I’m very glad to see this game as it has been on my Kickstarter/Preorder GeekList since it funded on Kickstarter in December 2020. Originally projected for delivery in May 2021, arrival in July 2022 leaves five games ordered earlier than Reality Shift that are yet to deliver. Sigh…
Flashpoint: South China Sea is a two-player strategy game that simulates the complex geopolitical contest currently taking place between the United States and China in a disputed region of the South China Sea. The game is driven by a card deck that captures developments ripped straight from today’s headlines, bolstered by cards with a context-setting reading of recent history, and a set of speculative cards capturing a diverse range of potential future events.
The Chinese player works to influence other countries in the region, establish territorial claims and regional hegemony, and improve its world standing. The U.S. player works to maintain influence with allied countries in the region, secure freedom of navigation, and keep China in check. Success for both players hinges on the support and allegiance of non-player countries in the region. The game stops short of dealing with a potential full-scale military conflict. Rather, it requires the nuanced exercise of political, economic, and military resources, in a form of prima facie diplomacy – on the waters, in the air, and ultimately in the minds of the people – to achieve victory.
GMT Games Ad Copy
If you are looking for a wargame that depicts a potential military conflict between the United States and the People’s Republic of China then you need Next War: Taiwan (Mitchell Land, GMT Games, 2014) or South China Sea (John Gorkowski, Compass Games, 2017). Flashpoint South China Sea stops short of military conflict. In military planning terms, this is the Competition Phase of an operations plan. In some ways Flashpoint South China Sea is the Political Phase in South China Sea. Hmm….
The other new arrival this week was a micro-expansion published by designer Dan Bullock for No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War (Compass Games, 2020). One comment I had about the original Compass Games publication was the very “red” look to the game; many of the original markers were “lost” in the color scheme on the board. This micro-expansion includes new markers that use a different color scheme that is easier to see on the board. It also includes eight (8) new Policy Cards for the West player to use in the Songun Era of play.
Both of these games will be landing on my office desk in the next few weeks (months) as “office-al” gaming. I especially am looking forward to Flashpoint as it is supposed to be playable in 30-60 minutes; i.e. lunchtime!
Speaking of markers, designer Dan Bullock offered a set of after-market markers for his game No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War (Compass Games, 2021) which should make the game look so much nicer on the table.
The Kickstarter fulfillment for Reality Shift from Academy Games is supposedly “ready to ship.” Funded in December 2020 with an original projected delivery of May 2021, it’s only running about a year late. Sadly, of the nearly 20 items in my Kickstarter/Preorder GeekList this one is smack dab in the middle of the pack, doing much better than the oldest P500 from October 2019 that still languishes…
The Spring 2022 edition of Naval War College Review has an article by Jonathan Parshall, co-author of Shattered Sword. The new article, “What WAS Nimitz Thinking?” looks at the Admiral’s battleplan for Midway. One part I really enjoy in this Parshall analysis is the comparison of “Bad Hornet” and “Good Hornet” with regards to that carriers initial strike. Of great potential interest to wargamers, Parshall actually looks at some of the alternative battle situations by using an Operations Research approach through the work of Aneli Bongers and Jose L Torres and their article “Revisiting the Battle of Midway” published in a 2020 issue of Military Operations Research. Hmm…
Feature image courtesy navsource.org. The accompanying text reads: “On Thursday, 4 June 1942, during operations near Midway Island, an F4F-4 Wildcat, # 3-F-24, from VF-3—USS Yorktown (CV-5)—, piloted by Ensign Daniel Sheedy, accidentally fired its .50-cal machine guns while landing on USS Hornet (CV-8). ENS Sheedy had been wounded during the battle and the controls to safe the guns had been shot out, according to eye-witness accounts. Five Hornet crewmembers were killed (one of them LT Royal R. Ingersoll II, son of ADM Royal E. Ingersoll and grandson of RADM Royal R. Ingersoll) and 20 others wounded in this accident.”
As my 2021 “By the Numbers” show, I really backed off on acquiring boardgames this year. While my overall acquisition rate was down 13% (and down nearly 52% for boardgames) compared to 2020, it would be worst if I did not do a trade for a collection of smaller games. That said, of the 18 core or standalone boardgames I acquired in 2021, only 4 were newly published in the year. Thus, my candidates for 2021 Boardgame of the Year are:
Well, I guess you can call 2021 the “Year of Dan Bullock” or the “Year of The Dietz Foundation” because both are in two of the four games eligible.
Dan Bullock amazed me this year with his “Axis of Evil” series. Well, that’s what I call his games on Iran and North Korea. Associating his games with the “Axis of Evil” meme is actually a bit of a disservice to his outstanding designs. No Motherland Without pits the North Korean player trying to build infrastructure and improve the North’s standard of living against a West that is trying to hinder that progress and bring about the Kim Dynasty’s collapse. 1979: Revolution in Iran actually covers Iranian history post-World War II and pits politicians against oil. Both are deep political games, but done in a way that avoids being in-your-face regarding a certain position.
Jim Dietz at The Dietz Foundation is the only non-profit boardgame publisher I know of. He has a mission of delivering games for learning. 1979 is highly educational and Supercharged is a great family game that encourages gamers of all ages coming together for easy fun with just a touch of history thrown in.
All of which makes the my choice for my 2021 Boardgame of the Year quite difficult. So here goes…
…and the winner is…
I can’t decide!
For a FAMILY game, both Kingdomino: Origins and Supercharged are awesome. For a STRATEGY game I like both No Motherland Without and 1979 (though I have to give No Motherland Without a slight edge given the solo module).
Oh, boy…must pick one…[Squints eyes]…
Visually, Supercharged is nothing special. Mechanically, it’s quite simple—just keep flipping cards. The history is there but a bit thin. Most importantly, the RockyMountainNavy Boys whole-heartedly embraced the game. Since it plays in about an hour, it is an easy after-dinner filler game to follow chores. They love playing using the financial scoring; while one expects an A-class team to win the top positions, the middle finishers become the real contest, especially if your C-class team (the slowest) can drive smart (lucky?) and finish in the top 6.
Supercharged is so easy to learn and play it can be a gateway game. Youngest RMN Boy already asked for a second copy to take to college. Then there is the non-profit Dietz Foundation reminding you that games exist for fun and learning. At the end of the day the game is a winner because everything comes together to make an excellent family game.
Notable Not Mentioned
While I limited my 2021 Boardgame of the Year to games published in 2021, there were two other “new to me” games this year that, though published outside the eligibility window, deserve to be talked about.
Recently, I tested the tolerance of my bosses and took my copy of No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War by designer Dan Bullock from Compass Games to the office. My job is tangentially related to the game topic, so I figured I could come up with a good cover story to explain why I had it laid out on my desk. During the week I played the solitaire scenario during my lunch times. By the end of the week the game was finished and I had rediscovered the interesting insights No Motherland Without delivers while also showing my office the power of “serious gaming.”
No Motherland Without…another player
While No Motherland Without is technically a two-player game with one side playing North Korea and the other the West, designer Dan Bullock also includes a solitaire scenario. Here, the player plays the North Korean regime and the “solo bot” plays the West. Technically, I’m not sure you can actually call it a “bot” as the solitaire scenario rules lay out some exceptions and a decision flowchart for how to execute the West card play. Fortunately, the rules changes for the solitaire version are not too numerous and are both easy to learn and implement. All told my play of a complete 7-turn solitaire game took about two hours of lunch times.
The solitaire decision flowchart in No Motherland Without very clearly focuses the West on three priorities; place Outages to hinder infrastructure building, placement and movement of Defector Routes and Defectors, and Investment of Action Points for future use. It is a good guide to strategy for West players.
In my solo game of No Motherland Without the single most important event was not a Missile Test (though there were two—both successful) but the event “Thailand Tightens Its Borders.” This card is an Enduring Event meaning it goes on the three-card track and stays in play until three other Enduring Events are played and it gets “pushed” into the discard pile. The game effect is the removal the Defector Routes in Thailand and a prohibition for the West to use Activities to rebuild the route. This forces defectors to use the route through Mongolia which, although shorter than the Thailand route, has a 2-in-3 chance of the defector dying in the desert. In my game “Thailand Tightens Its Borders” came out early in the fifth turn and didn’t get pushed off the Enduring Events track until the last turn. This meant all defector attempts in turns 5-7 had to use the risky Mongolia route (in the last turn by rule all defectors must use the Mongolia route). By the end of the game a majority of the Final Turn (Kim Jong Un-era) generation was dead. Although the West had supported many defectors, through the Enduring Event card North Korea was able to gain favorable treatment from Thailand and it was enough to stem the flow of defectors—and the accumulation of Victory Points–to ensure a North Korean victory even without a final successful Missile Test to raise Prestige.
If one had any thoughts that No Motherland Without may provide some background as to why Korea has been an intractable problem for as long as it has this game offers no real policy insight. That said, No Motherland Without sets itself apart by showing the interrelation of many historical events from a very human perspective as the plight of defectors is prominently showcased. It’s an important perspective, just not very mainstream.
After my recent solo play of No Motherland Without I reconsidered my statement. The core conflict of the game, North Korea building infrastructure versus the West supporting defectors, is a policy statement. While North Korea gets plenty of worldwide attention for its missile and nuclear programs, it still must build a society for its people. On the other side, though support for defectors is usually the realm of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) rather than governments, it still can be a government policy (like is was in South Korea for a long time). This last year-plus of COVID, with it’s closed borders, has limited the flow of defectors. At the same time, North Korea, like many other countries, is trying to build better infrastructure for its populace (look at all the apartment building projects). Although they seemingly are disconnected now, once borders reopen we will see how “happy” the North Korean people are if Kim Jong Un can complete all those buildings, or if they will become his 21st century Ryugyong Hotel that sat unfinished for decades.
During the week my play of No Motherland Without got some attention in the office. At one end of the response spectrum, and by far the largest in number, were those who scoffed at somebody “playing a game” at the office. I responded to these folks by pointing out the history lessons in the game and the interesting perspective of the designer. Generally they seemed to accept my points, but often visibly remained doubtful. This group was also the ones to most often try to compare No Motherland Without to Risk or Monopoly(sigh).
A second smaller group of coworkers was able to look past the “game” of No Motherland Without and see the learning value. Some of these folks would casually flip through the cards and then look at the historical notes. While they learned, several were quick to point out that the randomness of the cards meant events could occur out of historical order, thereby making the game “incorrect.” To that criticism I responded by pointing out it was not the specific events but the situation in many cases that the cards capture, and while the events may happen “out of order” they still capture the essence of the flow of history vice a specific timeline. This group had a few gamers amongst its members, but it quickly became apparent that their preferred gaming was online and not very complex; indeed, more than one marveled at the “obvious” complexity of No Motherland Without.
One last, very small, group of my coworkers understood what No Motherland Without was trying to communicate. For one of them, when I explained the core conflict of infrastructure versus defectors you could see the “eureka” moment as they blinked and said, “Of course!.” With these few I had very serious conversations as to how an Event Card could be played or how the different Activities paid for in Action Points could be spent. One coworker wanted to take the game to their office to play and show their coworkers the insights from the game. Another who is well connected to several NGOs and the North Korean defector community really was interested in the game, although they pointed out that the ability to only play North Korea in the solo game may be “upsetting” to some. This small group was able to see the “serious gaming” potential of No Motherland Without as the designer’s core message is shown through game play.
Next – A Revolutionary Game…of waiting
Overall, I feel my “office-al” gaming was a success. I was planning to take designer Dan Bullock’s latest game, 1979: Revolution in Iran (The Dietz Foundation, 2021), into the office next and play that one. Belatedly I realized it does not have a solo mode! During the Kickstarter campaign Dan was asked about a solo module stretch goal to which he responded:
No Motherland Without features a solitaire scenario in addition to the two-player game. The solitaire scenario only allows you to play the role of the DPRK, but the West opponent is easy to control and challenging. Unfortunately, the event card draft makes 1979 difficult to adapt a solo bot. I tested a short solo scenario leading up to the Islamic Revolution, but ultimately scrapped it because it didn’t feel robust enough.
So, Dan, do y’all think you could share that scenario and let us see how it works? Maybe somebody out there can make it work better, or develop something else that does. Please? I need another title to play during lunch in the office…
The opinions and views expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and are presented in a personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of any government or private agency or employer.
Miss A brought her birthday present game, Barnyard Bunch (HABA, 2019) to the house this week when she came for her tutoring with Mrs. RMN. This is a very kid-friendly cooperative game that was really fun to play together with her and Mrs. RMN. The goal of the game is to keep the animals from running away. Every turn, a player rolls the die to see what animals advance (depends on color of die face), or retreats one space (the Farmer), or which is taken all the way back to the barn by the Dog. Then, you draw a card that will advance an animal, lure an animal back one space with food, or show the Farmer (choose one animal back one space) or Dog (one animal back to barn). Not much strategy needed as the game is played cooperatively with all players participating in the choice of animals moved by the Farmer or Dog. Given Miss A is 7-years old we thought that maybe the game is actually too simple for her. However, we were later told she took the game to a friends house and taught it to her friend. So…it was an obvious good choice by Mrs. RMN, right?
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.
I was able to pull off an excellent local trade to land a copy of Chad Jensen’s Combat Commander: Pacific from GMT Games this week. It only cost me my 1984 copy of Ranger from Omega Games. This is my first foray into the Combat Commander series of tactical infantry games from GMT. As there were several snow days in my local area I had the opportunity to do a sort of “deep dive” into the game and get multiple plays in. My major discovery is that Combat Commander: Pacific may be built on many “new-age” mechanics but it is thematically highly realistic. Those thoughts will be the subject of a later posting.
In 1982, the Falklands War occurred at an important time in my wargaming career. I was in high school so “aware” enough to follow the geopolitics and I had friends with common wargame interests for playing game like Harpoon II (Adventure Games, 1983). So it was very interesting this week to read The Falklands Wargame which is an unclassified, publicly released study prepared in 1986 for the Strategy, Concepts, and Plans Directorate of the US Army Concepts Analysis Agency. What really caught my attention is the study lead was none other than CAPT Wayne P. Hughes, USN (Ret.) who wrote the foundational naval text Fleet Tactics and was greatly admired by the designers of the Harpoon series of naval wargames available these days from Admiralty Trilogy Group. It’s a very interesting document which has made me think of many of my Falklands wargames, especially those using the Harpoon series of rules. So of course, more thoughts to follow!
Got No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War (Compass Games, 2021) to the gaming table several times this week. I played the solitaire module provided in the rules. Mechanically it works fine, though the hard part for me is now trying to get those mechanics to do what I need them to do. Component wise, well, this title is a bit of a miss. The red game board is good looking but all the red counters and markers get lost on it making it very hard to see the game state. More detailed thoughts are coming in the future.
<soapbox on> A shout out to Compass Games is also in order. There was a minor production issue with my copy of No Motherland Without but it was quickly resolved by Compass Games. Awesome customer service. And no, I didn’t mention it before because I was giving John and company a fair chance to resolve the issue which they did to my utmost satisfaction so I will commend, not condemn Compass publicly and share with you a positive story not an undeserved negative one. </soapbox off>
The Pratzen, Austerlitz 1805by Peter Perla from Canvas Temple Publishing will fund later today. As this posts I have less than 20 hours to resist temptation. Yeah, Napoleonics is not my thing but I absolutely respect Dr. Perla, love CTP productions, & would need a bigger gaming table.
With the arrival of new games and my “Falklands Excursion” this week the reading for My Kursk Kampaign was put on hold this week. As I resume my reading I am through the events of July 12, 1943 and the Battle of Prokharovka so now turn to the aftermath and follow-on actions – which means The Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning, by Trevor Bender from RBM Studios should land on the gaming table again.
Still working on my Kursk Kampaign reading. Have gotten through July 12, 1943 and am now looking at my tactical armored combat wargames like Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel 3rd Edition (Academy Games, Panzer (GMT Games), or Blood & Thunder (GDW) to see how they approach the the first part of the offensive and especially the signature Battle of Prokharovka.
At the same time I am exploring my newest Standard Combat Series (SCS) title from Multi-Man Publishing, Karelia ’44: The Last Campaign of the Continuation War (2011). So far it’s pretty “bog-standard” SCS with the added splash of “The Boss’s Patience” rules which vary game length. More to follow!
Issue #4 of Cepheus Journal is out. If there is one thing I find interesting about this issue is the range of settings that are using the Cepheus Engine rules. I mean there is everything from classic space opera to more hardish sci-fi to historical to fantasy to modern. This issue may be the best one yet showing off the versatility of Cepheus Engine.
Lot’s of wargame content being offered with closing dates before the end of the month; so much so I can’t possibly back them all:
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.