#MiniaturesMonday -or- my Origins 2019 #Boardgame #Wargame Challenge in the #Battletech Introductory Set (2007 Miniatures Rules of the Year) from @catalystgamelab

ALTHOUGH THE BATTLETECH INTRODUCTORY BOX SET WON the 2007 Origins Award for Miniatures Rules of the Year, I did not formally get my first BattleTech set until the Third Edition Introductory Box Set published by Catalyst Games in 2011. As I wrote before, I was VERY disappointed. However, very recently RockyMountainNavy Junior purchased with his own money the “new” Fifth Edition Beginner Box (Catalyst Game Labs, 2018). So rather than just revisit the rules, I decided to compare the two sets and see what, if any, improvements occurred between the 2011 Introductory Box Set and the 2018 Beginner Box. I am happy to say the new 2018 Beginner Box has much improved sculpts and rules but is in some ways more limiting than the 2011 Introductory Box Set.

Rules

Quick-Start Rules – New and Old

Both the Battletech 2018 Beginner Box and 2011 Introductory Box Set contain Quick-Start Rules. I fully realize that the Quick-Start Rules are NOT what won the 2007 Origins Award but it’s what I can directly compare between these two sets. The 2011 and 2018 Quick-Start Rules are near-identical with the exception of Combat. Specifically, the new 2018 Quick-Start Rules use an attack process named G.A.T.O.R. This simple pneumonic makes combat fast and easy. Everything in G.A.T.O.R. was in the 2011 version but it was not called out as such. The new version is much simpler to teach and learn.

Miniatures

Another major improvement in the 2018 BattleTech Beginner Box is the ‘Mech sculpts. The 2011 ‘Mech sculpts were, to put it kindly, crap.

Poor quality with too much lost detail & flash. Reminds me of cheap plastic soldiers from a discount store

The 2018 Beginner Box has only two BattleTech ‘Mech sculpts but they are of much higher quality. RockyMountainNavy Junior wasted no time in painting them up.

Work in progress – but at least they feel like miniatures not toy soldiers

Limited Options

The Fifth Edition Beginner Box is really bare-bones. Two miniatures, a paper double-sided map, and Quick-Start Rules. Background material is a 24-page fiction booklet and a short source booklet. The BattleTech 2011 Introductory Box Set included the full 80-page Introductory Rulebook and mounted maps as well as 24 miniatures. Actually 26 the Introductory Box Set has 26 minis as it included two “premium” miniatures that had to be assembled. Sadly, the “premium” should of been the standard!

As much as I am tempted to give RMN Jr. the older complete rule book, if he wants to pursue the BattleTech Universe a better option is to purchase the pdf of BattleTech: Total Warfare which touts itself as the complete up-to-date rules. It’s only $14.99 on WargameVault.com.

The Battles Ahead

RockyMountainNavy Jr. seems to be happy with the BattleTech Universe. I think we will be playing more (and he will be investing more) in this game universe. After my disastrous experience with the 2011 Introductory Box Set I was hesitant to support him but now I see the BattleTech Beginner Box as a good investment and starting point. So BattleTech is welcomed back into the RockyMountainNavy household…as long as they avoid the pitfalls of the past.

The simple #wargame joy of Attack! (Eagle Games, 2003)

THE 2003 ORIGINS AWARD FOR BEST HISTORIC BOARD GAME went to Attack! (Eagle Games). Sometime in the late 2000-oughts I bought this game in the hopes that I could use it as an introductory wargame for the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I don’t really know why I did this since I already owned Axis & Allies (in my case, the 1987 Milton Bradley edition). Attack! and Axis & Allies are very similar so having A&A be good enough. I recently pulled Attack! out as part of my 2019 Origins Challenge. After all these year I can say that Attack! is the superior game to A&A, even without the expansion.

As I replayed the game I discovered that while I have focused on heavier wargames, the RockyMountainNavy Boys regularly pull Attack! out to play. They tell me its because of the free-style set-up. Whereas A&A tries to recreate a historical WWII starting in 1942, Attack! is set in the World War II era but is not tied to history. In many ways it is a sandbox WWII game.

Just because the game is cut loose of history does not mean that it is not historical. The same combined-arms so powerful in A&A is also a necessity in Attack!. Here also is a simple economic system using a set-building mechanic. Nothing too complex but enough to make one concerned about managing their hand of cards.

Although the RMN Boys play Attack! they prefer not to play it at family game night, instead getting wargames like Conflict of Heroes (Academy Games) or Battleship Captain (Minden Games) to the table. If they want a lite wargame we tend to go with one of the Birth of America/Europe series from Academy Games or Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing). I suggested that they use Attack! with the Neighborhood Gaming Gang since it can play up to six players. At first they were reluctant because of player elimination concerns; that is, until I pointed out to them that the game ends immediately when any player is eliminated (XXII. Winning the Game). So maybe it will make it out for them. I hope so; the game can be fun.

Over the years I occasionally considered purchasing the expansion. Every time I end up not making the purchase. For this reminiscence I thought about it once again, and once again I am passing on the opportunity. Although I am sure the expansion with expanded naval rules and economics is not bad, for me it’s not necessary. The core Attack! has its niche in my collection as a lite, introductory wargame. If we want something more we have other games that satisfy the need. So we keep it simple, with simple Attack!.

#Wargame #Miniatures Monday – 2019 Origins Challenge in Fear God & Dread Nought (Clash of Arms/ATG, 2001+)

FEAR GOD & DREAD NOUGHT (Clash of Arms, 2001) won the 2001 Origins Award for Best Historic Miniatures Rules. To me, FG&DN was the third what is now called the Admiralty Trilogy of naval wargames which includes Fear God & Dread Nought (1906-1925), Command at Sea (1926-1955) and Harpoon (1955 to Present day). Along the way, a “fourth” game in the trilogy was released by the Admiralty Trilogy Group, Dawn of the Battleship which covers 1890 to 1904. For my 2019 Origins Award Challenge I pulled out FG&DN and took another look at the game.

To me, Admiralty Trilogy games get a bit of a bum rap. These games are often associated with complexity; indeed, I have heard these games referenced as “ASL for the navy.” Personally, I think people confuse detailed data with complexity of the game engine. I know both Mr. Bond (the series creator) and Chris Carlson (co-designer FG&DN) and they are both gamers. They are also analysts, and one should recall that the first trilogy game, Harpoon, grew out of a US Navy training aid. In many ways, FG&DN traces its legacy to “professional” wargames where the training and simulation needs often come at the expense of playability. My long-time focus on simulation over gameplay may be why I often overlooked playability issues.

Long ago in 2007 I created a Geeklist where I compared nine different World War I tactical naval wargames I had in my collection. In my informal comparison I played the same scenario (Goeben Escapes) for each game. For FG&DN I found it took the longest prep and play times across the nine games. However, while not the fastest game, it was among the games that seem to most accurately portray the battle. So the question is, what do YOU want in a game? Playability? Realism? Where you fall along that spectrum will go a long way towards determine if FG&DN is for you.

I still enjoy FG&DN. Several year back, Admiralty Trilogy Group took the license for the Admiralty Trilogy and started publishing electronically on WargameVault.com. By 2017 they realized FG&DN needed an overhaul. While many of the rules changes focused on the combat models, playability did factor into decisions.

Finally, when looking at the present state of the game I realized I have not kept up. In October 2018, ATG published FG&DN, 2nd Edition. Good thing it’s my birthday and I can buy a present for myself to see just how good the overhaul was!

A Willing Foe & Sea Room

#Wargame Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) – Modernizing Harpoon 4 (Clash of Arms/Admiralty Trilogy Group, 2006+)

WHEN IT COMES TO TACTICAL MODERN NAVAL WARGAMING there is only one game for me: Harpoon. I started with Harpoon II (Adventure Games, 1984) and their awesome module Resolution 502 covering the Falklands War. I kept playing Harpoon even when it changed publishers to Game Designers Workshop (GDW) with Harpoon 3rd Edition (1987). I followed along when Clash of Arms picked it up for Harpoon 4 (1996). These days the game is published – electronic version only – by Admiralty Trilogy Games. I recently pulled out Harpoon 4 as part of my 2019 Origins Challenge. Harpoon 4 won the 1996 Origins Award for Best Modern-Day Board Game.

I find that surprising because, 1) Harpoon 4 is a set of miniatures rules – not a board game, and 2) the Harpoon series has many more vocal detractors than advocates.

Harpoon has never had a board. From the beginning it was designed for miniatures. The Clash of Arms version came with counters that one could put down on a board but that alone doesn’t make it a board game.

The Harpoon series also has many detractors. I have heard Harpoon described as “ASL for the sea.” There is a bit of some truth there as one of the issues in Harpoon has long been that speed of plays dramatically slows as the most important actions occur. I believe this occurs because for the longest time the designers of Harpoon saw the product more as a “simulation” than a “game.” Thus, realism took precedent over playability. However, that balance is in the process of changing.

I think the real impetuous for change came when Clash of Arms published Persian Incursion in 2010. PI used Harpoon 4 as its base game engine:

Persian Incursion explores the political and military effects of an Israeli military campaign against Iran. It uses rules adapted from Harpoon 4 to resolve the military action. But its goal is to look beyond the military action by modeling the political and intelligence actions and consequences of a potential political conflict by including a card-based diplomatic/political component to the game.

Players spend Political, Intelligence and Military Points to influence allies or enemies, purchase reinforcements, execute military strikes or shape their own domestic opinion. Players choose variable starting conditions that shape scenarios, while random strategic events influence play in unexpected ways.

That said, PI took a long time to play, mostly because it took a long time to plan. Once play started, the speed of combat resolution was slow even with streamlined air-to-air combat or bombing rules changes.

Looking at the ATG presentation at Cold Wars 2010 one can see the level of detail that went into the game. But even though PI streamlined air-to-air combat, it still was not enough.

ATG is now in the process of updating Harpoon 4 to what they are calling Harpoon 4.2 (4.1 being an incremental update published in 2001). Two presentations, one at Historicon 2018 and another at Cold Wars 2019 lays out their plan.

Going beyond a simple edit and update, the ATG team wants to incorporate many new understandings of naval warfare they have uncovered. Some of these are the result of declassification of Cold War records, others are original research. The part I am most interested in is when they say, “Virtually every section of the rules will be modified, re-written to improve playability while retaining the fidelity of the earlier versions of Harpoon.”

Play-a-bility.

As much as I love Harpoon (I rate Harpoon 4 8.25 on BGG – # 17 or in the top 3% of my collection of 700+ games and expansions) even I will admit it can use a playability scrub. I hope the focus on playability delivers a playable game that simulates modern naval warfare, not a ponderous simulation that purports to be a game.

Can’t wait!

Admiralty Trilogy – A Willing Foe and Sea Room

#Boardgame to #Wargame – or – Professional training with Catan (@catan, 1995)

YOU CAN’T TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS is the saying. Or an old game. As I continue my 2019 challenge series one of the next games up is Catan (1995). This game won the Origins Award in 1996 for “Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Board Game.”

Really?

I mean, Catan is a decent game. It is most famous not for the game but what the game represents; the true arrival of Eurogames in North America. It was a genre-making product. The RockyMountainNavy family occasionally plays Catan; we still pull it out as a gateway game for new gamers (especially younger gamers) but it mostly goes unplayed as our tastes have changed over the years.

Since Catan is so famous it is inevitable that players will tinker with the design. Catan has doubtlessly inspired many other games directly and indirectly. Interestingly, players not only look at what other games Catan inspires, but also at the game thesis behind Catan and look for other applications.

A “professional” example is found at The Wavell Room. The article is “The ‘Settlers of Catan’ as a Model for Post-Conflict Development.” Here the authors explore using Catan to focus on restarting of industrial production, developing infrastructure, investing in innovation, and planning for insurgency. As the authors point out:

The victorious player in Catan is the one who successfully balances these four priorities to the best effect throughout the game. There will be significant debate to be had between the best strategies for both initial stability and also long-term development. Resolving the interface between these strategies will enable a player to tie together a coherent plan through the short, medium and long term. This will prove to be excellent training for the more challenging task of doing so in a real life situation.

Professional wargamers in policy or defense fields should take note. Even “old dog” games an be used for training. It might take a bit of imagination to make the connection but once there you can’t unsee it.

Perfect excuse to take Catan to the office; it’s professional education! Think the boss will buy it?

Feature image BoardGameGeek. Caption was “Conqueror” – how fitting….


The costs of the #wargame #boardgame hobby

Looks like the hobby boardgame and wargame industry could be hit by tariffs on games and parts made in China. Dependably, hobby gamers on BoardGameGeek and Twitter are all abuzz.

“A 25% tariff is going to make games unaffordable!” Maybe. Roger Miller, President of Revolution Games points out:

Its a tariff on the production cost of games, not the list price. Production as a percentage of list price is usually between 12%-20%. So an increase in total price of 5% would cover the entire tariff.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2204314/lot-games-are-going-get-more-expensive

A 5% increase in game prices is not great, but it’s not the end of the world either.

Other BGG users are lamenting the “inevitable” decrease in quality by not printing in China:

I have had several publishers tell me that they can’t get the quality as good printing in the US as they get printing in China. I don’t know whether that’s true of all types of games or just the games those designers publish. But it’s a mistake to assume the only reason to print in China is price. It’s possible that tariffs could lead to quality dropping as more games are printed in the US.

BGG User Eric Brocius

I think Uwe Eickert of @AcademyGames might have a different opinion:

“…and today we are going to talk about quality issues we are seeing from China.”

Fortunately, I have options. The US-based print-on-demand publishing model of Hollandspiele (@Hollandspiele) is looking mighty appealing right now. Games like Brave Little Belgium (in the header image) are quite likely going to bubble to the top of the purchase queue….

All this drama is going to have to play out. To me, the bottom line is that I will likely have to pay more for games. The question is, “how much?” I believe the increase “should” be less than 25% but I am not sure many companies in the very cottage-like boardgame industry are prepared. So I expect prices to go up by at least 25% and maybe more.

Yes, this means I will have to get pickier on what I buy. But…if companies want to keep chasing my wallet they need to be diligent about controlling their costs and only passing on to me what is fair and proper. To be clear – I am perfectly willing to pay a premium price for a good game; I am not willing to pay premium dollars to a company unable to control their cost AND quality. Just because you can’t control YOUR costs doesn’t mean I automatically accept you passing that problem to ME (close to what I used to hear in the military, “Your stupidity is NOT my emergency!”).

Hey, here’s and idea! Let’s play the games we already got! Maybe tariffs will slow down the spread of the Cult of the New or be the antidote to the viral Fear of Missing Out. For myself I am behind on my 2019 challenges to play all the Charles S. Roberts and Golden Geek and Origins Award winners I have in my collection. That’s over 50 games to play this year! Or maybe I go ahead and pull the trigger on Scythe: The Rise of Fenris and start a campaign. Or I get the latest FREE Cepheus Engine: Faster than Light rules and start that RPG campaign the RockyMountainNavy Boys have been hounding me about.

If anything, I probably need to invest in those expansions or published-but-unpurchased games NOW before people slow down buying “new” games and turn their dollars towards that segment of the market and drive prices up. That’s what I’m going to tell Mrs. RockyMountainNavy to explain the bills. It’s sure to work….


Feature image Brave Little Belgium from Hollandspiele. A “towering” figure in the hobby boardgame industry tried to besmirch this game; don’t “vasel-ate”, just buy it and enjoy a great game!

#Wargame Wednesday – Recreationist vs Strategist in The Great War at Sea: The Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905 (Avalanche Press Ltd., 1999)

After playing The Great War at Sea: U.S.N. Plan Orange (Avalanche Press Ltd., 1998) for my 2019 Origins Award Challenge I decided to jump right into the next winner on my list; The Great War at Sea: The Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905 – The Naval War for the Far East (Avalanche Press Ltd., 1999). Like U.S.N. Plan Orange before it, The Russo-Japanese War (RJW) won the Origins Award for Best Historic Board Game.

First off, I find it very interesting that a set of series rules designed for World War I (aka the Great War) was awarded twice in a row for designs outside of that war. U.S.N. Plan Orange took the game series from World War I into a 1930 campaign while RJW stepped backwards into the late 19th-century. At the time, I saw this as a very positive attribute of the GWAS system; today I am less sure.

Strategists & Recreationists

Bruce Geryk (@SpaceRumsfeld on Twitter) recently wrote his thoughts on Mark Herman’s Empire of the Sun (GMT Games, 2004+). Bruce writes about games for “Historical Strategists” versus “Historical Recreationists.” Bruce explains:

I attribute this to the difference in wargamers between what I call “historical recreationists” and “historical strategists.” Historical recreationists are very uncomfortable leaving out events that occurred because there is a certain determinism to their interpretation, or some imaginative verisimilitude that is violated when major events don’t happen. Historical strategists are fine with historical divergence as long as the decision space is the same as it was historically. quartertothree.com, 14 Mar 2018

So I asked myself, “Is RJW a game for strategists or recreationists?” More so, is the GWAS system aimed at strategists or recreationists? Thanks to the framing construct Bruce gives us, I think I have my answer.

RJW and GWAS are firmly recreationists games. In RJW, victory in Battle Scenarios is invariably expressed in terms of ships sunk. A few reward “crossing the map” but even when doing so it is unclear why this was important. Operational Scenarios are even worse, with dictated victory point accumulation directing the action. RJW firmly casts the player in the role of executing a plan (recreationist), not developing one (strategist). In the Great War at Sea system it is near-impossible to see Commander’s Intent*, only the orders.


* Commander’s Intent

The commander’s intent describes the desired end state. It is a concise expression of the purpose of the operation and must be understood two echelons below the issuing commander. . . It is the single unifying focus for all subordinate elements. It is not a summary of the concept of the operation. Its purpose is to focus subordinates on the desired end state. Its utility is to focus subordinates on what has to be accomplished in order to achieve success, even when the plan and concept of operations no longer apply, and to discipline their efforts toward that end. (FM 100-5 Military Operations, US Army, June 1993)


The RJW Model

In order to depict the Russo-Japanese War, the GWAS system needed a few tweaks. The vast majority of the changes in the game system involved the tactical combat game. The two new numbered Special Rules included in RJW both focus on tactical combat. Rule 19.0 Effectiveness helps portray technology and training while 20.0 Tactical Map Overlays introduce “terrain” on the tactical map. Beyond that, the only other rule changes that significantly impact the operational game are:

  • Plotting (5.11) – To reflect the lack of wireless communications for the Russian Navy plotting for Intercept and Raid fleets is done three turns, not two, in advance.
  • Balloon reconnaissance – Found in the Amphibious Landings (11.5) section due to poor layout are rules for towed balloons; hard to find rule but very useful!

As I have said before, I have mixed feelings about the tactical combat system; I despise it as a poor depiction of combat while, on the other hand, when playing an operational scenario I appreciate the speed at which combat can be resolved to keep the game moving along. In the end though, the addition of rules and changes in the tactical combat portion of the game fail to impress me as I really desire to explore the operational game.

Rules Confusion

RJW was also the first time I really noticed that Avalanche Press could not handle writing rules. The Scenario Book for RJW is titled, “The Great War at Sea Vol. IV: The Russo-Japanese Naval War Scenario Book.” Being the fourth game in the GWAS series, I expected this book to be compatible with the previous ones. In GWAS, the Special Rules contain new rules, changed rules, and clarified rules. Unfortunately, what rule is what is not clear. The Special Rules for RJW continue the rules numbering from the basic series rule book but without respect for other games in the series. Thus, rule 19.0 in RJW is Effectiveness whereas rule 19.0 in U.S.N. Plan Orange is Air Operations. How confusing!

The rules numbering scheme would not have bothered me if RJW was a complete game. Alas, in RJW Avalanche Press introduced a bothersome trait; the need to own other games in the series. Most egregiously, they throw it in your face up front. Operational Scenario 1: Early Tensions 12-18 January 1904 requires the operational map from Great War at Sea Volume I: The Mediterranean. No map, no play!

Gaming the Russo-Japanese War

In their introduction to the Naval Institute Press/Naval War College Press edition of Sir Julian S. Corbett’s Maritime Operations in the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905, John B. Hattendorf and Paul S. Schurman write:

Corbett’s study of the war between Russia and Japan, written only a decade after the events, contains useful material for the present. He examines in some detail the technical developments of the time that were influential in the war: namely, torpedo attacks, tactical maneuvers, speed and range of battleships, armament, and communications. These aspects are largely of the ‘period piece’ variety, but understanding their interplay nonetheless retains our interest. It is the balance between tactics and strategy that will engage the reflective reader, who may find relationships between then and now that could serve as a basis for a modern war game. (p. xv)

….

Thus, Corbett pointed out the pros and cons of ‘limited war’ by showing that what actually happened was not the only feature of the campaign to warrant assessment. He also pointed out the narrow margin on which Japan operated, a margin that the Russians might have exploited, but did not. It is on this level of combined-operations problems, and the possible variations of combined-operations responses, that this book is most instructive. (p. xvi)

I am glad Sir Julian Corbett’s book is instructive, because the modern (or 1999) war game version in The Great War at Sea Volume IV: The Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905 – The Naval War for the Far East is less so. RJW is not bad as a recreation of the battles of the Russo-Japanese War, but as a game of the operations of the war it is far less satisfying. The game may satisfy recreationists, but a strategist wargamer will find it much harder to explore the situation.

I admit that maybe I am asking too much of the game. Both RJW and U.S.N. Plan Orange are slices of a larger, strategic conflict. Maybe I am being too harsh; instead I should accept RJW for what it is and enjoy it, right?


Feature image BoardGameGeek.com

#Wargame Wednesday – Origins Challenge and the challenge of interwar innovation in Great War at Sea: U.S.N. Plan Orange (Avalanche Press Ltd.,1998)

I keep working my way through my Origins Award Winners challenge in 2019. The latest game in my queue is The Great War at Sea: U.S. Navy Plan Orange (Avalanche Press Ltd., 1998). This game won the Origins Award in 1998 for Best Historic Board Game. As a naval wargamer, Plan Orange covers something of a Holy Grail theme for me. Who doesn’t enjoy one of the greatest “what ifs” of history? This title allows you to explore what could of been if the US and Japan had clashed in the 1930s. When this game came out I immediately scooped it up and played the heck out of it!

But…

…my problem today is that as much as I love the theme of U.S.N. Plan Orange, the Great War at Sea (GWaS) system has increasingly disappointed me over time. In the late 1990’s, the Great War at Sea and its World War II counterpart Second World War at Sea (SWWaS) seemed to be the model for depicting an operational-level naval campaign in the early to mid-20th century. Although I viewed the game as innovative in it’s day, with age I am not so sure the game is as innovative as I remember nor models the reality of innovation during the interwar period to my liking.

Design Pedigree

Part of being a grognard for 40 years now is that I pay more attention to the design of a game. When I look at GWaS against other games in my collection I now see how GWaS melds several previous design concepts into a single package. Aircraft operations are like that used in Flat Top (Battleline, 1977). The simple battle resolution and searching is in many ways a refinement of that seen in Flat Top and Bismarck Second Edition (Avalon Hill, 1980). Plotting operations are strikingly similar to that found in Fifth Frontier War (GDW, 1981). I find it conceivable that in 1998 the Origins Awards judges found this marriage of theme with these melded mechanics interesting enough and accomplished in a sufficiently meritorious manner to garner an award. This is not to say that GWaS is a cheap copycat; just that the state of the art in wargame design has come a long way since 1998 and this game series is firmly rooted in the (even then) past.

Interwar Advancements

The book Military Innovation in the Interwar Period (Editors Williamson Murray & Allan R. Millett, Cambridge University Press, 1996) focuses on several interwar innovations including amphibious warfare, aircraft carriers, submarines, and radio and radar. In GWaS, amphibious warfare is treated in very little detail with rule 11.5 Unloading. Aircraft carriers are introduced in the Special Rule 19.0 Air Operations and 20.0 Air Combat. Submarines get another Special Rule, 22.0 Submarine Flotillas. The innovation that is missing is radio and radar.


Is is important for this discussion to take note of several other relevant rules. In the Great War at Sea series, rules 5.1 Plotting and 5.2 Missions represent the command and control of the fleet. To illustrate command and control limitations of World War I, players must plot ahead a certain number of turns based on the mission of a fleet:

  • Transport / Bombardment / Minelaying / Minesweeping missions are plotted at the beginning of the game for the ENTIRE scenario. The only way to change the mission is to Abort which states that, starting two turns ahead (16 hours), the fleet must move by the shortest available route and best speed to a friendly port. Once it reaches a friendly port, a new mission and new set of orders can be plotted.
  • Intercept / Raid missions are plotted two turns (16 hours) in advance. Only warships and colliers/oilers may be assigned Intercept or Raid missions.

Allan R. Millett argues in his “Patterns of Military Innovation” essay that, “Radio communications, communications intercept, cryptography, and radar probably represent the most dramatic, technological changes from one world war to the next”(Murray & Millett, p. 345). The U.S. Navy didn’t express any interest in radar until 1930 (Murray & Millett, p. 289) so it falls outside the realm of U.S.N. Plan Orange. Besides, the real change in radar was in the battle between ships, not searching for fleets in the broad ocean.

Albert Nofi in his book To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940 (Naval War College Press, 2010), points out that as early as Fleet Problem I in 1923 communications was identified as an area of concern (Nofi, p. 54). By Fleet Problem V in 1925 signals intelligence (SIGINT) was used to actively redirect forces:

Late on the 10th (2010-2030) several Blue submarines managed to spot elements of the Black Fleet. Shortly afterward, S-11 (SS-116) “fired” four torpedoes at some Black battleships. All four were ruled to have missed, and S-11 was promptly attacked and sunk by Black destroyers. Blue signals intelligence intercepted Black’s communications regarding this skirmish, and shortly after midnight the Blue Main Body altered course to intercept. (Nofi, p. 75)

The ability to quickly redirect the “Main Body” seems to be captured in the GWaS rules for replotting of Intercept or Raiding fleets though the game imposes a 16 hour delay – four times longer than that demonstrated at sea in 1925. But what about the ability to redirect other fleets (like an amphibious invasion force) around “known” enemy locations? By rules 5.1 and 5.2 the only way to “redirect” an fleet with a transport mission is to Abort. This may make sense in World War I, but by 1930 in Plan Orange is it still a proper implementation of the rule? I also note the same rules are used in the Second World War at Sea-series rules….

The use of tactical signals intelligence (SIGINT) was also changing. The U.S. Navy was learning to use SIGINT in ways far beyond how Jellicoe used intelligence in World War I when often, “The Admiralty, as usual, knew the Germans were at sea but did not at first know their objective” (Paul G. Halpern, A Naval History of World War I, Naval Institute Press, 1994, p. 313). For the U.S. Navy, SIGINT was used to good effect in Fleet Problem VIII in 1928:

Blue was able to secure fixes on the Orange light cruisers on several occasions, and adjusted its movements accordingly. Orange managed to use intercepts to break Blue’s code, but was unable to determine Blue’s course. (Nofi, p. 103)

The search and contact rules in GWaS do not take tactical SIGINT into account in any manner. Should it? To better reflect history maybe it should. Nofi tells us the advancements in cryptography and communications security were very important. In his analysis of “patterns” in the Fleet Problems between 1921-1941, Nofi specifically calls out cryptography and communications security by pointing out:

As a result of notable failures in communications security during Fleet Problems IX (1929), X (1930), and XI (1931), more secure procedures were introduced and tougher ciphers developed. This helped exercise the skills and enhance the experience of American cryptographers, laying the foundation for the enormously successful U.S. Navy cryptographically efforts against Japan during World War II. (Nofi, p. 293).

Plus Side – “Game in a Box”

One factor that is in U.S.N. Plan Orange’s favor is that it is a complete game in the box. Unlike later Avalanche Press GWaS boxed releases which are literally expansions that require ownership of multiple other titles to play, U.S.N. Plan Orange is self-contained. All components needed to play are included. This stand-alone ability makes the game attractive to own as a one-off title and allows players to explore the theme within the GWaS system without further (costly) investment.

To Play or Not to Play

The “complete game is a box” is a good reason for me to keep U.S.N. Plan Orange in my collection. Sure, I don’t play it as often as other games, but when I do it I can pull one box off the shelf and play it. When considering interwar innovations, I grudgingly admit that Plan Orange captures enough of the interwar innovations to keep me playing. One easy change may be to change the delay for replotting to one turn for Intercept/Raids and two turns for all other missions. Certainly I wish it did more, but then again, no game is a perfect model.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#Boardgame Game Night – Deck o’ dice with Quarriors! (@wizkidsgames, 2011)

For the weekend Game Night here at Casa RockyMountainNavy an older game landed on the table. Quarriors! (WizKids, 2011) was the 2013 Origins Award winner for Best Family, Party, or Children’s Game. So tonight, we not only got an older game to the table, but I was able to get another game of my 2019 Origins Challenge checked off.

Looking at my BGG collection, I rate Quarriors! as a 5 – Medicore – Take it or leave it. Tis actually places it in the bottom 15% of my collection. After these replays I am considering raising it to a 6 but…I’m not so sure I really want to do so.

You see, Quarriors! is not really my type of game. I never got into deck-building games and that is the core mechanic in Quarriors!. Sure, it uses dice instead of cards but the core mechanic is the same. I can see how, with familiarity, it should play fast.

The speed of play was partly why I brought the game back out. I am looking for good games to fill a 60 min or less time in the evenings with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Quarriors! should be a perfect fit.

In the end though I just find Quarriors! unsatisfying. If I want a 45 minute game I would rather put Queendomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017) or even Tiny Epic Galaxies (Gamelyn Games, 2015) on the table. I might try it again…

…or maybe not.


Feature image BoardGameGeek

Light #boardgame with Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension (@Cryptozoic, 2013)

Quiet Sunday night on this President’s Day holiday weekend in the States. The RockyMountainNavy Boys are catching up on a TV series and Mrs. RMN is watching her dramas. The Expanse Season 4 hasn’t started yet so I decided to work off another game in my 2019 challenges. My choice tonight – Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension (Cryptozoic Entertainment, 2013). This game is on my 2019 Origins Challenge because it was the 2015 Origins Awards Winner for Fan Favorite in the Children’s Family, & Party Game category.

Since I was playing by myself I tried the Solo variant. I have never tried Gravwell solitaire before so this was a unique experience. Basically, you have four rounds to win. There is one “ghost ship” controlled by a randomly drawn deck and a single derelict on the map.

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Curses…defeated again!

The best I could muster in two games was getting to spaces 35 and 38, far short of the exit at space 55. I really didn’t like the solo variant. I feel it is too short and the ghost ship too random to really develop or implement a strategy. It really seems to come down to luck.

On the plus side, the two games passed around 30 minutes of time. Gravwell is a 2014 Mensa Select game so it should be a real “brainburner” but the solo variant is anything but.

Interestingly, I see that Cryptozoic does not have the license for Gravwell anymore. The current IP holder looks to be Renegade Games. I also see an expansion is in the works.

Sorry, Renegade, but I am not drawn to the expansion.


Feature image by self