#Wargame Wedges – Early Thoughts on White Eagle Defiant: Poland 1939 (@Hollandspiele, 2020)

I was very pleasantly surprised to see Hollandspiele release Ryan Heilman and Dave Shaw’s new White Eagle Defiant: Poland 1939 this month. This design team previously brought us Brave Little Belgium, the wargame Tom Vassal hates. Which is sad because Brave Little Belgium is a great gateway wargame that should appeal to both wargamers and boardgamers looking for a little ‘conflict simulation’ to round out their collection. As I read the rules and get ready for my first play of White Eagle Defiant: Poland 1939 (Hollandspiele, 2020) I have a few thoughts:

  • A series?: White Eagle Defiant shares many game mechanics of Brave Little Belgium. This makes it very easy for me to learn as I pay more attention to what’s different (some) compared to having to learn an entirely new game system. That said, White Eagle Defiant like Brave Little Belgium are small games with a single 17″x22″ map, 88 counters, and an eight-page rulebook. The design team of Heilman and Shaw supported by Tom & Mary Russell at Hollandspiele continue to impress me with their powerful small-package wargames.
  • Blitzkrieg Atrocities: In Brave Little Belgium, once the end of turn chits are drawn the German player has the option of trying to push on anyway, but the cost was possibly gaining Atrocities. Too many Atrocities leads to defeat. I was not sure how this would be handled in White Eagle Defiant. I am quite happy with the solution; Blitzkrieg Breakdown which I think captures the penalties of the Germans pushing their forces too far too fast.
  • Shipping: Some folks after looking at the picture I posted to Twitter asked if my box was damaged in shipping. The answer is yes, but not to the point I am going to demand a new one. I see many folks who demand a game be delivered in ‘perfect’ condition. After all, we usually paid a good deal of coin to buy the game so it should be ‘right’ in arrival! Thanks to the USPS, my box arrived with one corner slightly (and I mean slightly) crushed. What did I do? I opened the game box and carefully pushed the box corner back. Then I placed a heavy book (which few people apparently own these days) into the corner of the box overnight. It’s fine. Honestly, it looks no different than many of my boxes look after spending a few months on, and off, the gaming shelves.

The back of the box on White Eagle Defiant states, “If Brave Little Belgium was your first wargame, White Eagle Defiant could be your second. It builds on the slick foundations of the original while introducing additional complexity and nuance, such as specialized unit types and pincer attacks.” This old Grognard is certainly looking forward to the game!

Dude, you lost my CRT! Combat with a twist in The Lost Provinces (@hollandspiele, 2018)

CAREFULLY-CURATED HISTORICAL GAMES. That’s Hollandspiele’s slogan found on the back of The Lost Provinces: The Thai Blitzkrieg in French Indo-China, January 10-28, 1941. I had my eye on this title for a while but just hadn’t pulled the trigger. That is, until I read “The Franco-Thai War (1940-1941)” on the weaponsandwarfare blog. What an interesting conflict! After reading the ad copy from Hollandspiele I was also interested in the simple, soloable, tradition-with-a-twist mechanics:

This obscure conflict is the subject of designer John Gorkowski’s The Lost Provinces. This is a simple, small, and soloable game that can be played in an evening with new wargamers and grognards alike. It often utilizes traditional mechanisms but with twists and nuances that make them fresh again. For example, combat strengths are compared, to arrive at odds ratios, but those ratios are expressed via a die roll modifier rather than a column on a CRT, which results in greater uncertainty about how a given battle might turn out.

Thanks to quick work by Blue Panther who prints for Hollandspiele I got my copy to the gaming table quickly.

Simple

Hollandspiele is dead right about The Lost Provinces being simple. An eight (8) page rule book, 11″x17″ map, 88 counters, and one Display Sheet along with two dice is about as straight-forward a package you can get. That said, the map by Jose Ramon Faura is simple but easily understandable. The counters by Tom Russell are very generic but functional.

Soloable

I play most of my games solo at least one, and often many times more. The Lost Provinces has no hidden information and if you are like me and play “two-handed solo” often enough you can play both sides fairly.

Tradition-with-a-Twist

The real gem of The Lost Provinces design is that use of traditional wargaming mechanisms but with a bit of a difference. I appreciate that designer John Gorkowski uses many traditional mechanisms but mixes up a few; not too many but enough to make the game go from vanilla to very interesting. The ones that impress me the most are Contact, Attack Preparation, and Land Combat.

Contact: Movement starts out very traditional in The Lost Provinces with different terrain of course costing more Movement Points (MP) to enter. But don’t look for Zones of Control because Mr. Gorkowski uses the concept of Contact instead. Contact (Rule 8.21) describes units that are adjacent to each other. Leaving Contact or moving to another Contact hex costs 1 MP. Contact is important because units must be in Contact before they can attack.

Attack Preparation: Technically part of the Movement Phase, units that are in Contact with the enemy may declare an intention to attack. This Attack Preparation requires the expenditure of 1 MP in addition to the normal MP required to enter a hex. This simple twist requires you to be more aware of when and where you want a battle to happen. In my first game I constantly found myself just one MP short of being able to attack forcing me to consider if I really wanted to move into Contact this turn or wait until the next turn. A simple change to a game mechanism with a deep impact on your choices/decisions in a turn.

Land Combat: Combat resolution in The Lost Provinces is dead-simple – roll 2d6 and determine losses. Well, almost that simple. In Land Combat there are three die modifiers; +1 for Air Superiority, +1 for Combined Arms, and +1 for the Odds. The Odds modifier is the most interesting. To determine the odds you do like many wargames do – you compare the attack strength against the defense strength and express the result as odds. For example, 4 attacking 2 is 2:1 odds. In The Lost Provinces, however, you don’t look for that odds column on a Combat Results Table. Instead, the odds translate to another die modifier. The die modifier is the sum of the attacker subtracted from the defender. Thus, 2:1 odds is 2-1=+1 die modifier. Now the player rolls 2d6, sums them and adds/subtracts any die modifiers. The final number is compared to the Land Combat Table to get the result. The use of die modifiers instead of column shifts makes for more dramatic shifts in combat results, but not so much that players feel they have no agency in the outcome.

Buried within this modified combat mechanism is where the little bit of chrome in The Lost Provinces game design resides. When it comes to Supply or Movement there is little difference between types of units, but in combat the type of unit and where the attack takes place becomes very important:

  • Units Out of Supply, whether attacking or defending, have their strength halved.
  • Armor units on the attack are doubled IF they attack into a hex that has no Jungle or Mountains.
  • Non-Artillery units attacking across rivers are halved.
  • Artillery units attacking a hex where the defender is not Dug-In are doubled.
  • Dug-In defenders are doubled.
  • Infantry in Mountain hexes are doubled on defense.

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Land Combat Table across the top of the Display Sheet

These six simple rules give combat decisions in The Lost Provinces much depth. Supply becomes important. Armor can be deadly if they catch the enemy in the open. Digging in for defense, especially behind a river, is powerful and hampers Artillery. Add to these decisions the geography of the battlefield which creates many natural funnels and you have a very dynamic combat situation.

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There are two other aspects of The Lost Provinces that are simple mechanically but add depth to the decisions. First is Air Superiority. Every turn, the Thai player can designate a hex (and the six adjacent to it) for Air Superiority. Attacks taking place under this umbrella gain a +1 DM for the Thai player. Once per game, and only once per game, the French player can use their air force to contest Air Superiority in ONE hex. This “one shot” decision is critical for the French player – your air force only gets to help you once so you better make it worthwhile.

As an old naval Grognard, I am also happy to see Naval Combat in The Lost Provinces. In keeping with the simple game design, Naval Combat is highly abstracted. Players line up their ships, roll 2d6 and add the Gunnery Score of the unit. If the modified die roll is greater than the Armor score of the target it’s a hit. The side suffering the greater number of hits returns to port. Control of the Gulf of Siam is worth 1 Victory Point at game end.

Carefully-Curated

I have to agree; the use of few traditional wargame mechanisms with a twist in The Lost Provinces takes what on the surface is a very simple game and makes decisions mean so much more. I haven’t used the phrase “simple elegance” in a while but I certainly need to  when talking about this design. John Gorkowski has taken what at it’s core is a very simple, straight-forward, no-nonsense wargame design and added just enough nuanced twists to make it very interesting. This carefully-curated design certainly deserves more table time.

Coronatine Comments – Random #Wargame & #Boardgame Shoutouts to @ADragoons, @Bublublock, & @tomandmary with mentions of @compassgamesllc, @StrongholdGames & @hollandspiele

Rule Books

DragoonsLogoHEADER-2-1RECENTLY, THE GENTLEMEN AT ARMCHAIRDRAGOONS WERE KIND ENOUGH TO POST A REVIEW I WROTE. My major knock on the game is that, “play is unfortunately marred by a rule book that makes learning the game harder than it should.”

In the case of Blue Water Navy: The War at Sea (Compass Games, 2019) a better rule book has:

  • An index
  • Deeper numbering of paragraphs to ease cross-reference
  • Consistency in terms & language

A rule book needs to be governed by a style guide. I won’t tell you what to use, but when you don’t it’s really noticeable! There is no one-size-fits-all solution. There is not a magical wargame rule book template that an aspiring (or well-established) designer can just download from the internet. What is needed is not a format as much as an attitude.

Complexity

IMG_0574In a Twitter reply to my Armchair Dragoons article, Dan Bullock (@Bublublock) said, “Every time I see BWN referred to as medium complexity, I feel marvelously stupid.” Indeed, an underlying theme of my post this week, Hard Core #Wargame? Assault – Tactical Combat in Europe: 1985 (GDW, 1983) is complexity as how each individual sees it. In the case of Blue Water Navy a great deal of the complexity is learning complexity from the less-than-stellar written rules. In Assault for the mystery reviewer I talk about it appears mechanical complexity, i.e. using the game components, was far too complex for them. I feel a longer think-piece coming…but it’s not quite fully formed yet.

Name Games -or- BGG Don’t Fail Me Now!

Picked up on a small thread on BoardGameGeek about BGG renaming wargame titles. You know, like taking the last two games I discussed on my blog, Assault and Dawn of Empire, and making sure the database names are Assault – Tactical Combat in Europe: 1985 and Dawn of Empire: The Spanish-American Naval War in the Atlantic, 1898. Personally it doesn’t bother me as I clearly see a subtitle as part of the title. Apparently I am too simple, because the BGG policy appears to not only incorporate subtitles, but also any box cover description. Taken to the extreme, games like Terraforming Mars from Stronghold Games becomes either:

  • “Terraforming Mars: Coming to Mars was a Big Step. Making it Habitable Will Give Us a New World” or
  • “Coming to Mars was a Big Step. Making it Habitable Will Give Us a New World: Terraforming Mars”.

Yes, leave it to the hobby boardgame community on BGG to make this an issue. Well, if this is the new policy I can’t wait to see the update for Supply Lines of the American Revolution – The Northern Theater, 1775-1777: being a Game of War, or Logistics & Deception; & a suitable & commendable past-time for gentlemen & ladies both; invented by Mr. Tom Russell, a Patriot born in these United States with cartographical embellishment by Ania B. Ziolkowska. I mean, it’s about time Tom and Mary Russell (@tomandmary) of Hollandspiele got recognition for this fine work!

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Courtesy Hollandspiele


Feature image courtesy pinterest.com

#FourthofJuly2019 – #Wargaming the American Revolution with @HBuchanan2, @markherman54, & @tomandmary with @gmtgames, @hollandspiele, & @Decisiongames

ONE DISADVANTAGE OF ALWAYS GETTING UP EARLY is that my body doesn’t understand holidays. So my Fourth of July 2019 started at O’Dark Early. Not that it is a bad thing; it means I got a jumpstart on my Fourth of July wargaming.

First was to finish my Campaigns of 1777 (Strategy & Tactics/Decision Games, 2019). I had started the game the night before against my usual opponent, “Mr. Solo,” and now I finished it up. The British used a “Howe goes North” strategy which worked at first. That is, until the British realized they needed to get Philadelphia and time was running out. The British eventually took Philadelphia but Washington with lots of militia support retook Albany and Fort Montgomery. The British tried to used their seapower to reposition their troops but that was when the High Winds played havoc with the Royal Navy, delaying the transfer of troops. PATRIOT VICTORY.

Second game of the day was Washington’s War (GMT Games, 2010). This was a really fast game that ended in 1779. The Declaration of Independence was never played but Washington and Greene proved too slippery for the British ever to catch. The Americans adopted a Southern Strategy which forced the British to move lots down south. The Americans then placed lots of Political Control in the Northern Colonies. With the early end of the war the Americans were ahead 10 colonies to four. AMERICAN VICTORY.

Trying to get another game in before the guests arrived, Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 (Hollandspiele, 2017) hit the table. I should of known better than to rush the game as I ended up making several fatal mistakes for the Patriot’s and had to call on rule 13.4 Concession in 1778. CROWN VICTORY.

With the gaming done it was onto the BBQ and fireworks. The RockyMountainNavy Boys want to get 1775: Rebellion (Academy Games, 2013) to the table for the regular Weekly Family Game Night. We shall see if I can get any other “revolutionary” games in this weekend….

#Wargamer vs #Boardgamer – My commentary on when best of intentions go wrong (and not helped by an obnoxious attitude)

I WAS MORE than a little curious when one of my favorite wargame designers, Tom Russell of Hollandspiele, made this tweet.

I was lucky and my google-fu was working and I quickly located the video in question. It was painful to watch. Tom was right; the reviewer had absolutely NO interest in the game and their comments reflected that. It was obnoxious and personally offensive. Not in what was said, but in how it was said.

When I viewed the video it had 25 “Likes” and 65 “Dislikes” (I was number 66). Fortunately for Tom, the comments were running heavily in his favor. I guess I was lucky because within an hour of my viewing the user had deleted the video. While I am happy the user deleted the video, I am sad that it happened in the first place. It would not have happened if the user had stopped a moment and found some ethical grounding for what they do.

Somewhere I vaguely recollect that the Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA) was looking at codifying ethics for content creators, but in the present absence of those I think hobby gaming content creators could look to food critics for an example of proper behavior. The Association of Food Journalists (AFJ) posts their Code of Ethics online. They start with five core principles:

  1. We take pride in our work, and respect the work of others.
  2. We do not abuse our position.
  3. We avoid conflicts of interest.
  4. We recognize and respect diversity.
  5. We are committed to transparency in our work.

Before you jump ahead and claim “reviewers are not journalists,” I will point to the AFJ Code of Ethics that states, “Reviewers should subscribe to the same accepted standards of professional responsibility as other journalists.” The AFJ also talks specifically about negative reviews. There are many hobby gaming content creators that could learn from these words:

Negative reviews are fine, as long as they’re fair and accurate. Critics must always be conscious they are dealing with people’s livelihoods. Negative reviews, especially, should be based on multiple visits and a broad exploration of the restaurant’s menu. Following a consistent reviewing policy without deviation may protect a critic from charges of bias or favoritism, while providing a platform from which to defend the review.

In this situation, I strongly believe the content creator clearly failed to respect the work of Tom. The video was very dismissive of the game, even stating, “I don’t know why someone sent this to me.” I could make an argument that the content creator abused their position.

I earnestly want to make the argument that the content creator failed to respect diversity. Not because of Tom’s race, but because Tom is a wargame designer. From the beginning, Tom knew not to send this particular creator a wargame because they not only dislike wargames, they openly hate them. As a personal position I am fine with that, I am not going to tell someone else what to think. The problem I have is that this content creator has monetized their opinions which, in my mind, means a higher ethical standard is needed.

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Courtesy BoardGameGeek

Finally, I question the judgement of the content creator. Why did they make the unboxing video in the first place? Do they unbox every game without any sort of prescreen? If the reaction was that emotionally negative, did they not pause to ponder if their video was “fair and accurate” or just a visceral outpouring of their biases against a genre of gaming? There was obviously no thought. Just imagine what could of happened if the creator had contacted Tom and politely stated he was declining to post his video because “it’s not in my wheelhouse.” The ensuing conversation would of likely been good for both sides.


Feature image Brave Little Belgium. See my impressions here.

#Boardgamer or #Wargamer? Let’s throw in a little Kickstarter rant too

I was listening to designer Tom Russell in his interview on 5 Games for Doomsday. Tom talks about how he didn’t play games with his family growing up. This got me thinking about how I got into hobby gaming and where I am today.

I got seriously into gaming in 1979 when I was in middle school and discovered Jim Day’s Panzer from Yaquinto Publishing. In the years prior to that my parents had a few games around but we barely played them. The titles I recall are Monopoly, Clue, Othello, and Waterworks in addition to Chinese Checkers. The only games I really remember playing are Chinese Checkers and Othello.

Gulo Gulo BoxFrom 1979 until the early 2000’s I was a pure wargamer. I also dabbled in roleplaying games but wargames were my real hobby. It was not until the RockyMountainNavy Kids grew up a bit that I tried some family games like Gulo Gulo (still a favorite).

In 2016 my hobby took on a new direction with the real discovery of hobby boardgames. At the recommendation of Uwe Eickert of Academy Games I picked up Scythe – and discovered a whole new world of gaming. In 2017 and 2018 I went overboard with rediscovered wargaming and boardgaming. Too far overboard – at the start of 2019 Mrs. RockyMountainNavy asked that I look hard at my gaming budget and think about some restraint.

So in 2019 I have tried to restrain myself. In doing so, I have thought about my game buying habits in 2017 and 2018. I continuously told myself that I was not a member of the Cult of the New or susceptible to the Fear of Missing Out.

Wrong. Not only was I a CotN member, but I was fully infected with FoMO.

In 2019 I initiated a series of gaming challenges (CSR, Origins, Golden Geek) that have forced me (willingly) to explore older games in my collection. I have found some bad ones, but many good ones. It has been a great reminder that I have good games in my collection and they deserve some love.

Dk_yqCEWsAki4_HIn 2019 I have tried to find my roots. As I look across the boardgaming world I find fewer and fewer titles that appeal to me. If there is one area that I am really interested in, it’s hybrid games like Root (wargame or strategy game?) or several Hollandspiele titles like the Supply Lines of the American Revolution series.

Another part of the hobby I am less-than-satisfied with is Kickstarter. I respect companies that use Kickstarter to bring games to print that would otherwise never see the light of day. But more and more I see companies using Kickstarter as a glorified pre-order system. I understand that many companies like the fact that the risk is moved from them to the consumer. They may like it but I am not as appreciative. What I see in many cases is that I am advancing the company a loan – without interest.

Now, I don’t necessarily define “interest” as money. A Kickstarter campaign that offers exclusives or stretch goals that area only available to backers is one form. But more and more I see companies not offering stretch goals or campaign exclusives – what you get in the campaign is what you can buy at retail.

I also dislike the risk that I am assuming in the enjoyment of the game. Kickstarter demands you pledge to support a game based upon only a few known, and many unknown, factors. Maybe that designer has a history of good games but I am sure there are a few turkeys in there. That company has its own history too. But what about the game? How does the game really play? This forces a dependency on hobby content providers at a time when “critical” reviews are fewer and fewer. Nobody watches a 30 minute video review of a 2 hour movie; why should we be forced to watch a lengthy video for a game? No.

So I have returned to being a wargamer first and a boardgamer second. I have several good titles in my collection. Scythe will remain. Terraforming Mars (minus several expansions) will stay in the rotation. Firefly: The Board Game will get played but Star Wars: Outer Rim is likely a pass. I’m going to finish up my challenges for the year.

And I’m going to enjoy every game played.

“History Distilled to Its Essence” – #FirstImpression of @markherman54’s Gettysburg (@RBMStudio1, 2018) in C3i Magazine Issue Nr 32 (with a s/o to @tomandmary too)

I was quite taken with the thing. I think it plays to the strengths of the small game format while avoiding the pitfalls, and I highly recommend it. (Tom Russell, Hollandazed Blog for 21 Dec 2018)

I have to agree with Tom Russell (@tomandmary from Hollandspiele Games). Gettysburg, the first in what looks to be a new series of simple wargames published by RBM Studio in their flagship C3i Magazine is a small footprint, rules-lite product that delivers tremendously challenging choices. It might be a small looking game, but it is large on making decisions interesting.

At first glance, Gettysburg seems to have little to offer. You play on a single 11″x17″ map with only 26(!) counters. Rules are in a large-font 12-page Rule Book. [Take out the cover, Player Aid on the back cover, and three pages of graphics and one is left with seven (7!) pages of actual rules.] There are only six turns, each representing a half-day. However, after playing Gettysburg one quickly discovers that designer Mark Herman (@markherman54) was not exaggerating when he subtitled the Rule Book as Gettysburg: History Distilled to Its Essence.

Mr. Herman accomplishes this design feat by focusing on few tried-and-true wargame mechanisms while adding several innovative(?) wrinkles. The first wargame trope Mr. Herman relies upon is the Zone of Control (ZoC). In Gettysburg, every unit exerts a ZoC into the six hexes around it. Like most wargames, when a unit enters an enemy ZoC it must stop and cannot move any further during the Movement Phase. To any traditional wargamer this is old hat; dare I say “boring?”

The interesting wrinkle introduced is the concept of Zone of Influence (ZoI). A ZoI is all hexes within two of the unit. Now, I am sure ZoI has been used in other games but in Gettysburg the effect of ZoI makes me take notice. Units starting the Movement Phase outside of an enemy ZoC or ZoI are turned to their speedier March Formation side. Units can move at their March Formation speed until they enter an enemy ZoI – at which point they have to flip to their much slower Battle Formation side. Now movement is interesting; there is no dashing right up to the enemy!

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Game in progress

At the same time he uses ZoC and ZoI, Mr. Herman mixes in another old school gaming trope, I go, you go (IGO UGO), but turns it on its head. As expected, players alternate taking actions in the Movement or Attack Phase until one player passes. But, instead of letting the second player continue until they finally want to pass, the non-passing player rolls a die and adds the number of friendly units outside of an enemy ZoC. The modified result is the number of remaining Move Actions that player has. Similarly, in the Attack Phase, once a player passes, an unmodified die roll is made with the result being the remaining number of attacks possible. The passing die roll reasonably reflects the problems of Command & Control in the days of the American Civil War. Sometimes commanders get what they want; other times the fickle hand of fate interferes.

In the Attack Phase, Gettysburg becomes a bit less traditional. First , there is no Combat Results Table (CRT) in the game. Instead, players make a series of competitive die rolls with the modified difference creating the combat result. Modifiers to combat are few and easy to remember; Artillery Support is a +2, Defensible Terrain is +2, any stars on the unit counter are a positive modifier, and if attacking with more than two units in the defender’s ZoC there is another +2. After rolling dice and applying modifies, the difference can range from Stalemate to Retreat to Blown (off the map to possibly return two turns later) to Eliminated. Although the combat resolution is not traditional, the simple rules capture the essence (where have I seen that word?) of combat results in the American Civil War.

The interaction of the basic ZoC, the extended ZoI, and a “traditional” IGO UGO turn sequence with an different “passing” mechanism combines with easy no-CRT combat resolution mean the “simple” rules of Gettysburg create huge decision space. As Tom Russell relates in his blog post:

The moment one of the players passes is a hinge point upon which the tempo of the phase turns. Suddenly the order in which I move my dudes matters. Because the Union position is largely defensive, I find that they’re more likely to pass first, which creates a situation in which the hitherto orderly Confederates are suddenly forced to improvise. What I had intended to be coordinated assaults all up and down the line become hodge-podge little affairs.

Gettysburg the battle was a huge affair. As Bruce Catton wrote in the Encounter at Gettysburg chapter of his book Never Call Retreat (Phoenix Press, 1965),

The commanding generals never meant to fight at Gettysburg. The armies met there by accident, led together by the turns of the roads they followed. When they touched, they began to fight, because the tension was so high the first contact snapped it, and once begun the fight was uncontrollable. What the generals intended ceased to matter; each man had to cope with what he got, which was the most momentous battle of the war. (p. 178-179).

Gettysburg the game delivers what it promises; a simple wargame that captures the essence of the battle – those hodge-podge little affairs that the generals never wanted but which you the player need to cope with. In Gettysburg Mr. Herman has distilled the battle to its essentials, and the resulting game is a master-class example of making a small, streamlined title that delivers an outsized, replayable experience.

It’s a C3i Christmas thanks to @RBMStudio1, @hollandspiele, & @markherman54

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Oh my goodness! Will you take a look at that?

That’s the contents of issue Nr 32 of C3i Magazine. So much wargaming goodness contained within! Even harder to believe that all this cost me less than $40.

At the upper right are two new scenarios for Table Battles (Hollandspiele, 2017). Designer Tom Russell serves up The Battle of Gaines Mill (27 June 1862) and The Battle of the Bouvines (27 July 1214). Tom and Rodger MacGowan also thoughtfully included a two-sided rules card. Although I have Table Battles, it is a good thing I reviewed this abbreviated rules set as I discovered I was playing the Target rule incorrectly.

At upper left are three inserts for Pendragon (GMT Games, 2017), Pericles (GMT Games, 2017), and Holland ’44 (GMT Games, 2017). I don’t have any of these games but after looking at these inserts I am intrigued….

The countersheet in the middle includes not only the two games featured in this issue, but counters for several more games. Again, color me interested….

At the bottom left is the first of  the two feature games. Frederic Bey’s Battle of Issy 1815, is a Jours de Gloire-series game. Napoleonics are not my usual thing but this looks to be great little game that likely makes a good intro to the series. Rodger! I see your evil plan!

At bottom right is Gettysburg, from designer @markherman54. This is the game I am most intrigued with and can’t wait to get it to the table! I am especially intrigued following thoughts by Hollandspiele’s Tom Russell on his blog  and Twitter video thoughts by Joel Toppen:

Let’s not forget there is also a magazine there too with plenty of interesting looking articles!

I doff my cap to Mr. MacGowan and his team at C3i Magazine for publishing an incredible issue and bringing many hours of great gaming to the RockyMountainNavy home for Christmas.

Let the Christmas gaming begin!

 

When evil is good – great wargaming with Table Battles (@Hollandspiele, 2017)

uzYnpkZgTZOXhUpmAh6N2ASaturday morning is not the usual time a wargame hits the table in the RockyMountainNavy house. This past Saturday was a bit different as the Youngest RockyMountainNavy was studying for a math quiz and the Middle RockyMountainNavy Boy was a bit bored waiting for his brother to finish. So I challenged him to a game of Table Battles (Hollandspiele, 2017).

This was Middle RMN Boy’s first time playing. We set up The Battle of White Mountain (Thirty Years War, 1620) and he took the Imperial & Catholic League. Game play proceeded a bit slowly as I had to be patient as he absorbed the game rules. My Middle RMN Boy is on the Autism Spectrum and he sometimes struggles with multi-step rules or too many choices. It’s not that he suffers from Analysis Paralysis (AP) while gaming, he just takes a bit longer to process his thoughts. Table Battles turned out to be a good game for him; simple enough rules and procedures with just enough depth of to create a challenging (but not insurmountable) array of choices.

In Table Battles, Special Formations are usually the most powerful, and therefore the hardest to “ready.” Middle RMN had The Twelve Apostles (historically the twelve biggest cannons) as his Special Formation and to “ready” it takes a “Straight 4;” rolling a sequence of four consecutive numbers on the dice. As the Special Formation card is harder to load, it also can be easy to miss when rolling.

Me – “OK, go ahead and roll.”

RMN Boy – [Rolls five dice as one formation already has a die placed]

Me – “Well, you could….”

RMN Boy – “I rolled a 2, 3, 4, 5. I can load this card, right?”

Me – “Uh, sure….”

RMN Boy  – [Smiling & laughing evilly as he adds a cube to the Special Formation]

That pretty much describes the battle. The end came down to two last formations, each almost reduced and ready to Rout. After I rolled and failed to get the needed Triplet to ready my formation I thought I would have another chance as his formation was totally unready with no dice placed.

Me – “OK, roll your dice.”

RMN Boy – “I really need a triple to load my card.” [Rolls dice – 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 6]

Me – [Deep sigh]

RMN Boy – “So I move these here. Dad, you sure you don’t want to surrender now?”

Even though I lost it was a great game. While the Youngest RMN Boy has proclaimed Table Battles as a “favorite game” I think it is Middle RMN Boy who will enjoy this game more. Kudos to designer Tom Russell (@tomandmary) for making a simple, yet deep wargame that I can enjoy with all my boys.

Featured image – Battle of White Mountain, oil on canvas by Pieter Snayers (courtesy wikipedia). You can practically see the Table Battles formation cards in the scene….

Taking Command – First Impressions of NATO Air Commander (@Hollandspiele, 2018)

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Courtesy BGG.com

I am a Cold Warrior. I came of age in the 1980’s in the Reagan-era of the Cold War. I read Red Storm Rising or Team Yankee. In my wargames I fought the Red Bear at sea using Harpoon (Adventure Games, 1981/GDW 1987), fought them in the air in Air Superiority (GDW, 1987), and on the battlefields of Europe when playing Assault: Tactical Combat in Europe – 1985 (GDW, 1983). I even played the Twilight: 2000 RPG (GDW, 1984). In the late 1980’s, I joined the US Navy and we trained for the Big One – going toe-to-toe with the Russkies.

Fortunately, that war never came. Which makes NATO Air Commander (Hollandspiele, 2018) a sort of alternate-history game. I acquired NATO Air Commander during the 2018 Hollandays Sale and took it out for a few sorties. NATO Air Commander is another “wargame” in my collection that challenges the classic hex-&-counter definition of a wargame. Instead, NATO Air Commander is yet another waro in my collection; a wargame using Eurogame mechanics in a highly thematic game.

Presentation

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Courtesy BGG.com

NATO Air Commander has a very small footprint. The map by Ania B. Ziolkowska looks just like so many air charts of the day with simple, believable graphics superimposed. The entire mapsheet layout is easy to understand. I do wish the Basing box was a bit bigger; at the size given one ends up with a big stack of aircraft piled high. The counters are typical Hollandspiele/Blue Panther; thick and punch cleanly with simple, easy-to-understand graphics.

Playability

NATO Air Commander is a solitaire game and like most solitaire games the rules are very procedural. The rules are 12 double-column pages and step the players through the turn sequentially. The rules themselves are not difficult to learn; I personally rate them  a 2- Medium Light on BoardGameGeek. After just a few plays all that is needed to reference is the Player Aid on the last page of the rule book.

Mechanics

At it’s heart, NATO Air Commander is a card game. Players draw Objective Cards that reflect their commander’s needs for the turn. The players then allocate their precious (and dwindling) air forces (resources) to Raids. Each Raid is resolved using Resolution Cards and the advance, or (very occasionally) retreat of Warsaw Pact forces along six Thrust Lines (Avenues of Advance) is determined. The success of missions and advance of forces affects the number of Resource Points (RP) available to repair or replace lost aircraft or “purchase” needed upgrades like Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs).

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Courtesy BGG.com

NATO Air Commander is also a dice-less game; instead everything is resolved using the Resolution Cards. Typically, the player compares the relevant factor to the card factor modified by a track. If the factor is greater than the modified card number it is a success. Once the player is familiar with what track modifies what card factor resolving an event becomes easy and almost instantaneous.

Historical Flavor

Starting with the map, the game feels very period-thematic. Although the different aircraft types are not marked, if one knows a bit of aircraft recognition it is easy to see. Some folks on BoardGameGeek forums have groused about aircraft ratings. I am with the designer here when he says if you don’t like it, change it yourself!

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Courtesy BGG.com

Speaking of the BGG forums, some folks have complained about the number of acronyms used in the game. Sure, the rules could probably use a glossary but the use of those terms actually help become more immersed in the play. Except for one acronym – DEAD. As defined in NAC this is “Destruction of Air Defenses” which I learned as SEAD (Suppression of Air Defenses). It make absolutely no difference to play, just makes me grin as I move the track marker.

Overall, NATO Air Commander immerses the player in the period. The map, the aircraft, the relentless Soviet hordes, all make for a very tense game experience. There is also just the right amount of chrome. For instance, there is one (1!) Stealth bomber unit and never enough Precision Guided Munitions.

Support

Both publisher Tom Russell (BGG user tomrussell) and designer Brad Smith (enragedbees on BGG) are very active on BoardGameGeek forums. Questions are usually answered very quickly.

As a repeat customer of Hollandspiele games I also feel the need to address the “stinky” issue. Hollandspiele games are printed by Blue Panther in a form of print-on-demand publishing. The inks used by Blue Panther give off a smell that Steve has assured is not dangerous. Yes, the odor can be strong when the box is first opened. I find that if I keep the box open for a day or two in a lesser used portion of the house the odor goes away.

Bottom Line

NATO Air Commander almost feels like a game module for a larger game. Indeed, in approach this “air war module” is not that different from systems used in the Fleet-series (Victory Games) or the Next War-series (GMT Games).

Some commenters have stated that the puzzle of NATO Air Commander lends itself to an optimal strategy. Well, yes, there likely is an “optimal” way to use your air force. However, the fickle hand of fate, as embodied in the Resolution Cards, will most assuredly throw wrenches into your “optimal” strategy. Those wrenches are a feature, not a bug. NATO Air Commander forces one to think about allocating precious resources against sometime impossible needs to turn back a relentless horde. If there is one lesson that NATO Air Commander teaches its that defeating the Warsaw Pact invaders was not going to be easy and there was going to be steep losses. Those thematic lessons make for a very tense, stressful game that NATO Air Commander allows one to play with minimal rules overhead and a quick, diceless resolution mechanic.

Featured image courtesy Hollandspiele