musket & Saber rules. Personally, they are not for me. When I saw this variant pop up on BGG I was interested in trying to make the game better so I got it to the table.

Mr. Krynicki’s variant rules aren’t that long, only six rules actually, so I will post them in their entirety here:

What I find the most disheartening about DG’s Chantilly is that with just a little play-testing and thought, this could have been an excellent historical simulation AND game. Try these simple changes…I think you will find it makes for a much better historical simulation AND a much better game:

1) Make the Union player the FIRST player during every turn. Union forces showed more energy and seemed to have a clearer picture of what needed done….thus they had the initiative. This has the pleasant side effect of getting rid of the two free Confederate moves before the Union gets a chance to react, allowing the Union to get into position near to where the historical battle took place.

2) Get rid of the whole Confederate “Half/Full Movement” Initiative roll (Scenario rule 15.0). It’s gamey and has way to much impact on play balance. Reducing the Confederate’s infantry and artillery MA to “4” movement points is sufficient to show that the Confederate soldiers were “burned out.” Again, Union forces showed more “get-up-and-go,” mainly because they rightly perceived they were in eminent danger of being cut off and surrounded. Therefore, ALL Union infantry and artillery should keep the “normal” Musket & Saber MA of “6” movement points.

3) March Movement (QP rule 4.3) should not be allowed. It rained the entire night before the battle. During the battle it poured most of the day. The roads and the ground were a soupy mess, nobody was going to go anywhere quickly.

4) In keeping with the very poor ground conditions, the Terrain Costs should be modified:
ROAD:
1/2 MP
RR BED: 1 MP
CLEAR/LIGHT WOODS/DEEP WOODS: 2 MPs
(only infantry allowed in Deep Woods and must stop upon entering).

5) Initial Movement Restrictions:

UNION: Formation #1 (the two units which begin the game in Germantown hex 2208).
These units must remain within 3 hexes of Germantown (hex 2208) until:
a: A unit of Formation #1 is attacked.
b: An enemy unit moves adjacent to one of the units of Formation #1, or a unit of Formation #1 moves adjacent to an enemy unit.
c: An enemy unit moves to within three hexes of Germantown (hex 2208).
Should any one of these events occur, all movement restrictions on Union Formation #1 are lifted.
 The “task and purpose” given to this formation (a reinforced brigade from the AoV) was to secure Germantown and the road intersections around it, in order to allow Union freedom of movement along the Warrenton Turnpike. They would never have moved away from the vicinity of Germantown unless forced to do so (BTW these two units should have MAs of “6”).

CONFEDERATE: Formation #1 (the FLee cavalry brigade which begins the game in hex 1204).
At the beginning of Confederate Game Turn 1, the MA of the FLee cavalry brigade is determined by a special die roll, similar to a morale check.
The Confederate player rolls one die and compares the result to the FLee brigade’s morale rating of “3.”
If the FLee brigade “passes” its morale check (rolls a 1, 2, or 3), then the number rolled is its MA for that turn (i.e. 1, 2, or 3 movement points).
If the FLee brigade “fails” its morale check (rolls a 4, 5, or 6), then it must remain in hex 1204 for the turn.
The FLee brigade moves normally starting on Game Turn 2 and after.

Other than “scout for and screen Jackson’s movements” F. Lee really didn’t know what he was supposed to do that morning…He had attacked Germantown the previous evening where he had been chases off by the garrison stationed there (this had alerted Pope that something dangerous was amiss on his flank). Should he head back up the Little River Turnpike to Germantown, or should he head south toward the Warrenton Turnpike? After he found out that Jackson’s lead elements were going to bivouac at Ox Hill, he pushed further south and ran into Stevens’ Division coming hard up Ox Hill Road, and the fight was on.

6) Adjust the Union Major Victory conditions to read: At the end of Turn Six, the Union player wins a major victory if an undisrupted Union unit occupies a hex on the Little River Turnpike between hexes 0501 and 1204 (inclusive). Cutting off a portion of Jackson’s overstretched command would have been a huge coupe for the Union effort, coming close to erasing the Union defeat two days earlier. This entire stretch of road would have been critical, not just the crossroads at 1204.

With these changes I think you’ll find this a better historical simulation AND game. The fighting will usually start close to the location it did historically, with the historical outcome a distinct possibility. The Confederates can try to bludgeon their way down Ox Hill Road, in an attempt to cut the Warrenton Turnpike, or they can try to “stretch” the Union forces by leaving a holding force on Ox Hill Road and making a stab for Germantown. Be careful though, the Union forces are more agile, and if they cut the Little River Turnpike, all of the Confederate maneuvering will be for not.

As you can see, rules 1-4 have to do with movement. You can also see Mr. K focuses on initiative and movement in bad weather. My reactions after playing with the rules once are:

  1. Automatically allowing the Union to always move first is too rigid. Maybe historically the Union was a bit more spry than the Confederates, but to make that an automatic condition seems too favorable to the Union. Not to mention, it avoids many “what if” versions of the battle. This rule seems to be a matter of taste; if you want to be tightly bound by history then go ahead and use it!
  2. Mr. K seems to be of two minds here. On one hand he wants to reduce movement due to the weather but he ends up penalizing the Confederates because they were “burned out” while giving the Union full standard movement (extra in this game). What’s wrong with everybody being reduced to 4 from the standard Musket & Saber rules and keeping the Confederate half-moves? Of, see rule 1. Mr. K wants the battle to be where it historically happened.
  3. The weather made things miserable. No problem.
  4. The weather made things miserable. No problem again.
  5. I have to agree that the Union restrictions make sense. For the Confederates though, this seems like an awful lot of rules for one unit for one turn. I guess if one wants to surrender player agency to the randomness of the Dice Gods in the name of “historicism” than by all means, use this rule.
  6. Well, I think this new condition will only work if you give the Union the advantages of movement rules 1 & 2. Without those, no.

So…I guess if you want this small game to ‘recreate’ the Battle of Chantilly and be assured that the outcome will always be close to the historical then use of Mr. Krynicki’s variant rules. However, if you are like me and you want to use the game to experiment with the situation and explore potential “what-ifs,” then the rules as written are good enough.

#FourthofJuly2019 – #Wargaming the American Revolution with @HBuchanan2, @markherman54, & @tomandmary with @gmtgames, @hollandspiele, & @Decisiongames

ONE DISADVANTAGE OF ALWAYS GETTING UP EARLY is that my body doesn’t understand holidays. So my Fourth of July 2019 started at O’Dark Early. Not that it is a bad thing; it means I got a jumpstart on my Fourth of July wargaming.

First was to finish my Campaigns of 1777 (Strategy & Tactics/Decision Games, 2019). I had started the game the night before against my usual opponent, “Mr. Solo,” and now I finished it up. The British used a “Howe goes North” strategy which worked at first. That is, until the British realized they needed to get Philadelphia and time was running out. The British eventually took Philadelphia but Washington with lots of militia support retook Albany and Fort Montgomery. The British tried to used their seapower to reposition their troops but that was when the High Winds played havoc with the Royal Navy, delaying the transfer of troops. PATRIOT VICTORY.

Second game of the day was Washington’s War (GMT Games, 2010). This was a really fast game that ended in 1779. The Declaration of Independence was never played but Washington and Greene proved too slippery for the British ever to catch. The Americans adopted a Southern Strategy which forced the British to move lots down south. The Americans then placed lots of Political Control in the Northern Colonies. With the early end of the war the Americans were ahead 10 colonies to four. AMERICAN VICTORY.

Trying to get another game in before the guests arrived, Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 (Hollandspiele, 2017) hit the table. I should of known better than to rush the game as I ended up making several fatal mistakes for the Patriot’s and had to call on rule 13.4 Concession in 1778. CROWN VICTORY.

With the gaming done it was onto the BBQ and fireworks. The RockyMountainNavy Boys want to get 1775: Rebellion (Academy Games, 2013) to the table for the regular Weekly Family Game Night. We shall see if I can get any other “revolutionary” games in this weekend….

April #Wargame #Boardgame Drought?

What do they say? “April showers bring spring May flowers?” Well, my gaming April was a drought.

IMG_0237April was also a very busy month outside of gaming. For the first time in a few years we took a family Spring Break vacation. Sorry friends, spending a week at DisneyWorld, even when not playing games, is quite the mental health break the family needed.

Not that the month was a total loss. I got three very exciting plays of Harold Buchanan’s excellent Campaigns of 1777 (Decision Games/Strategy & Tactics 316). After playing the full campaign first I went back and played the shorter scenarios. I strongly recommend that one play the shorter scenarios first and then jump into the campaign; the locations and strategy decisions come easier and make more sense leading to a deeper game experience.

I was also very pleasantly surprised by WW2 Deluxe: The European Theater (Canvas Temple Publishing, 2018). What looks to be a too-simple game is actually a very neat classical hex & counter wargame with enough fresh innovation to keep it from appearing stale. WW2 Deluxe exceeded my expectations!

The RockyMountainNavy Boys continue their fascination with Quarriors! (WizKids, 2012). This month they dug into their own pockets and bought two expansions for the game.

I have been a bad Kickstarter boy this month. First it was Terraforming Mars: Turmoil that ended a very abbreviated campaign with over $13 MILLION(!!) raised with over 26,000 backers. Here’s hoping the game delivers on the hype. I also caved and pledged for the Traveller 5.10 roleplaying game campaign. Hey Marc! Don’t fail me, please!

After two years of waiting (at least for me) it appears that the new edition of Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! – Kursk 1943 (Academy Games) is getting real close (finally).  According to a May 01 production update:

Production for ‘Conflict of Heroes – Storms of Steel 3rd Ed’ and ‘Conflict of Heroes – Awakening the Bear 3rd Ed’ is nearing completion! The Map Boards printed by Ludofact in Germany have arrived on the coast in Norfolk, VA and are working their way through customs. Once cleared, they will be shipped on to Ludofact USA to await the arrival of the rest of ‘Conflict of Heroes’ components being produced in China for final assembly.

The Chinese printer has completed production on the three (3!) individual Game Trayz that will be included in each game, dice, and cards. We just received final proofs for the unit counters, rule books, track sheets, etc. and have given approval for final production. We are implementing final tweaks to the SoS3 Mission book.

Our printer knows how important it is that we receive these games for early June release, so they are working diligently to get everything shipped soon. We are estimating they will be finished printing within the next two weeks for shipment to Ludofact USA for final assembly with the map boards. We are currently estimating we will receive the games for fulfillment by mid-June.

We had a lot of fun showing off the new maps and game system at Little Wars last weekend. Thanks for all of your great comments and those of you who kept coming back to play even more of the 3rd Ed Missions!

We want to thank everyone for their support, great suggestions, and feedback on the 3rd Ed Conflict of Heroes system.

If all goes well, it looks like May/June/July could be a busy month for the postman it’s possible to see delivery of not only Storms of Steel but (maybe) Agents of Mayhem (Academy Games), Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington), Tranquility Base/Soviet Moon (History in Action Games), Castle Itter (with Pavlov’s House) (DVG), Nights of Fire: Battle for Budapest (Might Boards), and Memoir ’44: New Flight Plan (Days of Wonder). Hopefully it makes my summer gaming interesting!

 

#Wargame First Impression – Campaigns of 1777 (@HBuchanan2 in Decision Games. Strategy & Tactics 316, May-June 2019)

Harold Buchanan already has earned my respect with his entry in the GMT Game COIN -series. Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (2017) is in some ways a revisionist look at the American Revolution. I really enjoy the game; it is amongst the top 10 titles in my collection. So when I heard that Harold was getting another American Revolution game published I waited impatiently for it’s release. Campaigns of 1777 finally arrived in Strategy & Tactics 316. Although Campaigns of 1777 will never replace Liberty or Death (nor was it intended to) in my pantheon of games, the title will get played because it is an enjoyable, challenging exploration of the 1777 campaign year.

Campaigns of 1777 is a classic campaign battle game, but with a few innovative twists to make it fresh. It is not hex-and-counter but uses point-to-point movement. The game also uses a chit-pull mechanic for activation of leaders. Those leaders are most important because, once activated, they use their leadership rating to execute actions. The leader chit-pull mechanic and action points thematically portray many campaign issues. The chit-pull mechanic also makes the game solo-friendly. In his video review, marnanudo even went so far as to characterize Campaigns of 1777 as a near-hybrid of wargame and eurogame mechanisms. I agree; Harold Buchanan has drawn from a toolkit of several varieties and assembled a very interesting game.

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Courtesy BGG

As rich as the game is thematically and mechanically, it also has excellent components. The map by Terry Leeds is beautiful; I also really appreciate that many of the charts and tables are on the map for it saves flipping through the rulebook. The 1/2″ counters are easy to distinguish and cut well. They really look good once the corners get clipped!

Unlike so many magazine games, so far I have found Campaigns of 1777 to be “well baked.” The rules are pretty tight and gameplay executes in a fluid fashion.

If I have one (little) complaint it is that I worry about replayability. Campaigns of 1777 comes with three scenarios; the “historical” campaign and two short scenarios. In the historical scenario victory is determined by British control of Philadelphia and five other spaces. That is it. On the other hand, when I think about it the single historical and two shorter scenarios they are not all that bad if you use the game for a group game night or convention play. The simple, straight-forward scenarios and victory conditions in many ways make the game simpler to teach and play.

Hmmm….

Invasion Taipei -or- TAIPEI: The Communist Invasion of Taiwan, 2000 -or- Taipei: China Invades (Decision Games, Strategy & Tactics 202, 2000)

What’s in a name? Apparently, when Decision Games went to publish Joseph Miranda’s operational-level simulation of a hypothetical mainland Chinese invasion of Taiwan they couldn’t decide on a title. Invasion Taipei appears on the cover. TAIPEI: The Communist Invasion of Taiwan, 2000 was on the rule book. Taipei: China Invades is the BoardGameGeek listing. After looking at the over, with two of three photos showing naval action, my comments on the game posted to BGG showed further confusion:

This is a game of GROUND combat on Taiwan. Three other (major) factors of the battle are abstracted: Information Warfare, Air Warfare, and Naval Warfare. IO is treated as an operational overview using IW points. The air module is something akin to Crisis: Korea 1995 or the Fleet series. Naval warfare is TOTALLY abstracted out. For me, these three components are even MORE important than the land battle, hence my lower rating for inappropriate focus.

This week I relooked at Taipei and have some different thoughts.

In [1.0] INTRODUCTION, the claim is made that “The game simulates the full range of modern operational level warfare, including land, air and information operations.” Note the lack of naval. There are naval aspects to the game but they are heavily abstracted. The focus of the game is the fighting ashore in Taiwan. Combat focuses on ground and air units. For the most part, this campaign is presented using a somewhat standard hex & counter wargame approach.

The real difference in Taipei is the Information Warfare rules. IW in the game comes in two flavors, C4I and Information Warfare. First, certain units are given a C4I Rating. Units with a C4I rating can execute Infiltration Movement (move from one enemy Zone of Control – ZOC – to another ZOC). They also have a choice of which Combat Results Table (CRT) they want to use (there are three in the game). Most powerfully, units with a C4I Rating and “In Command” gain a second impulse to move and fight.

The Advanced Rules Game includes [25.0] INFORMATION WARFARE. This form of IW takes two forms; missions (such as EW, PSYOPS, or OPSEC) – what the military commonly calls EW & Cyber today –  and the Information Warfare Index. The IW Index is a balance of world opinion, political support, and media access for both sides. Executing IW missions affects units on the battlefield. The IW Index is shifted based on Direct Action; a shifting of points up or down the index based on battlefield actions and results. Each player strives for IW Dominance which add Political Points.

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IW Attack Table and Direct Action Effects Chart

Political Points leads to the victory conditions and probably one of the most confusing parts of the game for me to grasp. In concept it looks simple. To start with there are no Victory Points to track. Instead, there are two types of victory in Taipei; military and political. A Military Victory is straight-forward – occupy both Taipei city hexes AND at east three other city hexes AND at least two port towns. A Political Victory is a bit more complicated. A Political Victory occurs if, at the end of the game, one player has at least twice as many Political Points as their opponent. Political Points are earned by adding the cost taken in the Scenario Options PLUS 50 points for IW Dominance. Grokking the interaction between Political Points and Scenario Options and the IW Index takes a bit of work. Not helping is the fact the IW Index is not included in any table or on the map. My IW Index was found on Grognard.com.

The “game thesis” of Taipei appears to be a simulation of the then-current thinking about the Revolution in Military Affairs. In this case, Miranda focused on the advantages a C4I-enabled force would bring to the battlefield. Thus, the US forces have a C4I advantage while only a few allied units can fully integrate. The Chinese forces, on the other hand, are far more numerous but, with very few exceptions, lack the C4I to compete with the Coalition. Outside of Information Warfare, Miranda approached the battle in very conservative, conventional terms. The third CRT is names the AirLand Battle CRT – clearly a throwback to the 1980’s AirLand Battle concept from Europe and executed in the 1990’s in DESERT STORM. Taipei does not take on the then-emerging concept of Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) – the naval campaign just to get to Taiwan.

Looking at Taipei through this narrower lens, in this case as only a simulation of a C4I-enabled force fighting a non-C4I enemy, the game makes more sense. After one play I am not sure one can draw too many lessons from the game. Given its age, that may be too much to ask. Then again, AirLand Battle is making a bit of a comeback. Instead, I probably need to accept Taipei for what is is; a time capsule of then-contemporary thinking of the impact of information warfare on the battlefield.

 

Relooking at an older Train (war)game

I AM ASHAMED. Ashamed to admit that I have only one game by designer Brian Train in my collection. Mr. Train is a very prolific designer, having published games and/or historical articles with BTR Games, Compass Games, Decision Games, Fiery Dragon Productions, Flying Pig Games, GMT Games, Hollandspiele, Lock n’ Load, Microgame Design Group, Modern Combat Studies Group, Nestorgames, One Small Step Games, Schutze Games, Simulations Workshop, Strategy Gaming Society, Steambubble Graphics, Tiny Battle Publishing and XTR Corp. He often focuses on irregular warfare, “pol-mil” games, and asymmetric games (his webpage is here). I recently played a Brian Train game and was very impressed by the narrative it created.

The one Brian Train game I have in my collection is Reichswehr & Freikorps: If the Red Army Invaded Germany, 1920 (Strategy & Tactics 273, Mar-Apr 2012, Decision Games).  When I first got this game in 2012 I didn’t like it. This weekend, I pulled it off the shelf, set it up, and played. I was curious to see if I had missed something.

In 2012 I was very much a simulationist wargamer; that is, a wargamer deeply focused on the hardware. Hence my love for games like the Admiralty Trilogy-series from Admiralty Trilogy Games, the Panzer-series from GMT Games, or the Fighting Wings-series from J.D. WebsterRWFK is none of that. RWFK is, “a low-complexity, strategic-level, alternative history wargame of the conflict that would’ve resulted had the Poles been defeated by the invading Red Army in the summer of 1920.”

I am not the wargamer I was in 2012. Indeed, I am not the gamer I was in 2012. These days I play many boardgames (non-wargames) as well as wargames. One consequence of playing a wider variety of games is that I have grown to appreciate game mechanics like I never did before. An appreciation of mechanics has, in turn, allowed me to see many more games as “narratives” that teach me much as I explore them.

When I first looked at RWFK in 2012, the “low-complexity” and abstractions made in the game (Railhead Markers? With no railroads?) turned me off.  Playing it this weekend I discovered a game that is a actually a tense race-against-the-clock with a neat mechanic to model decreasing Red Army effectiveness. The game neatly creates a narrative of a large, cumbersome Red Army trying to suppress the smaller, more agile German forces before time runs out.

Looking at the map, the first thing one sees is a big map apparently with low counter density. The map is 17×24 hexes for 176 counters of which only around 125 are actually units. I can still remember in 2012 being fixated on the stacking rule which allows the Germans to stack up to seven (7) divisions in each hex (8.4 German Stacking Limit). The Red Army gets to stack all units from the same army in a hex (8.5 Red Army Stacking Limit). I seem to remember my 2012 game as a series of large stacks blowing across the map and the war quickly ending with the Red Army capturing Berlin. I put the game away and rated it a mere 5.5 (little better than Mediocre – Take It or Leave It) on BoardGameGeek.

In 2018, I now see I did not give enough consideration to rules 4.0 HOW TO WIN & RED ARMY MORALE, 5.0 THE TURN SEQUENCE, and 7.0 SUPPLY & GERMAN RAILROAD MOVEMENT.

As 4.1 On to Berlin states, “The Red Army player is generally on the offensive during the game, attempting to run a campaign that will, ideally, culminate with his force’s entry into Berlin.” This ties neatly with 4.4 Winning & Losing on Victory Points which states, “In general, the player who has managed to accumulate the greatest number of victory points…is declared the winner.” Rules 4.2 City & Town Hex Control and 4.3 Red Army Southern Front Reinforcements both describe how VP are gained and lost. These rules are very straight-forward and very much what my simulationist grognard mind expects.

The rule I didn’t give enough consideration to before is 4.7 Red Army Morale. This rules is actually a “core mechanic” of the game – maybe even the most important rule. Red Army Morale (RAM) can be High, normal, or Low. When the RAM is High, all combats (offensive & defensive) gain a one-column shift in the Red Army favor. Movement factors are also increased. Conversely, when the RAM is Low, all combats suffer a one-column shift against the Red Army, and movement factors are decreased. If the RAM ever drops below zero, the Red Army is said to have “collapsed” and the German player automatically wins (4.8 Ram Collapse).

RAM is automatically reduced by 2 at the beginning of every turn. RAM is gained or lost based on the capture of Towns & Cities, as well as from the arrival or defeat of various Red Army formations. In order to maintain effectiveness, the Red Army player must go on the offensive and stay there. If the German player can stymie his actions, the Red Army will quickly lose morale and combat effectiveness. This is a neat built-in timer to pressure the Red Army player to act. In effect, RAM acts as the “game clock” in a manner possibly more effective than the Turn Record Track.

Rule 5.2 Game Turns & Player Turn Procedures is the second leg of the core mechanic. After the 5.4 Mutual Railhead Adjustment Phase conducted by both players, the game proceeds to II. Red Army Player Turn. Using a chit-pull, different Red Army Fronts are activated to conduct a Reinforcement & Movement Phase followed by a Combat Phase. At any point during a Reinforcement & Movement Phase or Combat Phase, the German player can interrupt the Red Army player and conduct his own Railroad Movement, Regular Movement, or Combat Phase. The German player only gets one of each phase in every Red Army turn so the challenge is to decide when (and in what order) the phases should be played. This mechanic neatly shows a superior German command & control ability as well as avoids an IGO-UGO turn sequence. It makes the chit-pull agonizing for the Red Army (I really need to get the Southwest Front moving!) while forcing the German player to carefully determine when is the best time in the Red Army turn to interrupt and take his action (Gotta go now before they move away!).

The third leg of game is the supply rules. 7.4 Tracing Supply Lines details what a supply line is with the most important factor being it cannot be longer than eight hexes in length. The supply line uses a mix of railhead supply sources and “ultimate” supply source hexes. The rule ties neatly with 5.4 The Mutual Railhead Adjustment Phase in which each player can place one (and only one) railhead marker in any one city or town they control that does not presently have a marker. Units don’t want to fight when out of supply (OOS) because when they are OOS movement and combat factors are halved! (7.6 Effect of Being OOS).

The combined impact of these three core mechanics is that the Red Army MUST attack while the German player has more flexibility in his campaign. The Red Army is also in a race to win before they lose combat effectiveness as symbolized by their RAM. Finally, in order to stay on that offensive, the Red Army must build supply lines deep into enemy territory. To build supply lines takes time; time the Red Army has precious little of.

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Example of near mid-game situation

But what about those stacking rules? One certainly can have large stacks race around the board, but to do so means few VP gained (to offset automatically dropping RAM) and a tenuous supply line at best. Better to spread the armies out, take more cities and towns, and build a supply net to support troops forward. The stacking rule is actually not that important as the game model encourages players to act in other ways!

In the end, RWFK is a very narrative game. Can the Red Army overcome with more units (but generally lower quality and losing effectiness over time) a smaller but more flexible German Army? To really enjoy RWFK one must embrace the abstractions. In 2012 as a simulationist wargamer I was not ready to embrace the narrative. These days I am, and I enjoy the narrative of games. My previous rating on BGG was too low and a result of a lack of appreciation for the game model. Both the rating and myself have changed. I enjoyed RWFK this weekend, and am going to seek out more games by Mr. Train. Publishers of Mr. Train’s work need to be ready because I feel a few purchases are in order!

Featured image courtesy boardgamegeek.com.

What am I Missing? Chantilly: Jackson’s Missed Opportunity 1 Sep 1862 (Decision Games, 2013)

FOR SOME REASON I have yet to fully fathom, I pulled out Chantilly: Jackson’s Missed Opportunity (Decision Games, 2013) to play today. I have written my first impressions before and find the game a bit lacking. In fact, I rated it as a 5 (Mediocre – take it or leave it) in my BoardGameGeek collection. This is well below my average Board Game Rating of 6.42 and places Chantilly in the lower 16% of my collection. So why did I play it, and did my impressions change?

Given the battle is local to the RockyMountainNavy abode, I have a soft spot for the battle in my heart. The game, like the battle, is a race against time. But the scenario situation strongly favors the Confederates. The designer, Chris Perello, admits that the design had to be adjusted to avoid a Confederate steamroller. In 16.0 DESIGNER”S NOTES he stated, “Second was the need to slow the Confederates. If they retain full initiative throughout the game they will steamroll the Federals in the early going.”

To slow the Confederates, Chantilly uses a special scenario rule, 15.0 CONFEDERATE INITIATIVE. The rule calls for a single die roll at the beginning of the Confederate movement phase. If the die roll is less than the current turn number, the Confederate has  their full movement allowance. If the die roll is equal to or greater than the current turn number the movement allowance is halved.

So what happened in my game?

  • Turn 1 – Die roll = 1 > Full Movement
  • Turn 2 – Die roll = 5 > Half Movement
  • Turn 3 – Die roll = 2 > Full Movement
  • Turn 4 – Die roll = 1 > Full Movement
  • Turn 5 – Die roll = 3 > Full Movement
  • Turn 6 – Die roll = 4 > Full Movement

The Confederates ended up with Full Movement for five of the six turns. No wonder elements of AP Hill’s Light Division made it all the way across the battlefield and set up in Fairfax Courthouse, cutting off the Warrenton Turnpike and assuring Confederate Major Victory (14.1). As a matter of fact, there were five hexes of the Warrenton Turnpike occupied by the Confederates, making this a totally lopsided Confederate major victory.

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Lopsided Confederate Major Victory

When I play a wargame I am not looking to recreate the historical result. If I just want that I will read a book! No, I want to explore the alternatives. That said, I certainly expect the actual outcome to be achievable in the game model. I am not sure Chantilly delivers in this respect. It is possible that the historical result is such an outlier that it is near-impossible to replicate, but I feel that Chantilly fails to capture the real essence of this battle. Though the designer acknowledges the impact of weather and tired troops, the game system barely gives the feeling of a Confederate army at the end of weeks of marching and three days of battle now having to slog up muddy roads in a thunderstorm.

I totally understand that the die roll for Confederate initiative was very good for the Confederates; maybe too good and it unbalanced the game. I also get that this is a Mini Games Series product designed to be an introductory game playable is less than an hour. I get all that, yet still feel it fails to deliver compelling game play.

My BGG.com rating of 5 stands. There is some potential here, but as delivered Chantilly comes up short.

[Note to self – If I rated it BELOW my average, think twice before playing again!]

Random Gaming Thoughts (Good & Bad) on the First Weekend in May 2018

Sort of a hodgepodge post today. More a collection of random gaming (and beyond) thoughts than anything in particular.

Travel Gaming – Took along several solo games to play while on the road this week. Only got to play one – Merrill’s Marauders: Commandos in Burma 1943-1944 (Decision Games, 2016).

RPG Gaming – Gypsy Knight Games had their May the Fourth Sale going on so I picked up the new Manhunters: Bounty Hunters in the Clement Sector (2018). This has a very Classic Traveller RPG and Firefly-like vibe to it. I also picked up Uranium Fever: Asteroid Mining Rules for the Cepheus Engine (Stellagama Publishing, 2018). I really need to get back into RPGs. I am still awaiting my now-delayed Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Roleplaying Game by Cam Banks from Kickstarter. As much as I like Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG I probably should pick up the “generic” Genesys RPG.

Speaking of Star Wars – I hear that FFG is going to be publishing X-Wing Second Edition. This one will be app-enabled.

I think I’ll wait for Ares Games and their Battlestar Galactica version instead.

Speaking of Kickstarter – In April I backed No Motherland Without, a 2-player card game about North Korea since 1953. It really looked interesting. I had really high hopes. It was cancelled – for all the right reasons I am sure. I hope they come back and try again, maybe with a stronger publicity campaign. Personally I watched The Players Aid review and was sold:

Veterans in The Expanse (very mild spoilers for S3E4) – I like The Expanse TV series but one line got me going last week. Alex states he has done his time and is an honorably discharged veteran. His implication is that he is special. As an honorably discharged veteran myself I resent this attitude. Unfortunately, I see it everyday – too many veterans who believe that since they served they have a special privilege above “mere” civilians. They grouse when a place does not offer a veterans discount or the like. Being a veteran does not make you a special citizen. This is not the world of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (the book, not the horrible movie) where only veterans are citizens. Veterans get many privileges; be humble not an entitlement baby!

#WargameWednesday – Decision Games Air War Series

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Courtesy BGG

I recently was able to pick up three games in the Air War Series designed by Joseph Miranda and published by Decision Games. These are (in order of publication) Eagle Day: The Battle of Britain (2012), Cactus Air Force: Air War Over the Solomons (2012), and MiG Alley: Air War Over Korea 1951 (2015). The back cover of MiG Alley describes all three games in general:

The game uses the Air Wars series rules. Aircraft are rated according to type. Fuel consumption is factored into the plane types, so a player must manage the available forces to ensure enough combat power is ready when needed. Each player has a unique set of campaign cards generating movement, combat bonuses, historical events, and reinforcements. Playing the right card at the right time is crucial to winning.

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MiG Alley – Courtesy BGG

Each game is packaged in DGs Mini Game Series format. These introductory games come with an 11″x17″ map, 40 (small) die-cut counters, 18 (small) campaign cards, four-page series rules, and two-page scenario rules. Each game is of Very Low complexity and can be played in 1-2 hours.

The timescale is most realistic in Eagle Day (Days-Hours) but more abstracted in Cactus Air Force (Months-Hours(?)) and MiG Alley (Partial Months- Hours). Working past the non-sensical timescale, each turn consists of a Planning Phase (Days/Months/Part Months)  and Operations Phase (expressed in Hours). Each Planning Phase consists of Campaign Card draw (and occasionally play), Replacements, and Reinforcements. In the Operations Phase, players take turns using Campaign Cards, moving, fighting, and bombing.

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Courtesy BGG

Each game is a simple representation of an air campaign, a level of warfare notoriously difficult to game/simulate. In my collection, Eagle Day occupies a similar game space to John Butterfield’s solitaire RAF and Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s The Burning Blue. Eagle Day, and the others, easily falls at the lowest end of the complexity spectrum – like the Mini Games series intends to do.

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Courtesy BGG

Of the three games, I think the abstractions in the Air War series make Eagle Day the weakest game. There is no game mechanic for scrambling aircraft meaning as the Intruder Player the German often can catch British fighters on the ground. In Cactus Air Force, the small unit count (limited by the 40-counter game limit) leads to a very balanced combat situation, and I don’t find the “desperate struggle” like that related in Lundstrom’s The First Team and the Guadalcanal  Campaign or Prados’ Islands of Destiny: The Solomons Campaign and the Eclipse of the Rising Sun. On the other hand, MiG Alley seems to evoke the right feeling of the air campaign with few North Korean and Chinese jets beating up on hapless lumbering B-29s while the new American jets – never in enough numbers – try to take over the bombing campaign.

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Cactus Air Force – Courtesy BGG

Each game is very affordable ($12.99 retail). This is both positive (affordable) and negative (limited components). Decision Games is also what I term these days a “classic” wargame publisher. The Mini Game Series are classic hex-n-counter wargames. The only real innovative feature beyond a “classic” wargame is the use of Campaign Cards to create scenario variability and fog-of-war.

 

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Courtesy wargamecenter

(Which makes me think just how great a candidate these games are for the simple “block” treatment. The game is already two-player, and most counters are double-sided with a generic “Based” on one side (representing the planes on the ground) and the actual aircraft on the other. If the board was enlarged and blocks used it would avoid the inevitable ‘gotta flip the counters to see what I really have there’ syndrome by allowing the counters to be stood on edge with the “Based” side facing the opponent while still allowing the owner to see the aircraft. When flying, the block is placed aircraft face-up. Of course, this would raise the price-point of the game but….)

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Courtesy BGG

As much as I sound negative, I actually am very happy I bought these games. The games will serve as good “filler” or introductory (teaching) games and are small enough to travel easily. If one desires simple, small, easy to learn and short to play classic wargames with just a few “innovations,” the Air War series of Mini Games from Decision Games are good candidates to put on your wish list.

 

RockyMountainNavy Verdict: BUY and PLAY for travel games but manage expectations.