#Coronapocalypse #Wargame Month-in-Review (March 15 – April 15, 2020)

HERE IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA the DECLARATION OF A STATE OF EMERGENCY DUE TO NOVEL CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) was issued on March 12, 2020. For me the real Coronapocalypse started on March 15, the day before I started my new job. The onboarding was surreal; rushed to get people out soonest, walking into a deserted office, then being told to go home and telework when I don’t even have an office account. Although the teleworking eventually worked out, I still found myself at home more than expected. Looking to fill my time, gaming has been a part of my therapy to avoid going stir-crazy.

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In the first 30 days of my Coronapocalypse, I played 19 different games a total of 38 times. Looking at the list, I think many will be surprised to see Elena of Avalor: Flight of the Jaquins (Wonder Forge, 2017) as one of the top-played games. This of course is because we were helping our friends with taking care of their kids while they were working. Fortunately, it is not a bad game – for kids – and was an unexpected discovery (especially given that we purchased our copy for less than $5).

I am very happy that I got in multiple plays of Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987 (GMT Games, 2019). Getting time to do multiple plays allowed me to get deeper into the design and enjoyment. The same can be said about Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid (GMT Games, 2017) which had the bonus of being a dedicated solitaire design that was perfect for Coronapocalypse gaming. This multi-play approach also enabled me to rediscover Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra, 2018), a game which I had under-appreciated.

Given I am stuck working at home, I tried to find ways to mix my wargaming into “professional training.” So it came to be that Next War: Korea 2nd Editions (GMT Games, 2019) landed on the table. I also ordered a copy of the game poster from C3i Ops Center for my new office but, alas, the California shutdown stopped it from being sent just after the label was created.

As disruptive as the Coronapocalypse is, here in the RockyMountainNavy home we tried to keep some semblance of order. This included our Saturday Boardgaming Night with Azul: Summer Pavilion (Next Move Games, 2019), 878 Vikings (Academy Games, 2017), Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017), and Firefly: The Game (Gale Force Nine, 2013).

This month I also explored a few more solitaire gaming titles in my collection. I continue to insist that AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018) is one of the best ‘waro’ games out there. I also got Mrs. Thatcher’s War: The Falklands, 1982 (White Dog Games, 2017) to the table right around the time the historical conflict started. Late in the month, my copy of Amerika Bomber: Evil Queen of the Skies (Compass Games, 2020) arrived. First impressions will be forthcoming.

Coronapocalypse also gave me the chance to play more one-on-one with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. RockyMountainNavy T continued his punishing win streak by besting me, again, in two plays of Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 2019).

The game of the month was actually the last one I played. I pulled Patchwork (Mayfair Games, 2014) out to play with one of Mrs. RockyMountainNavy’s students. The box was still on the table later that night and I asked Mrs. RMN if she wanted to play. She said yes. You have to understand that Mrs. RMN is a strong advocate of gaming but she rarely plays herself. So we set up an played. She beat me handily (I actually had a negative score). I hope this is a harbinger of future gaming, especially with a title like Azul: Summer Pavilion.

How has your Coronapocalypse lock-down gaming gone?


Feature image courtesy laughingsquid.com

#Coronapocalypse #wargame #boardgame Update – or – #StayHome & #SupportLocalBusinesses

In my local area social distancing has been in force for about a week now.

Schools are closed thru mid-April.

Mass transit is “essential travel only.”

Office is teleworking to maximize social distancing.

The nature of my job does not lend itself well to social distancing as in-person ‘collaboration’ is a vital part of the business. The nature of our product is not also conducive to working from home. So my coworkers and I have to make do.

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Courtesy GMT Games

Luckily for me, gaming crosses both work and family. The past week I conducted ‘deep analysis’ of a conflict simulation involving the Korean Peninsula. Here I used Next War: Korea 2nd Ed (GMT Games, 2019) along with Next War: Series Supplement #1 (although I didn’t use the Cyber Warfare rules) and Next War: Series Supplement #2 to go in depth. I played two scenarios; a Standard Scenario to familiarize myself with the basics of the Next War game system and an Advanced Scenario to go more in depth. I didn’t really keep up on Victory Conditions as I mostly used the game to explore the order-of-battle and relative combat potential of the major combatants. I noted some professional qualms with a few rules; I will dig into those deeper at a later time. All in all a good ‘deep dive’ into the military situation on the Korean Peninsula. I also ordered a Next War: Korea poster from C3i Ops Center. I’m not sure it will arrive anytime soon as it looks like I just missed getting it shipped before the Coronavirus shutdown order in California started.

6HSa418vRrKP6Dyy%qokEgOn a more personal note, RockyMountainNavy T and I restarted our playthrough of all the scenarios in Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 2019). We played two scenarios; Little Round Top and Chickamauga. This time RockyMountainNavy T took the Confederates while I took the Union. Didn’t matter; he still soundly trounced me at Little Round Top (0-7) and although I did better at Chickamauga (3-7) he continued his unbeaten streak. The game mechanics in the Hold the Line series definitely seem to favor the defender – in each game he has not only tenaciously defended his lines but also rolled quite well for Bonus Action Points and when attacking or making a Morale Roll. Myself on the other hand….

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Courtesy Worthington

One evening, the oldest Boy, Big A, joined us for a rare 4-player session of Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017). [EoR is on sale for $37.50…a real steal for a great family lite-waro] If there was one negative it was that Big A is not aware of our usual no cellphones at the table rule. He rarely plays a boardgame with us so rather than make it an issue I let it slide. After the game the other RMN Boys mentioned how distracted he was, missing changes in the game state and not thinking much about his moves. No wonder he placed last. We agreed that family boardgames are supposed to be for family togetherness and cellphones just distract.

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Courtesy Next Move Games

I ordered Azul: Summer Pavilion (Next Move Games, 2019) from Miniatures Market for a family-friendly abstract boardgame. Mrs. RMN is occasionally helping take care of a few kids when their parents have to work. One of them, a fifth grader named Miss Courtney, is anxious to play boardgames. She is an only child but really enjoys sitting down at a table to play games. I think can tell she really craves the social interaction. She is also a great artist so a game like Azul should capture her imagination (much like Kingdomino from Blue Orange Games has already).

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Courtesy Folded Space

I also tried to help local retailers a bit this week. I visited our FLGS, Huzzah Hobbies, and picked up the Terraforming Mars: Folded Space Insert v2 (Folded Space, 2019). The RMN Boys also used the trip to stock up on paints and other supplies for their plastic model building hobby (looks like they have LOTS of time to work off a few projects – as I should too). I encourage everyone to do what you can for small local businesses during this challenging situation. For ourselves, when getting to-go food we are bypassing the chains and making a dedicated effort to use local Mom & Pop restaurants instead. Not only is the food better but you can also see how much they really appreciate your business. Further, the entire community will be better if they are around in the future!

#Wargame #Boardgame #SocialDistancing in the time of #COVID-19

AS OF THIS MORNING (15 MARCH), my local county health department is reporting 10 ‘presumptive positive’ cases of COVID-19. The school district has already shut down thru 10 April and many events are cancelled to encourage ‘social distancing.’

In the RockyMountainNavy household, we have dealt with COVID-19 since Mrs. RMN returned from Korea right as the epidemic was breaking out there. She laid low for 14 days not because of self-isolation but because others avoided her (the worst ‘racists’ are often from one’s own race). Now there is panic in the wider community (why are people hoarding toilet paper?) and much is being cancelled. One aspect of social distancing we are practicing is to distance ourselves from social media. Frankly, its all doom and gloom with lots of disinformation. In a practical response this means that wargames and boardgames are hitting the gaming table more often.

For myself, I have played solitaire sessions of Steamroller: Tannenburg 1914 from Yaah! Magazine #10 (Flying Pig Games, 2017) and Less Than 60 Miles (Thin Red Line Games, 2019). I am able to get bigger and longer games to the table because I literally set up a table in the loft that allows me to put a game down and keep it there for a while.

From the family perspective we are using several different approaches to gaming. For our usual ‘longer’ weekend plays we are going back to finish our Scythe: The Rise of Fenris campaign (Stonemaier Games, 2018) while mixing in shorter family games at other times like Tiny Epic Galaxies (Gamelyn Games, 2015). I also am throwing in some 1v1 wargames like Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 2019) to play against the one of the boys when they get tired of one another. In this time of crisis, we are also occasionally taking care of young children of family friends who are struggling with daycare and work. In those cases we pull out the family games for like Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2016) or even Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder, 2004). The list of games goes on and on as we (now fortunately) have a large gaming collection.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself also have a ‘healthy’ collection of plastic models that need to be built. Today we will venture to the FLGS/Hobby store (Huzzah Hobbies) to lay in some supplies.

We have even talked about reviving our Traveller RPG campaign (using Cepheus Engine rules) or our long set-aside Star Wars sessions using the Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game rules.

With boardgames, wargames, RPGs, and models we are pretty set to hunker down for the next several weeks. Let’s hope that everybody stays safe and we get thru this crisis as best we can.


Feature image: Playing Nexus Ops (Avalon Hill, 2005)

RockyMountainNavy’s influential #wargame from the 2010’s (h/t to @playersaidblog for the idea)

Grant over on The Players Aid blog laid out his 15 Influential Wargames from the Decade 2010-2019. In the posting Grant asked for others to give their list. Although I have been a wargaming grognard since 1979 in the early 2010’s I was focused more on role playing games. That is, until 2016 when I turned back into hobby gaming and wargaming in particular. So yes, my list is a bit unbalanced and definitely favors the later-half of the decade. Here is my list of ‘influential’ games arranged by date of publication along with an explanation of why the title influences me.

Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (second edition) – Academy Games, 2012

pic1236709_mdFor the longest time I considered myself near-exclusively a naval wargamer. I’m not sure why, but in early 2017 I picked up a copy of Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (Second Edition). I think at the time I was looking for a good tactical WWII game to play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I am glad I did, as along the way I also discovered the excellent Firefight Generator and Solo Expansion, and eventually other titles to include the latest Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 (2019) where I have a small credit in the rulebook. This game, like no other, awakened me to the ‘new look’ of wargames and the positive influence the Eurogame segment of the hobby market can have on wargaming.

1775 Rebellion – The American Revolution – Academy Games, 2013

1775-header-v3In 2017 I attended the CONNECTIONS Wargaming Conference. There I met a fine gentleman, Uwe Eickert, of Academy Games. As we talked about his Conflict of Heroes series (I even helped him demo a few games) I mentioned my boys and our search for good family wargames. Uwe strongly recommended his Birth of America series, especially 1775 Rebellion. So I ordered it and the RMN Boys and myself sat down to play this lite-wargame – and we haven’t looked back since. We now own all the Birth of America and Birth of Europe series. 878 Vikings is one game the oldest (least gamer) RMN Boy will play with us. Most influential because it shows that there are much, much better ‘family-wargames’ than Risk. As an added bonus, I am working with one of my youngest boy’s high school teachers to bring this game into his classroom.

Next War: Poland  – GMT Games, 2015

569After attending CONNECTIONS 2017, I tried to become a bit of a wargaming advocate at my job. So I looked at more ‘serious’ wargames. One of the hot topics of the day is the Baltics and Russia. I looked for wargames that could build understanding of the issues, especially if it comes to open conflict. Sitting on my shelf from long ago was were several GMT Games ‘Crisis’ series titles, Crisis: Korea 1995 and Crisis: Sinai 1973. I had heard about updated versions but had been reluctant to seek them out. Now I went searching and found a wargame that is a master-level study into the military situation. This game influenced me because it shows that a commercial wargame can be used for ‘serious’ purposes.

Wing Leader: Victories, 1940 – 1942 – GMT Games, 2015

pic2569281Before 2017, an aerial combat wargame to me was a super-tactical study of aircraft, weapons, and maneuver. The most extreme version was Birds of Prey (Ad Astra, 2008) with it’s infamous ‘nomograph.’ I had all-but-given-up on air combat games until I discovered the Wing Leader series. But was this really air combat? I mean, the map is like a side-scroll video game? The first time I played the level of abstraction in combat resolution was jarring. But as I kept playing I discovered that Wing Leader, perhaps better than any other air combat game, really captures ‘why’ the war in the air takes place. Units have missions they must accomplish, and those missions are actually the focus of this game, not the minutia of flap settings or Pk of a missile hit. Influential because it shows me that model abstraction is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when done right like it is here.

Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection – GMT Games, 2016

582As I returned to wargaming in 2016-2017, I kept hearing about this thing called the COIN-series. I looked at a few titles but was not quite ready to go ‘full-waro’* so I backed off. At the same time, having moved to the East Coast, I was much more interested in the American Revolution. By late 2017 I was becoming more ‘waro-friendly’ so when I had a chance to purchase Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection I took it. I’m really glad I did. LoD is influential because it taught me that a wargame can be political and a real tool of learning. I understand that LoD is the designer’s ‘view’ of the American Revolution but I enjoy experimenting within that vision and seeing what I can learn.

Command & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution – Compass Games, 2017

cctri_ar_lgPrior to my wargaming renaissance, I acquired Memoir ’44 for the RockyMountainNavy Boys. We also had Battlelore and in an effort to entice the oldest RMN Boy (an ancient history lover) into gaming had given him Commands & Colors: Ancients. That is to say, Commands & Colors was not new to the RMN House. As part of my American Revolution kick I picked up Commands & Colors Tricorne thinking I would try to get the RMN Boys to play this version. Instead, I fell in love with the game. Influential because it showed me that with just a few simple rules tweaks a highly thematic, yet ‘authentic’, gaming experience is possible even with a simple game engine.

South China Sea – Compass Games, 2017

scs-cover-for-web_1Remember I said I was a naval wargamer? Notice the lack of naval wargames on this list? That’s because I found few that could match my experiences with the Victory Games Fleet-series of the 1980’s. That is, until I played South China Sea. All the more interesting because it started out as a ‘professional’ wargame designed for a DoD customer. Not a perfect game, but influential because it shows me it is possible to look at modern warfare at sea by focusing less on the hardware and more on the processes of naval warfare as well as being an example of a professional-gone-commercial wargame.

Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 – Hollandspiele, 2017

slar_wb_largeAt CONNECTIONS 2017, Uwe Eickert sat on a panel and recommended to all the DoD persons in the room that if they want logistics in a wargame they need to look at Hollandspiele’s Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 game. I found the game online and ordered it (from a very strange little company using a Print-on-Demand publishing model..WTF?). When it arrived and I put it on the table and played I was blown away. First, it has ‘cubes,’ not armies or dudes. Second, it really teaches why certain locations were crucial for the American Revolution. Third, it’s challenging and just darn fun to play. Influential because this was the first game I recognized as a ‘waro’, and the first of many quirky Hollandspiele titles that I enjoy.

Pavlov’s House – DVG, 2018

pic5126590Solo wargames are very procedural, right? So procedural they are nothing more than a puzzle to be solved, right. Not Pavlov’s House. I was blown away by the strategy and story that comes thru every play of this game. This is a solo game that makes you want to play because it’s the strategy that counts, not the procedure. Influential because I showed me what a solo game can be as well as how a game that screams ‘Euro’ is actually a wargame.

Blue Water Navy – Compass Games, 2019

TYt4vmWiRnWl0MUjqKCZUwAs the decade came to a close, I had all-but-given up on naval wargaming. When I first saw Blue Water Navy I had thoughts of one of my favorite strategic WW3 at Sea games, Seapower & the State (Simulations Canada, 1982). The play length of BWN, 1-16 hours, kinda put me off at first as I prefer shorter games. As I read more I became more intrigued so I finally purchased it. Now it sits on this list as an influential game because it shows me how abstraction and non-traditional wargame mechanics (cards?) can be used to craft a game that literally plays out like a Tom Clancy or Larry Bond novel. 

Brave Little Belgium – Hollandspiele, 2019

5SEI37l%T5yLJJc7vRLX2wI have been a grognard since 1979. Why do I need a simple wargame that doesn’t even use hexes? I mean, this game uses a chit-pull mechanic (good for solo play) and point-to-point movement. In a game this simple there can’t be much depth, right? Hey, where is the CRT? Speak about a small war…. Influential because this game shows that simplicity can be a very high art. Brave Little Belgium is my go-to quick intro wargame for hobby boardgamers. 

Hold the Line: The American Civil War – Worthington Publishing, 2019

6HSa418vRrKP6Dyy%qokEgThis one is very personal. My Middle Boy is on the autism spectrum and when his younger brother started an evening program once a week the Middle one was a bit lost without his companion. So I looked around for a wargame we could play in a sort of ‘filler-wargame’ mode – short and simple on a weeknight. And play we did; ten times in 2019. He beat me seven times. Influential because this game – sometimes derided as a simplified ‘Command & Colors wannabe’ – connected me closer to my Middle Boy than any game before.

Less Than 60 Miles – Thin Red Line Games, 2019

Gi47YGXvSuiIL8pOfxkb3gThe folks from the US Army Command & General Staff College at CONNECTIONS 2019 had a copy of Less Than 60 Miles on their table and were singing praises of the game. I was fortunate enough to be able to trade for the game later on BGG. What I discovered was a wargame built around John Boyd’s OODA Loop. At the same time I was reading A New Conception of War: John Boyd, the U.S. Marines, and Maneuver Warfare. Putting the two of them together was like lightening in a bottle. This is a heavy, serious game that is also playable and enjoyable. Influential for no other reason than it shows me that OODA applies far beyond the cockpit; indeed, I need to look at OODA for many more games.

Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest – Might Boards Games, 2019Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest – Might Boards Games, 2019

nof_packshotBrian Train is a designer that often looks at lesser or different wars and always brings forth an interesting perspective in his games. He calls this game, ‘a militarized Eurogame.’ He’s right; this title is the full embodiment of a waro game. I often argue with myself if this is even a wargame; after all, you can play solo, head-to-head, teams, or cooperative. Hobby boardgame or wargame? Influential for that very reason as it represents to me the full arrival of the ‘waro’ to the hobby gaming market.

Tank Duel – GMT Games, 2019

zGtfgQKQQ+SJpwWwL2RlAwLike Nights of Fire, this can’t really be a wargame. It has no board, no dice, and no CRT. Instead it has ‘tableaus’ for tanks and (lots of) cards! You can also play up to eight players. There is no player elimination – tanks respawn! What on earth is this? Influential because it challenges all my traditional views of a wargame only to deliver some of the best wargaming experiences I have ever had at the gaming table.

There are many more games from 2010-2019 that influenced me. Games with the chit-pull mechanic are now my favorite to solo with, but I didn’t put one on the list. Maybe I should of….

Hmm…I see it’s also hard to pin down one particular publisher that particularly influences me. In this list of 15 games we have:

  • 4x GMT Games
  • 3x Compass Games
  • 2x Academy Games
  • 2x Hollandspiele
  • 1x DVG
  • 1x Mighty Boards Games
  • 1x Thin Red Line Games
  • 1x Worthington Publishing

Not a bad spread!


*’Waro’ – A combination of ‘wargame’ and ‘Eurogame. To me it is a wargame that incorporates Eurogame like look/components or mechanics vice a traditional hex & counter wargame.

RockyMountainNavy 2019 Most played #wargame & #boardgames

IMG_D6BDC9FE37F4-12019 was a pretty good year for gaming in the RockyMountainNavy household. This year, I played 119 games a total of 221 times. Compared to 2018, this was fewer plays (221 vs 357) but more actual games (119 vs 105). This year I only had two ‘Dimes’ (played 10 or more times) and three ‘Nickels’ (played 5-9 times).

Dimes & Nickels

  1. Quarriors! (WizKids, 2011) – 21 Plays
  2. Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 2019) – 10 Plays
  3. The Mind (Pandasaurus Games, 2018) – 7 Plays
  4. Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2016) – 6 Plays (including the first three episodes of the Rise of Fenris Campaign).
  5. Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs (GMT Games, 2019) – 5 Plays

Eight (8) other games sat at four plays during the year and another seven (7) were played three times. Basically these top 20 most -played games account for around half of the game plays during the year.

What comes in 2020?

In an upcoming blog post I’m going to dig deeper into the numbers for 2019 but suffice it to say for now that it was a good year.

How was your year? What games are you looking forward to playing next year? For myself, I have a few new Gaming Challenges I am going to reveal just after the new year.

 

Entering the matrix doesn’t mean exiting from #wargames

Over on Rex Brynen’s excellent PAXSIMS website, he posted a link to BEAR RISING, a Matrix game looking at the Baltic in the post-INF Treaty era. As a wargaming professional, I appreciate that Matrix games can be used to explore policy issues and generate greater insight into the issue. Matrix games are a part of wargaming, but apparently some out there want to distance themselves from that connection. Taking a look at BEAR RISING you find this:

What are matrix games? Matrix games are different to normal Wargames. In most of those games you will probably compare lists of statistics and peer at complicated books of rules containing someone else’s idea about what things are important, before making a decision, checking that it is covered by the rules and rolling dice to see if you succeed. It can take a long time, look really complicated and can be very difficult to explain to a newcomer. Instead, in a matrix game you simply use words to describe why something should happen, the Facilitator or the players (or both) decide how likely it is, and you might roll a dice to see if it happens (but equally, in the face of a compelling argument, you might not need to). If you can say “This happens, for the following reasons…” you can play a Matrix Game. The games themselves are not intended to be fiercely competitive, with obvious winner and losers. Instead they operate with the players working to generate a credible narrative. It is from examination of this narrative after the game that the player gain insights to the situation being portrayed. The player roles have objectives that will place them in conflict with other players, but it is perfectly possible for all of the players to achieve at last some of their objectives by the end of the game.

Let’s take a few of these sentences apart:

  • “In most of those games you will probably compare lists of statistics and peer at complicated books of rules containing someone else’s ideas about what things are important before making a decision, checking that it is covered by the rules and rolling dice to see if you succeed.” I guess you have only played wargames like Advanced Squad Leader, right? You totally have missed out on many “light” wargames like Brave Little Belgium or uncountable others? I hope you are consistent in your views and have the same disdain for heavy Eurogames out there and especially for anything designed by Phil Eklund, right?
  • “It can take a really long time, be really complicated and can be very difficult to explain to a newcomer.” I challenge you to try any of the Academy Games Birth of America-series or Commands & Colors (Compass Games or GMT Games) or a Hold the Line game (Worthington Publishing). If those games are too complicated for you and difficult to teach a newcomer then you have no place talking to anybody about a Matrix game.
  • “Instead, in a matrix game you simply use words to describe why something should happen, the Facilitator or the players (or both) decide how likely it is, and you might roll a dice to see if it happens (but equally, in the face of a compelling argument, you might not need to).” But you just disparaged rolling dice above….
  • “The games themselves are not intended to be fiercely competitive, with obvious winner and losers.” Ah…another bias. Wargames “must” be “fiercely competitive.” Let’s not talk anything about the learning that can come from exploring the situation; it’s war and war is automatically evil! To that I say si vis pacem, para bellum.*
  • “Instead they operate with the players working to generate a credible narrative. It is from examination of this narrative after the game that the player gain insights to the situation being portrayed.” I would argue that some of the best wargames, like the new Tank Duel (GMT Games, 2019) or Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid (GMT Games, 2018) generate a “credible” narrative during the game and don’t need a scribe to explain it to the players afterwards.
  • “The player roles have objectives that will place them in conflict with other players, but it is perfectly possible for all of the players to achieve at last some of their objectives by the end of the game.” Is this not the hallmark of a good game design? A good design will see all players work towards their objective, with the end result being a measure of how well they achieved those objectives. The objectives themselves do not have to the same (for example, who controls the most territory) but can be different like in Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest (Mighty Boards, 2019) where the Revolutionaries try to save civilians while the Soviets try to control the city. Or maybe the designers of BEAR RISING are not familiar with a GMT Games COIN game like Colonial Twilight (see Grant from The Players Aid comments about terror) or the asymmetric Root from Leder Games?

I will repeat what I said before; Matrix games are useful to explore policy issues and generate insight. But they are one tool in the vast kit available to designers. To maximize that insight, I prefer designers and players to have open minds and to avoid/remove as much bias as possible. In the case of the BEAR RISING designers, they show me that they have deep biases that make me doubt the assumptions their game is built on.


* “If you want peace, prepare for war.” In my case I strongly advocate studying warfare to understand – and avoid – military disasters of the past.

Feature image courtesy BEAR RISING.

Simple September – or – I’ve lost a bit of my #wargame #boardgame mojo

September was a very slow gaming month. As a matter of fact, my 11 plays is the least amount of gaming since April this year and a four-way tie for the second-fewest monthly plays since I started seriously recording my plays in August 2017. I can’t really complain though; the few plays I got were very special.

The hit of the month was Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 2018). I played this with my Middle Boy several times and really enjoyed it. A great game to bond with him. This may become our Monday night ritual for a while as his younger brother is out of the house those evenings and Hold the Line is perfect for a quick-play wargame.

I also played the new Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 3rd Edition (Academy Games, 2019). I really need to get this one back to the table again, and again.

Of course, Storms of Steel has to now compete with the three new air games delivered by GMT this month

The most interesting game is that “Unpublished Prototype” listed above. This is a game by a fellow gamer that I met at CONNECTIONS 2019. The game is in a very rough state but I have a copy for the next few weeks and will be working my way through it. Don’t know if the game will ever see publication but still I feel I am doing something for the greater hobby community.

Looking at my Preorder and Kickstarter line up, I have significantly trimmed down the collection. At the beginning of the month this list was up to 26 games. Between canceling orders and deliveries I am down to 13, of which eight (8!) may deliver by year’s end. I admit it; I had a touch of FoMO* and it took Mrs. RockyMountainNavy to cure me of it. I have an antidote on hand – my 2019 Challenges still await completion!

With the summer doldrums almost ended and the seasons turning, the RockyMountainNavy family will move indoors a bit more. Later this fall, Mrs. RMN will be on travel for a few weeks meaning I will just have to get games to the table to keep me from going crazy. 

So, so long Summer, hello Fall, and bring on the dice!


* FoMO – Fear of Missing Out; an uncontrollable urge to buy as many new games as possible (or even not possible) for fear of “missing out” on the gameplay.

#Wargaming and #Autism – Why Hold the Line: The American Civil War (@worth2004, 2018) is in the right zone

MY MIDDLE BOY IS ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM. As a gamer, this means that some games are harder for him to process and connect with than others. Through the years he has had success, and challenges, with different games. Recently, I introduced him to Hold the Line: The American Revolution (Worthington Publishing, 2018). The game immediately captured his attention, so much he asked for a different version of family game night where he played against his brother (first-time HtL player) while I “umpired” the game. The boys played the Battle of Champion Hill, part of the Vicksburg Campaign. After a hard fought battle taking all 20 of the allotted turns, Middle RMN Boy playing the Confederates took the win 7VP to 6VP. This was his third win in a row and he wants to play even more. So why is it that Hold the Line: The American Civil War has so totally captured his interest?

Hold the Line: The American Civil War captures his interest because of two factors: tactile components and extreme ease of play. It also uses very few Zones of Play.

Tactile Components: Middle RMN Boy loves the blocks in HtL: ACW. Not only are the blocks easy to distinguish, he can arrange, and rearrange, the blocks in many different ways. Sometimes he puts all the infantry in a column; other times he arranges them in a 2×2 formation. Sometimes he faces them towards a hexside in a manner that makes his opponent feel surrounded like they are turning a flank. But it’s not just the blocks on the map, the blocks used to track the Action Points (AP) on the Player Aid Card also give him that tactile interaction with the game.

Extreme Ease of Play: HtL: ACW is very rules-lite. More importantly, a player’s turn is a short, easy to understand (and remember) sequence of Roll Bonus AP, Spend AP, and Reset. Within each phase there are very few rules to remember and the most important information can be found on the Player Aid Card. Bonus AP? Roll 1d6 and get 1-3 AP. Actions? Movement comes in only three flavors. Combat is resolved using a set number of dice using a table on the Player Aid Card. The Morale Die can be tricky but it really is only used in two ways. All told there are something like 24 rules that must be remembered, and most actually can be found on the Player Aid Card so it’s not memory of details, but grasping of a process that must be mastered.

Given the short, easy to remember Sequence of Play and many rules found on the Player Aid Card means that Middle RMN can focus on playing the game, not executing the processes. With Hold the Line: The American Civil War he can feel like a General and fight a battle, not an administrator trying to follow a detailed methodology.

Now, the RMN Boys love the Commands & Colors-series of games, especially Memoir ’44 (Days of Wonder, 2006) which in many ways are very similar to Hold the Line. So why does HtL resonate with Middle RMN to an even greater degree? I think it may be that HtL uses only three of six Zones of Play. In Episode 209 of the Ludology Podcast, Scott Rogers talks about his concept of Zones of Play. He identifies six zones:

  1. Dominant Hand
  2. Non-Dominant Hand
  3. Tableau
  4. The Board/Shared Space
  5. Sideboard
  6. Rulebook

In HtL, Middle RMN only needs to use his Hands (Zone 1 or 2) to move items. The Player Aid Card with the the AP Track is his Tableau (Zone 3), which also doubles as an easy-to-reference rulebook virtually eliminating the need to search the Rule Book in Zone 6. The Board (Zone 4) is small enough to reach across and easy to understand. In a Memoir ’44 game, he uses many more zones; his Dominant Hand (Zone 1) to hold his cards, his Non-Dominant Hand (Zone 2) to move, his Tableau (Zone 3) to show played cards, the Board (Zone 4) to fight on, a Sideboard-extension (Zone 5) of his Tableau to hold Special Rules and Reference Cards, and the Rule Book (Zone 6) to reference often for the many items not on the Sideboard. Taken together, Commands & Colors occupies more Zones and is actually much more complex. HtL, on the other hand (no pun intended), occupies fewer Zones of Play and within each zone the rules are easy to understand and remember and the components attractive and tactilely fulfilling.

Getting HtL to the table with both boys may be a bit difficult. Younger RMN found the game easy to play but struggled to find the right tactical approach to fighting his brother. Middle RMN found the game exciting, especially since he won. I am sure that he and I will fight many more battles when his younger brother is unavailable. As an old grognard, a game like Hold the Line should be considered too easy and not detailed enough to play seriously. But looking at how much my middle boy enjoys the game makes replaying HtL not only inevitable, but something I look forward to because when he is “in the zone” the game is secondary to our enjoyment.


Feature image courtesy mr boss’ design lair

History to #Wargames – Fighting First Bull Run (July 21, 1861) in Hold the Line: The American Civil War (@worth2004, 2019)

It was Homecoming for Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy this weekend so Middle RMN Boy and myself squared off for a rare 2-player wargame. Wanting to keep it simple we chose Hold the Line: The American Civil War from Worthington Publishing (2018). This was Middle RMN’s first play; considering (spoiler alert) he won I’m sure it won’t be his last.

We set up the first scenario in the book , First Bull Run. Middle RMN took the Confederates and I took the Union. After a short rules explanation (the rules are very simple) we kicked off.

Like the historical battle, I pushed hard across the Stone Bridge at Sudley Ford. Unfortunately, two batteries of Confederate artillery proved most devastating and all four Union infantry units at the bridge were quickly (and I mean quickly) blown away. Considering the Confederates only need 6VP to win this put them far ahead. However, to the north the Confederates ceded Matthews Hill to the Union without a fight.

Comment: I was very surprised by this move by Middle RMN but I didn’t say much for I needed all the help I could get after losing the entire flanking attack at the Stone Bridge.

With the Confederates falling back to the Stone House and Henry Hill, the path was wide open for the Union to swing the Confederate flank and reach the two VP markers at the southern edge of the board. When the Union took the Stone House in a Close Combat without loses it started looking like the battle could swing.

However, as the Union was pushing from the Stone House past Henry Hill, it became obvious that the Confederate’s were in a good position to keep sniping away at the Union troops as they moved past. Even units using the woods to the west of Henry Hill had to come out eventually. I had two choices – keep losing units as they try to get past Henry Hill or assault the hill and eject the Confederates to secure my approach route.

Oh yeah, did I mention the Confederate reinforcements had arrived by now? Worse yet, the Confederates had better leadership. In Hold the Line each side gets a certain number of Action Points (AP) to reflect their Command & Control capacity on the battlefield. In this battle, the Union started out with 1x Leader and 4AP. The Confederates start with 1x Leader and 3AP but…when the reinforcing troops of General Johnson arrive the Confederates get a second Leader and their AP increased by 2 for a total of 5AP each turn. To further hurt, Middle RMN was rolling hot during the AP Determination Phase and consistently gaining 2 or 3 extra AP each turn whereas my dice were cold and I was only occasionally getting 2 extra AP and often only one.

Comment: Thematically, I imagined a lethargic Union command staff not reacting quickly to the situation while the Confederates kept on the hop. Thus, the Confederates were able to move quickly about the battlefield while the Union slowly plodded along. A simple rule but great impact on play.

In the end, the Union could not turn the Confederate flank and push to the VP hexes. Even taking Henry Hill didn’t help. With only one Union Leader to Rally units I was unable to keep enough strong units in front. As it was, two units, on the opposite end of the line from where McDowell was, suffered and were in the process of pulling back when the lone Confederate artillery battery hurled canisters of death upon them. The death of those two units pushed the Confederates to 6VP and the win.

Comment: The Confederates reaching 6VP while the Union had only 3VP does a great job of representing the rout of the Union troops as they see their lines crumble. A nice marriage of Victory Conditions and historical theming.

Post game, Middle RMN Boy expressed a real like for Hold the Line: The American Civil War. We talked bout how it is like the Commands & Colors-series (GMT Games) but without the cards. Middle RMN marveled at how quick the game plays. Our battle, which went to 11 of 18 possible turns, took about 60 minute to setup, learn, and fight. Middle RMN looked at the 14 different scenarios in the box and wants to play more against either me or his brother.

If you are looking for a lite-wargame then you really can’t go wrong with Hold the Line: The American Civil War from Worthington Publishing. Even an old grognard like myself finds it simple to learn but delivering a deeply thematic experience. The game is a winner and will surely get to the gaming table again and again.

History to #Wargame – 158th Anniversary of the Battle of First Bull Run (Battle of First Manassas) played with Hold the Line: The American Civil War (@Worth2004, 2019)

On July 21, 1861, two armies clashed for the first time on the fields overlooking Bull Run. Heavy fighting swept away any notion of a quick war. In August 1862, Union and Confederate armies converged for a second time on the plains of Manassas. The Confederates won a solid victory bringing them to the height of their power.

“Where Southern Victories Tested Northern Resolve” – Manassas Battlefield Park

THE WEATHER ON JULY 21, 2019 IS SO HOT that the National Park Service suspended all planned activities after noon for the 158th commemoration of the First Battle of Manassas. So instead of going to the outdoor activities, I pulled out one of my newer wargames, Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 2019). Of course, the first scenario in the Scenario Book is First Bull Run, July 21, 1861. In this battle the Union has to score 6VP by the end of turn 18. In addition to VP for destroying Confederate units, there are two VP-hexes at the south edge of the map that are also scored by the Union if held (representing the road to Manassas).

Unions force Sudley Ford but get chewed up in the process….

My game started out pretty much like history with the Union forcing Sudley Ford and attempting to turn the Confederate flank. Unlike history, the Union got chewed up crossing Bull Run. Having failed to turn the Confederate flank, the Union started a general advance from the North. A Confederate infantry unit on Matthews Hill sold itself dearly and targeted Union artillery as it tried to move past. A Confederate infantry unit in the Stone House proved incapable of withstanding a Union Close Assault and fled, giving the Union a strongpoint to jump off from.

Union takes the Stone House but the Confederates are well-established on Henry Hill….

By now, the Confederates had collapsed onto Henry Hill and the adjoining woods and Confederate reinforcements were arriving. The Union decided to not immediately try and leverage the Confederates off Henry Hill and instead attempted to turn the flank and seize the route to Manassas. However, the Confederate reinforcements moved up and strengthened their flank. The Union offensive sputtered out as casualties mounted.

Union fails to turn the Confederate flank at Henry Hill; casualties mount and the Union is defeated.

Game Observations

The battle was played out over 12 turns of the allotted 18. The Union was behind from the beginning when the flanking maneuver at Sudley Ford was chewed up by artillery, losing two units. A lone Confederate infantry unit on Matthews Hill killed another unit, but more importantly attrited a Union artillery battery to the point it was unable to keep up with the advance or risk being lost. The battle at Stone House cost another Union unit (the fifth). The Union took their best infantry unit (their lone gold “elite” unit) to lead the flanking maneuver past Henry Hill but it was caught in a crossfire and suffered dearly, eventually being destroyed for the sixth Confederate VP and the win.

This game I experimented with using my cross tokens for AP allocation. In a Hold the Line game, in every turn a player starts with an Action Point (AP) value and can add AP via a random die roll. There is a countdown track on the Player Aid Card to track AP expenditure. I find using the track a bit unwieldy and constantly finding myself forgetting which unit expended AP or what my current AP is. This game, I took my cross tokens (aka “tile spacers” from Home Depot) and when allocating AP took that number of tokens in hand. As AP is spent, that number of cross tokens are stacked on top of the spending unit. I found myself using the AP track on the Player Aid Card simply as a tool for tracking the base AP. This method worked really well and it will probably be my preferred method of AP tracking for all future Hold the Line games.