This week I leaned hard into learning Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #1 (Multi-Man Publishing, 2004+). Kind of amazing (embarrassing?) that after playing wargames for 42 years I finally played Advanced Squad Leader for the first time. I found some good points and some bad. I’m working up a post that you should see in a few weeks!
I was very busy at work this week so my evening reading fell off. That said, I had way too much fun reading Strategy & Tactics Nr. 82, the magazine that Fifth Corps was included in. There were more than a few articles that triggered nostalgic thoughts and others that were plain interesting, especially when read with 40 years of hindsight added in. Hmm…I sense a “Rocky Reads for Wargames” column is almost writing itself….
Mrs. RMN and I gave RockyMountainNavy T an airbrush for his birthday and both he and his brother have been learning how to use it. I may even have to get in on the fun as I have way too many 1/144th scale aircraft that I need to complete!
RockyMountainNavy Jr. has been bitten by the Gundam bug, specifically the SD Gunpla variant. He picked up a few kits for assembly during Spring Break and already has added several others. We even got the young girl we tutor into building a few Petit’gguy bears….
As I was waiting for the new titles to arrive I used a random number generator to select a game from my collection to play. Thus, Mississippi Banzai (XTR Corp, 1990) landed on the gaming table. This “alternate history” game envisions a Stalingrad-like offensive around St Louis in a 1948 as Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany face off in a conquered United States. More thoughts forthcoming soon.
My Kickstarter copy of Supercharged by Jim Dietz is on the mail. I’m looking forward to getting it in ouse this week and not-so-secretly hope the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself get it to the table in a renewed weekend Game Night.
Spring has arrived meaning those long, dark winter days are behind us and outdoor chores demand my attention. Spring is traditionally a slower gaming time in the RockyMountainNavy home as we all are more busy and “spring fever” sets in.
In the past few months there has been something of a renaissance of wargames on Kickstarter. Since early February I tracked at least eight wargame(ish) titles that I was VERY tempted to pull the trigger on and purchase. Add to that a further seven boardgames and it is very easy to see that the first quarter of Kickstarter in 2021 could be very costly for me—as in nearly $900 in pledges assuming lowest levels of support and not factoring in any shipping! Alas, I ended up only backing one wargame/boardgame (Root: The Marauder Expansion from Leder Games) and even then I went in at a lesser level.
As I write this post, I am tracking 26 items on my Preorder & Kickstarter Roll GeekList. With a bit of some luck, I might see three games deliver this week and another two within 30 days:
Supercharged (Jim Dietz) – Kickstarter. From an update on March 16 – “Bad news/not controllable: The games are still being processed on the West Coast–this is due to a backlog of shipping arrivals and also a shortage of labor at the docks (whether this is underemployment or people out currently due to COVID, I was not told). I am supposed to have an updated ETA by the end of this week..”
Every SCS game has what I call a “gimmick;” a special rule that sets it apart and tries to recreate some unique characteristic of the battle or campaign. In Heights of Courage that special rule is 1.9 Operational Tempo. Starting on Turn 11, each player choses a “Fast Tempo” or “Slow Tempo” for the turn. In a “Fast Tempo” turn all the phases of the Sequence of Play are executed but the player receives NO replacement points. Conversely, in a “Slow Tempo” turn the Combat and Exploitation Phases of the turn are skipped but the player receives four replacement points.
I like this rule as it naturally “paces” the battle. Indeed, in the rule book at the end of the rule there is a Design Note that states much the same:
This rule’s purpose is to keep operations and losses at a rate consistent with actual events. Each player has an opportunity to rest and refit while slowing down his operational tempo. If a player chooses to continue offensive operations, his army will quickly melt away, especially if his opponent decides to refit. During this period, the Israelis chose to stop offensive operations–having achieved their goal of bringing Damascus into artillery range. The Syrians suffered so heavily that they were reduced to covering the road to Damascus while prodding their allies into futile uncoordinated attacks.
Design Note, Rule 1.9 Operational Tempo
Exploiting the System
I’m still a relative newbie to the Standard Combat Series so I discover something new with every play. This time the lesson that really hit home while playing Heights of Courage was the striking power of Exploitation-capable units. The key rule is 6.0 Overrun Combat which allows units that start in a hex that is not in an Enemy Zone of Control (EZOC) to move AND attack by paying extra movement points. This is the only time units may conduct combat outside of the Movement Phase. As the rules point out, “Properly managed, a unit can attack up to three times in a turn” (6.1b). Yeah…a unit can overrun during the Movement Phase, fight in the Combat Phase, and if positioned correctly overrun again in the Exploitation Phase. Wow! I had caught part of that before while playing Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989 (MMP, 2020) but the real impact of the rule didn’t set in until this play.
Standardized War Engine
At the end of the day, I find the Standard Combat Series is very suited to my current wargaming style. Heights of Courage, like other SCS titles, are games that are relatively easy to learn because they leverage the SCS “war engine;” that common set of rules applicable across the series. Game rules tend to be few and often have that interesting gimmick which adds just enough chrome to build the “narrative” of the specific battle or campaign while avoiding rules bloat. Add in the fact the games tend to be smaller footprint (22″x34″ is perfect for my gaming table) and with lower counter density I find a combination of interesting-yet-playable titles I can set up and play to completion in a long evening or over a weekend of play.
Rider will use the Cepheus Engine rules as a base with modifications made to fit with the “Old West” setting. Rider will draw inspiration from both fictional and historical Western lore but will definitely side with fictional portrayals. To paraphrase Larry McMurtry (who was misquoting “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence”), we will be “printing the legend”.
As part of my Kursk Kampaign series this week I read parts of The Battle of Kursk by David Glantz and Jonathan House (University of Kansas Press, 1990) and The Battle of Prokhorovka: The Tank Battle at Kursk, The Largest Clash of Armor in History by Christopher A. Lawrence from Stackpole Books (2017).
I tried one of the Operation Mercury smaller scenarios; the first one in fact. After finding the right counters (because this scenario uses a special set of counters) and setting it up on the small 17″x22″ map (because, duh, it’s a small scenario) I discovered I had set up on the wrong map and needed to transfer to the larger 22″x34″ map.
I played out “SNAFU” which is a historical scenario for Operation Mercury.Like I wrote about before, the chit activation mechanic is used well in the game system. That said, this time I played less “the system” and more “the battle.” In the end, I was further frustrated. Yes, I like the chit activation and all it brings to the depiction of command and control but it just feels too cumbersome for me. Maybe it’s the scale – Grand Tactical is both large-scale and grand in scope which is means it takes much more time to play; time that is an increasingly rare commodity for me as we try to come out of COVID.
I was in my FLGS this past week and picked up Snowman Dice by Mike Elliott from Brain Games (2019). This is another game for Mrs. RMN to share with her students. This is most certainly a Children’s dexterity game or a very lite Family dexterity game. I played it with the 1st Grader and realized I had to teach her the fundamentals of dice reading; as long as she saw the part she needed she tried to use it to build instead of using only the top-facing side of the die. A good reminder about how learning and teaching games is not always as easy as one assumes.
One interesting rule in this sourcebook is “Optional Rules: Fighting in Squads and Squadrons.” This rule enables Player Characters (PC) to take Minion-level characters and create a squad or squadron under the leadership of a PC. The PC can then order the squad/squadron using Formations. This rule helps get past one of the stumbling blocks of military-style roleplaying games; how to use characters as leaders and not simply independent actors on the battlefield.
We have not played a Star Wars RPG session in a loooonnnnggggg time. I dug up an old campaign idea and am trying to work it into some usable material. My personal preference is to play an Edge of the Empire -like campaign but knowing my Boys I need to pull in elements of Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny too.
I am really looking forward to getting the last few games mailed in 2020 to the gaming table. That is, once they arrive. Kudos to the US Postal Service for the 18th century service! I mean, my C3i Magazine Nr 34 with designer Trevor Bender’s Battle for Kursk is ‘only’ on day nine of the 2-8 days expected delivery with a present status of “In Transit” but unlocated. Then there is my Buffalo Wings 2 – The Deluxe Reprint (Against the Odds, 2020). The good folks at ATO, recognizing the mailing mess, sent all the packages by 2-day Priority Mail but the USPS was so helpful they let it sit for the first THREE days at the initial mailing point with a status of “Shipment Received, Package Acceptance Pending.” I know; First World Gamer problems and all those that ship international ain’t impressed!
Without new games I went to the shelves and pulled out an old game that I recently acquired but had not played. Harpoon Captain’s Edition bills itself as, “fast, simple, and fun to play.” Six hours and 16 (!) scenarios later…well, you’ll have to wait a few weeks and see what I thought.
By the way, playing Harpoon Captain’s Edition 16 times now “officially” makes this game the most-played wargame in my collection since I started (sorta) keeping records in 2017.HCE is just ahead of Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 14 plays), Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 12 plays), Root (Leder Games, 11 plays), Table Battles (Hollandspiele, 11 plays), and Tri-Pack: Battles of the American Revolution (GMT Games, 10 plays).
It’s the end of the year so it’s that time for the inevitable “of the Year” lists. Although I play boardgames and wargames, I am a wargamer at heart. Since Christmas 1979 when I got my first wargame, the holidays and wargaming have been forever linked in my heart.
To be eligible for this category, the item must be a wargame as I define it. It must also have been released in the 2020 calendar year AND IN MY POSSESSION as of Dec 31, 2020. I know for a fact that at least one wargame I have on pre-order has a 2020 publication date but, since I don’t have it in hand it’s not eligible for this list. For a near-complete listing of all the wargames I acquired in 2020 (including many titles not eligible for this annual list) please see my GeekList 2020 RockyMountainNavy Gaming Acquisitions and look for entries labeled “WARGAME”
Brief Border Wars brings back the classic “quad” packaging with four games using the same basic war engine but with each having its own identity.
Dawn of Empire : The Spanish American Naval War in the Atlantic, 1898 shows the classic War at Sea/Victory in the Pacific war engine can still be leveraged and new challenges created.
French & Indian War 1757-1759 is a very pleasurable block wargame that is simple to learn and thematic enough to keep it interesting yet playable in a short evening.
Fury at Midway is a bit of a hidden gem testing several competing theories of what actually happened at Midway. Hint: It doesn’t end well for the Americans as often as one would expect given “history.”
Harpoon V is the return of the “serious” wargame.
Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989 is a ‘managable monster’ with lots of replay potential in a relatively small package.
Philadelphia 1777 is another block game using Worthington’s proven war engine but this time depicting a kind of “tower defense” campaign.
The Shores of Tripoli is the Kickstarter remake of a solid game now given a very professional look.
Undaunted: North Africa shows once again that wargames can use non-traditional mechanics; who woulda thunk that Deck Building can make a good wargame?
Waterloo Campaign, 1815 shows that you don’t need a monster game to depict one of histories greatest battles.
White Eagle Defiant takes the Brave Little Belgium war engine to the next level yet still is easy to learn and fairly quick to play.
…and the winner is…
With such a strong field of contenders I actually picked a Runner-Up and a Winner.
My runner-up Wargame of the Year for 2020 is Iron Curtain: Central Europe 1945-1989 from Multi-Man Publishing. This game might be the most ‘old school’ or the closest to a classic hex & counter game of all the candidates this year but that is actually a major reason why it places so high. It’s not that I dislike the ‘new age’ mechanics in some of the new games; rather, Iron Curtain, an entry in the Standard Combat Series, showed me the joy of a ‘manageable monster’ wargame. Iron Curtain is multiple games in one with different eras and options for the Soviets or NATO to be that attacker. Add to that the Run Up to War pre-game and you have package that is easy to learn (uses the Standard Combat System) yet it will never serve up the same game twice no matter how often its played. I also really appreciate that it is fits on a moderate-sized table and yet it still can be both set up and played in just a few hours.
However, as somebody once said, “There can be only one.” My Wargame of the Year for 2020 is The Shores of Tripoli from Fort Circle Games. Yes, I know it is the professional publication of a print-‘n-play title that predates 2020 but designer Kevin Bertram’s attention to detail and hard work has taken this little gem of a game to another level. From the moment you look at the box (awesome) to laying out all the components on the table (luxurious) you can see his attention to detail. Gameplay has, dare I say, improved over the original PnP with the benefit of more development and playtesting. The Shores of Tripoli is almost as polar opposite of a wargame design from my runner-up, Iron Curtain: Central Europe 1945-1989 by MMP that you can get. That is a great part of it’s strength in my mind; The Shores of Tripoli is an excellent example of the “new wave” of designers and wargames titles that aren’t afraid to break from “convention” and assemble a set of mechanics into an interesting, challenging, and dare I say very “playable” wargame.