#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.

img_0600.jpeg

#Wargame Wednesday – #FirstImpressions of Poland Defiant: The German Invasion, September 1940 (revolutiongames.us, 2019)

I HAVE FALLEN IN LOVE WITH THE CHIT-PULL MECHANIC as well as early World War II games. Poland Defiant (Revolution Games, 2019) hits both of these wants of mine and delivers an interesting, tense battle of the start of World War II in Europe.

When I first saw the advertisement for this game, I jumped right in because of the chit-pull mechanic. Although mechanically based on an earlier Konigsberg game, I never owned or played that title. In Poland Defiant, major formations are activated when their Command Chit is drawn from the pool. In addition to the Command Chits, there are also Special Command Chits representing higher headquarters as well as Action Chits for Random Events and Replacements. The chit-pull mechanic means the turn order is randomized – i.e. friction in warfare. Inevitably, your perfect plan to sequence attacks all along the front are disrupted because one group jumps off too early (their chit comes out first) or the enemy disrupts the offensive (their chits are drawn instead of yours).

Poland Defiant adds another layer of friction given that, depending on the turn (one day of the campaign) each side doesn’t necessarily get all their Command Chits. For instance, on Day 3 (Sept 3) when the Germans have six major formations in the field (6x Command Chits) they only get five activations. This means somebody is not going to get an activation that day. But who? For the Polish player the problem is worse. With seven formations fielded (7x Command Chits) the day starts out with the arrival of another formation (+1 Command Chit) and the Replacement Action Chit (+1 chit) for a total of nine chits in the pool (assuming no headquarters have been lost to date). However, on Sept 3 the Poles were really reeling from the invasion and their command and control (C2) was at their worst, which translates in the game to only four activations FOR THE ENTIRE DAY. At least half the army is not going to move (maybe more if the Replacements Action Chit is amongst the drawn). Edit: Per 2.5 Action Chits, “Action Chits do not count against the number of activated Command Chits drawn per turn.”

I admit that after I quickly jumped and ordered Poland Defiant because of the chit-pull mechanic, I was doubting myself over the topic. I mean, it’s the invasion of Poland! We all “know” this was a cake-walk for the Germans, right? How can a steamroller possibly be interesting, especially for the Polish player getting steamrolled? Well, designer Stefan Ekstrom and developer Roger Miller solved this problem with three simple rules; German Operational Pace, Command Range, and Supply:

  • German Operational Pace – Found in rule 4.2.1, German Operational Pace requires the German player to compare their current VP to the number associated with the turn. If the VP count is equal to or better than no problem (everything is developing according to plan). But…if the VP is “behind the pace” the German player suffers a negative consequence until they can “catch up” to the plan.
  • Command Range – Formations have headquarters and headquarters can only command so far. Get too far ahead of your commander and suffer. This creates opportunities to disrupt your enemy’s plan by attacking their HQ. Very importantly, if you destroy a HQ all those commanded units become “independent” which in the game means other HQs can activate them, but individually and not as a mass formation. They still fight, but far less efficiently!
  • Supply – Nothing special here but a supply line is needed to keep fighting. Striking out cross-country is certainly fun (charge!) but if you don’t protect your supply line one will find themselves going nowhere very quickly (or not).

In Poland Defiant the German player can win an Automatic Victory if they have a unit in supply in any Warsaw hex at the end of a turn. More reasonably, the German player will have to accumulate VP. Up to 14 VP are possible, with 10 VP being equal to the historic result at the end of ten days (Turn 10). Can the Polish player hold the German to less and “beat history?” Play Poland Defiant yourself and find out!

Overall, Poland Defiant has a very small footprint – a 3’x3′ or 1m x 1m table can work. The rule book is an entire 12 pages (one for cover) and the back of the title card acts as a player aid. Poland Defiant is not complex but it delivers a very playable game about a tragic campaign – and makes it interesting and challenging. It’s well worth our investment in time and money.

As dawn breaks on September 1, 1939, Poland stands defiant against the Third Reich (ok…poor lighting for the only picture I took before starting play)

The costs of the #wargame #boardgame hobby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BGG User Eric Brocius

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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