Rocky Reads for #Wargame – Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command by Kent Masterson Brown, Chapel Hill: @UNC_Press, 2021 (mentions @RBMStudio1 @compassgamesllc @MultiManPub @markherman54)

As a wargamer, there are a few battles one can count on to be the subject of a wargame. The number of Battle of the Bulge wargames is uncountable and, in a similar way, the Battle of Gettysburg has been getting the wargame royalty treatment since the Avalon Hill Game Co. published Gettysburg by the Father of Wargaming, Charles S. Roberts, way back in 1958. The book world is much the same—it is no stretch of the imagination to say that Gettysburg may be one of the most written about battles in American history. Which means that picking up any Gettysburg book, or wargame, runs the risk of of it simply being a rehash of the old.

Author Kent Masterson Brown, in his new book Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command shows us General George Gordon Meade in a new light that takes on many of his detractors. The criticism started quickly after the Battle of Gettysburg, led by none other than President Lincoln himself. As Brown tells us:

Much of the criticism emanated from Lincoln’s notion that Lee’s army, somehow, could have been destroyed if Meade had only vigorously pursued the enemy then blindly attacked it when the Army of the Potomac came face to face with it on 13 July. Incredibly, no civilian official from inside Lincoln’s administration ever gave Meade credit for out-generaling General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg and thereby delivering the first victory of the Army of the Potomac since its formation in November 1861. Few historians have done so either.

“Epilogue”, p. 371

In Meade at Gettysburg, Kent Masterson Brown uses published and unpublished papers as well as diaries, letters, and memoirs to try and gain a better understanding of Meade at the Battle of Gettysburg. He does so by looking at Meade in four phases: From assuming command on 28 June 1863 through the advance to Gettysburg on 1 July, his tactical actions on 2 July, his decisions on 3 July, and the pursuit of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s army after the battle.

Book to Wargame…Almost

When I first picked up Meade at Gettysburg I had every intention of playing one of the two Gettysburg wargames I have in my collection. The most recent title is Mark Herman’s Gettysburg (RBM Studios, 2018) which appeared in C3i Magazine Nr. 32. The second game in my collection is Eric Lee Smith’s Battle Hymn Volume 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games, 2018). However, as I read the book, I discovered that neither game is really “the big picture” of the operational campaign as it developed. For that I probably need to get Roads to Gettysburg II: Lee Strikes North from Compass Games (2018) but the price tag of $194 is a bit rich for me. So instead of playing a wargame and commenting how the book relates to it, I’m instead going to talk about how several places in the book made me think about how we play wargames and what they sometimes get right, but more often get wrong.

Maps

In wargames, we take the mapboard for granted. Indeed, a mapboard is often a necessity by defintion for a wargame. It is amazing to me that Meade and many of his generals fought the Gettysburg campaign without a decent map. As Brown tells us, “What Meade could not discern from the maps were any topographical features such as hill and ridges. Meade was using what were called residential maps, and they did not include such topographical features, although the Frederick County, Maryland and Adam County, Pennsylvania, maps provided outlines of the South Mountain range, but nothing more” (p. 57). Further, not only did Meade lack detailed maps, but he had a hard time understanding where his own forces were, much less that of the enemy. To use more modern terms, the Union generals in the field had no “common operating picture.” Indeed, Meade’s understanding of both the terrain and location of his own forces was so poor that on 1 July he ordered his corps commanders to sketch “their respective corps, their artillery, infantry, and trains” and to share this sketch with the army headquarters (p. 208).

The lack of maps and hidden force location is hard to duplicate in a wargame which all-too-often delivers a “God’s-Eye,” information-rich view of the battlefield. For example, Roads to Gettysburg II is played on a map with lots of information—far more than either army commander had at hand at the time.

What Meade never had—a detailed map and clear disposition of forces (Courtesy BGG User Brian @kasch18)

There are ways that a poor map can be duplicated in a game, but the cost in playability is astronomical. Maybe a computerized version can simulate the gradual “discovery” of map details as units move and scouts operate, but I prefer tabletop wargames not screens. The reality is the lack of maps, topographical knowledge, and “common operating picture” that Meade faced at Gettysburg is not easily duplicated in a wargame.

What Year Did You Graduate West Point?

Whether one wants to admit it or not, whenever you play a historical wargame you almost always, inevitably, benefit from hindsight. Nobody wants to be like Sickles’ Third Corps and push out ahead only to be shattered by Longstreet. Often times players do things “differently” than in the past because they “know” what works…and doesn’t (didn’t?). On the other hand, sometimes players want to “try to get it right” and do one-better than history. After reading Meade at Gettysburg I found just such a moment in Meade’s orders to Reynolds’ First and Eleventh Corps: “Meade’s directive that the First Corps, followed by the Eleventh Corps, ‘advance on Gettysburg’ was not an order directing Reynolds to occupy the town or hold a position near there; rather, Meade intended for the presence of the First Corps along the turnpike axis to cause the enemy to coalesce and show its intentions” (p. 99).

Kent Masterson Brown in Meade at Gettysburg demonstrates the power of understanding not what we know today, but what the historical participants understood when describing Reynold’s mission as assigned by Meade on 30 June:

To force the enemy to concentrate and deploy so as to reveal its intentions was what Meade ordered Reynolds and his First Corps—followed by the Eleventh Corps—to do; it is identified as one of the most dangerous tasks in mid-nineteenth century warfare. Th strategy requires using an “Advance Guard,” according to Dennis Hart Mahan, professor of military and civil engineering and the science of war at West Point. Mahan published a book on the use of an advance guard in 1847, entitled An Elementary Treatise on Advance-Guard, Out-Post and Detachment Service of Troops and the Manner of Posting and Handling Them in the Presence of an Enemy. Mahan taught military science to Generals Meade, Reynolds, Slocum, Sedgwick, Hancock, Howard, and many others in the Army of the Potomac when they were West Point cadets. General Reynolds and Mahan had in fact taught strategy and tactics together at West Point just before the war. Likewise, many of Lee’s lieutenants studie under Mahan at Wet Point, and Lee was superintendent of West Point during Mahan’s tenure. Much of what Mahan taught was incorporated in the Revised Regulations of the Army of the United States of 1861.

“Force Him to Show His Hand”, p. 101-102

One of the key requirements of a leader is to understand the commander’s intent. As wargamers, we don’t always have a professional military education and, if we do, it more often than not the military science of today and not that of the past. In Meade at Gettysburg, author Kent Masterson Brown explains Meade’s intent as his fellow generals likely understood it. After reading the book, now I understand it too. This new understanding totally changes how I would play out a 1 July scenario in a Battle of Gettysburg wargame.

The Tactical General

The Army of the Potomac was about to enter the struggle of its life. What happened on 1 July was difficult enough. Now, the insubordination of a corps commander had placed not only his own Third Corps but the entire army at risk. No cavalry screened the army’s left flank. The troops would have to fight as they had never done before, and even that might not be enough, given the sheer magnitude of the attack the enemy was about to unleash on Meade’s left. Although Meade was the operational commander of the army, he was about to take tactical command of the fighting on 2 July.

“I Wish to God You Could, Sir”, p. 228

While Meade at Gettysburg focuses on the operational campaign, for 2 and 3 July it digs into the tactical level. That’s because Meade personally took command on the battlefield. This situation is most often what wargamers experience—direct tactical command of the pieces on the board. Here is your chance to “out-general” General Lee (or Rob, your longtime wargame partner). As a wargamer, this part of Meade at Gettysburg was what I could most easily relate to. It was also very disappointing. That’s because I suddenly felt “railroaded” by certain wargames.

Take for instance Mark Herman’s Gettysburg. The game starts on 1 July with Buford’s cavalry to the northwest of Gettysburg as they were historically. The Union First and Eleventh Corps enter on turn 1 from the south again like history. It is at this point the game diverges from history.

Mark Herman’s Gettysburg is played for up to six turns (three days) and victory is determined as follows:

The game usually ends at the conclusion of game turn 6. However, if at the end of any turn the Confederate player can trace a continuous road path from Entry Point A to any one or combination of Entry Points I, J, or K, uninterrupted by Union units or Zones of Control, not Influence, they win the game. If this condition does not occur by the conclusion of turn 6, then the player with the higher VP total wins. Each player receives 1 VP for each eliminated enemy unit. The Union player wins ties.

C3i Magazine – Battle of Gettysburg, 1863 – Rules of Play, p. 11

In other words, Mark Herman’s Gettysburg assumes that Meade wanted the battle to be fought at Gettysburg and not at Big Pipe Creek like he planned and Kent Masterson Brown explains in Meade at Gettysburg. Mark Herman’s entire game is predicated on the assumption that the player will be like Sickles and violate his commander’s intent and bring on a general engagement at Gettysburg. Sure, it makes for a nice wargame, but at this point is it even really historical, or just another counterfactual?

[Don’t take the above part wrong—Mark Herman’s Gettysburg is a very well designed wargame from the perspective of mechanics and does a great job for what is designed to do—”distilling history to it’s essence.”. It’s just that this game, like many other Gettysburg wargames, is designed to play the battle as it historically occurred—not as it was planned—and in the process makes several assumptions as to how the battle developed and the decisions of non-player commanders.]

In many ways, Meade at Gettysburg is a good primer for wargamers playing almost any Gettysburg game. Here you, the player, nominally are the commander at the head of the Army of the Potomac (like Meade). However, you often also assume the role of a corps or division commander, and depending on the game you might even devolve down to the brigade level. This “sliding command perspective” is part-and-parcel of wargames. Meade made it work; can you?

Let’s Play Operation!

Reading Meade at Gettysburg not only provided an interesting look at the campaign around the Battle of Gettysburg, but it also helped me understand more about my taste in wargames in general. Meade at Gettysburg reminded me that it is the operational level of war that is the most fascinating to me. Now, I certainly like tactical games and getting down to the nuts & bolts of battle. There is a certain joy at employing a weapon system in such a way to outfight your enemy, but to out-campaign an opponent is truly another level of achievement.

I understand that when a wargamer picks up a Battle of Gettysburg wargame they kinda expect to fight a battle at Gettysburg and not someplace else. Meade at Gettysburg shows readers—and wargamers—that fate is fickle and what one calls history is sometimes accidental and far from what the participants intended.

But what if….

What if you could do as good as Meade did? Wargames let us be like General Henry Jackson Hunt, Meade’s Chief of Artillery, who was not a fan of Meade after the Battle of Gettysburg. Yet, in 1888, he saw the battle in a new light:

Meade was suddenly placed in command. From that moment on all his acts and intentions, as I can judge of them, were just what they ought to have been, except perhaps in his order to attack at Falling Waters on the morning of the 13th, and especially on the 14th of July, when his Corps Commanders reported against it, and I was then in favor of the attack, so I can’t blame him. He was right in his orders as to Pipe Creek, right in his determination under certain circumstances to fall back to it; right in pushing up to Gettysburg after the battle commenced; right in remaining there; right in making his battle a purely defensive one; right, therefore in taking the line he did; right in not attempting a counter attack at any stage of the battle; right as to his pursuit of Lee. Rarely has more skill, vigor, or wisdom been shown under such circumstances as he was placed in, and it would, I think, belittle his grand record of that campaign by a formal defense against his detractors, who will surely go under as will this show story.

“Epilogue”, p. 375

As a wargamer, how good can you do?

#Wargame Wednesday – History to Wargame – Plan Orange (@RBMStudio1, 2015)

An aperiodic look at books and wargames that go together. The wargames and books presented here are both drawn from my personal collection and do not necessarily reflect the best of either category…but if I’m showing them to you I feel they are worth your time to consider!

Plan Orange

The Great Pacific War

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Photo by RockyMountainNavy

Plan Orange was the U.S. Navy’s contingency plan in the event of war with Japan. First developed following the First World War, when Japan was identified as the most likely naval opponent in a future war, the plan assumed that Japan would quickly seize control of most of the Philippines. The U.S. Navy would then launch a counteroffensive across the Mandates in the central Pacific with the goal of relieving Manila and blockading Japan. The plan was continually updated to reflect shifting alliances, improvements in naval technology, and the relative strengths of the fleets. (The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia)

Bibliography

Bywater, Hector C., The Great Pacific War: A History of the Japanese-American Campaign of 1931-1933, Bedford: Applewood Books, original copyright 1925.

Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War 1932-1935, designed by Mark Herman, published by C3i Magazine Nr. 29, 2015.

Miller, Edward S., War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991.


Feature image: “Two Vought O2U Corsairs of Marine Corps Scouting Squadron 14 (VS-14M) fly past USS Saratoga (CV-3) while preparing to land on board, circa 1930.” Courtesy navy.mil.

The Influence #Wargame – @markherman54 Waterloo Campaign 1815 (@RBMStudio1, 2020)

THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO, ALONG WITH THE BULGE AND GETTYSBURG, are probably the most published wargame topics out there. So it was a surprise to me to discover that long-time designer Mark Herman had not designed a Battle of Waterloo wargame.

Before now.

Found in C3i Magazine Nr 33, Mark Herman’s Waterloo Campaign 1815 is the latest entry in the C3i Series games. The first, Gettysburg (C3iMagazine Nr 32, 2018), is a small footprint, rules-lite product that delivers tremendously challenging choices while being suitable for play by both new and experienced players alike. Waterloo Campaign 1815 is a (small) step up in complexity from Gettysburg but still fulfills its mission of “history distilled to it’s essence” (to steal a phrase from Mark Herman himself). It is also a wargame that aims to, literally, influence your play.

Small Game with Big Graphical Art

Waterloo Campaign 1815 is played on a single 22″x34″ map with less than 50 counters. Yes, a single map, very low counter density Battle of Waterloo game exists! The map is beautiful and simple to parse. Corps counters are larger and easy for even this glasses-wearing Grognard to read while the smaller 1/2″ Detachments are easy to distinguish because of their smaller size. The rule book, though 24 pages long, is actually only six pages of rules, two pages for scenarios, 12 pages of Example of Play, two pages of Designer’s Notes and front/back covers.

Mark Herman’s Zone of Influence & Detachments

The heart of Waterloo Campaign 1815 is really a single game mechanic – the Zone of Influence (ZoI). As explained in Key Concepts and Definitions:

Zone of Influence (ZoI): All hexes within two hexes of a Corps constitute the unit’s Zone of Influence. ZoIs restrict enemy movement and both friendly and enemy Detachment placement. A Zone of Influence cannot be blocked, it extends through and beyond enemy units. There is no additional effect for a hex having more than one ZoI projected into it.

IMG_0926Long time Grognards need to pay attention and don’t get confused; a Zone of Influence is NOT the same as a Zone of Control (ZoC):

Zone of Control (ZoC): The six hexes adjacent to a unit are its Zone of Control. Corps units and Detachments have a ZoC. ZoCs can halt or limit enemy movement. There is no additional effect for a hex having more than one ZoC projected into it.

Before we come back to that ZoI, Waterloo Campaign 1815 has another difference from Gettysburg that is important – Detachments:

Detachments: Most Corps in Waterloo Campaign have one or more associated Detachment units that can be placed during Step D of the Command Phase (Detachment Placement). Regardless of whether a Detachment shows an infantry or a cavalry symbol. they behave identically in play. Detachments have a ZoC, and are useful for screening, holding flanks, or as the rearguard when on the strategic retreat. The Grand Battery and Old Guard Detachments have special rules.

The interaction of the classic ZoC and Herman’s Zone of Influence, along with Detachments, makes maneuver and combat in Waterloo Campaign 1815 most interesting. The interactions of these rules in turns allows for few units to be placed on the map. To truly understand the brilliance of these interactions requires looking into the Sequence of Play a bit deeper.

Command Phase / D. Detachment Placement Step

To defend your flanks or screen movement, one can place Detachments on the map. First, they must be placed within four hexes of the parent unit OR, within the Command Range of a Headquarters (HQ). Most importantly, the path from the parent unit or HQ to the Detachment must be free of ANY ZoC AND ZoI. A design note states this is to avoid having Detachments used as skirmishers and forces you to use them as intended.

Command Phase / E. Detachment Recall

Once Detachments are placed, a player can Recall any (or all) of their Detachments on the map. Even ones in an enemy ZoC. The Detachments cannot be placed again until the next turn.

Between placement and recall, Detachments become their own game of flanking and screening; and that’s even before the first unit has moved!

Movement Phase

When a Corps enters a hex within an enemy ZoI it must stop. If any unit enters the ZoC of a unit (even a Detachment) the unit ‘flips’ from it’s Advance Formation (better movement) to Battle Formation (less movement) side. Note that even the ZoC of those pesky little Detachments causes a formation change! One needs pay attention to where they are on the map or risk finding their multi-Corps flanking march stopped cold by a lowly Detachment!

The Influence of ZoI

Playing Waterloo Campaign 1815 it becomes immediately apparent that this is a game of maneuver and the decisions made in the Movement Phase are often more important than even the battles in the Attack Phase. When maneuvering your units one ends up paying very close attention to the ZoI and ZoC out there because you don’t want to enter either one unless you absolutely have to – or are forced to by a crafty enemy using their Detachments to funnel you to where THEY want the confrontation. Such is the influence of Zones of Influence; they make a unit watch their flanks and use Detachments to ‘influence’ enemy and friendly movement alike.


Feature image courtesy C3i Magazine (RBM Studio)

 

Slicing up the Mahanian Orange #Wargame – Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War, 1932-1935 (@RBMStudio1 Nr. 29, 2016)

MARK HERMAN’S PLAN ORANGE: PACIFIC WAR, 1932-1935 (C3i Magazine Nr. 29, 2016) is a challenging game. The challenge is not in the game design; mechanically the game is not that complex as it is another implementation of Mr. Herman’s (@markherman54) wonderful Card Driven Game (CDG) series. Nor is the challenge that it is a monster game; though derived from Empire of the Sun (GMT Games, 2005, 2015) it covers nearly the same area of conflict but in a much narrower focus. It’s that narrower focus that is the challenge, because if one goes into Plan Orange expecting to play Empire of the Sun you will get a rude awakening. This is because Mr. Herman has focused the game design of Plan Orange around Alfred Thayer Mahan.

Mr. Herman tells us what he is doing in the Player’s Notes to Plan Orange:

This is still the era of the battleship. Jutland was the battle of record and deeply studied in this period. So, while planes had firmly gained a role as long range reconnaissance and raiding elements in naval warfare, the arbiter of decision was still large caliber rifled guns carried by the battleships. What you will notice is the smaller zones of influence (ZOI) and combat power of the land based air reduces them to a supporting role in the war. This one factor makes Plan Orange a very different experience than Empire of the Sun.

9781591140375.jpgDoubling down on this difference, the victory conditions in Plan Orange emphasize the vision of the times that a naval conflict between the United States and Japan would be decided by a giant clash at sea. This really was the thinking of the day, especially for the Japanese as Sadao Asada explains in his book From Mahan to Pearl Harbor: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States (Annapolis, Naval Institute Press, 2006). When talking about the course of study at the Japanese Naval Staff College in the 1930’s, Mr. Asada points out:

Student officers were schooled in the tradition of Mahan. Taking a leaf from Mahan’s Influence, their manual, the Kaisen yomurei, (Naval Battle Instructions) held that “war once declared  must be waged offensively, aggressively.” Day in and day out they conducted war games against the American fleet that culminated in a decisive Mahanian engagement in the manner of Tsushima. In commencement exercises officers conducted war games in front of the emperor, simulating a magnificent main-fleet battle based on the principle of “big battleships and big guns.” Mesmerized by Mahan’s strategic doctrines, officers developed an obsession with the decisive fleet battle that would annihilate the enemy armada at one stroke. Their bible was the aforementioned Naval Battle Instructions, initially developed by Lieutenant Commander Akiyama Saneyuki at the Naval Staff College and sanctioned in 1910. Reflecting Mahan’s doctrine, it stated, “The battleship squadron is the main fleet, whose aim is to attack the enemy’s main fleet.” “The key to successful naval operations is initiative and concentration.” This manual, though revised five times, essentially remained intact until the mid-1930s. (Asado, p. 163)

In Plan Orange there are five ways to win, two of which are directly influenced by Mahan (but don’t be fooled, the others are too):

  1. Capital Ship Ratio: If at the end of Turn 4 (Jan-Apr 1933) or later, the US has 2 times or more battleship steps on the map than the Japanese have on the map, the US wins an Automatic Victory.
  2. Capital Ship Ratio: If at the end of Turn 4 or later, the Japanese have 1.5 times or more battleship steps on the map than the US, the Japanese win an Automatic Victory.
  3. Surrender: If Japan surrenders due to conquest of Honshu or blockade of the Home Islands the US player wins.
  4. Control the Philippines: If at the end of Turn 6 if either side controls all three Philippine surrender hexes, that player wins.
  5. Outlast the Americans: If at the end of Turn 6 no player has met any of the above conditions, the Japanese player wins.

I played Plan Orange twice this weekend. As I’m playing solo (and CDGs are not the best for solo play) I generally chose a ‘strategy’ for each side at the beginning and try to stick to it. For the Japanese I tried to follow Mr. Herman’s ‘Fabian strategy’ he mentions in the Player’s Notes where the Japanese conquers the Philippines, close out the US western bases, and set up defenses to delay the US advance. The Japanese need to hold onto the Philippines and take any opportunity they can to knock out the US Fleet Train when possible.

In the first game, for the US I tried to implement a quick ‘drive for home’ strategy focusing on hanging onto Midway and Wake, then trying to “strike for Japan’ via Marcus Island and Iwo Jima in order to impose a blockade. This didn’t work from the beginning in great part because I concentrated on bringing the US carriers in first. As a result, I had fewer battleships available and the Japanese hand was full of Zengen Sakusen (Attrition Strategy) cards which ended up taking away precious steps of battleships. This forced the US into a catch-up game and some degree of hesitancy as they were unwilling to risk the decisive battle without a clear battleship advantage. Although the US avoided a Japanese Automatic Victory they also failed to threaten the Philippines and never blockaded Japan. Clear Japanese victory.

IMG_0792

I reset the game for another go. Keeping the same general Japanese strategy, this time I dedicated the Americans to a true central thrust through the Marianas to get to the Philippines. Battleships and troops were given priority. This strategy almost worked, and probably would have if not for a heroic stand by the Japanese Army at Manila/Corregidor. As luck would have it, the Japanese hand for Turn 6 included Samurai Spirit which is the only card that gives the Japanese any sort of real bonus in ground combat. It was enough to disrupt the final push on Manila. The Japanese won, but just barely.

I absolutely love the strategic tension the victory conditions create in Plan Orange. The American player must attack and try to retake the Philippines. If they don’t the Japanese win by default. The Japanese in turn will have to defend, but usually have to decide where and when is the right place to make a stand because in a war of attrition they cannot afford to lose too much. By the same token the Americans must attack but cannot be reckless lest they hand the victory to the Japanese. Although both sides want to preserve their fleet, they must risk their fleet for a win. All this in a relatively short two years, or six game turns.

Awesome game.


Feature image courtesy C3i Ops Magazine

 

#Wargaming, it’s in the Cards – Challenging commentary on @gmtgames Washington’s War, For the People, and Paths of Glory

I AM STILL (HAPPILY) WORKING MY WAY THROUGH MY 2019 GAMING CHALLENGES. These past few weeks I was fortunate to arrive at a time in my challenge where I got to play three Card-Driven Game (CDG)* designs:

  • For the People (GMT Games, 1998) won the 1998 Charles S Roberts Award for Best Pre-World War II Boardgame
  • Paths of Glory (GMT Games, 1999) won the 1999 Charles S Roberts Award for Best Pre-World War II Boardgame
  • Washington’s War (GMT Games, 2010) won both the 2010 Charles S Roberts Award for Best Ancient to Napoleonic Era Wargame and the 2010 Golden Geek Award for Best 2-Player Game / Best Wargame.

In playing these three games, I gained a new appreciation for the range of complexity the Card-Driven Game mechanic can support and how each creates a insightful historical experience.

Complexity

I ended up playing these three games in order of the wars; the American Revolution in Washington’s War followed by the American Civil War in For the People and lastly World War I in Paths of Glory. Not only was playing in this order the same as the historical timeline, the sequence also reflects the increasing complexity of the games.

My copy of Washington’s War (2nd Preprint, 2015) is the “latest published” of the three games I played but is the simplest in terms of rules. Based on Mark Herman’s We the People (Avalon Hill, 1993), Washington’s War features a single deck of Strategy Cards supporting a very streamlined selection of actions. Having not played a CDG in a while this was a good reintroduction to the CDG meachanic as the game focuses on the basics with little frills. Using the BGG complexity or “weight” scale, I put Washington’s War as a Medium Light 2.0 given the simple, rather direct rules.

My copy of For the People is the GMT Games 2nd Edition from 2006. There was a Third Edition in 2015 and I am not sure what changed. Doesn’t really matter; I enjoy my version of the game. In terms of complexity, For the People is similar to Washington’s War in the use of a single Strategy Card deck. Beyond that, For the People is more complex with the designation of Divisions, Corps, and Armies. Victory is determined not so much by area control (ala Washington’s War) but through Strategic Will (more on that later). The added rules make For the People more complex than Washington’s War, but the new rules overhead is not onerous. In terms of complexity I rate For the People a Medium 3.0 on BGG but in reality it plays more like a 2.5.

Paths of Glory, originally published in 1999, is the game that has undergone the most development since its first publication. I have a 1999 first edition, far removed from the English Deluxe Edition, Sixth Printing (2018) that is now available. I have not kept up on this game although I see lots of support available on the GMT Games website. I played the game using the Rules as Written out of the box; maybe not an optimal playing but it’s what I had on hand. Paths of Glory is the most complex of the three games played, most readily demonstrated by the use of two Strategy Card decks (separate for Allied and Central Powers). The cards themselves are also more complex, going beyond the usual Event or Operations Card values and introducing a Strategic Redeployment value and Replacement Points. However, like Washington’s War and For the People, another more subtle mechanic outside of combat is the true heart of the game. In Paths of Glory (PoG) that mechanic is War Status (also more later). Of the three CDG games I played, Paths of Glory is probably the most complex. On BGG I see that over 45% of the people voting rate Paths of Glory at Medium Heavy 4.0. I think that’s overdoing it and a solid Medium 3.0 is more appropriate.**

The progressive complexity level of the games made learning (relearning?) how to play each a simple exercise. I have tried to jump straight into Paths of Glory before and struggled. This time I built a foundation before I started and it worked much better. I guess this means that one needs several games in their collection to build up to the big one, right?

Evocative History

Although nominally a wargame, each of these games goes far beyond depicting their given conflict by looking beyond the battles. Indeed, each of these games is equal parts, if not more, a political game than a combat game.

Looking at Washington’s War, the major pieces scream wargame and combat. The Generals are standee’s and there are many chits for depicting the number of Combat Unit (CU) strength points on the board. In reality, the most important chit in the game is the Political Control (PC). Victory in Washington’s War is determined by colonies controlled, and colony control depends not on your army but on the amount of PC spaces controlled. Generals with armies can “flip” a PC, but it is the use of Operations Cards to “place” PC that is actually the most powerful action in the game. This is highly evocative of the history; armies could certainly protect areas of political control and even changed it at times but it was the political actions of rabble-rousing and the like, often in the background of the fighting, that determined control of the colony. Washington’s War captures this factor of history to a tee.

In For the People, the most important rule is not 7.0 Battle, but 12.0 Strategic Will. As designer Mark Herman notes in the introduction to 12.0:

The Strategic Will model in this game should drive a player’s actions….It is the absolute and relative value of each side’s Strategic Will that determines the current state of the war.

12.0 Strategic Will, Design Note

Rule 12.0 gives the player’s of For the People (FtP) ten different ways that affect Strategic Will. Understanding all these conditions is important because if one plays FtP and just focuses on combat, they are bound to lose the game.

Of all three games, Paths of Glory (PoG) is the most wargame-like. That said, like For the People the most important game mechanic is not Combat, but War Status. As designer Ted Raicer’s Design Notes point out:

War Status in PoG has several elements. First, it represents the progression of each alliance towards a state of modern industrialized Total War….Second, through the rules for Combined War Status, it shows the various effects of such a prolonged and costly struggle on national morale, politics, and diplomacy….Finally, through the Armistice mechanism, the effect of war weariness outside of Russia is introduced.

Design Notes, War Status

Like Strategic Will in For the People, in Paths of Glory careful management of one’s War Status and not simply winning a combat is the true key element essential for victory.

a Waro Awareness

One of the new gaming terms I discovered in the last few years is “waro.” A combination of “wargame” and “Eurogame,” the term attempts to define a new sub-domain of tabletop gaming that mixes conflict simulation with Eurogame mechanics. The poster child games for this genre is the GMT COIN-series. However, after playing these games, I would argue that the Card-Driven Game mechanic, as exemplified by Washington’s War, For the People, and Paths of Glory, are among the first waro games out there. This is not a new argument to the gaming community; long have gamers argued if any of these titles are even a wargame. Regardless of how you think about the issue, for me just playing these games has grown my understanding of what a waro can be.

putting my cards on the table

In some ways I had put CDG designs on the back shelf. I usually play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys so we need three-player games. These games are solidly two-player. CDG designs also tend not to be solo-friendly given the hidden information factor of the cards. There are some attempts to work around this but I have not delved deep into them. However, my recent plays have shown me that these games deserve to be brought down off the shelf, even if played in a sub-optimal solo manner. There is still much to be learned about the history of the times represented and these are amongst the best models to do so.


*Per BGG, a CDG is a game where, “Cards or campaign text depict events, and the challenge is in making decisions and plan their usage to win.”

**I am well aware that my complexity ratings on BGG tend to track lower than the average. I beleive this is because wargames tend to be overrated in complexity by the Eurogamers who dominate BGG.

#FourthofJuly2019 – #Wargaming the American Revolution with @HBuchanan2, @markherman54, & @tomandmary with @gmtgames, @hollandspiele, & @Decisiongames

ONE DISADVANTAGE OF ALWAYS GETTING UP EARLY is that my body doesn’t understand holidays. So my Fourth of July 2019 started at O’Dark Early. Not that it is a bad thing; it means I got a jumpstart on my Fourth of July wargaming.

First was to finish my Campaigns of 1777 (Strategy & Tactics/Decision Games, 2019). I had started the game the night before against my usual opponent, “Mr. Solo,” and now I finished it up. The British used a “Howe goes North” strategy which worked at first. That is, until the British realized they needed to get Philadelphia and time was running out. The British eventually took Philadelphia but Washington with lots of militia support retook Albany and Fort Montgomery. The British tried to used their seapower to reposition their troops but that was when the High Winds played havoc with the Royal Navy, delaying the transfer of troops. PATRIOT VICTORY.

Second game of the day was Washington’s War (GMT Games, 2010). This was a really fast game that ended in 1779. The Declaration of Independence was never played but Washington and Greene proved too slippery for the British ever to catch. The Americans adopted a Southern Strategy which forced the British to move lots down south. The Americans then placed lots of Political Control in the Northern Colonies. With the early end of the war the Americans were ahead 10 colonies to four. AMERICAN VICTORY.

Trying to get another game in before the guests arrived, Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 (Hollandspiele, 2017) hit the table. I should of known better than to rush the game as I ended up making several fatal mistakes for the Patriot’s and had to call on rule 13.4 Concession in 1778. CROWN VICTORY.

With the gaming done it was onto the BBQ and fireworks. The RockyMountainNavy Boys want to get 1775: Rebellion (Academy Games, 2013) to the table for the regular Weekly Family Game Night. We shall see if I can get any other “revolutionary” games in this weekend….

#Wargame Wednesday – Strategist wargaming using Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War 1932-1935 (C3i Magazine, 2016) @markherman54 @RBMStudio1

A few posts back I took to task The Great War at Sea Volume III: U.S. Navy Plan Orange (Avalanche Press, 1998) as being too much of a tactical battle generator and not enough of a design to explore the strategic nuances behind Plan Orange. After playing that game and its sister Volume IV: The Russo-Japanese War (Avalanche Press, 1999) where I discussed Bruce Geryk’s notions of strategists versus recreationists, I looked around for another game in my collection that could satisfy my needs. I ended up pulling Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War, 1932-1935 (C3iOps Magazine, 2016).

I am fortunate that I have already played this game a few times so I am past the point of being forced to concentrate on the how to play and instead can focus on the strategy of play. Although Plan Orange is based on Mark Herman’s previous work Empire of the Sun (GMT Games, 2005), I don’t own that game so I don’t play Plan Orange with a World War II bias or conditioning from that game. Thus, I feel empowered to explore the strategy of this war, liberated from trying to impose the next war on the game design.

3fcollid3dbooks_covers_026isbn3d978026203399226type3dThat said, to a large degree I was also motivated to play Plan Orange based on Mark Herman’s essay “Empire of the Sun: The Next Evolution of the Card-Driven Game Engine” found in Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming (ed. Pat Harrigan & Matthew G. Kirschebaum, MIT Press, 2016). When talking about the players role in EotS, Mark writes:

I wanted the players to be the important theater commanders in the Pacific. Specifically, I wanted the players to represent Nimitz, MacArthur, Yamamoto, Mountbatten, and their supporting staffs. I specifically did not want the players to control the decisions made in Washington, London, or Tokyo, but to respond to guidance and the resources allocated to the Pacific Theater. I also wanted to divorce this design from the choreography of a carrier battle by avoiding tactical detail, as that was not the decision space of a theater commander. I wanted to laser focus on running the military campaigns, not the battles. (ZoC, p. 135)

Mark Herman’s Plan Orange comes with only two scenarios. The core scenario, 15.1 Shanghai Incident January 28, 1932, kicks off with the Japanese holding the initiative and two Surprise Offensive cards, Philippine Offensive and Guam Offensive in hand. The entire game is only six turns (2 years) long. There are only a few ways to win:

  1. Capital Ship Ratio: If at the end of turn 4 the US holds a 2:1 ratio in battleships over Japan or Japan holds a 1.5:1 ratio over the US, that player wins.
  2. Japan surrenders due to conquest or blockade of their home islands.
  3. It is impossible to return an involuntarily repositioned HQ to the map.
  4. If none of the above are achieved, then victory goes to the player who controls all three Philippines surrender hexes.
  5. If the US player has not won by the end of turn 6, the Japanese player wins.

These few victory conditions very faithfully represent the thinking of the day; either achieve the Mahanian doctrine of naval superiority or control the Western Pacific through the Philippines.

All together, Mark Herman’s Plan Orange is well suited for a strategist game. For the Japanese player, the challenge is to drive out the US then hold off the inevitable counteroffensive. For the US, the decision is where to make the advance; Go North, Central Drive, Blockade, and Dash Across are all legitimate options. The question is, which one can you pull off?


Feature image: Back Cover, C3i Magazine Nr. 29 (BoardGameGeek.com); Zones of Control cover image courtesy MIT Press.

 

#boardgames versus #seriousgames – or – Hey, @StrongholdGames, #Aftershock is not just a name

Update 08 Feb: Rex & @StrongholdGames have reached an agreement.


This post is a call to action to Stronghold Games to right a wrong, and it all has to do with a name.

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Courtesy Stronghold Games

As I write this post, Stronghold Games is running a Kickstarter campaign for a game from Alan R. Moon  & Bobby West named Aftershock – Deluxe Edition. In the game…

The world has been hit with mega earthquakes. The worst destruction has devastated the San Francisco Bay area. It is a time of rebuilding to restore this area to its former glory.

In Aftershock, players will spend money to acquire planning cards, which are used to increase population, build bridges, and determine where aftershocks occur. Spend money wisely to acquire aftershocks that will allow you to move people into and out of the demolished areas. Planning and careful negotiation are essential in order to maintain your population and score your best-planned cities and bridges.

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Courtesy PAXSIMS

The problem is a game named “Aftershock” previously existed on the market. AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game, is the brainchild of @RexBrynen of PAXSIMS. Most boardgamers and wargamers have probably not heard of PAXSIMS or Rex or AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game because Rex and PAXSIMS are part of the “serious games” portion of our hobby. That is, the niche of our hobby that uses games for education or analysis.

Since 2015, Rex has been selling AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game which…

…explores the interagency cooperation needed to address a complex humanitarian crisis. Although designed for four players, it can be played with fewer (even solitaire) or more (with players grouped into four teams).

The game is set in the fictional country of “Carana,” but is loosely modeled on disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. At the start of the game a powerful earthquake has just struck Carana’s capital city of Galasi, causing widespread destruction of homes and infrastructure. Tens of thousands of people are in need of urgent aid and medical attention. At the request of the Government of Carana, military forces from several friendly countries—operating as the multinational Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Task Force, or HADR-TF—are en route to assist, as are additional contingents of UN and NGO personnel, together with much-needed relief supplies.

Time is of the essence! How many can you save?

AFTERSHOCK is a tense, fast-paced, and immersive game that players will find both unique and informative. Based on real-world events and challenges, it is also used in the professional training and education of aid workers, military personnel, and others involved in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

AFTERSHOCK has been used to teach students at the Pennsylvania State University and medical students in Germany. AFTERSHOCK is an example of a serious game; that is, a game that can be used for analysis or education.

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AFTERSHOCK game in progress at 9th Mission Support Command, US Army Reserve (courtesy BGG.com)

Using wargames as a “serious game” is nothing new. One famous example goes back to the first Gulf War when, in the immediate hours after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Pentagon put Mark Herman under contract to run Gulf Strike (Victory Games, 1983) and play out the US response. Whether you realize it or not, some game companies like Academy Games support military education and training. In this case, Academy’s new Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon game uses game mechanics adapted from a US Marine Corps “Fallujah game.” GMT Games are used by the Marine Corps War College.

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Marine Corps War College Next War Event – April 8-9, 2019
For the second year in a row, The Marine Corps War College is going to be using GMT Games as the basis for a spring event. This April 8-9, they are going to run a two day global wargame using the Next War Series.  Mitchell Land is going to be on-hand to help run the exercise, which involves three simultaneous fights in Taiwan, North Korea, and Poland. Here’s a pic of one of the Marine War College’s teaching games using Mark Herman’s Pericles (courtesy GMT Games)
Think tanks use gaming, like this CNA Talks podcast from CNA.org explains. Serious games cross over into the video gaming world; there is a pro version of CMANO for government organizations to use. Elsewhere, another form of serious games called megagames – massively multiplayer boardgames games – are used for student orientation at the University of Chicago or to entertain (and teach) about disasters.

So why does all this matter?

I absolutely believe in the value of serious games and strongly support what Rex is using AFTERSHOCK for. Rex does not sell this game for his own profit; all profits from the sale of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game are donated to the World Food Programme and other United Nations humanitarian agencies.

Stronghold Games apparently did not exercise even the most simple “due diligence” before Kickstarting their Aftershock. A simple query of BoardGameGeek would of immediately returned AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis. Maybe they were relying on Alan R. Moon (of Ticket to Ride-fame) and Bobby West to do that part for them, but even if so that is no excuse.

So what can Stronghold do? I am concerned that Stronghold is not taking this situation seriously. (no pun intended). In the comments on a recent PAXSIMS post, Rex related that, “We’ve reached out to them to express our concern (especially since ours raises funds for actual humanitarian relief) but so far the response has merely been “sometimes different games have similar names.”

That’s inexcusable. This is not Gettysburg or Panzer Something.

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Courtesy @ellalovesbg

Now, I like Stronghold Games. Terraforming Mars is an “evergreen” title for #boardgamenight in the RockyMountainNavy house. AuZtralia was my boardgame of the year for 2018. I religiously listen to their Board Games Insider podcast every week. I understand Stronghold Games needs to make a buck but Stephen Buonocore, you’re better than this.

One suggestion made on the BGG forums is for Stronghold to find some way to acknowledge the PAXSIMS predecessor. This approach was graciously endorsed by Rex. I also believe this is a respectable way ahead. It is approach that shows support to both hobby gaming and serious gaming.

Stronghold Games, you are a gaming industry leader. Show us that you truly deserve to be.


UPDATE LATE 3 Feb

Now blocked on Twitter by @StrongholdGames.

Feature image courtesy PAXSIMS.

“History Distilled to Its Essence” – #FirstImpression of @markherman54’s Gettysburg (@RBMStudio1, 2018) in C3i Magazine Issue Nr 32 (with a s/o to @tomandmary too)

I was quite taken with the thing. I think it plays to the strengths of the small game format while avoiding the pitfalls, and I highly recommend it. (Tom Russell, Hollandazed Blog for 21 Dec 2018)

I have to agree with Tom Russell (@tomandmary from Hollandspiele Games). Gettysburg, the first in what looks to be a new series of simple wargames published by RBM Studio in their flagship C3i Magazine is a small footprint, rules-lite product that delivers tremendously challenging choices. It might be a small looking game, but it is large on making decisions interesting.

At first glance, Gettysburg seems to have little to offer. You play on a single 11″x17″ map with only 26(!) counters. Rules are in a large-font 12-page Rule Book. [Take out the cover, Player Aid on the back cover, and three pages of graphics and one is left with seven (7!) pages of actual rules.] There are only six turns, each representing a half-day. However, after playing Gettysburg one quickly discovers that designer Mark Herman (@markherman54) was not exaggerating when he subtitled the Rule Book as Gettysburg: History Distilled to Its Essence.

Mr. Herman accomplishes this design feat by focusing on few tried-and-true wargame mechanisms while adding several innovative(?) wrinkles. The first wargame trope Mr. Herman relies upon is the Zone of Control (ZoC). In Gettysburg, every unit exerts a ZoC into the six hexes around it. Like most wargames, when a unit enters an enemy ZoC it must stop and cannot move any further during the Movement Phase. To any traditional wargamer this is old hat; dare I say “boring?”

The interesting wrinkle introduced is the concept of Zone of Influence (ZoI). A ZoI is all hexes within two of the unit. Now, I am sure ZoI has been used in other games but in Gettysburg the effect of ZoI makes me take notice. Units starting the Movement Phase outside of an enemy ZoC or ZoI are turned to their speedier March Formation side. Units can move at their March Formation speed until they enter an enemy ZoI – at which point they have to flip to their much slower Battle Formation side. Now movement is interesting; there is no dashing right up to the enemy!

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Game in progress

At the same time he uses ZoC and ZoI, Mr. Herman mixes in another old school gaming trope, I go, you go (IGO UGO), but turns it on its head. As expected, players alternate taking actions in the Movement or Attack Phase until one player passes. But, instead of letting the second player continue until they finally want to pass, the non-passing player rolls a die and adds the number of friendly units outside of an enemy ZoC. The modified result is the number of remaining Move Actions that player has. Similarly, in the Attack Phase, once a player passes, an unmodified die roll is made with the result being the remaining number of attacks possible. The passing die roll reasonably reflects the problems of Command & Control in the days of the American Civil War. Sometimes commanders get what they want; other times the fickle hand of fate interferes.

In the Attack Phase, Gettysburg becomes a bit less traditional. First , there is no Combat Results Table (CRT) in the game. Instead, players make a series of competitive die rolls with the modified difference creating the combat result. Modifiers to combat are few and easy to remember; Artillery Support is a +2, Defensible Terrain is +2, any stars on the unit counter are a positive modifier, and if attacking with more than two units in the defender’s ZoC there is another +2. After rolling dice and applying modifies, the difference can range from Stalemate to Retreat to Blown (off the map to possibly return two turns later) to Eliminated. Although the combat resolution is not traditional, the simple rules capture the essence (where have I seen that word?) of combat results in the American Civil War.

The interaction of the basic ZoC, the extended ZoI, and a “traditional” IGO UGO turn sequence with an different “passing” mechanism combines with easy no-CRT combat resolution mean the “simple” rules of Gettysburg create huge decision space. As Tom Russell relates in his blog post:

The moment one of the players passes is a hinge point upon which the tempo of the phase turns. Suddenly the order in which I move my dudes matters. Because the Union position is largely defensive, I find that they’re more likely to pass first, which creates a situation in which the hitherto orderly Confederates are suddenly forced to improvise. What I had intended to be coordinated assaults all up and down the line become hodge-podge little affairs.

Gettysburg the battle was a huge affair. As Bruce Catton wrote in the Encounter at Gettysburg chapter of his book Never Call Retreat (Phoenix Press, 1965),

The commanding generals never meant to fight at Gettysburg. The armies met there by accident, led together by the turns of the roads they followed. When they touched, they began to fight, because the tension was so high the first contact snapped it, and once begun the fight was uncontrollable. What the generals intended ceased to matter; each man had to cope with what he got, which was the most momentous battle of the war. (p. 178-179).

Gettysburg the game delivers what it promises; a simple wargame that captures the essence of the battle – those hodge-podge little affairs that the generals never wanted but which you the player need to cope with. In Gettysburg Mr. Herman has distilled the battle to its essentials, and the resulting game is a master-class example of making a small, streamlined title that delivers an outsized, replayable experience.

It’s a C3i Christmas thanks to @RBMStudio1, @hollandspiele, & @markherman54

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Oh my goodness! Will you take a look at that?

That’s the contents of issue Nr 32 of C3i Magazine. So much wargaming goodness contained within! Even harder to believe that all this cost me less than $40.

At the upper right are two new scenarios for Table Battles (Hollandspiele, 2017). Designer Tom Russell serves up The Battle of Gaines Mill (27 June 1862) and The Battle of the Bouvines (27 July 1214). Tom and Rodger MacGowan also thoughtfully included a two-sided rules card. Although I have Table Battles, it is a good thing I reviewed this abbreviated rules set as I discovered I was playing the Target rule incorrectly.

At upper left are three inserts for Pendragon (GMT Games, 2017), Pericles (GMT Games, 2017), and Holland ’44 (GMT Games, 2017). I don’t have any of these games but after looking at these inserts I am intrigued….

The countersheet in the middle includes not only the two games featured in this issue, but counters for several more games. Again, color me interested….

At the bottom left is the first of  the two feature games. Frederic Bey’s Battle of Issy 1815, is a Jours de Gloire-series game. Napoleonics are not my usual thing but this looks to be great little game that likely makes a good intro to the series. Rodger! I see your evil plan!

At bottom right is Gettysburg, from designer @markherman54. This is the game I am most intrigued with and can’t wait to get it to the table! I am especially intrigued following thoughts by Hollandspiele’s Tom Russell on his blog  and Twitter video thoughts by Joel Toppen:

Let’s not forget there is also a magazine there too with plenty of interesting looking articles!

I doff my cap to Mr. MacGowan and his team at C3i Magazine for publishing an incredible issue and bringing many hours of great gaming to the RockyMountainNavy home for Christmas.

Let the Christmas gaming begin!