Christmas 2020. The year the Grinch brought COVID to the world. In the RockyMountainNavy home we actually had a good year in great part because our family bonds are strong (and stayed strong regardless of how much the Governor of Virginia tried to keep us down). Gaming played an important part in keeping the RockyMountainNavy family going this year as you will see in a series of posts coming before the end of the year. Christmas 2020 also brought several “new” games and other hobby items to my collection.
Harpoon III (GDW) / Harpoon 4 (Clash of Arms). Included also was a copy of Harpoon III with more than a few sourcebooks as well as Harpoon 4 with the 1997 Harpoon Naval Review and two other modules. I already own these but having secondary copies on hand is not a bad thing. The counters alone are worth it.
From Fort Circle Games
The Shores of Tripoli (Fort Circle Games, 2020). Again, not a true gift but still a nice present to get this Kickstarter fulfillment before the end of 2020. I have the original PnP version and like it so much that backing the Kickstarter campaign for a “professional” copy was a real no-brainer.
OK, a bit of a cheat here. I took advantage of a US Naval Institute book sale to get two new books to read. I really am looking forward to digging into The Craft of Wargaming for, ah, “professional” reasons.
The local school district here chose online (virtual) school for this year. I’m not going to go into the absolute disaster the superintendent and school board have wrought upon our youth, but instead try to find something positive to say using boardgames and wargames. I will try my best to keep political rants out of here but, oh boy, things here are so screwed up it’s hard!
Mrs. RockyMountainNavy, who is an Early Childhood educator, strongly believes that learning comes from doing. Unfortunately, as we observe our own high schooler (11th Grade), a friends middle schooler (6th Grade), and another friends elementary schooler (1st Grade) in their online classrooms we are disappointed in the amount of actual learning taking place. In response, we have looked for games to support learning.
Mrs. RMN and I strongly believe that games help educate in many different ways. First, there is the social aspect. I am proud to say that my kids actually look at your face when they talk to you not down at a phone screen. In great part we believe this is because we always push the most important social aspect of gaming; playing with others. Just the other day, Miss A, the 1st grader, lost a game of Dragomino (Blue Orange Games, 2020). She immediately declared she didn’t like the game AT ALL. We reminded her that she actually won the previous three games, and asked her to remember those. She sheepishly smiled and challenged us to another game (which she won).
Mrs. RMN believes that when learning is made tangible it means so much more. We are fortunate to live in the Washington D.C. area so we take advantage of the many museums and historical sites to help teach. In these COVID times and online schooling, finding the tangible is so much harder. We see the younger grades losing the most as they are unable to really learn from passively watching a checkerboard of faces on a small screen for hours on end. To learn they need more than listen; learning from an interactive experience is often the strongest way to imprint something in the brain.
With the first grader suffering the most, we try to find games that challenge her to think logically. She is an emergent reader right now and pretty good at math, but ‘putting it all together’ is a bit harder. Recently, we introduced her to Dragomino (already mentioned) and Dig Dog Dig (Flying Meeples, 2019). She likes both, but Mrs. RMN wanted to gift her a copy of Dig Dog Dig because it is one of the rare games that really engages a 5 or 6 year old child. When the game arrived, we sat down to teach her mother how to play so they could play at home. We need’t have worried because Miss A quickly took control and taught the game to her mother! Sure, her teach was not perfect but she got all the gross mechanics correct. This was all the more impressive given she had played the game with us maybe a half-dozen times. Most importantly, it showed she engaged with the game and internalized it. She ‘learned’ how to learn, and teach, the game.
The sixth grader is much more challenging. Miss C came to us because she was falling far behind in math. RockyMountainNavy Jr. actually tutored her as his summer job since she had so many negative experiences with older tutors that she was rebelling. With a focus on math we tried some math games we had around, like Math Dice (ThinkFun, 2003), but it is too ‘school-like’ and she refused it. Digging deeper into the drawers of the gaming collection, we found a copy of Top Dogs (Playroom Entertainment, 2005). When we first brought the game out, she was immediately taken by the cute artwork. For us, the fact you need to do three-factor multiplication meant it hit exactly at a weakpoint of her learning. When we played the game she enjoyed it, even though she was a bit slower at calculating than others. Unlike Math Dice, she continued to play Top Dogs because she saw it more as a game and less as a lesson.
More recently, we discovered that Miss C actually is very weak at quickly adding and subtracting numbers. We tried increasing her speed by using flash cards but, again, she rebelled because that feels too much like school. Digging through our shelves (again) I came across Sumoku (Blue Orange Games, 2010). This game hit several needs for Miss C; she needs to know factors of certain numbers and she needs to add groups of numbers. More importantly, she likes to play the game, especially against RockyMountainNavy Jr. (I admit there is a certain degree of ‘puppy love’ in play here too).
Speaking of RockyMountainNavy Jr., boardgames and wargames fully support his learning environment. He first real learning of American geography came fromTicket to Ride (Days of Wonder, 2004) to Air Force (Battleline, 1976) where he learned the very basic of flight. This school year his US/Virginia history class started with an online quiz of the 13 colonies. The teacher challenged the class to beat his time of 14 seconds. RockyMountainNavy T quickly clocked times of 13 and 12 seconds. He also freely admitted that the reason he knows his colonies so well is the many times we played 1775: Rebellion (Academy Games, 2013).
Just the other night RockyMountainNavy Jr. was talking to me about learning vectors in his Physics class. Not only was he learning about vectors in Physics, but Miss C had asked him a question about her science homework earlier in the day (the question concerned movement is space). As he talked to me, I calmly walked to the game shelves and returned with a copy of Triplanetary: The Classic Game of Space Combat – Third Edition (Steve Jackson Games, 2018). I proceeded to pull out the contents and we sketched a few vectors about. He instantly grasped the basics of 2d vectors (and asked that we add Triplanetary to the Saturday Game Night rotation).
In these COVID times boardgames and wargames serve as a very helpful coping mechanism not only for the immediate RockyMountainNavy family but also for our ‘extended’ family of students and friends. I don’t see that ever stopping.
So I reached game number 9 in my 2019 Wargame Challenge – The CSR. The game is Illuminati(Steve Jackson Games, 1982) which won the Charles S. Roberts award in 1982 for “Best Science-Fiction Boardgame.” I pulled the game out with every intention of introducing it to the RockyMountainNavy Boys so they could play it with me. You see, it’s hard to play a card game like Illuminatiby yourself.
Illuminati is the game that introduced me to the Illuminati. Go ahead, read all about it. It just has to be true, yes? Illuminati is THE game of conspiracy theories. Looking around at today’s world (and especially American politics) this game is so topical. So why am I hesitant to get it to the table?
As I reviewed the rules of the game and ran through a mock session, I discovered two issues that gave me pause. Note that I actually possess a first edition (1982) copy and therefore the components in that copy are the one that I am judging my opinions on. My reasons for passing are:
The groups are outdated.
The game takes too long to play.
Let’s look at each issue in turn.
The Groups are Outdated
The groups to be controlled are certainly a reflection of their time. I came of age amongst the politics and pop culture of the early 1980’s so groups like Cattle Mutilators or the Semiconscious Liberation Army make sense to me but I severely doubt they can resonate with the RockyMountainNavy Boys in any real way. Sure, you can play without understanding the satire and parody but if you do one misses out on so much of the thematic richness of the game. I like Illuminatinot just for the game play but more importantly for the satirical narrative it builds in play. Can you imagine Feminists controlling Science Fiction Fans?
[Ok, maybe that’s not the greatest example; believe me, it was a funny thought back in the day.]
Secondly, if I play with the RMN Boys they are going to ask why a group was included or what the group is. How much time will it take for me to explain what the Fiendish Fluoridators are? This feeds directly into my second issue….
The Game Takes Too Long to Play
Officially, Illuminatiis rated at 60-120 minutes. I cannot remember a game that was under 2 hours. To teach it to the RMN Boys explaining not just the rules but all the groups means the game will likely take in excess of 2 hours. This is at the upper limit of our preferred play time for a game night. I am not sure that if we were to invest 2+ hours of game time we would really get that enjoyment much back out of it. I might; the RMN Boys? Ehh….
A very good rule I had forgotten about was Morale. I should not be surprised since Frank Chadwick was involved in this game and his designs always seem to emphasize the importance of Morale.
Here are the two most important sections as I see it:
C. Procedure: Roll two dice. If the number rolled is equal to or less than the character’s modified morale value, the character passes the check. If it is greater than the character’s modified morale value the character fails the check. All positive leadership bonuses are added to the checking character’s morale value (not the dice roll), and all negative bonuses are subtracted from the checking character’s morale value.
A character with a leadership bonus (referred to as a leader) uses the bonus to modify the morale values of all friendly subordinates (all who check morale after that leader) within the leader’s line of sight, but only if the leader did check morale that step. A leader may not apply his or her bonus to his or her own morale checks.
If the leader passes all morale checks, that leader’s bonus is added to all subsequent morale checks of friendly subordinates; if the leader fails a morale check then that leader’s bonus is subtracted from all other morale checks of friendly subordinates. The effects of several leaders in the same area checking morale are cumulative.
For example, lntruder officer 3 (bonus of +2) and lntruder NCO 2 (bonus of +3) are leading an assault party across an area swept by covering fire. Officer 3 fails his or her morale check and thus NCO 2 checks morale with 2 subtracted from his or her morale rating. Assuming NCO 2 passes the check, all of the other members of the assault party check morale with a positive modifier of 1 (+3 from NCO 2 and -2 from 02 for a net modifier of +1).
The penalty for failing a morale check is harsh:
D. Effects of Failed Morale: Failure of an exposure to covering fire check causes the character to avoid exposing him or herself; any other movement (or allowable combat action) is permitted as long as the character does not enter a danger space of a covering fire. Failure of a moving adjacent check will cause the character to stop moving before coming adjacent. The character will stop with at least 3 APs left (if possible), and if 3 APs are left will execute a snap shot at the character to whom he or she was intending to move adjacent. Failure of a casualty or unexpected fire morale check will cause the character to panic and flee. Regardless of what was chosen for the character in the decision phase, the character must, in the action phase(s) immediately following the failed check, run away from the location of the enemy characters until he or she reaches a position of complete cover (referred to as cowering). The character will then remain there until he or she successfully makes a morale check. This morale check is made at the start of each decision phase. Any friendly leader who moves to the square containing the cowering character may apply his or her leadership bonus to that character’s morale value. In this case, it is not necessary for the leader to pass a morale check before applying the bonus to the cowering character. Note that any leader may carry out this function for any friendly cowering character. This is the only time that the leadership bonus of a lower-ranking character may be used to assist a higher-ranking character in making a morale check.
I was surprised that the rule book for 4th Edition clocks in at 64 digest-size pages! In reality, the “game” itself is not that long as the rules for movement and combat are covered in 37 pages (18 pages if full-size) and the balance is mostly Characters (psuedo-RPG?) and Vehicle Design. I chose to concentrate on the simple game and created a three-way Amateur Night scenario featuring a stock Killer Kart ($3,848), a Stinger Option III ($3,989) and a Stinger Option IV w/spikedropper ($4,293). The game was fun but it does take work to use the Movement Chart with its five phases. I do not have the latest Sixth Edition but I wonder if Steve Jackson Games has leveraged any of the new approaches to graphical play aids like Jim Krohn did for Talon (GMT Games, 2016). Both Talon and Car Warsuse “impulse” movement but the new graphical play aid in Talon makes the flow of the turn go much quicker.
I first played Triplanetary: The Classic Game of Space Combat back in the early 1980’s. One of my friends had the GDW version and we (kinda) liked it, but all that vector movement seemed like so much work. Worse, moving in space using vectors made it impossible to do all those fancy X-Wing maneuvers like in Star Wars.
Classic Feel – The counters are retro but it reinforces the “classic” game feeling.
White Maps? – I first thought it silly that space would be a white map but it has to be to plot your vectors!
Game Mechanics – The rulebook is 16 pages, inclusive of rules and scenarios. The core mechanic (vector movement) is dead simple with an uncomplicated combat system included.
Model Enough – As game designer Volko Runke (@Volk26) says, all games are models. This model of space movement (vector movement) is a 2D representation of a 3D problem presented on a map that is NOT to scale. That said, the basics of moving in space are here. Want to see what a flip and burn is? How about a gravity slingshot? Watch your fuel supply! It’s all here!
I am looking forward to playing this one with the RockyMountainNavy Boys, especially Youngest RMN who has an interest in aerospace engineering. As much as he likes the (legitimately awesome) Kerbal Space Program, and as much as Kerbal shows about space engineering, I think Triplanetarywill deliver another level of learning and discovery. That is because it is a boardgame, where the model is manipulated by the user and not hidden in a black box like in a computer game. What I saw as “useless work” back in the early 80’s I now see as a very useful model that is fun to play AND enlightening.
I really need to get my game budget under control. Last year I purchased many games and this year swore to get my spending under control. I have tried to be pickier (No Honey, really!) with my choices.
This week I was purchasing a just few games (Honest, Dear!) and looked at my Preordered BoardGameGeek collection.
I actually missed the Kickstarter for Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right(Leder Games, 2018?) but recently pulled the trigger and ordered it via BackerKit. I was initially hesitant because I like the GMT Games COIN series (which Root is supposedly heavily influenced by) but just was not so sure the RockyMountainNavy Boys would like it. After looking at the Print-n-Play versions posted I decided to go for it!
Long ago I remember a friend had Triplanetary: The Classic Game of Space Combat (Steve Jackson Games, 2018?). At only $45 via Kickstarter this seemed like a good deal as it is a topic I love.
If predictions are to be believed, August/September 2018 may be a busy month of new games. Mrs. RockyMountainNavy keeps reminding me about this as I spend now for gaming later.
I know that Kickstarter is a big part of why board gaming is so popular. Even so, I have my doubts. That said, so far this year I backed two Kickstarter games. Either I have overcome my Kickstarter fears, or am really stupid.
Part of the reason I am gun-shy at Kickstarter is because I backed, in March 2016, Squadron Strike: Traveller. I was a bit doubtful because the Squadron Strike system looks a bit complex (much like Birds of Prey, one of my least-favorite games). But I really love the Traveller RPG so I went for it. I pledged $109 for the Boxed Game. I even had to add extra money in the BackerKit in 2017. It has not delivered. Nor does it seem it will ever deliver.
In 2017 I backed Command & Colors: Tricorne – The American Revolution. I backed at the $95 level for a single copy of the game. The only stretch goal that was included was a single extra scenario. To be honest, I felt a bit ripped off by Compass Games. To me, the Kickstarter campaign was nothing more than a pre-order system. There was no price advantage. Indeed, less than a year later I can find new copies for a fair amount less.
In January this year, nostalgia got the best of me and I backed Triplanetary from Steve Jackson Games. I remember seeing this title when I was a rookie gamer. As of the writing of this post, the campaign has funded and is supposed to be delivered in August 2018. We will see.
Finally, my love of Academy Games led me to pledge for Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon. This pledge is heavily influenced by my love (and respect) for Academy Games. I pledged even though tactical skirmish games, like this or Imperial Assault, are really not in my wheelhouse. I must admit I am looking forward to this game with its many innovative combinations of components. The last big Academy Games Kickstarter project, 878 Vikings – Invasions of Englanddid deliver very close to on time (at least the English-language copies in the US). As of the writing of this post the game is funded with 9 stretch goals unlocked. Delivery is scheduled for September 2018.