Sunday Summary – Back to school, back to work, and back to #boardgame, #wargame, and maybe even #TravellerRPG #gamenights with @gmtgames @Academy_Games @IndependenceGa6

With Labor Day weekend just around the corner (at least for us ‘Mericans) it is officially the end of the summer season. This traditionally means back to school, back to work after summer laziness, and in the RockyMountainNavy household a return to tabletop gaming.

School

RockyMountainNavy Jr. is a high school senior this year. After being sidelined in online learning last year he is anxious to get back to school in-person and (more importantly) back to regularly seeing friends. He also has a driver’s license now which also means he has, perhaps inevitably, discovered that girls like coffee dates, ice cream, and movies. I have a sneaky suspicion that, given the choice between a family game night and, uh, “social engagements,” he will chose the later.

16 Candles

Work

The summer vacation season is coming to a close. Aside from vacation, I was already back to work 5-days a week. I suspect I will be just as busy between now and the Thanksgiving holiday. RockyMountainNavy T, my middle boy, is also gainfully employed (i.e full time—or more) as an Electrician’s Apprentice and his company which specializes in HVAC controllers (a COVID-era Upgrade of ChoiceTM for many buildings) has more work than staff. For both of us this means the occasional lite games in the evenings may become even more occasional.

Centralized HVAC Controller

Boardgame

The return to school and work also usually means a return to Family Game Nights. Given the, uh, “distractions” in RMN Jr’s life I am not sure I can totally count on him to be there for game nights. That said, there is a chance that we might have a multi-family game night at times with maybe as many as six-players. More likely, RMN T and myself will have Father vs. Son Game Nights…on weekends. One of the new-to-me games sitting on my shelf of shame that makes a good candidate for play is Space Empires 4X by designer Jim Krohn from GMT Games (2017 Third Printing).

Foundations Edge – Representative of Space Empires 4X?

Wargame

As always, wargames will be the core of my gaming time. Production and shipping delays mean that I will have time to work off my shelf of shame and get games to the table. I have plenty of Game of the Week titles waiting for me:

I am very interested in using Commands & Colors: Samurai, Strike of the Eagle, and even Space Empires 4X as possible games that RMN T and myself can play head-to-head on those Father vs. Son Game Nights.

There is also a possibility that new titles will trickle in although I am very unsure as to any timelines. I am positive that my uncertainty is nothing compared to the uncertainty that publishers have over the same issue. This past week, Gene from GMT Games dropped his monthly update that shows many of my titles are stuck. As Gene puts it:

Supply Chain and Shipping Slowdown. We haven’t made much progress from last month on the “P500 games shipping to us from the printer” front. Our printers are in the process of printing and boxing some of the 21 new products that are currently being printed. But the same global supply chain and shipping issues that are hampering businesses worldwide are hitting us, too. We THINK at this point that we will see three games shipped to us this month (to arrive in late September), but we can’t tell you dates with any certainty at this point.

Aug 2021 GMT Update

I guess this means I need to look at small, independent retailers to fill out existing-but-unowned titles in both my boardgame and wargame collections.

This is what I imagine my wargames look like waiting for shipping….

Traveller/Cepheus Engine Role Playing Game

This past week I also had a small, friendly interaction on Twitter with John Watts of Independence Games that served as a good reminder that the RMN Boys also asked for a return to some sort of RPG adventuring. I picked up a new ship book from Independence Games, the Brightwater-class Personal Yacht, that is yet another good adventure seed ship design. The real question is where do I fit an RPG campaign into the schedule?

#Wargame Wednesday: West of South China – Game of the Week Impressions of Indian Ocean Region: South China Sea Vol. II (@compassgamesllc, 2020)

My Game of the Week was Indian Ocean Region: South China Sea Vol. II by John Gorkowski from Compass Games. This is the second (more practically the third) game in the South China Sea-series that traces it’s lineage back to John’s original South China Sea (Compass Games, 2017) and a closely-related-but-predecessor design, Breaking the Chains: War in the South China Sea (Compass Games, 2014). I really love the South China Sea design, especially it’s treatment of operational/tactical naval warfare and even the mixture of politics.

As the name of the game foreshadows, Indian Ocean Region: South China Sea Vol. II leaves the South China Sea “home waters” and moves to the Indian Ocean. China and the United States are still the two Global Powers, but now there are many more regional actors. The largest is, of course, India. For players that are US-centric (‘Merica!) the game might create a challenge because the “big kid” on this block is not the United States.

In no particular order, here are some thoughts on Indian Ocean Region that struck me during my Game of the Week experiences.

Fall Out!

The counters for Indian Ocean Region are nice. They came shrink-wrapped which was a good thing because once the wrap came off the counters literally fell out of the sprue. They are so neatly cut I don’t think I need to corner-clip them. If this is the “new” standard from Compass Games I like it but beware—you need a plan to organize your counters before opening the shrink wrap because once opened the counters are falling randomly. Sorting will be from a random pile on the table not neatly out of the tree.

I had to put a few rows back for this picture. Can you find the misprints?

Color Counts

I do wish the colors of the counters in Indian Ocean Region had been a bit more distinct between nations. The camouflage pattern on the counters in this case actually works against them as various counters start “blending” into one another. In some wargaming forums, much has been made about several misprinted counters in Indian Ocean Region. My copy suffers from this problem where three USA ship counters are misprinted with the background for Oman. Truth be told, if I hadn’t seen the postings online I may have actually missed it because the USA-gray and Oman-blue-gray are very similar. It is indicative of quality control issues? Maybe…I believe the error crept in during the graphics layout where the challenge of differentiating so many similar colors inevitably led to a small oversight. Do the misprinted counters make the game unplayable? No. Do I wish Compass Games had caught the mistake before printing? Yes. Will I never buy another Compass Game? NO!

That’s a Big Ocean

Indian Ocean Region covers a vast area both geographically and physically with the game. With a map scale of 45 miles per hex and larger counters, there are three 22.5″x28″ mapsheets that, if laid out together, need a table over 5 feet wide. Alas, my normal gaming table is 3’x4′ which means I can easily get a one- or two-map game laid out but the full three-map scenarios require a different gaming space. I see some people talk about linking Indian Ocean Region and South China Sea (Compass Games, 2017) maps together but that would take the dining room table or more.

(Off) the gaming table….

Yes, I know I’m talking about a first-world wargamer problem, but for somebody like myself who has reached, uh, “agreements” with CINC-HOUSE* over table space this can make gaming difficult. It also drives some game purchase decisions. As much as I am interested in the new version of NATO: The Cold War Goes Hot! (Compass Games, forthcoming in 2021) I think I’ll keep my original edition with its single 22″x34″ map and pass on the enlarged version in the new Designer’s Signature Edition.

Where You Sit is Where You Fight

One of the core mechanisms in Indian Ocean Region is a regulated turn order. The game assumes five major factions can be in play. The default turn order in either a Political or Military Turn is 1) Asymmetric, 2) China, 3) Indo-Am, 4) Symmetric Bay States, and 5) Symmetric Gulf States or ACIBG. There are two Global Powers of USA and China and three other smaller Regional Powers. It is the arrangement of those Global and Regional Powers that raises my PoliSci eyebrow. As defined in the rule book:

  • Asymmetric includes nations that rely heavily on unconventional strategies and tactics, including terrorism….” (Iran, Pakistan, Qatar (?), Somalia, Yemen)
  • China uses central control to guide action in ‘free’ markets.” – China, The String of Pearls
  • Indo-Am represents the established free market/democratic world order.” (Bahrain, India, USA, Diego Garcia, Australia, Britain)
  • Symmetric Bay states want Chinese investment, but are weary [wary?] of too much subordination to Beijing.” (Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri-Lanka)
  • Symmetric Gulf States are free traders with a long history of western engagement.” (Djibouti, Oman, United Arab Emirates).

Setting aside for a moment the mixture of geographical and political divisions, the fixed political alignment of the factions in Indian Ocean Region shows some strange bedfellows that may not be a current, or maybe even accurate, reflection of reality. I especially question the inclusion of Qatar in the “terrorist” Asymmetric States but maybe that is just a quibble over definitions. Also, The String of Pearls rule makes huge assumptions as to the success of Chinese “Belt and Road” initiative in the region—assumptions that are yet to play out and might better be used as an “option” or “variant” rule to more fully explore its impact on the political and military actions of the powers.

Example of Play

I realize that making an Example of Play is difficult. I know it takes time and careful planning as a good EoP will showcase game mechanisms in a way that teaches and reinforces. I am happy to see an extensive Example of Play in IOR—I am disappointed that it is taken from the previous game, South China Sea. Yes, the EoP explains core game mechanics, but by not basing it on the game in front of the reader a major learning opportunity is lost. Reading an EoP can only deliver so much understanding; if I am able to set up the EoP and push the counters around like in the example the combination of reading, seeing, and even feeling (the “tactile”) reinforces and accelerates learning.

I don’t want to say this is lazy but….

Those Bi-Polar Days Are Over

Scoring in Indian Ocean Region is along a Victory Point Track that has the Indo-Am faction at one end and China at the other. In between sit the three other factions. I’m not sure what the score really tells me. The two “extreme” winners, China and the Indo-Am, are obvious, but why is a score of 14 points (just shy of China) an Asymmetric States (aka “Terrorist”) win? I feel that the score track needs a third dimension to capture the nuance of the regional powers and how they influence, but don’t necessarily “win” against the Global Powers. Then again, if your viewpoint is that the China-USA “competition” is a new Cold War, then this scoring viewpoint fits.

Full Steam Ahead

In the end, I find that Indian Ocean Region does what I expected it to do—deliver a fun, medium-low complexity gaming experience of modern naval warfare. The political alignment using the rules as written may be a bit wonky but there is nothing that says one cannot shift Regional Powers amongst the factions. It is especially interesting to split the Indians away from the Indo-Am faction and see how they might act if more “independent.” Indeed, it is the set up (or playing out) of the political game that creates the best opportunity for experimentation. Once battle is joined, the operational/tactical rules flow nicely and again deliver just enough flavor to make it interesting while not overwhelming one with too many details.

Next Generation SCSX

I don’t know what the future of the South China Sea series of wargames is but Indian Ocean Region shows how the design can be exported to other areas. I hope that John Gorkowski and Compass Games can do a Mediterranean or Black Sea or Baltic edition in the future. Both require the entry of a new Global Power—Russia. I can imagine a very interesting Baltic design with the USA and Russia as Global Powers and Old NATO and New NATO/Aspiring factions and even Neutrals. Such a game alsos need more land-based units that reach out into the littoral areas.


* CINC-HOUSE = “Commander in Chief – House.” If you don’t understand who occupies this position you are sorely out of touch with reality.

Sunday #Wargame #Boardgame #Book Summary – One day to 2 Minutes to Midnight (@stuarttonge) while Napoleonics from @gmtgames kicks off the summer Game of the Week series (mentions of @compassgamesllc @Academy_Games @UNC_Press)

Boardgames

Countdown to Midnight

A reminder that the Kickstarter campaign for 2 Minutes to Midnight by Stuart Tonge and his new company Plague Island Games starts tomorrow! Read my comments here and then please look at the campaign. I’ve said it before that “cubes as influence” games are not really my thing but I really enjoyed the thematic elements of 2 Minutes to Midnight—it’s good enough to overcome my bias. I think many of you will find the game interesting and worth the investment!

Wargames

New Arrivals

Several GMT Games P500 preorders arrived this week. Going into the “To Play” pile is Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s Wing Leader: Legends 1937-1945 (Wing Leader Expansion Nr 4). Also arriving is Ted Raicer’s The Dark Summer: Normandy, 1944.

I am very interested in getting Wing Leader: Legends to the table as it includes the “Decision Over Kursk” campaign system. Some readers may recall several “My Kursk Kampaign” postings from earlier this spring where I dove in-depth into that battle. At the time I wanted to explore the air war more:

As I start this exploration, my copy of Wing Leader: Legends 1937-1945 (GMT Games, forthcoming in 2021) is “At the Printer” meaning it may deliver sometime in mid-2021. If it delivers in time I would certainly like to play the campaign system which focuses on the air battles supporting the Battle of Kursk. I really want to explore a point Glantz makes on page 63 in his book; “Red aircraft might be inferior to their German counterparts, but they were certainly sufficient in numbers to deny the Luftwaffe undisputed command of the air.”


History to #Wargame – My Kursk Kampaign – Part 1 Introduction

Although you can’t see it in the photo of The Dark Summer, I am, frankly, a bit surprised the game shipped in a 1.5″ deep box. One can interpret this as a sign that the game is smaller, and with a single 22″x34″ map and two countersheets that appears true. I guess I thought a Normandy campaign game just “has to be” big but this one-mapper is already challenging my preconceptions.

Game of the Week

Now that I’m back to a pretty regular work schedule (office is basically 100% reconstituted) I need to work on getting back to a “regular” gaming schedule. Thus, I will be starting a “Game of the Week” approach to play. Basically, the Game of the Week approach gives me seven days to unbox, learn, play, and consider a game. I have a rough idea of how a week might progress:

  • Sunday – Unbox new game, start rules learning/review
  • Monday – Rules learning/review, set up first play
  • Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday – Play
  • Friday – (Skip Day)
  • Saturday – Considerations/Clean up (Family Game Night?)
Sticker Day for Commands & Colors Napoloenics

I have a backlog of games on the “To Play” shelf that I need to get to over the next few weeks of summer before getting to Wing Leader: Legends and The Dark Summer: I’m trying to play games in the order of their arrival:

Looking (Further) Ahead

I need to work off some of the excess in the “To Play” group because more games are scheduled to arrive over the summer. If all goes well, I’ll be adding Panzer Expansion Nr 1 (which will complete my collection), Tank Duel (Expansion #1: North Africa and Tank Pack #1), and Wing Leader: Supremacy (Second Edition Upgrade Kit), all from GMT Games, in the next 60 days or so. There is also a (theoretical) chance that Reality Shift from Academy Games might arrive but Uwe and Gunter making a delivery date is rare.

Books

While playing games I also am also committed to reading more. When possible, I like to mix a book with the Game of the Week but that’s not always possible as I have other books on the “To Read” pile. I finished up Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command by Kent Masterson Brown (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2021) and it will be the subject of this coming week’s “Rocky Reads for Wargame” column. I am pretty sure that 2034: A Novel of the Next War by Eliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis will likely be read in conjunction with Indian Ocean Region when it is up for Game of the Week.

Plastic Models

One of my favorite online sources for plastic models closed due to bankruptcy late in 2020. Thanks to a new owner, www. squadron.com is back. The reopening has not been the smoothest, but they are trying to work out the kinks. Given how few good plastic model retailers there are online I hope they make it!

Foodie Watch

The RockyMountainNavy family tried a new-to-us restaurant this week. The Capital Burger bills itself as purveyors of “luxe” burgers. They use a proprietary blend of beef to make their burgers; I never imagined it could make a difference—but it does. Their Kung Pao Brussel Sprouts are my new favorite and a great replacement for french fries. Oh yeah, it all pairs well with a good ale….

Roasted Wild Mushroom and Swiss Burger (Roasted Portobello Mushrooms, Jarlsberg Swiss, 15-year Aged Balsamic, Truffle Aioli)

Game of the Week – or – Visiting Neptune’s Inferno with Tokyo Express: The Guadalcanal Naval Campaign, 1942 (Victory Games, 1988)

For most of the campaign, Guadalcanal was a contest of equals, perhaps the only major battle in the Pacific where the United States and Japan fought from positions of parity. Its outcome was often in doubt. – James D. Hornfischer, Neptune’s Inferno, Prologue.

pic360048From the perspective of game mechanics, Tokyo Express: The Guadalcanal Naval Campaign, 1942 (Victory Games, 1988) can be a real chore. This solitaire game leverages a heavy workload on the player to not only make decisions for their own side, but also to run the opposing AI. However, once you make it past the initial (steep?) learning curve, the game opens up a narrative battle experience unlike so many others.

In a way it is unfair to call Tokyo Express a historical game. Yes, there are scenarios that replicate the starting conditions of many battles, but the real power of Tokyo Express is how it make the unknown a part of the game and forces the player to deal with it. What may be the two most important rules in Tokyo Express are not what many grognards would think. Rule 6.0 Detection and 7.0 Japanese Hidden Forces are the parts of the game that make the narrative come alive.

Before you can open fire, you must see the target. That is the crux of 6.0 Detection. Be it visually or by radar, the importance of detecting the enemy first is a core game mechanic in Tokyo Express. When taken in combination with 7.0 Hidden Japanese Forces, the game creates it own unique narrative of battle ensuring that no two games are ever alike. The Design Note for 7.0 actually frames the entire game and brings the drama of the battle to the forefront:

The game begins with you patrolling Ironbottom Sound, looking for the Japanese who are somewhere off in the darkness. The Japanese appear initially as blips on your long-range search radar. Hidden forces represent anything your radar operator thinks might be a Japanese force. Sometimes it will indeed be warships; other times it will just be a “radar ghost.” You find out by detecting it.

In Tokyo Express, game designer Jon Southard captures the most important elements of the naval battle around Guadalcanal. In his Design Notes he makes no excuses for the difficulty of the game. In some ways Mr. Southard was ahead of his time when he designed Tokyo Express to be an “experience” and not a “simulation.” He especially makes no excuse for the difficulty of winning:

In your initial encounters with Tokyo Express, you will, I hope, feel some of the frustration and awe the American admirals did. The objective throughout the design process was to give you their bridge-eye view. You may be defeated at first, but you should find your own solutions, as the US admirals finally did.

8575701By making its core design feature “find your own solutions,” Tokyo Express takes what many wargames do, challenging players to find a path to victory, and elevates it to the highest levels of the hobby. It is a testimony to the power of his design that 30 years after its initial publication the title is worthy of a reprint. Pairing this game with James D. Hornfischer’s Neptune’s Inferno: The US Navy at Guadalcanal (Bantam Books, 2011) allows one to not only read the history, but then take the same human drama Hornfischer relates and make it come alive.

Featured image courtesy BoardGameGeek.

Game of the Week – or – Talking a’Bot Tokyo Express: The Guadalcanal Naval Campaign, 1942 (Victory Games, 1988)

img_2594A few weeks back I looked at Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 (Revolution Games, 2015) as my Game of the Week. In keeping with the Guadalcanal theme, and noting that the anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal is this week, I pulled another Guadalcanal title off my shelf. Sitting on my game shelves unplayed for many years was Tokyo Express – The Guadalcanal Naval Campaign: 1942 (Victory Games, 1988). Thirty years later I am happy to report that Tokyo Express is my latest grogpiphany. I enjoyed playing it so much I decided to deep dive into the game as my Game of the Week. Most importantly, Tokyo Express got me thinking about opponent AI and Bots in wargames.

What makes Tokyo Express unique is that it is a solitaire game. From the publisher’s blurb:

Tokyo Express is a solitaire and two-player simulation of the night naval battles off Guadalcanal. In the solitaire version, you command the US fleet, awaiting the emergence of the Tokyo Express from the darkness. You group your ships into formations, assigning them orders, and select the targets to attack with torpedoes and guns. Simple mechanisms control Japanese maneuvers and target assignments in a realistic manner. You never know when combat will occur until the explosion of torpedo salvos signals the presence of Japanese forces who detected you first and made their surprise attacks. The two-player version modifies the solitaire game and pits players against each other in an exciting recreation of World War II naval combat. Tokyo Express is graduated in complexity to help you learn the rules as you play.

When Tokyo Express was released in 1988 it garnered critical and fan praise by wining the 1988 Charles R. Roberts Award for Best WWII Board Game. I purchased the game new in 1988 but never really got the chance to play it as that was near the end of my college days and I didn’t have a wargaming group. Being a solitaire game should have made playing it easy but I only got the game to the table a few times before packing it away.

One gripe I often have with solitaire games is that the game mechanics often require learning above and beyond other games. This is in part because the solo player must not only execute their own actions, but that of the opponent too. In more modern games, the opponent is sometimes run by a Bot usually found on a player aid card. The more “intelligent” the Bot, the more difficult the Bot is to execute.

When I first reopened the box for Tokyo Express I was a bit startled by the rules. There are TWO Rules Booklets; a 24-page Basic Game Book and a 64-page (!) Standard Game Book. In addition to the rules booklets, there is a somewhat cryptic Battle Movement Display and 10 double-sided Charts and Tables Cards. I had totally forgotten about the 120 Gunnery Cards too! Of the 676 chits in the game, only 156 are Ship Counters while the remaining 520 are Information Markers. Looking at the array of contents, especially those two large Rules Booklets, made me doubt the back-of-the-box Complexity rating of Medium-Low to High. Based on rules alone and all those information markers, Tokyo Express looks to be a daunting beast to play!

Even after reading the Basic Game Book, I began to doubt my motivation for playing the game after all these years. However, after setting up the 3.9 Basic Scenario and pushing cardboard around I began to understand the simplicity of the game mechanics. The true core mechanic is Battle Movement and the Battle Movement Display. This is the heart of the “opponent AI” and the closest counterpart to a modern Bot in Tokyo Express. The Standard Game introduces more advanced rules but Mission Movement and Battle Movement remain the heart of the AI.

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The heart of the AI – The Battle Movement Display for Tokyo Express

I think the reason some people claim the opponent AI in Tokyo Express is difficult is that it is hard to see the flow of the AI/Bot. The front of Card #8 has the Standard Sequence of Play Track with boxes for tracking which segment is happening but there is no rules cross-reference. I see in the forums that noted designer Jack Greene of Quarterdeck Games is planning on republishing Tokyo Express. One part that certainly could use an update is the graphic representation of the flow of the Bot.

Having played the Basic Game a few times I next turned to the Standard Game. That was a whole other beast….

(To be continued)

Featured image courtesy BoardGameGeek

Game of the Week – Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 (Revolution Games, 2015) – Theme & Game Mechanics

I love war-games on naval warfare. The Admiralty Trilogy Games (Fear God & Dread Nought, Rising Sun, Harpoon) are amongst my favorite wargames of all time. I tend to like the more tactical-level of naval combat but always am on the lookout for games about other levels of war. I have most of the Avalanche Press Great War at Sea / Second World War at Sea series in my collection that try very hard to marry tactical combat resolution with an operational-level campaign game – and ends up doing neither very well. Thus, it was with both hope and trepidation that I picked up Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 (Bonsai-Games/Revolution Games, 2015) a little over a year ago. I need not have worried; Pacific Fury delivers a highly thematic game using a set of game mechanics that doesn’t emphasize combat, but planning. If that sounds boring to you and you skip this title then you actually are missing out on a great game that is not only fun to play, but provides a unique view into a pivotal naval campaign in the South Pacific in late 1942.

Pacific Fury is played out over four turns with each turn composed of five phases. The simple sequence of play builds a strong campaign narrative each turn through the interaction of four key rules:

  • 8.2 Form Task Forces
  • 9.7 Counting Operations
  • 10.7 Applying Hits
  • 10.8 Return to Base (Forced Return)

8.2 Form Task Forces

This rule is really the heart of every turn. In this step players have to plan their turn – everything after this is execution, not planning. Players plan their turn by forming either Amphibious, Bombardment, or Carrier Task Forces (the Japanese can also form the special Tokyo Express). Each Task Force (TF) is placed in one of seven Operations Boxes. The Operations Boxes are the order in which the units can enter the map (9.1 Sortie) during the turn. Need a carrier? Better hope it’s the next up on the track!

9.7 Counting Operations

In every Operations Phase a TF can “Sortie” to enter the map. The TF in the lowest numbered box on the Operations Track enters the map. Other possible actions, “Move,” “Landing,” Naval Bombardment,” or “Air Strike” can only be used by TF already on the map. When taking an action other than Sortie, every TF in the current Operations Box is “bumped” up the track. It is possible to actually “bump” TF off the end of the Operations Track, meaning they won’t ever get a chance to enter the map (Sortie) that turn! This simple mechanic of Counting Operations creates a compelling dilemma for players; do you enter/sortie a TF or use one already on the map? Is the one on the map the right one needed for the mission? Do you lose time getting the right one in position? Or do you fight and maybe never get the right one into the battle?

10.7 Applying Hits / 10.8 Return to Base (Forced Return)

These two rules go hand in hand. 10.7 specifies that any ship hit but not sunk is “damaged” and placed on the Turn Track to return later as a reinforcement. This removal of the unit from battle occurs after each round of combat. With only four turns, damaged ships may, or may not, return in time for a later turn.

The Forced Return rule is also very important. Under Forced Return, the attacking TF MUST return to base after the second round of combat or after the first round if there are no targets. This means attacking TF never hold ground. A defending TF that suffers no hits in either round of combat may remain. However, if the defending TF suffers even one hit in combat it MUST return to base. Combat in Pacific Fury becomes a game of damaging, not sinking, ships. Sure, sinking a ship is best (it cannot return) but often times it is enough simply to damage a ship and force a TF to return to base.

These four rules make Pacific Fury a much different naval combat game from many others. The game mechanics do a very credible job of reflecting the theme of planning a months-worth of operations by forcing the player to sequence the arrival of their forces. The challenge is not only to sequence their arrival, but to do so while trying to ensure the right units are available when needed. It is very easy to build one mega-TF with all the carriers together that will sweep the sea areas early in the turn…but once it attacks it returns to base and leaves the map – potentially depriving another TF of vitally needed cover.

In Pacific Fury choices really matter. The choice of what ships go into what TF, the choice of which Operations Box a TF is placed, the choice of what action to take, the choice to engage in combat – every choice matters. By emphasizing planning, the real objective of the campaign is brought to the front. The game highlights quite clearly that it is not the number of ships sunk that matters, but only who controls Henderson Field at the end of the game. The winner in Pacific Fury will be the player who plans the use of their dwindling forces the best.

Game of the Week – Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 (Revolution Games, 2015) – Out of the Bag Impression

Almost exactly a year before this post, I wrote my thoughts on Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 (Bonsai-Games/Revolution Games, 2015). In the time since, the game has landed on my table four times, including three times in the past two days. Every time I play the game I fall more in love with the simple design and totally enjoy the campaign narrative every game delivers.

At first glance, the game doesn’t look like much. Pacific Fury is a simple folio (bagged) game with a paper 11’x17″ map, 50 counters, an eight page rule book (double columns), and a cover sheet.

Map

Nicely done, save for a few spelling errors and holding boxes that are too small. That is not a problem, as stukajoe  was kind enough to upload a print-it-yourself replacement.

Counters

Apparently, I have the published version with “Japanese” counters where the ends of the ships are cut off. Personally, I am not sure one really needs the full-length ships given how small the counters are. What Pacific Fury really needs are blocks instead of counters!

Rule Book

According to 12.0 CREDITS, Scott Muldoon, recently famous as co-designer of Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games, 2018) did the rules translation. As good a job as he did, certain sections of the rules, like 10.0 COMBAT, require a very careful reading to catch all the nuances. To help myself when playing, I turned the eight pages of rules into seven flowcharts that step me thru the turn and each combat type. I probably could use an eighth page to extract the Opposed Landing Table for 9.6 Tokyo Express and the Sunk Table in 10.7 Applying Hits but seeing as those are the only two tables not on the map it seems like overkill to add an extra page!

Playing Time

According to the publisher and BoardGameGeek, Pacific Fury is rated at 60-120 minutes. In my plays I tend towards the low end of that number, and when playing against my arch-nemesis “Mr. Solo” and using my flowcharts I can get the game down to as little as 30 minutes. This means I can try (and retry) many different strategies. As I will discuss in a later post on Game Mechanics, it is the simple operational planning aspects of the design that really make the game shine.

Pacific Fury has become a must-pack game when I travel. I totally enjoy pulling the game out in the evening and running through a campaign. This works because the game has a small footprint but builds a large battle narrative. More about that in a near-future post!

Game of the Week – Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 – 25th Anniversary Edition (GMT Games, 2016) – Game Mechanics

The 25th Anniversary Edition of Silver Bayonet is a substantially updated version of the original game that first appeared in 1990. Designer Gene Billingsley calls Silver Bayonet “my first published game” even though it appeared alongside two sister titles, Air Bridge to Victory and Operations Shoestring (which I talk previously talked about here).

According to GMT Game ads, Silver Bayonet is an operational game that features, “innovative combat resolution, integrating maneuver combat, close assault, artillery bombardment, gunship rocket and air support into one easy to use system.” All that certainly sounds like alot. So just how does it work?

SilverBayonet25-ban1(RBM)
Courtesy GMT Games

To explore this question and learn the game I followed the advice in the Standard Scenarios portion of the Rule Book. The part I focused in on was this passage:

The scenarios are numbered in chronological order. To play them in an order that gradually adds size and/or complexity, use the following order: 6a, 6b, 3, 5, 4, 1, 2, 7. These scenarios all use the Standard Sequence of Play.

Scenarios 3, 4, 5, 6a & 6b are intended to be played directly on the scenario cards provided.

In general, Standard Scenarios do not use Helicopters, Patrols, Observation, Ambush, or Hidden Movement, although they may use a form of these concepts (Rule Book, p. 29)

The “innovative combat resolution” system is the heart of the game design and models the interaction of Bombardment, Maneuver Combat, and Assault Combat. Although I had exposure to this system in Operation Shoestring I did not fully understand how it works until the far easier to understand rules and player aids in Silver Bayonet taught me.

Maneuver & Assault Combat

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Courtesy GMT Games

In a typical turn, following the placement of reinforcements and movement the active player must declare his combats. This phase involves more than just pointing to a stack of units. The type of combat (Maneuver or Assault) must be declared. Maneuver Combat can be thought of in terms of levering a unit out of a position. In game terms the possible combat results are fatigue, retreat, step loss, and elimination. Assault Combat is in many ways a frontal assault; possible combat results are step losses and elimination. Both combats use a different CRT. Maneuver Combat uses an odds-based CRT with the attacker resolving the combat with a single die roll. Assault Combat rolls on a different CRT using straight combat strength with defender, then attacker, both getting rolls.

Bombardment

In Silver Bayonet, Bombardment is performed by artillery, some helicopters, and abstracted air points (air support). Bombardment can happen at three different points in a turn. Regardless of the firing platform, or when in the turn the bombardment happens, all use the same Bombardment/Support Table. While the table is the same the results are interpreted differently depending on the type (Offensive, Defensive, or Maneuver Support). This is a very interesting model of how artillery and air support work in combat. Although at first glance one might think that resolving bombardment at three different points in the turn is cumbersome, the use of a single table with common DRMs but different interpretation of results actually makes resolution quick and (mostly) painless.

Efficiency Rating

Rule 2.4.5 defines Efficiency Rating as:

The efficiency rating (ER) of each unit represents that unit’s level of training, effectiveness, and cohesion. The higher the ER, the better.

ER is used at several points in a turn, most importantly during Combat Refusal, Attack Coordination, and Maneuver Combat. ER is what makes units really distinguishable; a Attack Strength 3 units with an ER of 5 is a much different animal than Attack Strength 3 with and ER of 3.

Hidden Movement

Hidden Movement is actually a Campaign Scenario rule and admittedly much harder for me to fully explore as I am learning the game by playing against my evil twin, “Mr. Solo.”

Creating a Battle Narrative

The combination of the Bombardment-Maneuver-Assault and Efficiency Rating mechanics creates a “battle narrative” that feels thematically correct. It is possible in Silver Bayonet for that 100-man US infantry company to hold off that NVA regiment given enough artillery and air support. It is equally possible for the NVA or PAVN to ambush the US or ARVN and then fade away into the jungle. For a great example of a how Silver Bayonet builds a “battle narrative” look at the original COIN game designer Volko Ruhnke’s (@Volko26) Operation Silver Bayonet (Part 1) AAR on the InsideGMT Blog.

The more I play Silver Bayonet the more the game is growing on me. I am pretty sure I am going to place this game in my personal Top 10 wargames. In this case, the innovative mechanics just “fit” the campaign and make the game come alive for me like few cardboard simulations have before.

 

Game of the Week – Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 – 25th Anniversary Edition (GMT Games, 2016) – Theme

I have very few Vietnam-topic wargames in my collection. As sorted by BoardGameGeek, the three wargames beside Silver Bayonet that I own are Firepower (Avalon Hill Games, 1984), The Speed of Heat (Clash of Arms Games, 1992), and Downtown: The Air War Over Hanoi, 1965-1972 (GMT Games, 2004). Nor do I have many operational-level ground combat games having focused more on the tactical or strategic level of war, and then mostly on naval/maritime or air campaigns. Thus, Silver Bayonet occupies a rare part of my collection.

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Courtesy BGG

When I first started wargaming in 1979, the Vietnam War was still fresh in the public’s memory. That memory was also a bit raw given how divided the country was over the war. Thus, I encountered very few wargames on the topic; the only one I remember playing was Operation Pegasus (Task Force Games, 1980**). Even come the 1990s there still were few games making the first edition of Silver Bayonet published in 1990 special even then.

In 2015, when designer Gene Billingsley went to update Silver Bayonet, he wrote in the Inside GMT Blog:

A recommended book. The “We Were Soldiers Once and Young” book came out in late 1992, and the movie a decade later, and Americans began to learn about the bitter struggle ofPleikuBook Hal Moore’s troopers in the shadow of the Chu Pong at LZ X-Ray. But even now, little has been written on the broader campaign in October and November of 1965, a campaign that stopped, attritted, and later routed a tough North Vietnamese Division poised to overrun the Special Forces camps and meager fortifications around Pleiku in just over a month of campaigning. Considering that airmobility was mostly “an idea” at that point, and that the unblooded 1st Cavalry troopers that implemented new strategies and tactics were about as familiar with the area of operations as they were the face of the moon, what they achieved was quite remarkable. And, of course, terribly costly. To this day, I know of no better book – if you want to read up on this campaign – that dissects the entire campaign, than J.D. Coleman’s “Pleiku,” a book that was my primary source for constructing the game’s scenarios way back in 1990. To be sure, we have more information today, and some of that will make its way into the updated edition of the game, but this book remains a tremendous resource, written by a gifted writer, with enough precise detail that it almost reads like an after action report (though much more interesting.) If you’re interested in the topic, read (or re-read) this book.

Having both read the book and watched the movie, the game Silver Bayonet is extremely evocative of the topic. This is GMT Games at its finest; a respectful treatment of the subject with little oh-rah and a very fair representation of the capabilities and motivations of both combatants.

Featured image courtesy GMT Games.

** Operation Pegasus is available as a digital download from the successor to Task Force Games, Amarillo Design Bureau, at wargamevault.com.

Game of the Week – Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 – 25th Anniversary Edition (GMT Games, 2016) – Out of the Box Impressions

My GMT Games 2018 Sale purchase was Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 – 25th Anniversary Edition by designers Gene Billingsley & Mitchell Land. According to the publisher’s blurb:

Silver Bayonet recreates the pivotal November 1965 battle between a full North Vietnamese Army Division and the US 1st Air Cavalry Division in the Ia Drang Valley. NVA expertise in lure and ambush tactics resulted in significant US casualties. US mobility and the ability to bring massive amounts of firepower to bear quickly virtually destroyed the attacking NVA division and forced a change in NVA tactics.

This re-issue of GMT Games’ 1990 CSR Award winning title that started it all keeps the original operational system, but streamlines to it to include innovative combat resolution integrating maneuver combat, close assault, artillery bombardment, and support from gunships and air sorties.

Increased accessibility to primary and secondary source material has made it possible to make changes to more accurately represent both sides’ unique capabilities without significantly altering or breaking the base game system. The major changes involve patrols, ambushes, landing zones, and the 1st Cav Brigade HQ, while minor changes tweak movement, combat, and coordination game mechanics to showcase radically different strengths and weaknesses the FWA and NVA force brought to the battles in the Ia Drang Valley.

I have a related game in my collection; Operations Shoestring: The Guadalcanal Campaign, 1942 (GMT Games, 1990). Although I recently played that title, the game mechanics in Silver Bayonet are significantly upgraded, enough to make the 25th Anniversary Edition a near-total new system.

Out of the Box Impressions

The component list for Silver Bayonet given on the GMT website does not inspire.

COMPONENTS

  • 1.5 countersheets with 9/16″ counters
  • 22×34 inch mounted map
  • Two 11×17 inch divider screens
  • Rules & Play Book
  • 15 Player Aid Cards
  • One 10-sided die

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Silver Bayonet unpacked (courtesy GMT Games)

Opening an actual box is a totally different, and very satisfying, experience. It starts even before you open the box with a famous picture of Lt. Rick Rescorla. [If you don’t recognize the name follow the link or google it; after you are done cleaning the dust out of your eyes you can continue reading here.]

Those “1.5 countersheets” works out to 351 counters with only 14 blanks. The reality is most scenarios use a subset of the counters. Scenario #1 – Breaking the Siege (Duc Co) uses only 31 counters. Nor is the entire nicely mounted map used every game; Scenario #3 – The Drang River Valley (LZ Mary) uses a 5×4 hex subset of the map (and nine counters). The map in the 25th Anniversary Edition is mounted making it look really nice on the table.

The Rules & Play Book is colorful, two column, and only 40 pages. The Standard rules cover 1.0 thru 12.0 and span 16 pages. The Campaign Scenario rules cover 13.0 thru 18.0 and are delivered in 10 pages. The balance is a short reference to the Scenarios, Designer’s Notes, and a very useful Example of Play. I really appreciate the use of color tone boxes throughout the rules; yellow for historical quotes, blue for Design Notes, and brown for Play Notes. The smart use of color certainly helps with deciphering the rules.

The 15 Player Aid Cards include eight for the 11 scenarios, a Standard Sequence of Play, a Campaign Sequence of Play, the Battle Board, two cards (one for each player) for holding units off map or in hiding, and two double-fold combat charts cards. As an added bonus, there are two player screens included. Both are nice but beyond the PAVN player using theirs to hide the Hidden Movement card I am not sure of the usefulness. Seems more like a Kickstarter stretch goal than a needed component. But the art is nice and inspirational so they will definitely stay!

New counters, a new map, a well laid out Rule Book, use of Player Aid cards and tables on the mounted map make this a very visually stunning game. Taken together, the 25th Anniversary Edition of Silver Bayonet is one of the best organized wargames in my collection.

Featured image courtesy GMT Games.