#Snowday #wargame #boardgame w/ #RevolutionGames @Hollandspiele @compassgamesllc @StrongholdGames @Gamelyn_Games @gmtgames

It snowed here yesterday.

Not a YUGE snowstorm, but enough that the Federal and Local governments along with schools were closed. Road conditions looked pretty bad so the entire RockyMountainNavy family stayed in all day. Which means it’s GAMING time!

21Zs4bRKTyePYBBq8zpgGQThe first game played was actually the night before. Seeing that a day off was coming I pulled out Counter-Attack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 (Take Aim Designs/Revolution Games, 2019). I used the Historical Setup (again) but this game went nothing like my last. The Impulse part of the Area-Impulse mechanic ensured that the fortunes of war were fickle, especially for the German player. This time fate favored the Allies who won an Automatic Victory at the end of Turn 2.

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German victory….

For the snow day proper, the first wargame to hit the table was Brave Little Belgium (Hollandspiele, 2019). Again, the chit-pull mechanic made for a hard-fought battle. At first the Germans were neigh-unstoppable but in the mid-game the tide turned against them. However, in the late-game the End Turn chits came out before the Entente could counterattack effectively. The Germans won…just barely.

 

pacific-tide-front-coverPacific Tide: The United States versus Japan, 1941-45 (Compass Games, 2019) followed with me playing as the Japanese player against the US solitaire bot. Although the rules for this game are very easy I still struggle to execute good actions for the US side. Consequently, the bot was unable to stop me and I achieved an Automatic Victory at the end of 1942.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys interrupted my wargame marathon with a 3-player Tiny Epic Galaxies (Gamelyn Games, 2015). I was able to hold them off and win with the Orbiter Secret Mission.

519Going into the late afternoon and evening, I pulled out Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games, 2018) and set up scenario C.7 Pour La Patrie. This is an alternate history scenario which posits that France is Fascist and allied with Germany while Italy is Democratic and allied with the United Kingdom. The scenario runs from 1937 to 1942 (three turns). I really liked this scenario as it allowed me to explore the core game mechanic without any subconscious pressure to follow a “historical” strategy.

With schools already calling for a 2-hour delay on the next day all three RockyMountainNavy Boys challenged me to a fun game of Survive: Escape from Atlantis (Stronghold Games, 2012). Sharks and Krakens and Whales, oh my! I never had a chance!


Feature image by self

#Boardgame Sadness – or – Hey, @StrongholdGames, blocking @RexBrynen or myself doesn’t make your #Aftershock right

Update 08 Feb: Rex & @StrongholdGames have reached an agreement…and I’m unblocked now!


How to lose a customer in three steps:

STEP 1 – HAPPY CUSTOMER APPEALS TO RESPECTED GAMING COMPANY

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STEP 2 – CUSTOMER REALLY HAPPY WHEN RESPECTED GAMING COMPANY ENGAGES BACK

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STEP 3 – GAMING COMPANY DECIDES THAT RESPECTFUL CALL FOR ACTION DOES NOT FIT THEIR WORLDVIEW AND CHOOSES TO IGNORE (NOW UNHAPPY) CUSTOMER

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Hey, @StrongholdGames, I get it; I am a nobody. I am no Tom Vasel or any sort of leading content reviewer for the hobby boardgame industry. I play boardgames. With my boys. At home. I prefer wargames (gasp!).

But when it comes to the name of your Aftershock and AFTERSHOCK: A Game of Humanitarian Crisis, you are wrong.

Let me repeat what I said before:

I understand Stronghold Games needs to make a buck but Stephen Buonocore, you’re better than this.

One suggestion made on the BGG forums is for Stronghold to find some way to acknowledge the PAXSIMS predecessor. This approach was graciously endorsed by Rex. I also believe this is a respectable way ahead. It is an approach that shows support to both hobby gaming and serious gaming.

Stronghold Games, you are a gaming industry leader. Show us that you truly deserve to be.

From conversations with @RexBrynen, I understand that one of the suggestions is to rename the Stronghold Games version to “Aftershocks.” Or include a blurb in the box about the PAXSIMS not-for-profit version. Or a section on actual disaster relief. Rex says so far he has heard nothing back from @StrongholdGames.

Instead, like me his Twitter account is blocked by @StrongholdGames.

Thin skin, eh? You block me after I write one post on a blog with 44 followers that was tweeted to an account with 675-ish followers. YOU LIKED IT! Then I guess you read it. I fully believe my call to action was respectful. I have tried to keep to a higher morale standard. I did not pledge to your Kickstarter in order to post negative comments. I wrote no comments in the BoardGameGeek forums until you blocked me.

Your actions show me you don’t want to engage Rex or anybody else on this issue. Most sadly, your actions show me you don’t deserve to be a respected industry leader.

So go ahead, ignore me. I don’t expect you to read this. It’s OK. Like I said, I am a nobody. A nobody that bought six Stronghold Games titles last year. A nobody that is going to buy zero this year…and conceivably beyond.

Yeah, only six games…small potatoes in your world of $20k Kickstarter campaigns. A microdrop in your Terraforming Mars empire.

But it’s my drop…and you have shown me you don’t deserve to sip at it.

#boardgames versus #seriousgames – or – Hey, @StrongholdGames, #Aftershock is not just a name

Update 08 Feb: Rex & @StrongholdGames have reached an agreement.


This post is a call to action to Stronghold Games to right a wrong, and it all has to do with a name.

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Courtesy Stronghold Games

As I write this post, Stronghold Games is running a Kickstarter campaign for a game from Alan R. Moon  & Bobby West named Aftershock – Deluxe Edition. In the game…

The world has been hit with mega earthquakes. The worst destruction has devastated the San Francisco Bay area. It is a time of rebuilding to restore this area to its former glory.

In Aftershock, players will spend money to acquire planning cards, which are used to increase population, build bridges, and determine where aftershocks occur. Spend money wisely to acquire aftershocks that will allow you to move people into and out of the demolished areas. Planning and careful negotiation are essential in order to maintain your population and score your best-planned cities and bridges.

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Courtesy PAXSIMS

The problem is a game named “Aftershock” previously existed on the market. AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game, is the brainchild of @RexBrynen of PAXSIMS. Most boardgamers and wargamers have probably not heard of PAXSIMS or Rex or AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game because Rex and PAXSIMS are part of the “serious games” portion of our hobby. That is, the niche of our hobby that uses games for education or analysis.

Since 2015, Rex has been selling AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game which…

…explores the interagency cooperation needed to address a complex humanitarian crisis. Although designed for four players, it can be played with fewer (even solitaire) or more (with players grouped into four teams).

The game is set in the fictional country of “Carana,” but is loosely modeled on disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. At the start of the game a powerful earthquake has just struck Carana’s capital city of Galasi, causing widespread destruction of homes and infrastructure. Tens of thousands of people are in need of urgent aid and medical attention. At the request of the Government of Carana, military forces from several friendly countries—operating as the multinational Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Task Force, or HADR-TF—are en route to assist, as are additional contingents of UN and NGO personnel, together with much-needed relief supplies.

Time is of the essence! How many can you save?

AFTERSHOCK is a tense, fast-paced, and immersive game that players will find both unique and informative. Based on real-world events and challenges, it is also used in the professional training and education of aid workers, military personnel, and others involved in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

AFTERSHOCK has been used to teach students at the Pennsylvania State University and medical students in Germany. AFTERSHOCK is an example of a serious game; that is, a game that can be used for analysis or education.

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AFTERSHOCK game in progress at 9th Mission Support Command, US Army Reserve (courtesy BGG.com)

Using wargames as a “serious game” is nothing new. One famous example goes back to the first Gulf War when, in the immediate hours after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Pentagon put Mark Herman under contract to run Gulf Strike (Victory Games, 1983) and play out the US response. Whether you realize it or not, some game companies like Academy Games support military education and training. In this case, Academy’s new Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon game uses game mechanics adapted from a US Marine Corps “Fallujah game.” GMT Games are used by the Marine Corps War College.

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Marine Corps War College Next War Event – April 8-9, 2019
For the second year in a row, The Marine Corps War College is going to be using GMT Games as the basis for a spring event. This April 8-9, they are going to run a two day global wargame using the Next War Series.  Mitchell Land is going to be on-hand to help run the exercise, which involves three simultaneous fights in Taiwan, North Korea, and Poland. Here’s a pic of one of the Marine War College’s teaching games using Mark Herman’s Pericles (courtesy GMT Games)
Think tanks use gaming, like this CNA Talks podcast from CNA.org explains. Serious games cross over into the video gaming world; there is a pro version of CMANO for government organizations to use. Elsewhere, another form of serious games called megagames – massively multiplayer boardgames games – are used for student orientation at the University of Chicago or to entertain (and teach) about disasters.

So why does all this matter?

I absolutely believe in the value of serious games and strongly support what Rex is using AFTERSHOCK for. Rex does not sell this game for his own profit; all profits from the sale of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game are donated to the World Food Programme and other United Nations humanitarian agencies.

Stronghold Games apparently did not exercise even the most simple “due diligence” before Kickstarting their Aftershock. A simple query of BoardGameGeek would of immediately returned AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis. Maybe they were relying on Alan R. Moon (of Ticket to Ride-fame) and Bobby West to do that part for them, but even if so that is no excuse.

So what can Stronghold do? I am concerned that Stronghold is not taking this situation seriously. (no pun intended). In the comments on a recent PAXSIMS post, Rex related that, “We’ve reached out to them to express our concern (especially since ours raises funds for actual humanitarian relief) but so far the response has merely been “sometimes different games have similar names.”

That’s inexcusable. This is not Gettysburg or Panzer Something.

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Courtesy @ellalovesbg

Now, I like Stronghold Games. Terraforming Mars is an “evergreen” title for #boardgamenight in the RockyMountainNavy house. AuZtralia was my boardgame of the year for 2018. I religiously listen to their Board Games Insider podcast every week. I understand Stronghold Games needs to make a buck but Stephen Buonocore, you’re better than this.

One suggestion made on the BGG forums is for Stronghold to find some way to acknowledge the PAXSIMS predecessor. This approach was graciously endorsed by Rex. I also believe this is a respectable way ahead. It is approach that shows support to both hobby gaming and serious gaming.

Stronghold Games, you are a gaming industry leader. Show us that you truly deserve to be.


UPDATE LATE 3 Feb

Now blocked on Twitter by @StrongholdGames.

Feature image courtesy PAXSIMS.

Never tell me the odds – except in AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018)

Saturday Game Night at Casa RockyMountainNavy saw designer Martin Wallace’s AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018) on the table. This was a three-player game with myself and the two younger RockyMountainNavy Boys. If there is one thing tonight’s game proved to me it’s that AuZtralia is best described as a schizophrenic game; it starts as a Eurogame but ends as a wargame.

Set up and teaching the game took about 30 minutes. Usually I set up the game while the RockyMountainNavy Boys are taking care of after-dinner chores but in AuZtralia the set up is an important part of understanding the game so this time we did it together.

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At start – That’s alot of Level 2 Old Ones sitting there….

In no particular order here are some thoughts:

  • I started out closest to many unrevealed Old Ones (see the Blue Port above). I built a few railroads and farms but then started arming. as I was worried about the horde of Old Ones ready to descend upon me. In hindsight I might of armed a turn or more too early and lost a chance for a few more farms. With just two more farms and if Middle RockyMountainNavy won his last battle (see below) I could of been victorious with a two point margin of victory.
  • Pay attention to the combat effectiveness chart. At least one time I threw away a combat by bringing along a combat unit that cost me time but was ineffective against that particular Old One. If I had not thrown away that attack and built a farm instead (as above) it might of made all the difference.
  • Gold is definitely the most precious commodity. Not only do you purchase Military Units but it is what enables you to repeat an already taken action on your tableau. I ran out of gold in the endgame and was unable to make an attack that (once again) could of swung the victory to me.
  • Final score was Old Ones – 28 / RockyMountainNavy – 22 / Middle RockyMountainNavy – 18 / Youngest RockyMountainNavy – 18.
  • Victory in the game can really come down to one battle. Middle RockyMountainNavy Boy played the odds with an attack at the endgame – and lost. If he has scored one last hit he would have won the whole game with 24 points and the Old Ones would have tied for second at 22 points.
  • Total game time was about 2 hours. This was on top of the 30 minute setup/teaching. With a bit of some familiarity the game can probably get down to the 30 minutes/player range of play time with 10 minutes to set up.
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Cthulhu himself – courtesy Stronghold Games

AuZtralia will land on the table again, but it is competing in a crowded part of the RockyMountainNavy game collection. AuZtralia is in the sweet spot for game length and players for Game Night. Given its schizophrenic nature, the RockyMountainNavy Boys are a bit unsure what to make of the game. Generally, they lean towards wargaming although with three or four players we tend towards the “waro” style of wargame. At the endgame, AuZtralia fits this category. It’s the beginning Eurogame (build railroads, farms, and claim resources) that we are hesitant to dive into. The Boys are also not well-versed in the Cthulhu Mythos so the theme of the game is not a factor.

Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.

 

#Zombies & #Cthulhu are not my usual thing but for #AuZtralia (@StrongholdGames, 2018) I will make an exception

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Cthulhu (courtesy BGG.com)

In the boardgame community zombies are probably the most overused theme for a game. Right up there with Cthulhu. While many gamers obviously like these themes (based on how many games are made – and purchased) I don’t. Horror stories just don’t grab my attention and horror gaming even less so. Given my attitude, I never should have pre-ordered designer Martin Wallace’s AuZtralia: The Great Designers Series #11 (SchilMil Games/Stronghold Games, 2018). After all, the game has both zombies and Cthulhu! However, after listening to several podcasts discussing the game I succumbed to the Cult of the New and ordered it. I am very glad I did because AuZtralia is a good game that smartly uses a mixture of game mechanics to bring a theme I have no real interest in to life. It does such a good job that I find myself wanting to play AuZtralia despite my negative attitude towards the theme.

AuZtralia is thematically linked to an earlier Martin Wallace title, A Study In Emerald. ASiE is a game I will probably never play if for no other reason than both the theme and core mechanic (deck-building) do not appeal to me at all. AuZtralia, on the other hand, was described as something near a waro, a category of gaming I positively love. After getting the game in hand, I discovered that AuZtralia is not a waro because there is no player-vs-player combat possible. Instead, BoardGameGeek describes AuZtralia as an adventure/exploration game. The game actually mixes multiple game mechanics together. Using the BGG description I see the following game mechanics in play:

  • Resource Management – Build a port, construct railways, mine and farm for food.
  • Time Management – Everything you do in the game costs time, which is one of AuZtralia’s most valued resources.
  • Opponent AI – At a point in time, the Old Ones will wake up and become an active player. They begin to reveal themselves and move, with potentially devastating outcomes.
  • Semi-Cooperative -You’ll need to prepare wisely for the awakening and may have to co-operate with others to defeat the most dangerous Old Ones.
  • Combat/Hand Management – Military units will help you to locate, fight and defend against the nightmarish beings that may be lurking on your doorstep. As well as hardware, you’ll need to recruit some Personalities who have the skills and resources to help you.

Although I was expecting a waro I am happy with the game nonetheless. AuZtralia’s mix of game mechanics delivers a relatively quick-playing game that builds a play narrative that in turn fits the theme perfectly.

Time, the most precious of resources, is constantly ticking away. Actions cost not only resources (money, commodities) but most importantly time. The time track is used to not only show who goes next but also serves as a countdown timer for the game. This simple mechanic puts pressure on the players and both literally and figuratively builds towards a climatic showdown.

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Old Ones Card  (prototype courtesy BGG.com)

One of the most interesting mechanics in AuZtralia is the Old Ones AI. A set of 40 Old Ones Cards is used for movement and combat. Being a wargamer, I focused in on the combat mechanic. There are no dice used for combat in AuZtralia; instead, the Old Ones Cards are used to allocate hits. The combat results feel plausible and build a narrative of desperate battles.

Even the solo version of AuZtralia is not really solo since the Old Ones are controlled by an AI. In my first solo game, I lost to the Old Ones by a large margin, mostly because I didn’t understand the strategy needed and the Scoring rules made me pay for it. In my second solo play, I barely eeked out a victory (52-49) even though I lost my Port and all my farms were blighted. The difference between victory or defeat was my Solo Objective Card which gave me a bonus 20 points for being a Railroader (place all Railroads on the board by game end). As the game was winding down I really felt the pressure of losing time and made the decision to forego protecting my farms and concentrated on building the last of my railroads. I placed my last railroad the turn before I lost my Port. The game made me feel like a heartless railroad tycoon absolutely determined to get the last rail of track laid regardless of the insanity happening around me. All very dramatic.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys have watched me as I played several games of AuZtralia solo. I think this game will be a perfect fit for our Game Night. AuZtralia is a game that should be playable in a few short hours but more importantly delivers a compelling narrative of play without a difficult set of rules to parse. AuZtralia really is an adventure/exploration game built on a solid foundation of mixed game mechanics that fit the theme and make it interesting to play.

Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.

Prelude to Corporate – The Full Experience of #TerraformingMars (@StrongholdGames / @FryxGames)

Terraforming Mars (designer Jacob Fryxelius at Fryx Games, publisher Stronghold Games, 2016) will likely become an “evergreen” game in the RockyMountainNavy collection. We love the theme and every game is new and interesting. This weekend was no exception.

My preorder for Terraforming Mars: Prelude arrived in the past few weeks and we decided to get this expansion to the table. At the same time, I realized we had not played the Corporate Era (extended game) version in the base set. More than a few of the comments in the BoardGameGeek Forums for Prelude mentioned that it shortens the game by “jumpstarting” the corporations. On balance it sounded like a good deal; shorter the extended Corporate Era game by using Prelude.

It worked. Really well. So well this will likely be our default game play mode from here on out.

Prelude jumpstarts your corporations by adding Prelude Cards and a new set-up step. Each player is dealt four Prelude Cards at the same time they are choosing corporations and project cards. After corporations are chosen and project cards paid for, each player plays two of their four Prelude Cards. According to the box back, each Prelude Card will either “jumpstart the terraforming process or boost your corporation engine.” This is a good counterbalance to the Corporate Era (extended game) which “focuses on economy and technology…projects that do not contribute directly to the terraforming, but make the corporations stronger, adding new strategic choices to the game.”

We didn’t take any photos but I remember the starting corporations. I took Inventrix, Middle RMN Boy was Interplanetary Cinematics, and Little RMN took Ecoline. From that point out the game developed in really unexpected ways.

Both RMN Boys ended up building fierce economic engines. By the end of game both had over 30 MCr income production. Interplanetary Cinematics also played several cards that reduced the cost of new projects, and Ecoline ended up going heavy into space (Jovian Tags) . For myself, Inventrix started out with many project cards but could not get a good income going meaning I was unable to purchase enough cards or play more valuable cards.

Seeing how we had not played Terraforming Mars in a while (since February…toooo loooong!) we were a bit slow. Even with the Prelude jumpstart our game lasted a bit over 2 hours. I don’t see this as a negative; without Prelude we could of gone at least 2 1/2 hours or more.

I don’t really have anything negative to say about Prelude except I wish that one major ruling had been explicitly stated in the rule book. It concerns the effect of Prelude Cards on the terraform rating (TR), specifically, an explicit ruling that a Prelude Card that adds an Ocean or affects Oxygen or Temperature moves the players TR. Fortunately, the question was quickly (son officially?) answered in the BGG forums. Everything else seems pretty straight-forward.

Indeed, the straight-forward nature of the two Terraforming Mars expansions I own, Terraforming Mars: Prelude and Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium make incorporating these expansions into the base game quite simple. Both can be added to the game with very minimal rules explanation needed. The RMN Boys and myself don’t really feel the need to add Terraforming Mars: Venus Next and are concerned about added playtime. A two-hour Terraforming Mars game is about perfect for us.

Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.

First Play – Survive: Escape from Atlantis! (Stronghold Games, 2012)

First play of Survive: Escape from Atlantis! this evening. Caught ourselves playing one rule wrong early enough to correct. Game culminated with RockyMountainNavy Dad shouting, “Kill him!” as Middle RMN Boy used a shark to kill off the last Youngest RMN Boy’s swimmer. Lots of laughing and good nature “Take that!” RMN Mom laughing along from other room. Fun fun fun!

When #TerraformingMars, you gotta remember to Terraform….

This weekend, Terraforming Mars (Stronghold Games, 2017) landed on the table for the RockyMountainNavy Game Night. Surprisingly, we had not played this game since November last year. Even with the long hiatus, we found gameplay to be quick and satisfying.

In January, I was able to pick up the expansion, Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium from CoolStuffInc.com for a bargain. Tonight, we played on the Elysium map:

Elysium takes players almost to the opposite side of Mars’ equator, with vast lowlands for oceans in the north and a dry, mineral-rich south. Place a tile on Olympus Mons, the highest peak in the solar system, to gain three free cards! [Stronghold Games]

We played a three-player game. For corporations I had Thorgate, Middle RMN Boy Interplanetary Cinematics, and Little RMN Boy took Ecoline. I started out strong, using my corporations power advantage to build power production that I was able to convert to Steel and oxygen using the Steelworks and Ironworks projects. As such, I was able to build a moderate lead in the Terraform Rating (TR). Meanwhile, Interplanetary Cinematics built a few cities, and Ecoline focused on greenery.

The game session played fast as we all rapidly developed our game engines and pushed the Global Parameters (Oxygen, Temperature, and Oceans) ahead quickly. We probably pushed ahead too fast, because we ended in Generation 11. While conducting the final scoring, I became painfully aware that I had no cities and no greenery tiles laid. As a result, my moderate lead quickly disappeared and I came in a very distant second place.

Overall, this is the fifth time we played Terraforming Mars since I acquired the game in September 2017. Playing time is advertised at 120 minutes but all of our previous games played at 150-180 minutes. This time was different with game time coming in at almost exactly 120 minutes. That is, 120 minutes to set up, play, and pack away the game! The quick play did not mean the play experience was less satisfying; on the contrary, the shorter playtime made for a more intense game. It is also amazing that after five plays this the first time I can remember that we actually made it through the Project Card deck and had to reshuffle. Little RMN repeatedly exclaimed, “I haven’t ever seen this card before!”

If I remember correctly, some time ago I was listening to the Ludology podcast with designer Geoff Englestein and he mentioned that he was happy if someone played his game five times. I too am surprised that since my boardgame renaissance started in late 2017 that Terraforming Mars has entered into my BGG Five and Dimes category (i.e. games played at least five or ten times). Putting aside children’s games, fillers, and other “lite” games, Terraforming Mars joins Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear and The Expanse Board Game as “fives” in that time. Given the excellent game play and enjoyment of Terraforming Mars, I feel confident in saying it will reach Dime status before too long.

Is this a wargame? – or – A grognard’s foggy thoughts on #FogofWar (@StrongholdGames, 2016)

Fog of War by Stronghold Games (2016) is marketed as a “two-player grand strategic game covering the European theater of World War II.” On its surface, Fog of War looks to be a “wargame” but, to this old grognard, I am unsure it really is.

The BoardGameGeek wiki glossary defines wargame as,

n. A game in which players put military units or military-type units in direct or indirect conflict with each other. The goal of these games is typically annihilation of opponents and/or the attainment of certain strategic conditions. These types of games will often have high thematic content and a varying degree of abstraction. (See also miniatures game). Wargames are subdivided into three general scales: Strategic, Operational and Tactical. (See also simulation)

By this definition, Fog of War qualifies as a wargame as it has military units (cards) in direct conflict and victory is through the attainment of strategic conditions (control of various provinces).

But I disagree.

Fog of War is superficially a wargame, but at its heart it is a game of Bluffing. BoardGameGeek defines bluffing as, “Bluffing games encourage players to use deception to achieve their aims. All Bluffing games have an element of hidden information in them.” Now, I recognize that wargames often have an element of Bluffing in them, but it is not the core mechanic as in Fog of War.

To be fair, Fog of War is not marketed as a wargame. Let’s look at how Stronghold Games describes Fog of War:

The game does not have units that move around a map; instead the game focuses on the planning and intelligence aspects of the war. Each player has a deck of cards that represent the army, navy, and other assets of their nations. A map shows the 28 land and sea provinces over which the players are battling.

You defend a province by placing cards face down on the map. If you wish to attack a province, you must plan an “operation” to do so by creating one on your operation wheel. The wheel is a unique way of forcing players to commit to operations in advance, while giving opportunities for intelligence gathering and bluffing. An operation consists of a province card that shows the target of the operation, plus one or more cards to conduct the attack. All of these cards are placed face down, so your opponent does not know the target of the operation or the strength of the cards that are taking part. Each turn, the dial on the operation wheel is rotated by one position. This controls when an operation can be launched and any attack or defense bonuses that apply.

In addition to combat forces for attack or defense, you may also spend Intel tokens to look at your opponent’s operations and defenses.

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Operations Wheel (Courtesy BGG)

Hopefully, you see that the core mechanic of the game is focused on the Operations Wheel where players secretly plan attacks. Defense of provinces and attacks on the Operations Wheel are secret but players can use Intelligence Operations to try to discern the defense or attack plans. The use of deception and hidden information, and not military conflict, is at the heart of Fog of War.

 

But does that make it a bad game?

BGG User TimSmith wrote a long review of Fog of War where he praises the game. In a final assessment he declares:

This game is an absolute must for every wargame designer with any interest in the theory of war, in Clausewitz and SunZi, or the works of Michael Howard, Michael Handel and Edward Luttwak. Even the deans and doyens of our discipline will find that FoW deepens their conceptual insight into some of the non-obvious causal factors that govern war, not just in the military sphere such as attrition versus maneuver, but in the wider context of strategic interaction described by game and decision theory.

For similar reasons, it is a must for all grognards interested in studying warfare through simulation modeling. It might prompt one to contemplate how incomplete the standard wargame framework is, and perhaps to introspect into whether we have been sufficiently aware of this.

FoW is a great addition to the repertoire of those who enjoy stimulating, challenging strategy games. For all its Boogy-Woogie Bugle Boy artwork, it’s a cerebral game. The Anglo-Allies cannot blame the dice if they get booted off the continent!

And finally, for any wargame coach or teacher who uses wargames to teach history or strategy, this game offers a highly valuable and unique insight into the challenges historical figures face in committing their nations and forces to great endeavors during conflict. The game conveys a sense of plunging into the unknown that few games can match.

I know Tim (professionally) and have great respect for his opinion. I can see many of his points, but I personally think he gets a bit carried away. Fog of War demonstrates the role of planning and intelligence in war – STOP! When I keep this (narrow?) perspective I find great enjoyment in playing Fog of War. It is when I try to “read more into the game” that I find my enjoyment dropping off as I (sub?) consciously start questioning design assumptions and doubting the design. For instance, combat is resolved through a straight comparison of attack versus defense strength. The attacker automatically wins if they have a ration of 2:1 or better, seemingly ignoring the historical maxim that 3:1 odds are needed to assure victory. I think I see the design assumption behind the 2:1 decision (driven by a limited number of cards in the game) but as a grognard I found myself doubting the “validity” of the game.

Fog of War is a good game and I am glad to have added it to my collection, but it is best enjoyed with a narrower set of expectations than I started with. As a long time grognard, Fog of War challenged my definition of a wargame, but as a gamer I can enjoy the Bluffing in a military conflict setting.

Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.

 

#FirstImpressions #TerraformingMars (@StongholdGames, 2016)

This week’s Saturday #GameNight brought Terraforming Mars (Stronghold Games, 2016) to the RockyMountainNavy gaming table. This game, currently ranked #12 on the BoardGameGeek “Hotness,” has been out for a while. The game was strongly recommended by Uwe Eickert at @AcademyGames to me way back in August as a good engine-building, resource management game. I was a bit slow to acquire (hey, even I have a budget…as much as Mrs. RMN tells me I exceed it) and only this month got the game to the table.

As the publisher’s blurb for Terraforming Mars (TM) puts it:

In the 2400s, mankind begins to terraform the planet Mars. Giant corporations, sponsored by the World Government on Earth, initiate huge projects to raise the temperature, the oxygen level, and the ocean coverage until the environment is habitable. InTerraforming Mars, you play one of those corporations and work together in the terraforming process, but compete for getting victory points that are awarded not only for your contribution to the terraforming, but also for advancing human infrastructure throughout the solar system, and doing other commendable things.

Game Play

Our first game was 3-player with each using the Beginner Corporations. There were several rules mistakes made including a major faux pas of not counting budget right the first few Generations (turns). This is because the game arrived Thursday and I rushed it to the table after just reading the rulebook twice and only looking at one How-to-Play video. I also failed to adequately explain the various Milestones and Awards meaning that some were missed or scored differently than all players understood. That said, the game is not overly complex and the problems we had are the fault of me rushing and not a negative reflection of the rules. Once we got the budget right the game started to click right along; I think playing in the advertised 60-90 minutes may be possible.

Cards & Actions

The cards in TM are also incredibly thematic; more then a few times we had short halts in the game to discuss what the events on the cards were describing. RMN Mom really likes listening to this part of our game nights because it demonstrates the teaching power of games. The incredible variety of Actions (Standard or Cards) ensures that there is no “one way” to win and that no two games of TM will ever be alike.

Components

I had read some criticism about the component quality in TM. Suffice it to say that I generally agree with the critics. I will definitely be sleeving these cards. The RMN Boys and I are already looking at GamerTrayz to replace the Player Mats. We do like the footprint of the game; this game can be played on a 3’x3′ card table if necessary.

Component quality aside, Terraforming Mars is a spectacular game that has already earned a repeat slot in our family game night line-up. It is also another tangible piece of evidence of my evolution as a gamer. One year ago if you asked me if I was ever going to play an engine-building game (loosely) based on science about terraforming a planet I would of asked how many space battleships were involved. These days I cannot see our family game night without games like Terraforming Mars landing on the table because of their incredible game play and teaching potential.