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

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

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

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

Fall Out!

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

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

Color Counts

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

That’s a Big Ocean

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

(Off) the gaming table….

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

Where You Sit is Where You Fight

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

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

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

Example of Play

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

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

Those Bi-Polar Days Are Over

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

Full Steam Ahead

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

Next Generation SCSX

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


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

Sunday 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

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)

Sunday Summary – How’d it get to be so busy? #wargame #boardgame @gmtgames @compassgamesllc @stuarttonge @Zmangames_ @Gamelyn_Games @Funforge

Wow…no entries on this blog since last Sunday. Tangible proof that the post-COVID recovery is in full swing. Where I live all the COVID mask restrictions were (finally) lifted yesterday by the state dictatorship. Well, except for schools because the dictatorship has already crippled their learning in the past year so why stop now? I guess in future years gamers will look back on the Year of COVID as “happy times” with plenty of gaming. On a personal level, I’ve been back to work full time for a couple of months now and it’s cutting into my gaming time!

Huzzah!

Wargames/Books

I finished reading Most Secret and Confidential: Intelligence in the Age of Nelson (Stephen Maffeo, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2014) and pulled 1805: Sea of Glory (Phil Fry, GMT Games, 2009) out for some comparisons. I’ve got John Gorkowski’s Indian Ocean Region – South China Sea: Vol. II (Compass Games, 2020) ready for a deeper dive now that I’ve finished reading Eliot Ackerman and Admiral Jame Stavridis’ 2034: A Novel of the Next World War (New York: Penguin Press, 2021).

This week was also my birthday. The family really knows what I like, hence the arrival of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics (GMT Games) and Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command (Kent Masterson Brown, Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2021). This all-but-ensures my Fourth of July Gettysburg Memorial Wargame will be Eric Lee Smith’s Battle Hymn Vol. 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games, 2018). Oh yes, and a new power drill to replace my old light duty one that wasn’t up to the demands of Mrs. RockyMountainNavy’s “Honey Do” list!

Boardgames

I worked on my first impressions piece of Stuart Tonge’s 2 Minutes to Midnight from his new Plague Island Games label (coming to Kickstarter next month). Spoiler Alert – It’s a big game that some might feel is unnecessary given the powerhouse Twilight Struggle (GMT Games, now in 8th printing) but it deserves a serious look as it builds a very compelling narrative in play.

I had an opportunity to pick up Space Empires 4x by Jim Krohn and GMT Games (2017 Third Edition). At the same time the seller had several smaller games he was looking to unload so a deal was struck. These are lighter games that I thought might be suitable for the family (or vacation travel) gaming table. Thus arrived:

I spent the past week looking through and learning each of the smaller games. Star Wars: Destiny will be turned over to the RockyMountainNavy boys as I know it’s not my thing but they are “modern” Star Wars fans so they can enjoy the characters. Samurai Spirit and Tiny Epic Defenders are actually quite similar cooperative tower defense-like games and either will make for a good family game night title—though I think the look of Samurai Spirit is more appealing. Tiny Epic Kingdoms will compete with Tiny Epic Galaxies (Gamelyn, 2015) which is already in the collection. Sylvion is actually more of a solo game and as such it will land on my table occasionally; if it has a drawback it’s because it’s more eurogame-like and therefore not my personally preferred gaming genre given it’s obvious preference for mechanism over theme (but the theme—what there is of it—is cute). Space Empires 4x is in the “wargame to play” pile…just behind Indian Ocean Region and Stalingrad ’42.

Sunday Summary – Summer Heat Wave of #Wargames, #Boardgames, and #Books

Not only is the heat arriving in waves, but so are the games!

Wargames

Boardgames

2 Minutes to Midnight: Fight the Cold War. USA vs Soviet Union – 1949-1991. A Strategic Historical Game (Preview Copy) (Stuart Tonge, Plague Island Games, 2021) – Stuart was kind enough to send me a preview copy. Plan is to share thought s around the kickoff of the Kickstarter campaign in mid-late June! Stay tuned!

2 Minutes to Midnight Preview Copy

Books

Am reading Most Secret and Confidential: Intelligence in the Age of Nelson by Steven E. Maffeo (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000) and sitting down with the wargame 1805: Sea of Glory (Phil Fry, GMT Games, 2009). I am working to make this a “#Wargame to History” (or is it “History to #Wargame?”) or “Rocky Reads for #Wargame” entry.

Puzzles

No, not puzzles, but actual jigsaw puzzles. As I type this I just got my shipping notice for my Academy Games historical puzzles. More relaxing summer fun!

Sunday Summary – A Supercharged week of #boardgames, birthday #wargames, and restocking the #book library with @FoundationDietz, @MiniMartTalk, @gmtgames, @compassgamesllc, @USNIBooks

Boardgames

Played multiple solo sessions of the card-driven auto racing game Supercharged: Racing in the Golden Age of Cars (Mike Clifford & Mike Siggins, Dietz Foundation, 2021). Loved my solo plays, and then Circuit de Rocky went all family for a weekend race. Much mayhem ensued! Supercharged will likely make it into the summer lakeside vacation bag as it’s small, rules-light, relatively short to play, and lots of FUN! By the way, please look at The Dietz Foundation and their mission; like them I personally (and professionally) fully support gaming and education. Whether it’s boardgames or RPGs in a classroom or homeschool, or a “professional” wargame for business or government, we all have stories of how games and education mix together for the better.

Supercharged at start

Wargames & Books

Happy Birthday to Me – Thanks to Miniatures Market for remembering my birthday and sending a coupon. I decided to use it before it expires and it was enough to cover tax and shipping for Stalingrad ’42: Southern Russia June – December 1942 (GMT Games, 2019). This will be my second game in Mark Simonitch’s ZoC-Bond series to accompany Holland ’44: Operation Market Garden (GMT Games, 2017) in the wargame library.

This week, Compass Games charged for Indian Ocean Region: South China Seas Vol. II (designer John Gorkowski) so delivery should be getting close. Coincidentally, I’m reading 2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Eliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis which makes for a nice tie-in.

Useful Fiction?

Here is the dust jacket copy of 2034. Looks like the authors are trying to mix Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising (1998) with August Cole & P.W. Singer’s Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War (2015):

On March 12, 2034, US Navy Commodore Sarah Hunt is on the bridge of her flagship, the guided missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones, conducting a routine freedom of navigation patrol in the South China Sea when her ship detects an unflagged trawler in clear distress, smoke billowing from its bridge. On that same day, US Marine aviator Major Chris “Wedge” Mitchell is flying an F35E Lightning over the Strait of Hormuz, testing a new stealth technology as he flirts with Iranian airspace. By the end of that day, Wedge will be an Iranian prisoner, and Sarah Hunt’s destroyer will lie at the bottom of the sea, sunk by the Chinese Navy. Iran and China have clearly coordinated their moves, which involve the use of powerful new forms of cyber weaponry that render US ships and planes defenseless. In a single day, America’s faith in its military’s strategic pre-eminence is in tatters. A new, terrifying era is at hand.

So begins a disturbingly plausible work of speculative fiction, co-authored by an award-winning novelist and decorated Marine veteran and the former commander of NATO, a legendary admiral who has spent much of his career strategically out maneuvering America’s most tenacious adversaries. Written with a powerful blend of geopolitical sophistication and literary, human empathy, 2034 takes us inside the minds of a global cast of characters–Americans, Chinese, Iranians, Russians, Indians–as a series of arrogant miscalculations on all sides leads the world into an intensifying international storm. In the end, China and the United States will have paid a staggering cost, one that forever alters the global balance of power.

Everything in 2034 is an imaginative extrapolation from present-day facts on the ground combined with the authors’ years working at the highest and most classified levels of national security. Sometimes it takes a brilliant work of fiction to illuminate the most dire of warnings: 2034 is all too close at hand, and this cautionary tale presents the reader a dark yet possible future that we must do all we can to avoid.

2034: A Novel of the Next World War, dust jacket

Speaking of books, the rest of my U.S. Naval Institute Press “Clear the Decks” sale books arrived. It looks like I will be able to get at least a few History to #Wargame or Rocky Reads for #Wargame postings (along with associated wargame plays) out of this group.

New Naval Institute Press arrivals

Sunday Summary – Too busy to play but NEVER too busy to dream about new #wargame & #boardgame arrivals @FoundationDietz @msiggins @HABA_usa @compassgamesllc @gmtgames @Academy_Games @LeeBWood @Hobiecat18 @SchilMil @Bublublock

Like the title says, didn’t get much gaming in this week as I return to basically full-time in the office. After a year of semi-telework it’s a bit of a shock to the system but, honestly, I love to be back at the grind.

Wargaming

Ended up doing a deep-dive of Fifth Corps: The Soviet Breakthrough at Fulda (Jim Dunnigan, Strategy & Tactics Nr.. 82, Sept/Oct 1980). There is alot of “professional” in this “hobby” title! I also had a real fun trip down memory lane with the accompanying magazine.

Boardgaming

Supercharged (Mike Siggins, Dietz Foundation, 2021) raced to the table. Also gifted (and taught) Dragons Breath: The Hatching (HABA, 2019).

Incoming!

It’s been awhile since I looked at my preorders. I presently am tracking 27 titles in my preorder GeekList. Here are some highlights:

Kickstarter

After complaining a few weeks back about the sheer number of Kickstarter campaigns and their costs I have not been doing a very good job controlling myself since. So far this month I added:

Sunday Summary – Preorder & Kickstarter Update (@LederGames, @MultiManPub, @JimDietz1, @compassgamesllc)

Spring has arrived meaning those long, dark winter days are behind us and outdoor chores demand my attention. Spring is traditionally a slower gaming time in the RockyMountainNavy home as we all are more busy and “spring fever” sets in.

Kickstarter

In the past few months there has been something of a renaissance of wargames on Kickstarter. Since early February I tracked at least eight wargame(ish) titles that I was VERY tempted to pull the trigger on and purchase. Add to that a further seven boardgames and it is very easy to see that the first quarter of Kickstarter in 2021 could be very costly for me—as in nearly $900 in pledges assuming lowest levels of support and not factoring in any shipping! Alas, I ended up only backing one wargame/boardgame (Root: The Marauder Expansion from Leder Games) and even then I went in at a lesser level.

Incoming

As I write this post, I am tracking 26 items on my Preorder & Kickstarter Roll GeekList. With a bit of some luck, I might see three games deliver this week and another two within 30 days:

Looking a bit further ahead I might see as many as six additional titles in house by June. That should keep my gaming table busy enough!


Feature image Cherry Blossoms in DC taken Mar 16, 2021

Sunday Summary – Stellaris Infinite Legacy from @Academy_Games and shoutouts to @fortcircle, @compassgamesllc, @gmtgames

Boardgame/Kickstarter

I love Academy Games. I particularly love the the tactical World War II combat series Conflict of Heroes and the lite family wargames of the Birth of America/Europe series. I don’t play enough of the 3D deconstructive superhero Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon nor the team worker placement One Small Step. I am a backer on the 3D racing game Reality Shift. So I was very excited to see Academy Games bring the 4X boardgame Stellaris Infinite Legacy to the tabletop.

Then I saw the price.

For a mere $110 you can back Stellaris Infinite Legacy and get the Standard Edition. That is the 2-4 player version but includes NO stretch goals. If you want the stretch goals you must back the Deluxe Edition at $170 which should deliver the Standard Edition PLUS expansions for the 5-6 player version as well as any stretch goals.

Sorry, that’s just too much me. For either edition. Granted, it looks like I am on the wrong side of the decision matrix here as there are already nearly 12,000 people who backed this project driving it to over $2 million in pledges.

My non-backing decision is not an easy one. I am very drawn to short (few hours) game time and the promised ability to “drop-in/drop-out” of the game. This could suit my family gaming style well. As I’ve mentioned before, this is also not a “woo is me during COVID I’m strapped for cash” kinda thing, this is more a current appraisal of my gaming condition. In my mind I have a very loose “cost to gaming” equation and the gut-check here says Stellaris Infinite Legacy does not work. YMMV.

Regardless of my feelings on cost, I wish Academy Games the best of luck here. I hope that once they get Stellaris Infinite Legacy out the door they can get back to Conflict of Heroes – First Men In Normandy 1944 and Conflict of Heroes – Blitzkrieg France and the Lowlands 1940 for my future gaming table.

Speaking of Kickstarter, Root: The Marauder Expansion (Leder Games) closes around 48 hours from the time of this posting. The funding campaign is successful (who expected otherwise?) with nearly 20,000 backers and ~$1.75 million raised.

Wargames

I was very fortunate to get a Play Tester Kit for Halls of Montezuma by designer Kevin Bertram at Fort Circle Games. Very fortunate since the game kit itself physically is a highly professional looking product. I kinda feel embarrassed because this looks and feels like a $45 game already but he sent these out for free AND paid the shipping to boot. I gotta figure out if he has a PayPal or something to throw some money his way just out of appreciation. Now I just HAVE to do a good scrub of the product to give Kevin (hopefully) valuable feedback since he has already invested so much in ME.

Last week I wondered what happened to South China Sea: Indian Ocean Region (Compass Games) that was scheduled for an early March delivery. Well…according to the developer the counters for the second edition of South China Sea were somehow delayed and they want to push back the release of both Indian Ocean Region AND South China Sea so they can be released closer together. The latest update to the production schedule on the Compass Games homepage shows April for IOR and May for SCS. Honestly, since Indian Ocean Region is a stand-alone game, I don’t agree with this reasoning. Not my decision, but not my happiness either. I guess I should be getting used to these delays as even customers of flagship publisher GMT Games (like me) are suffering delays.

Books

Stepped away from non-fiction this week to take a bit of some fictional downtime. Went back to some old sci-fi standbys, especially a few titles that I love for role-playing game inspiration.

Rocky Reads for #Wargame- China as a Twenty First Century Naval Power (Michael A. McDevitt, 2020)

BLUF

A very thorough analysis of the present capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy). This is perhaps the best single-source compilation of open source analysis on the PLA Navy presently available. Persuasively argues that the PLA Navy is a “blue-water” navy – today. Analytical breakdown offers many opportunities for wargaming.

Naval Institute Press, 2020

Not your father’s PLAN

How often do we hear about “China rising?” If you subscribe to that school of thought then you are in for a surprise if you read China as a Twenty First Century Naval Power: Theory, Practice, and Implications by Michael A. McDevitt, RADM, US Navy (Ret.). In this very recent (late 2020) publication from Naval Institute Press, RADM McDevitt argues that fifteen years of anti-piracy patrols has already made the PLA Navy the second most-capable naval power in the world. He further argues that the PLA Navy is well on track to be a true “world class navy” but 2035, a deadline set by Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Rear Admiral McDevitt starts out with a discussion of where China’s maritime power ambitions come from. The sources he uses are nothing special; everything is publicly available (although some needed to be translated). This is good grist for wargame designers; understanding what China wants to do on the high seas supports good scenario design.

The second chapter, “Getting Started: Learning How to Operate Abroad” contains the core argument in the book. McDevitt shows how fifteen years of overseas anti-piracy patrols has directly contributed to the development of a highly professional and capable blue-water navy. For wargame designers this is a challenge; so often wargames looking at the PLA Navy seem to dig into the whole “China rising” meme and don’t acknowledge (or refuse to acknowledge) that the Chinese Navy is not “coming soon” but “already here” and far removed from a second-rate coastal defense force that couldn’t even deal with Vietnam.

The next several chapters are probably the best for wargame and scenario design. RADM McDevitt addresses area denial, anti-access and a Taiwan campaign, the South China Sea, and the Indian Ocean in turn. In each section he discusses the what the PLA Navy is charged with accomplishing and the doctrine and equipment they developed to meet the challenge. His discussion of equipment is particularly helpful for wargame designers as each piece of kit is evaluated against what its mission is. This evaluation is far more helpful than just comparing it to the US Navy. The breakdown by area also can be useful for scenario design, and if one puts it all together a larger campaign view is possible.

Pacific Trident III

This book is not the only writing on China’s navy that Rear Admiral McDeveitt delivered in the past year. In February 2020, RADM McDeveitt wrote the final report for the unclassified Tabletop Exercise (TTX) Pacific Trident III sponsored by the Sasakawa USA Foundation. The goal of Pacific Trident III was to explore challenges to the US-Japan and US-South Korea alliances. In that final report, RADM McDevitt foreshadowed some of what he was going to write in China as a Twenty First Century Naval Power. Like in his book, some of the policy recommendations from the TTX are good wargame fodder:

  • Recommendation 3: The United States should consider the merits and risks of adopting a position on the conflicting maritime claims in the South China Sea, persuade other countries to support this position, and develop diplomatic strategies as well as military contingency plans based on these positions (emphasis mine).
  • Recommendation 4: The United States should conduct a policy review of its responses to Chinese aggression against occupied or unoccupied features in the South China Sea. While the details of military actions should be classified, the United States should make it clear that treaty obligations would be invoked by aggression, and could under certain circumstances result in military intervention (again, emphasis mine).
  • Recommendation 6: Planning associated with US military options in support of the TRA [Taiwan Relations Act] recognize the requirement for a rapid expansion of consultative and cooperative mechanisms with Taipei.

Other Views

The Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) was kind enough to publish Toshi Yoshihara’s article, “China as a Composite Land-Sea Power: A Geostrategic Concept Revisited.” The article is adapted from a report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), Seizing on Weakness: Allied Strategy for Competing With China’s Globalizing Military. Yoshihara’s thoughts go hand-in-hand with McDevitt:

Imperial overreach is not as farfetched as one might assume, despite China’s impressive wealth creation over past decades. As a classic land-sea power, which faces the seas and shares contiguous borders with its neighbors, Beijing must always stay alert to threats in the continental and maritime domains. This inescapable two-front challenge imposes perpetual opportunity costs: every yuan spent on one area is one fewer yuan available for the other flank and vice versa. The trade-offs between its landward and seaward commitments could impose built-in limits on China’s global plans.  

Toshi Yoshihara, “China as a Composite Land-Sea Power: A Geostrategic Concept Revisited”

Rocky’s Thoughts

Best Value

Up-to-date capability assessment mixed with analysis of doctrine and mission.

Weakness

Read it now because the PLA Navy is growing so fast the data will be outdated sooner than later.

The PLA Navy from Office of Naval Intelligence (2015) – sorely out of date

Wargame Application

Harpoon V (Admiralty Trilogy Games, 2020)

The discussions in “Chapter Four – Area Denial” and “Chapter Five – Keeping the Americans Away: Anti-Access and the Taiwan Campaign” have lots of potential Harpoon V (Admiralty Trilogy Games, 2020) scenario material. One part in particular that struck me is RADM McDevitt’s assertion that the anti-access strategy doctrine of the PLA Navy is not too unlike the Soviet Union in the Atlantic during the Cold War. This made me immediately think about a 21st Century version of Dance of the Vampires, the Harpoon scenarios and campaign that Larry Bond and Tom Clancy used to support the writing of Clancy’s Red Storm Rising novel. It would be great to see a new 21st century version starring the PLA Navy!

Dance of the Vampires from Admiralty Trilogy Games

“Chapter Six – The PLA Navy and the South China Sea” is perfect update material for South China Sea (Compass Games, 2017). The same can be said for “Chapter Seven – The PLA Navy in the Indian Ocean” and the forthcoming release of Indian Ocean Region: South China Sea Vol. II (Compass Games, 2021).

A 21st Century VitP?

As I read China as a Twenty First Century Naval Power, I appreciated how RADM McDevitt broke down the problem geographically. At the same time, it made me realize that many (all?) modern naval wargames take that same approach. We have wargames on the invasion of Taiwan and confrontation in the South China Sea or Indian Ocean. We also have wargames that can deliver a very fine tactical simulation of a modern conflict. What is lacking (in the commercial hobby wargame space, at least) is a wargame that shows the entire campaign. What I’m thinking about here is something like a Victory in the Pacific-type of overview. Although McDevitt breaks the PLA Navy problem down into discrete geographic areas they are all interrelated: the flow of shipping in the Indian Ocean must travel through the South China Sea to get to the mainland. I can think of no commercial wargame that looks at rolling back the PLA Navy across the globe, or even across the Pacific. Just what is the Plan ORANGE wargame for the 21st century?

Victory in the Pacific (Avalon Hill, 1977)

Citation

McDevitt, Michael A., China as a Twenty First Century Naval Power: Theory, Practice, and Implications, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2020.


Feature image: 200818-N-KF697-3150 PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 18, 2020) Royal Brunei Navy Darussalam-class offshore patrol vessel KDB Darulehsan (OPV 07), Royal Canadian Navy ship HMCS Winnipeg (FFH 338), Republic of Singapore Navy Formidable-class frigate RSS Supreme (FFG 73) and Royal New Zealand Navy ship HMNZS Manawanui (A09) maneuver during a division tactics (DIVTACS) exercise during Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC). Ten nations, 22 ships, one submarine, and more than 5,300 personnel are participating in RIMPAC from August 17 to 31 at sea around the Hawaiian Islands. RIMPAC is a biennial exercise designed to foster and sustain cooperative relationships, critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. The exercise is a unique training platform designed to enhance interoperability and strategic maritime partnerships. RIMPAC 2020 is the 27th exercise in the series that began in 1971. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Isaak Martinez)