We all “know” the Golden Geek Awards sponsored by BoardGameGeek are a popularity contest. Although I recognize it as such, I still follow along, if for no other reason than to try to understand why certain games are popular. The 2020 winners represent a mixed bag for me.
I am very happy to see that David Thompson andUndaunted: North Africa (Osprey Games) won the Best 2-Player Game category. To see a “wargame” gain this wide an acceptance is happiness for this Grognard of 40+ years. On the other hand, I ruefully shake my head at the winners in the Wargame category. At the risk of reigniting the never-ending debate on “What is a wargame” I‘ll just make the observation that the defintion of a strategy conflict game seems very loosely applied here.
While some Grognards may be tempted to dismiss the Golden Geeks, I hope instead that everybody recognizes that the hobby boardgame space for wargames is alive and well. Let’s get past the tired old “what is a wargame” arguments and simply focus on good games that we can all share together.
It’s the end of the year so it’s that time for the inevitable “of the Year” lists. Although I play boardgames and wargames, I am a wargamer at heart. Since Christmas 1979 when I got my first wargame, the holidays and wargaming have been forever linked in my heart.
To be eligible for this category, the item must be a wargame as I define it. It must also have been released in the 2020 calendar year AND IN MY POSSESSION as of Dec 31, 2020. I know for a fact that at least one wargame I have on pre-order has a 2020 publication date but, since I don’t have it in hand it’s not eligible for this list. For a near-complete listing of all the wargames I acquired in 2020 (including many titles not eligible for this annual list) please see my GeekList 2020 RockyMountainNavy Gaming Acquisitions and look for entries labeled “WARGAME”
Brief Border Wars brings back the classic “quad” packaging with four games using the same basic war engine but with each having its own identity.
Dawn of Empire : The Spanish American Naval War in the Atlantic, 1898 shows the classic War at Sea/Victory in the Pacific war engine can still be leveraged and new challenges created.
French & Indian War 1757-1759 is a very pleasurable block wargame that is simple to learn and thematic enough to keep it interesting yet playable in a short evening.
Fury at Midway is a bit of a hidden gem testing several competing theories of what actually happened at Midway. Hint: It doesn’t end well for the Americans as often as one would expect given “history.”
Harpoon V is the return of the “serious” wargame.
Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989 is a ‘managable monster’ with lots of replay potential in a relatively small package.
Philadelphia 1777 is another block game using Worthington’s proven war engine but this time depicting a kind of “tower defense” campaign.
The Shores of Tripoli is the Kickstarter remake of a solid game now given a very professional look.
Undaunted: North Africa shows once again that wargames can use non-traditional mechanics; who woulda thunk that Deck Building can make a good wargame?
Waterloo Campaign, 1815 shows that you don’t need a monster game to depict one of histories greatest battles.
White Eagle Defiant takes the Brave Little Belgium war engine to the next level yet still is easy to learn and fairly quick to play.
…and the winner is…
With such a strong field of contenders I actually picked a Runner-Up and a Winner.
My runner-up Wargame of the Year for 2020 is Iron Curtain: Central Europe 1945-1989 from Multi-Man Publishing. This game might be the most ‘old school’ or the closest to a classic hex & counter game of all the candidates this year but that is actually a major reason why it places so high. It’s not that I dislike the ‘new age’ mechanics in some of the new games; rather, Iron Curtain, an entry in the Standard Combat Series, showed me the joy of a ‘manageable monster’ wargame. Iron Curtain is multiple games in one with different eras and options for the Soviets or NATO to be that attacker. Add to that the Run Up to War pre-game and you have package that is easy to learn (uses the Standard Combat System) yet it will never serve up the same game twice no matter how often its played. I also really appreciate that it is fits on a moderate-sized table and yet it still can be both set up and played in just a few hours.
However, as somebody once said, “There can be only one.” My Wargame of the Year for 2020 is The Shores of Tripoli from Fort Circle Games. Yes, I know it is the professional publication of a print-‘n-play title that predates 2020 but designer Kevin Bertram’s attention to detail and hard work has taken this little gem of a game to another level. From the moment you look at the box (awesome) to laying out all the components on the table (luxurious) you can see his attention to detail. Gameplay has, dare I say, improved over the original PnP with the benefit of more development and playtesting. The Shores of Tripoli is almost as polar opposite of a wargame design from my runner-up, Iron Curtain: Central Europe 1945-1989 by MMP that you can get. That is a great part of it’s strength in my mind; The Shores of Tripoli is an excellent example of the “new wave” of designers and wargames titles that aren’t afraid to break from “convention” and assemble a set of mechanics into an interesting, challenging, and dare I say very “playable” wargame.
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.
Scythe Complete Rulebook (Stonemaier Games, 2020): Publisher-direct Preorder.DELIVERED.Having recently started replaying Scytheand nearing completion of our The Rise of Fenriscampaign its good to get all the rules in one organized place. Email Update 28 Aug – “To-date we have not found a single instance of a rules error impacting gameplay in the 136-page document. Except in one section. The Automa rules need some work. I apologize for this and we take full responsibility. We believe these errors are large enough to justify a reprint. The good news is that many of you don’t play using the Automa (solo mode), and may never reference this section of the rulebook. But if you use the Automa or plan to in the future, we will send you a new spiralbound Scythe Complete Rulebook for free.” Here’s what we’ll do. Simply fill out this form and we’ll send you another Scythe Complete Rulebook when it’s reprinted in a few months using the mailing address from your previous order.”
One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020) – Kickstarter Boardgame.UPDATE from August 7– “The container ship Seaspan Raptor is currently off the coast of Mexico and will arrive at the Panama Canal today. It is expect it to arrive in Florida August 10th! Your games will be shipped to you by Quartermaster Logistics, located in Orlando, FL hopefully by the end of next week.” NOTHING SEEN/HEARD SINCE.
The Shores of Tripoli (Fort Circle Games, 2020) – Kickstarter Waro.August 10 Update:“I also have some bad news. The shipping date from China has been pushed back further – to September 7. Just as you all have shown patience with me, I know I have to show patience with the folks manufacturing the game. But it is still extremely frustrating. And, unfortunately, airmailing the games here is truly cost-prohibitive – sink the company, never to be seen again level of cost-prohibitive. So this means it won’t be in anyone’s hands until October.”
French & Indian War 1757-1759 (Worthington Publishing): Kickstarter Wargame. From aJuly 29 Update – “The ship carrying both CRUSADER KINGDOMS and FRENCH & INDIAN WAR will hit the port in New York August 13. We should expect for us to receive the games within 2 weeks of that barring a customs snag. Thats means it is possible we may be shipping the last week of August, and if not then the first week of September!!!”
It looks like the boardgame/wargame publishing industry is coming back, but at a bit of a slower pace. Let’s look at my forecast and then discuss the reality.
One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020) – Kickstarter Boardgame. An update from mid-May stated that shipping in July was expected. I have not seen an update since. Academy Games does not have the best track record for keeping to timelines but that negative is more than compensated by the top-quality game that usually ends up being delivered. UPDATE from July 8 – “August 11, 2020 Arrival Date: Jacksonville, FL, USA. Note, that shipping to Florida takes 10 days longer than to our normal shipping destination in Cleveland. To Cleveland, the product is shipped to Seattle, WA and then transported by rail to Cleveland. Whereas to Florida, the ship needs to steam to Panama, cross through the Panama Canal, and them make its way up to Florida. USA and Canadian pledges will be shipped from Quartermaster Logistics, which is based in Orlando, FL.”
Philadelphia 1777 (Worthington Games, 2020) – Kickstarter Wargame. A late June update reported the game is arriving at the freight-forwarder and Worthington expects to take possession early in July and start shipping immediately. UPDATE: Delivered July 17.
The Shores of Tripoli (Fort Circle Games, 2020) – Kickstarter Waro. Coronavirus delays have pushed this one back from April, but it looks like July is seriously in play. UPDATE from July 21 – “My post-pandemic expectation was that our print run would be ready to ship from China in early July. Because of a bottleneck at one of the factories (our manufacturer, Panda, uses three different factories for our game – one for the dice, one for the wood pieces and one for the printing and final assembly), the games will not be ready to ship from China until mid-August. The slow boat from China takes five to six weeks, so I am looking at alternatives – mainly, having enough copies airmailed to our distribution points (we are using Quartermaster Logistics and their overseas partners) so we can ship to all of our backers before the end of August. If it is not cost-prohibitive, that is the plan. But if it is cost-prohibitive, then we are looking at delivery in late September. Ugh, I do not even want to contemplate that. As I know more, I will keep all of you updated.”
Heights of Courage: The Battle for the Golan Heights, October 1973 (MMP, 2013) – Sale Wargame. Bought as part of an amazing MMP sale in June. Having never ordered before from MMP I don’t know how fast they usually fulfill orders and realize coronavirus restrictions may be slowing them down. I had hoped to have these games in hand before July but it looks like they will not arrive until after the new month starts. DELIVERED JUNE 30.
It appears to me that shipping, not actual production of games, is a new long pole in the tent. Not surprising given the lack of air transportation worldwide. I know that many games are not airshipped, but the maritime shipping, rail, and truck industries are picking up other cargoes that air shipping used to handle leading in turn to a general slow down of those transportation modes. If you look close even Amazon Prime is sometimes backordered.
How about the look ahead to August? Here are what games may be in play (pun fully intended).
First, my Preorder & Kickstarter GeekListsits at 23 games. Of the three carry-overs from July (One Small Step, Shores of Tripoli, and Undaunted: North Africa) there is a good chance that all but Shores of Tripoli will deliver in August. Of the remaining 20 games:
French & Indian War 1757-1759 (Worthington Publishing): Kickstarter Wargame. From a July 29 Update– “The ship carrying both CRUSADER KINGDOMS and FRENCH & INDIAN WAR will hit the port in New York Auugust 13. We should expect for us to receive the games within 2 weeks of that barring a customs snag. Thats means it is possible we may be shipping the last week of August, and if not then the first week of September!!!”
Looking ahead to the end of the year, it is possible that as many as eight or nine of the games on my current Preorder & Kickstarter GeekList could deliver. Like I said before, that would not only be good for me, but more importantly good for the gaming industry.
IT IS PAINFULLY OBVIOUS THAT CORONAVIRUS ADVERSELY AFFECTED THE HOBBY GAMING INDUSTRY. I have yet to hear of a game company that has gone under but it’s easy to see the stress many are operating under. As the economy starts recovering from coronavirus shutdowns more game production is coming back. Looking at my Preorder & Kickstarter Roll on BoardGameGeek, it looks like July may be a VERY good month for a return to gaming!
Of the 27 games I list on 28 June, there is a better-than-even chance that as many as nine (9), or 33%, could deliver or otherwise fulfill in July. These include:
One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020) – Kickstarter Boardgame. An update from mid-May stated that shipping in July was expected. I have not seen an update since. Academy Games does not have the best track record for keeping to timelines but that negative is more than compensated by the top-quality game that usually ends up being delivered.
Philadelphia 1777 (Worthington Games, 2020) – Kickstarter Wargame. A late June update reported the game is arriving at the freight-forwarder and Worthington expects to take possession early in July and start shipping immediately.
Heights of Courage: The Battle for the Golan Heights, October 1973 (MMP, 2013) – Sale Wargame. Bought as part of an amazing MMP sale in June. Having never ordered before from MMP I don’t know how fast they usually fulfill orders and realize coronavirus restrictions may be slowing them down. I had hoped to have these games in hand before July but it looks like they will not arrive until after the new month starts.
Looking ahead to the end of the year, it is possible that as many as half of the games on my current Preorder & Kickstarter list could deliver. That would not only be good for me, but more importantly good for the gaming industry.
The Shores of Tripoli is a card-driven war game that plays in forty-five to sixty minutes. One side takes the Americans, who try to stop the Barbary pirates and perhaps even send the Marines in to take Tripoli. The other side takes the Barbary pirates and capture as many merchant ships as possible or even take on the frigates on the American navy.
As a naval guy at heart, a game about the Barbary Wars deeply appeals to me. What appealed to me even more is the fact Kevin is offering a print-n-play playtest kit to anyone who asks. I took Kevin up on his offer and have been messing around with the game.
I have a love-hate relationship with playtesting. I love to do it, but I hate that I always seem to never have enough time to provide feedback to the designer. I try to do what I can but it never seems enough given the generosity of a designer to share their design with me before it goes primetime. Thus, I was actually a bit hesitant reaching out to Kevin for a playtest kit.
But I am glad I did.
The Shores of Tripoli is not ready for primetime, yet; but the core of what could be a very good game is there. The Fort Circle motto is, “Creating fun, easy to learn, historical board games.” What I have played so far is fun. With some rule book polish it could be easy to learn. The game looks to be a fun exploration of the lesser-known history of the period.
I owe Kevin some feedback. I have a commented version of the rules ready and I am going to send it to him. Not that my feedback is anything special. I am not a technical editor nor a game designer by training or education. But Kevin is putting his heart out there in this game and from what I have seen it’s worth my time to try and help him get this game going.
If the topic of The Shores of Tripoliappeals to you and you want to help a fellow gamer then reach out to Kevin and help him get this game out there. The topic and approach is a good fit and soon enough you may have a fun, easy to learn, historical board game on your table.