That’s the contents of issue Nr 32 of C3i Magazine. So much wargaming goodness contained within! Even harder to believe that all this cost me less than $40.
At the upper right are two new scenarios for Table Battles (Hollandspiele, 2017). Designer Tom Russell serves up The Battle of Gaines Mill (27 June 1862) and The Battle of the Bouvines (27 July 1214). Tom and Rodger MacGowan also thoughtfully included a two-sided rules card. Although I have Table Battles, it is a good thing I reviewed this abbreviated rules set as I discovered I was playing the Target rule incorrectly.
The countersheet in the middle includes not only the two games featured in this issue, but counters for several more games. Again, color me interested….
At the bottom left is the first of the two feature games. Frederic Bey’sBattle of Issy 1815, is a Jours de Gloire-series game. Napoleonics are not my usual thing but this looks to be great little game that likely makes a good intro to the series. Rodger! I see your evil plan!
Saturday morning is not the usual time a wargame hits the table in the RockyMountainNavy house. This past Saturday was a bit different as the Youngest RockyMountainNavy was studying for a math quiz and the Middle RockyMountainNavy Boy was a bit bored waiting for his brother to finish. So I challenged him to a game of Table Battles (Hollandspiele, 2017).
This was Middle RMN Boy’s first time playing. We set up The Battle of White Mountain (Thirty Years War, 1620) and he took the Imperial & Catholic League. Game play proceeded a bit slowly as I had to be patient as he absorbed the game rules. My Middle RMN Boy is on the Autism Spectrum and he sometimes struggles with multi-step rules or too many choices. It’s not that he suffers from Analysis Paralysis (AP) while gaming, he just takes a bit longer to process his thoughts. Table Battles turned out to be a good game for him; simple enough rules and procedures with just enough depth of to create a challenging (but not insurmountable) array of choices.
In Table Battles,Special Formations are usually the most powerful, and therefore the hardest to “ready.” Middle RMN had The Twelve Apostles (historically the twelve biggest cannons) as his Special Formation and to “ready” it takes a “Straight 4;” rolling a sequence of four consecutive numbers on the dice. As the Special Formation card is harder to load, it also can be easy to miss when rolling.
Me – “OK, go ahead and roll.”
RMN Boy – [Rolls five dice as one formation already has a die placed]
Me – “Well, you could….”
RMN Boy – “I rolled a 2, 3, 4, 5. I can load this card, right?”
Me – “Uh, sure….”
RMN Boy – [Smiling & laughing evilly as he adds a cube to the Special Formation]
That pretty much describes the battle. The end came down to two last formations, each almost reduced and ready to Rout. After I rolled and failed to get the needed Triplet to ready my formation I thought I would have another chance as his formation was totally unready with no dice placed.
Me – “OK, roll your dice.”
RMN Boy – “I really need a triple to load my card.” [Rolls dice – 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 6]
Me – [Deep sigh]
RMN Boy – “So I move these here. Dad, you sure you don’t want to surrender now?”
Even though I lost it was a great game. While the Youngest RMN Boy has proclaimed Table Battles as a “favorite game” I think it is Middle RMN Boy who will enjoy this game more. Kudos to designer Tom Russell (@tomandmary) for making a simple, yet deep wargame that I can enjoy with all my boys.
Featured image – Battle of White Mountain, oil on canvas by Pieter Snayers (courtesy wikipedia). You can practically see the Table Battles formation cards in the scene….
Truth be told, I am a 20th century or modern-era wargamer. Most of the wargames in my collection are World War II or later. Knowing that factoid it would seem that Table Battles (Hollandspiele, 2017) should not interest me since the battles range from The Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 to The Battle of Brooklyn Heights in 1776. More importantly, the publisher’s blurb makes Table Battlesnot even really come across as a wargame:
Here is something new and exciting, something completely unlike any other game on your table. Table Battles is a thinky filler, a light dice game that nevertheless will have you scratching your chin and agonizing over your decisions. It reduces armed conflict to its essentials, to the absolute universal truths behind all battles: the threat of force and its application. It’s about leverage, about feints and counterfeints, threats and counterthreats, about creating openings and then going for the jugular, about leaving openings and springing a trap.
I picked up Table Battlesin the 2018 Hollandays Sale and I am very glad I did. What designer Tom Russell claims to be a simple “thinky filler” and “light dice game” is actually a very fun, yet thematic, wargame of older battles that looks good on the table, is easy to learn and play, delivers a believable history of the battle, and makes you think really hard!
To an old hex & counter grognard like myself, Table Battlesappears heretical. I mean, it uses cards for formations, little wooden sticks for unit strength, and to attack you place dice on those Formation Cards instead of rolling them against a Combat Results Table. It doesn’t even use a map – you literally play on your tabletop. This os not a wargame, but a new-age wargame-Eurogame (weuro?).
The rules for Table Battles take up a whole four-pages of double-column type. The rules are easy to learn; most of what is needed is already on the cards. The rule book explains the Flow of Play (or Sequence of Play to this old grognard) and the definitions of what the iconography or text on the cards mean. The game can literally be taught in five minutes or less. Each game takes 20 minutes – or less – to play.
Mechanically, Table Battles has two parts each turn. In the Action Phase, a single unit (one Formation Card) can Attack. This might cause an automatic Reaction. Some units can take a special action, such as Bombard or Retire. For any formation to do anything, though, it needs to “be readied” with dice.
The “light dice game” is actually the heart of the game. Each side has six dice. In the Roll Phase players roll dice and can add them to Formation Cards. Each Formation Card has a Dice Area that show what dice can be added. Players can only add dice to one Formation Card in each wing (usually one or two wings).
As that old grognard I was looking for combat ratings and it took me a while to parse what the Dice Area means. It is truly amazing how designer Tom Russell uses the Dice Area to show how capable different units are. In Marston Moor, Cromwell can use Any dice to load up, but other units (often artillery) need a “Straight 4” – or four dice showing sequential numbers – to become readied. Obviously, this means it is much easier to get Cromwell ready while the artillery takes longer!
Once the unit is readied it can attack, but only certain other units. Once a unit is reduced (losses all their sticks-of-strength) it becomes Routed. When units Rout the player losses one of their precious Morale Cubes to the other player. If a player losses all their Morale Cubes, or enough of the enemy units have Routed that they do not have a formation able to attack any of your units, that player wins. Simple. Direct.
If one is looking for in depth analysis of warfare in this era then Table Battleswill disappoint. However, if one is looking for a simple look at the units involved, their relative strengths and weaknesses, and a somewhat high-level take on a battle, then Table Battles will more than suffice.
Like the historical Battle of Marston Moor my game resulted a Royalist defeat. Although my game ended pretty much as history did, I also see great replay potential in each game. Just because the battle goes one way does not mean it will always go the same, if for no other reason than the Dice Gods will play havoc with the rolls in the next game.
Although designer Tom Russell likes to call Table Battles a light-thinky-filler-dice game he actually has designed a very simple, yet elegant, small waro/weuro that challenges players to focus on the fundamentals of combat. Although some might call the dice mechanic too swingy, it actually fairly represents the fog of war and reflects the different efforts it takes to get units into battle. Yes, Table Battlesuses dice. Yes, Table Battlesplays in as short “filler” amount of time. But Table Battlesis very “thinky” and a legitimately challenging wargame for grognards old and new.