RockyMountainNavy #Wargame of the Year for 2018

This is the second in my series of 2018 “of the Year” posts. This one covers wargames, the first looked at boardgames, the third will be expansions, and the last is my Game of the Year. Candidate games are taken from those published and which I acquired in 2018.

My candidates for the RockyMountainNavy Wargame of the Year in 2018 are:

…and my winner is…

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Courtesy Hollandspiele

I’m not sure, but the original Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater (Hollandspiele, 2017) may have been the first game I recognized as a waro (wargame-Eurogame hybrid). I never thought a game about logistics could be the basis of a good wargame. I also appreciate that instead of simply redoing his first game on a new map, Mr. Russell added, with little rules overhead, game mechanics to reflect the unique “irregular” war in the southern colonies. The result is a very playable game that is not only fun but offers decent insight into the conflict.

Gettysburg and Battle of Issy 1815 arrived Christmas Eve. My initial impression of Gettysburg is that it is a very simple introductory-level wargame that features a rich decision space. Indeed, I almost put it here in a tie with SLotAR:TSS as a co-winner! The Battle of Issy 1815 is my first introduction to the Jours de Gloire -series of rules. Although I admit Napoleonic wargames are not really in my wheelhouse this is a fast-playing, rules-lite game; I like what I have seen – and played – so far!

Regarding Cataclysm, I debated when making these “of the Year” postings whether to categorize it as a strategy boardgame or a wargame. Regardless of where it ended up, the game is still a triumph of design and is interesting to play every time. Battle Hymn with its chit-activation mechanic brings the Fog of War to a game with little rules overhead and is a visual masterpiece. I am looking forward to Vol 2 later this year. Even the newly arrived NATO Air Commander is fun and a very playable solo game – when its not bringing back nightmares of Soviet armored hordes rolling across the West German frontier!

After the tremendous delays in the Squadron Strike: Traveller kickstarter campaign I am soured on the game. It makes it harder to judge the game on its own merits.

History Supplied in Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy (Hollandspiele, 2018)

In wargames, seeing history repeat itself is seen by many as a mark of good game design.  To many gamers, being able to recreate the historical result is often expected. To me, a mark of a good game is not only when it has the ability to recreate the historical result, but to offer some insight into why it happened. Such a case was well-illustrated in a recent wargame I played.

In the history of the American revolution we are taught that the war ends with he surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. True to history, my play of Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy by designer Tom Russell (Hollandspiele, 2018) ended in nearly the same way.

Awesome sauce. Supply Lines – The Southern Strategy plays out close to reality. Nothing to see, nothing to learn, right?

Wrong.

At game start, the Crown player begins in Savannah, the extreme other end of the Southern Colonies from Yorktown. The Patriot player has only a small army at Charleston. In order to win, the Crown player must either control 10x Cities or Forts or move the Political Will Track to the far right. The Crown player moves Political Will through being victorious in battle. The Patriot player wins by either forcing the Surrender of the Crown Leader (instant Victory) or moving the Political Will Track to the far left. Similar to the Crown player, the patriot player moves Political Will by victory in battle and the passage of time; as more years pass Political Will decreases reflecting Crown fatigue with the campaign.

The victory conditions immediately supply the time pressure and in many ways drive strategy. The Crown must fight battles and win; the Patriot either focuses on the Crown Leader or avoids defeat and bides their time.

The Crown players advantage is that they have Transport (9.3) or naval movement available. This strategic movement ability can be used to outflank the Patriot player.For the Patriot player, the ability of a defender to Refuse Battle (10.0) is crucial. The Patriot player also has the ability to Skirmish (9.5); that is, battle but not take territory. Useful for eliminating Loyalists or moving away small Crown armies.

Layered onto this military confrontation is a irregular war. Militia and Loyalist units are also available to the players. Arranged according colony, these units can supplement the player armies. Available actions include:

  • Recruit – Exchange 2 Militia/Loyalist for 1x Army
  • Forage – Use to gain 1x Food Supply cube in the colony
  • Raid (Militia Only) – Removes Crown units or supply from the board
  • Hold (Loyalist Only) – Occupy a place to help move Supplies (see rule 5.3 “adjacency” – an easily overlooked yet vital rule) but are vulnerable to Raids.

In my campaign, the Crown player started out by taking the many forts in the southern part of the map. The thought was to take the Forts then let Loyalists hold them. This didn’t work out because the Georgia Loyalists didn’t materialize (units must be drawn from a pool and made available) in a timely manner. As a result, too many Crown troops were stranded in Forts with not enough Food available to move quickly. Sensing the time pressure, a (now reduced) Crown expedition was launched to Yorktown using Transport. It had to go all the way north because the Patriot player had built a supply line along the coast and controlled all the other landing points. The overland route would have to go through all those Forts meaning Food must be supplied from Savannah – a slow process given only 1x Food cube a turn is generated in Cities. At this point the Patriot Fleet showed up and forced the Crown Fleet to withdraw after a Sea Battle. Using a better supply line, the Patriot army struck west from Norfolk and looped around to Richmond getting a single Army into the second area around Yorktown and forcing a Siege. Twice the Crown Fleet returned, and twice it was defeated to keep the siege in place.

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The Battle of the Capes and The Battle of Yorktown

In the photo above and beneath the Siege marker is a Crown Army with Leader. In Norfolk is the Patriot Leader with a sizable army. Offshore, the Patriot and Crown Fleets are ready to fight their second Sea Battle. Much like history, the Crown fleet is defeated. Not quite in keeping with history, rather than waiting out the siege and risking the Crown Fleet returning a third time and possibly lifting the siege, the Patriot Leader led his army against Yorktown and forced the surrender of the Crown Leader for automatic victory.

So my campaign gave me the historical result, but in doing so did so much more by delivering insight into why forces moved where they did. I don’t think designer Tom Russell is a deep historian (not a criticism) but I do think he identified key factors of the campaign and brought them into this game. I am highly impressed with the amount of history Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy gives to players using an uncomplicated set of game mechanics. By focusing on supply, a different view of the campaign is taught and made clear.

I wonder what other campaigns this supply line focus could help teach. Maybe Patton’s dash across Europe after D-Day? Hmmm….Tom Russell, you got any other ideas?

Featured image courtesy Hollandspiele.

#FirstImpressions – Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy (@hollandspiele, 2018)

In 2017 I discovered a new wargame; a game that changed my perception of what a wargame could be. That title was Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 from Hollandspiele Games. I really like the game and it challenged me to reconsider the history of the American Revolution by thinking about logistics instead of only battles.

Designer Tom Russell has followed up on The Northern Theater with a new title, Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy. Tom could of taken the easy way out and simply designed a “new” game using the same great mechanics in a different geographic area. Thankfully, and best for us gamers, he found a way to take an already awesome game and make it even better!

As Mr. Russell states in the Introduction:

The Southern Strategy shares many concepts and mechanisms with The Northern Theater: both games are about generating, storing, moving, capturing, protecting, and utilizing supply in order to achieve your military objectives. However, this is a standalone game, not an expansion, and folks who have played The Northern Theater should read these rules carefully before playing The Southern Strategy.

The Southern Strategy introduces an element of irregular warfare between loyalist collaborators to the Crown and bands of patriot Militia fighters. Again, in the words of Mr. Russell:

In The Southern Strategy, there are really two interrelated conflicts running in parallel: a partisan conflict fought by locals within a colony, and a more traditional military conflict fought between armies that need supplies to march and to give battle. The presence of an army within a territory strengthens the partisans, while the dominance of the partisans within a colony affects the movement and creation of supplies. (Introduction)

Gameplay

To players of The Northern Theater, the Extended Sequence of Play will superficially look familiar. Each turn, the players progress though a Supply Phase, an Initiative Phase, the Impulse Phase, and the Turn End Phase. The major difference in game mechanics is found within the Impulse Phase which now has two Impulses; a Limited Impulse (Militia/Loyalist activation only) and a Full Impulse with Militia/Loyalist, Army, or Navy activations.

The Limited Impulse (easily thought of as the “Partisan Impulse”) is where Militia or Loyalist partisans make a difference. Players can use these units to strengthen an Army, gather supplies, Raid an area (Militia only), or Hold an area (Loyalist only). Wise use of partisans during Limited Impulses will set Armies up for success, or defeat.

In addition to partisans, navies also make an appearance in The Southern Strategy. Abstracted into a single counter for each side as well as a modifier based on Political Will, the Royal or French Navy can help move supplies or armies, or prevent the same.

Another simple change to the game is Sieges. Under certain conditions, armies are besieged in an area. Once again, supply becomes a key factor in determining how long the besieged can hold out until they either surrender or the siege is lifted.

Theme

I must admit I am very taken with how well the game mechanics bring out the theme of the game. The partisan factor and the role of navies makes The Southern Strategy a much different beast than The Northern Theater. There are lessons learned that are applicable to both games but each is different enough and nuanced that each demands a great deal of different planning and strategy. This is ultimately why I like these games so much; both are simple in mechanics (being fairly light on rules) yet demand complex thinking and planning to be successful. As I put it, another Simply Complex game from Hollandspiele!

Components

0_1024x1024Hollandspiele has a unique production model that I characterize as “professional print-n-play.” This is a bit unfair as the components are far from home-made and quite good. That said, I do have a few thoughts on the various parts:

  • Box – I like the simple artwork. The box art is a wrap-around sticker that did have a few air bubbles along the edges, but nothing that a quick thumb-press could not work out. Opening the box releases a distinctive smell, or as I call it, “A whiff of Hollandspiele.” This smell is addressed in the Hollandspiele FAQ and doesn’t bother me; indeed, I feel it is part of the brand.
  • Rulebook – Sixteen pages that break down into about 12 pages of rules, three (3) pages of a sample game turn, and an Extended Sequence of Play on the back page that easily serves as a player aid. The rules are generally well-written although I have to admit that it took me several readings of 8.4 Hold (Loyalists Only) to really grasp how a Loyalist unit holding an area modifies the adjacency rules (5.3). Thank goodness the paragraph includes an example!
  • Counters – A half-sheet of counters (88) printed in muted pastels remind me a bit of the old SPI days of the 1970’s. I really like the thickness and they punch out cleanly. I do feel that a bit of an opportunity was missed with names. The lone Crown Leader counter is Cornwallis and, if captured, results in an immediate Patriot victory. It would of been nice to see Cornwallis named on the counter instead of the plain generic symbol. Similarly, the South Carolina Militia has a leader that represents “The Swamp Fox,” It even has its own rule (8.5 The Swamp Fox). Yet the counter is a head with the initials “SC” for South Carolina on it. Once again, naming the counter could of added just a bit more theme and furthered immersion into the both the game and theme.
  • Map – The map by Ania Ziolkowska is beautiful and very appropriate to the time period represented. It even has lines of latitude and longitude along the edges. One curiosity is the multiple gray dots that appear on the map. Each is unlabeled and I “think” they are towns but they are not used in any way nor do they directly relate to Cities, Forts, or Areas. Not a real negative but a bit of a distraction for me. Make sure you check out Ania’s YouTube page on how she makes maps for Hollandspiele.

Conclusion

As I have already stated, The Southern Strategy is another Simply Complex game that I am enjoying. Having played it once already, I can see that although I can easily comprehend the rules the strategy needed to win is yet to be discovered. I think I am going to enjoy trying various strategies and gambits with this game. I also look forward to playing this game in July as part of my “Month of Independence Gaming.”

Featured and in-line images courtesy Hollandspiele Games.