October 2020 #Wargame #Boardgame #RPG #Books Month in Review

Games Played & Times Played

Note that Here to Slay included the Warriors & Druids Expansion

Games Acquired

  1. Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989 (Standard Combat Series, MultiMan Publishing, 2020)
  2. Star Wars: Rebellion (Fantasy Flight Games, 2016)
  3. Konigsberg: The Soviet Attack on East Prussia, 1945 (Revolution Games, 2018)
  4. Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010)
  5. Nations at War: White Star Rising (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010)
  6. Nations at War: White Star Rising – Airborne (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2012)
  7. Nations at War: White Star Rising – Operation Cobra (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2012)
  8. Here to Slay: Warriors & Druid Expansion (Unstable Games, 2020)
  9. Moonrakers (IV Games, 2020)
  10. Cortex Prime: Game Handbook (Fandom Inc., 2020)
  11. Hell’s Paradise (A Clement Sector adventure from Independence Games, 2018)

New Preorder Games

Key Reading

Blog Activity

#Wargame Wednesday: Save Me! Nations at War: White Star Rising (@LnLPub, 2010)

“Your turn.”

“Let me reach into my magic bag here and see what I get. Oh, will’ya look at that?”

“Yeah for me.”

“OK, first I roll for morale. I need a 7 or less. (Dice rolling). Heh heh.”

“You just got lucky.”

“Well, now I’m going to move like a hellcat through these woods, stopping at the edge and attack at point-blank range. So….I get to roll 3d6 and any 4 or more is a hit, agreed?”

“Short range is -1, but moving is +1, right? So they cancel out. OK.”

“Alright (dice rolling). Well, look at that! Three hits!”

“Lucky….but I still get my saving roll. Lets see…Mr. Tiger defends with 3d6 and any 4 or better blocks a hit. Good odds….(dice rolling)….Well, frak.”

“Oh, darn your bad luck – nothing. So my three hits get through. Lets see, first disrupts, second is step 1, third is step 2. You’re dead!”

“Well blast. And here I always thought Tigers were powerful.”

This (somewhat) dramatized exchange was not taken from a roleplaying game session. It describes an actual engagement between an American M18 Hellcat tank destroyer and a German Tiger I tank in the wargame Nations at War: White Star Rising from Lock ‘n Load Publishing (2010). What I hope stands out to you is that very non-classical, no odd-based combat resolution system. Indeed, the combat mechanics of Nations at War: White Star Rising is what sets the game apart to me.

Another Tactical WWII Game?

I recently acquired Nations at War: White Star Rising (hereafter NAW:WSR) in a trade. The copy I got is a ‘players copy’ in relatively good shape. A previous owner took it upon themselves to clip most of the corners on most of the counters. I traded more out of curiosity than to get another tactical World War II game; one of my favorite wargames (of all eras or types of conflict) is Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel 3rd Edition (Academy Games, 2019) and I was sure this would not replace that game in my pantheon of wargame heroes. That said, the Nations at War series struck me with a bit of a PanzerBlitz-vibe and I thought it would be good as a simpler, quicker-playing wargame for weekday nights against my battle buddy RockyMountainNavy T.

A Systematic View

I admit it; I am a bit of a game mechanics freak. I love playing wargames to not only explore the history of the situation, but to also explore how different designers approach an issue. When I got NAW:WSR to the table I quickly discovered that the initial PanzerBlitz-vibe I got was purely from scale and looks. As I explored the gameplay in NAW:WSR I discovered a very different approach to depicting conflict in World War II. The system integration of Chit-Pull, Command & Morale, and a different Combat model make NAW:WSR a unique game that captures the essence of the fight in a very streamlined set of rules

Well, Chit

Each turn in NAW:WSR is very straight-forward; Pull a Formation Marker from the cup and execute actions with that formation. Once two End of Turn chits are drawn, the turn ends and play proceeds to the next turn. Yes, NAW:WSR uses that favored mechanic of mine – chit pull. This makes the game both very-solo friendly but also introduces some ‘friction’ into play since players can never be sure just when they are going to activate.

Command & Morale

The second element of the design of NAW:WSR that I really enjoy is the simple command rules. Each formation has at least one Headquarters that is rated for Leadership, Command Range, and Morale. When the formation is activated all units check to see if they are in command range; if yes they activate normally. However, if a subordinate unit is NOT in command range, they need to pass a Morale Check (each hex rolls equal to or less than the Morale Level) in order to activate normally. If the unit fails the Morale Check, an Out of Command marker is placed on the unit that limits what it can do during the turn. This simple mechanic nicely captures the essence of the C2 problems forces on the battlefield faced – again using a relatively simple mechanic that plays quickly without bogging down the turn.

Combat Saves

As you can see from the narrative at the beginning of this post, combat in NAW:WSR is somewhat different than many wargames. Although this title has been available since 2010, this was the first time I can personally recall seeing this sort of system used in a wargame I own. But does it work?

NAW:WSR is a platoon-level wargame which places it in an interesting area on the spectrum of conflict simulations. Platoon-level games are simultaneously detailed and abstracted. The detail is often found in the order of battle for at the platoon-level you can easily depict the many elements of the combined arms fight. Thus, you don’t get just a Sherman tank, you can get an M4A1 or an M4A3E8 (aka “Easy 8”). To tactical gaming purist out there, those are two very different beasts!

The problem is that the detailed order of battle in turn demands a way to differentiate units in terms of their capabilities. Traditionally, hex & chit wargames use the classic Attack-Defense-Movement triumvirate of ratings to describe units. This simplification sometimes has difficulty keeping up with the detailed order of battle because unless you get more detailed the abstraction of triumvirate often fails to differentiate between units. The lack of differences can be made worse by the use of a traditional Combat Resolution Table (CRT) that strictly compares odds. A greater part of this issue is the classic use of 2d6 for games which limits the range of results and can be very sensitive to modifiers if not used carefully.

NAW:WSR takes a different approach to differentiating units by using five descriptive ratings:

  • AP Firepower rated by Range-Firepower-To Hit#
  • HE Firepower rated by Range-Firepower-To Hit#
  • Assault Factor rated by Assault Factor-To Hit#
  • Armor Value rated by Armor Value-Save#
  • Movement Factor

Taken together, these ratings can be used to describe a finer grade of differences between combat systems without becoming too detailed. One can capture which weapons reached further than others; the combination of Firepower and To Hit# gets to now only who throws more ordnance downrange, but how likely it is to do something if it hits. Then there is the Armor Value and Save# which not only describes how much armor there is but how likely it is to actually do something.

It’s easy to see that the designer of NAW:WSR tried to avoid an odds-based Combat Resolution Table (CRT). To attack, the player selects the appropriate Firepower ensuring that the target is in Range (Extended and Reduced Range is possible) and then rolls a number of d6 equal to that Firepower. Every die that is equal to or greater than the To Hit# scores a Hit. If the target is a ‘soft target’ (non-armored) they roll a number of defensive d6 equal to the terrain defense bonus. For every defender die that rolls five (5) or greater one hit is ignored. In a similar fashion, ‘hard targets’ (armored vehicles) roll a number of defending d6 equal to the Armor Value plus the terrain defense bonus. Each defense die that rolls equal to or greater than the Save Number offsets one hit.

This is how you get a US M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer (AP Firepower 6-3-4) attacking a German Tiger I (Armor Value 3-4) at range 1. The Hellcat has a Special Scenario Rule (SSR) that allows it to move up to three movement points and still shoot but at a penalty of +1 on the To Hit#. During the turn in question, Kamfgruppe Beck (the Tiger I formation) had already activated and the Tiger I moved resulting in an Ops Complete marker being placed on the unit. When the 507 PIR formation was activated (the M18 being cross attached) the Hellcat player recognized that since the Tiger I was Ops Complete it was not eligible for Opportunity Fire. Using the SSR the M18 moved through a hex of woods and pulled up one hex from the Tiger I. The M18 then took the shot at range 1 (Reduced Range) which is -1 on the To Hit#. The Hellcat here rolled 3d6…and each was a 4 or greater scoring three Hits. The Tiger I attempted to save itself and rolled 3d6 (Armor Value) but got no additional defense bonus die because it was in open terrain. None of the three die rolled were equal to or greater than 4 meaning all three Hits scored. This was enough to outright destroy the Tiger I. That was by far the best outcome for the Hellcat because if the roles were reversed it is doubtful the Hellcat would survive. The Tiger I would attack at 7-3-3 whereas the Hellcat defends at 1-6. At Reduced Range that AP Firepower becomes 7-3-2 meaning any of the 3d6 rolled that come up at 2 or more is a hit. The poor Hellcat would get a defense bonus die for being in the woods but even so that’s only 2d6 rolled…and each needs to be a 6 to offset a hit!

All of which is a long-winded way of saying the Save Number works. Even in a wargame. When it comes right down to it, the combat model in NAW:WSR is not really all that different than the traditional odds-based CRT, it just uses a different randomizer model to deliver similar odds. The real difference is that the NAW:WSR model “operates faster” because there is little need to “math it out;” instead you simply pick up dice and roll comparing to a number on the counter.

What’s Old is New Again

Nations at War: White Star Rising will get to the table against my battle buddy. The relatively small footprint and quick-playing nature of the game along with just enough ‘detail’ helps to create an immersive, narrative gameplay experience. The different mechanics are just that, different.

#Wargame Wednesday – First light in Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (@LnLPub, 2010)

One of my new wargame “acquisitions” was a player’s copy of Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010) that I acquired via a trade. I say ‘players copy’ because the box is very beat up but the contents are (super) fine. Most importantly, it was a good trade because it brought an older game to my table that I had overlooked before. Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (hereafter CC:DEL) is a simple, quick-playing ‘Cold War Gone Hot” wargame that is easy to learn, easy to teach, and eminently playable. However, don’t expect a deep analysis of the battlefield – this is a coarse recreation of the situation in a game that focuses on playability over ‘realism.’

War Is Complex – But Your Wargame Doesn’t Have to Be

Four factors make CC:DEL stand out to me and really helps me enjoy the game. They are 1) Physical size, 2) Activation Numbers, 3) Combat, and 4) Asset Chits.

What immediately strikes me about CC:DEL is the small size of the game. The 22’x17″ mapsheet not only has the hexes of play, but also has needed tracks and other useful player information around the edge. There are ‘only’ 136 counters in the game that covers all the combat units, markers, and various Asset Chits used. The 16-page CC:DEL rule book is broken into 7.5 pages of rules, 5.5 pages of scenarios, and three other misc pages (covers & Notes). Taken together this makes CC:DEL a game that can easily fit on a small gaming table and get played even when time is short.

The Activation Number mechanic in CC:DEL ensures that each turn is a bit unpredictable and forces players to take advantage of fleeting opportunities, as well as plan a head a bit. Each turn consists of four couplets (pairs of impulses). The exception is Night turns where only a single couplet is played. At the start of each couplet, NATO and the Soviets each roll 1d6 to determine their Activation Number (AN). The AN not only determines who goes first, but also how many Movement Points the player will have as well as which units can activate. In order for a unit to activate, the AN must be equal to or GREATER than the unit’s Initiative Number. Immediately you can see the problem; a high AN results in some units not activating – but if they do they move further since AN+1=Movement Points. If a 6 is rolled players immediately consult the Botched Orders Table to see what few units will activate, or not. The AN mechanic ensures that players can never be sure about who is going first or even how far they might move.

I find the combat mechanics of CC:DEL incredibly simple yet able to produce ‘realistic’-feeling results. When attacking, the attacker rolls 2d6 and adds/subtracts a few mods (usually +/-1 for terrain or a special combat power) and then adds the Strength of the attacking units to get a hit number. The hit number is compared directly to the Protection Factor (PF) of the target; if the attack is greater than the PF then a Hit is scored. If the attack exceeds the PF by four or more points then TWO hits are scored. If, somehow, the attack exceeds the PF by eight points or more, then THREE hits are scored (this will outright destroy many units). Combat is so simple, and modifiers so few, that players should quickly be able to memorize the mods and accelerate play.

The final gameplay mechanic in CC:DEL that I really enjoy is the Asset Chits. Asset Chits control everything from combat support to reinforcements. This is how the designers show the effect of concentrated airpower (Airstrike) or artillery support (Artillery). It also controls the arrival of reinforcements. At set up and at various times during play (as called for in the scenario rules) Asset Chits are drawn and allocated. Again, the somewhat unpredictable nature of war comes to the forefront; the Soviet player KNOWS he will get the 2nd Guards Airborne at some time during the battle, but will it be Day One or Four? NATO knows some West German Territorials will arrive, but again, Day One or later? Asset Chits are an easy way to represent many combat support elements in a simple to use system that reflects embraces the friction and fog of war.

Edged Out by Production Quality

If CC:DEL suffers it is in the area of production quality. Overall the quality of the components is generally good, but it is not without issue. The rule book needed one more editing pass to catch several obvious errors. A second Player Aid card would have been welcomed. The color selection on the map is a bit too same-ish for this glasses-wearing Grognard.

The major issue I have with CC:DEL is the alignment of the counters. Simply put, the data is too close to the edge or, in the case of the Soviet counters, they are misaligned. I could probably live with these counters if they didn’t suffer from ‘tuft-edges’ – which makes me just want to counter clip them! I may try my 2mm-radius clipper but even then I worry about clipping some data off the NATO counters, and I am pretty sure I will only be able to clip three edges of the Soviet counters. is it worth it?

Data too close to the edges make clipping corners dangerous?

Much Less Than 60 Miles

The other wargame in my collection that is the closest comparison to CC:DEL is Less Than 60 Miles (Thin Red Line Games, 2019). Both games cover roughly similar areas (although CC:DEL is placed near Eisenbach while LT60M covers the Fulda Gap) and at a similar level of unit breakdown (battalions for individual units). That is really where the comparisons end. CC:DEL is by far the simpler game in terms of mechanics, is far smaller on the table and will take far less time to play. That does not make it any worse or better than Less Than 60 Miles; they both cover conflict in the 1980s in Europe just at a different level of detail and with a different approach to playability. What CC:DEL ‘lacks’ in terms of details it makes up for in streamlined speed of play. If you want the in-depth look at how the Air-Land Battle Doctrine of the 1980s may have played out on the battlefields of Europe then you want to play Less Than 60 Miles. If you want a ‘taste’ of how the NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict could of seemed in a game that takes 2-hours or less than CC:DEL is much better suited.

A New Dawn

Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light came out 10 years ago. Apparently the game was republished in 2015 under the slightly different title Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light – Red Hammer. A part of me is curious to see what that game changes or improves from the original CC:DEL. But I am not in a real rush to find out; my players copy of CC:DEL will land on the table a few more times as I explore this small, quick-playing (and very playable) implementation of the Cold War Gone Hot on the plains of Germany.

Sep/Oct #Wargame #Boardgame Acquisitions featuring @gmtgames @hollandspiele @worth2004 @MultiManPub @LnLPub @Academy_Games @FFGames @UnstbleUnicrns @MoonrakersGame

In early September I wrote about how many games might be arriving into the RockyMountainNavy gaming collection given the reawakening of the publishing industry as they struggle to recover from COVID-19.

Boy, did I underestimate myself.

Turns out that between September 1 and October 15 I took delivery of 16 (!) items into my gaming collection. This includes:

  • 8 wargames (+3 expansions)
  • 3 boardgames (+1 expansion)
  • 1 accessory

I also diversified my acquisition chain. In addition to Kickstarter and publisher pre-order systems, I also used a local flea market, online digital, BGG trading, publisher direct sales, and (gasp) my FLGS!

Wargames

Washington’s Crossing (Revolution Games, 2012) – A not-so-complex look at the Trenton Campaign of 1776. My more detailed thoughts are here.

Flying Colors 3rd Edition Update Kit (GMT Games, 2020)(Expansion) So many Age of Sail games take a super-tactical view of ships that playing them can become unwieldy. Flying Colors takes a more ‘fleet commander” point of view; here you can be Nelson at Trafalgar, not Captain Hardy. The 3rd Edition Update Kit brings my older v1.5 up to date with the latest counters and rules, allowing me to set sail for new games in the future.

White Eagle Defiant: Poland 1939 (Hollandspiele, 2020) – The follow-on to the gateway wargame Brave Little Belgium (Hollandspiele, 2019). Don’t let the low complexity of the rules fool you; the game is full of impactful decisions. I have more thoughts here.

French and Indian War 1757-1759 (Worthington Games, 2020) – Another entry in my collection of Worthington block wargames. Simple rules but deep decisions. It’s been a long-time since I labeled a wargame a “waro” but this one crosses over between the wargame and boardgame crowds.

Harpoon V: Modern Tactical Naval Combat 1955-2020 (Admiralty Trilogy Group, 2020) – More a simulation model than a game. I’ve played and owned Harpoon titles since the early 1980’s. Can’t help myself; I love it.

Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989 (Multi-Man Publishing, 2020) – Another entry in the Standard Combat Series from MMP. I like the multiple eras of play and the ‘Road to War’ rules that deliver replayability in a (relatively) small package.

Konigsberg: The Soviet Attack in East Prussia, 1945 (Revolution Games, 2018)Acquired via trade. I like chit-pull games as they are good for solo play. I am also interested in this title because of the time period; I have played Operation Barbarossa to death and am interested in a late war perspective when the Soviets were on the offensive and it was the Germans rocked back on their heels.

Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010)Acquired via trade. Got through a trade more on a whim than with any real thought. First look is a very simple ‘Cold War Gone Hot’ wargame. Realistically it has only seven pages of rules!

Nations at War: White Star Rising (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010) – I don’t really need another World War II tactical game system; I’m very happy with my Conflict of Heroes series from Academy Games. Acquired through trade with no real big expectations. First impression is this platoon-level game is reminiscent of PanzerBlitz (Avalon Hill, 1970) but with chit-pull activation and command rules (both of which I really like). Maybe some interesting potential here, will have to see…. (Acquired at same time were two expansions: Nations at War: White Star Rising – Operation Cobra and Nations at War: White Star Rising – Airborne)

Boardgames

One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020) – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; worker placement games is not really my thing. However, I really do like One Small Step. Not only does the theme engage me but the team play version of worker placement makes it a good game night title for the RMN household.

Star Wars: Rebellion (Fantasy Flight Games, 2016) Acquired via flea market. I jumped at an opportunity to get this game via a local flea market at an excellent price. Thematically excellent but I still have doubts concerning gameplay. It does create a very good narrative though….

Here to Slay: Warrior and Druid Expansion (Unstable Games, 2020) (Expansion) Here to Slay is the #1 played game in the RMN home. The RMN Boys (and their friends) love it. The game is far from perfect; like many others I don’t feel it is anything like an RPG as it proclaims and it’s too easy to win with “six classes in your party” versus slaying three monsters. Maybe this new expansion will change that with a bit more focus on the warrior class. Maybe….

Moonrakers (IV Games, 2020)Fresh arrival. Bought because I keep looking for a decent Traveller RPG-type of boardgame or something that captures the same vibe as Firefly: The Game (Gale Force Nine, 2013). My other attempts to find these types of games, Scorpius Freighter (AEG, 2018) and Star Wars: Outer Rim (Fantasy Flight Games, 2019) were less-than-successful. This title just screams OPA in The Expanse. Playing it will have to wait as there is a backlog of games in front of it in the to-play queue (obvious from the above).

Accessories

Sirius Dice: Spades (Sirius Dice) – I picked these up sorta on a whim. They look and feel good. If I ever get back to playing RPGs they may come in handy.