#SundaySummary – Stepping into Combat Commander: Pacific (@GMTGames), a throw back to the Falklands (admiraltytrilogy.com), red alert kudos for No Motherland Without (@compassgamesllc) and Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (@StrongholdGames) #wargame #boardgame

Wargames

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!

Boardgames

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>

Kickstarter

After lamenting a few weeks back on my reluctance to back any Kickstarters I succumbed to the pressure – to back Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (Stronghold Games via Kickstarter). My hope is that this can be a Family Game Night title. Speaking of which, we have sadly fallen off the Weekly Game Night bandwagon. Time to get back up….

The Pratzen, Austerlitz 1805 by 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.

Books

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.

#SundaySummary – My Kursk Kampaign with @RBMStudio1, Standard Combat with @MultiManPub, Going Social with @consimworld, a Dice-y Podcast with @ADragoons, and Going West with @IndependenceGa6

Wargames

I continue to work on my Kursk Kampaign History-to-Wargame (or is it Wargame-to-History?) project. This is a special series I am working on to look at the Battle of Kursk using both books and wargames. The “core wargame” I am using is Trevor Bender’s Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning, 1943 from RBM Studio as found in C3i Magazine Nr. 34 (2020). I don’t know if the series will feature here or at Armchair Dragoons yet.

Multi-Man Publishing found some wayward stock in their warehouse. Good for me because I was able to pick up another Standard Combat Series title; Karelia ’44: The Last Campaign of the Continuation War (2011). As with every SCS game, I am interested in the “gimmick” rule; in this case the “Boss Point” system which varies game length.

Do you know that ConSimWorld has a new social site? I’m trying it but am really unsure. I can be found there as (you might of guessed) RockyMountainNavy. What do you think?

Boardgames

Not a very busy boardgaming week except for recording an episode of Mentioned in Dispatches for the Armchair Dragoons. Look Listen for the episode to drop next week. In the meantime check out my meager dice collection here.

My pre-order for No Motherland Without by Dan Bullock from Compass Games should be shipping next week. As a guy who spent nearly 1/3 of my military career on the Korean peninsula to say I am “interested” in this title is an understatement.

Role Playing Games

I’m not really into Western RPG’s but I am sure tempted with the release of Rider: A Cepheus Engine Western from Independence Games. I love what John Watts has done in The Clement Sector setting for his Alternate Traveller Universe and am sure he has brought the same level more love to this setting. Here is how he described Rider in a December blog post:

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”.

Books

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).


Feature image nolimitzone.com

#RockyReads for #Wargame – C3i Magazine Nr. 34, @RBMStudio1, 2020

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If you’re buying C3i Magazine for only the feature game than you are missing out on a great deal of highly interesting wargame-related content. Even if you don’t own the subject game there is still plenty of useful content between the covers.

A Hobby Gem

We are very fortunate in the hobby wargame community to have the excellent gaming publication C3i Magazine from RBM Studios. Not only because every issue ships with a nice game (or two), but it also holds to a high editorial standard in the writing it prints.

What, you didn’t know that C3i Magazine has articles (gasp!) to read? Surely, you don’t just buy the magazine for the game, right? I hope you don’t because there is lots of wargaming goodness inside every issue.

Issue Nr. 34

From the Editor’s Desk (p.2) – Heads up from Rodger MacGowan on Deluxe versions of games. I’m looking at those C3i-themed dice because, uh, who doesn’t need a few more dice in their collection, right @ACDragoons? For our European gaming partners there is good news about Hexasim and their efforts to bring C3i Magazine across the pond in an affordable manner.

“Lessons Learned” by James Dunnigan (p. 4) – The Godfather of Wargaming gives us his thoughts on happenings in the commercial and professional wargaming worlds. Nice to read more about the history of our hobby and the profession of wargaming from somebody who has been in the business for 30 years…or longer.

“A Developer’s Look Back at 20 Years of the Great Battles of History” by Alan Ray (p. 10) – I personally own only one GBoH title, Samurai (currently on sale for $35), and don’t play it enough. I still found the article an interesting romp through the history of all the titles in the series. A few might even be adding to my wishlist….

“Infantry Tactics Behind Fields of Fire: Part 2 – Offensive Tactics” by Ben Hull (p. 14) – Another title I don’t own; nonetheless it was very interesting to read and see how the game system of Fields of Fire is used to portray infantry tactics. If I find a copy at a decent price I could be tempted….

“The Hunters: C3i Expansion Pack Nr 1” by Gregory M. Smith (p. 19) – Alas, I own another solitaire wargame by Greg Smith, Amerika Bomber: Evil Queen of the Skies (Compass Games, 2020) and not The Hunters. The background and rules for the Type XI U-cruiser are very interesting and makes me more curious about the base game. So this article and the attached insert goes into my “need the base game” collection.

“Battle of Agrigentum, 262 BC – C3i Renaissance Battle Scenario #3 for SPQR Deluxe” by Dan Fournie (p. 20) – Yes, another title I don’t own (and at $105 a bit too rich for my wallet) but the history article and playtesting and design notes that goes along with the scenario card in the magazine are excellent.

“Mark Herman’s Clio’s Corner, Nr 11 – Designing unbalanced games or how to create strategic surprise” by Mark Herman (p. 24) – If you want to be a wargame designer or, heck, if you just want to be a game designer you cannot go wrong reading Mr. Herman’s columns. Yeah, we all can’t put together a game design as often or as cleanly as Mark does, but we can read and get inspiration to design or even just understand a design better. Oh yeah, don’t we all wish we could be taught the mastercraft level of game design through something like Mark’s CBI Blitz? (If you are not an Empire of the Sun fan you may not know what that is but suffice it to say that if Mr. Herman runs the CBI Blitz on you then you have really arrived in the hobby).

“Undaunted: Normandy – Walking in the Footsteps of the US 30th Infantry Division” by David Thompson (p. 34) – This is a beautiful, in many ways intimate, look at the history of the U.S. 30th Infantry Division and the design of Undaunted: Normandy from Osprey Games. It is not often a gamer gets to honor their very own relatives like David was able to with his design. We are all fortunate he was able to retrace his grandfather’s step and give us a great wargame out of that experience.

“France 1944 – General Strategies, Objectives and Guidelines – Compass Games” by Judd Vance (p. 40) – Mr. Vance was the Game Developer for France 1944. Think about that a moment; a developer for a Mark Herman title! Again, I don’t own this game but reading the article revealed much of the thinking behind the game design to me. I may never play the game, but I still learned a bit of history and game design from this article.

“OCS – Wargaming with a Purpose” by Steve Carey with Peter Mogensen (p. 43) – Only in the past year have I gotten into the Standard Combat Series (SCS) from Multi-Man Publishing. I did purchase Operation Mercury last year which is part of the Grand Tactical Series. I’ll admit it, the physical scale of the game is intimidating daunting to me. After reading this article I may be encouraged to dig back into it…maybe.

“Harold Buchanan’s Snakes & Ladders, Mr 1 – Why do we play what we play?” by Harold Buchanan (p. 46) – I’ll admit it, this is actually the primary reason I purchased this issue of C3i Magazine. I had heard/read Harold mentioning his taxonomy of a player (his Historical Simulation Engagement Profile) on his podcast and maybe on a forum. I was ver curious. He asked for thoughts, and in the coming weeks you will probably see what I thought about this very interesting column. I was especially pleased to see that Mr. Patrick Carroll, who wrote an article 31 years ago that inspired Harold, was able to add his comments too.

I’ll admit it, this is actually the primary reason I purchased this issue of C3i Magazine.

RockyMountainNavy on Harold Buchanan’s Snakes & Ladders

“C3i Interveiw: Chad Jensen” by Sam Sheikh (p. 51) – Sadly, Chad Jensen passed from this world in 2019. This interview is a very nice and fitting tribute to a fine designer, husband, and father. I missed out on his Combat Commander titles but they rightfully occupy prominent positions on my wishlist.

“Opening Waterloo Strategy – Waterloo Campaign, 1815” by Mark Herman (p. 55) – Waterloo Campaign, 1815 was the feature game in C3i Magazine Nr. 33. If you have never heard or read Mark talk about his “distilling history to it’s essence” then you really are missing something. Both Waterloo Campaign, 1815 and Gettysburg (C3i Magazine Nr. 32) are real lessons in taking a huge topic and distilling it down to the bare bones to get an easy-to-learn and quick-to play wargame design that remains very engaging.

“Drop Zone: Southern France – Designer’s Notes” by Daniel Fournie (p. 60) – This game languished on the GMT P500 for a while with little movement. At the end of 2020 Dan announced that this game was moving to Worthington Publishing for release in 2021.

“Post Cold War: Making of Post-Cold War World Order” by VPJ Arponen (p. 66) – This article is basically the Designer’s Notes for the game Post Cold War. From the looks of it the game is a commercial wargame that has professional wargaming uses. Hmm….

Don’t Forget…

France 1944 Game Errata. A countersheet with 114 counters for Battle for Kursk (this issues feature game), 16 replacement counters for Issy Campaign (C3i Magazine Nr. 33), and counters for several more games.

…the Games!

Two complete games; Trevor Bender’s Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning, 1943 and Firebase: Vietnam, a solitaire game by Pascal Toupy.

C3i Magazine Issue Nr. 34 is available direct from RBM Studios on the web though I have also bought issues through Amazon in the past.

The Influence #Wargame – @markherman54 Waterloo Campaign 1815 (@RBMStudio1, 2020)

THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO, ALONG WITH THE BULGE AND GETTYSBURG, are probably the most published wargame topics out there. So it was a surprise to me to discover that long-time designer Mark Herman had not designed a Battle of Waterloo wargame.

Before now.

Found in C3i Magazine Nr 33, Mark Herman’s Waterloo Campaign 1815 is the latest entry in the C3i Series games. The first, Gettysburg (C3iMagazine Nr 32, 2018), is a small footprint, rules-lite product that delivers tremendously challenging choices while being suitable for play by both new and experienced players alike. Waterloo Campaign 1815 is a (small) step up in complexity from Gettysburg but still fulfills its mission of “history distilled to it’s essence” (to steal a phrase from Mark Herman himself). It is also a wargame that aims to, literally, influence your play.

Small Game with Big Graphical Art

Waterloo Campaign 1815 is played on a single 22″x34″ map with less than 50 counters. Yes, a single map, very low counter density Battle of Waterloo game exists! The map is beautiful and simple to parse. Corps counters are larger and easy for even this glasses-wearing Grognard to read while the smaller 1/2″ Detachments are easy to distinguish because of their smaller size. The rule book, though 24 pages long, is actually only six pages of rules, two pages for scenarios, 12 pages of Example of Play, two pages of Designer’s Notes and front/back covers.

Mark Herman’s Zone of Influence & Detachments

The heart of Waterloo Campaign 1815 is really a single game mechanic – the Zone of Influence (ZoI). As explained in Key Concepts and Definitions:

Zone of Influence (ZoI): All hexes within two hexes of a Corps constitute the unit’s Zone of Influence. ZoIs restrict enemy movement and both friendly and enemy Detachment placement. A Zone of Influence cannot be blocked, it extends through and beyond enemy units. There is no additional effect for a hex having more than one ZoI projected into it.

IMG_0926Long time Grognards need to pay attention and don’t get confused; a Zone of Influence is NOT the same as a Zone of Control (ZoC):

Zone of Control (ZoC): The six hexes adjacent to a unit are its Zone of Control. Corps units and Detachments have a ZoC. ZoCs can halt or limit enemy movement. There is no additional effect for a hex having more than one ZoC projected into it.

Before we come back to that ZoI, Waterloo Campaign 1815 has another difference from Gettysburg that is important – Detachments:

Detachments: Most Corps in Waterloo Campaign have one or more associated Detachment units that can be placed during Step D of the Command Phase (Detachment Placement). Regardless of whether a Detachment shows an infantry or a cavalry symbol. they behave identically in play. Detachments have a ZoC, and are useful for screening, holding flanks, or as the rearguard when on the strategic retreat. The Grand Battery and Old Guard Detachments have special rules.

The interaction of the classic ZoC and Herman’s Zone of Influence, along with Detachments, makes maneuver and combat in Waterloo Campaign 1815 most interesting. The interactions of these rules in turns allows for few units to be placed on the map. To truly understand the brilliance of these interactions requires looking into the Sequence of Play a bit deeper.

Command Phase / D. Detachment Placement Step

To defend your flanks or screen movement, one can place Detachments on the map. First, they must be placed within four hexes of the parent unit OR, within the Command Range of a Headquarters (HQ). Most importantly, the path from the parent unit or HQ to the Detachment must be free of ANY ZoC AND ZoI. A design note states this is to avoid having Detachments used as skirmishers and forces you to use them as intended.

Command Phase / E. Detachment Recall

Once Detachments are placed, a player can Recall any (or all) of their Detachments on the map. Even ones in an enemy ZoC. The Detachments cannot be placed again until the next turn.

Between placement and recall, Detachments become their own game of flanking and screening; and that’s even before the first unit has moved!

Movement Phase

When a Corps enters a hex within an enemy ZoI it must stop. If any unit enters the ZoC of a unit (even a Detachment) the unit ‘flips’ from it’s Advance Formation (better movement) to Battle Formation (less movement) side. Note that even the ZoC of those pesky little Detachments causes a formation change! One needs pay attention to where they are on the map or risk finding their multi-Corps flanking march stopped cold by a lowly Detachment!

The Influence of ZoI

Playing Waterloo Campaign 1815 it becomes immediately apparent that this is a game of maneuver and the decisions made in the Movement Phase are often more important than even the battles in the Attack Phase. When maneuvering your units one ends up paying very close attention to the ZoI and ZoC out there because you don’t want to enter either one unless you absolutely have to – or are forced to by a crafty enemy using their Detachments to funnel you to where THEY want the confrontation. Such is the influence of Zones of Influence; they make a unit watch their flanks and use Detachments to ‘influence’ enemy and friendly movement alike.


Feature image courtesy C3i Magazine (RBM Studio)

 

After #SpringBreak Di$ney it’s time to get back to #wargames

I have not played a wargame or boardgame in over a week now. Not because I have stopped playing; instead I have been off playing with the RockyMountainNavy Family at DisneyWorld. Now fully recharged I am ready to get back to the gaming table!

ZQXOtLiRS4yH9j7lKgkrigBefore Spring Break, I had several opportunities to play @HBuchanan2‘s Campaigns of 1777. These days I am becoming a sucker for the chit-pull mechanic in games as they make the game very solo-friendly even without a dedicated solitaire version. I am also a sucker for wargames the American Revolution era. After driving from Virginia to Florida and passing by several Revolutionary War sites, I really hope he goes ahead with southern campaign version too!

sru0+D2iRSaTaHyp5osoWwAround the same time Campaigns of 1777 arrived I also too delivery of my GMT Games P500 order of @tdraicer‘s The Dark Valley Deluxe Edition. This is in many ways a modern monster game covering the complete Eastern Front campaign in World War II. I bought into the game based (once again) on the chit-pull mechanism that I enjoyed in the previous Ted Racier/GMT Games title, The Dark Sands. I have to admit that I want to get this one to the table soon; as I was inspecting the game and had the board laid out Youngest RMN and I started looking at the geography and talking in general terms about Operation Barbarossa and Eastern Front. Historically I have avoided anything above tactical-level games about the Eastern Front; looking to change that with The Dark Valley!

Y0BIfKqBQvWvDsPxZeosHgFinally, on the day before we travelled, a relatively new publisher, Canvas Temple Publishing, delivered their Kickstarter for WW2 Deluxe. This is supposed to be a game where one can play the European Theater (or Western Front) in World War II in an evening. First pass through the rulebook and components looks promising!

We actually took a few boardgames with us on vacation but were lucky and had not bad weather days so the games remained unplayed. The RMN Boys did play a few games of Ticket to Ride or Battlelore or 1775: Rebellion on the iPad but I didn’t get to play (something about driving and playing at the same time just doesn’t work!). We had considered taking Villainous with us but thought that would be too much Disney. So, with vacation behind me and now emotionally recharged, it’s time to get back to wargaming and boardgaming.

 

Are you Chit’ing me? Making a #wargame solo-friendly with the Chit-Pull Mechanism thanks to @gmtgames, @compassgamesllc, & @RBMStudio1

This weekend I took delivery of designer Ted S. Raicer’s newest title, The Dark Sands: War in North Africa, 1940-42 (GMT Games, 2018). At the same time, I recently had seen a post somewhere in my wargaming Twitter feed that mentioned that chit-pull games were very solo-friendly. As a wargamer that often plays against my arch-nemesis, “Mr. Solo”, so this got me thinking…

…and it’s true. Chit-pull wargames are a game mechanism that can take a two-player or multi-player wargame and help make it solo-friendly.

Long used in the solitaire gaming world (a great example being Mrs. Thatcher’s War: The Falklands, 1982 (White Dog Games, 2017), the chit-pull mechanism is often used by wargame designers to introduce fog-of-war elements* into a game. The chit-pull “randomizer” can also makes non-solitaire wargames more solo-friendly because the game engine guides the player as to what happens next. Now, don’t take my thinking too far; just because a wargame uses chit-pull does not automatically mean it is solo-friendly, just that it is more likely to be. The interaction of other mechanics might make it impossible to play a game solo. That said, chit-pull could be a good indication that you can play the game against your evil twin alter-ego!

I asked myself why I was so slow to realize the advantages of chit-pull. Looking back in my collection, I actually have several Avalanche Press Chitpull Series games; MacArthur’s Return: Leyte 1944 (1994) and Operational Cannibal (1996). I also have Richard Berg’s Battle for North Africa: War in the Desert 1940-42 (GMT Games, 1996). In my game collection, two of these titles, Cannibal and North Africa, are amongst the lowest-rated games (bottom 15%). On BoardGameGeek, Operation Cannibal has a horrible GeekRating of 4.9. In the case of North Africa, rules issues and missing activation markers(!) made the game hard to play out of the box. I think that subconsciously, even after all these years, I had a bias against chit-pull wargames because I had played a few turkeys.

My anti chit-pull bias is now gone. In 2018 I got purchased four wargames that feature the chit-pull activation mechanic, Battle Hymn Vol 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games), Battle of Issy 1815, A Jours de Gloire Series Game (RBM Studio)Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games), and the aforementioned Dark Sands. In each, the draw of activation chits is used to randomize the activation of units or, in the case of Cataclysm, to conduct national actions. In each the chit-pull mechanism and the fog-of-war element is what makes the games fun and each turn unpredictable.

Chit-pull; it’s a wargamers friend – especially when there is no friend around to play against.


* According to the BoardGameGeek Wiki, The Chit-Pull System is defined as: “Used in war games to address the problem of simulating simultaneous action on the battlefield and issues of command and control. In such a system the current player randomly draws a chit or counter identifying a group of units which may now be moved. Schemes include moving any units commanded by a particular leader, moving units of a particular quality or activating units not for movement but for fighting. This mechanism is often associated with designer Joseph Miranda who has used it in many of his games.”

First #Wargame of 2019 – Battle of Issy 1815 (C3i Magazine Nr 32, @rbmstudio1, 2018)

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Battle of Issy 1815 – Early Turn 2

Situation early in Turn 2 or 0430hrs, 03 July 1815. Many units were failing Cohesion Tests left and right…until the Light Companies acted and then the units held firm. (Sigh) 

The French would go on to totally rout the Prussians.

Very enjoyable little game. Set up on the kitchen nook table for the afternoon…done playing and all cleaned up before dinner prep started (little things like that keep Mrs. RMN happy).

A Glorious Little #Wargame – Frederic Bey’s Battle of Issy 1815 – a Jours de Gloire series game (C3i Magazine Nr 32, @RBMStudio1, 2018)

Issue Nr 32 of C3i Magazine contains two feature games. Gettysburg, by designer Mark Herman, is getting most of the attention from grognards, including myself. This is a bit of a shame because the other feature game, Battle of Issy 1815, deserves praise too.

1UtDUJJeR2GUj0S4xssKkwIn the introduction to the Specific Rules & Set Up for Issy 1815, it notes that, “Issy 1815 is the 44th battle in the Jours de Gloire series.”  Now, I have never really been a Napoleonic-era wargamer so I am not familiar with the series, but with 44 games published I would of thought I had heard of it before. I had not; to my eternal shame. The Battle of Issy 1815 by designer Frédéric Bey and published in C3iMagazine Nr 32 (RBM Studio Publications, 2018) shows me that it is possible to make a set of Napoelonic wargame rules in a small package that simultaneously delivers challenging decisions and immersive theme.

Issy 1815 is a small wargame with a 16-page Rule Book (series and battle-specific rules), an 11″x17″ map, a Player Aid card, and ~120 counters. The Jours de Gloire-series rules take up the first 10 pages of the Rule Book. Scales are described in 0.1 Scales:

The games of the series are at the scale of the battalion, the regiment (demi-brigade for the period of the Republic) or the brigade. A strength point represents about 200 infantry or 150 cavalry if each unit represents a regiment and 400 infantry or 300 cavalry if each represents a brigade. A strength point of artillery represents from two to four cannon depending on their calibers.

The scaling is not a hard-and-fast standard. In Issy 1815 each turn is 90 minutes, one hex is ~350 meters, and it uses the battalion scale for infantry (~200 soldiers) and regiment scale for cavalry (~150 horse) (Issy 1815 Specific Rules, 0.1 – Scales).

To represent the Fog of War and command & control challenges of the era, Jours de Gloire calls for placing orders and using a chit-pull mechanism for activation of formations. The combination of these rules immediately create theme and make player decisions important from the start.

In the Orders Phase, players place Received Orders (Ordres Reçus) or No Orders (Sans Ordres) markers. Every Formation or Tactical Group gets one or the other, but the number of Ordres Reçus is limited to the Order Rating of the Commanders-in-Chief. Units with orders have more tactical flexibility while units without orders are much more limited – unless they want to try to use the formation leader’s initiative and try and do more. To do so they have to make a test against the initiative number on the Activation Marker (AM) drawn. Each formation has two AM and the initiative may, or may not be, the same on each. Further, the Die Roll Modifier (DRM) of the Commanders-in-Chief is a negative modifier to the die roll so a strong C-in-C (like Napoleon?) is harder to “override.” Even if one is able to override the lack of orders, in many cases to attack will also require an Engagement Test (ET) against the Engagement Rating of units. The Engagement Rating is an easy, uncomplicated way to portray the training of a unit (morale is covered by the Cohesion Rating which I will discuss later).

Those Activation Markers are important in the Activation Phase. All formations have their AM placed in a cup and drawn out randomly. The player with STRATEGIC INITIATIVE gets to keep one AM out of the cup and starts the turn with that Formation. An activated formation has its order status revealed and then can take actions (artillery fire, movement, shock combat and charges, and rally) depending on the order status or initiative of the formation commander. The draw of AM is repeated until there is only one AM left in the cup, at which point the turn ends! This can lead to interesting situations. In Turn 1 of my first solo game, the main Prussian formation, Steinmetz, did not draw its first AM until the next-to-the-last chit. Thus, the formation had only one Activation Phase and the second was forfeit. Game play-wise this was not a great way to start the battle, but thematically it seemed to represent the inability for the formation to get started at 0300 hrs in the early morning!

OiDKqLxTRD2h7tdoloVWjwThe Jours de Gloire-series uses traditional Zones of Control (ZoC) around units but the nice wrinkle is in unit facing. Unlike most wargames where units face a hexside, in Jours de Gloire games units face a hex vertex. Thus, units have two front hexes and four rear hexes. Given the scale of the game, facing has no effect on movement but it does have an effect on combat. This simple change from “standard” creates greater tactical decision space at the very small rules cost of not facing a hexside.

The Jours de Gloire-series does not use a classic Combat Results Table (CRT) for combat resolution. In ARTILLERY FIRE, 1d10 is rolled and modified by a Firer Mod (generally the Strength Point of the unit), a Target Mod (mostly terrain effects or massed/stacked formations or if in square formation), and a Range Mod. If high enough, the Modified Die Roll results in either Rout (retreat), Disorder (counter flipped), or a Cohesion Test (CT). A CT is one of the principle tests in the game. In a CT, a unit rolls 1d10 with any modifiers against their Cohesion Rating. Pass the CT you are fine; fail and it becomes “challenging.” In ARTILLERY FIRE, a failed CT is a DisorderRout‘ or even elimination depending on what status the unit started in. Again, the rules deliver a very thematic effect as artillery didn’t necessarily “kill” units but affected their orderliness.

Infantry and cavalry attack using SHOCK COMBAT (cavalry also can do the CAVALRY CHARGE). Much like ARTILLERY FIRE, combat resolution in SHOCK COMBAT uses a 1d10 with modifiers. The list of modifiers is a bit more extensive than with ARTILLERY FIRE but the table on the Player Aid can be stepped through quickly. SHOCK and CHARGE results apply to both the attacker and defender. Possible results are Recoil (one hex back), Disorder, Rout, the Cohesion Test, as well as Pursuit, Counter-shock, or Breakthrough. Again, and in keeping with the era, units are rarely destroyed in combat, but instead tend to “come apart” through a lack of morale or “cohesion.” Yet again, uncomplicated rules giving thematically appropriate combat results.

In the Battle of Issy 1815 Specific Rules, there is a nice extra rule for Light Companies. Basically, each formation has a light company marker. Each turn, the player can place some on their related formation and place others in the activation cup. The light company have no ZoC, no Strength Points, no Movement Points, and do not affect rally attempts by adjacent units. What they can do is, when the player wants, force an adjacent enemy unit to make a Cohesion Test. The markers represent the use of skirmishers (voltiguers) by the parent formation. Yet again, Mr. Bey uses a simple, low rules overhead way to represent a capability in a thematically relevant way.

All of the above has been a long winded way of me saying that Battle of Issy 1815 and the Jours de Gloire-series is a small, relatively rules-lite, wargame that is easy to learn, quick to play, and delivers a highly thematic experience. If you have C3i Magazine Issue Nr 32 and have not tried this game (instead focusing on Gettysburg) take the time to learn and play through Issy. If you have never played a Jours de Gloire game before try to find one and give it a shot, even if you are not a huge Napoleonic warfare fan. Battle of Issy 1815 has been a pleasant surprise to me; I think it could be the same for most wargamers.

#WargameWednesday Breaking down South Pacific: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier, 1942-43 (C3i Magazine Nr 30)

pic3260226_mdMark Herman’s South Pacific: Breaking Down the Bismarck Barrier, 1942-43 is the game included in C3i Magazine Nr 30 published by RBM Studios in late 2016. South Pacific (SPac) is actually a scenario (17.10) for Empire of the Sun (EotS, GMT Games, 2005).

The designer’s blurb for SPac pretty much sums up the product:

South Pacific (SPac) is an Empire of the Sun (EotS) C3i Scenario Variant that uses the full scope of its parent design. While South Pacific is a complete stand alone game all of the tactics that work in EotS work in SPac. What is unique about SPac is the smaller map region (see C3i 30 back cover image) focuses and significantly simplifies the strategic options available to the two sides.

Each side has a 24 card deck that are like the EotS cards except they have been renumbered. The counter mix is also identical, except we have aligned the set up and reinforcement markings to the four-turn scenario. In designing this new C3i Scenario Variant, I wanted to put you in the shoes of MacArthur and Ghormley/Halsey prosecuting the US counterattack, while still being impacted by interservice rivalry, China, and competition for resources in Europe. All of the relevant tracks have been redesigned by Mark Simonitch to fit on the tailored C3i Mapsheet surface that shines a spotlight on the turning point in the Pacific War.

Since this is a subset of the broader war each player is playing with a four rather than a seven card hand, and you will never reshuffle the deck allowing for high replayability. The practical result of this smaller hand of cards is South Pacific typically clocks in at less than two hours, so easily a one-session game.

If you learn to how to play South Pacific you will also know how to play its parent game Empire of the Sun.

pic2838345_mdHaving recently played Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War, 1932-1935 (C3i Nr 29) I felt I was going to be familiar with the system and ready to try. Though I had a few issues with Plan Orange, overall I like that game and wanted to try more. Hence, my purchase of SPac.

Components: A-

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Sleeved cards (RMN)

The physical components are nice. The counters (~100) are nice if not a bit thin for my taste. The map is small (11″ x 17″) and does not take up a great deal of tabletop space when laid out. The cards are nice, and just fit “SMALL Gaming Card” (62mm x 89mm) sleeves. [Interestingly, the Plan Orange cards also fit these sleeves but are just a shade narrower with a little bit sticking out at the top] The package “form factor” makes SPac a good travel game.

Rules: B-

In SPac rule 1.0 Introduction, the Design Note states:

These are the rules to Empire of the Sun with some superfluous sections taken out to allow you to play the single scenario that comes with South Pacific. We have done this so if you learn South Pacific, you also know how to play its parent design.

Unfortunately, in the desire to “simplify” the rules for SPac this approach to the rules created problems. The reuse of parts of the EotS rulebook creates confusion, several key items were actually left out, and several rules are outright contradictory.

Section 3.0 General Course of Play includes the following Play Note:

If this is the first time the you are reading these rules, then is recommended that the player segregate the counters into  a set that have hex setup locations and those that have a game turn of entry. Take the units with hex setups and place them on the map where indicated. After completing this go to the comprehensive example of play and move the counters according to the narrative. It is our belief that this ‘best practice’ will facilitate your introduction into the game system.

There is no “comprehensive example of play” in the rulebook that covers the entire 4.0 Sequence of Play. The closest item is the Comprehensive Offensive Example found on p. 21. The problem with this example it that it is for EotS and covers a map area and units NOT in SPac. This makes learning for one unfamiliar with EotS – like me – that much more difficult.

Two missing rules I found most difficult to cope with in my early plays were the lack of a Terrain Key (not in the rulebook nor on the map) and the rules for Progress of War (essential for determination of Political Will and Victory Conditions). The designer has answered forum questions on both CONSIMWorld and BoardgameGeek which is helpful but I cannot help but feel that the product needed an good proofread/playtest by someone NOT familiar with EotS (i.e. like me, not that I’m volunteering but…).

An example of rules contradiction is Pre-War Units. In 1.3 Glossary, the entry for Pre-War Units reads:

Pre-War Units: Most of the units that start the game on the map (those with set up hexes on the counters) and certain others are denoted by a dot on their counters. These are defined as pre-war units. Pre-war units cannot receive replacements.

Yet later, in rule 11.0 Replacements section 11.1 Pre-War Unit Restrictions simple states, “Not Applicable.” I  can read rules 1.3 and 11.1 together in at least two different ways; 1) The restriction on pre-war units means that units with a dot cannot receive replacements, or 2) the restriction defined in 1.3 is not applicable to SPac. These are two radically different interpretations of the rules and clearly understanding which is correct is vital for the Japanese player. Per the scenario rules, the Japanese player has very few naval and air replacement points. There is only one naval unit in the game (BB Yamato) that is not marked as a pre-war unit. Strictly reading the (few) rules above, it would seem that only the BB Yamato can be “replaced” – or not? It that really the intention of the scenario?

Game Play: A-

Once familiar with the system the game flows well. The sequence of strategy card draws will always vary making no two games alike. The scenario only lasts four turns and, once the Progress of War rules are understood, puts great pressure on the American player to take the offensive and make things happen. I see SPac as a fast, tight game where one bad roll of the die could be fatal. Maybe too fatal? I don’t really know yet. I am still a newbie to the game engine and am still working past rules issues meaning I have not been able to fully explore the strategy of the game. Hopefully that exploration can come after familiarity – and not too much errata.

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All set up and ready to go (RMN)

In many ways that sums up my love/hate with SPac. I really like the card-driven strategy decisions and the simple, yet seemingly realistic, combat system and results. What befuddles me is the thought that the game supposedly builds upon a solid foundation in EotS yet, in the quest to simplify and tailor, there is confusion. I strongly feel that the designer, developer (hmm…no developer credited), editor (uhh…no editor credited) and playtesters (very few) were possibly too familiar with EotS and “filled in the blanks” where rules/items were missing or “intuitively understood” what is not necessarily written in the rules. I do not see the problem as fatal but they are VERY annoying.

Overall Recommendation: Keeper. Will (somewhat reluctantly) look for errata. Explore more for strategy.

All photos courtesy BoardGameGeek except where noted.

Mark Herman’s South Pacific: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier, 1942-43, © RBM Studio Publications, 2016.