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.

March 2019 #Wargame #Boardgame #Kickstarter & Pre-Order Update – or – The Root problem of Defiantly losing control to Memoir-able games!

Coming out of the holidays in 2018, Mrs. RockyMountainNavy asked that I try to “control” my spending budget for boardgames and wargames in a bit of a more reasonable manner. She asks not because she dislikes my gaming hobby (on the contrary, she heartily endorses it) but because I was a bit too frivolous with my spending. I promised to do better.

To that end I have tried to control my “acquisitions” so far this year. One change in strategy I adopted is to go ahead and look at Print-n-Play modules a bit more. I also took a hard look at my GMT Games P500 and other pre-orders to try and “trim the fat.” I also committed to looking alot harder at what Kickstarter campaigns I would pledge to support. As tempting as they were, I passed on several new P500 and Kickstarter campaigns. I was doing pretty well until this month. Since the last days of February and into March, I have fallen off the wagon a bit and pre-ordered or pledged for three games.

 

I backed a new Kickstarter campaign in March. This one is really a no-brainer for me as it expands my 2018 Game of the Year. Leder Games Kickstarted Root: The Underworld Expansion. As I write this post the campaign already has over 10,000 backers and nearly $850,000 pledged – with over 2 weeks remaining.

I really am looking forward to this expansion with two new factions and two new maps. I realize that my $50 pledge will grow by at least $20 more for add-ons. Of that money, paying $5 for corrected Faction Boards is an easy choice. Paying $15 for the Better Bot Project may seem pricy, but given that it includes Bot Boards for all the factions it will make the game not only more solo friendly but able to play larger faction counts with fewer players. But given my love of the game it is so worth it.

poland-defiant-coverI also pre-ordered Poland Defiant from Revolution Games. Having picked up Counter-Attack 1940: The Battle of Arras (Take Aim Designs/Revolution Games, 2019) and Panzer Expansion #4: France 1940 (GMT Games, 2019) earlier this year I am on something of an early-years World War II kick. The period is coming to fascinate me as the various nations tried to figure out what the new age of warfare would look like. I really enjoy playing Counter-Attack 1940: The Battle of Arras and positively enjoy seeing Youngest RMN Boy discover more history through Panzer Expansion #4. I also look forward to the chit-pull mechanic as I have come to appreciate the power of that mechanic and its useful application for solo gaming.

pic4610324Another game I pre-ordered is Memoir ’44: New Flight Plan (Days of Wonder, coming May 2019?). I expect this new module to get heavy use as the RockyMountainNavy Boys often play Memoir ’44 without me. That said, these days I enjoy the simplicity of Richard Borg’s Commands & Colors-series and its various implementations in Memoir ’44 or Battlelore. Don’t get me wrong; simplicity is not lesser enjoyment. Games like Commands & Colors: Tricorne – The American Revolution (Compass Games, 2018) are awesome for teaching and learning more about the time period.

What about you? What games are you (im)patiently waiting for?


Feature image Leder Games

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

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

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

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

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Courtesy BoardGameGeek.com

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

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

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Courtesy Twitter

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

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

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

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

A Grognard’s View of Root (@LederGames, 2018)

AS I SIT to write this post, the #1 Games Hotness on boardgamegeek is Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right (Leder Games, 2018). This Cole Wehrle (@colewehrle on Twitter) design is described by some as a combination of Twilight Struggle (GMT Games, 2005+) and COIN (the COIN-series from GMT Games). As an old wargaming Grognard (playing for 39 years now) this game seems to be right in my wheelhouse. Given it’s pedigree, I am frankly surprised that Root is so popular amongst non-wargamer’s. With Root, Cole Wehrle has done the boardgame hobby a great favor – he has created a “wargame” with broad appeal to general tabletop gaming audience.

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Courtesy BGG.com

Root represents the cutting edge of the “waros” movement. Waros are, according to BGG, “…games which can be described as a fusion of a Wargame and a Eurogame. Waro games thus include aspects of both types of games….” I fully believe that the reputation of Cole Wehrle and the buzz behind Root created expectations of the game.

One manifestation of this popularity can be seen by the forum activity on BGG. As I write this post, there are 605 threads on BGG for Root. Amazingly, 318 of these are in the last 30 days! Of the 605 total threads, 272 are tagged as Rules with around 150 of those in the last 30 days again. I have no scientific basis, but it generally appears to me that, compared to other games, that this is an extraordinary number of threads. Now, understand that I really like Root. I subscribe to the Root feed on BGG. For the last month I have been getting all these threads dumped to my BGG profile. This led to the following Twitter exchange with Tom and Mary Russell of Hollandspiele Games:

In a later response, Joe (@CardboardTON618) righty points that people learn at different rates and goes on to say, “Also, I get the impression that a good percentage (although not the heaviest in the world) haven’t played a game of this weight.” I think Joe is onto something here, but contend it’s not the weight, but the fact Root is a waros game.

As a cutting-edge crossover game, Root is plowing new ground in the hobby. In this case, it is a wargame with strong eurogamer appeal. In some ways, it is similar to Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Norther Theater, 1775-1777 (Hollandspiele, 2017) which is – at heart – more a eurogame with wargamer appeal. In the case of Supply Lines, about 2/3 of the threads on BGG are rules-related. The lesson I hope designers and publishers see is that Waros require tight rules writing – and lots of patience. I believe this is because of the diversity of the audience. Tight writing should avoid much of the rules confusion, but patience is still required to listen to and answer the slew of questions from players who maybe have never played a Waros before.

Players who read – and play – the rules will find Root an extraordinary game. It is a wonderful design and a shining example of what a Waros can be. Just don’t read too much into the rules!

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Courtesy BGG

 

Discipline – or – KickStarter and Preorder Madness (April 2018 Update)

fullsizeoutput_5b2I really need to get my game budget under control. Last year I purchased many games and this year swore to get my spending under control. I have tried to be pickier (No Honey, really!) with my choices.

This week I was purchasing a just few games (Honest, Dear!) and looked at my Preordered BoardGameGeek collection.

Uh oh….

According to BGG, I have 13(!) items on preorder. I actually have 15 given that Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing via Kickstarter) does not have an entry yet. And then there is Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games, never?). I have written before about my disappointment there. Here are a few I am most interested in:

Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon (Academy Games, 2018?) is not my normal game genre. But it’s designed by Gunter Eickert and Uwe is publishing it. I trust them to make a good game. Even it it is a Kickstarter project….

After watching @PastorJoelT ‘s videos on Twitter and following my visit to Gettysburg, Battle Hymn Vol. 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games, 2018) looked too good to pass up.

I have patiently waited for Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! – Kursk 1943 (second edition, Academy Games) for a while now. I am part of the ProofHQ looking at the new rules. I like what I am seeing so the delay, though unfortunate, is not totally unbearable.

Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017). Another buy after @PastorJoelT showed videos. Also like that it compares to 1775 Rebellion – The American Revolution (Academy Games). Looking for a deal, I ordered through Miniature Market. In preorder although I see a few copies on the street. Worth it to save a few dollars?

I actually missed the Kickstarter for Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right (Leder Games, 2018?) but recently pulled the trigger and ordered it via BackerKit. I was initially hesitant because I like the GMT Games COIN series (which Root is supposedly heavily influenced by) but just was not so sure the RockyMountainNavy Boys would like it. After looking at the Print-n-Play versions posted I decided to go for it!

Long ago I remember a friend had Triplanetary: The Classic Game of Space Combat (Steve Jackson Games, 2018?). At only $45 via Kickstarter this seemed like a good deal as it is a topic I love.

If predictions are to be believed, August/September 2018 may be a busy month of new games. Mrs. RockyMountainNavy keeps reminding me about this as I spend now for gaming later.