HERE IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA the DECLARATION OF A STATE OF EMERGENCY DUE TO NOVEL CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19)was issued on March 12, 2020. For me the real Coronapocalypse started on March 15, the day before I started my new job. The onboarding was surreal; rushed to get people out soonest, walking into a deserted office, then being told to go home and telework when I don’t even have an office account. Although the teleworking eventually worked out, I still found myself at home more than expected. Looking to fill my time, gaming has been a part of my therapy to avoid going stir-crazy.
In the first 30 days of my Coronapocalypse, I played 19 different games a total of 38 times. Looking at the list, I think many will be surprised to see Elena of Avalor: Flight of the Jaquins (Wonder Forge, 2017) as one of the top-played games. This of course is because we were helping our friends with taking care of their kids while they were working. Fortunately, it is not a bad game – for kids – and was an unexpected discovery (especially given that we purchased our copy for less than $5).
The game of the month was actually the last one I played. I pulled Patchwork (Mayfair Games, 2014) out to play with one of Mrs. RockyMountainNavy’s students. The box was still on the table later that night and I asked Mrs. RMN if she wanted to play. She said yes. You have to understand that Mrs. RMN is a strong advocate of gaming but she rarely plays herself. So we set up an played. She beat me handily (I actually had a negative score). I hope this is a harbinger of future gaming, especially with a title like Azul: Summer Pavilion.
How has your Coronapocalypse lock-down gaming gone?
Earlier this year I picked up Patchwork from Mayfair Games. I think this was after I listened to the Heavy Cardboard podcast As I write this post, the game is the #1 Abstract, the #2 Family Game, and the #44 overall on BoardGameGeek. For a game that is so popular, I am a bit late to the party. However, I have joined the party and the family is glad I have.
At first glance, Patchwork does not look like a game this old grognard or a house full of boys would like. I mean, it’s quilting for gosh sakes! Ah, hidden under that theme is a Tetris-like puzzler with resource management ( time and money) that makes for a quick and interesting game.
The RockyMountainNavy Boys and I played the game several times over the Memorial Day weekend. The youngest RMN Boy even went so far as to declare Patchwork his newest “most favorite” boardgame. Even Mrs. RMN was surprised by how much the boys took to the game. Not that I should be surprised; the RMN Boys have demonstrated an ability to look past theme and enjoy good gameplay like they have for Love Letter. [As as aside, the boys pulled out Love Letter at a multi-family dinner over the weekend. Fun was had by all.]
Patchwork has rightly earned itself a prominent spot on our family gaming shelf. The game demonstrates that if one is willing to look past theme there is often a good game to be played – and enjoyed – by many.
Hammer’s Slammers is a true hex-n-counter game using small counters, a thick modular mapboard, and a 2d6 Combat Results Table (CRT). There are four forces provided; Hammer’s Slammers (blue), another Mercenary Force (red), and two Conventional Armies (green and tan). Interestingly, there is no scale designated although units look to be platoon/battery organizations and each hex multiple (?) kilometers.
Hammer’s Slammers is taken straight from the first book. Hover Tanks, Combat Cars, Infantry on hover scooters, and Hover Self-Propelled Artillery. The “Red” Mercenary Force is the same plus optional Large/Small guns (for indirect or direct fire), Howitzers (indirect fire only), or a Self-Propelled Calliope (for Counter Paratrooper or Counter Artillery Fires). Slammers and Mercenary units generally pack more firepower, have better protection, and come with superior speed. Conventional Forces use Tracked Tanks, Armored Cars, Armored Personnel Carriers, Large/Small Guns, Howitzers, Tracked Self-Propelled Artillery, Wheeled Self-Propelled Calliopes, and towed Calliopes. This mix of units lets one recreate many of the battles found in the books where the technologically superior but numerically inferior Slammers fought against other mercenary or conventional units.
The main rulebook is 16 pages long, but the first nine are reprints of the “Interludes” found in the original Hammer’s Slammersbook. This leaves seven pages of two-column text and tables for the rules. Every turn each player sequentially resolves their action in the order of Rally (Moving Player) – Paradrop & Counter Paradrop Fire – Move (Moving Player) – Ranged Combat (All Players – Indirect Artillery & Counter Artillery Fire – Direct Fire) – Close Assaults (All Players). Once all players have gone the next turn begins.
Units that are Disrupted in Combat can Rally. For this each force has a Morale Number that must be rolled above on 2d6. Many scenarios have a variable Morale Number based on increasing losses – the more units lost the harder it becomes to rally a unit. A simple mechanic that doesn’t get in the way of play but adds a nice layer of realism.
I don’t remember any paradrop operations in the original stories so Paradrop & Counter Paradrop Fire seems a bit out of place to me. It does allow a nice way to enter units onto the map quickly.
Movement is again very traditional with each hex having a movement cost to enter. Hover and Conventional units have separate movement charts reflecting the different mobility of hover versus tracked/wheeled. There is not much difference but there is enough to be evocative of the setting.
Ranged Combat is where the differences between forces really stands out beginning with Indirect Fire & Counter Artillery Fire. Indirect Fire attacks the defense factor of the hex, not the units. This makes indirect fire very dangerous because the 8-defense factor Hover Tank in the Clear hex actually has a defense factor of 2 against artillery. To offset this vulnerability, Hover Tanks and Calliopes have the Counter Artillery Fire (CAF) capability which allows each unit to cancel a single artillery barrage in range. Of course, this comes at a cost; units firing CAF cannot fire in the Direct Fire phase.
Direct Fire is very simple; compare Attack Factor to Defense Factor, convert to odds, roll on CRT. Stacked units can combine fire and attack other stacks or individual units. Firing out to twice your range cuts the Attack Factor in half. Terrain Modifiers add to the Defense Factor. Combat results are No Effect, Disrupted (no indirect or direct fire, half movement), Defender Eliminated, or Defender Eliminated with Rubble (adds to movement and defense). There is an optional rule for Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) which allows Mercenary and Slammer Hover Tanks to “jam” conventional units which means the target cannot combine their attack nor spot for an indirect fire unit.
Close Assault takes place when units are in the same hex. All undisrupted units get a positive column shift and infantry fights with doubled Attack Factors. Units in Close Assault cannot leave the hex until all enemy units are eliminated.
There are other rules for Fortresses and Gas Attacks but generally that is it. You can play one of the 14 scenarios or Design Your Own using the point-buy system provided.
I played two scenarios. “Badger Hunt” is the introductory scenario that uses Conventional Forces only. I also played “Slammers” which is a three-way brawl with the Slammers squaring off against the Green Army (lots of long-range artillery and infantry with few mechanized) and the Tan Army (Mechanized and supported by a few Small Guns – no infantry). Each player has six turns to get as many points as possible (points are scored using the Design Your Own Scenario values). I used the Slammers with ECM to get as much high-tech effect as possible.
Hammer’s Slammersplays out much differently than I remember. I kinda remember the CPF and CAF rules and I don’t think I ever actually played with the ECM rules. I sorta remember the game as being very vanilla; simple and bland.
This time it was a much deeper experience. The low rules overhead meant the game could be played with minimal relearning. The differences in forces is just enough that there is no one-size-fits-all approach or best strategy. In the “Slammers” scenario, the Slammers start in the center and must determine how to deal with each force. I painfully learned that the Hover Tanks greatest asset is not its firepower but its CAF capability. The Hover Tanks ended up providing cover for the Combat Cars until they got close enough to dash in and deal with the guns. Of course, nipping at the flanks or blocking the direct route was that pesky tracked armor. This forced a decision; drop the CAF for Direct Fire or cover the force and let the lesser combat cars try to deal with the threat? For the Green or Tan Conventional Armies the key is combined arms and interlocking fields of fire. Artillery is in many ways still the King of the Battle.
As much as Mayfair’s Hammer’s Slammersgame captures the flavor the of books, it best replicates battlefield force-on-force situations. There is one scenario, “Hangman,” where a Mercenary force takes on Militia and Buses. It’s a one-sided bloodbath. The game has no real ability to present an asymmetric combat situation. I have to admit the best game I have in my collection for that is actually Tomorrow’s War: Science Fiction Wargaming Rules (Ambush Alley Games/Osprey Publishing 2011). This is a skirmish game played at a much more granular scale than Hammer’s Slammers. In many ways, Tomorrow’s Waris a direct competitor to my other HS game, The Hammer’s Slammers Handbook(Pireme Publishing Ltd, 2004) which is a set of miniatures skirmish rules published in the UK which still has its own website.
So when I look at the Mayfair Hammer’s Slammers game today I actually see a real gem. The game is a close to an introductory-level game in terms of rules, but the variable forces and modular map make for endless play variations. As simple as the rules are, the designer has actually captured a good deal of the flavor of combat in the Hammerverse. The game also has a very small footprint; the “Slammers” scenario map was playable in an area literally 18’x24″. A 3’x3′ table is more than sufficient for even the largest scenarios!