#Wargaming, it’s in the Cards – Challenging commentary on @gmtgames Washington’s War, For the People, and Paths of Glory

I AM STILL (HAPPILY) WORKING MY WAY THROUGH MY 2019 GAMING CHALLENGES. These past few weeks I was fortunate to arrive at a time in my challenge where I got to play three Card-Driven Game (CDG)* designs:

  • For the People (GMT Games, 1998) won the 1998 Charles S Roberts Award for Best Pre-World War II Boardgame
  • Paths of Glory (GMT Games, 1999) won the 1999 Charles S Roberts Award for Best Pre-World War II Boardgame
  • Washington’s War (GMT Games, 2010) won both the 2010 Charles S Roberts Award for Best Ancient to Napoleonic Era Wargame and the 2010 Golden Geek Award for Best 2-Player Game / Best Wargame.

In playing these three games, I gained a new appreciation for the range of complexity the Card-Driven Game mechanic can support and how each creates a insightful historical experience.

Complexity

I ended up playing these three games in order of the wars; the American Revolution in Washington’s War followed by the American Civil War in For the People and lastly World War I in Paths of Glory. Not only was playing in this order the same as the historical timeline, the sequence also reflects the increasing complexity of the games.

My copy of Washington’s War (2nd Preprint, 2015) is the “latest published” of the three games I played but is the simplest in terms of rules. Based on Mark Herman’s We the People (Avalon Hill, 1993), Washington’s War features a single deck of Strategy Cards supporting a very streamlined selection of actions. Having not played a CDG in a while this was a good reintroduction to the CDG meachanic as the game focuses on the basics with little frills. Using the BGG complexity or “weight” scale, I put Washington’s War as a Medium Light 2.0 given the simple, rather direct rules.

My copy of For the People is the GMT Games 2nd Edition from 2006. There was a Third Edition in 2015 and I am not sure what changed. Doesn’t really matter; I enjoy my version of the game. In terms of complexity, For the People is similar to Washington’s War in the use of a single Strategy Card deck. Beyond that, For the People is more complex with the designation of Divisions, Corps, and Armies. Victory is determined not so much by area control (ala Washington’s War) but through Strategic Will (more on that later). The added rules make For the People more complex than Washington’s War, but the new rules overhead is not onerous. In terms of complexity I rate For the People a Medium 3.0 on BGG but in reality it plays more like a 2.5.

Paths of Glory, originally published in 1999, is the game that has undergone the most development since its first publication. I have a 1999 first edition, far removed from the English Deluxe Edition, Sixth Printing (2018) that is now available. I have not kept up on this game although I see lots of support available on the GMT Games website. I played the game using the Rules as Written out of the box; maybe not an optimal playing but it’s what I had on hand. Paths of Glory is the most complex of the three games played, most readily demonstrated by the use of two Strategy Card decks (separate for Allied and Central Powers). The cards themselves are also more complex, going beyond the usual Event or Operations Card values and introducing a Strategic Redeployment value and Replacement Points. However, like Washington’s War and For the People, another more subtle mechanic outside of combat is the true heart of the game. In Paths of Glory (PoG) that mechanic is War Status (also more later). Of the three CDG games I played, Paths of Glory is probably the most complex. On BGG I see that over 45% of the people voting rate Paths of Glory at Medium Heavy 4.0. I think that’s overdoing it and a solid Medium 3.0 is more appropriate.**

The progressive complexity level of the games made learning (relearning?) how to play each a simple exercise. I have tried to jump straight into Paths of Glory before and struggled. This time I built a foundation before I started and it worked much better. I guess this means that one needs several games in their collection to build up to the big one, right?

Evocative History

Although nominally a wargame, each of these games goes far beyond depicting their given conflict by looking beyond the battles. Indeed, each of these games is equal parts, if not more, a political game than a combat game.

Looking at Washington’s War, the major pieces scream wargame and combat. The Generals are standee’s and there are many chits for depicting the number of Combat Unit (CU) strength points on the board. In reality, the most important chit in the game is the Political Control (PC). Victory in Washington’s War is determined by colonies controlled, and colony control depends not on your army but on the amount of PC spaces controlled. Generals with armies can “flip” a PC, but it is the use of Operations Cards to “place” PC that is actually the most powerful action in the game. This is highly evocative of the history; armies could certainly protect areas of political control and even changed it at times but it was the political actions of rabble-rousing and the like, often in the background of the fighting, that determined control of the colony. Washington’s War captures this factor of history to a tee.

In For the People, the most important rule is not 7.0 Battle, but 12.0 Strategic Will. As designer Mark Herman notes in the introduction to 12.0:

The Strategic Will model in this game should drive a player’s actions….It is the absolute and relative value of each side’s Strategic Will that determines the current state of the war.

12.0 Strategic Will, Design Note

Rule 12.0 gives the player’s of For the People (FtP) ten different ways that affect Strategic Will. Understanding all these conditions is important because if one plays FtP and just focuses on combat, they are bound to lose the game.

Of all three games, Paths of Glory (PoG) is the most wargame-like. That said, like For the People the most important game mechanic is not Combat, but War Status. As designer Ted Raicer’s Design Notes point out:

War Status in PoG has several elements. First, it represents the progression of each alliance towards a state of modern industrialized Total War….Second, through the rules for Combined War Status, it shows the various effects of such a prolonged and costly struggle on national morale, politics, and diplomacy….Finally, through the Armistice mechanism, the effect of war weariness outside of Russia is introduced.

Design Notes, War Status

Like Strategic Will in For the People, in Paths of Glory careful management of one’s War Status and not simply winning a combat is the true key element essential for victory.

a Waro Awareness

One of the new gaming terms I discovered in the last few years is “waro.” A combination of “wargame” and “Eurogame,” the term attempts to define a new sub-domain of tabletop gaming that mixes conflict simulation with Eurogame mechanics. The poster child games for this genre is the GMT COIN-series. However, after playing these games, I would argue that the Card-Driven Game mechanic, as exemplified by Washington’s War, For the People, and Paths of Glory, are among the first waro games out there. This is not a new argument to the gaming community; long have gamers argued if any of these titles are even a wargame. Regardless of how you think about the issue, for me just playing these games has grown my understanding of what a waro can be.

putting my cards on the table

In some ways I had put CDG designs on the back shelf. I usually play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys so we need three-player games. These games are solidly two-player. CDG designs also tend not to be solo-friendly given the hidden information factor of the cards. There are some attempts to work around this but I have not delved deep into them. However, my recent plays have shown me that these games deserve to be brought down off the shelf, even if played in a sub-optimal solo manner. There is still much to be learned about the history of the times represented and these are amongst the best models to do so.


*Per BGG, a CDG is a game where, “Cards or campaign text depict events, and the challenge is in making decisions and plan their usage to win.”

**I am well aware that my complexity ratings on BGG tend to track lower than the average. I beleive this is because wargames tend to be overrated in complexity by the Eurogamers who dominate BGG.

My CSR #Wargame Challenge for 2019

This is the time of the year that many in the boardgame community start their “challenges” for the coming year. The classic is the 10 x 10 – pick 10 different games and play each ten times during the year. As a wargamer, I sort of like that thought but want something more applicable to my niche of the hobby.

The other night I was messing around with the Advanced Search function of BoardGameGeek and sorting my collection in different ways. For some reason I noticed certain games of mine are Charles S. Roberts Award winners. This drew my attention because wargamers know that Mr. Roberts is the father of modern wargaming:

Charles S. Roberts…invented the modern wargame industry virtually single-handedly. As a designer and original owner-operator of Avalon Hill, he was responsible for the creation of the first modern wargame, including many of the developments, such as the Combat Results Table (CRT), which were later to become commonplace. (grognard.com)

According to Wikipedia, the Charles S. Roberts Awards are:

The Charles S. Roberts Awards (or CSR Awards) was an annual award for excellence in the historical wargaming hobby. It was named in honor of Charles S. Roberts the “Father of Wargaming” who founded Avalon Hill. The award was informally called a “Charlie” and officially called a “Charles S. Roberts Award”….Created at the first Origins Game Convention in 1975….The last year the awards were given was 2012.

After sorting my game collection, I discovered I own 20 CSR Awards winners. The challenge I am giving myself is to play all 20 games at least once by the end of calendar year 2019.

CSRAward
Courtesy consimgames.com

My 2019 CSR Challenge games are:

  1. Squad Leader – 1977 Best Tactical Game
  2. Victory in the Pacific – 1977 Best Strategic Game
  3. Mayday – 1978 Best Science-Fiction Board Game
  4. The Ironclads – 1979 Best Initial Release Wargame
  5. Azhanti High Lightning – 1980 Best Science-Fiction Board Game
  6. Wings – 1981 Best Twentieth Century Game
  7. Car Wars – 1981 Best Science-Fiction Board Game
  8. Ironbottom Sound – 1981 Best Initial Release Wargame
  9. Illuminati – 1982 Best Science-Fiction Board Game*
  10. World in Flames – 1985 Best Twentieth Century Game
  11. 7th Fleet – 1987 Best Modern Era Boardgame
  12. Tokyo Express – 1988 Best World War II Boardgame
  13. Tac Air – 1988 Best Modern Era Boardgame
  14. Operation Shoestring: The Guadalcanal Campaign – 1990 Best World War II Board Game
  15. For the People – 1998 Best Pre-World War II Boardgame
  16. Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 – 1990 Best Modern Era Boardgame
  17. Crisis: Korea 1995 – 1993 Best Modern Era Boardgame
  18. Paths of Glory – 1999 Best Pre-World War II Boardgame
  19. Downtown: The Air War Over Hanoi, 1965-1972 – 2004 Best Modern Era Boardgame
  20. Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear – 2008 Best World War II Boardgame

A nice perk of making my own challenge is that I get to make the rules. For instance, since I don’t always own the edition that won substituting a later edition or version that I own is acceptable. For instance, I own Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 (25th Anniversary Edition) – that is a legal substitute.

I will keep this blog and a GeekList over on BoardGameGeek updated with my progress throughout the year.

So, what is your 2019 Wargame Challenge? 


*  Yes, I know Illuminati is NOT a wargame, but it is the only non-wargame CSR winner on my list. Besides, the RockyMountainNavy Boys may like it, so it stays!

Feature image courtesy BoardGameGeek. Afrika Korps was a 1964 design by Charles S. Roberts.

Game of the Week for April 02, 2018 – Thunder at the Crossroads 2nd Edition (The Gamers, 1993)

After the RockyMountainNavy trip to Gettysburg last week, it seems fitting that the Game of the Week be on that same topic. Thunder at the Crossroads 2nd Edition (The Gamers, 1993) is the only non-strategic Civil War battle game in my collection (the others being the broadly disliked The Civil War from Fresno Gaming Assoc. 1991 and the very popular For the People from GMT Games, 1998). Thunder at the Crossroads is a solid 7.7 on BoardGameGeek.com and has favorable reviews. It is not without its detractions, the main one being the required play time. BGG.com lists playing time as 360 minutes, though the back of the box states, “18 Hours Plus.”

This game is part of The Gamers’ Civil War Brigade (CWB) Series. As such, the rules are presented in two rulebooks; the Series Rules and Game Rules. The Game Rules are in a 20 page booklet but only the first four pages are “rules” with the rest being scenarios and notes.

The Series Rules are interesting. In the Introduction, the designers claim the games are, “accurate, readily playable portrayals of specific American Civil War battles at the tactical brigade level.” They go on to state,

The intent of this series is to focus on the command aspects of Civil War combat by having players use a game command system that mimics actual events. The game forces interact with each other in ways that simulate the functions of those they represent.

This focus on command becomes clearer when one realized that 10.0 Command and Control covers five pages of the Series Rules. This is a major portion of the rules, especially when one realizes that the “rules” are communicated in 24 pages with the balance of the 32 page rulebook being Designer’s Notes and several Optional rules and related essays.

All of which makes the reading 2.0 Beginner’s Note a bit confusing. Here the designer recommends,

Avoid the Command Rules as you learn this system, only using “command radius” to keep things in order. Once you understand the basic structure, include the rest of the command systems in your next session. All games in this series can be played without the command rules, so, if you do not find them to your taste, feel free to play without them.

I sense some cognitive dissonance here; the “focus” of the game is on the “command aspects” but it “can be played without the command rules.” OK…?

Another rule I had a hard time wrapping my head around at first was 6.5 Fire Levels. Infantry and cavalry units are rated using lettered fire levels. The rest of the game is fairly straight forward with a Turn Sequence (8.0) that is probably very familiar to may grognards:

  • First Player Turn
    • Command Phase
    • Movement & Close Combat Phase
    • Fire Combat Phase
    • Rally Phase
  • Second Player Turn
    • (Repeat above)
  • Game End Turn Phase

If there is one rule I like it is the Play Tip that appears in 20.0 Fire Combat. Recognizing that the fire combat rules require a series of die rolls the recommendation made is,

…place the following combination of dice into a dice roller: two large red dice, one smaller red die, one yellow die, one black die (white dots) and one white die (black dots). (The actual dice and colors used is up to you, but the above is a working example). Using the above dice, they will be read as follows. The two large red dice are for the main combat table. The smaller red die rounds any 1/2 results. The yellow die is for the Straggler Table. The remaining two dice are for the Morale Table with the black die the tens digit and the white die the ones. Use only the results from the dice which are needed according to the Fire Table result – in other words, if the Fire Table result is no effect, ignore all the other dice. This system speeds up play drastically – although it might sound cumbersome at first.

What the rulebook lacks is strong graphics. The three-column layout gets detailed and although there are several examples of play all are mostly textual – graphics are very limited. The Rules Summary Sheet lacks numerical rules references making it a short, but not-very-helpful compilation of rules. Some tables appear in the Charts & Tables but others (like the Movement Table) are directly on the map sheets. In 1993, the same year this game was published, designer Dean Essig was inducted into the Charles S. Robert Hall of Fame. That same year he won the James F. Dunnigan Award for Playability & Design. Granted, this award was for his 1993 title Afrika: The Northern Africa Campaign, 1940-1942 (1st Edition) which, judging from the photos on bgg.com, doesn’t visually appear much different from Thunder at the Crossroads. I guess this was the “state of excellence” at the time….

There are 11 scenarios provided, covering single days (like Scenario 1: The First Day) to smaller actions (like Scenario 5: Little Round Top) to the entire battle (Scenario 10: The Historical Battle of Gettysburg). There is actually a twelfth scenario which uses 6.12 Variable Arrival Charts to allow an Army Commander to “better implement his plans.” For my Game of the Week, I think I will use the shortest scenario, Little Round Top, which is only 9 turns. I also think I will use the Beginner’s Notes recommendation and only use the “command radius” rules. At least this first time….