My 2020 #Wargame of the Year (Hint – @MultiManPub vs @fortcircle)

It’s the end of the year so it’s that time for the inevitable “of the Year” lists. Although I play boardgames and wargames, I am a wargamer at heart. Since Christmas 1979 when I got my first wargame, the holidays and wargaming have been forever linked in my heart.

To be eligible for this category, the item must be a wargame as I define it. It must also have been released in the 2020 calendar year AND IN MY POSSESSION as of Dec 31, 2020. I know for a fact that at least one wargame I have on pre-order has a 2020 publication date but, since I don’t have it in hand it’s not eligible for this list. For a near-complete listing of all the wargames I acquired in 2020 (including many titles not eligible for this annual list) please see my GeekList 2020 RockyMountainNavy Gaming Acquisitions and look for entries labeled “WARGAME”

Candidates (in alphabetical order):

Drumroll please…

I am happy that I took in a very strong slate of games this year. Each of them have something going for them that makes them a worthy candidate.

Amerika Bomber is the only dedicated solo game on the list. I usually shy away from solitaire games as they often are “too procedural” but the theme of Amerika Bomber keeps this title enjoyable.

The Battle of Rhode Island is another strong entry in the Battles of the American Revolution series from GMT. I like the war engine in this series and enjoy the heck out of the scenarios.

Brief Border Wars brings back the classic “quad” packaging with four games using the same basic war engine but with each having its own identity.

Dawn of Empire : The Spanish American Naval War in the Atlantic, 1898 shows the classic War at Sea/Victory in the Pacific war engine can still be leveraged and new challenges created.

French & Indian War 1757-1759 is a very pleasurable block wargame that is simple to learn and thematic enough to keep it interesting yet playable in a short evening.

Fury at Midway is a bit of a hidden gem testing several competing theories of what actually happened at Midway. Hint: It doesn’t end well for the Americans as often as one would expect given “history.”

Harpoon V is the return of the “serious” wargame.

Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989 is a ‘managable monster’ with lots of replay potential in a relatively small package.

Philadelphia 1777 is another block game using Worthington’s proven war engine but this time depicting a kind of “tower defense” campaign.

The Shores of Tripoli is the Kickstarter remake of a solid game now given a very professional look.

Undaunted: North Africa shows once again that wargames can use non-traditional mechanics; who woulda thunk that Deck Building can make a good wargame?

Waterloo Campaign, 1815 shows that you don’t need a monster game to depict one of histories greatest battles.

White Eagle Defiant takes the Brave Little Belgium war engine to the next level yet still is easy to learn and fairly quick to play.

…and the winner is…

With such a strong field of contenders I actually picked a Runner-Up and a Winner.

My runner-up Wargame of the Year for 2020 is Iron Curtain: Central Europe 1945-1989 from Multi-Man Publishing. This game might be the most ‘old school’ or the closest to a classic hex & counter game of all the candidates this year but that is actually a major reason why it places so high. It’s not that I dislike the ‘new age’ mechanics in some of the new games; rather, Iron Curtain, an entry in the Standard Combat Series, showed me the joy of a ‘manageable monster’ wargame. Iron Curtain is multiple games in one with different eras and options for the Soviets or NATO to be that attacker. Add to that the Run Up to War pre-game and you have package that is easy to learn (uses the Standard Combat System) yet it will never serve up the same game twice no matter how often its played. I also really appreciate that it is fits on a moderate-sized table and yet it still can be both set up and played in just a few hours.

Iron Curtain from Multi-Man Publishing

However, as somebody once said, “There can be only one.” My Wargame of the Year for 2020 is The Shores of Tripoli from Fort Circle Games. Yes, I know it is the professional publication of a print-‘n-play title that predates 2020 but designer Kevin Bertram’s attention to detail and hard work has taken this little gem of a game to another level. From the moment you look at the box (awesome) to laying out all the components on the table (luxurious) you can see his attention to detail. Gameplay has, dare I say, improved over the original PnP with the benefit of more development and playtesting. The Shores of Tripoli is almost as polar opposite of a wargame design from my runner-up, Iron Curtain: Central Europe 1945-1989 by MMP that you can get. That is a great part of it’s strength in my mind; The Shores of Tripoli is an excellent example of the “new wave” of designers and wargames titles that aren’t afraid to break from “convention” and assemble a set of mechanics into an interesting, challenging, and dare I say very “playable” wargame.

The Shores of Tripoli by Fort Circle Games

My 2020 #Boardgame of the Year

It’s the end of the year so it’s that time for the inevitable “of the Year” lists. In this year of COVID, boardgames formed an important part of the “coping” mechanism in the RockyMountainNavy family. As you will see, the boardgame hobby brought ALL of us closer together. So without further ado, here is my 2020 Boardgame of the Year.

To be eligible for this category, the item must be a boardgame (not a wargame). It must also have been released in the 2020 calendar year. For a near-complete listing of all the boardgames I acquired in 2020 (including many items not eligible for this list) please see my GeekList 2020 RockyMountainNavy Gaming Acquisitions and look for entries labeled “BOARDGAME”

Candidates (in alphabetical order):

*Very unfair since i picked this one up the day before this post. It’s legally a contender but I have not actually evaluated it yet. That said, I don’t think it’s going to knock out my winner so it stays on the list with this little asterisk.

The Best of 2020…in a moment

Before we get to my 2020 Boardgame winner, I’d like to take a few moments and tell you about the favorite boardgames I acquired this year from the perspective of the Mrs. RockyMountainNavy and the RockyMountainNavy Boys.

This year had a watershed moment for the boardgame hobby within the RockyMountainNavy home. Mrs. RMN has long tolerated my gaming hobby and never discouraged me to bring the RMN Boys into gaming; indeed, she always encourages our Saturday Night Game Nights. She even used games to teach her students. But even after all that she was ‘reluctant’ to play against myself or the boys. I think it’s because she sees herself as a slow gamer prone to analysis paralysis. I personally don’t think she is a slow gamer, just a careful one. This year, however, we took in two games that changed her outlook on gaming:

  • NMBR 9 (AbbucusSpiele, 2017) – I knew she liked Tetris-like games but she had tried (and afterwards avoided) Patchwork. For some reason, NMBR 9 resonates with her and is a real hit that she will play against the boys or me. She even plays solo at times!
  • Layers (Happy Baobab, 2018) – I bought this one on a Black Friday fire sale because I thought it was good for her students. I was right but didn’t expect that she would be so taken by the game. She often sits at the table doing the puzzles solo. She is still not the fastest but she gets great joy out of it every time she plays.
Mrs RMN’s Game of the Year

If the RockyMountainNavy Boys had a vote, they would tell you that Here to Slay (Unstable Games, 2020) as their Game of the Year. I backed the Kickstarter on a sort of whim and I’m glad I did. The RMN Boys enjoy the card play and art. They enjoy sharing this game with their friends. It is the most-played game in the RMN family collection this year by far.

Here to Slay (Unstable Unicorns, 2020)

But my 2020 winner is…

Four Gardens from Korea Boardgame company. I love how the game looks on the table. I love the simple, yet deep gameplay. I love that I can use this title as a ‘second game’ when introducing others to the hobby. When Four Gardens reaches wider distribution I am sure it will be a real hit.

Four Gardens from Korea Boardgame Company

My 2020 #Boardgame #Wargame Expansion of the Year

It’s the end of the year so it’s that time for the inevitable “of the Year” lists. Here is my 2020 Gaming Expansion of the Year.

To be eligible for this category, the item must be an expansion to an existing boardgame or wargame that is unplayable without the base game. It must also have been released in the 2020 calendar year. For a near-complete listing of all game expansions I acquired in 2020 (including some items not eligible for this list) please see my GeekList 2020 RockyMountainNavy Gaming Acquisitions and look for entries labeled “EXPANSION”

Candidates (in alphabetical order):

…and the winner is…

Wing Leader: Origins 1936-42 from GMT Games. It continues to amaze me how the abstract model used by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood for his Wing Leader series shows the relative capabilities of different aircraft. The system really shines with early World War II aircraft. This made every play of Origins a ‘flight of discovery’ because although the reputation of many of these aircraft was poor (to put it charitably), when placed into the Wing Leader system those same poor capabilities became challenges to be dealt with. The play absolutely enhanced my understanding of aerial combat at the start of WW2 and showed the rapid advancements in aircraft performance.

Wing Leader: Origins from GMT Games

RockyMountainNavy’s 2019 #wargame of the year

2019 was a good year for my hobby gaming. This is especially true for wargaming. Of the 20 wargame titles published in 2019 that I acquired this year I was actually very challenged to come up with one winner. Should I go with one of the best magazine wargames, Campaigns of 1777, in Strategy & Tactics from Decision Games? Or maybe a lite wargame such as Brave Little Belgium (Hollandspiele) or Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing) where my Middle Boy found his passion? Maybe one of the heavier wargames; the OODA-challenging Less than 60 Miles (Thin Red Line Games) or the Cold War naval campaign Blue Water Navy (Compass Games)? What about that very interesting “militarized Eurogame,” Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest (Mighty Boards Games)? Even expansions were competitive with the solo rules in Panzer: Expansion #4 – France 1940 (GMT Games) adding a whole new dimension to the base game. Let’s not forget the new editions of older games like the astounding Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel – Kursk 1943 (Academy Games).

In the end there can be only one winner, and one game succeeded this year in rising above the rest of even that most august collection – Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs by designer Mike Bertucelli published by GMT Games.

tank_duel-main-1420
Courtesy GMT Games

As an old Grognard, at first glance Tank Duel should not be in my wheelhouse. After all, it has NO map, NO counters (only markers), NO Combat Results Table, and NO dice! Instead it has ‘tableaus’ and stacks of cards (oh, the heresy)! So what makes it so great?

Narrative. Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs consistently delivers a story with every play. In the RockyMountainNavy house, our first battle will forever be remembered.

Somewhere on the steppes of Mother Russia….

iu-2
StuG III

The battle didn’t look like much, just a pair of Soviet T-34/M43 versus a Panzer IV AUSf G and a Stug III AUSf G. The Boys took the Soviets with each commanding one tank. I faced them with my German Panzers. At first it looked like German technological superiority would dominate with the Stug getting a penetrating hit on one T-34 that caused an ammo fire. Luckily for RockyMountainNavy Jr, the tank didn’t brew up but he now had to hold his crew’s morale up and fight the fire.

iu-3
T-34/76

Then the incredible started to happen.

RockyMountainNavy Jr. put the fire out and keep his crew together. As the steel behemoths stalked each other across the battlefield, it was that very same T-34 that got off the next good shot – and brewed up the Stug III with a Catastrophic Hit. RockyMountainNavy T was not to be left alone for he was stalking the Panzer IV. His first shot missed but his second hit true, and the Panzer IV exploded right in front of him. New Panzers entered the battlefield and soon RockyMountainNavy T found his T-34 mount shot out from beneath him. But the Soviet commanders were learning quickly and using Leadership and Tactics to their advantage. Forcing the enemy into Mud at the right moment immobilized the Stug, and getting too close to the Panzer IV forced him to ‘pop smoke’ and go totally defensive.

The German Stug got out of the mud and found a good place to shoot from at that pesky T-34 that had put out the fire and killed the first Stug. The German crew took its time and, coaxed by the Tank Commander, lined up a good shot (Fire card with To Hit +15 plus +20 from a Leadership card). The final To Hit number was 98. Looking at the Battle Card deck – about half depleted – I was pretty sure that cards 96-100 (Auto Miss) were already out. Smirking, I flipped over the top Battle Card and prepared to blow up the Red Devil.

100.

The damn Battle Card was 100 – Auto Miss (and even without the Auto Miss it still would have missed). RockyMountainNavy Jr jumped up from the table hooting & hollering. He high-fived his brother, he ran to his mother and kissed her, he jumped about with uncontrollable joy.

I stared at the Battle Card. At that moment my morale wavered. I knew the battle was coming close to an end and I was going to lose.

And end it did. My Stug was flanked and brewed up – again – by Jr.’s T-34 (his second kill). The Panzer IV vainly tried to get a flanking shot on his pesky tank but it was able to Conceal itself in a building. Before I could dig it out higher command recalled the attack (Game End).

The after battle report was miserable for the Germans; 2x Stug III and one Panzer IV lost against a single T-34. Most importantly the Soviet Commanders morale was extremely high and they are absolutely itching for another battle.

Game as Story – Story as Game

zGtfgQKQQ+SJpwWwL2RlAwA play of Tank Duel practically writes its own story. Components reinforce the feeling of commanding your own iron stead as you drive (manipulate chits) your tank (tableau). Game mechanics reinforce the story-making aspects, like drawing an extra card when at Close Range to simulate extra adrenaline or playing that Tactics card at just the right time to prevent a flanking maneuver. All delivered in 18 pages of (basic) rules. The RockyMountainNavy Boys have already decreed that I ‘will’ buy future expansions.

Tank Duel – Enemy in the Crosshairs. The RockyMountainNavy Game of the Year for 2019.

RockyMountainNavy Game Year for 2018 (#Boardgame & #Wargame)

This is the last in my series of 2018 “of the Year” posts. This one covers my Game of the Year. The first post looked at boardgames, the second was wargames, and the third was game expansions. The game had to be published and acquired in 2018.

Looking back over the candidates for my Boardgame / Wargame / Game Expansion of the Year there is one game that I left off the list. That is because it is my Game of the Year.

Although I am a grognard wargamer at heart, my Game of the Year is not a wargame. Well, not in the traditional sense of a hex & counter wargame. Some people call my Game of the Year a wargame, others a Eurogame with combat (waro).

pic4267727
Courtesy BoardGameGeek.com

Root by designer Cole Wehrle and published by Leder Games is unlike other boardgames or wargames. Some people claim it is a Eurogamer-version of the GMT Games COIN-system. In part this claims comes from the fact both games feature asymmetric factions each with different victory conditions. To take that comparison any further is unfair because Root carries the asymmetric powers to another level.

In a typical COIN game, each faction has an asymmetric selection of actions to choose from. The actions themselves have a subtle difference but for the most part factions are distinguished by which actions they can take. On the other hand, factions in Root have almost entirely different game mechanisms as to how they operate. While basic movement and combat rules are common across every faction, each faction plays differently from the others. From the Marquis de Cat that plays a resource game and builds to the Eyrie that use a programmed turn or the Woodland Alliance (Communists, not Star Wars Rebels mind you) who subvert the others with influence and the lone Vagabond who can be a pure soulless thief or White Knight, each faction plays differently. Even the Otters and Lizards in Root: The Riverfolk Expansion play differently.

IMG_0084
Courtesy Twitter

That is what makes Root such a special game. From a game design perspective it is impressive to see the seamless integration of all these different game mechanism on the table at the same time. The artwork – whimsical yet functional – fits the game perfectly.

I will be one of the first to admit Root is not easy to learn. It takes time to learn the basics of the game and how each faction operates. Players in early games often spend their time “heads down” on their own tableau figuring out how to play and miss looking at the other players. As time goes on that skill emerges and the interaction between different players becomes the making of many tales of woe – and victory.

Root occupies a special place in my game collection; a game that I can play against other serious gamers or solo. It is a game that I want to get expansions for because I want to play on different terrain (boards) and with different factions.

For its innovative blending of theme, artwork, and game mechanisms, I can see no other game than Root for my Game of the Year.

Toys as Games? Or not? Commentary on the 2018 Toy of the Year – Game of the Year

Is a game a toy? Or can a toy be a game? Last night I finally realized the difference.

In the past few months, I started following The Toy Association on Twitter (@TheToy Assoc). As they identify themselves:

Founded in 1916, The Toy Association™, Inc. is the not-for-profit trade association representing all businesses that design, produce, license, and deliver toys and youth entertainment products for kids of all ages. Our 950+ members drive the annual $27 billion U.S. domestic toy market, and our organization has a long history of propelling the health and growth of the toy industry, which has an annual U.S. economic impact of $107.5 billion.

Of interest to me is their Toy of the Year Awards:

Known as the “Oscars” of the toy industry, the Toy of the Year (TOTY) Awards are presented annually to the top toys, games, and properties of the year. Administered by The Toy Association, the awards program supports the philanthropic work of the Toy Industry Foundation, which delivers new toys to children in need.

The toy, game, and license finalists were unveiled Friday, November 3. One winner in each category, as well as the coveted “Toy of the Year” award winner and the “People’s Choice” winner (based solely on consumer votes), were announced at a dazzling TOTY Awards gala on February 16, 2018. The celebration kicked-off the 115th North American International Toy Fair, and included the induction of toy industry trailblazers into the esteemed Toy Industry Hall of Fame.

So last night was their Awards gala with winners announced. Of particular interest to me  was the category Game of the Year which covers, “Children’s board, card, electronic or other physical game formats and puzzles.” There were seven nominees in this category.

hs-contents_right_facing_blue_1024x1024
Courtesy North Star Games

The ones that personally interest me are Happy Salmon by North Star Games and Roller Coaster Challenge by Thinkfun. Happy Salmon is rated a solid 7.0 on BoardGameGeek (with 1.8K ratings) and ranked the #53 Party Game. Roller Coaster Challenge is not currently on BoardGameGeek but, as a solo logic puzzle, these games don’t always appear there. Games like Roller Coaster Challenge are beloved by the RockyMountainNavy household because they are easy, yet challenging, thinking games. I cannot even start to count how many times the RMN family has given away Thinkfun games as presents. Personally, we use them as filler games, games for teaching kids, and even with adult family members with Alzheimers or the like.

Of the other five games, I kinda like Ultra Dash by PlayMonster because it’s at least a physical activity game that promotes a healthy, non-couch potato lifestyle. Beasts of Balance looks to me like an augmented reality version of Animal Upon Animal. At $99.99 retail I am sure that buying Animal Upon Animal or any of its variants is a much better bargain!

game-6
Courtesy toyawards.org

The absolute last game I payed any attention to was the winner; Soggy Doggy from Spin Master, Inc. The game actually is on BGG with a provisional 5.3 rating (after 3 ratings). The publisher’s blurb sums it all up:

Players roll the die and move their playing pieces around the game board, taking turns washing Soggy Doggy. But watch out! You never know when he will shake to dry off… and you’ll get a little wet! First one around the board and back to the doggy basket wins.

To me, Soggy Doggy is not a game but a toy. This toy offers no useful gaming actions that will help kids (ok, maybe taking turns, roll a die, count spaces is helpful for very little kids). Learning value? Very minimal. Replay value? Meh.

I should not be surprised Soggy Doggy was the winner. Last year, the Toy Association Game of the Year was Yeti in My Spaghetti. Check out the Tom Vasel review; it won’t take long as its only 4:32.

Compare this to the list of the top Children’s Games on BoardGameGeek. A fairly new arrival at the RockyMountainNavy domicile is the current #1; Rhino Hero: Super Battle. Now, I don’t want to sound elitist or the like (I shake my head at the old Ameritrash vs Eurogame arguments) but there is just no comparison between Rhino Hero: Super Battle and Soggy Doggy. One is a game and the other a toy.

After this experience, I am going to unfollow @TheToyAssoc on Twitter because, as much as I admire their mission, their awards just don’t align with the interests of the RockyMountainNavy family. It’s not only in the Game of the Year category; in other categories I see a dominance of Star Wars (License of the Year) and Lego (winner in multiple categories like Construction Toy of the Year). I like Lego, but view the over abundance of Star Wars licensed toys as a negative. We should be nurturing creativity in our kids, not making them slavishly beholden to one form of entertainment (from Di$ney no less). Games area a category of toys, but this year’s Game of the Year shows me that not all toys are games.