Sunday Summary – A colorful Slammers week of #wargame and #TravellerRPG fun mentioning @ADragoons @gmtgames

Short update follows…

Wargame

I will have another article coming to Armchair Dragoons this week talking about Rand Game Associates 1975 wargame Hitlers Last Gamble: The Battle of the Bulge by Dave Isby. “What,” you say, “another Bulge game?”

Commands & Colors Samurai from GMT Games is scheduled to arrive Monday, UPS says.

Traveller RPG

While my Wargame Wednesday looked at Hammer’s Slammers and wargames, this week I’m turning my attention to RPGs and Hammer’s Slammers.

The Real Game of Life – Minus #Wargames and #Boardgames with @gmtgames @NolanNasser @BoardGameGeek @gCaptain

I’ve been quiet on the blog recently. That’s what happens when Real LifeTM hits you hard. Between a near 100% return to work (now with MASKS…yeah…NOT!) and family “situations” my wargame/boardgame time dropped to zero. With an upcoming (and really needed) summer family vacation in the not-too-distant future I expect to stay “quiet” in this channel for a few more weeks.

The worldwide shipping container shortage is also slowing not only my, but I am sure many of your, gaming habits. The July 22 update from Gene at GMT Games provided a good snapshot and some idea of the impact on publishers of not only container shipping, but component supplies as well:

Supply Chain and Shipping Slowdown. As I noted last month, we’re in a bit of a slow period at the GMT Warehouse/Office as we wait for our printers to begin shipping us some of the 21 new products that are currently being printed. The same global supply chain and shipping issues that are hampering businesses worldwide are having a negative impact on our operations, too. Both the time to get games printed (due to the issues they are having with their component supplies) and the shipping time to our warehouse (which has doubled over the past few months) are seeing big delays at the moment. 

Still, we did just get a notification that three games will ship out to us at the end of July, which with current shipping times should mean we get them in early to mid September. So, at least we’re starting to see games that are at the tail end of the printing process and prepping to ship. Tony is telling me that this should accelerate over the coming months and that between September and the end of November we should see most, if not all, of those 21 new products in our warehouse.

Of course, we have plenty of other games nearing print readiness as well, and we’ll continue to send those to the printer as our art department has them ready (see the Production Outlook later in this update for current details). We’re hopeful that we’ll see some improvement on both the supply chain and shipping sides before year end, but in the meantime, we’ve just had to adjust our planning to take the delays into account. The result has been this “lull” in new games between now and early September. Once the pipeline is open again, though, we should see a steady stream of new products to ship out to you all for the remainder of 2021.

There are other clues out there. Nolan (@NolanNasser) of Deep Water Games tweeted about the dramatic increase in shipping container prices.

I’ll also say that @BoardGameGeek on Twitter is also covering the shipping apocalypse pretty well. How long will these shipping challenges last? Industry insiders are saying maybe until AFTER the Chinese New Year in February 2022!

On a more personal gaming level, the lack of game time and supply challenges means I have not bought a new game in over a month. That’s unusual for me when compared to the last three years. Of the 31 games I have on preorder/Kickstarter not a single one is tracking on time. Sigh….

On the plus side, all this delay means I should get a chance to catch up on my unplayed games, right?

Sunday #Wargame #Boardgame Summary – Falling behind yet catching up with @gmtgames @LeeBWood @ADragoons @stuarttonge @compassgamesllc

Game of the Week / Wargames

SO…MY GAME OF THE WEEK plan totally fell apart this week. I was supposed to have Jim Krohn’s Space Empires 4X (GMT Games, 2017 Third Printing) on the table but was overcome by events like a busted hot water heater. So Space Empires will slide into the schedule later.

The Empire…will be back

Next up was “supposed” to be Wing Leader: Legends (Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, GMT Games, 2021) but that will be preempted for a new trade arrival. It might be hard to believe that, given I have been a wargamer since the late 1970’s, that I never owned TACTICS II by the great Charles S. Roberts himself from the first (and as far as I am concerned the only) The Avalon Hill Game Company. I got a very good condition 1973 edition and I am anxious to go through it and learn as much as possible from this iconic wargame. Look for an Unboxing Day entry over at Armchair Dragoons on July 15 and a forthcoming Wargame Wednesday entry.

It took 40 years for this to arrive….

Speaking about throwbacks to old wargames, GMT Games announced this week that Jim Day’s next entry in the Panzer (Second Edition) series, Panzer: North Africa, has “made the cut” in their P500 program. Longtime readers might recall that Panzer (Yaquinto Publishing, 1979) was my very first wargame. I eagerly bought up the entire original series; Panzer, ’88’ and Armor, and they still own a prominent spot on my gaming shelves. I am glad that after 40 years a “new” edition of ’88’ is coming.

Courtesy GMT Games

Boardgames

Congratulations to Stuart Tonge and the successful Kickstarter funding of 2 Minutes to Midnight. Full Disclosure – I am a backer and even wrote an article that was used in the campaign. Although this is the first title from Stuart’s Plague Island Games I feel he is getting good help/advice from industry and is on track for a successful fulfillment. That said, one hopes that the current shipping container shortage and record rates don’t trip Stuart, or any game publisher, up too much. Of course, the sooner Stuart is done with 2 Minutes to Midnight the sooner he gets back to Blue Water Navy: The Pacific for Compass Games and now on preorder….

Kickstarter funded

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2021 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Rocky Reads for #Wargame – Mad Narratives and FICINT with @gmtgames @Toadkillerdog @ArmyMadSci @JerryHendrixII @august_cole @peterwsinger

Wargaming China

If you are a professional wargamer and you are not paying attention to the work of the U.S. Army Futures Command Mad Scientist Laboratory you are sadly behind the times. To help you stay abreast of happenings I call your attention to a recent article from Ian Sullivan, Special Advisor for Analysis and ISR at the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, US Army Training and Doctrine Command. Mr. Sullivan can often also be found writing for GMT Insider with features like his recent “We’re Moving Through Kashmir: Playing Next War: India-Pakistan or “All Along the Demilitarized Zone – Playing Next War: Koreaseries of articles.

In the Mad Scientist Lab article, “337. “No Option is Excluded” — Using Wargaming to Envision a Chinese Assault on Taiwan,” Sullivan uses designer Mitchell Land’s Next War: Taiwan (GMT Games, 2014 – to be updated in a forthcoming 2nd Printing) to explore just such an event, for good reason:

In November 2020, I wrote a previous post arguing that wargaming can help us visualize what the threat can be.  It can help us imagine it and provide context to our thinking about it.  It can help us check our assumptions, and perhaps even offer thoughts and ideas that we would never have considered.  It will not tell us the future, or lay out with certainty what will happen.  But it can offer us an opportunity to prevent a failure of imagination of the kind warned against in the 9/11 Commission Report.  By imagining the threat, we may be in a position to make better decisions during moments of crisis.  This time, I’m using a copy of GMT Games “Next War: Taiwan” to help visualize what such a fight could entail.

MSL 337

Sullivan’s article appeared in the same week as strategist and retired US. Navy Captain Jerry Hendrix wrote his thoughts on the “Davidson Window,” and his interpretation of testimony from out-going Indo-Pacific Commander, Admiral Phil Davison. Admiral Davidson observed that China might try to reintegrate Taiwan “in the next six years.” Sullivan uses a narrative built from playing Next War: Taiwan to tell us a very important story:

In an effort to guard against the failure of imagination, I will add a narrative to help explain what happened in the game.  Rudyard Kipling once said that if “history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”  Narrative writing is a powerful, and by spinning it around the bones of a game, I hope to help imagine what a fight could be.  Tom Clancy and Larry Bond used this method in their novel Red Storm Risingwhere they crafted a narrative around the results of a series of scenarios they played of the wargame Harpoon.  My effort here, however, is intended to be more in the spirit of Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War: August 1985, originally published in 1978, and intended to help NATO leaders imagine what a fight with the Warsaw Pact could look like.

MSL 337

Sullivan’s narrative, written as a Report to Congress after a Chinese victory, is actually a great example of “Fictional Intelligence,” or FICINT. Unfortunately, the creators of FICINT, P.W. Singer and August Cole, might disagree.

FICINT

In another recent Mad Scientist Laboratory episode of their podcast, Convergence, guests P.W. Singer and August Cole, co-authors of Ghost Fleet and the leading example of Useful Fiction (or as Cole and Singer like to call it, Fictional Intelligence – FICINT), talked about what FICINT is:

In today’s podcast, Messrs. Singer and Cole discuss the power of fictional intelligence; the importance of storytelling, narrative, and verisimilitude in crafting tales of future possibilities that resonate and inform; and the significance of imagination.  The following bullet points highlight key insights from our discussion:

FicInt, also known as fictional intelligence or ‘useful fiction,’ combines extensive research and futures forecasting with worldbuilding and narrative, one of the oldest forms of communication. The finished product involves an engaging and plausible storyline to introduce readers to novel trends and problems.

FicInt has four “rules of the real” that separate it from science fiction:  research must be embedded in the story (usually via footnotes); the story must take place in a real-world setting; the story must involve real world people; and the timeline must be realistic. Using these rules, any white paper, report, or executive summary can be distilled into its key themes and drafted into narrative.

FicInt is also distinguished from science fiction via its engagement with the policy community. Fictional intelligence strives to react and be useful to the policy community, and thus engages with policy experts before, during, and after its development. This engagement may involve commissioned stories, workshops on how to create FicInt, or briefings on the end product.

The goal of FicInt is often to expose and prevent a possible future, rather than predict it. By creating plausible storylines, the security industry can adapt and develop programs and technologies to create an alternate future that prepares for the situations exposed by FicInt.

The value of narrative, compared to non-fiction research, can be found in three elements:

Understanding:  Narrative effectively packages information the way our brains are designed to absorb it, creating lasting messages.

Action:  By connecting information to our emotions, narrative is more likely to promote action.

Connection:  People are driven to share narratives, leading the audience of FicInt to become part of its marketing. This virality contributes to the creation of a network of people with increased understanding of potential futures.

Establishing FicInt credibility involves connection with target audiences and the real-world people featured in the narratives and responding to their feedback. This process ensures the end story is as accurate and plausible as possible.

MSL 332

I was surprised they didn’t mention it in their podcast interview, but Cole and Singer see wargames as very distinct from FICINT. In a post where I discussed narratives and wargaming (“#Wargame Wednesday – Narratives” 25 Nov 2020) I dug into some of Cole and Singer’s thoughts on FICINT and wargaming based on a journal article they wrote. To summarize, I think Cole and Singer confuse “simulations” and “war games” and thus do not give proper credit to the narrative power of wargames. I hope that Ian Sullivan’s article above shows the weakness of their position and lets us rightly focus on the narrative power of wargaming.


Feature image courtesy cdn.newsapi.com.au

#Wargame Wednesday – Bonding clearly with stress free shifts determined to breakthrough narratives in Stalingrad ’42: Southern Russia, June-December 1942 (@gmtgames, 2019)

This past week I played Stalingrad ’42: Southern Russia, June- December 1942 as my Game of the Week. Stalingrad ’42 is a wargame designed by Mark Simonitch and published by GMT Games in 2019. It is part of Mark’s ZoC Bond Series of wargames, named in part to their unique version of Zone of Control (ZoC) rules so often used in wargames. Due to time challenges I was only able to play the eight-turn, one month Fall Blau scenario. Along the way I discovered much more about Mark’s ZoC Bond system and wargame narratives.

Bond, ZoC Bond

The unique game mechanism in Stalingrad ’42 is the ZoC Bond. In addition to the classic ZoC (all six hexes surrounding a Combat Unit) that has the usual game effects of affecting movement, those same Combat Units can also form ZoC Bonds:

7.1 How to form a ZOC Bond

Any Combat Unit in Good Order can form a ZOC Bond….When two such units (or stacks) are two hexes apart (with one vacant intervening hex) they create a bond between them that no enemy unit may enter or cross. Due to the pattern of a hex grid there are two types of ZOC Bonds—Hex Bonds and Hexside Bonds.

Stalingrad ’42, Rules of Play

ZoC Bonds have tremendous game effects in Stalingrad ’42. Units may not enter or cross a bond during movement, if forced to retreat across a bond the unit is eliminated, attacking units cannot Advance After Combat across a bond, nor can supply ever be traced into or across a bond. Thus, it is important for both players to pay close attention to where bonds exist, or don’t, and plan accordingly.

Weather, or Not

Like one would expect in a game on the Russian front, weather can have a huge impact on movement in Stalingrad ’42. However, the rules specify that the weather is automatically Clear on Turn 1-16 (late June through late August) (see rule 3.0 A. Weather Phase). This means that Minor Rivers can be crossed at no extra cost. In turn, this means that in the Fall Blau scenario Major Rivers are the primary obstacles to movement.

Interestingly, in Stalingrad ’42 all Minor River Hexsides don’t cost extra movement to cross (unless Rain) but they ALWAYS double a defender’s Defense Factors. Minor River Hexsides also halve an attackers Attack Factors if all the attackers are attacking across a Minor River Hexside while also not allowing a Tank Shift (see below).

20-40 EZ

I was surprised to see Stalingrad ’42 impose a limit of 20 Defense Factors or 40 Attack Factors in a given combat (see 8.5 Maximum Attack and Defense Factors). The designer admits in the “Design Notes” within the Play Book that, “This will be the most controversial part of the design.” Mark goes on to explain:

Some players don’t like caps, but I find them very helpful for stress-free gaming. I don’t like it when players (or myself) spend an extensive amount of time trying to find those extra few factors to increase the odds by one more column. It’s not what wargaming should be about. And there is more comfort in knowing that 7 factors in a hex will guarantee that your opponent cannot get 10-1 odds against it, and placing two 3-5-3 rifle divisions in a Stalingrad city hex is enough to prevent the Axis player getting 5-1 odds against it.

Play Book, “Design Notes,” p. 17-18

Yes, it’s controversial in my mind. Maybe Mark and I have very different definitions of “stress?” Personally, I see the hunting around for a few extra factors not stress, but a part of the game. I would argue that not imposing a limit actually encourages one to pay more careful attention to movement and organization of your force as it moves into combat. Many times I enjoy the “analysis paralysis” in a wargame, more so when its coming from an opponent who is struggling against your plan.

Tanks for the Shift

One of the most powerful combat modifiers in Stalingrad ’42 is the Tank Shift (see rule 9.2 Tank Shifts). If one or more “black dot” Tank Units participate in a combat, the owner shifts an entire column on the Combat Results Table (CRT). Elite Tank Units (“red dot”) get a 2-column shift! There are a few exceptions to the rule, but generally the game effect of this rule is that tanks act much like they historically did by bolstering the offense or defense simply by their presence. I like it!

Mark tells us that in playtesting Stalingrad ’42 the German mechanized units were too weak to reach Stalingrad. Adding extra combat strength made them too strong in cities and mountains. So instead, “I gave them an additional tank shift (the red dot)” (Play Book, p. 17). I am happy to see a simple solution to what appears was thorny problem to Mark.

Determined Defense

One of my favorite rules in Holland ’44, and found again here in Stalingrad ’42, is Determined Defense. This rule allows defenders an attempt to cancel retreat results. In Stalingrad ’42, rule 11.1.2 Not One Step Back! goes hand-in-hand with Determined Defense. This simple bit of flavor helps create a narratively dramatic first few turns as only Soviet NKVD units have access to a Determined Defense in the Fall Blau scenario (at least until Turn 8).

My Breakthrough Breakthrough

Earlier this year when playing Heights of Courage (MultiMan Publishing, 20XX), I talked about Overrun Combat and how it took me a while to truly understand the implications of even that “basic” rule. The Stalingrad ’42 counterpart to that learning experience is rule 15.0 Breakthrough Combat. This rule builds upon rule 14.0 Advance After Combat but with a twist:

Any Regular Combat that achieves an Advance After Combat of 2-4 hexes allows units that participated in that attack to conduct Breakthrough Combat. Breakthrough Combat allows units to attack during their Advance After Combat.

15.1 [Breakthrough Combat] In General

Much like Overrun and Exploitation Combat in Multi-Man Publishing’s Standard Combat Series, in Stalingrad ’42 the rules for 12.0 Retreats, 14.0 Advance After Combat, and 15.0 Breakthrough Combat combine to create a powerful effect that deliver a very “blitzkrieg” feeling in play. Indeed, in a scenario like Fall Blau where the German player has little time (8 turns) to try and grab 8 Victory Points there is great “motivation” to not slowly grind against a defense but to find a weak point, breakthrough, and rapidly exploit the opening. On the other side, the Soviet player needs to cut off those racing German units and counterattacking by striking deep at supply lines is a viable strategy as opposed to a straight-up fight.

Bring a Mask?

I want to also call out a rule found in the Campaign Game, for Stalingrad ’42—rule 34.0 Maskirovka. This rule allows the Soviet player to secretly place Reserve Armies arriving on Turn 21 of the 36-turn Campaign Game. This rule is obviously not usable in a two-handed solo game, but when playing a live opponent the implications are huge in exchange for limited rules overhead.

Fall Blau – The Narrative

I was able to play the Fall Blau scenario for Stalingrad ’42 as part of my Game of the Week series. Fall Blau is the first scenario covering eight turns and using only Map A (roughly Voronehz to Rostov). To win, the Axis player must have at least 8 VP in any Victory Determination Phase. The Soviets win if the Axis player fails.

As much as I was looking for a quick blitzkrieg, the reality of terrain, especially the Minor River Hexsides and Fortified Hexes, made movement and combat on the first turns slower than I expected. I also thought the Special Rule limiting Axis Combat Units to Tactical Movement (2 hexes) only would have a slowing effect but given so many units “start in contact” the impact was less than I expected.

What actually surprised me the most about my play of Stalingrad ’42 was the seeming lack of combat. I first noticed this in the Example of Play in the Play Book but thought that was an artificial by-product of the need to build and EoP and not a true reflection of the game. As I played, I found that although the front was long and many units were present, on each turn there seemed to be focus areas with relatively few units in action on both sides. At first I thought, “Hey, this is hardly an offensive with all these little raids going on.” As the game progressed more units were gradually sucked into battles but, on the whole, it still felt like the actual number of units fighting was small. This didn’t feel like a Russia Campaign game to me at all.

Feeling like the game was becoming boring, I started to think about the narrative that Stalingrad ’42 was delivering. I kept playing and thinking and, gradually, came to realize that my expectation of this wargame was incorrect. I went into playing Stalingrad ’42 and the Fall Blau scenario expecting a sweeping grand offensive with Panzers advancing from North to South across the steppes of Mother Russia. Instead I had a few units fighting, and many more just sitting there. It was then I realized that the narrative Stalingrad ’42 delivers is focused much differently than I expected. At this scale (Brigades, 10 miles per hex, 4-day turns) the fighting depicted in Stalingrad ’42 is not ALL the fighting, just the “most important.” I had to tell myself that although two units may be facing off against each other and no dice are rolled, that doesn’t mean they are “doing nothing.”

Once I made the mental shift that Stalingrad ’42 was showing me the “critical” parts of the battle the entire game sped up in my mind. Whereas before I felt that the game was ponderous and slow with little action, the simple shift in my mental attitude led to a dramatic shift in my enjoyment of the game. Instead of focusing on the “do-nothings” I focused instead on the “action.” The game immediately became much more interesting.

It was at this point the major game mechanics also snapped together into a story. Visualizing the ZoC Bonds became essential in planning both offensive and defensive actions. Rivers became “phase lines” or “defensive lines.” Instead of hunting around for all the combat power possible it became sufficient to get “just enough” to make the effort. Mechanized units with their Tank Shifts became vital on offense or defense, and it became a real game to decide when a Determined Defense was needed or when it was time to turn that Advance After Combat into a Breakthrough. Through the lens of these decisions, a narrative of the battle emerged in play.

Such is the power of narratives in wargames. The story a wargame tells in actually very important to my enjoyment of the game. Too often I feel I get caught up in the mechanics of a game and lose the story. That’s when a game can become too procedural—and boring. This is why I very often personally fail to connect with many Eurogames; the prioritization of game mechanics over theme often means to me that I execute game mechanics but with no motivation beyond optimizing a game engine. I place my workers there to collect something I need, not to raid the enemy. It makes the game boring to me because I start to feel like I’m solving a puzzle, not playing a strategy.

On the whole, I think wargames get shortchanged when it comes to narrative. I mean, many people expect a wargame to tell a story, but so often that story is just an alternate retelling of history. What I think many people miss is a possible narrative about not only how history can change, but why. Not every wargame can do this, but I think more can then we give credit to.

Stalingrad ’42 taught me that putting Panzers on the wide open steppes of Russia and letting them run was not as simple as it sounds. Although the Eastern Front was long and many units fought there, it really was action in key areas with a rather select set of units that made the difference.

I really need to get the other scenarios of Stalingrad ’42 to the table. Problem is it never happens soon enough.

#Wargame Wednesday – Looking sharp with Commands & Colors Napoleonics 3rd Edition, 4th Printing (@gmtgames, 2019)

The RockyMountainNavy family loves the Commands & Colors family of lite wargames. I say “lite” in reference to the rules because these games, often coming with many wooden blocks, are anything but “light” on the shelf! The RockyMountainNavy Boys play the heck out of their copy of Memoir’44 (Days of Wonder, 2004) and over the years we have added several other games in the family to the collection. The latest arrival, a present on my birthday from the RMN Boys, is Commands & Colors Napoleonics, 3rd Edition, 4th Printing, from GMT Games (2019).

Commands & Colors Napoleonics (GMT Games, 2019)

Wargame Block

Commands & Colors Napoleonics (C&CN) is a block version of the game (as compared to the little plastic minis of Memoir’44). The game ships with nearly 400 wooden blocks of three sizes and three different colors. Most any Commands & Colors owner has a story about how long it takes to put stickers on all those blocks. What I’ll tell you is that it is very therapeutic; there is a certain calm that comes over you when working through the stickers and watching your armies form in front of you. In many ways it’s not all that different a feeling than corner-clipping counters—repetitive, even a bit tedious, but extremely satisfying in the outcome. In some ways stickering-up wood blocks in Commands & Colors helps me relate to miniatures wargamers who spend all that time basing and painting figures for their army.

Sticker Day for C&CN

War Engine the Napoleon Way

Commands & Colors Napoleonics builds upon the long-proven war engine of the Commands & Colors family of wargames. All Commands & Colors games share a common baseline set of rules. Using a set of Command cards, players first play a Command card, then Order units, Move those units, conduct Combat, and then Draw a new Command card. Units themselves often are just a few types and the rules for movement and combat of each is easy to remember (or easily referenced on a single player aid card). This baseline set of rules is easy to learn and follow and helps make the game just as easy to teach or learn for beginners and Grognards alike.

Like every Commands & Colors game, Commands & Colors Napoleonics also uses special “flavor” rules to recreate battles of this period. In the case of C&CN the rules are 6.0 NAPOLEONIC TACTICS AND ACTIONS which introduces “Cavalry Retire and Reform,” “Infantry Square,” and Combined Arms Combat.” These rules, covered in a little over 3.5 pages of well-illustrated rules, work hand-in-hand with the colors of blocks, the images on units, and text of the Command Cards to make this C&C game “feel” Napoleonic.

Levee En Mass (Market)

If I have a quibble with Commands & Colors Napoleonics it is the components. Not the wood blocks—I had only a few useless blocks included—but in the quality of the terrain tiles and cards. The hexagonal terrain tiles seem a bit thin to me; they are perfectly functional but just seem thin. Same goes for the (few) cardboard chits in the game—thin. More importantly, the cards also seem thin to me. I occasionally sleeve my cards, but usually only when I feel they need to be protected and I question their durability. This is one of those times. I also am not a fan of the dice included. Not only did I have to sticker them myself, but they seem too large and heavy. I own a dice tray and use it when necessary but generally avoid doing so as it adds another component that demands real estate on the table which is not always available. For myself, a fully laid out game of C&CN takes up the entire 3″x4″ gaming table in the loft; I simply don’t have room for a large dice tower or tray.

Napoleon’s True Colors

Quibbles over components aside, I will admit that Commands & Colors Napoleonics looks beautiful on the gaming table. There is real beauty in seeing lines of blue French soldiers squaring off against red-coated British. The highly visual element of C&CN is a great part of the charm of the entire series—the game simply looks good, is easy to learn, plays with just enough theme, and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.

Wellesley’s view at Rolica. Easy to see at least one line unit certainly needs to redress itself!

First Play – Battle of Rolica, Aug 17, 1808

Battle of Rolica (French First Position) at Set Up

In my Battle of Rolica, Wellesley got off to a slow start with only his left flank advancing (all the Command Cards initially were for the left!). However, aggressive action by a lone French Hussars (Light Cavalry) unit forced the British infantry into squares that slowed the advance buying time for French infantry to arrive. In a series of devastating melee actions the British infantry collapsed. Wellesley was furious because his leader on that flank, Fergusson, hung back behind the lines and therefore was unable to rally the infantry to stand. Even a desperate charge by British Dragoons (Heavy Cavalry) to seize the initiative was repulsed when the French Foot Artillery got a First Strike (battle first when attacked) and used canister at point-blank range to mow down the hapless riders. Apparently unable to get a courier through with orders (again, no Command Cards for that flank), Wellesley watched his left flank disintegrate with only a lone Foot Artillery unit left to halt any French advance (bolstered by Fergusson—finally).

French right flank – British advance evaporates

As Wellesley watched his left flank disappear, he took some solace in watching his Portuguese allies on the right finally advance. They actually made it parallel to the French main line before a foray by two French line infantry units struck out. Again, the Gods of War (and Luck?) smiled on the French who drove the Portuguese back to their starting positions. As night feel, Delaborde held the field, but Wellesley had a strong center that might make the next days battle interesting.

Delaborde looks on as his infantry drives the Portuguese back on his far left, but Wellesley is in a strong position in front of him….

At this point the battle ended with the French having gained the requisite five Victory Banners to win. My Battle of Rolica was a classic Commands & Colors game with Wellesley never seemingly having the right “cards in his hand” and being frustrated commanding his forces. Delaborde started out with a “poor hand” but was able to order units at just the right moment to arrest any British advances. His right flank far exceeded all expectations and seemingly couldn’t be stopped. Along the way I got to play all the new Napoleonic-era rules of Cavalry Retire and Reform, Infantry Squares, and Combined Arms. It felt grand and epic like one imagines a Napoleonic battle to be.

I’ve already gone ahead and placed P500 orders on GMT Games for what else is in production for Commands & Colors Napoleonics. I will be checking my favorite FLGS and online retailers to see if I can get some expansions at a fair price.

Sunday Summary – Commanding Napoleonic colors, 2 Minutes to Midnight launches, Kickstarter sputterings, & moving to the IO #wargame #boardgame @gmtgames @stuarttonge @Academy_Games @DietzFoundation @PatrickLeder @compassgamesllc

Game of the Week

My Game of the Week was Commands and Colors Napoleonics (GMT Games, 2019). I really enjoyed the game this week as I got to play both the Battle of Quatre Bras and the Battle of Waterloo on their anniversary week. Look for my extended comments on the game forthcoming in the week ahead.

2 Minutes to Midnight

Stuart Tonge’s kickstarter for 2 Minutes to Midnight (Plague Island Games, forthcoming) launched this week and quickly funded. The game has already passed through several stretch goals and is still going. I was one of the previewers of this game and really like it. It’s not too late for you to check it out!

2 Minutes to Midnight (Plague Island Games)

Kickstarter

Sigh. Reality Shift from Academy Games is now mid-August delivery, several months removed from the planned May date. On the plus side, 1979: Revolution in Iran by Dan Bullock from The Dietz Foundation is moving along nicely but shipping problems may add some delay. Patrick Leder of Leder Games tweeted about that this week:

Family Boardgaming

I am very happy to see Dragomino (Blue Orange Games, 2020) win the children’s Game of the Year Kinderspiel des Jahres 2021 award. This game is a favorite of Mrs. RockyMountainNavy and her student, Miss A. I am also very pleased that after a recent play of Dragomino, Mrs. RMN asked me to teach her Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017) which was the 2017 Spiel de Jahres (Game of the Year) winner. It was a pleasant game though Mrs. RMN wracked her brain (over)thinking all the different combinations. Her Verdict—She liked it!

Books

I was pleased with the (small) reception my Rocky Reads for Wargame post on Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command by Kent Masterson Brown received. I hope to do more of that style of book to wargame (maybe even boardgame or even roleplaying game) comparisons.

Alas, it looks like my exploration of the Battle of Gettysburg is not finished yet. Father’s Day also saw the arrival of Longstreet at Gettysburg: A Critical Reassessment by Cory M. Pharr (Jefferson: McFarland & Co., 2019). So now to look at a study of command on the Confederate side….

Longstreet at Gettysburg

Up Next

Indian Ocean: South China Sea Vol. II (Compass Games, 2020) moves from the Shelf of Shame to the Game of the Week.

IOR: SCS vII

History to #Wargame – The Battle of Waterloo, 2021 Edition with Commands & Colors Napoleonics (@gmtgames, 2019)

This has been a very good Grognard week for me.

My Game of the Week right now is Commands & Colors Napoleonics (GMT Games, 2019). For a GotW I try to get deeper into the title and, as luck would have it, the anniversary of two major Napoleonic-era battles fell in the same week. I already wrote about my Battle of Quatre Bras; next is the Battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815).

Commands & Colors Napoleonics (GMT Games, 2019)

The Battle of Waterloo scenario is the last scenario presented in the base game of Commands & Colors Napoleonics. Like Quatre Bras before it, the scenario is large with a wide variety of forces. This makes setting up the game interesting as I paused at times to “pass in review” new units to ensure I understood their unique characteristics. After all, I want to make sure the Old Guard is used properly!

Waterloo set up. Note the “tipsy” British unit at La Haye Sainte in the middle of the board- must of been at Lady Richmonds Ball the night before (or was that Happy Hour at the local pub?)

One reason I like most Commands & Colors-series games is that even the “big” scenarios like Waterloo are still playable in about an hour. My game took ~75 minutes and it was a see-saw battle the whole way. The battle developed in a classic Commands & Colors way complete with elation and frustration.

Specifically, elation and frustration is about the only way to explain how the game went for the French. Elation came early with the French advancing on both flanks and taking the Victory Banner towns of Hougoumont on the left and Papelotte on the right. Then the frustration set in it became almost impossible for the French to draw a Command Card for the center. Even then, there were some highly thematic moments like when the French drew the La Grande Manouevre card and made a bold move to retake the initiative in the center. However, it was not enough, and in the end the British were the first to the requisite eight Victory Banners (final score 8-6).

The French center can’t push the British and Allies away at Waterloo

Playing the Battle of Waterloo, indeed playing Commands & Colors Napoleonics this week, also reminded me a bit about our collective wargame roots.The word Grognard, often used to refer to a long-time wargamer, is a modern derivation in use of the original Grognard which referred to an old soldier from Napoleon’s army. Although I hate citing it as a source, Wikipedia has a good summation of how the term came to be used by the gamer community:

Grognard is also a slang term used by the tabletop role playing and wargaming community to refer to older, long term players of such games. The usage started with Napoleonic miniature war gaming, and originally referred to those who would seek out minor details that were wrong with another’s painting or modeling, mostly in terms of historical accuracy. Various online forums have popularized the usage among the tabletop role playing and war gaming community.

Wikipedia entry for “Old Guard (France)”

I”m very happy that this 21st Century Grognard was able to honor 19th Century Grognards in a game of Commands & Colors Napoleonics.


Feature image courtesy wickedwilliam.com

#Wargame Wednesday – Battle of Quatre Bras, June 16, 2021?

Today is the 206th anniversary of the Battle of Quatre Bras, so it is fitting that my Game of the Week on the table right now is Commands & Colors Napoleonics (GMT Games, 2019). I played the Quatre Bras scenario and boy, did it live up my expectations.

First, this is a grand battle with a full compliment of troops deployed on both sides. One needs nine (9) Victory Banners to win which means this scenario is also one of the longer ones published in the game.

Ney looks on at Quatre Bras in Commands & Colors Napoleonics

My play of Commands & Color Napoleonics featured several moments that make a wargame memorable. Like early in the battle when the French right led by Bachelu pushed ahead but ran headlong into British rifle troops under Picton. The hazards of leading from the front were clearly demonstrated here with Bachelu falling in nearly the first volley of the battle.

(In Commands & Colors Napoleonics, when a unit with a leader is attacked and a hit is scored a second roll is required to determine a Leader Casualty. The roll requires “crossed sabers” on two dice—a 1-in-36 chance. Guess what happened here….)

Bachelu falls in battle….

Neither Ney or Wellington seemed able to get their center moving and the battle switched from left to right and back again. The French took the low hills on the right only to be thrown off, and on the left the British allied troops surged ahead. It took Kellerman and his French cuiarassier’s to push them back, and once they got started even infantry in squares seemed unable to stop them. By the end of the day Ney had ejected Wellington from the battlefield and was close to securing the crossroads.

Ney pushes Wellington from Quatre Bras

As big as this Commands & Colors Napoleonics scenario was it still played in less than 90 minutes. Next, on to Waterloo!


Feature image courtesy britishbattles.com.

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)