#Wargame Wednesday – Who’s scared of heights? Wargaming with Heights of Courage: The Battle for the Golan Heights, October 1973 (@MultiManPub, 2013)

I purchased Heights of Courage: The Battle for the Golan Heights, October 1973 (Multi-Man Publishing, 2013) in a “Back from COVID” sale in mid-2020. It was one of three MMP titles I purchased and I recently got it to the table for an in-depth play. When doing so, I discovered a very interesting gimmick, gained a deeper understanding of the rules, and reached a better understanding of my gaming tastes.

Tempo

Every SCS game has what I call a “gimmick;” a special rule that sets it apart and tries to recreate some unique characteristic of the battle or campaign. In Heights of Courage that special rule is 1.9 Operational Tempo. Starting on Turn 11, each player choses a “Fast Tempo” or “Slow Tempo” for the turn. In a “Fast Tempo” turn all the phases of the Sequence of Play are executed but the player receives NO replacement points. Conversely, in a “Slow Tempo” turn the Combat and Exploitation Phases of the turn are skipped but the player receives four replacement points.

I like this rule as it naturally “paces” the battle. Indeed, in the rule book at the end of the rule there is a Design Note that states much the same:

This rule’s purpose is to keep operations and losses at a rate consistent with actual events. Each player has an opportunity to rest and refit while slowing down his operational tempo. If a player chooses to continue offensive operations, his army will quickly melt away, especially if his opponent decides to refit. During this period, the Israelis chose to stop offensive operations–having achieved their goal of bringing Damascus into artillery range. The Syrians suffered so heavily that they were reduced to covering the road to Damascus while prodding their allies into futile uncoordinated attacks.

Design Note, Rule 1.9 Operational Tempo

Exploiting the System

I’m still a relative newbie to the Standard Combat Series so I discover something new with every play. This time the lesson that really hit home while playing Heights of Courage was the striking power of Exploitation-capable units. The key rule is 6.0 Overrun Combat which allows units that start in a hex that is not in an Enemy Zone of Control (EZOC) to move AND attack by paying extra movement points. This is the only time units may conduct combat outside of the Movement Phase. As the rules point out, “Properly managed, a unit can attack up to three times in a turn” (6.1b). Yeah…a unit can overrun during the Movement Phase, fight in the Combat Phase, and if positioned correctly overrun again in the Exploitation Phase. Wow! I had caught part of that before while playing Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989 (MMP, 2020) but the real impact of the rule didn’t set in until this play.

Standardized War Engine

At the end of the day, I find the Standard Combat Series is very suited to my current wargaming style. Heights of Courage, like other SCS titles, are games that are relatively easy to learn because they leverage the SCS “war engine;” that common set of rules applicable across the series. Game rules tend to be few and often have that interesting gimmick which adds just enough chrome to build the “narrative” of the specific battle or campaign while avoiding rules bloat. Add in the fact the games tend to be smaller footprint (22″x34″ is perfect for my gaming table) and with lower counter density I find a combination of interesting-yet-playable titles I can set up and play to completion in a long evening or over a weekend of play.


Feature image courtesy Multi Man Publishing

#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

#SundaySummary – From Scaling New Heights to a Grand Flop shoutouts to @MultiManPub, @compassgamesllc, @Bublublock #wargame #boardgame #RPG

Wargame

Game of the Week

I pulled out the Standard Combat Series (SCS) title Heights of Courage: The Battle for the Golan Heights, October 1973 (MMP, 2013) this week for my deep play. Spoiler Alert – I still like SCS titles! More detailed thoughts are the subject of a #WargameWednesday post in the future.

Courtesy MMP

The Grand Flop

Before I played Heights of Courage I pulled out Operation Mercury: The Invasion of Crete (Multi-Man Publishing, 2017). This is a Grand Tactical Series (GTS) game that I bought last year in the MMP ‘Back from COVID” sale. I had played it before and wanted to try again. Alas, it’s just too much.

I tried one of the Operation Mercury smaller scenarios; the first one in fact. After finding the right counters (because this scenario uses a special set of counters) and setting it up on the small 17″x22″ map (because, duh, it’s a small scenario) I discovered I had set up on the wrong map and needed to transfer to the larger 22″x34″ map.

FRUS-TRAT-ING.

I played out “SNAFU” which is a historical scenario for Operation Mercury. Like I wrote about before, the chit activation mechanic is used well in the game system. That said, this time I played less “the system” and more “the battle.” In the end, I was further frustrated. Yes, I like the chit activation and all it brings to the depiction of command and control but it just feels too cumbersome for me. Maybe it’s the scale – Grand Tactical is both large-scale and grand in scope which is means it takes much more time to play; time that is an increasingly rare commodity for me as we try to come out of COVID.

Courtesy MMP

Boardgames

It looks like designer Dan Bullock’s No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War (forthcoming from Compass Games) is getting near to print. Dan posted on BGG that the game should start shipping February 8. Of course, with the way the USPS is going North Korea may collapse before the game is delivered….

Courtesy Compass Games

I was in my FLGS this past week and picked up Snowman Dice by Mike Elliott from Brain Games (2019). This is another game for Mrs. RMN to share with her students. This is most certainly a Children’s dexterity game or a very lite Family dexterity game. I played it with the 1st Grader and realized I had to teach her the fundamentals of dice reading; as long as she saw the part she needed she tried to use it to build instead of using only the top-facing side of the die. A good reminder about how learning and teaching games is not always as easy as one assumes.

Fanciful, but wrong (Courtesy BGG)

Role Playing Games

While in the FLGS the Middle Boy picked up a copy of Star Wars: Rise of the Separatists: An Era Sourcebook for the Star Wars Roleplaying: Age of Rebellion game. In many ways this is the sourcebook to go along with the Clone Wars animated TV series.

One interesting rule in this sourcebook is “Optional Rules: Fighting in Squads and Squadrons.” This rule enables Player Characters (PC) to take Minion-level characters and create a squad or squadron under the leadership of a PC. The PC can then order the squad/squadron using Formations. This rule helps get past one of the stumbling blocks of military-style roleplaying games; how to use characters as leaders and not simply independent actors on the battlefield.

We have not played a Star Wars RPG session in a loooonnnnggggg time. I dug up an old campaign idea and am trying to work it into some usable material. My personal preference is to play an Edge of the Empire -like campaign but knowing my Boys I need to pull in elements of Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny too.


Feature image courtesy discover.hubpages.com

Putting the non-standard into a standard #wargame – Panzer Battles: 11th Panzer on the Chir River (@MultiManPub, Standard Combat Series #19, 2016)

THERE IS SOMETHING TO BE SAID ABOUT USING A STANDARD SET OF RULES IN A SERIES. One advantage is moving from game to game in the series is easier because the learning curve is reduced. A disadvantage often is the game starts feeling too generic and loses the essence of each different conflict. My recent look at Brief Border Wars (Compass Games, 2020) showed me how a good set of series rules can work with just a few exclusive rules to make different, interesting games. Recently, I took advantage of a sale by Multi-Man Publishing and picked up a few different games. Amongst the acquisitions were two games in their Standard Combat Series. I was able to get one of them, Panzer Battles: 11th Panzer on the Chir River (MMP, 2016) to the table quickly. I am happy to discover that while the game is ‘standard,’ it also is very unique. More importantly, Panzer Battles teaches us about command and control in warfare; lessons learned over 75 years ago but still applicable today.

MMP describes their Standard Combat Series (SCS) as this:

The Standard Combat Series (SCS) enables both experienced and beginning players to enjoy simple to play and quick to learn games.  Each game is a quick-start, complete simulation:  rules, a detailed color map, 280 counters, and everything else needed to recreate the campaign in question.

With that description in mind I really didn’t have the highest of expectations. I mean, a game that can be played by both experienced and beginner players is a wide range of abilities. Consider too that MMP is the home of Advanced Squad Leader, anything but an uncomplicated game!

When one opens the box, the first impression is a very simple game. In the case of Panzer Battles you get two 22″x34″ mapsheets, one countersheet of 280 1/2″ counters, one Series rule book and one game-specific rule book. Oh yeah – two dice.

The Series rule book is eight (8) pages, with page 8 being totally devoted to Designer’s Notes. For longtime Grognards there is nothing special, unique, or unexpected here. The SCS is bog-standard hex & counter wargame. The Series rules have 13 major sections:

  1. Sequence of Play
  2. Zones of Control (ZOCs)
  3. Movement
  4. Stacking
  5. Reinforcements
  6. Overrun Combat
  7. Combat
  8. Step Losses
  9. Retreats
  10. Advance After Combat
  11. Exploitation
  12. Supply
  13. Hex Control

When you get to the game-specific rule book (12 pages) you start to discover the non-standard of the SCS. In the case of Panzer Battles, designer Dean Essig wanted to capture what made the mobile defensive warfare of the German 11th Panzer Division so special. In Panzer Battles, he showcases the battles fought by 11th Panzer along the Chir River in December, 1942 when they acted as a ‘fire brigade’ against Soviet advances (for details on the battles see here). Basically stated, you have a heavily outnumbered, predominantly infantry force defending with armor in support against a numerically superior, yet doctrinally rigid, mechanized attacker.

Panzer Battles, the wargame, appears to draw it’s title from Panzer Battles, the book, written by Maj. Gen F.W. von Mellenthin (University of Oklahoma Press, 1956). The book even appears to be the origin of the “fire brigade’ phrase. In the 1970’s when the US Army was developing their Air-Land Battle Doctrine, the mobile defensive warfare of General Balck and the 11th Panzer were studied for its application to NATO defense. In 2020 a similar defensive need exists in Poland, Taiwan, or Korea, making the study and understanding of the Chir River battles important even today. It is also relevant to the modern day study of Mission Command, a phrase often used (not always correctly) to describe the command and control philosophy of General Balck – Auftragstaktik.

In order to showcase the Auftragstaktik command and control approach that underpinned 11th Panzer’s actions, Mr. Essig choses to introduce one of my favorite gaming mechanisms, the chit-pull mechanic, into the game. In Panzer Battles, the 11th Panzer Division usually has multiple chits in their draw cup, meaning the force will activate more often. There are a few other game-specific rules (like 1.7 Disorganized Units or 1.10 Barrages) that also capture essential elements of mobile warfare but it is rule 1.8 Activations that is the heart of Panzer Battles.

The end result in Panzer Battles is a wargame that delivers what it promises. The chit-pull activation system shows how the different command and control approach of the 11th Panzer enables it to be that ‘fire brigade’ that rapidly moves about the battlefield to (hopefully) be at the right place at the right time to face the Soviet offensive. It is an excellent case study of Auftragstaktik.

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@Hughwally on BGG understands wargaming….

Panzer Battles is not without it’s drawbacks. In my case the quibbles are minor and center on those small counters. As a graying Grognard, I am challenged to see and handle small 1/2″ counters. Even my wargame tweezers don’t always help. One good part is with only 280 counters, rounding the corners (at 2mm radius) doesn’t take forever! Also, at two maps Panzer Battles has a bigger footprint (44″x34″) than I expected, especially in a game with only 280 counters (speak about low counter density….).

Further, while Panzer Battles illustrates the advantage of Auftragstaktik, it does not give the players insight into how to achieve it. In game terms, the chit-pull mechanic clearly illustrates the impact of Auftragstaktik but not how to create it – it’s ‘baked into’ the chits and simply handed the players.

Overall though, I am impressed with Panzer Battles and look forward to more SCS games. I already own Heights of Courage: The Battle for the Golan Heights, October 1973 (MMP, 2013). In that game the ‘gimmick” is an ability chose a ‘Fast’ or ‘Slow’ optempo. I will keep my eyes open for other MMP sales; the regular price of Panzer Battles is presently $48 – in my opinion a little bit steep, but probably fair in today’s economy, for what you get.

Now, about the Grand Tactical Series game Operation Mercury: The Invasion of Crete (MMP, 2017) and the houseful of maps and counters….

IMG_EE4AA3769713-1
Courtesy @puertoricojoe on Twitter


Feature image courtesy Multi-Man Publishing