A Different #Wargame Mission -or- Thoughts on The Mission: Early Christianity from the Crucifixion to the Crusades – A Solitaire Boardgame by R. Ben Madison (White Dog Games, 2020)

What is a wargame? (Answer…DON’T ASK).

I recently acquired a new game. From designer R. Ben Madison and White Dog Games in 2020 comes The Mission: Early Christianity from the Crucifixion to the Crusades – A Solitaire Boardgame. In many ways this “game” is not in my wheelhouse because it comes with two strikes; the game mechanism is solitaire-by-design and the topic is religion. A bit to my surprise, I found The Mission to be a very engaging game design and topic.

The Mission – box cover

Wargame or Boardgame?

For very personal reasons, I hesitate to call any game about religion a “wargame.” When I was looking at the sales material about The Mission I noted the solitaire game mechanisms are built upon the venerable States of Siege game engine—very much a wargame. But then the subtitle of The Mission calls itself, “A Solitaire Boardgame” so I found some comfort. Once I got the box and read more I found this discussion on the box back:

Beginners and experienced players will find this an intriguing, and very different kind of game. While certainly a war of ideas, it is still very much a war game, where victory depends upon managing scarce resources (including Holy Relics!) and making shrewd strategic decisions to benefit the Church. The Mission is a power-politics overview of the Early Church form its beginnings through the Crusades, but one that never loses sight of the importance of church-building and pastoral ministry.

The Mission, box back
The Mission – box back

Now, I read my history books and I understand there were holy wars throughout time immortal, but is the creation of the Church a war? A challenging viewpoint from designer R. Ben Madison. My experience with a few R. Ben Madison designs taught me that he often has a viewpoint and is not afraid to wear it on his shoulder. This is especially the case in his very strong pro-British viewpoints in Mrs. Thatcher’s War or Don’t Tread on Me. Would he do the same here and show irreverence at the history of the Church?

Alas, designer R. Ben Madison in The Mission uses the States of Siege game engine to deliver a unique and thought-provoking view of the rise of early Christianity. While playing The Mission I never actually felt like I was in a wargame, even when combat was involved. Instead, I strongly felt the resource-management, almost engine-building aspects of the game. At the same time, it inspired me to seek out more knowledge and build understanding.

Much of The Mission is actually presented without real commentary. The game turn track—called the Acts Track—relates historical events and there is some historical commentary in the rule book. While playing the game I found myself actually looking for more information than was provided. What exactly were those Heresies? Further, while your “mission” in The Mission is to grow the Church, in many ways you are “along for the ride” as events will happen with or without your actions. The actions you do take won’t really stop/start the rise the Church, but they will influence the degrees of success (or failure) on the rise.

The Mission – rule book

One commentator, Dan Thurot at Space Biff, states, “The Mission is too preoccupied with being playable.” In this case I don’t mind that emphasis, as it lets me play a “game” of religion without too much commentary.

Get Used to Different

Religion and myself have an on-again, off-again relationship. I was strong as a youth, fell out as a young adult, was luke-warm for some years, and recently have tried again. Playing The Mission has supported my return to religion, if for no other reason than it has inspired me to learn more. Playing games to learn about and better understand the world is one of the major reasons I continue in this hobby (and why Eurogames—so often just game mechanisms with thin themes pasted on—usually fail to attract or keep my attention). What I really enjoy about The Mission is how it can “teach without preach;” i.e. it gives me a relatable pathway to learning without throwing it in my face.

The Mission is going to be on the table for a bit as I experience it more. In this case a slow-play is quite welcome as the game becomes a vehicle to learning and not just a pass-the-time entertainer. R. Ben Madison in The Mission has given me a very different wargame that takes some getting used to, but is impressive in its ability to deliver an experience far beyond the simple gameplay on the table.


Feature image courtesy teepublic.com

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#Wargame Wednesday – #SnippetThoughts >> Don’t Tread on Me: The American Revolution Solitaire Board Game, 2nd Edition by R. Ben Madison (White Dog Games, 2015)

As a general rule I tend to not like solitaire games, in no small part because the “AI” or “bot” or whatever is running the “other side” in the game is often represented using very procedural rules. It is that very “procedural” part of a solitaire game design that makes me feel like I don’t have agency in the game. In this respect, Don’t Tread on Me (DToM) by R. Ben Madison at White Dog Games is not that different from the many other (often vanilla-playing) solitaire games out there.

Except it isn’t vanilla, but a fine wine.

2nd Edition map is 22’x17″

Maybe it’s the perspective. In DToM you the player take on the role of the British side. Your job is to defeat those “Damn Yankees” (whoops, wrong war!) and keep the colonies in the Empire. You face the challenge of putting down the insurgency in the colonies, much like the United States would have to deal with the Viet Cong in Vietnam two centuries later.

(Colonies) of Siege

Don’t Tread on Me is built around a game system that is commonly called States of Siege. Truth be told, States of Siege is probably better thought of as a genre of games rather than a set of rules since each game in the “series” has its own variation of the rules.

Don’t Tread on Me – At Start

This is where DToM is very procedural. The various steps in a turn should must be executed in a very procedural manner to avoid “breaking” the AI. This is usually where I chafe at a solitaire game; the game system often makes me feel like a human component manipulator and not a gaming player given agency in decisions. Solitaire games also tend to be “predicable” in that the set procedures often force one to adhere to a well-known (or easily recognizable) historical/game flow.

This is where DToM shines; for within the seemingly rigid procedures there are plenty of decision points to give the player agency. Lest one become too comfortable with the flow of a turn, there is a chance some random event or a major/minor campaign will break out. As a player you can plan for such eventualities, but you never really control the emerging, often chaotic, situation. This is where one must have a plan that is flexible and adaptable to an ever-changing situation—albeit one rigidly played out. Although DToM tends to follow a “known” historical flow of events, the actual arrival of the event or how much of a change it makes to the game state (i.e. history) is driven by player decisions.

DToM also reminds the players that they are the British Empire and those “rabble rousers” are beneath them. Designer R. Ben Madison never misses a chance to tear down the Founding Fathers; George Washington is an inept General, Thomas Jefferson is a fleeing coward, and Sam Adams is a “spin doctor.”

Which is why playing DToM and winning—or losing—is so satisfying. To win is to overcome history when it was stacked against you. To lose is to be defeated by those colonist so beneath your station.

Britain’s Vietnam

In more than one place R. Ben Madison draws a comparison in Don’t Tread on Me between the U.S involvement in Vietnam with the British counter-insurgency in North America. Maybe that is a good comparison, though I personally feel it simplifies (dare I say, “white washes”) much of the history of the later conflict. By framing Don’t Tread on Me in terms of a very unpopular and divisive war a player starts play with a real sense that this is different.

Like most solitaire games to win is actually a challenge. Sometimes the loss can be blamed on a game system that is so rigid and procedural that one glitch in execution radically alters the game and makes victory a mechanical impossibility. Yes, that can happen in Don’t Tread on Me but the procedures are rather straight-forward and it immediately becomes obvious in play that victory or defeat will depend on the player decision, not the bot.

I played two games of Don’t Tread on Me for my June lead-up to American Independence Day. Both times I lost, the second game by a narrow margin. If nothing else Don’t Tread on Me shows just how much the American Revolution was a “near-run thing.”


Photos and Feature image by self

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#SundaySummary – Summer, Kid’s Games, and INCOMING! #Wargame #Boardgame @ADragoons @kbgpublishing @SmartGamesUSA @LederGames @AcademyGames @gmtgames

Summer Slow Down

Now comes the time of the year that the days are longer and outdoor chores call, which means there is less time for gaming which in turn means a bit of a seasonal slow-down in this blog too. That said, in the coming weeks look for:

  • A new Wargame Library series
  • Some American Independence Day wargaming
  • A return of my 2022 #TTRPG Character Generation (CharGen) Challenge
  • A return of family boardgame/wargame weekends
  • A new long-piece on a next Korean War for The Armchair Dragoons
  • New arrivals (more on that below)

Coco-NUTS

Mrs. RockyMountainNavy’s favorite student had her birthday this last month. We gifted her with Coconuts (Korea Boardgames Co., 2013). Coconuts is ranked #8 on the BoardGameGeek Children’s category and deservedly so. This is a fun dexterity game with an awesome toy factor. Miss A loved the game and we all had fun playing it with her.

Courtesy BGG

We also gifted Miss A Smart Farmer (Smart Games) which is a one-player puzzle game. Now I get it; one-player puzzle games are considered “Outside the Scope of BGG”. Doesn’t mean these are not “games” and more importantly aren’t fun. Mrs. RMN has long favored Rush Hour (Think Fun) as the go-to puzzle game for youngsters, but admittedly getting girls to play with cars is sometimes “challenging.” In Smart Farmer you have to use the fences to separate the animals. What makes this game so appealing (yet again) is the toy factor; the animals are cute to look at and have some heft and a slightly rubberized texture when handled. So not only does the game look great, it feels great. Little Miss A is already working though the 60 challenges. Truth be told, we also learned that Miss A’s mother is working to keep up with her daughter as they are “racing” each other to see who can solve more puzzles in a day.

Courtesy smartgames.usa

For what it’s worth, Youngest RMN played Police Escape Blockade (now available as SmartGames RoadBlock…but apparently only in Europe) when he came home after school in his early elementary years. While his older siblings worked on their homework, he would work on the next one or two puzzle challenges. When he finished all of them he just went back to the beginning and started all over again. This game was instrumental in helping him learn life-long skills like concentration, logical thinking, spatial awareness, and problem-solving. Yeah, we played many other boardgames but puzzle games like Police Escape Blockade were very useful as after school fillers for the young ones.

Fire Mission; Grid 20….

After a long (postal) drought, it looks like some wargames and boardgame pre-orders are finally nearing delivery!

To date in 2022, I have taken delivery of just a mere two pre-order/Kickstarter fulfillments; that being AuZtralia: Revenge of the Old Ones and AuZtralia: TaZmania from Schimil Games in mid-March. and (just this week) 2 Minutes to Midnight by Stuart Tonge from Plague Island Games. Now a few more games are getting closer to gracing the shelves of Casa de Rocky:

This week I also ordered another Ben Madison product from his White Dog Games studio. The Mission: Early Christianity from the Crucifixion to the Crusades will be arriving soon.


Feature image Virginia Beach in the morning, taken by self

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#FirstImpressions – Mrs. Thatchers War: The Falklands, 1982 (White Dog Games, 2017)

I freely admit that solo wargames are not my usual thing. I dislike games that devolve into a repetitive set of processes that the player repeats until some victory condition is triggered. So it was with some hesitation that I picked up Mrs. Thatcher’s War: The Falklands, 1982 by designer R. Ben Madison and published by White Dog Games in 2017. In 1982, I was a young middle school lad with a great interest in military and wargaming. I watched the broadcast and cable TV stories about the Falklands War. Since then, the war has become a bit of a fascination of mine. Unfortunately, there are few games out there on the subject. So, after some hesitation, I let my love of the Falklands War conquer my fear of solo games and ordered.

I’m glad I did.

IMG_0339
Near end game conditions

Component-wise, the game is not very fancy. Printed by Blue Panther, the same company that provided POD for Hollandspiele, the two maps (8.5″x11″ Strategic Map and 11″x17″ East Falklands Map) and 88 counters (nice and thick that punch out neatly) make for a fairly small gaming footprint. If necessary, a small 3″x3″ card table could be used.

Rules-wise, the game is procedural, like I guess most every solo game is. the difference I found in Mrs. Thatcher’s War is that between the procedures there is enough player-choice to keep it interesting. My thoughts by phase include:

A. Appreciate the Situation – The weather is very important, making this first roll an item of major interest. Will you be able to fly? Or will the entire turn be skipped in Gales? Do you have an SAS Raid this turn? If yes, what target and when will they return for another raid?

B. Grupos Phase – Seemingly mechanical, until you realize that each Grupos will generate attacking aircraft in places you maybe don’t really want.

C. Task Force Phase – The British player only has a four ships; 2x Carrier and 2x Escort. With these few ships you have to fight off Grupos attacks, sink enemy ships, defend the carriers, supply the landings, and maybe even provide Naval Gunfire Support. Too few assets for too many missions means choices (risk) must be taken. Oh yeah, watch out for Exocet missiles too! Mess up and public opinion (BBC News) drops making the ground war more difficult.

D. Argentine Air Assets Phase – More mechanics, but his step gets the Argentinian aircraft in play. A simple placement mechanic makes the arrival of aircraft both random and sorta realistic.

E. British Air Assets PhaseHarriers arrive to fight battles in the sky.

F. Argentine Junta Plan Phase – More than any other phase, the Junta Phase takes all the set, easily recognizable mechanical procedures and introduces events that mess up all the plans. The Argentine aircraft, carefully placed in Phase D and defended against in Phase E now move around (realistically) into new areas that the British player may not be ready for! Again, too few resources (Harriers) against too many threats (Argentinian aircraft).

G. Air Battle Phase – At first I thought the single d6 resolution mechanic was way too simple. After play I realize it is a speedy way to get believable results of the battle without too much time or rules complexity.

H. Ground War Phase – The war may be on the ground but naval forces (like Escorts for supply) and aircraft (for Air Superiority) are important to the troops. Even the Ships Taken Up From Trade (STUFT) is important bemuse that is where your helicopters are – or not. This is also where the pressure in the game comes from; the Landing at San Carlos can be no earlier than Turn 7 and the game ends on Turn 19. You have to get the troops ashore and moved across East Falklands before the game ends. Helicopters help, but you must be ready to Yomp your way across the island if necessary.

I. Logistics/Invasion Phase – This is definitely an administrative phase with a reset of the game state for the next turn. The News Headlines Table is the random events action. If there was one part I disliked it was the repetitive nature of the News Headlines. Or maybe I just don’t roll random enough?

J. End of Turn – Lather, rinse, repeat.

Bias. I don’t think anyone will accuse Mr. Madison of being neutral in designing this game. My cover prominently carries the “Banned in Argentina” banner. This title unabashedly depicts a British view of the war with just a few good nods to the Argentinians. That said, even though Ben Madison repeatedly criticizes the Argentinians, he also points out the foibles of the British too. That is not to say the game is rigged for the British player; rather, the game places the player squarely in the role of the Task Force Commander who must use naval and air power to deliver troops to East Falkland and execute a land campaign – before the clock runs out.

Final Call. On July 4, 1982, as Task Force Commander Admiral Sandy Woodward lowered his flag, he signaled:

As I haul my South Atlantic flag down, I reflect sadly on the brave lives lost, and the good ships gone, in the short time our trial. I thank whole heartedly each and every one of you for your gallant support, tough determination and fierce perseverance under bloody conditions. Let us all be grateful that Argentina doesn’t breed bulldogs and, as we return severally to enjoy the blessings of our land, resolve that those left behind for ever shall not be forgotten. (Admiral Sandy Woodward, One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander, ix.)

No wargame can recreate a war perfectly, but Mrs. Thatcher’s War does a better-than-average job of delivering the pressures of this short, little war to the game table. Like I stated at the beginning, I don’t usually like solo games but Mrs. Thatchers War has just enough player choice to keep it interesting in the midst of the mechanical actions. Most importantly, the mechanics of the game and choices create a narrative of events that seem both plausible and believable.