Let me tell you a tale of longships and woe – A #boardgame story from 878: Vikings – Invasions of England (@Academy_Games, 2017)

The ships. I remember the ships.

The first sign of the Invasion was when the longships filled with helmeted warriors sailed up to Winchester. After they came ashore it was barbaric as they pillaged the land. It was not long before most of the south of Wessex, including Exeter and Canterbury were to fall to the invading hordes.

We English tried to fight. We struck back where able. Led by Housecarl and stiffened by the Thegn we fought – and died. Many a Fryd-man suffered but it didn’t turn back the Norsemand tide.

London and Thetford and most of the Kingdom of Guthrie fell. There were few rebellions; most were brutally put down. Even attempts to turn the Vikings warriors from their pagan beliefs failed. Then another wave arrived and Manchester fell. Only English and Danish Merica held.

Desperately seeking a new leader, we raised an army for King Alfred. He fought well, but not well enough. When he fell in battle, it was clear to all that the Treaty of Wedmore was the only answer.


This past Saturday Night Game Night in the RockyMountainHouse saw a return of an old friend and the joining of a newer one. The new friend was Gavin, best buddy of RockyMountainNavy Jr., who joined us for Game Night. The old friend was 878: Vikings – Invasions of England, the very family-friendly, area control, team lite wargame from Academy Games (2017).

Being bestest buds, RMN Jr. and Gavin took the Norseman and Berserkers, respectively. RockyMountainNavy T and myself took the English with T playing Housecarl and myself playing Thegn.

Teaching 878 or any of the Birth of America/Europe series games is easy. The fact that a new player plays on a team makes it even easier with experienced teammates. Gavin had no problem learning the rules and the few questions he had during gameplay mostly related to understanding Event Cards and their unique effects. That, and the fact the Vikings started out with a very aggressive move that cost the English dearly from the beginning didn’t hurt them either.

The aggressive move was to play Card 12 – Viking Ships (Norseman) on the first turn. The card reads:

The Norsemen may play this Event during their Movement Phase to move an Army from one Coastal Shire to any other Shire located on the same sea coast if they have a Unit participating in the move. This sea move costs the Army or Leader one Move, the same as if it had moved into an adjacent Shire. The Army may continue moving if it has any moves remaining.

Norseman Card 12 – Viking Ships

Normally, the first Viking invaders must enter from the North Sea. RMN Jr. landed at Canterbury and then pointed to the fact the shire adjoins both the North Sea and English Channel. After easily defeating the defenders of Canterbury in the first Battle Round, the Viking proceeded to Winchester as their second move using the Viking Ships card. We debated the interpretation of the card but in an attempt not not derail the game out of the gate we ended up allowing it. The result was a very uphill game for the English who lost their best reinforcement cities right out of the gate. This made massing of forces difficult for defense of the realm.

[The next day I searched the BGG forums for any comments and noted a very similar move was played at the 2018 WBC tournament – so it appears legal.]

The Vikings actually played both Treaty of Wedmore cards in Round IV but we had to play through Round V and the arrival of King Alfred before the game end. Going into Round V the Vikings held 12 Shires (three more than necessary for the win). After back-to-back activations of Norseman and Berserkers to start Round V they held 14 Shires. The English used the arrival of King Alfred to take back two shires but it was not enough and he fell in the last battle of the game. With 12 shires held at the Treaty the Vikings won.

This was Gavin’s first “wargame” that he has played (“other than Risk“). He liked it and was curious about the other titles in the Birth of America series. As much as we want to play more wargames with him, RockyMountainNavy Jr. also realizes Gavin is more of a mass-market gamer. That said, he does have experience in some hobby games like Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder, 2004), Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2016) and Here to Slay (Unstable Games, 2020). With that thought in mind, Jr. asked that we consider other games, like maybe starting with the deck-builder Trains (AEG, 2012) for another game night.

Most importantly, we also reaffirmed in the RMN Home that Weekend Games Nights are ESSENTIAL. In the past six weeks we have let Game Night slide in a combination of apathy and depression from the social situations surrounding COVID-19. We all enjoyed Game Night and we realized it is an essential part of our mental happiness. We agreed that we MUST get back to regular play – and we will!


Feature image courtesy ancientpages.com

“Friends come in and out of your [#boardgame] life like busboys in a restaurant.” Or like cards in Fort (@LederGames, 2020) [Bonus – No Wil Wheaton!]

“Build the most awesome fort while making friends and eating pizza.” – BGG description

This month the card game Fort (Leder Games, 2020) joined my collection and the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself had a chance to try it several times during our week-long summer vacation. We enjoy the game, in no small part to the excellent marriage of theme and game mechanics.

Deck Building games are not my usual game mechanic-of-choice. Indeed, according to BoardGameGeek, I actually own only four games using the mechanic with two of them joining the collection in August 2020. I don’t consciously avoid deck builders; two others in my collection are Quarriors (Wiz Kids, 2011) and Trains (AEG, 2013). The RockyMountainNavy Boys really enjoy Quarriors (so much so they bought several expansions on their own) and Trains is usually a good time when it hits the table.

In Fort, players are the leader of a neighborhood club of kids. Your club starts with two best friends and eight other friends. The objective of the game is to ‘play’ with your friends to collect ‘stuff’ to build a fort and earn victory points.

The integration of theme and game play in Fort makes the entire play experience most fun. Every turn (day?) you start by gathering friends you didn’t play with but are in your Yard and move them to your Discard (telephone friends?) pile. Then you get to ‘play’ one friend from your Hand (your club can have as many as five friends in your hand). Each friend has two actions; a Public action and a Private action. You can do one, or both, actions as long as at least one of the actions is fully completed. You can also add other friends of the same ‘suit’ to play to increase the action. So if you play Patch (Add one Toy to Stuff for each Book) and add in Bones (both Book Suit) you get two toys. Regardless of if you played the Public or Private action, other players have the option of discarding a friend in their club/hand of the same suit and ‘following’ the Public action. Your club of friends may have been the first, but you are being mimicked by others! The actions you take will often lead to increasing the Stuff you have (Toys and Pizza) or can be used to build a bigger fort. Building a fort takes Stuff; the larger the fort the more Stuff needed. Larger forts also have more room for keeping Stuff in your Pack and more space for Look Outs (friends always available in your fort) that add cards to actions based on their suit. Sometimes that action might call for you to let a friend go because just like in real life sometimes that friend just isn’t right for you (or your game engine).

Next, you get the chance to ask new friends to join your club. Each turn you can recruit one new friend, chosen from either the Park or from another players Yard. This is the real deck-building aspect of Fort as you try to build a group of friends that power your ‘game engine’ strategy to victory.

After recruiting a new friend, you have to ‘go in’ for the day. Your Best Friends go to your Discard pile for they will never leave you except if you choose to Trash them like they moved away. Any other friends in your hand go into your Yard because you didn’t ‘play’ with them. Remember, friends in the Yard can be recruited away during other players turns! Finally, you replenish your hand from your Draw deck; these are the friends that will be with you as the other clubs execute their actions. These friends are going to be the ones allowing you to ‘follow the leader’ during other player’s turns and (hopefully) advance your scoring. End-game scoring is triggered when one player reaches Fort Level 5 or when their score passes 25 on the Victory Track.

I really enjoy the fact that the theme in Fort and game play build a natural narrative. We often find that in playing, we drop into using non-game terms for actions, like “Choose a new friend” instead of ‘recruit’ or “Send the friends you didn’t play with outside” instead of ‘discard.’ The use of toys and pizza for Stuff is brilliant. Indeed, the entire game builds upon the narrative of friends at play in a very natural way that makes playing Fort feel as if we’ve been playing it since we were little kids.

If there is a drawback to Fort, I have to say it’s grokking the iconography in your first play. It’s not hard, it just takes a bit getting used to it. Just like joining a new group of friends they already have their own ‘language’ and you need to catch up – which you will do quickly. The first play (or two) of Fort also can go on far longer than the 20-40 minute playtime on the box. That’s because all your friends are unique, and figuring out how to play with them takes a bit of time as you get to know them and see how they can help your club.

Finally, you can have fun in Fort by trying to pick which friend you are. Personally I feel like Bones. His Public Action of “Trash a card in your hand or discard pile Then Score VP times the number of Books” is like the friend who forms a study group that eventually helps you get better grades (VP?) but takes friends away from play. I can also see myself as Einstein (Public Action – Add a Pizza or Toy to your Stuff) but his Private Action (Score VP times number of Books Then Trash this card) seems a bit harsh. Then again, it sorta fits the nerd stereotype of the friend everybody wants to have in class but doesn’t really want to play with around the neighborhood (or maybe they can’t play with because he’s too busy studying).


Title quote (slightly modified!) from the movie Stand by Me.

#Wargame head-to-head – Victory in the #PacificTide (@compassgamesllc, 2018)

pacific-tide-front-cover
Compass Games

With a winter storm forecast for Saturday, it was a good day to stay in and play some wargames. The latest arrival in my collection is Pacific Tide: The United States versus Japan, 1941-45 (Compass Games, 2018). This game, by designer Gregory M. Smith, is a “compact. strategic-level game covering the struggle betweent he United States (including some Commonwealth forces) and Japan in World War II.” The game “features a card-based combat/build system.” The game can also be played solo using a “personality-driven solitaire bot system.”

pic188896_md
Avalon Hill

Besides playing Pacific Tide, I also worked on my 2019 Charles S Roberts Wargame Challenge. As luck would have it, the next game in my queue was Victory in the Pacific (Avalon Hill, 1977). VITP is a strategic simulation of the naval war in the Pacific starting with the Pearl Harbor attack and going into 1945. Thus, both Pacific Tide and VITP cover a nearly identical gamespace and therefore gave me a good opportunity to not only explore Pacific Tide but to think about how far the wargaming hobby has come since 1977.

Both VITP and Pacific Tide are nearly identical in their degree of complexity and how they portray the war and combatants:

VITP

Pacific Tide

Complexity

2 out of 10

3 out of 10

Time Scale

2 turns/year

Yearly Turns

Map Scale

Area

Area

Units

Individual carriers or ships, air groups, infantry

Individual carriers or ships, army-level infantry, air groups

Average Play Time

5h

2-4h

pic4311422
Sample Map (Compass Games)

Pacific Tide needs less table space than VITP. The 17″x22″ map and 5/8″ counters for Pacific Tide are make for a smaller footprint than the 22″x28″ map and 1″ counters in VITP. Further, the large reinforcements entry cards in VITP are absent in Pacific Tide. I have said before that I think VITP could use a graphical refresh. If that ever happens, I hope they look at Pacific Tide and the nice artwork by Ilya Kudriashov for inspiration.

pic4311423
Sample Cards (Compass Games)

What really sets Pacific Tide apart from other wargames like VITP is the use of the card-based combat/build system. It really is a card-driven game. During each yearly turn in Pacific Tide players play cards back and forth to Move and/or Attack in order to Control areas. At the end of the year players Repair fleets under certain conditions, get new cards for the coming year, and earn Build Points. The Build Points are used to purchase previous year cards and place those cards into the deck for the coming year. In effect, there is a bit of a deck building mechanic in Pacific Tide.

The rules in both games are remarkably similar in volume. My 1981 2nd Edition rule book for VITP is eight pages long. The actual rules are on six, triple-column pages. The Pacific Tide Rules of Play is a 16-page booklet but the actual rules are covered on the first 12 pages. The Pacific Tide rules are written in a very conversational style (not the every-paragraph VITP formal 1. / 1.1 / 1.1.1 pattern) which is both a blessing and a curse. In the boardgame segment of the gaming hobby there is a definite trend for a more conversational tone of rules. However, for wargames (outside of some waros) I don’t think it really works. To me, wargame rules are more structured by nature and cross-referencing is often necessary making a more formal layout (and tone) necessary.

In the case of Pacific Tide, the writing of the rules is sometimes wonky. For instance,

“INF and Guerrilla units never roll dice against Fleets, CVs, or air units. They only attack other ground units.”

This seems backwards to me. I understand rules better when they state the positive portion first and the negative/exception second. Thus, the above rule would read,

“INF and Guerrilla only attack other ground units. They never roll dice against Fleets, CVs, or air units. Exception – See AA FIRE.”

In Pacific Tide, each combat factor rolls one or two d6 roll each. There are only a few other modifiers like naval gunfire support adding a die in infantry combat. Hits are scored on a roll of 4-6 with a 6 giving damage priority to CV units if present. One hit will destroy a CV or Air but two hits are needed to destroy a Fleet. Infantry are usually one hit per point unless they are Entrenched when the first hit is negated. This combat mechanic is not that different from VITP where units roll a number of d6 equal to their Airstrike or Gunnery Factor with hits on a 6 (unless they have the Attack Bonus which adds +1 to the die roll). Each hit then rolls a d6 for the amount of damage inflicted. In effect, combat losses in Pacific Tide occurs more often but each hit is less swingy than VITP.

I am actually having a hard time figuring out how to determine victory in Pacific Tide. I am going to quote 2.0 Victory Conditions in total as well as the text on US card 24 THE ATOMIC BOMB so you can (hopefully) see what I mean.

2.0 VICTORY CONDITIONS

The US player wins if he controls all areas on the map, with the exception of Okinawa and Japan. The Japanese player wins if he prevents this.

2.1 Decisive Victory

The US player wins a decisive victory if he drops the Atomic Bomb. The Japanese player wins a decisive victory if he controls Okinawa and one of these 3 areas: Iwo Jima, the Philippines, or the Aleutians.

The Japanese player also wins an automatic decisive victory if he controls the following areas at the end of 1942:

  • All starting Japanese areas plus the Phillippines, Singaore, Borneo, the Aleutians, Wake, and Midway.

US Card 24 THE ATOMIC BOMB

If, after playing this card, the US player controls all starting areas except Japan, the game ends and the US Player wins a Decisive Victory. Otherwise determine victory normally.

If I’m reading this right then:

  1. The US wins a Decisive Victory if they drop the Atomic Bomb (2.1)
  2. US wins Decisive Victory if they drop the Atomic Bomb and controls all starting areas except Japan (US Card 24)
  3. US wins a normal victory if the game ends and US controls all areas on the map except Japan and Okinawa (2.0)
  4. Japan wins an Automatic Decisive Victory at end of 1942 if they control all staring Japanese areas plus the Philippines, Singapore, Borneo, the Aleutians, Wake, and Midway (2.1)
  5. Japan wins a Decisive Victory if at game end they control Okinawa plus one of three other areas (Iwo Jima, the Philippines, or the Aleutians) (2.1)
  6. Japan wins a normal victory if at game end they control Japan, Okinawa, and any are other than Iwo Jima, the Philippines, or the Aleutians (2.0)

Conditions 1 and 2 look almost the same but are not. So which is it? In condition 5, does Japan also have to control the Japanese starting area? It seems logical, but unlike the other conditions its not explicitly stated. So what is it? This confusing wording appears to be the result of the too easy-going conversational tone taken in the rules. Yet another example of where tighter wording could be helpful.

Overall, and contrary to the complexity ratings above, I feel that Pacific Tide is actually the less complex of the two games. This in part may be because Pacific Tide does not have the different Patrollers or Raiders movement nor the Day or Night Actions combat distinctions found in VITP. The use of cards and unnamed ships and fleets for reinforcements means Pacific Tide is a level of abstraction above VITP. For a fast-play, strategic look at World War II in the Pacific that abstraction is perfectly fine for me.

One note about the solitaire bot in Pacific Tide. The bot here is very simple and really guidelines on how to play cards based on a die roll-determined “personality” that can shift every turn. For wargamers more familiar with the various bots in the GMT Games COIN-series the Pacific Tide version will likely be a bit of a disappointment. Not that it doesn’t work; it’s just not very complicated. Yet another simplification that tries to make Pacific Tide more accessible in spite of the sweeping topic.

Pacific Tide is a relatively uncomplicated (rules-lite?) and fast-playing strategic wargame view of the Pacific War. The graphics and components help players immerse themselves in the game and convey the theme more than adequately. The card-driven mechanic introduces the right amount of fog-of-war and helps the game run like, but not identical to, history. The game is very enjoyable to play but the conversational tone of the rules book leads to some problems. Nothing a really good reformat and careful editing couldn’t take care of. I just wish that happened before the game was released.


Afterward

One may be better off comparing Pacific Tide to Empire of the Sun (GMT Games, 2005). EotS is a card-driven, strategic hex & counter wargame of the Pacific War. Be warned though, EotS is rated 7 out of 9 in complexity and needs more like six hours of playtime to fight the whole war. I don’t own EotS so I cannot make a further comparison.