#Wargame Wednesday / History to #Wargame – Bias discovered in Konigsberg: The Soviet Attack on East Prussia, 1945 (Revolutiongames.us, 2018)

In a previous post I talked about the lack of historical background provided in Konigsberg, The Soviet Attack on East Prussia, 1945 (Revolution Games, 2018). A comment on Twitter from Scott Mansfield (@scotts_table) on that post asked:

Interesting post. With what you know of the operation and with limited designer notes do you feel Stefan portrays the decisions of Konigsberg accurately or does it feel like his well developed mechanic (chit pull) is what comes through with the narrative taking backseat?

Hey Scott, thanks for the lead-in to this post!

Photo by RockyMountainNavy Gamer

After playing the game I still can’t tell if Konigsberg is an ‘accurate’ depiction of the battle portrayed. What I can tell you is that the game is very engaging. The engagement comes from the interaction of two game mechanics, the ‘well-developed’ chit-pull and 4.0 Command, as well as a challenge to my own biases. Let me explain.

Konigsberg uses that ‘well-developed’ chit-pull mechanic in the best possible way. This comes from how the chit-pull and the rules for Command interact. The interaction creates several factors that make play engaging:

  • Random: Every turn the Command Chits are drawn randomly from the cup (4.1.1 Command Chit Draws)
  • Limited: The Turn Track tells how many Command Chits can be drawn for each force (German, 2nd Belorussian (2BF) or 3rd BF); once this limit is reached NO MORE can be activated for that force (4.1.1)
  • Higher HQ: During the game, extra commands chits (2BR & 3BR for the Soviets or HGM for the Germans) enter the game awarding ‘bonus’ activations (4.1.2 & 4.1.3)
  • Independent Units: When a Command Chit is drawn, the player can activate all units under that command as well as independent combat units (2 for Soviets, three for Germans) that are within the Command Range of the HQ (4.2.1, 4.2.2, 4.2.3, & 4.2.4)

Accurate, but Game

Konigsberg is in effect a race game. One side (the Soviets) are trying to grab as many victory hexes as possible in a given amount of time. The other side (Germans) are trying to delay the Soviets as much as possible. The chit-pull mechanic and Command rules ensure that the players must be flexible in their planning, taking opportunities as they come. The Soviets must maneuver their HQs to keep the front moving. The Germans have to position their HQs to build a flexible defense in depth that not only slows down the Soviets but also maintains integrity as it inevitably collapses.

Is this accurate? From what (little) I have read yes. More importantly, it is engaging.

Revealing My Biases

For me, the lack of historical background in Konigberg forces me to look not only at the game mechanics more closely to divine what I am supposed to do, but the lack of historical ‘prejudice’ means I approach the game in a much more open-minded manner than I usually do. As I played Konigsberg I found myself paying much more attention to command, unit capabilities, and terrain. I came to realize that so often I use my historical knowledge as a form of bias in my decision making during play. I mean, we all ‘know’ it is folly to mount an airborne operation to seize key bridges across the Rhine, right? So why would we ever do it? In Konigsberg, my lack of historical understanding meant I didn’t know ‘what works’ (or didn’t) which forced me to fall back on my understanding of the strategy and doctrine of the time. It made me think about what I was doing.

Conclusion -or- Why to Play?

In my first play of Konigsberg the end Victory Conditions saw the Germans holding seven Victory Point Hexes. This is a Soviet Historical Victory. In a way this tells me that the game is ‘accurate’ in that it can recreate the historical condition. More important, however, I discovered through this play of Konigsberg that ‘knowing’ too much can actually be detrimental to my play experience. This play of Konigsberg taught me that the combination of game mechanics and the absence of my own bias still can deliver a very engaging game; engaging in that I thought my way thru this game more deeply than most games I recently played. In this case, the lack of historical background I lamented before actually delivered a better game.


Feature image “Knock out German tank, 1945″ courtesy WWII in Color (yes, I know it’s B&W).

October 2020 #Wargame #Boardgame #RPG #Books Month in Review

Games Played & Times Played

Note that Here to Slay included the Warriors & Druids Expansion

Games Acquired

  1. Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989 (Standard Combat Series, MultiMan Publishing, 2020)
  2. Star Wars: Rebellion (Fantasy Flight Games, 2016)
  3. Konigsberg: The Soviet Attack on East Prussia, 1945 (Revolution Games, 2018)
  4. Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010)
  5. Nations at War: White Star Rising (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010)
  6. Nations at War: White Star Rising – Airborne (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2012)
  7. Nations at War: White Star Rising – Operation Cobra (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2012)
  8. Here to Slay: Warriors & Druid Expansion (Unstable Games, 2020)
  9. Moonrakers (IV Games, 2020)
  10. Cortex Prime: Game Handbook (Fandom Inc., 2020)
  11. Hell’s Paradise (A Clement Sector adventure from Independence Games, 2018)

New Preorder Games

Key Reading

Blog Activity

History to #Wargame -or- What is a wargame without history?

THIS weekend I put Konigsberg: The Soviet Attack on East Prussia, 1945 (Revolution Games, 2018) on the gaming table. One of the reasons I traded for the game is that I really like the chit-pull mechanic in the game that makes it very friendly. I also was interested in the topic as I don’t have many late-war games set on the Eastern Front. I certainly have many early war titles (or even full war) but my late war games tend to be set on the Western Front. So I picked up this game to learn more about the period. Unfortunately, what I discovered is I need to teach myself more than I expected.

Some background for Konigsberg is found on the Revolutions Game website for the game:

Covering the Soviet attack in East Prussia in 1945. The game handles the 20 first days of the attack starting on the 13th of January 1945. The 3rd Belorussian Front under command of Cherniakhovsky launches an attack into the northeast of East Prussia while the 2nd Belorussian Front, commanded by Rokossovsky, one day later starts an attack from the south east. However, Army Group Mitte, under the command of Reinhardt, puts up an astonishing defence desperately pushing the Soviets back.

The time is however on the Soviet side and when the defence finally crumbles there is nothing left to withstand the Soviet troops to ravage the country.

I totally understand that the ad copy on a publishers website is to ‘whet your appetite’ for a game. In no way is it meant to be a comprehensive study of the subject. However, as I studied Konigsberg I discovered that, surprisingly, that is all the background given in any of the game content. I guess I’m spoiled because I ‘expect’ wargames to include some sort of historical background. Alas, Konigsberg does not. The game does include Players Notes which are a strategy guide to playing the game but they don’t include any historical comments.

Does that really matter? Well, yes.

Wanting to learn more of the history of Konigsberg I consulted my library. I found a few works that presented a broad narrative of the events of January 1945 (a date, mind you, that only appears in the website ad copy but never in the rule book or player aids). I discovered that even pinning down the start date of the game was a bit, uh, dicey. I ‘think’ Konigsberg starts somewhere around 17 or 18 January 1945 because Warsaw was cleared by Soviet forces on 17 January. Tilsit was taken on 20 January which fits with what the Soviet player might achieve on Turn 1 (each turn is 2 days).

Reading the history helped me understand why some of the Random Events in Konigsberg may have been included in the game, like “Soviet Atrocity” or “Stalin Interferes.” Indeed, some of my library works, like Max Hastings’ Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 heavily emphasized this issue. But even after reading some of the history I still struggled to play the game.

Looking a bit further, I recalled a 2011 Russian TV series, Soviet Storm: WW2 in the East, and went looking for the relevant episode set around Konigsberg. Maybe this would be helpful; approach the history from the Russian perspective. Watching the episode I was struck by how similar it was in many ways to what Max Hastings wrote.

Then it hit me – it’s not that I don’t understand (or miss) the history in Konigsberg, it’s that I don’t understand where the designer is coming from.

Konigsberg has no Designers Notes. Without such notes I don’t understand what perspective the designer comes from and what they are trying to present to me. Designer’s Notes are the perfect place to tell players not only what inspired the game, but also to tell players what the “message” the designer is trying to deliver. It might be something as simple as “another Eastern Front tank game, but with cards” or it might be something deeper like “a game that reconsiders the role of indigenous peoples in a foreigners revolution.” Whatever the message is I find it helps me understand the game more. Not the rules, but the “meta” of the game.

I’m not saying I can’t play or understand games like Konigsberg if they don’t have Designer’s Notes. Sometimes one can figure it out. But having those notes certainly helps me to see what I am exploring and guides my learning, whether I agree with the message or not.

Sep/Oct #Wargame #Boardgame Acquisitions featuring @gmtgames @hollandspiele @worth2004 @MultiManPub @LnLPub @Academy_Games @FFGames @UnstbleUnicrns @MoonrakersGame

In early September I wrote about how many games might be arriving into the RockyMountainNavy gaming collection given the reawakening of the publishing industry as they struggle to recover from COVID-19.

Boy, did I underestimate myself.

Turns out that between September 1 and October 15 I took delivery of 16 (!) items into my gaming collection. This includes:

  • 8 wargames (+3 expansions)
  • 3 boardgames (+1 expansion)
  • 1 accessory

I also diversified my acquisition chain. In addition to Kickstarter and publisher pre-order systems, I also used a local flea market, online digital, BGG trading, publisher direct sales, and (gasp) my FLGS!

Wargames

Washington’s Crossing (Revolution Games, 2012) – A not-so-complex look at the Trenton Campaign of 1776. My more detailed thoughts are here.

Flying Colors 3rd Edition Update Kit (GMT Games, 2020)(Expansion) So many Age of Sail games take a super-tactical view of ships that playing them can become unwieldy. Flying Colors takes a more ‘fleet commander” point of view; here you can be Nelson at Trafalgar, not Captain Hardy. The 3rd Edition Update Kit brings my older v1.5 up to date with the latest counters and rules, allowing me to set sail for new games in the future.

White Eagle Defiant: Poland 1939 (Hollandspiele, 2020) – The follow-on to the gateway wargame Brave Little Belgium (Hollandspiele, 2019). Don’t let the low complexity of the rules fool you; the game is full of impactful decisions. I have more thoughts here.

French and Indian War 1757-1759 (Worthington Games, 2020) – Another entry in my collection of Worthington block wargames. Simple rules but deep decisions. It’s been a long-time since I labeled a wargame a “waro” but this one crosses over between the wargame and boardgame crowds.

Harpoon V: Modern Tactical Naval Combat 1955-2020 (Admiralty Trilogy Group, 2020) – More a simulation model than a game. I’ve played and owned Harpoon titles since the early 1980’s. Can’t help myself; I love it.

Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989 (Multi-Man Publishing, 2020) – Another entry in the Standard Combat Series from MMP. I like the multiple eras of play and the ‘Road to War’ rules that deliver replayability in a (relatively) small package.

Konigsberg: The Soviet Attack in East Prussia, 1945 (Revolution Games, 2018)Acquired via trade. I like chit-pull games as they are good for solo play. I am also interested in this title because of the time period; I have played Operation Barbarossa to death and am interested in a late war perspective when the Soviets were on the offensive and it was the Germans rocked back on their heels.

Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010)Acquired via trade. Got through a trade more on a whim than with any real thought. First look is a very simple ‘Cold War Gone Hot’ wargame. Realistically it has only seven pages of rules!

Nations at War: White Star Rising (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010) – I don’t really need another World War II tactical game system; I’m very happy with my Conflict of Heroes series from Academy Games. Acquired through trade with no real big expectations. First impression is this platoon-level game is reminiscent of PanzerBlitz (Avalon Hill, 1970) but with chit-pull activation and command rules (both of which I really like). Maybe some interesting potential here, will have to see…. (Acquired at same time were two expansions: Nations at War: White Star Rising – Operation Cobra and Nations at War: White Star Rising – Airborne)

Boardgames

One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020) – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; worker placement games is not really my thing. However, I really do like One Small Step. Not only does the theme engage me but the team play version of worker placement makes it a good game night title for the RMN household.

Star Wars: Rebellion (Fantasy Flight Games, 2016) Acquired via flea market. I jumped at an opportunity to get this game via a local flea market at an excellent price. Thematically excellent but I still have doubts concerning gameplay. It does create a very good narrative though….

Here to Slay: Warrior and Druid Expansion (Unstable Games, 2020) (Expansion) Here to Slay is the #1 played game in the RMN home. The RMN Boys (and their friends) love it. The game is far from perfect; like many others I don’t feel it is anything like an RPG as it proclaims and it’s too easy to win with “six classes in your party” versus slaying three monsters. Maybe this new expansion will change that with a bit more focus on the warrior class. Maybe….

Moonrakers (IV Games, 2020)Fresh arrival. Bought because I keep looking for a decent Traveller RPG-type of boardgame or something that captures the same vibe as Firefly: The Game (Gale Force Nine, 2013). My other attempts to find these types of games, Scorpius Freighter (AEG, 2018) and Star Wars: Outer Rim (Fantasy Flight Games, 2019) were less-than-successful. This title just screams OPA in The Expanse. Playing it will have to wait as there is a backlog of games in front of it in the to-play queue (obvious from the above).

Accessories

Sirius Dice: Spades (Sirius Dice) – I picked these up sorta on a whim. They look and feel good. If I ever get back to playing RPGs they may come in handy.

“A people unused to restraint must be led; they will not be drove” (George Washington) – #Wargame #FirstImpressions of Washington’s Crossing (revolutiongames.us, 2012)

The introduction to David Hackett Fischer’s book Washington’s Crossing is simply titled “The Painting.” In the intro, Fischer describes the power of the famous painting of General George Washington crossing the Delaware River enroute to his raid on the Hessians at Trenton. The same picture is used on the cover of Washington’s Crossing: A Game of the Winter Campaign of 1776-1777 (Revolution Games, 2012). When I played my first game, I too recreated the famous raid; indeed, it took all of two turns to cross the river and raid Trenton. This left me off-guard because there were 40+ more turns to go before the end of the game. “What do I do now?” I asked.

“What do I do now?” The same question that George Washington pondered after Trenton.

Part of my answer is in the subtitle on the box – “A Game of the Winter Campaign of 1776-1777.” Although the famous river crossing will happen (sometime, somewhere) and the Battle of Trenton is bound to happen, Washington’s Crossing – the wargame – looks at the larger two-week campaign of which the Battle of Trenton was just one part. In this wargame version of Washington’s Crossing you fight the campaign, not just a single battle. Along the way, Washington’s Crossing delivers valuable insight into the role of leaders in these eighteenth century armies – one professional and another of commoners struggling to achieve independence.

The Designers Notes of Washington’s Crossing tells me the game system is mechanically derived from previous designs of Kevin Zucker and his operational Napoleonic games and Joseph Balkowski and his operational-level American Civil War games. I don’t own any of the games mentioned, so I had no pre-set expectation coming into Washington’s Crossing. When I first set up the game I got very worried –  every leader has an off-map track where the number of troops in their command is tracked. General Mercer? Seven-hundred fifty troops with a “100” marker in the 7-spot and a “10” marker in the 5-spot. General Rall at Trenton? He has a “1000” in the 1-spot, a “100” in the 2-spot, and a “10” in the 5-spot. Oh yeah, don’t forget to add that Fatigue Marker in the 2-spot! This game was quickly looking to be an exercise in accounting, not a “warGAME.”

Stepping through the Sequence of Play in Washington’s Crossing also seemed a constant look-up exercise. Roll for Weather. Roll for Raids. Track your Activations and roll for movement (and if crossing a Ferry roll again) and don’t forget to track your Fatigue. Roll for Reaction Movement. Combat is a roll for Surprise and then a roll for the combat results. Now you need do do some math for losses are expressed as percentages. Move those troop track markers!

Then, in the middle of the game, the enlistments in the American Army end. On the first turn of January 1st the American army must reorganize. Some leaders may totally disappear. It’s another accounting exercise!

All this accounting and die rolling in Washington’s Crossing makes the game – a piece of art.

This is a winter campaign; the weather can be fickle. It was for George Washington:

Once the men began to move, moreover, unforeseen delays occurred, mostly due to weather. It had been cold and clear throughout Christmas day, but around sunset, just as the American forces were setting out, the temperature rose and, paradoxically, conditions quickly fell apart. It began to rain. Hail followed. Snow came next, driven by keening winds that one soldier equated with “a perfect hurricane.” Either a nor’easter or an arctic front had struck – John Ferling, Almost a Miracle, p. 176.

Troops in Washington’s Crossing don’t act on their own; they need a leader. Leaders in turn must be inspired. Washington’s Crossing depends heavily on a “chain of command.” Command Leaders, like George Washington, have a Command Span and can activate other leaders. Using your Activation Points and ensuring your subordinate leaders are within the Command Span of a Command Leader is important if you want to move or fight. Indeed, it is the real key to the game. Even if you can get them to move, they may step lively – or not.

The second key mechanic in Washington’s Crossing is Fatigue. Troops move, they get Fatigue. Troops fight, they get Fatigue. The only way to reduce Fatigue is not fight and not move – each night.

Putting all this together is the art of war – Washington’s Crossing style. Best of all, it’s laid out in the Players Notes:

The keys to playing Washington’s Crossing are the proper use of Activation Points, the management of fatigue, and the use of maneuver to force the enemy to fight on unfavorable terms. On offense you need to make a plan, save some activation points and make sure your troops are well rested before jumping off. If a major victory is possible push your leaders to the maximum fatigue and spend activation points freely. On the other hand if part way through it is clear the plan is going to fail break it off and save fatigue and activation  points. On the defense choose your ground and try to move your troops as little as possible. Wait for your opponent to spend most of his activation points and become fatigued and then launch your counterattack. On both offense and defense a firm concept of what your maneuver is trying to accomplish is vital. If you play this system by moving your leaders every turn you will constantly be fatigued and short of activation points and will be unlikely to accomplish anything decisive.

Having just leaders in the map in Washington’s Crossing gives the game a very realistic feel. Intelligence (Set Up) tells me how many troops they started with, but how many do they have now? You might think you know, but you don’t really know until you commit.

Photo by RMN

As scary as all the tracks and markers may look like, the game mechanics of Washington’s Crossing actually play rather quickly. Indeed, the accounting exercise portion of the game quickly fades to the background as the core mechanics of Activations and Fatigue come to dominate your thinking and planning. Good Player Aids help here, especially the Washington’s Crossing % Loss Table that makes converting those percentage losses into whole numbers quick and easy – no calculator required!

 

If I have any complaint about Washington’s Crossing it is the map and counters. Like I already stated, this was a winter campaign. The Painting and other artwork of the period show a cold, white winter. Yet the map in Washington’s Crossing looks like early Fall with many warm earth tones. The counters in Washington’s Crossing are also small 1/2″ size; a challenge to this bifocal-wearing Grognard to read from a distance. That said, these complaints are minor and in the end it all works on the table.

When unboxing and setting up Washington’s Crossing I expected a game delivering to me the Battle of Trenton. In reality, Washington’s Crossing is so much more. It is a look at a short campaign in an era of warfare where what and when leaders act and the condition of your troops must be carefully managed as you maneuver across a wide battlespace.

It’s a shame that designer Roger Miller has yet to add any further volumes to this series. That said, in many ways Washington’s Crossing pairs well with a more recent game, Campaigns of 1777 (Strategy & Tactics Nr. 316, 2019) by Harold Buchanan, that covers the campaign around the Battle of Saratoga. Both games are similar in that they cover a campaign but each approaches it a bit differently. Regardless, Washington’s Crossing delivers a solid game system that can be foundation exploring many other campaigns of the American Revolution.

My Inexpensive #Wargame Storage Solution

WITH CORONATINE KEEPING US AT HOME FOR EXTENDED PERIODS OF TIME, many are turning to a hobby to keep themselves from going insane. This is especially true for myself as I generally eschew television. Fortunately, I have my wargame/boardgame hobby to keep me going. Between occasional games against the family and plenty of solo play I keep myself busy.

Boxed In

But there is another side of hobby gaming, and it involves organization. There are more than a few games with many components, be it bits or bobs or cards or Meeples or what. In the boardgame world this need to organize has created a whole pocket industry of insert organizers. I am not immune; I invested in Folded Space organizers for Terraforming Mars (Stronghold Games, 2016) and Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2016).

 

IMG_0545
Folded Space insert for Scythe – Level 1. Second level compartments to side ready to fit in.

The wargaming world is usually simpler. Traditional hex & counter wargames usually come with flat paper components and cardboard chits (counters). Some games have so few counters that they can just be dropped in the box. In older days many games came with storage trays. These days a few still do (like the custom Game Trayz that Academy Games included in Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 3rd Edition (Academy Games, 2019). Some publishers, like GMT Games, sell trays. Many wargame publishers usually include at least a few small plastic baggies in the box.

Plastic baggies work well for organizing wargames. I go a step further and buy resealable zip close bags from Michaels. Depending on the day, some of these bags even have an area for marking the content making figuring out what bits go back where that much easier after play.

For many gamers, a game tray or box for storage of counters becomes essential. Some folks, like the gents at 2HalfSquads, have very detailed solutions. Although I can identify with these hyper-organizing wargamers (and I was one of them myself in my Star Fleet Battles/Federation & Empire-playing days) I tend to shy away from those larger boxed solutions. That said, some games just beg for an organized solution. This is especially true when you have many different types of units or organizations.

P1010224
Courtesy 2HalfSquads

936D74EB-64C6-4D92-A6D2-BE31D855A40DWhenever possible, I like to see all components of a game stay within the box. This is a major reason baggies remain a staple of my collection. That said, I recently found some small boxes at my local Dollar Tree store. These boxes are 7.125″ x 4.875″ x 0.87″ and have 11 compartments (10 standard, 1x double-width). These small containers have rounded sections making it easier for clumsy, more arthritic fingers like mine to dig counters out. They also stack nicely. I have found I can stack these 2-deep in a 2-inch game box and still have room at the top for flat products. If the map is mounted getting the box to totally close is a challenge, but with unmounted games it works well.

 

The first game I organized using these boxes was The Dark Sands: War in North Africa, 1940-42 (GMT Games, 2018). The boxes worked out quite well as each I divided the counters into two boxes (British and Axis) with markers shared between. This arrangement really speeds game set up – just give the right box to each side and go!

2BB4E23F-990D-4241-80A1-64D0B841F988
Notice the unused roll of baggies….

In practice I end up using a combination of trays and baggies. This weekend I organized my copy of Less Than 60 Miles (Thin Red Line Games, 2019). For the 1,176 counters, I used four (4) boxes for all the units (each formation in one compartment) and smaller-count markers. As it worked out, there is one box for all the NATO formations, two boxes for the Warsaw Pact, and one box of markers. I put all the Posture, Time, and Attrition Markers in three separate larger bags. The box for Less Than 60 Miles is a bit larger (European) sized box so I was able to fit four boxes (double stacked), cards, and markers with space left for the folded map, player aids, and rule books. There is just the slightest of lift on the lid.

FD5939FF-FAE0-4EFD-9987-765638AE1FF7
4x boxes in 2x stacks with cards to the side; larger bags (recycled from Scythe?) for large-count markers

I use a similar solution for Blue Water Navy: The War at Sea (Compass Games, 2019). Here the box is smaller (American) sized and I found if I used four storage trays then the cards could not fit. So I use three boxes (1x US, 1x Soviets, 1x NATO) and some additional baggies. Not as neat a solution but it works. The lid closes with the slightest of lift.

D12CC1F8-A7D2-4FF7-B6B8-AFC0C1F39EAE
The 2x decks of cards forced me to use only 3x boxes and more smaller bags for markers. Not as neat but it still works….

The Dollar Tree storage box also work very well for organizing smaller folio games. I use a single box for Poland Defiant, The German Invasion, September 1939  (Revolution Games, 2019). In this case the single box separates formations and markers. I can either lay this flat on a shelf or store upright with the game taking up less than 1″ of lateral shelf space.

218375E0-F316-4909-B2DC-ADC91AD44B06
Most formations in own compartment with more numerous shared markers in double-width compartment

Of course, the best part aspect of these boxes is the price. Literally $1 per box. There is a Dollar Tree in my neighborhood and every time I go there I always check to see if there are a few in stock. With the larger games recently organized my “reserve” is down to two boxes – I like to have four on hand “just to be ready.”

What organizing solution do you use?

 

 

(Repeat) History to #Coronatine #Wargame – Operation Battleaxe: Wavell vs. Rommel, 1941 (revolutiongames.us, 2013)

15 JUNE 1941: A major British offensive, Operation Battleaxe, begins. The aim is to relieve Tobruk. Wavell is still reluctant to attack, largely because the tanks which recently arrived on the Tiger convoy have had many mechanical faults and the time taken for repairs means that the troops have had a very short training period. Although the two divisions involved, 4th Indian and 7th Armored, are both experienced formations, they are not at full strength and have been further weakened by changes in command. (From “15 June 1941 – North Africa, “The World Almanac Book of World War II, World Almanac Publications, 1981, p. 108)

[Let the game begin]

“The Allies send three main columns forward, one to Halfaya Pass, one to Fort Capuzzo along the edge of the escarpment and one inland to Sidi Suleiman. From Gasr el-Abid the 11th Hussars Reconnaissance Regiment and Central India Horse use their fast tanks and armored cars to drive straight to Sidi Omar (+1VP). The attack of the Matilda tanks of Squadron A, 4th Royal Tank Regiment in the Halfaya Pass is brought to a standstill by emplaced German 88mm Anti-tank guns of the 33rd FLAK Regiment. Two other British attacks led by 2nd, 6th, 7th, and elements of the 4th Royal Tank Regiments converge on Stutzpunkt (Point) 206 and a fierce battle develops. Sensing an opportunity, the 11th Hussars and Central India Horse drive to Gabr el-Gerrari to and tie into the flank of 7th Armored. At the end of June 15, Halfaya Pass is still held by the Germans but Fort Capuzzo is threatened.”

B7778D82-8D7A-4CA5-AD37-6827B9AA0354
Game map for Operation Battleaxe from Revolution Games. The British start with Tobruk (upper left) under siege and the offensive jumping off from red letter areas to the south and east. VP zones are denoted in red.

“On June 16, the British strike first with an attack on Pt 206, which they occupy quickly followed by attacks on Fort Capuzzo. The fort holds, but barely. The German 15th Panzer Division now joins the battle to relieve Fort Capuzzo but runs headlong into the anti-tank guns of the British 65th Anti-Tank and is chewed up. The first battle of Rommel’s Afrika Korps is very inauspicious. The German 5th Light Division attempts to outflank the British 7th Armored and travels deep thru the desert from Sidi Rezegh to Bir el-Hurush to take Pt 206 from behind. This time it is the anti-tank guns of the 12th Australian Anti-Tank that savage the German armor units. At the end of June 16, the British are in control of Sidi Omar (+1VP), Pt. 206 (+2VP), and Fort Capuzzo (+2 VP).”

“On June 17, Wavell recognizes that most of the German armor has been destroyed by his anti-tank guns the day before. Sensing an opportunity, the takes the under-strength 2nd & 6th Royal Tank Regiments and strikes out along the coast to Tobruk. By the end of the day, Bardia (+1VP) and Mentasir II (+2VP) have fallen. Meanwhile, the German defenders at Halfaya Pass look on worryingly as a desperate see-saw battle in Musaid sees both sides trade control of the area. At stake is the supply lines for the Halfaya Pass defenders. As the day ends, the British have established control of Musaid and cut off the Halfaya defenders from any resupply.”

“Though Halfaya Pass is yet to fall, it is obvious that Operation Battleaxe is a resounding British victory. In Berlin, Hitler is furious at the loss of his Panzers. With the start of Operation Barbarossa only a few days away, plans are considered for the withdrawal of all German forces in North Africa. More importantly, the Allies have finally faced down the Austrian Corporal’s tanks and shown them to be vulnerable, breaking the aura of invincibility that has surrounded German armor since the Fall of France.*”

[79 Years Later]

pic1798774
Courtesy BoardGameGeek

Amazing how different a game this game of Operation Battleaxe was from the first. Whereas in the first game the Germans could not roll wrong, this time the dice gods heavily favored the British. Even with Wireless Intercepts (spend The Advantage to Regroup then Assault in and impulse) and Axis Battlefield Recovery (return one Reduced-Strength Axis armored unit to Full Strength each Refit Phase for free) the German lose armor faster than it can be replaced. The British also managed to put most the the German units on the map out-of-supply and more than a few units Surrender.

Unlike my first game, The Advantage was heavily traded in this game. Early on June 16 and 17, the British player used The Advantage to trigger an Axis Fuel Shortage meaning no Combined Operations (activate more than one area). Both sides liberally traded The Advantage whenever a Fanatical Defense or Maximum Attack was needed. The German player was able to call on Rommel an der spitz! (add a die to an attack roll) only a few times – when needed most the Allies tended to hold The Advantage.

Operation Battleaxe: Wavell vs. Rommel, 1941. Designed by Michael Rinella of Take Aim Designs for Revolution Games and released in 2013. Great simple-to-learn wargame with just the right amount of chrome to feel ‘authentic’ without major rules overhead.


*Liberally cribbed from “15-17 June 1941 – North Africa,” The World Almanac Book of World War II, World Almanac Publications, 1981, p. 108 – but of course changed to reflect my wargame situation.

Feature image: “A soldiers stops to inspect the grave of a German tank crew, killed when their PzKpfw III tank, seen in the background, was knocked out in recent fighting in the Western Desert, 29 September 1942.” Courtesy ww2today.com

History to #Coronatine #Wargame – The sharp edge of Operation Battleaxe: Wavell vs. Rommel, 1941 (revolutiongames.us, 2013)

15 JUNE 1941: A major British offensive, Operation Battleaxe, begins. The aim is to relieve Tobruk. Wavell is still reluctant to attack, largely because the tanks which recently arrived on the Tiger convoy have had many mechanical faults and the time taken for repairs means that the troops have had a very short training period. Although the two divisions involved, 4th Indian and 7th Armored, are both experienced formations, they are not at full strength and have been further weakened by changes in command. (From “15 June 1941 – North Africa, “The World Almanac Book of World War II, World Almanac Publications, 1981, p. 108)

[Let the game begin]

“The Allies send four columns forward, one to Halfaya Pass, one to Fort Capuzzo along the edge of the escarpment and two inland to Sidi Suleiman and Bir el-Hurush. The attack of the Matilda tanks of Squadron A, 4th Royal Tank Regiment in the Halfaya Pass is brought to a standstill by emplaced German 88mm Anti-tank guns of the 33rd FLAK Regiment. Two other British attacks led by 2nd, 6th, 7th, and elements of the 4th Royal Tank Regiments converge on Stutzpunkt (Point) 206 – and are thrown back by the impressive action of the 33rd Anti-Tank Battalion.”

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Situation near end of June 15. The 33rd AT Battalion defending Pt. 206 has already inflicted significant British armor losses. It will not get any better in the next two days….

“For two days, the British tanks throw themselves at Pt. 206, and for two days the 33rd AT Battalion makes a heroic stand before reluctantly withdrawing to Fort Capuzzo. Even when the British try to outflank Pt. 206 they run headlong into the newly arrived German 5th Light Division and its armor. With their own armor reduced to smoking husks in front of Pt. 206, British infantry units try to hold what they can but eventually start a fighting withdrawal. By the end of June 17, Wavell knows he is defeated. Though he is on control of Halfaya Pass and  Pt. 206 he has failed to relieve the Siege of Tobruk. British losses are painfully high. In this first action against Rommel, the British 7th Armored Division is all but destroyed, while the relatively unscathed German 5th Light Division is poised to for a counterattack deeper into Egypt. Wavell is forced to call off the offensive and signal the failure of Battleaxe to Churchill.”*

[79 Years Later]

I LOVE A WARGAME THAT IS ALMOST HISTORY. In this case, I am talking about Operation Battleaxe: Wavell vs. Rommel, 1941 by designer Michael Rinella of Take Aim Designs and published by Revolution Games in 2013. This title is part of the Area-Impulse series of wargames by Mr. Rinella that includes Patton’s Vanguard (2017) and Counter-Attack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 (2019) also published by Revolution Games. The Area-Impulse series are lower complexity games that use area movement and activation of areas in impulses. Each day is of a variable length as each turn includes a Sunset DR (Die Roll) to see if another impulse occurs or if the next turn in triggered.

Operation Battleaxe does an excellent job portraying the situation in North Africa in June 1941. The British have to strike hard to relieve Tobruk while the Axis must defend. This was the first action of Rommel and the 5th Light Division. In this game these key German units are not released until the second day but once they are….

Each turn in Operation Battleaxe is one day, meaning the British player has only three turns to achieve victory. Given the odds built into the Sunset DR, this means on average each turn will be about 7 impulses. The Allies realistically have something like 21 actions to build their victory – meaning there is little enough time to act and even less time to waste. The Allied player earns VP at the end of every turn for control of certain areas. They also gain VP at the end of the game for eliminated German units and reduced German armored units. If they have enough VP then win; less than enough and Mr. Churchill is unhappy!

For such a simple game, Operation Battleaxe actually has a decent amount of chrome to reflect some of the unique conditions of this war. Like every Area-Impulse game, there is The Advantage which can be cashed in by the owning player for an effect such as Fanatical Defense or Axis Fuel Shortage. In this game, I strongly encourage the use of The Advantage Optional Rules which are Additional Tiger Cubs (return a single Allied armor unit to full strength without spending a Replacement Point) and Wireless Intercepts (reflects the Axis advantage given their ability to read British messages). Both are easy to use and add just-that-much-more flavor to the game for almost no rules overhead.

In my game, the 33rd AT Battalion in Pt. 206 rolled HOT(!!!) for June 15 and 16. It certainly sold itself dearly for delaying the British advance. Indeed, by the end of June 15, when the German 5th Light Division was released, the battle was actually pretty much finished given the British armor losses. In this game the British ‘Tigers’ were pretty much declawed from the beginning.

A great aspect of the Area-Impulse games is that they are smaller footprint and actually play relatively quickly meaning I will likely get a second game in this evening. With an easy-to-learn and relatively unsophisticated, yet highly thematic, game system that plays quickly, Operation Battleaxe make a perfect Coronatine wargame.


*Liberally cribbed from “15-17 June 1941 – North Africa,” The World Almanac Book of World War II, World Almanac Publications, 1981, p. 108 – but of course changed to reflect my wargame situation.

Feature image: “Destroyed Matilda tank North Africa.” Courtesy worldwarphotos.info

#Wargame #FirstImpression – Fury at Midway (www.revolutiongames.us, 2020)

THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY continues to fascinate me. I think in the pantheon of naval wargames Midway is akin to the Bulge or Waterloo for land gamers – its the World War II naval battle game that everybody does. It’s been done so many times that one can feel that there is ‘nothing new under the sun’ when a new game rolls out. Fury at Midway (Revolution Games, 2020) by designer Yasushi Nakaguro thankfully foils this thinking by delivering a wargame that is both a classic, yet modern version of the iconic battle.

Fury at Midway was originally published in Japan by Bonsai Games. Roger Miller of Revolution Games took the game and made a few changes:

Changes in this Revolution Games version include making it a two map game, one for each player, which makes for an increased degree of hidden information regarding air strikes, damage, and combat air patrol. Four additional event cards were added to better cover the range of historical events of the battle. Anti-aircraft fire was reduced and rules for hitting the wrong carrier force were introduced. The map areas were expanded a hex row and the counter art was redone as well as many other small changes.

Here is how Roger Miller, developer and publisher of the game, describes Fury at Midway:

The game system is primarily one of air operations. When to strike and with what planes is the primary question of the game. This is balanced by how you defend your own fleet and the island of Midway for the Americans or the invasion fleet for the Japanese. The Japanese have to either take Midway or win the carrier battle to win the game and having two objectives really challenges the Japanese player to make a good plan while the American situation is simpler but his forces are not as well trained and errors in navigation, strike coordination, escort, etc can take a toll. Surface forces are not shown in the game except in their effects in AAA, bombardment, or the slight chance of an abstract night surface battle. This is a simple yet pretty accurate version of Midway that was a lot of fun during testing.

Fury at Midway uses a classic ‘carrier ready’ approach to air operations. Aircraft move on the Carrier Display between the Hanger, Deck/Runway, and Combat Air Patrol (CAP). Only aircraft on the Deck/Runway can launch an Air Strike. Those strikes move across a hex map to attack using a simple resolution mechanic; roll 1d6 per Step with rolls equal-to or less-than the unit Strength scoring a Hit. There are very few modifiers to the roll possible. Yes, it’s a form of ‘Yahtzee dice’ combat but it’s dead simple – and it works.

The ‘modern’ twists in Fury at Midway are Concealment, Air Operations, and the Event CardsConcealment is a key game mechanic as players ‘see’ the location of other fleets on their board but further enemy information, like aircraft on Combat Air Patrol (CAP) or formed up in approaching strike groups or even actual damage to carriers is kept hidden on the other player’s board. Air Operations recreates the ‘optempo’ of each force; the US has a Search advantage and will likely get more Air Operations in each turn. Event Cards represent the intangibles of war. There are 13 Event Cards in the game divided between US-only, Japanese-only, and both player types. All card draws are from a common deck making it quite possible to draw a card you cannot use. This is a great feature, not a bug, for as the rules put it:

If the US player draws an event card that can only be used by the Japanese forces (or vice versa), that card cannot be used. Drawing such an event keeps it out of the hands of your opponent and give you knowledge it won’t be played later.

I am impressed that even the very small rule book (12 pages double column) brings out the doctrinal differences of the fleets. For instance, a Strike Group is composed of aircraft launched from a single carrier. However, to reflect Japanese training of the time, the Japanese player can use Midair Assembly to combine strike groups from different carriers if all are launched in the same Air Operation. Another example is dive bombers which gain +1 Strength when attacking a carrier with aircraft on Deck. If the Japanese attack with a Strike Group composed of both D3A dive bombers and B5N torpedo bombers, the torpedo strikers gain +1 Strength to reflect the practice they had delivering a combined strike. There are a few more examples but my point is Fury at Midway uses simple game mechanics to deliver a very rich game experience.

My first few games show that Fury at Midway can deliver both historical and a-historic outcomes. I am a bit concerned that a Japanese player committed to the historical sequence of strikes (i.e. hit Midway first) is at a disadvantage. A better strategy might be to search for the US fleet first, strike it, then turn to reducing Midway. In Fury at Midway this may be the default basic strategy because, unlike the Japanese admirals at Midway almost 80 years ago, the Japanese player knows there are three US carriers out there. Fortunately, the game plays fast enough that players probably can play more than one game in an evening creating the opportunity to try out different strategies for yourself. Try the historic way and see if you can do better!

Fury at Midway is a light, fresh take on the Battle of Midway. I appreciate the quick play yet depth of decisions packed into this small footprint wargame. One can play the game solo but doing so loses the element of surprise – and the surprise of discovering for yourself what strikes are inbound, or where the CAP is, and which carrier has planes on deck is the best part of the game.

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