#WargameWednesday – A bright game in THE DARK SUMMER: NORMANDY, 1944 by @tdraicer fm @gmtgames (2021)

Coming off my “Shelf of Shame” this week was The Dark Summer: Normandy, 1944 by designer Ted Raicer and published by GMT Games (2021). The Dark Summer is the latest in Ted’s Dark Series from GMT Games following The Dark Valley: The East Front Campaign, 1941-45 (2013) and The Dark Sands: War in North Africa: 1940-42 (2018). The signature feature of the Dark Series is the use of the chit-pull mechanism for activation which not only introduces a manageable “fog of war” element into play but also makes this series of games very solo-friendly. In The Dark Summer, Mr. Raicer and GMT Games gives us a refined version of the Dark Series that delivers a very playable version of the Normandy Campaign focusing not on the “Battle of the Beaches” but instead on the breakout.

The Longest Day Reduced to a Round

When I see a game about World War II in Normandy, my mind first goes to the movie The Longest Day (1962). Indeed, I think for many wargamers the invasion of Normandy is almost always the first thing that comes to mind when talking about a wargame set around D-Day.

The Dark Summer covers D-Day…and a whole lot more. In hindsight, given a game scale of 2.25 miles per hex and weekly (uh, sorry, “one quarter of a month”) turns it should be no surprise the critical invasion days are reduced to just a part of a turn. At first I felt a bit cheated; in The Dark Summer the landings on the beach are often reduced to a single die roll and then an advance inland. It felt so much different from the popular depiction of D-Day that at first I wondered if the landings were being trivialized. However, after playing the entire game (not only the first turn) I discovered that The Dark Summer doesn’t minimize the sacrifices of those who came ashore on D-Day; on the contrary, after play I see how game puts those invasion day efforts into context with the entire campaign. It took me a bit to see the obvious; The Dark Summer is not a game about the invasion of the Normandy beaches, but about the breakout.

Edgy Breakout

Whatever drama The Dark Summer lacks in regards to the invasion of the Normandy beaches, it makes up for in the race that follows. Players have 10 turns to either take back invaded beaches (Germans) or if the Allies to push out and “take the edges” of Cherbourg or Brittany or points to the east on the map. Cherbourg, which is not even on the map, is really the “make or break” victory condition. The Allies can virtually guarantee a win by seizing Cherbourg early but if they wait too long and don’t take the city by the end of turn 7 then it turns into a German Sudden-Death Victory. A close examination of the Victory Point Tables reveals a fundamental conflict—the Allies gain VP for capture of cities or exiting units whereas the Germans earn VP by eliminating certain Allied units and exiting others. The danger each side faces is that an all-out attempt to maximize VP could hand an automatic victory to the opponent. This make The Dark Summer a “race to the edges” of the map, but it must be a managed run that keeps (leaves?) some units behind to prevent automatically awarding victory to your opponent.

Good Chit-Pull

I have sung praises to the chit-pull mechanism before and The Dark Summer only reinforces my beliefs. I really enjoy the chit-pull mechanism for how it introduces a pleasant form of randomness into unit movement and combat as well as how it enables solo play. Even the special rules that basically “pre-scripts” the initial invasion round looks far more restrictive on the page than it actually plays out. Of the three Dark Series games I own, I feel The Dark Summer is the most thematically appropriate implementation of the chit-pull mechanism amongst the group.

Brightest of the Dark?

While the three games of the Dark Series share that common chit-pull mechanism, each is a very different game. I have described The Dark Valley as a “playable monster” game and the scope (the entire war in the Soviet Union) takes up far more table space and time than The Dark Summer. Likewise, The Dark Sands, which is more similar to The Dark Summer in that it covers a campaign (North Africa), also has some rules that mechanically make the game more challenging to play (I’m looking at the two-scales of maps here). In The Dark Summer I feel designer Ted Raicer has found a “sweet spot” for the application of his system.

What I enjoy most about The Dark Summer is the extreme playability of the game. Physically the game is relatively small with play on a single 22″x34″ map using less than 400 counters. The 24-page, double-column Rule Book really is only ~17 pages of rules, none of which are overly complex or illogical. Play time is listed as four hours and I found this estimate about right; indeed, my solo games actually played a bit faster. The Dark Summer naturally paces itself as “a bit rushed” in that both players feel the need to work quickly to try to get to their victory objectives before time expires. The combination of a smaller game, easy to digest rules, and a natural thematic “hurry up” makes The Dark Summer a complete—and highly enjoyable—game experience playable in an afternoon.

My Inexpensive #Wargame Storage Solution

WITH CORONATINE KEEPING US AT HOME FOR EXTENDED PERIODS OF TIME, many are turning to a hobby to keep themselves from going insane. This is especially true for myself as I generally eschew television. Fortunately, I have my wargame/boardgame hobby to keep me going. Between occasional games against the family and plenty of solo play I keep myself busy.

Boxed In

But there is another side of hobby gaming, and it involves organization. There are more than a few games with many components, be it bits or bobs or cards or Meeples or what. In the boardgame world this need to organize has created a whole pocket industry of insert organizers. I am not immune; I invested in Folded Space organizers for Terraforming Mars (Stronghold Games, 2016) and Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2016).

 

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Folded Space insert for Scythe – Level 1. Second level compartments to side ready to fit in.

The wargaming world is usually simpler. Traditional hex & counter wargames usually come with flat paper components and cardboard chits (counters). Some games have so few counters that they can just be dropped in the box. In older days many games came with storage trays. These days a few still do (like the custom Game Trayz that Academy Games included in Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 3rd Edition (Academy Games, 2019). Some publishers, like GMT Games, sell trays. Many wargame publishers usually include at least a few small plastic baggies in the box.

Plastic baggies work well for organizing wargames. I go a step further and buy resealable zip close bags from Michaels. Depending on the day, some of these bags even have an area for marking the content making figuring out what bits go back where that much easier after play.

For many gamers, a game tray or box for storage of counters becomes essential. Some folks, like the gents at 2HalfSquads, have very detailed solutions. Although I can identify with these hyper-organizing wargamers (and I was one of them myself in my Star Fleet Battles/Federation & Empire-playing days) I tend to shy away from those larger boxed solutions. That said, some games just beg for an organized solution. This is especially true when you have many different types of units or organizations.

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Courtesy 2HalfSquads

936D74EB-64C6-4D92-A6D2-BE31D855A40DWhenever possible, I like to see all components of a game stay within the box. This is a major reason baggies remain a staple of my collection. That said, I recently found some small boxes at my local Dollar Tree store. These boxes are 7.125″ x 4.875″ x 0.87″ and have 11 compartments (10 standard, 1x double-width). These small containers have rounded sections making it easier for clumsy, more arthritic fingers like mine to dig counters out. They also stack nicely. I have found I can stack these 2-deep in a 2-inch game box and still have room at the top for flat products. If the map is mounted getting the box to totally close is a challenge, but with unmounted games it works well.

 

The first game I organized using these boxes was The Dark Sands: War in North Africa, 1940-42 (GMT Games, 2018). The boxes worked out quite well as each I divided the counters into two boxes (British and Axis) with markers shared between. This arrangement really speeds game set up – just give the right box to each side and go!

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Notice the unused roll of baggies….

In practice I end up using a combination of trays and baggies. This weekend I organized my copy of Less Than 60 Miles (Thin Red Line Games, 2019). For the 1,176 counters, I used four (4) boxes for all the units (each formation in one compartment) and smaller-count markers. As it worked out, there is one box for all the NATO formations, two boxes for the Warsaw Pact, and one box of markers. I put all the Posture, Time, and Attrition Markers in three separate larger bags. The box for Less Than 60 Miles is a bit larger (European) sized box so I was able to fit four boxes (double stacked), cards, and markers with space left for the folded map, player aids, and rule books. There is just the slightest of lift on the lid.

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4x boxes in 2x stacks with cards to the side; larger bags (recycled from Scythe?) for large-count markers

I use a similar solution for Blue Water Navy: The War at Sea (Compass Games, 2019). Here the box is smaller (American) sized and I found if I used four storage trays then the cards could not fit. So I use three boxes (1x US, 1x Soviets, 1x NATO) and some additional baggies. Not as neat a solution but it works. The lid closes with the slightest of lift.

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The 2x decks of cards forced me to use only 3x boxes and more smaller bags for markers. Not as neat but it still works….

The Dollar Tree storage box also work very well for organizing smaller folio games. I use a single box for Poland Defiant, The German Invasion, September 1939  (Revolution Games, 2019). In this case the single box separates formations and markers. I can either lay this flat on a shelf or store upright with the game taking up less than 1″ of lateral shelf space.

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Most formations in own compartment with more numerous shared markers in double-width compartment

Of course, the best part aspect of these boxes is the price. Literally $1 per box. There is a Dollar Tree in my neighborhood and every time I go there I always check to see if there are a few in stock. With the larger games recently organized my “reserve” is down to two boxes – I like to have four on hand “just to be ready.”

What organizing solution do you use?

 

 

After #SpringBreak Di$ney it’s time to get back to #wargames

I have not played a wargame or boardgame in over a week now. Not because I have stopped playing; instead I have been off playing with the RockyMountainNavy Family at DisneyWorld. Now fully recharged I am ready to get back to the gaming table!

ZQXOtLiRS4yH9j7lKgkrigBefore Spring Break, I had several opportunities to play @HBuchanan2‘s Campaigns of 1777. These days I am becoming a sucker for the chit-pull mechanic in games as they make the game very solo-friendly even without a dedicated solitaire version. I am also a sucker for wargames the American Revolution era. After driving from Virginia to Florida and passing by several Revolutionary War sites, I really hope he goes ahead with southern campaign version too!

sru0+D2iRSaTaHyp5osoWwAround the same time Campaigns of 1777 arrived I also too delivery of my GMT Games P500 order of @tdraicer‘s The Dark Valley Deluxe Edition. This is in many ways a modern monster game covering the complete Eastern Front campaign in World War II. I bought into the game based (once again) on the chit-pull mechanism that I enjoyed in the previous Ted Racier/GMT Games title, The Dark Sands. I have to admit that I want to get this one to the table soon; as I was inspecting the game and had the board laid out Youngest RMN and I started looking at the geography and talking in general terms about Operation Barbarossa and Eastern Front. Historically I have avoided anything above tactical-level games about the Eastern Front; looking to change that with The Dark Valley!

Y0BIfKqBQvWvDsPxZeosHgFinally, on the day before we travelled, a relatively new publisher, Canvas Temple Publishing, delivered their Kickstarter for WW2 Deluxe. This is supposed to be a game where one can play the European Theater (or Western Front) in World War II in an evening. First pass through the rulebook and components looks promising!

We actually took a few boardgames with us on vacation but were lucky and had not bad weather days so the games remained unplayed. The RMN Boys did play a few games of Ticket to Ride or Battlelore or 1775: Rebellion on the iPad but I didn’t get to play (something about driving and playing at the same time just doesn’t work!). We had considered taking Villainous with us but thought that would be too much Disney. So, with vacation behind me and now emotionally recharged, it’s time to get back to wargaming and boardgaming.

 

January #Wargame #Boardgame Month in Review

img_0171According to my BGStats app, my January gaming was pretty good. It shows I played 18 different games 25 times. In reality, two of those games were expansions played at the same time as the base game. I got a decent mix of wargames vs boardgames (13:5) and old vs new (4:14).

Game(s) of the Month

Gaming Challenges

Possible Arrivals in February

Blogging

I changed the blog theme in mid-January to Apostrophe 2. Since them the number of visitors has held fairly steady but the number of page views shot thru the roof. I am showing over 5,000 page views in January, compared to all of 2018 where I had around 14,500 for the entire year. I also had my single best day ever on 28 Jan with over 500 page views.

That means I absolutely have to say a big THANK YOU to all you readers out there!

 

#Wargame #FirstImpression – Ted S. Raicer’s The Dark Sands, War in North Africa, 1940-42 (@gmtgames, 2018)

I took the new Ted Raicer wargame The Dark Sands, War in North Africa, 1940-42 (GMT Games, 2018) out for try this weekend. After punching (and organizing) all the counters I tried out scenario 1.1 COMPASS. As the Victory Conditions state, there is no losing this scenario for the British. Instead, the two-turn scenario serves as a great “training wheels” scenario to learn the Dark Chit-Pull System.

As I was preparing to play, I watched the entire Twitter video series from @PastorJoelT. I highly recommend it!

Unlike @PastorJoelT, my map did not have any issues. As I played through my first time I did have some thoughts….

Rulebook

The Rule Book for The Dark Sands is 20 pages. At first this looked a bit intimidating, but while reading it I realized that the how to play is covered on about eight pages with the balance mostly definitions and descriptions. Unfortunately, the how to starts in section 16.0 Sequence of Play on page 12. For some reason I found this arrangement hard to process. If I had my druthers, I think I would swap 5.0 How To Win on page 7 with 16.0 Sequence of Play. As I was reading all the rules on 6.0 Terrain Effects or 7.0 Unit Stacking and so forth I found myself needing to understand where in the game the rule fits.

For example, rule 12.7 Panzer Doctrine includes 12.7.1 Momentum which allows Panzer Divisions to perform a second Action. But the rule for an Action is covered in 18.0 The Action Phase…six pages later in the rulebook. Before I could play my first game, I ended up having to read the rulebook three times; once from start to finish just to find the rules, a second time to focus on the how to play (16.0 – 23.0) and a third time to learn all the other definitions (6.0 – 15.0). Thankfully, the core mechanics of the Dark Chit-Pull System are not very complex and I was able to get to play quickly…after the third rules reading.

Action Chits

As much as I love the Action Chits for introducing a fog-of-war element and making The Dark Sands very solo-friendly, I found the ACTION CHIT DESCRIPTIONS play aid a bit hard to use. Instead of a single page with a wall of text, I would have liked to see two cards (half-sheet?), one British and one German, that included all the “generic” actions as well as the faction-specific ones. Having a separate play aid would help in between turns to be able to look at what what could be coming and during a turn to see what the particular chit really means all without getting in the way of an opponent who is trying to do the same!

The Play

As I already stated, the actual how to play rules for The Dark Sands is rather compact. This helps the game play along rather quickly. Each of the scenarios (four in the Playbook) are rated at 2-4 hours while the Campaign Game (all 17 turns from December 1940 thru December 1942) is rated at 18 hours. In my play, the first scenario went by in far less than 2 hours (even while learning). The first scenario played so fast that when I finished I just went ahead and reset for the three-turn scenario 1.2 SUNFLOWER. Which leads me to my last point…

Organization

eago%jovqucr7agqkwf0baA key factor in being able to enjoy The Dark Sands is organization. As far as the arrival of units is concerned, there is a very nice Reinforcement Track across the top of the maps. Every unit has a spot on this track. This means setup can be easy…if one prepares ahead of time. For myself, I found that I can organize my counters in two small hardware cases from Dollar Tree. Not only do all the counters fit (in some semblance of the order of arrival) but they also lay neatly within the box with room to spare!

Final Thoughts – and a Look Ahead

I enjoyed my play of The Dark Sands so much I went ahead and ordered The Dark Valley, The East Front Campaign, 1941-45 (Deluxe Edition) as well as The Dark Summer, Normandy 1944. I realize that Dark Valley, covering four years, will be a larger game than Dark Sands while Dark Summer may be more focused. My main point is that The Dark Sands has captured my imagination and brought enough enjoyment that I am willing to pledge for the two other games in the Dark Chit-Pull Series.

I don’t think I will be disappointed.


Feature image courtesy GMT Games