Not Conflicted – Why Conflict of Heroes (@Academy_Games) a great #wargame series

MY CORONATINE TIME IS QUICKLY CLOSING DOWN. Starting next week, my job will be going back to about 50% time in-office. So what better reason to get some wargames played? This weekend, I put Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 3rd Edition (Academy Games, 2019) and Conflict of Heroes: Price of Honor, Poland 1939 Expansion (Academy Games, 2010) on the gaming table.

For Storms of Steel the scenario was “Mission 9 – July 10, 1943: Black Knights of the Steppe.” This is part of the Battle of Prokhorovka and features elements of the German Panzer Division LAH confronting armored elements of the Soviet 5th Guards Tank Corps. Germans forces include one Tiger Ie heavy tank with Veteran Cards “Iron Will” (Ignore 1x Hit marker for 1x Command Action Point-CAP) and “Combat Hardened” (reroll 1d6 for 1x CAP). The Soviets set up 2x KV1 tanks hidden at the start of the scenario. The Soviets have Veteran Cards “Motivated Leader” (reduce Rally number by 2 for 1x CAP) and “Concealed” (remain hidden when attacking for 1x CAP as long as a 1 is not rolled).

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This Storms of Steel scenario was played using the Third Edition rules. For those unfamiliar with the legacy of Conflict of Heroes series, the Third Edition created some controversy with the introduction of the Spent Die. In previous editions, units were allocated Action Points (AP) which – once used – resulted in a unit flipping from Fresh to Spent. A turn usually ends when both player’s units are Spent or both take consecutive Pass Actions. In Third Edition, rather than tracking each units AP, players execute an Action and then roll a special Spent Die. If the number rolled is greater than the AP cost, the unit remains Fresh; otherwise it becomes Spent.

A major criticism of the Spent Die is that it is too much luck and can lead to some incredibly unrealistic situations. In my game it looked like this was happening when two German SdKfz 251 halftracks loaded with Panzer Grenadiers raced across the board seemingly at will. Indeed, it really looked bad as even the Tiger I was able to move up quickly bypassing the hidden Soviet KV1s without the opportunity for the Soviets to shoot.

But then the battle took a very different turn.

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Dead Tiger

Those Panzer Grenadier units that raced forward raced right into the jaws of four Soviet T-34 tanks arriving as reinforcements. Now unable to exit the board (1x VP per unit) they instead tried to seize the two Control Markers in the village (each worth 1x VP). Of course, they had raced so far ahead of their tanks they needed to fall back and await support. But as the Germans tanks moved up, they were caught in a deadly crossfire from hidden KV1s and Churchill Mk III’s. Even so, the veteran Tiger I was able to remain undamaged using it’s “Iron Will.” As it moved forward to confront the four T-34’s and support the Grenadiers, the last KV1 broke cover and positioned for a rear shot. To hit required a roll of 10 or greater on 2d6 – the roll was 10. The Hit Marker drawn was DESTROYED. No problem for the Tiger, right? After all, it has that “Iron Will.” But to use that Veteran Card requires 1x CAP and this was the end of the turn and the Germans had no CAP left. No CAP, no “Iron Will.” One dead Tiger and no chance for a German victory in the scenario.

Price of Honor is actually the oldest Conflict of Heroes title in my collection. Technically an expansion to Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear 1st Edition (Academy Games, 2008) it is compatible with the Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear 2nd Edition (2012). Here I decided to try the game using the Third Edition rules. The scenario chosen was “Firefight 2: Cavalry Charge! Polish Cavalry Attack at Krojanty – Sept 1, 1939.” Here elements of the Polish 18th Uhlans Regiment ambush a column of the German 76th Motorized Infantry Regiment. The Poles must inflict maximum damage and try to seize and hold critical junctions before the German armored car detachment arrives which will easily overwhelm the cavalry.

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Courtesy Academy Games

The special rule in this Price of Honor scenario is Horse (Cavalry) Units. Not only do horses receive a movement bonus in certain terrain, but they also possess advantages in Close Combat (CC) when mounted. Much like history, the Uhlans emerged from the forest and charged the dismounted German Rifle units. In the first two turns the Germans were routed. The Uhlans then struck out for the other two crossroads. The first one was guarded by a German Light Machine Gun (LMG) in a building that proved unbeatable and would hold until the end. Both sides raced towards the final crossroads with the German foot soldiers just barely arriving before the mounted Polish cavalry. The Uhlans dismounted and attacked through the woods, eventually ejecting the Germans. By now the German SdKfz 231 armored car detachment arrived and was moving towards the last Control Marker. A Soviet Anti-Tank Rifle (AT Rifle) worked its way to the flank of the German armored cars and took a shot, pinning it down. Through the use of Battle Cards and CAP, the AT Rifle was able to quickly take another shot and scored another hit, brewing up the armored cars. Polish victory!

After playing both these games I am much more comfortable with the Third Edition rules and really like them. I believe the criticism of the Spent Die is unwarranted. If you want a more “realistic” ruleset then maybe those Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kits should be your thing. But if you are like me and enjoy a good “believable” battle with incredible narrative moments, then Conflict of Heroes is perfectly suitable – and satisfying!

RockyMountainNavy’s influential #wargame from the 2010’s (h/t to @playersaidblog for the idea)

Grant over on The Players Aid blog laid out his 15 Influential Wargames from the Decade 2010-2019. In the posting Grant asked for others to give their list. Although I have been a wargaming grognard since 1979 in the early 2010’s I was focused more on role playing games. That is, until 2016 when I turned back into hobby gaming and wargaming in particular. So yes, my list is a bit unbalanced and definitely favors the later-half of the decade. Here is my list of ‘influential’ games arranged by date of publication along with an explanation of why the title influences me.

Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (second edition) – Academy Games, 2012

pic1236709_mdFor the longest time I considered myself near-exclusively a naval wargamer. I’m not sure why, but in early 2017 I picked up a copy of Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (Second Edition). I think at the time I was looking for a good tactical WWII game to play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I am glad I did, as along the way I also discovered the excellent Firefight Generator and Solo Expansion, and eventually other titles to include the latest Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 (2019) where I have a small credit in the rulebook. This game, like no other, awakened me to the ‘new look’ of wargames and the positive influence the Eurogame segment of the hobby market can have on wargaming.

1775 Rebellion – The American Revolution – Academy Games, 2013

1775-header-v3In 2017 I attended the CONNECTIONS Wargaming Conference. There I met a fine gentleman, Uwe Eickert, of Academy Games. As we talked about his Conflict of Heroes series (I even helped him demo a few games) I mentioned my boys and our search for good family wargames. Uwe strongly recommended his Birth of America series, especially 1775 Rebellion. So I ordered it and the RMN Boys and myself sat down to play this lite-wargame – and we haven’t looked back since. We now own all the Birth of America and Birth of Europe series. 878 Vikings is one game the oldest (least gamer) RMN Boy will play with us. Most influential because it shows that there are much, much better ‘family-wargames’ than Risk. As an added bonus, I am working with one of my youngest boy’s high school teachers to bring this game into his classroom.

Next War: Poland  – GMT Games, 2015

569After attending CONNECTIONS 2017, I tried to become a bit of a wargaming advocate at my job. So I looked at more ‘serious’ wargames. One of the hot topics of the day is the Baltics and Russia. I looked for wargames that could build understanding of the issues, especially if it comes to open conflict. Sitting on my shelf from long ago was were several GMT Games ‘Crisis’ series titles, Crisis: Korea 1995 and Crisis: Sinai 1973. I had heard about updated versions but had been reluctant to seek them out. Now I went searching and found a wargame that is a master-level study into the military situation. This game influenced me because it shows that a commercial wargame can be used for ‘serious’ purposes.

Wing Leader: Victories, 1940 – 1942 – GMT Games, 2015

pic2569281Before 2017, an aerial combat wargame to me was a super-tactical study of aircraft, weapons, and maneuver. The most extreme version was Birds of Prey (Ad Astra, 2008) with it’s infamous ‘nomograph.’ I had all-but-given-up on air combat games until I discovered the Wing Leader series. But was this really air combat? I mean, the map is like a side-scroll video game? The first time I played the level of abstraction in combat resolution was jarring. But as I kept playing I discovered that Wing Leader, perhaps better than any other air combat game, really captures ‘why’ the war in the air takes place. Units have missions they must accomplish, and those missions are actually the focus of this game, not the minutia of flap settings or Pk of a missile hit. Influential because it shows me that model abstraction is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when done right like it is here.

Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection – GMT Games, 2016

582As I returned to wargaming in 2016-2017, I kept hearing about this thing called the COIN-series. I looked at a few titles but was not quite ready to go ‘full-waro’* so I backed off. At the same time, having moved to the East Coast, I was much more interested in the American Revolution. By late 2017 I was becoming more ‘waro-friendly’ so when I had a chance to purchase Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection I took it. I’m really glad I did. LoD is influential because it taught me that a wargame can be political and a real tool of learning. I understand that LoD is the designer’s ‘view’ of the American Revolution but I enjoy experimenting within that vision and seeing what I can learn.

Command & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution – Compass Games, 2017

cctri_ar_lgPrior to my wargaming renaissance, I acquired Memoir ’44 for the RockyMountainNavy Boys. We also had Battlelore and in an effort to entice the oldest RMN Boy (an ancient history lover) into gaming had given him Commands & Colors: Ancients. That is to say, Commands & Colors was not new to the RMN House. As part of my American Revolution kick I picked up Commands & Colors Tricorne thinking I would try to get the RMN Boys to play this version. Instead, I fell in love with the game. Influential because it showed me that with just a few simple rules tweaks a highly thematic, yet ‘authentic’, gaming experience is possible even with a simple game engine.

South China Sea – Compass Games, 2017

scs-cover-for-web_1Remember I said I was a naval wargamer? Notice the lack of naval wargames on this list? That’s because I found few that could match my experiences with the Victory Games Fleet-series of the 1980’s. That is, until I played South China Sea. All the more interesting because it started out as a ‘professional’ wargame designed for a DoD customer. Not a perfect game, but influential because it shows me it is possible to look at modern warfare at sea by focusing less on the hardware and more on the processes of naval warfare as well as being an example of a professional-gone-commercial wargame.

Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 – Hollandspiele, 2017

slar_wb_largeAt CONNECTIONS 2017, Uwe Eickert sat on a panel and recommended to all the DoD persons in the room that if they want logistics in a wargame they need to look at Hollandspiele’s Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 game. I found the game online and ordered it (from a very strange little company using a Print-on-Demand publishing model..WTF?). When it arrived and I put it on the table and played I was blown away. First, it has ‘cubes,’ not armies or dudes. Second, it really teaches why certain locations were crucial for the American Revolution. Third, it’s challenging and just darn fun to play. Influential because this was the first game I recognized as a ‘waro’, and the first of many quirky Hollandspiele titles that I enjoy.

Pavlov’s House – DVG, 2018

pic5126590Solo wargames are very procedural, right? So procedural they are nothing more than a puzzle to be solved, right. Not Pavlov’s House. I was blown away by the strategy and story that comes thru every play of this game. This is a solo game that makes you want to play because it’s the strategy that counts, not the procedure. Influential because I showed me what a solo game can be as well as how a game that screams ‘Euro’ is actually a wargame.

Blue Water Navy – Compass Games, 2019

TYt4vmWiRnWl0MUjqKCZUwAs the decade came to a close, I had all-but-given up on naval wargaming. When I first saw Blue Water Navy I had thoughts of one of my favorite strategic WW3 at Sea games, Seapower & the State (Simulations Canada, 1982). The play length of BWN, 1-16 hours, kinda put me off at first as I prefer shorter games. As I read more I became more intrigued so I finally purchased it. Now it sits on this list as an influential game because it shows me how abstraction and non-traditional wargame mechanics (cards?) can be used to craft a game that literally plays out like a Tom Clancy or Larry Bond novel. 

Brave Little Belgium – Hollandspiele, 2019

5SEI37l%T5yLJJc7vRLX2wI have been a grognard since 1979. Why do I need a simple wargame that doesn’t even use hexes? I mean, this game uses a chit-pull mechanic (good for solo play) and point-to-point movement. In a game this simple there can’t be much depth, right? Hey, where is the CRT? Speak about a small war…. Influential because this game shows that simplicity can be a very high art. Brave Little Belgium is my go-to quick intro wargame for hobby boardgamers. 

Hold the Line: The American Civil War – Worthington Publishing, 2019

6HSa418vRrKP6Dyy%qokEgThis one is very personal. My Middle Boy is on the autism spectrum and when his younger brother started an evening program once a week the Middle one was a bit lost without his companion. So I looked around for a wargame we could play in a sort of ‘filler-wargame’ mode – short and simple on a weeknight. And play we did; ten times in 2019. He beat me seven times. Influential because this game – sometimes derided as a simplified ‘Command & Colors wannabe’ – connected me closer to my Middle Boy than any game before.

Less Than 60 Miles – Thin Red Line Games, 2019

Gi47YGXvSuiIL8pOfxkb3gThe folks from the US Army Command & General Staff College at CONNECTIONS 2019 had a copy of Less Than 60 Miles on their table and were singing praises of the game. I was fortunate enough to be able to trade for the game later on BGG. What I discovered was a wargame built around John Boyd’s OODA Loop. At the same time I was reading A New Conception of War: John Boyd, the U.S. Marines, and Maneuver Warfare. Putting the two of them together was like lightening in a bottle. This is a heavy, serious game that is also playable and enjoyable. Influential for no other reason than it shows me that OODA applies far beyond the cockpit; indeed, I need to look at OODA for many more games.

Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest – Might Boards Games, 2019Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest – Might Boards Games, 2019

nof_packshotBrian Train is a designer that often looks at lesser or different wars and always brings forth an interesting perspective in his games. He calls this game, ‘a militarized Eurogame.’ He’s right; this title is the full embodiment of a waro game. I often argue with myself if this is even a wargame; after all, you can play solo, head-to-head, teams, or cooperative. Hobby boardgame or wargame? Influential for that very reason as it represents to me the full arrival of the ‘waro’ to the hobby gaming market.

Tank Duel – GMT Games, 2019

zGtfgQKQQ+SJpwWwL2RlAwLike Nights of Fire, this can’t really be a wargame. It has no board, no dice, and no CRT. Instead it has ‘tableaus’ for tanks and (lots of) cards! You can also play up to eight players. There is no player elimination – tanks respawn! What on earth is this? Influential because it challenges all my traditional views of a wargame only to deliver some of the best wargaming experiences I have ever had at the gaming table.

There are many more games from 2010-2019 that influenced me. Games with the chit-pull mechanic are now my favorite to solo with, but I didn’t put one on the list. Maybe I should of….

Hmm…I see it’s also hard to pin down one particular publisher that particularly influences me. In this list of 15 games we have:

  • 4x GMT Games
  • 3x Compass Games
  • 2x Academy Games
  • 2x Hollandspiele
  • 1x DVG
  • 1x Mighty Boards Games
  • 1x Thin Red Line Games
  • 1x Worthington Publishing

Not a bad spread!


*’Waro’ – A combination of ‘wargame’ and ‘Eurogame. To me it is a wargame that incorporates Eurogame like look/components or mechanics vice a traditional hex & counter wargame.

#Wargame Wednesday: Maybe you can teach Marines – or – Using Next War: Poland (@GMTGames, 2017) for Professional Military Education

Mitchell Land, designer of the Next War-series of modern wargames from GMT Games posted a piece on the Inside GMT Games Blog titled Semper Fi! – The Next War at Marine War College. In the blog he talks about using Next War: Poland (GMT Games, 2017) as a learning exercise at the Marine Corps War College. His experience using wargames in a military classroom tracks closely with mine and highlights the value of gaming as an educational tool.

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GMT Games

According to Mitchell, the key takeaways of the day for him were:

1. They’re playing Next War: Poland at the Marine War College. How freaking cool is that?

2. See #1. 🙂

3. The After Action Review was a fascinating insight into the warfighters’ minds. Sorry I can’t discuss it here, because, then I’d have to shoot you. Just kidding. They’re just like wargamers all over the world. They dissected some of the moves and discussed and considered options in terms of the operational and strategic imperatives driven by both the game and the real world.

4. I heard, distinctly, in terms of the game: “You’re not far off.” That warms the cockles of my heart (whatever those are).

5. The Advanced Game, as much as I love it, is not the right presentation for a learning experience. We switched to the Standard Game about half way through, which was interesting since there were bunch of Strike markers on the map not to mention the HQs. At the end of the day, though, the students improvised, adapted, and overcame (see what I did there?).

6. Overall impressions were favorable. The students could see the operational issues and anticipate and react accordingly.

7. Did you see #1?

Reactions #1, #2, and #7 are exactly why I play wargames; it’s freaking cool! Fun factor aside, I also play wargames for serious reasons. In keeping with #5 I have found that when teaching the best wargames are the most simple ones. As tempting as it it to “play with all the chrome” the reality is that the extra learning burden can obscure the real learning objective. I often find that when playing with non-wargamers, the basic rules often work fine and the scenario can be used to bring out concepts that need to be explored. In the case of military professionals, the students are often very knowledgeable about the subject but when able to visualize it on a map and physically move units (a tactile function) it creates a connection to the subject more powerful than reading it or seeing it passively on a screen.

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A matrix game (wargamingconnection.com)

The best wargames are not simulations, but abstracted models of real (or plausible) events. Although there are many commercial wargames available, sometimes it is best to make your own. As much as I want to call these games professional, they often don’t compare in physical quality to the hobby market segment of the gaming hobby. But that is not necessarily a bad thing; the focus of play need not be simulating the war, but highlighting in the wargame key factors or concepts upon which the battle may turn. Sometimes there is a commercial game that can be leveraged for this purpose; sometimes not.

Mitchell goes on to talk about the best parts of the day:

The best part was the wide ranging wrap up discussion which covered such ground as having the right kind of leader in place in an allied effort, a la Eisenhower, along with a brief deliberation of how Eisenhower, Bradley, and Patton all seemed to end up in the right place after all. There was a fairly cogent analysis of how much of that was planning versus just plain dumb luck. Immediately following that “well it was political” argument, there was a review of what might have happened had Lincoln put Grant in command earlier rather than trying to delay his rise because he thought he was a potential political rival.

Naturally, of course, some of the discussion revolved quite a bit around Russian intentions and motivations vis a vis the Baltics as well as what might really happen if this new cold war got hot. Most importantly, we talked about how best to represent those motivations in a game format. Nugget of wisdom here: it call comes down to appropriately defining the victory conditions.

When using wargames for teaching, the most important, and arguably the most educational, part of the “game” is the After Action Review (AAR). This is where the players can reflect on what they experienced in the wargame and draw “lessons learned.” This is also where a good instructor and a strong lesson plan can make a difference. In a professional wargame I recently playtested the instructors first discussed basic military factors before playing the game. After the game, those same factors formed the outline of the discussion. It was very satisfying to see how quickly the players/students connected with the concepts introduced in the lecture and were immediately able to relate them to an event or situation that happened in game.

If you want to see what “serious games” are like (Spoiler Alert – they cover more than just wargames) then the best place to check out is Rex Brynen’s PAXSims. As the website says, PAXSims “is devoted to peace, conflict, humanitarian, and development simulations and serious games for education, training, and policy analysis.” For an example of how the UK Defence Forces are incorporating wargaming into military education, planning, decision-making, and analysis read the Defence Wargaming Handbook.

Read through them, and learn something today.


Feature image paxsims.wordpress.com

#Wargame Professional – Fighting Next War (@gmtgames) using Army Multi-Domain Operations

In Next War: Poland from GMT Games (2017) the players are challenged to fight a a near-future conflict in Eastern Europe. It asks,

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GMT Games

Can you, as the Russian player, enforce your will on the West and regain your former status in world affairs? Or will you, as SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) successfully use the assets at your disposal to blunt the Russian attack and save Poland?

In December 2018, the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) publicly released their new warfare concept, Army Multi-Domain Operations in 2028The pamphlet…

…describes how the Army contributes to the Joint Force’s principal task as defined in the unclassified Summary of the National Defense Strategy: deter and defeat Chinese and Russian aggression in both competition and conflict. The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations concept proposes detailed solutions to the specific problems posed by the militaries of post-industrial, information-based states like China and Russia. Although this concept focuses on China and Russia, the ideas also apply to other threats. (p. vi)

The Boogeymen in this document is the Bear and Dragon:

The Chinese and Russian militaries are powerful, but they also have vulnerabilities that MDO seek to exploit. Both China and Russia are fielding mutually supporting systems designed to be effective against the well-understood patterns, posture, and capabilities of the current Joint Force. Altering Joint Force operational patterns and force posture will mitigate existing capacity and capability gaps and create opportunities to exploit Chinese and Russian operational shortfalls. The militaries of China and Russia have and will continue to have finite capacity of critical capabilities. The Joint Force’s demonstrated capability to destroy or defeat these critical capabilities would prevent China and Russia from accomplishing objectives in competition, succeeding in armed conflict, or effectively transitioning to consolidation operations. (p. 15)

As a wargamer, either a player or designer, there is alot of fodder within. Although I am sure many veteran players of Next War will think they know how to do better, an interesting challenge is to try and use Army Multi-Domain Operations (MNO) in the game. This might necessitate a few house rules or tweaks to adjust the game engine to support the concept of Penetrate, dis-integrate, and exploit.

Penetrate, dis-integrate, and exploit. In the event of armed conflict, Army forward presence and expeditionary forces enable the rapid defeat of aggression through a combination of calibrated force posture, multi-domain formations, and convergence to immediately contest an enemy attack in depth. Army long-range fires converge with joint multi-domain capabilities to penetrate and dis-integrate enemy anti-access and area denial systems to enable Joint Force freedom of strategic and operational maneuver. Within the theater, Army forces converge capabilities to optimize the employment of capabilities from across multiple domains against critical components of the enemy’s anti-access and area denial systems, specifically long-range air defense and fires systems. Convergence against the enemy’s long-range systems enables the initial penetration. This sets the conditions for a quick transition to joint air-ground operations in which maneuver enables strike and strike enables maneuver. MDO in the Close and Deep Areas combine fires, maneuver, and deception to dislocate the enemy defense by physically, virtually, and cognitively isolating its subordinate elements, thereby allowing friendly forces to achieve local superiority and favorable force ratios. Army forces, having penetrated and begun the dis-integration of the enemy’s anti-access and area denial systems, exploit vulnerable enemy units and systems to defeat enemy forces and achieve friendly campaign objectives. As part of the Joint Force, Army forces rapidly achieve given strategic objectives (win) and consolidate gains. (p. 25)

I am sure there have been many wargames using this concept, probably in classified settings. Publicly, we have seen the RAND study of wargaming the defense of the Baltics. But you don’t need a clearance to take a wargame, some warfare concepts, and mix the two together. Just call it “professional fun.”


Feature image courtesy army.mil