My “office-al” #boardgame play of NO MOTHERLAND WITHOUT: NORTH KOREA IN CRISIS AND WAR by @Bublublock fm @compassgamesllc

Recently, I tested the tolerance of my bosses and took my copy of No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War by designer Dan Bullock from Compass Games to the office. My job is tangentially related to the game topic, so I figured I could come up with a good cover story to explain why I had it laid out on my desk. During the week I played the solitaire scenario during my lunch times. By the end of the week the game was finished and I had rediscovered the interesting insights No Motherland Without delivers while also showing my office the power of “serious gaming.”

No Motherland Without contents (courtesy Armchair Dragoons)

No Motherland Without…another player

While No Motherland Without is technically a two-player game with one side playing North Korea and the other the West, designer Dan Bullock also includes a solitaire scenario. Here, the player plays the North Korean regime and the “solo bot” plays the West. Technically, I’m not sure you can actually call it a “bot” as the solitaire scenario rules lay out some exceptions and a decision flowchart for how to execute the West card play. Fortunately, the rules changes for the solitaire version are not too numerous and are both easy to learn and implement. All told my play of a complete 7-turn solitaire game took about two hours of lunch times.

The solitaire decision flowchart in No Motherland Without very clearly focuses the West on three priorities; place Outages to hinder infrastructure building, placement and movement of Defector Routes and Defectors, and Investment of Action Points for future use. It is a good guide to strategy for West players.

In my solo game of No Motherland Without the single most important event was not a Missile Test (though there were two—both successful) but the event “Thailand Tightens Its Borders.” This card is an Enduring Event meaning it goes on the three-card track and stays in play until three other Enduring Events are played and it gets “pushed” into the discard pile. The game effect is the removal the Defector Routes in Thailand and a prohibition for the West to use Activities to rebuild the route. This forces defectors to use the route through Mongolia which, although shorter than the Thailand route, has a 2-in-3 chance of the defector dying in the desert. In my game “Thailand Tightens Its Borders” came out early in the fifth turn and didn’t get pushed off the Enduring Events track until the last turn. This meant all defector attempts in turns 5-7 had to use the risky Mongolia route (in the last turn by rule all defectors must use the Mongolia route). By the end of the game a majority of the Final Turn (Kim Jong Un-era) generation was dead. Although the West had supported many defectors, through the Enduring Event card North Korea was able to gain favorable treatment from Thailand and it was enough to stem the flow of defectors—and the accumulation of Victory Points–to ensure a North Korean victory even without a final successful Missile Test to raise Prestige.

Scoring the Infrastructure…in People

Last March I wrote an article for Armchair Dragoons where I discussed the “humanity” of No Motherland Without. In that article I explored the dichotomy of building infrastructure and defectors in the game. I concluded by saying:

If one had any thoughts that No Motherland Without may provide some background as to why Korea has been an intractable problem for as long as it has this game offers no real policy insight. That said, No Motherland Without sets itself apart by showing the interrelation of many historical events from a very human perspective as the plight of defectors is prominently showcased. It’s an important perspective, just not very mainstream.

After my recent solo play of No Motherland Without I reconsidered my statement. The core conflict of the game, North Korea building infrastructure versus the West supporting defectors, is a policy statement. While North Korea gets plenty of worldwide attention for its missile and nuclear programs, it still must build a society for its people. On the other side, though support for defectors is usually the realm of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) rather than governments, it still can be a government policy (like is was in South Korea for a long time). This last year-plus of COVID, with it’s closed borders, has limited the flow of defectors. At the same time, North Korea, like many other countries, is trying to build better infrastructure for its populace (look at all the apartment building projects). Although they seemingly are disconnected now, once borders reopen we will see how “happy” the North Korean people are if Kim Jong Un can complete all those buildings, or if they will become his 21st century Ryugyong Hotel that sat unfinished for decades.

Serious Gaming

During the week my play of No Motherland Without got some attention in the office. At one end of the response spectrum, and by far the largest in number, were those who scoffed at somebody “playing a game” at the office. I responded to these folks by pointing out the history lessons in the game and the interesting perspective of the designer. Generally they seemed to accept my points, but often visibly remained doubtful. This group was also the ones to most often try to compare No Motherland Without to Risk or Monopoly (sigh).

A second smaller group of coworkers was able to look past the “game” of No Motherland Without and see the learning value. Some of these folks would casually flip through the cards and then look at the historical notes. While they learned, several were quick to point out that the randomness of the cards meant events could occur out of historical order, thereby making the game “incorrect.” To that criticism I responded by pointing out it was not the specific events but the situation in many cases that the cards capture, and while the events may happen “out of order” they still capture the essence of the flow of history vice a specific timeline. This group had a few gamers amongst its members, but it quickly became apparent that their preferred gaming was online and not very complex; indeed, more than one marveled at the “obvious” complexity of No Motherland Without.

One last, very small, group of my coworkers understood what No Motherland Without was trying to communicate. For one of them, when I explained the core conflict of infrastructure versus defectors you could see the “eureka” moment as they blinked and said, “Of course!.” With these few I had very serious conversations as to how an Event Card could be played or how the different Activities paid for in Action Points could be spent. One coworker wanted to take the game to their office to play and show their coworkers the insights from the game. Another who is well connected to several NGOs and the North Korean defector community really was interested in the game, although they pointed out that the ability to only play North Korea in the solo game may be “upsetting” to some. This small group was able to see the “serious gaming” potential of No Motherland Without as the designer’s core message is shown through game play.

Next – A Revolutionary Game…of waiting

Overall, I feel my “office-al” gaming was a success. I was planning to take designer Dan Bullock’s latest game, 1979: Revolution in Iran (The Dietz Foundation, 2021), into the office next and play that one. Belatedly I realized it does not have a solo mode! During the Kickstarter campaign Dan was asked about a solo module stretch goal to which he responded:

No Motherland Without features a solitaire scenario in addition to the two-player game. The solitaire scenario only allows you to play the role of the DPRK, but the West opponent is easy to control and challenging. Unfortunately, the event card draft makes 1979 difficult to adapt a solo bot. I tested a short solo scenario leading up to the Islamic Revolution, but ultimately scrapped it because it didn’t feel robust enough.

BGG Forum “Solo Request”

So, Dan, do y’all think you could share that scenario and let us see how it works? Maybe somebody out there can make it work better, or develop something else that does. Please? I need another title to play during lunch in the office…

1979: Revolution in Iran (The Dietz Foundation, 2021)

The opinions and views expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and are presented in a personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of any government or private agency or employer.

Doing a little #coronapocalypse #wargame Morning Recon all by myself in Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987 (@gmtgames, 2019).

KDiDKYRhSZyzuc78FsjBeAIN A PAST LIFE AS A US NAVY SQUADRON INTEL OFFICER, I did more than a fair share of Mission Planning for airstrikes. That is part of the reason I love designer Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s Downtown: Air War Over Hanoi, 1965-1972 (GMT Games, 2004). In 2019 the latest addition to the series, Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987 (GMT Games) designed by Douglas Bush arrived after a not-to-long stint on the P500. This week, as I fight off the zombies-of-boredom of the Coronapocalype, I pulled Red Storm out and committed to a deeper learning experience.

First off, I must commend designer Douglas Bush and GMT for publishing such a high quality product. Not only do the game components look great, but the errata is quite small for such a ‘complex’ game. Part of this is surely the result of previous titles working out many of the kinks in the system design but Red Storm kicks the complexity of the simulation up a notch from the others so I expected more errata than exists. Kudos!

For my day of Red Storming, I decided to start at the beginning and use scenario RS1: Morning Recon. This is a solo introductory scenario where a flight of 2 SU-24MR have to Recon four targets. Victory is determined by the NATO player accomplishing four tasks. In the scenario as written, there is no actual combat (though the combat sequences are exercised). The scenario note is what made for my repeated plays:

Note: Player should try this scenario at least twice, once with the WP [Warsaw Pact] flight at Medium or High altitude (and faster speed) and once at Deck (lower speed, harder to detect). That will give a feel for the difference between “going high” and “going low” when trying to both get to a target and intercepting flights doing so. In addition, during the second playing of the scenario, players should let the NATO side attack the WP flight in order to further learn the combat rules.

Deciding to take the game one step further, I decided to play a fifth time, but in this case incorporating as much of Rule 33.2 Full Solitaire Rules as possible. To further mix it up, I used the Order of Battle Tables in the Appendices Book to randomly generate the forces. For NATO this meant rolling on the NATO QRA Flight / 2ATAF table for a result of “6-4” giving a flight of two Belgium F-16A. For the Warsaw Pact the roll randomly between the USSR and GDR [German Democratic Republic – East Germany] getting GDR than a “4” on the WP Special Missions / Tactical Recon table which launched a flight of two GDR MiG-21M. I decided to make this a “Combat allowed” version of RS1.

The resulting game was MUCH different than the regular Morning Recon scenarios. Not only were the fighters different but the lack of real BVR capability on the Belgium F-16A’s meant this was destined to be a knife fight. The GDR MiG-21M is armed with only an internal 23mm cannon so it really is in their best interests to avoid a fight.

I let the Bot run the GDR but gave it one input at start using a random die to chose between “going high” and “going low.” The random was “go high” so off we went. NATO was able to quickly gain a Detection on the flight but gaining a Visual Identification proved a bit more difficult as early Engagement rolls by me were whiffed. Amazingly, the simple Noise Jammer on the MiG-21M also slowed Full SAM Acquisition. However, the superior maneuverability and radar suite of the F-16A eventually prevailed and both MiG-21 were downed…although the second was just before it passed back over the inter-German border. All in all a very good fight!

844At present, an expansion for the game, Red Storm: Baltic Approaches is on the GMT Games P500 and at 485 pledges. I hope it comes “makes the cut” soon so I can get more Red Storm goodness to the table. Then again, I’m being greedy for there are 29 other scenarios in the base Red Storm and two campaigns (not to mention four Solo Scenario) to help me get through my coronapocalypse isolation before then.

So what?


Feature image: Three aircraft from the U.S. Air Force in Europe in flight on 6 April 1987 near Ramstein Air Base, Germany. These aircraft were part of a larger, 15-aircraft formation taking part in an aerial review for departing General Charles L. Donnelly Jr., commander in chief, U.S. Air Force Europe and commander, Allied Air Forces Central Europe. The visible aircraft are (front to back): McDonnell Douglas F-4G Phantom II (s/n 69-0237), 81st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 52nd Tactical Fighter Wing, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany; Fairchild Republic A-10A Thunderbolt II (s/n 81-0995), 510th TFS, 81st TFW, RAF Bentwaters, Suffolk (UK); McDonnell Douglas RF-4C-39-MC Phantom II (s/n 68-0583), 1st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, RAF Alconbury, Cambridgeshire (UK). Courtesy wikimedia.org.

It’s not “Awful Lonely in the Big Black” when solo playing Firefly: The Game (@GaleForceNine, 2013) #boardgame

The first play of my 2020 RockyMountainNavy Solo Boardgame Challenge is Firefly: The Game (Gale Force 9, 2013). The play was satisfying, but really left me wanting both more and less.

Included in the base box of Firefly: The Game is a solo play Story Card, “Awful Lonely in the Big Black.” The special setup rules for solo play call for selecting up to four crew (no more than $1K) and placing using 20 Disgruntled tokens as a game timer. A turn consists of four Actions, and whenever you take a Fly Action the turn is over and a Disgruntled token removed. The game ends when you run out of timing tokens. There are three possible Goals to chose from; I went with “The Bad” – Crime Does Pay where you try to end the game with $15k or more.

The Story Card says play time is supposed to be about 1 hour. On the surface that does not look bad with 3 minutes for every turn and no more than 4 Actions a turn. In reality, I find that pace unachievable. Maybe for experienced players, but I found some turns where Analysis Paralysis set in, especially in the mid-game when I started feeling the time pressure. My game took more like 75 minutes; not bad for a solo game. With three Goals there is some replayability out of the box but I already found myself wanting MORE, as in more solo Story Cards. Gotta check out them other expansions…

At the same time playing Firefly: The Game solo-style made me want LESS. Face it, solo or full-play Firefly: The Game is a real table hog. It’s not that the map is too big (its 30″x20″ – very suitable for a game table with multiple players) but for a solo play with all the cards and ship tableaus you need nearly the same space. I often use my 48″x28″ desk for solo play and this game was VERY tight. All those components also need setup, adding a not-insignificant amount of time. There is nothing that can be done here about the size or the components, but it illustrates the challenges of taking a full size, multi-player game and using it for a single solo player. Sometimes it’s alot. Maybe too much?

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Setting up – Space is big but not on this gaming desk….

Having recently played Star Wars: Outer Rim (Fantasy Flight Games, 2019) it is inevitable to make comparisons between these “space western” games. For solo play I guess I will find out later as Outer Rim is #7 on my solo challenge list. Check back….

Overall, I was happy with this solo play of Firefly: The Game. I won this game, passing my $15k goal with two timing tokens left. Thinking about the game more broadly, this box has languished on my shelf too long and playing solo is a good way to get it out and remind myself that we really do need to buy a couple of expansions. The game is good fun and deserves more table love than we have given it.


Feature image courtesy Gale Force 9.

 

RockyMountainNavy’s 2020 #wargame & #boardgame challenges

IN 2019 I BIT OFF A BIT MORE GAMING THAN I COULD CHEW. I gave myself three gaming challenges for over 50 different games. That meant the challenge games took up half of my gaming for the year. For 2020, I am taking a different approach and using two themes as challenges. One theme is for boardgames; the other for wargames.

THEME 1 – SOLO

Going into late 2019 a Geeklist appeared titled, 2019 People’s Choice Top 200 Solo Games (200-1). Looking through this list, I discovered that I own an even dozen of these games! So my 2020 RockyMountainNavy Solo Boardgame Challenge is to play all 12 solo games I own by the end of the year.

THEME 2 – GMT Operational / Next War Family

For my wargame challenge, I chose to focus on the GMT Operational & Next War series of games. My 2020 Operational / Next War Series Challenge is to play all eight games and two expansions I own.

OPLAN 2020

To accomplish these challenges I am going to have to play at least one game from each list every month. The Operational / Next War Series are bigger games so that’s likely a full weekend of wargaming leaving three other weekends for the solo challenge (hmm…a good weeknight event) and other games. My goal is to not to take up too much of my gaming time with the challenges like I did in 2019. Instead, I will have more time to play games that I want to play (or the RockyMountainNavy Boys want to play).

What gaming challenges have you given yourself in 2020?


Feature image courtesy The Tank Museum

It was a Red Moon – our first multiplayer game of Tranquility Base: Soviet Moon (@worth2004, 2018) #boardgame

ROCKYMOUNTAINNAVY Juniors new favorite boardgame, Tranquility Base (Worthington Publishing, 2018) hit the table again for the weekly family game night. Except this time we added Soviet Moon, the in-the-box expansion. When playing with Soviet Moon the Soviets are a non-player that the American players race against. We found the multi-player experience fair. This is not to say the expansion is not worth it; where Soviet Moon shines brightest is as an opponent in solo play.

The Soviet Moon expansion board sits next to the regular player board and is used to track milestones. A set of twelve Soviet Moon cards get shuffled into the play deck and when they come out they move the Soviet lander up or down the track. Several of the cards also are Milestones roughly comparable to the US Milestones in the game. If a Soviet milestone come out before its US counterpart, the Soviet lunar track can be “locked” which prevents the lander from moving backwards (or “setback”) at certain points. The Soviet lander is also automatically advanced one space for every complete round of play by all players.

Soviet Moon Expansion box

We used Soviet Moon in a 3-player game and found it lacking. Maybe it was because the cards were poorly shuffled into the deck (my fault) and too many of them came out too close together (like five in a row together, ugh!). Thematically, playing Milestones to beat the Soviets did not seem as important as playing Milestones to race against the other players. In the end, the Soviets “won” the Space Race to the moon…and we just played on to see which of us was going to win. The Soviet win really didn’t matter.

The multiplayer experience differed greatly from a solo play I had using Soviet Moon. Here, the Soviets are the “timer” against who you are racing. It’s all highly thematic and a very good use of the Soviet Moon mechanics.

I don’t foresee Soviet Moon being used in any of our 3- or 4-player game nights. There is enough thematic tension of racing against your fellow players that the non-player Soviet AI is not needed. Soviet Moon could possibly be used in a 2-player game to add the extra cooperative play element in and avoid the game from being a straight-up fight between the two players. The absolute best use of the Soviet Moon Expansion is in solo play; I don’t think I will every play Tranquility Base solo again without it.


Feature image courtesy http://orbiterchspacenews.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-soviet-n1-l3-lunar-mission-lk-in.html

Rainy Day Solo #Boardgame – Holding back the barbarian hordes in Pandemic: Fall of Rome (@Zmangames_ , 2018)

The rainy weekend meant staying in on Saturday. To pass a bit of the afternoon I sat down for a solo play of Pandemic: Fall of Rome (Z-Man Games, 2018). I got this game late last year and posted my initial reactions before. As I wrote then, the game is highly thematic, if not strictly historic, and a real challenge.

Given the RockyMountainNavy Boys would rather play a game of Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017) instead I tried the Solitaire Challenge version of Pandemic: Fall of Rome. Although I own the original Pandemic (Z-Man Games, 2008) I have never played it solo. In the Solitaire Challenge, you take on the role of the Emperor and command three different roles in the game. Instead of each role/player having their own hand of cards here you have a common hand and a Treasury to draw on. Each turn a different role is used in sequence and for each there is the usual Do 4 Actions, Draw 2 Player Cards, and Invade.

In my game the roles I was drew were Praefectus Fabrum, Preafectus Classis, and Vestalis. I feel this was a fortunate draw because both Fabrum and Classis have actions that add Legions and the ability to move strategically about the map. Vestalis gives access the the unused Event Cards as well as allows a bit of Player Card management with her ability to draw 3 Player Cards and keep the two you want (the third going back on top of the deck).

I tried to implement a strategy I had not tried before and built many Forts forward along invasion routes. Instead of spending time moving about trying to collect cards for Forge Alliances I instead focused on keeping the number of invading barbarians down. I got lucky in that a few times when revolts came I had Legions in those cities and was able to limit the spread. As the game moved into later phases and the Recruitment Rate dropped I was able to get the right cards and Forge Alliances that made up for lost Recruitment with the ability to Enlist Barbarians.

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Rome doesn’t fall..this time (credit – self)

It was still a near-run thing and I was subjected to five of the the six Revolts and my Decline was just one away from defeat while the Player Cards deck was almost exhausted. After Forging Alliances with three tribes and though lots of Enlist Barbarian actions and strategic movement I was able to eject the last two invading tribes from the map and win; and a very satisfying win it was for Pandemic: Fall of Rome is not an easy game to beat.

I found the Solitaire Challenge extremely satisfying and fun to play. The game still struck all the right thematic cords and built an interesting historical narrative as play progressed. I hope that the RockyMountainNavy Boys will give this game another chance, but even if they don’t I know Pandemic: Fall of Rome is a solid solo game that at least I can still enjoy.


Feature image ospreypublishing.com – Peter Dennis battlescene art from Campaign 286 Catalaunian Fields AD 451.

Light #boardgame with Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension (@Cryptozoic, 2013)

Quiet Sunday night on this President’s Day holiday weekend in the States. The RockyMountainNavy Boys are catching up on a TV series and Mrs. RMN is watching her dramas. The Expanse Season 4 hasn’t started yet so I decided to work off another game in my 2019 challenges. My choice tonight – Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension (Cryptozoic Entertainment, 2013). This game is on my 2019 Origins Challenge because it was the 2015 Origins Awards Winner for Fan Favorite in the Children’s Family, & Party Game category.

Since I was playing by myself I tried the Solo variant. I have never tried Gravwell solitaire before so this was a unique experience. Basically, you have four rounds to win. There is one “ghost ship” controlled by a randomly drawn deck and a single derelict on the map.

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Curses…defeated again!

The best I could muster in two games was getting to spaces 35 and 38, far short of the exit at space 55. I really didn’t like the solo variant. I feel it is too short and the ghost ship too random to really develop or implement a strategy. It really seems to come down to luck.

On the plus side, the two games passed around 30 minutes of time. Gravwell is a 2014 Mensa Select game so it should be a real “brainburner” but the solo variant is anything but.

Interestingly, I see that Cryptozoic does not have the license for Gravwell anymore. The current IP holder looks to be Renegade Games. I also see an expansion is in the works.

Sorry, Renegade, but I am not drawn to the expansion.


Feature image by self

#Solo #Wargame – Solitaire rules in #Panzer Expansion Nr. 4: France 1940 (@gmtgames, 2018)

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Panzer – Yaquinto Edition (courtesy BGG.com

I have been playing Panzer by James M. Day since the Yaquinto Publishing first edition in 1979. As a matter of fact, Panzer was my first wargame ever (nothing like jumping straight into the deep end!). Through the years I followed the development of the Panzer and the sister modern version, MBT, but it was not until GMT Games brought out Panzer (Second Edition) that I upgraded my collection. The latest expansion to drop is Panzer Expansion #4: France 1940.  In addition to covering the Invasion of France in 1940, the game also includes a new set of rules for Panzer players that have a hard time finding face-to-face opponents or are tired of always trying to outsmart their alter-ego.

Surprisingly, GMT Games apparently didn’t really play up this angle of the new expansion. One has to look deep within the publishers description on the game page to barely find mention of solitaire rules:

The two solitaire scenarios utilize a game driven AI system for French forces in The 6th Panzer is Delayed and the German forces in Billote’s Charge.

In stark contrast to that short blurb, Panzer Expansion #4 actually includes a very robust set of solitaire rules. As in 15 pages worth (in a Playbook of 68 pages). The Solitaire System is credited to Fernando Solo Ramos, a long time Panzer fan and the man responsible for the best Panzer wargame support site on the internet, The Panzer Pusher.

Fernando explains the intent of the Solitaire Rules in section 10.1 Introduction:

The Panzer Solitaire Rules are intended to offer the solo Panzer player a guideline to enjoy the game, fixing the two aforementioned problems of solitaire play; enemy unit placement and enemy intentions. The Panzer Solitaire Rules use Hidden Unit rules to manage the player’s knowledge about the exact location of the enemy units. The player only knows the most probable locations of the enemy, and only when an enemy unit actually appears on the map does the player know the exact number and type of those enemy units. In addition, several tables handle the behavior of the enemy, determining their commands and their actions, all without compromising the standard Panzer rules.

Mr. Ramos has very thoughtfully provided many designer’s notes inline to the rules text. These comments help explain some of the rules and are essential to getting the original grok of the rules. Concepts like Enemy Main Unit and Most Dangerous Friendly Unit seem complex at first, but after reading the designer’s intent then stepping through the rule it (sorta) all comes together. The back cover of the Playbook is the complete Panzer Solitaire Tables. [I really wish this had been separate Play Aid because it gets constantly referenced in executing the Solitaire Rules.]

Although the designer claims the Solitaire Rules work “without compromising the standard Panzer rules” the harsh reality is that one needs a better-than-average familiarity with the standard rules to make full sense of the new design. After having read and reread the rules several times already, I think I am ready to try the first solitaire scenario, The 6th Panzer is Delayed: Monthermé, France, 15 May 1940. In this scenario, the AI controls a reinforced French Anti-Tank Battery against a Light Tank Company and mixed Infantry Company of Kampfgruppe Raus. This is a simple “cross the defended map” scenario. Using the Solitaire Rules will be interesting.

To be honest, after reading the Solitaire Rules I am going into the first scenario play with a good deal of trepidation. I am worried because I feel I need a better familiarity with the standard rules before stepping into the solitaire version. Not that the solitaire rules are hard in concept, but there are so many rules interactions it worries me that I will miss something simple.

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Eastern Front Solo cards (courtesy boardgamegeek.com)

Although I have yet to play a full scenario, I cannot help but make comparisons between the Panzer Solitaire Rules and the card-based AI system in Conflict of Heroes: Eastern Front Solo Expansion (Academy Games). The Panzer approach is a traditional, table-driven design whereas the Eastern Front Solo is very innovative card-driven design. Two radically different approaches to the same wargaming problem.

I really need to get the Panzer Solitaire Rules to the table sooner than later to judge for myself how well it works.


Feature image courtesy GMT Games

Playing ‘Four Solo’ wherein the President is a Cylon, the Admiral gets brigged, & Starbuck declares Martial Law – Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (@FFGames, 2008)

To me, Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2008) is a near-perfect example of theming in a boardgame. This cooperative, hidden traitor game captures the tension of the reimagined series pitch-perfectly. Unfortunately for me, it entered my collection at a time the RockyMountainNavy Kids were a bit too young to learn the game. As a result it has sat on my shelf, underplayed, for way too long. I have thought about introducing it to the RMN Boys now that they are older and more experienced gamers but I hesitate because I remember it most for having a long playtime. Sometime in the past few months, I downloaded the ‘Four Solo’ variant from the BoardGameGeek files. This rainy weekend while the Boys were watching their football game I pulled the game box out and gave the rules a try.

It was glorious…

…and I lost.

Characters in play were Admiral Adama, President Roslin, Boomer and Starbuck. In retrospect, I should have taken the Chief for Support but, oh well.

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Early game…that’s alot of raiders….

The first two Crisis Cards were Cylon Swarm and Ambush. The Fleet eventually jumped, but not before losing too much Population and Food. Not helping, the Jump Distance was only +1.

Trying to take advantage of the clear space around Galactica and advancing the Jump Track didn’t work out too well as a Crisis Card revealed President Roslin to be a Cylon! Several more crisis’ followed; a Crisis Card Event landed Adama in the Brig and Starbuck, now Admiral, declared Marital Law. Though Starbuck and Boomer valiantly fought back the Raider swarms, in the end too many Cylons showed up while the Jump Track mostly worked in reverse. The Fleet eventually ran out of Food and perished.

The ‘Four Solo’ variant is generally easy to execute and preserves the core essence of the game. The rules are written in a very clipped, bulleted (very abbreviated) fashion and can be difficult to interpret at times. Most importantly, the solo mechanisms don’t totally replace or even disrupt the most important game mechanics. This makes the ‘Four Solo’ useful for learning the rules. Playtime is maybe a bit quicker than a normal game once you learn the “system routine” and understand the rules exceptions.

After rereading the rules and playing Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game using the ‘Four Solo’ variant I think I can teach this game to the RMN Boys. More importantly, I think they are mature enough to handle the game too. The Boys are not huge fans of cooperative games though we all love the occasional play of Pandemic*. They also can play ‘take-that’ games like Survive: Escape from Atlantis so the hidden traitor mechanic could work. The playtime actually doesn’t look as bad as I remember; BGG rates it at 120-300 minutes (my ‘Four Solo’ game clocked in right around 120 minutes…but I died early). A game this rich in theme supported by a game system that reinforces that theme so well deserves to land on game table…and soon!

* We are impatiently awaiting the release of Pandemic: Fall of Rome which mixes the cooperative game mechanic with an Ancient Rome theme which is a very popular theme in the RMN house.

Featured image courtesy BoardGameGeek.

#Wargame #Retroplay – Beachhead (Yaquinto Publishing, 1980)

My not-so-lazy Sunday was capped off by a solo play attempt of Beachhead: A Game of Island Invasions in the South Pacific 1942-1944 from Yaquinto Publishing in 1980. Beachhead came packaged in what Yaquinto called their “Album Game'” format; the game “box” was basically a dual LP record cover. Very thin – so thin you couldn’t store the counters in the sleeves of the “box” without warping the board! Beachhead was designed by Michael  S. Matheny with a gorgeous cover by Roger B. MacGowan (@RBMStudio1 on Twitter). As I replayed this game I discovered it is not the game I remember; in some ways it is better, in other ways not.

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Small footprint – a 3’x3′ table will do!

As I reread the rules before play, several items jumped out at me. The first concerns serious gaming. Production of Beachhead was led by J. Stephen Peek, formerly of Battleline and obviously a serious gamer. So serious he didn’t call Beachhead a wargame but a “simulation”:

 

002 – BEACHHEAD As a Simulation

BEACHHEAD is a small unit level simulation of combat on an island in the South Pacific during the Second World War.

I pulled Beachhead out because I wanted to play a solitaire game. However, I quickly discovered that there is actually a fairly large degree of hidden information making this game not-so-solo-friendly.

4. All Japanese units are placed on the game board and are turned upside down. (102 PREPARING TO PLAY THE GAME-D-4)

2. Flip over all units that will move this Turn. (202 Basic Game Sequence of Play, STEP B.2.)

4. Return the moved units to the Face up [sic] position. (SoP, STEP C.4)

The next rule that was different than I remember is Sighting. The mapboard has many jungle hexes so as I read the rules I expected to see a rule about jungle blocking line of sight. Instead, I got this:

3. Hexes containing trees do not individually block the line of sight. Though the trees may be up to 25-40 feet in height, there are very few of them in each hex and so so not present a problem in sighting. They will present obstacles to combat. However, if the line of sight passes through three Tree hexes the line of sight is blocked. (205 SIGHTING-B-1-3)

This “terrain as combat obstacles” theme is also applied to buildings:

4. Hexes containing buildings do not block line of sight. There are very few buildings per hex and so do not present a problem for sighting. They will still present obstacles to combat. (205-B-4)

I did remember what made Japanese machine guns so deadly – Fire Lanes:

  1. Only Japanese Machine Gun, Infiltration Machine Guns, and Emplacement units have a ‘Fire Lane’ and are called Fire Lane units.
  2. The base of the Fire Lane is the numbered edge of the playing piece.
  3. The Fire Lane extends ten hexes through the hexside to which the numbered edge of the playing piece is facing.
  4. ….
  5. ….
  6. Any American unit that attempts to cross this ten hex line is immediately fired on by the Fire Lane unit. (This means that the American player will be attacked during the movement portion of his Movement Phase…. (205-F)

Another rule I missed many years ago is Aircraft Spotters (207 COMBAT-C). This rule allows one to use Airstrike units as spotters. A simple way to give the American player a complex choice; bombard or spot?

One rule I did remember and still enjoy is how Preliminary Bombardment is implemented in the game. This is another challenging choice; delay the arrival of landing craft to bombard and risk running out of time or land against more defenders? While rereading the rules, I discovered a little wrinkle that I had missed years before and it comes from the fact the Japanese player’s units are face down (hidden) from the American player:

4. In a normal Firing procedure the Firing player consults the Combat Results Table to determine the effects of fire. In Preliminary Bombardment the Japanese player consuls the Combat Results Table. The American player still rolls the dice, but is not allowed to know the odds column being used. (207 COMBATJ. Preliminary Bombardment)

+VL5G3uHRRuvZp8VK9UhrAVictory Conditions (210 VICTORY CONDITIONS) are based on points differential. I really like the flavor text. It ties neatly back to the introduction where there is an emphasis placed on YOU. As the introduction states, “You are, in fact, on the BEACHHEAD.”

In the OPTIONAL RULES there are several items of “chrome” that I remember and really like such as:

  • Randomly rolling to see what size naval guns are bombarding (303 BOMBARDMENT TYPE)
  • Randomly determining what payload airstrike have (304 AIRSTRIKES)
  • The Duke arrives as SGT. Stryker! (308 SGT. STRYKER)

Near the end of the rules in the HINTS ON PLAY there is a section on GAME ABSTRACTIONS. It directly addresses concerns over the game’s realism. It is interesting to read the designer’s perspective that Beachhead is essentially a game of points with units representing those points. It is a useful perspective that conflict simulations/wargames sometime forget.

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They knew…all the way back in 1980

Given the hidden information needed to play, my solo Beachhead game sort fizzled out. These days, this game is ripe for an implementation using blocks instead of face down counters.

More importantly, the rules of Beachhead, in a mere 16 pages, show a great degree of design elegance and certainly capture – and communicate – the theme of the game. The game is a great reminder that good things sometime do arrive in small packages. For some reason, this game, with its mechanical elegance and smaller footprint reminds me of many Hollandspiele games. That’s a good thing because it means there is at least one publisher is delivering elegant, smaller games to this very niche hobby market.

Now, to get the RockyMountainNavy Boys to play….