#Wargame Wednesday – First light in Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (@LnLPub, 2010)

One of my new wargame “acquisitions” was a player’s copy of Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010) that I acquired via a trade. I say ‘players copy’ because the box is very beat up but the contents are (super) fine. Most importantly, it was a good trade because it brought an older game to my table that I had overlooked before. Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (hereafter CC:DEL) is a simple, quick-playing ‘Cold War Gone Hot” wargame that is easy to learn, easy to teach, and eminently playable. However, don’t expect a deep analysis of the battlefield – this is a coarse recreation of the situation in a game that focuses on playability over ‘realism.’

War Is Complex – But Your Wargame Doesn’t Have to Be

Four factors make CC:DEL stand out to me and really helps me enjoy the game. They are 1) Physical size, 2) Activation Numbers, 3) Combat, and 4) Asset Chits.

What immediately strikes me about CC:DEL is the small size of the game. The 22’x17″ mapsheet not only has the hexes of play, but also has needed tracks and other useful player information around the edge. There are ‘only’ 136 counters in the game that covers all the combat units, markers, and various Asset Chits used. The 16-page CC:DEL rule book is broken into 7.5 pages of rules, 5.5 pages of scenarios, and three other misc pages (covers & Notes). Taken together this makes CC:DEL a game that can easily fit on a small gaming table and get played even when time is short.

The Activation Number mechanic in CC:DEL ensures that each turn is a bit unpredictable and forces players to take advantage of fleeting opportunities, as well as plan a head a bit. Each turn consists of four couplets (pairs of impulses). The exception is Night turns where only a single couplet is played. At the start of each couplet, NATO and the Soviets each roll 1d6 to determine their Activation Number (AN). The AN not only determines who goes first, but also how many Movement Points the player will have as well as which units can activate. In order for a unit to activate, the AN must be equal to or GREATER than the unit’s Initiative Number. Immediately you can see the problem; a high AN results in some units not activating – but if they do they move further since AN+1=Movement Points. If a 6 is rolled players immediately consult the Botched Orders Table to see what few units will activate, or not. The AN mechanic ensures that players can never be sure about who is going first or even how far they might move.

I find the combat mechanics of CC:DEL incredibly simple yet able to produce ‘realistic’-feeling results. When attacking, the attacker rolls 2d6 and adds/subtracts a few mods (usually +/-1 for terrain or a special combat power) and then adds the Strength of the attacking units to get a hit number. The hit number is compared directly to the Protection Factor (PF) of the target; if the attack is greater than the PF then a Hit is scored. If the attack exceeds the PF by four or more points then TWO hits are scored. If, somehow, the attack exceeds the PF by eight points or more, then THREE hits are scored (this will outright destroy many units). Combat is so simple, and modifiers so few, that players should quickly be able to memorize the mods and accelerate play.

The final gameplay mechanic in CC:DEL that I really enjoy is the Asset Chits. Asset Chits control everything from combat support to reinforcements. This is how the designers show the effect of concentrated airpower (Airstrike) or artillery support (Artillery). It also controls the arrival of reinforcements. At set up and at various times during play (as called for in the scenario rules) Asset Chits are drawn and allocated. Again, the somewhat unpredictable nature of war comes to the forefront; the Soviet player KNOWS he will get the 2nd Guards Airborne at some time during the battle, but will it be Day One or Four? NATO knows some West German Territorials will arrive, but again, Day One or later? Asset Chits are an easy way to represent many combat support elements in a simple to use system that reflects embraces the friction and fog of war.

Edged Out by Production Quality

If CC:DEL suffers it is in the area of production quality. Overall the quality of the components is generally good, but it is not without issue. The rule book needed one more editing pass to catch several obvious errors. A second Player Aid card would have been welcomed. The color selection on the map is a bit too same-ish for this glasses-wearing Grognard.

The major issue I have with CC:DEL is the alignment of the counters. Simply put, the data is too close to the edge or, in the case of the Soviet counters, they are misaligned. I could probably live with these counters if they didn’t suffer from ‘tuft-edges’ – which makes me just want to counter clip them! I may try my 2mm-radius clipper but even then I worry about clipping some data off the NATO counters, and I am pretty sure I will only be able to clip three edges of the Soviet counters. is it worth it?

Data too close to the edges make clipping corners dangerous?

Much Less Than 60 Miles

The other wargame in my collection that is the closest comparison to CC:DEL is Less Than 60 Miles (Thin Red Line Games, 2019). Both games cover roughly similar areas (although CC:DEL is placed near Eisenbach while LT60M covers the Fulda Gap) and at a similar level of unit breakdown (battalions for individual units). That is really where the comparisons end. CC:DEL is by far the simpler game in terms of mechanics, is far smaller on the table and will take far less time to play. That does not make it any worse or better than Less Than 60 Miles; they both cover conflict in the 1980s in Europe just at a different level of detail and with a different approach to playability. What CC:DEL ‘lacks’ in terms of details it makes up for in streamlined speed of play. If you want the in-depth look at how the Air-Land Battle Doctrine of the 1980s may have played out on the battlefields of Europe then you want to play Less Than 60 Miles. If you want a ‘taste’ of how the NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict could of seemed in a game that takes 2-hours or less than CC:DEL is much better suited.

A New Dawn

Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light came out 10 years ago. Apparently the game was republished in 2015 under the slightly different title Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light – Red Hammer. A part of me is curious to see what that game changes or improves from the original CC:DEL. But I am not in a real rush to find out; my players copy of CC:DEL will land on the table a few more times as I explore this small, quick-playing (and very playable) implementation of the Cold War Gone Hot on the plains of Germany.

#MemorialDay 2020 – A #Wargame Grognard Perspective

AS A LONG TIME WARGAMER I OCCASIONALLY HEAR CRITICISM OF MY HOBBY. One common criticism is that we are a heartless bunch who have no problem sacrificing hundreds, thousands, even millions of little cardboard counters all the time while never thinking about the human cost. There is some merit to this argument. How many times do we casually flip a counter to its reduced side, or remove a block, or take that dude off the map? When we tally our score it’s not ‘number of dead’ but ‘Victory Points.’ Wargamers often forget that conflict has a human cost. Which is why Less than 60 Miles (Thin Red Line Games, 2019) made me pause.

No, it’s not Rule 15.6 Combat Results. They actually are what many wargamers expect:

15.6 Combat Results

  1. Combat Result is expressed in terms of Attrition Points increase. The number on the left applies to the attacking Unit, while the number on the right applies to every Defending Unit contributing its Defense Strength to the combat.
  2. Any Ground Combat result inflicted on a HQ Unit is doubled.
  3. If the Defender has suffered an Attrition Point increase and decides not to Retreat, all the defending Units are considered Engaged.
  4. If the Defender suffered no Attrition Point increase and decides not to Retreat, all the defending units are considered Half-Engaged.
  5. If the Defender chooses to Retreat After Combat, its Engagement status and Attrition Losses will depend on the Disengagement result (see 15.7, Retreat After Combat).
  6. If all the Defending Units are destroyed, and remaining Defender’s Unit must Retreat After Combat.

No, what sets Less Than 60 Miles apart is the Attrition Markers.

Little dogtags.

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Dogtags, symbolic of those removed from around the neck of a dead soldier on the battlefield. Dogtags, symbolic of the human cost of war.

So, as we wargamers sit around the gaming table this Memorial Day pushing our little cardboard or block or miniature armies around, remember that war has a very human cost. No wargame can ever capture the reality of that human cost.

But some can remind us. A reminder that those who sacrificed it all deserve to be remembered.

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).

 

IMG_0545
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?

 

 

#Wargame #Boardgame #SocialDistancing in the time of #COVID-19

AS OF THIS MORNING (15 MARCH), my local county health department is reporting 10 ‘presumptive positive’ cases of COVID-19. The school district has already shut down thru 10 April and many events are cancelled to encourage ‘social distancing.’

In the RockyMountainNavy household, we have dealt with COVID-19 since Mrs. RMN returned from Korea right as the epidemic was breaking out there. She laid low for 14 days not because of self-isolation but because others avoided her (the worst ‘racists’ are often from one’s own race). Now there is panic in the wider community (why are people hoarding toilet paper?) and much is being cancelled. One aspect of social distancing we are practicing is to distance ourselves from social media. Frankly, its all doom and gloom with lots of disinformation. In a practical response this means that wargames and boardgames are hitting the gaming table more often.

For myself, I have played solitaire sessions of Steamroller: Tannenburg 1914 from Yaah! Magazine #10 (Flying Pig Games, 2017) and Less Than 60 Miles (Thin Red Line Games, 2019). I am able to get bigger and longer games to the table because I literally set up a table in the loft that allows me to put a game down and keep it there for a while.

From the family perspective we are using several different approaches to gaming. For our usual ‘longer’ weekend plays we are going back to finish our Scythe: The Rise of Fenris campaign (Stonemaier Games, 2018) while mixing in shorter family games at other times like Tiny Epic Galaxies (Gamelyn Games, 2015). I also am throwing in some 1v1 wargames like Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 2019) to play against the one of the boys when they get tired of one another. In this time of crisis, we are also occasionally taking care of young children of family friends who are struggling with daycare and work. In those cases we pull out the family games for like Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2016) or even Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder, 2004). The list of games goes on and on as we (now fortunately) have a large gaming collection.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself also have a ‘healthy’ collection of plastic models that need to be built. Today we will venture to the FLGS/Hobby store (Huzzah Hobbies) to lay in some supplies.

We have even talked about reviving our Traveller RPG campaign (using Cepheus Engine rules) or our long set-aside Star Wars sessions using the Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game rules.

With boardgames, wargames, RPGs, and models we are pretty set to hunker down for the next several weeks. Let’s hope that everybody stays safe and we get thru this crisis as best we can.


Feature image: Playing Nexus Ops (Avalon Hill, 2005)

RockyMountainNavy’s influential #wargame from the 2010’s (h/t to @playersaidblog for the idea)

Grant over on The Players Aid blog laid out his 15 Influential Wargames from the Decade 2010-2019. In the posting Grant asked for others to give their list. Although I have been a wargaming grognard since 1979 in the early 2010’s I was focused more on role playing games. That is, until 2016 when I turned back into hobby gaming and wargaming in particular. So yes, my list is a bit unbalanced and definitely favors the later-half of the decade. Here is my list of ‘influential’ games arranged by date of publication along with an explanation of why the title influences me.

Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (second edition) – Academy Games, 2012

pic1236709_mdFor the longest time I considered myself near-exclusively a naval wargamer. I’m not sure why, but in early 2017 I picked up a copy of Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (Second Edition). I think at the time I was looking for a good tactical WWII game to play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I am glad I did, as along the way I also discovered the excellent Firefight Generator and Solo Expansion, and eventually other titles to include the latest Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 (2019) where I have a small credit in the rulebook. This game, like no other, awakened me to the ‘new look’ of wargames and the positive influence the Eurogame segment of the hobby market can have on wargaming.

1775 Rebellion – The American Revolution – Academy Games, 2013

1775-header-v3In 2017 I attended the CONNECTIONS Wargaming Conference. There I met a fine gentleman, Uwe Eickert, of Academy Games. As we talked about his Conflict of Heroes series (I even helped him demo a few games) I mentioned my boys and our search for good family wargames. Uwe strongly recommended his Birth of America series, especially 1775 Rebellion. So I ordered it and the RMN Boys and myself sat down to play this lite-wargame – and we haven’t looked back since. We now own all the Birth of America and Birth of Europe series. 878 Vikings is one game the oldest (least gamer) RMN Boy will play with us. Most influential because it shows that there are much, much better ‘family-wargames’ than Risk. As an added bonus, I am working with one of my youngest boy’s high school teachers to bring this game into his classroom.

Next War: Poland  – GMT Games, 2015

569After attending CONNECTIONS 2017, I tried to become a bit of a wargaming advocate at my job. So I looked at more ‘serious’ wargames. One of the hot topics of the day is the Baltics and Russia. I looked for wargames that could build understanding of the issues, especially if it comes to open conflict. Sitting on my shelf from long ago was were several GMT Games ‘Crisis’ series titles, Crisis: Korea 1995 and Crisis: Sinai 1973. I had heard about updated versions but had been reluctant to seek them out. Now I went searching and found a wargame that is a master-level study into the military situation. This game influenced me because it shows that a commercial wargame can be used for ‘serious’ purposes.

Wing Leader: Victories, 1940 – 1942 – GMT Games, 2015

pic2569281Before 2017, an aerial combat wargame to me was a super-tactical study of aircraft, weapons, and maneuver. The most extreme version was Birds of Prey (Ad Astra, 2008) with it’s infamous ‘nomograph.’ I had all-but-given-up on air combat games until I discovered the Wing Leader series. But was this really air combat? I mean, the map is like a side-scroll video game? The first time I played the level of abstraction in combat resolution was jarring. But as I kept playing I discovered that Wing Leader, perhaps better than any other air combat game, really captures ‘why’ the war in the air takes place. Units have missions they must accomplish, and those missions are actually the focus of this game, not the minutia of flap settings or Pk of a missile hit. Influential because it shows me that model abstraction is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when done right like it is here.

Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection – GMT Games, 2016

582As I returned to wargaming in 2016-2017, I kept hearing about this thing called the COIN-series. I looked at a few titles but was not quite ready to go ‘full-waro’* so I backed off. At the same time, having moved to the East Coast, I was much more interested in the American Revolution. By late 2017 I was becoming more ‘waro-friendly’ so when I had a chance to purchase Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection I took it. I’m really glad I did. LoD is influential because it taught me that a wargame can be political and a real tool of learning. I understand that LoD is the designer’s ‘view’ of the American Revolution but I enjoy experimenting within that vision and seeing what I can learn.

Command & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution – Compass Games, 2017

cctri_ar_lgPrior to my wargaming renaissance, I acquired Memoir ’44 for the RockyMountainNavy Boys. We also had Battlelore and in an effort to entice the oldest RMN Boy (an ancient history lover) into gaming had given him Commands & Colors: Ancients. That is to say, Commands & Colors was not new to the RMN House. As part of my American Revolution kick I picked up Commands & Colors Tricorne thinking I would try to get the RMN Boys to play this version. Instead, I fell in love with the game. Influential because it showed me that with just a few simple rules tweaks a highly thematic, yet ‘authentic’, gaming experience is possible even with a simple game engine.

South China Sea – Compass Games, 2017

scs-cover-for-web_1Remember I said I was a naval wargamer? Notice the lack of naval wargames on this list? That’s because I found few that could match my experiences with the Victory Games Fleet-series of the 1980’s. That is, until I played South China Sea. All the more interesting because it started out as a ‘professional’ wargame designed for a DoD customer. Not a perfect game, but influential because it shows me it is possible to look at modern warfare at sea by focusing less on the hardware and more on the processes of naval warfare as well as being an example of a professional-gone-commercial wargame.

Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 – Hollandspiele, 2017

slar_wb_largeAt CONNECTIONS 2017, Uwe Eickert sat on a panel and recommended to all the DoD persons in the room that if they want logistics in a wargame they need to look at Hollandspiele’s Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 game. I found the game online and ordered it (from a very strange little company using a Print-on-Demand publishing model..WTF?). When it arrived and I put it on the table and played I was blown away. First, it has ‘cubes,’ not armies or dudes. Second, it really teaches why certain locations were crucial for the American Revolution. Third, it’s challenging and just darn fun to play. Influential because this was the first game I recognized as a ‘waro’, and the first of many quirky Hollandspiele titles that I enjoy.

Pavlov’s House – DVG, 2018

pic5126590Solo wargames are very procedural, right? So procedural they are nothing more than a puzzle to be solved, right. Not Pavlov’s House. I was blown away by the strategy and story that comes thru every play of this game. This is a solo game that makes you want to play because it’s the strategy that counts, not the procedure. Influential because I showed me what a solo game can be as well as how a game that screams ‘Euro’ is actually a wargame.

Blue Water Navy – Compass Games, 2019

TYt4vmWiRnWl0MUjqKCZUwAs the decade came to a close, I had all-but-given up on naval wargaming. When I first saw Blue Water Navy I had thoughts of one of my favorite strategic WW3 at Sea games, Seapower & the State (Simulations Canada, 1982). The play length of BWN, 1-16 hours, kinda put me off at first as I prefer shorter games. As I read more I became more intrigued so I finally purchased it. Now it sits on this list as an influential game because it shows me how abstraction and non-traditional wargame mechanics (cards?) can be used to craft a game that literally plays out like a Tom Clancy or Larry Bond novel. 

Brave Little Belgium – Hollandspiele, 2019

5SEI37l%T5yLJJc7vRLX2wI have been a grognard since 1979. Why do I need a simple wargame that doesn’t even use hexes? I mean, this game uses a chit-pull mechanic (good for solo play) and point-to-point movement. In a game this simple there can’t be much depth, right? Hey, where is the CRT? Speak about a small war…. Influential because this game shows that simplicity can be a very high art. Brave Little Belgium is my go-to quick intro wargame for hobby boardgamers. 

Hold the Line: The American Civil War – Worthington Publishing, 2019

6HSa418vRrKP6Dyy%qokEgThis one is very personal. My Middle Boy is on the autism spectrum and when his younger brother started an evening program once a week the Middle one was a bit lost without his companion. So I looked around for a wargame we could play in a sort of ‘filler-wargame’ mode – short and simple on a weeknight. And play we did; ten times in 2019. He beat me seven times. Influential because this game – sometimes derided as a simplified ‘Command & Colors wannabe’ – connected me closer to my Middle Boy than any game before.

Less Than 60 Miles – Thin Red Line Games, 2019

Gi47YGXvSuiIL8pOfxkb3gThe folks from the US Army Command & General Staff College at CONNECTIONS 2019 had a copy of Less Than 60 Miles on their table and were singing praises of the game. I was fortunate enough to be able to trade for the game later on BGG. What I discovered was a wargame built around John Boyd’s OODA Loop. At the same time I was reading A New Conception of War: John Boyd, the U.S. Marines, and Maneuver Warfare. Putting the two of them together was like lightening in a bottle. This is a heavy, serious game that is also playable and enjoyable. Influential for no other reason than it shows me that OODA applies far beyond the cockpit; indeed, I need to look at OODA for many more games.

Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest – Might Boards Games, 2019Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest – Might Boards Games, 2019

nof_packshotBrian Train is a designer that often looks at lesser or different wars and always brings forth an interesting perspective in his games. He calls this game, ‘a militarized Eurogame.’ He’s right; this title is the full embodiment of a waro game. I often argue with myself if this is even a wargame; after all, you can play solo, head-to-head, teams, or cooperative. Hobby boardgame or wargame? Influential for that very reason as it represents to me the full arrival of the ‘waro’ to the hobby gaming market.

Tank Duel – GMT Games, 2019

zGtfgQKQQ+SJpwWwL2RlAwLike Nights of Fire, this can’t really be a wargame. It has no board, no dice, and no CRT. Instead it has ‘tableaus’ for tanks and (lots of) cards! You can also play up to eight players. There is no player elimination – tanks respawn! What on earth is this? Influential because it challenges all my traditional views of a wargame only to deliver some of the best wargaming experiences I have ever had at the gaming table.

There are many more games from 2010-2019 that influenced me. Games with the chit-pull mechanic are now my favorite to solo with, but I didn’t put one on the list. Maybe I should of….

Hmm…I see it’s also hard to pin down one particular publisher that particularly influences me. In this list of 15 games we have:

  • 4x GMT Games
  • 3x Compass Games
  • 2x Academy Games
  • 2x Hollandspiele
  • 1x DVG
  • 1x Mighty Boards Games
  • 1x Thin Red Line Games
  • 1x Worthington Publishing

Not a bad spread!


*’Waro’ – A combination of ‘wargame’ and ‘Eurogame. To me it is a wargame that incorporates Eurogame like look/components or mechanics vice a traditional hex & counter wargame.

Commanding more in Less Than 60 Miles (trlgames.com, 2019) – or – the #OODA #wargame

The goal is to collapse an adversary’s system into confusion and disorder causing him to over and under react to an activity that appears simultaneously menacing as well as ambiguous, chaotic, or misleading.

John R. Boyd, “Patterns of Conflict

When I was CONNECTIONS 2019 I stopped by a table sponsored by the Army Command & General Staff College. Amongst the games present was Less Than 60 Miles: C3 Module 1 – Fulda Gap (Thin Red Line Games, 2019) designed by Fabrizio Vianello (BGG member Hanbarca) and published in Trezzano, Italy. The ACGSC folks were gushing about the game, throwing terms like “realistic” and insightful” about freely. I recently acquired the game via trade and dug into it the past two weeks. I am now ready to declare that Less Than 60 Miles may be one of the best “professional wargames” in my collection.

A “professional wargame?”

First off, what exactly do I mean when I say “professional wargaming?” In my working life I dabble in defense wargaming. This is why I try to attend the CONNECTIONS wargaming conference every year. I also recall Jim Dunnigan’s description of a wargame found in his Wargames Handbook:

A wargame is an attempt to get a jump on the future by obtaining a better understanding of the past. A wargame is a combination of ‘game,’ history and science. It is a paper time-machine. (Wargames Handbook, Third Edition, 1)

Dunnigan goes on to state:

The object of any wargame (historical or otherwise) is to enable the player to recreate a specific event and, more importantly, to be able to explore what might have been if the player decides to do things differently.

To be a wargame, in our sense of the word, the game must be realistic. And in some cases, they are extremely realistic, realistic to the point where some wargames are actually used for professional purposes (primarily the military, but also business and teaching). (Wargames Handbook, 3e, 1)

In many cases, realism in professional wargaming is a double-edged sword. Realism can often lead to an unplayable design. A perennial question at CONNECTIONS is “how realistic should my wargame be?” Philip Sabin, in his book Simulating War, describes this as accuracy vs. simplicity:

Perhaps the most pervasive trade-off affecting all human attempts to understand the worlds in which we live is that between accurately capturing the almost infinite complexities of reality and keeping our models simple enough to be grasped by ordinary minds and used as a practical guide for action. (Simulating War, 2)

Sabin continues:

Wargames are particularly severely affected by this trade-off between accuracy and simplicity, for two principle reasons. First…wargames have the virtue of combining most other modelling approaches into one, the downside of this eclecticism is that the complexity of each component approach is even further constrained if the overall complexity of the entire wargame model is not to exceed tolerable limits. Second, whereas some modelling techniques need only be understood properly by experts, with their conclusions being at least to some extent ‘taken on trust’ by lesser mortals, wargames are by their very nature participatory devices in which users need to have a certain understanding of the mechanics in order to benefit from the model at all. (Simulating War, 2)

A recent RAND study titled Next-Generation Wargaming for the U.S. Marine Corps points out how commercial wargames are addressing the accuracy vs. simplicity problem:

Closely related to this trend is a focus on increasing the playability of games while maintaining high levels of detail and dynamic gameplay. In the past, one of the key dilemmas of manual-style games was the inverse relationship between complexity and playability. As the level of detail increases in a game, rules typically grow increasingly complex, ultimately reducing playability. Many games from the “golden age” of the 1970s hobby gaming required hours merely to read the rules–a trend taken to parody in Campaign for North Africa (1979). Such games were highly accurate, but required players to learn complicated rules that included many exceptions. These were difficult to track even for experienced players. In response, designers began to experiment with different presentations of game rules to make play more intuitive….Commercial developers argue this will help manual games achieve higher levels of complexity while simultaneously enhancing playability. (Next-Generation Wargaming for the U.S. Marine Corps, 23-24)

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Found at CONNECTIONS 2019

OODA in a Wargame

The Less Than 60 Miles (LT60M) model is a different  look at the (potential) European battlefields of the 1980’s. Instead of focusing on the equipment (like so many wargames often do) the rules present a look at the battlefield through the lens of John Boyd, retired US Air Force officer and the father of the OODA LoopHere is how LT60M first describes itself:

Less Than 60 Miles is a Regiment / Battalion simulation of a hypothetical conflict between North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Warsaw Pact (WP) in 1985. The map covers the central part of West and East Germany, including the whole US V Corps Area of Responsibility and its surrounding areas. Players take the role of US V Corps Commander for NATO, and Soviet Central Front Commander for Warsaw Pact. (Rules of Play, 1. Introduction)

After this very vanilla overview, the differences are then called out:

Rules are centered on the problems of Command, Control & Communications (C3), and will force the players to fight against three equally dangerous foes: the enemy, their own plans and time.

Players will find that even simple actions could be quite challenging and need to be planned and correctly executed. Players will also find that their own troops may move and act quickly while following the initial plan, but reacting to contingencies or unexpected events could be painfully slow and might seal the fate of the entire campaign if poorly managed.

Another key element, not explicitly in the rules but interconnecting them, is the OODA cycle (Observe-Orient-Decide, Act) theorized by John Boyd in “Patterns of Conflict” and used as basis for the “AirLand Battle” doctrine adopted by US Armed Forces during the last years of the Cold War.

In the end, being able to get “inside” the enemy’s OODA cycle, short-circuiting the opponent’s thinking processes, will produce opportunities for the opponents to react inappropriately.

In the Designer’s Notes to LT60M, Mr. Vianello expands on his approach:

As probably any other Grognard, I’ve been reading a devastating number of books about military campaigns and operations.

In almost all of them, I’ve found descriptions of apparently simple plans turning into a disaster due to poor planning, wrong orders or bad execution. Even when planning, orders and execution goes smooth as silk, the plan is sometimes outmaneuvered or outsmarted by the enemy.

….

In most operational and strategic wargames, replicating this kind of events is very difficult. Players have almost complete control, and units react instantly to new directives. During years, several solutions have been developed (random events, variable initiative, command points and similar), but the basic problems remained:

  • The typical time frame of a game turn is tailored to allow execution of almost any desired action within a single phase, thus leaving the enemy no possibility to react.
  • The distance covered in a single turn by a unit could be considerable, thus forcing players to adopt a continuous line of units and zones of control as the only solution to avoid being bypassed or encircled during the enemy’s movement phase.
  • Any decided course of action has no inertia and can be rapidly modified should the need arise. You don’t need a real plan, and you’re not taking anyone really by surprise unless the rules decide so.

Less Than 60 Miles tries to convey a realistic approach to the above problems by giving the correct importance and impact to four basic elements: Time, Posture, Orders and Command Chain.

In the end, the interaction between these four elements will force players to confront the underlying concept: the OODA Cycle.…By using the four elements above better and faster than the opponent, the player will get inside the OODA Loop of the enemy, undermining its capability to react in an appropriate and timely manner to the unfolding events. (Scenarios & Designer’s Notes, Designer’s Notes, 21)

Here is how Mr. Vianello describes using those elements to challenge players of LT60M:

TIME

“Probably the most important factor in war is Time. Every action needs to be executed within a certain time frame and become useless or even dangerous if carried out later.”

“…most actions cannot be completed during a single game turn. A dug-in mechanized battalion that successfully defended a town will not be able to instantly launch a counterattack against the attacker, except when using specific tactics like NATO’s Active Defense. It will need to change to an attack formation, leaving itself vulnerable to enemy reactions for the time needed to change its posture.”

POSTURE

“Posture defines the current tactical formation of a unit and has a heavy impact on its movement and combat capabilities.”

“A unit’s Posture is the result of the last orders received and limits the tactical choices available. No unit can do everything at its best at the same time.”

“Changing a Unit’s Posture will require time, and during the transition the unit will be more vulnerable to enemy actions.”

ORDERS

“Ordering large formations to move out or attack is a complicated business, usually more complicated than expected. Even the over-celebrated 90 degrees turn of Patton’s III Army at the Ardennes took 72 hours.”

“In Less Than 60 Miles, most orders will require more time than desired to be carried out. Players will be forced to prepare and execute a real plan, as changing the course of action once things started moving could be problematic.”

CHAIN OF COMMAND

“In order to issue and execute orders in a timely manner, you will need a Command Chain starting from a higher-level Headquarters and going down to the units executing the order.”

“Command Chain is not a abstract concept you’ll worry about only occasionally. Each side will have to balance the advantage of having Headquarters near the Forward Edge of the Battle Area and directly influencing the battle, with the disadvantage of making them targets for enemy air, missile and artillery strikes.”

Yesterday is today…and tomorrow?

Design-wise, LT60M finds success by drawing from tried and proven designs of the past wrapped in a game system that emphasizes OODA. Mr. Vianello tells us, “In order to handle attrition, Less Than 60 Miles refines one of the most interesting and innovating concepts of SPI’s “Central Front” series: Friction Points, here renamed Attrition Points” (Designer’s Notes, 23). The combat system is, as Fabrizio puts it, “inspired by NATO: Division Commander, in my opinion one of the most realistic portraits of modern mechanized warfare” (Designer’s Notes, 25).

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Lest you think that OODA is best in a wargame of the past, US Marine Corps officer Ian T. Brown, in his book A New Conception of War: John Boyd, the U.S. Marines, and Maneuver Warfare, points out that Boyd’s OODA Loop is highly relevant today. He observes that, “[Boyd] viewed both blitzkrieg and counterinsurgency through the same lens, aimed at the same objective–the adversary’s mind–and implemented with the same tenets of orientation, tempo, ambiguity, deception, and asymmetric application of strength against weakness.” (p. 192) Although LT60M is set in the 1980s, the design is both relevant and easily portable to the modern wargaming battlefield.

Looking at the larger picture, the OODA Loop is not only useful as a basis for the design of LT60M, but for professional wargaming as a whole. Matt Caffrey in his book On Wargaming includes the OODA Loop as one of the three theories or models that explain why wargames writ large work. Caffrey writes:

In time, Boyd realized the F-86’s more-experienced pilots, bubble canopy, and hydraulically boosted controls allowed its pilots to observe, orient, decide, and act (OODA) faster than their adversaries. That, not top speed, made all the difference. In time he realized that staying a move ahead of your adversaries was at least as important at the operational and strategic levels of war also. This lead to the gradual development of his “Discourse on Winning and Losing” (a presentation available on-line). This final theoretical work goes as much beyond his ‘OODA Loop” as Einstein’s general theory of relativity goes beyond E = mc2. 

A fundamental reason why wargames “work” is that the side that makes more-effective use of them (all other things being equal) complete OODA loops more quickly than an adversary that does not use wargaming effectively or at all.

….

The synthetic experience derived from all types of wargames can create virtual veterans far faster than actual combat creates real ones–and at a fraction of the cost in lives, time, and treasure. (On Wargaming, 285-286)

Not a perfect game but once you Observe, Orient, Decide, & Act….

In order to accomplish all the above LT60M can turn fiddly. Units will be stacked with markers for posture and time and maybe more. The map hexes are sized a bit small and the many colors can be confusing (each hex has a Terrain Type and may have Terrain Features). But if you work your way through the fiddling you find a ‘game’ that really makes you think. For some ‘casual’ wargamers the challenges of Time, Posture, Orders, and Command Chain may not be exciting enough and the rules too fiddly. But for a professional wargamer, using the OODA Loop to frame a game design creates insights into the modern battlefield like few other designs deliver.

Less Than 60 Miles is not a perfect game, but it does a very good job of creating a playable version of the 1980s battlefield framed though the lens of the John Boyd’s Patterns of Conflict. I would very much like to see this design pulled forward into today, particularly in a Baltic scenario. I hope the game finds an audience not only with professional gamers, but with ‘casual’ wargamers as well.


Annotated Bibliography

(Unless otherwise noted, annotations are shamelessly stolen from Matt Caffrey in his book On Wargaming)

Brown, Ian T. A New Conception of War: John Boyd, the U.S. Marines, and Maneuver Warfare. Quantico, VA: Marine Corps University Press, 2018. (Download for free online)

Caffrey Jr, Matthew B. On Wargaming: How Wargames Have Shaped History and How They May Shape the Future (Newport Paper; no. 43). Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 2019. (Download for free online)

Dunnigan, James. Wargames Handbook, Third Edition: How to Play and Design Commercial and Professional Wargames. Bloomington, IN: Writer’s Club Press, 2000. (Easy to read, all-around guide to wargame history, design, and application.)

Sabin, Phillip. Simulating War: Studying Conflict through Simulation Games. London: Continuum, 2012; repr London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. (Though the book’s focus is designing and developing wargames as a way to understand a given conflict deeply, it is also the best contemporary book on wargame design.)

Shlapak, David A.; Michael W. Johnson. Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016. (Download for free online)

Wong, Yuna Huh; Sebastian Joon Bae, Elizabeth M. Bartels, Benjamin Smith. Next-Generation Wargaming for the U.S. Marine Corps. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2019. (Download for free online)