“All game, no history.” Really? Musings on why I play #wargames

Recently on Twitter, the following tweet was reupped for comments:

The Tactical Painter @PainterTactical ·

Goodbye #advancedsquadleader Won 2 Australian tournaments, played 100s of games but had a damascene moment designing scenarios when I realised ASL had actually taught me little about WWII and nor could it. Play the rules, not the period. All game, no history.

I was added to the thread for my thoughts. Sorta hard to condense it into one short tweet but I tried:

Mountain Navy @Mountain_Navy · 
Thinking about what a #wargame means to me. Went to the tomes of Dunnigan, Perla, & Sabin as well as Zones of Control book for thoughts. My Answer: A wargame is an interactive model to explore conflict; it doesn’t define it. I use wargames for fun (to game) & inspire learning.

Complexity as Realism…or Not?

First, a disclaimer. I am not an active Advanced Squad Leader player. I played long ago but my ASL-like game was actually Star Fleet Battles (SFB). Like ASL, SFB is also accused of being overly complex. But when I was reading through Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming (Edited by Pat Harrigan & Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, MIT Press, 2016) I was drawn to Chapter 10, “Design for Effect: The “Common Language” of Advanced Squad Leader” by J.R. Tracy. Tracy starts out by stating:

Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) (1985) holds a unique place in the wargaming hobby. Nearly thirty years old, it is still going strong, with a large, ardent fan base and a smaller, but no less ardent body of detractors. More a game system than a game, ASL is both respected and reviled as representing the best and worst aspects of wargaming. ASL itself is considered a benchmark of complexity and comprehensiveness, while its player possess a devotion bordering on fanaticism. Though its roots are firmly in the “design-for-effect” philosophy, it is viewed by many as the paragon of realism with respect to tactical World War II combat. This is born of a misguided equation of complexity and verisimilitude – ASL is at its heart more game than simulation, but it is a richly rewarding game, offering dramatic, cinematic narrative as well as competitive experience. (p. 113)

Mr. Tracy goes on to point out that Squad Leader designer John Hill was, “striving for an impressionistic depiction of combat…based on his interpretation of eyewitness accounts and recollections” (p. 113). He goes on to say, “For Hill, ‘Realism is in the stress and snap decisions of small unit combat’….” (p. 113).

“Realism is in the stress and snap decisions….” More than anything else that line captures for me why I play wargames. For the longest time I was caught up in that ASL-like versimiltude of equating complexity with realism. My favorite games were the likes of Harpoon, the Fighting Wings Series, or Panzer. Those games all bordered more on simulation than games.

Or so I thought.

Wargames as Insight

Years later I have acquired a more nuanced approach to gaming. These days I recognize that all games are models – and models are often imperfect. I now approach games more in line with the thinking of designer Mark Herman who tell us, “As a designer, I always strive to develop game systems that allow the players to compete in a plausible historical narrative that allows for the suspension of disbelief and offers insight into a period’s dynamics.” (ZoC, p. 133)

My undergraduate degree is in History and I always have viewed myself as an amateur historian. Starting in my youth, I used wargames to help me explore history. Robert M. Citrino, in his Zones of Control contribution “Lessons from the Hexagon: Wargames and the Military Historian,” gives us three ways wargames augment the study of history:

  • Wargames are a visual and tactile representation of the real-life event.
  • Wargames help illustrate the various levels of war: tactical, operational, and strategic.
  • Wargames are the ultimate “Jomini-Clausewitz conundrum.”
    • Wargames are Jominian at their core; they quantify, order, and prescribe military activity.
    • Wargames incorporate a Clausewitz artifact – the die as a randomizer

I find Citrino’s conclusion most powerful:

Beyond the informational content or fun quotient, however, wargames offer the operational military historian a means to interpret past events, to unpack the calculations that go into planning a campaign and then to analyze the reasons for success or failure. Wargames allow for compelling analysis of time, space, and force dilemmas; they clearly delineate the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war; and they allow the player to appreciate the truths inherent in both Jomini and Clausewitz, rather than choosing one and rejecting the other. In the end, war itself is a violent, bloody, and unpredictable game, with time-honored Jominian principles serving as the “rules” and Clausewitzian Zufall interfering as the randomizer. (ZoC, p. 445)

Games, Not Simulations

Remember when I said that I loved all those more “simulation games?” I didn’t really understand why I thought this, but Robert MacDougall and Lisa Faden in “Simulation Literacy: The Case for Wargames in the History Classroom” (Zones of Control, Chapter 37) helped me understand maybe why I feel this way.

MacDougall and Faden make the case that simulations are often used to model social phenomenon. “They try to distinguish between dependent and independent variables, to make generalizations that will be applicable in many places and times, and ultimately, to uncover the laws of human behavior” (ZoC, p. 450). Games, however, are different, especially with respect to decisions:

Game designer Sid Meier once defined a game as “a series of interesting decisions.” In a historical simulation game, the players take on the roles of those who made interesting decisions. The rules of the game define the structure that constrained those decisions. “Play can be defined as the tension between the rules of the game and the freedom to act within those rules,” writes Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011, 18). Play, in other words, explores the boundaries of agency and structure – and the “ability to make interesting decisions” is about as succinct a definition of historical agency as we are likely to find.

…But Fun

Wargames make for interesting decisions. When I started wargaming, I thought for th elongest time that complexity led to more intereting decisions. These days, I find that it is often the simplest games, with less decisions, that are the most fun. Games like Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing), 878 Vikings (Academy Games), or Command & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games) will never be held up as detailed models of conflict, but each is fun and offer up interesting decision spaces. They do teach, at least in broad strokes of history, and that is part of what makes them interesting too. But in the end, I play most wargames these days for fun.

I still play the more complex games, but my approach to them has changed. While I still use them to explore conflict, I also try to enjoy it. My attitude these days is one of wanting to game a conflict, not simulate it. I think many designers and publishers get this. This is why the new Harpoon V from Admiralty Trilogy Games is more player-friendly. It’s why Buffalo Wings 2 (Against the Odds) is having a successful Kickstarter. And yes, it’s why even Advanced Squad Leader is still a money-maker for Multi-Man Publishing (especially when one looks at the face-to-face tournament play aspect).

All of which is to say I play wargames for the fun of learning and making interesting decisions. They don’t teach me history, but they offer a pathway to further insight.

“All game, no history.” Not true for me.


Feature image courtesy BoardGameGeek.

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.

Ancient Lore – or – Why 2007 was a very good #wargame & #boardgame year

THE GOLDEN GEEK AWARDS FROM 2007 are very interesting to me, although it has taken 12 years for me to figure out why. Recall that I challenged myself this year to play all the Golden Geek Award winners in my collection. To date I have concentrated on the Charles S Roberts (CSR) winners in my collection and am a bit behind on the the Golden Geek. This weekend I pledged to make up for it. In the process I pleasantly discovered a very interesting crossover between the wargame and hobby boardgame communities.

In 2007 there was a tie in the category Best 2-Player Game. The co-honorees were Commands & Colors: Ancients (GMT Games, 2006) and Battlelore (Days of Wonder, 2006). Battlelore also won Best Artwork/Presentation (more on that in a bit).

At first glance these winners appear to be very different. After all, one is a wargame (gasp!) and the other a strategy boardgame (although not a Euro, tsk tsk). At first I was going to play both and write up two blogs about my experiences with each.

Box backs – even the form factor shows wargame vs boardgame

But then I remembered that Commands & Colors: Ancients (hereafter CCA) and Battlelore (BL) are essentially the same game!

Externally, both CCA and BL they certainly look very different. CCA is a hex-n-block wargame with cards. The presentation is, if anything, a bit bland. Really now; who puts stickers on dice! BL, on the other hand, is colorful with a richly illustrated rulebook and plastic minis (and custom inked dice…although the early sets rubbed off). It’s really no wonder BL won the award for Best Artwork/Presentation.

Under the hood, though, the two games are very closely related; more so than even kissing-cousins. To begin with they both use the same Commands & Colors game engine. Not surprising given that both credit Creation & Development to the venerable Richard Borg. Both also had Pat Kurivial for Development. There is even overlap in the playtesters for each game.

Rule Book – Commands & Colors: Ancients

That is not to say the games are identical (outside of theme, of course). The most obvious difference is magic in Battlelore. Both games are also different in how they approach components. It’s more than just the blocks vs minis. The big usability difference that jumps out at me is the use of a wargame-like Player Aid Card in CCA versus boardgame “hint” cards in BL.

Rule Book – Battlelore

Of the two, I personally like the wargame~ish Commands & Colors approach better. Then again, I am a dyed-in-the-wool grognard and am more comfortable in a wargame setting. Thus, you probably would understand my love for Compass Games’ Commands & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (2017). The RockyMountainNavy Boys went the other way and fully embraced Memoir ’44 (Days of Wonder, 2006) the WWII version published along at the same time a Battlelore.

Although I have my preference I will not pass on a game of M’44 or Commands & Colors with the RMN Boys. The fact that the games are so similar means the relearning-curve before a game is small; one just needs to refresh on special rules for that “setting” vice relearning an entire game system. This helps all these games get to the table more often.

At the end of the day, isn’t that the real reason to play games? Gather round a table and immerse yourself into a game. Whether your reason is to escape the grind of the week or learn a bit about history the most important part of the game is the social exchange amongst family or friends.

I doff my cap to the 2007 Golden Geek jury which showed courage by awarding a “wargame” the honor of a win outside of that category. I also respect them for giving a dual award and showing the hobby gaming community that wargames and strategy games might look different, but at heart can be very closely related. Doing so reminds us that although many might try to wall off your niche, the truth is that we are more alike then we are different. The 2007 Golden Geek jury embraced that message.

So should you.

RockyMountainNavy #Boardgame #Wargame Expansion of the Year for 2018

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

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

…and the winner is…

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Courtesy Stronghold Games

I absolutely cannot imagine ever playing Terraforming Mars without the Prelude expansion. The Prelude Cards jumpstart your corporate engine and gets the game going faster in the early turns. It doesn’t really shorten the game, but it does make it alot more fun!

Other Games

Several of the other expansions are also great but for each the base game can be enjoyed without them, unlike Prelude which has made itself an essential part of the game. That said, The French and More! is more like a bonus box then an expansion and is practically inseparable from the base game. Both MBT: BAOR and MBT:FRG add new “factions” and optional rules that make the overall game more interesting but can easily be ignored if desired.

Kingdomino: Age of Giants occupies an interesting spot in my game collection. Although ostensibly an expansion for Kingdomino, the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself feel that it doesn’t really fit that game because it adds a bit too much of a “take that” element that spoils the feeling. On the other hand, adding it to Queendomino, which has more “take that” mechanics than Kingdomino, feels much more organic.

History to #Wargame – French carry the Battle of Savannah this time (Commands & Colors Tricorne: The French & More!, @compassgamesllc, 2018)

October is a very historical month in American history, especially when studying the American Revolution. October 7 is the anniversary of the Battle of Kings Mountain and October 9 is the anniversary of the Battle of Savannah. Later this month, we get the anniversary of the attacks on Redoubt #9 and #10 during the Battle of Yorktown (October 14). All of these battles are included in the new French & More! expansion for Compass Games’ Commands & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution.

Here in the United States, Monday, October 8, was a holiday. Even though it was one day ahead of the actual anniversary I played out the “Savannah – 9 October 1779” scenario from the French & More! expansion. This is a somewhat brutal battle where the French under d’Estaing and Americans under Benjamin Lincoln throw themselves against a British line dug in using Field Works. In C&C Tricorne, Field Works allow Infantry and Artillery units to ignore one hit from ranged combat (except when attacked by artillery) as well as giving the unit the Morale Effect of ignoring one flag (retreat) except again from artillery. In effect, Field Works force the attacker to either bombard or close and Melee Battle (close assault) to remove the dug in defenders.

When setting up this game I missed a crucial new rule; a French Regular Infantry unit is composed of five blocks vice the usual four for British, German, or Continental. Thus, the French units fought at a disadvantage in my game.

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Continental-French view of Battle of Savannah at start

The French ended up carrying most of the fight this time. The draw of Command Cards for the Continental-French side ended up favoring the American right flank. Over the 15 rounds, I think something like nine Command Cards were for the right or a Line Command that was utilized in that section of the battlefield.

To win this battle, one needs to get nine Victory Banners. In addition to the usual banner awarded for destroying a unit, the Continental player also gains a banner for each unit exited off the British side of the board (relief to Savannah) or when occupying a Field Works at the start of their turn. The British gain a banner when there is no enemy in a Field Works at the beginning of their turn or when playing a Scout Command Card (representing the arrival of reinforcements). In this game the British never played a Scout card (indeed, one was never even drawn) and instead had to rely on destruction of enemy units and trying to eject any intruders in the Field Works.

The French attack on the right was a real slog and saw six complete units destroyed. As three of these were Regular Infantry I have to wonder if the fifth block could have saved these units! The Americans only lost one Light Cavalry unit under Pulaski. One American Light Cavalry and one French Light Infantry unit exited the board (two Victory Banners). Even with the artificially-weak French Regular Infantry the final score after 15 rounds was 10 Victory Banners for the Continental-French army (+7 for units destroyed – including the death of Leader Tawes, +2 for exited units, +1 for occupying a Field Works)  versus seven Victory Banners for the British (+7 for units destroyed).

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End of game. British right rolled up but at high cost to French.

Like many Commands & Colors games, the fickle hand of Fate played a major part in this battle. A French Grenadier Elite Infantry unit failed its Rally Check even with a +1 die advantage and Routed off the battlefield. Although the British had a 4:1 advantage in Light Artillery the draw of Command Cards saw very few actual bombardments take place. After a few rapid advances by the American cavalry on the left the Continental infantry in the center and left barely got moving and did little to contribute to the battle.

This game was my seventh play of C&C Tricorne since I got the base game in 2017. I am definitely becoming more familiar and comfortable with the game system and as a result it is playing much faster. At 15 rounds I think this was the longest C&C Tricorne scenario I have ever played but even so it still took just under 2 hours. I sometime hear hardcore grognards belittle the Commands & Colors-series as being “too simple” but I believe such criticism is misguided. Sure, the game mechanics are highly simplified but the game delivers a somewhat-realistic version of warfare with little rules overhead. Additionally, the table-presence of the game with the terrain tiles for a variable board set up and colorful blocks (all readily marked for easy reference) make it easy to play.

And it is fun!

Featured image “Siege of Savannah – Death of Kazimierz Pulanski” from pinterest

History to #Wargame – No scaling Kings Mountain this time (#CommandsandColorsTricorne from @compassgamesllc)

The real Battle of King’s Mountain was fought on 7 October 1780. Historically, the battle resulted in an American Patriot victory. But not today.

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Battle of Kings Mountain – Setup. Continental Baseline is at top, British on bottom.

I refought this major Revolutionary War engagement on the 238th anniversary of the battle using Commands & Colors Tricorne: The French & More! expansion from Compass Games. This battle started out well for the Americans, with Provincials and Rifle units under Servier, Campbell, and Shelby (left of photo above) pushing in from the Continental right and forcing Ferguson back (left of British line as seen above).  Meanwhile, Militia under McDowell and Winston (bottom right) advanced along with two other Militia units coming across Clark’s Ford (upper right). Servior reached the mountain first, gaining the Continentals a Temporary Victory Banner. However, Turn 6 proved to be devastating to the Continentals when the British used Line Volley to decimate American units. Even at long range, the British were able score hits against Militia under Williams and Provincials under Cleveland (both at top-center of photo above) scoring just a few hits but also forcing a Retreat off the board and thus scoring a Victory Banner. Combined with Militia failing to Rally and Routing off the board the British were able to hold on even as their defenses collapsed on their camps.

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End of Turn 7 – British 6 Victory Banner vs Continental 2

One of the Special Rules in this scenario is “racing against time.” The British player can earn one Permanent Victory Banner for each Scout Command card he plays. This didn’t happen this game but it looks to be an interesting scoring mechanic that I want to see more of.

The best part of this game was making the History to Wargame connection. The RockyMountainNavy Boys saw the board and asked about the battle. This led to a nice discussion of the battle history. In the past year I have come to realize that I had pretty good knowledge of the northern campaigns and battles of the American Revolution but games like the “War in the South” scenario for Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (found in C3i Magazine #30) or Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy have taught me that I missed out on an understanding of the battles in the south which were often nasty, highly personal affairs.

The anniversary of the Battle of Savannah is 09 October, and within the French & More! expansion is the scenario “Savannah – 9 October 1779.” Historically, this was a very bloody affair:

On October 9, at dawn, thousands of French and Americans attacked the British positions and were cut down. It was the bloodiest hour in the Revolutionary War. Pulaski and Marion expressed strong disagreement with the plan proposed by D’estaing, but obeyed orders. As the 5 units attacked the British resistance stiffened. Still, Continental soldiers broke through the redoubt in at least two places near Spring Hill. As the Americans carried the wall of the redoubt, the flags were planted to show the soldiers the breach in the line. Suddenly, British Regulars, under the command of Col. John Maitland, advanced and turned back the combined French and Continental Army.

The American line at the redoubt began to crumble under the intense pressure of Maitland’s Regulars. Pulaski, seeing the line pull back, rode up and tried to rally the men as well when he was mortally wounded by cannister. American hero, Sgt. Jasper, was killed on the ramparts trying to save his unit’s battle flag. Polish patriot Casimir Pulaski was killed in a calvary charge. Black troops from Haiti in the French reserve came forward to cover the retreat of the shattered attackers. In an hour, a thousand casulaities resulted. During a truce, hundreds of French and American soldiers were buried in a mass grave. The city was held by the British until 1782 although guerrilla efforts by men like Col. Francis Marion, a survivor of the siege, continued.

Next week is also the anniversary of the Battle of Yorktown and there is a scenario “Yorktown (Assault on Redoubt #9 & #10) – 14 October 1781” also available. This was siege warfare unlike anything seen before in the American Revolution:

By October 14, the trenches were within 150 yards (140 m) of redoubts #9 and #10.  Washington ordered that all guns within range begin blasting the redoubts in order to weaken them for an assault that evening.  Washington would use the cover of a moonless night to lend the element of surprise to the enterprise.  To reinforce the darkness, he added silence, ordering that no soldier should load his musket until reaching the fortifications- the advance would be made with only “cold steel.” Redoubt 10 was near the river and held only 70 men, while redoubt 9 was a quarter of a mile inland, and was held by 120 British and Germans.  Both redoubts were heavily fortified with rows of abatis surrounding them along with muddy ditches which surrounded the redoubts at a distance of about 25 yards.  Washington devised a plan in which the French would launch a diversionary attack on the Fusiliers redoubt, and then a half an hour later, the French would assault redoubt 9 and the Americans redoubt 10.  Redoubt 9 would be assaulted by 400 French Regular soldiers under the command of the German Lieutenant Colonel Wilhelm von Zweibrücken and redoubt 10 would be assaulted by 400 light infantry troops under the command of Alexander Hamilton.  There was briefly a dispute as to who should lead the attack on redoubt #10, Lafayette named his aide, the Chevalier de Gimat, to lead the attack, but Hamilton protested, saying that he was the senior officer. Washington concurred with Hamilton and gave him command of the attack.

I look forward to playing these scenarios and getting the French Army into battle!

These games, like Commands & Colors Tricorne, have helped open my eyes to the history of these battles. This learning from wargaming is a part of the hobby I enjoy best and am happy to pass onto the RockyMountainNavy Boys.

History to #Wargame – Battle of King’s Mountain using #CommandsandColorsTricorne from @compassgamesllc

The real Battle of King’s Mountain took place on October 7, 1780. Today I am going to refight the battle using Commands & Colors Tricorne: The French and More! expansion from Compass Games. I really enjoy it when I get to play a battle on its anniversary because it makes for yet another a great connection to history from wargaming. This is a big reason I love the wargaming hobby!

September Schooling

bg-stats-icon-small-e1454598933841I am trying out Board Game Stats this month. Nothing fancy; just the basic module with no Cloud Sync or Deep Stats or the like. I am, after all, mostly a solo or family gamer. After using it for a month I am convinced I don’t need more because it pretty much proves I am a tame boardgamer.

IMG_0057In September, I played 20 different games 25 times. I surprised myself that five games got two plays apiece. Three of them are wargames (Cataclysm: A Second World War, Rockets Red Glare, and Operation Shoestring: The Guadalcanal Campaign, 1942). Two of those games were a “grogpiphany” – an older wargame that is joyfully rediscovered. I also got a rare 4-player game of Enemies of Rome to the table. Finally, there were two games of Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game, a very fun Four Solo play and a 3-player game night.

The other stats are mildly interesting to me and, like all stats, some are a bit misleading. I see that I played 43% of the time with “Mr. Solo” who, honestly, is not a person but my second-player gaming alter ego. Twenty percent (20%) of the games were with both the RockyMountainNavy Boys and the rest were with various solo personalities or bots (as in the Mechanical Marquis from Root: The Riverfolk Expansion). Unsurprisingly, Saturday is the day when most games are played (Saturday Game Night is surely a factor) and all my games were at the RockyMountainNavy Home. On another screen (not included above) the app tells me I had a 57% win percentage this month.

There is one stat here that makes me sad, and that one is the fact I only got to play six  games this whole month with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Outside of our once-a-week dedicated Game Night this is only two other random plays. The small number is a real (sad) testimony to just how busy our schedules are with work and school. For the good of all of us I probably need to work on getting more short family games to the table.

New Games this Month

Upcoming Kickstarter or Other Expected (or Overdue) Deliveries

  • Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! – Kursk 1943 Second Third Edition (Academy Games – Late 2017 release>OVERDUE) – Printing?
  • Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon (Academy Games – Kickstarter August/September delivery) – Per 14 September update now looking to ship in November.
  • Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing – Kickstarter August/September delivery?) – Per 12 September update caught in Essen printer backlog; to print and ship soon after.
  • Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game (Cam Banks/ Magic Vacuum – Kickstarter April 2018>OVERDUE…BackerKit paid for…promised before Dec 2018)
  • Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games – Kickstarter July 2016>OVERDUE…BackerKit paid for…last update 31 May)

Wargaming the Battle of Eutaw Springs – September 08, 1781 & 2018

The Battle of Eutaw Springs was the last major battle in South Carolina in the American Revolution. The main battle was fought on September 8, 1781. Luckily for me, September 8 fell on a Saturday in 2018 so I was able to get some historical wargaming in!

The Battle of Eutaw Springs has two parts to the engagement. The first part is the Meeting Battle where the American army runs into the British foraging party. Historically, the “rooting party” was overrun but a few soldiers escaped and alerted the British camp. The main battle followed. The two wargames I used to refight Eutaw Springs took different approaches to the battle and the relevant events.

The first wargame I pulled out was Commands & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games, 2017).  This is Compass Games’ version of venerable designer Richard Borg’s Commands & Colors-series for the American Revolution. The scenario is one of the larger ones in the base game and focuses on the main battle starting after the events of the foraging party. As with the historical situation, the Americans are deployed in two lines with the Milita forward and Regular troops behind.

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Opening setup from British perspective

In today’s game the British could just not get anything going and the American dice were hot. The turning point was the death of a British Leader (+1 VP) followed by the Rout of three units. The Morale rules in Commands & Colors Tricorne are maybe the most important to consider. In this case, all three units were forced to retreat and then conduct a Morale Check. A Morale Check is a die roll using the number of dice equal to the remaining blocks in the unit. To pass the check the roll has to have at least one Flag rolled. There are a few modifiers but that’s essentially the rule. In today’s battle, two FULL STRENGTH units that were forced to retreat outright FAILED their Morale Check and Routed away! The end result was a run-away victory for the Americans.

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Endgame – British routed away….

The second game pulled out was the American Revolution Tri Pack from GMT Games (2017). Although not listed in the subtitle (Guilford, Saratoga, Brandywine) this game actually has a fourth battle included; Eutaw Springs! This battle has two versions that can be played; a Historical Battle that starts after the events of the foraging party (around 10am in the morning) or a Campaign Game that begins at 7am before the foraging party is encountered. Depending on the result of the foraging party battle the British may be alerted or caught unawares. Having already played out the battle, I set up the Campaign Game to see what might happen differently. Alas, the battle of the foraging party resulted in a Retreat which meant the historical result, an alerted British camp, happened again.

After that though, nothing went historically for the British. Once again the American dice were hot with many Disruption results in combat. Disruption results force retreats but more importantly reduce the army Morale Track. The battle saw many British units Disrupted with few actually Eliminated. The Americans were able to continuously push the British back as they were unable to keep a solid line to stop the American advance. By noon (Turn 6) the battle was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Even with the late arrival of British reinforcements was unable to stem the tide. As with the historical situation, once the Americans got into the British camp there was some Looting (though less than historically) but it did slow down any pursuit of the British.

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Disruption after Disruption….

As with my Fourth of July Gaming, it is always fun to play a wargame battle on the anniversary of the event. Doing so brings fresh insights into the battle and the events around it. It demonstrates the real teaching power of wargames which match fun with learning.

Featured image “Battle of Eutaw Springs” by Granger courtesy fineartamerica.com

 

The Lesson from Morale – or – Elite can be Defeat in @gmtgames #Panzer

Often times, wargamers get caught up in the material of war. Comparisons of which tank or airplane or ship is better dominate the hobby. Wargames that are more simulationist reinforce this condition. The impact of war on the human condition is overlooked or even outright ignored. In the RockyMountainNavy weekly game night, the impact of morale was brought front and center and forced all of us to think about it deeply. To my surprise, the lesson came from the Panzer series from GMT Games; a game that I consider detail-oriented and a good game for comparing tanks. When the game was finished, the lessons learned had little to do with which tank was better and everything to do with the role of morale in combat.

The Youngest RMN Boy is getting into the machines of war. After diving deep into the aircraft of World War II and battleships of World War I he has turned his attention to armored vehicles of World War II. Last week, I introduced Panzer from GMT Games to the boys. This week he hounded me for a bigger, better battle.

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Courtesy Opsrey

Youngest RMN Boy recently purchased a copy of Osprey Publishing’s M26/M46 Pershing Tank 1943-53 at a used book store. He read with fascination the accounts of battle between Pershings and German tanks at the end of World War II. After playing Panzer he wanted to see for himself how the match-up could of gone. I created a home brew scenario where a German Elite platoon of 4x Tiger II tanks, supported by a Jadgtiger tank destroyer, had a meeting engagement with a US Veteran platoon of 5x M26 Pershing supported by a platoon of 3x M36 Jackson tank destroyers with a single ‘Easy 8’ Sherman. Although the Germans were outnumbered almost 2:1, their better morale and training actually gave them a slight edge in scenario points.

In order to expedite the game, I once again played as umpire. Youngest RMN took the Germans while Middle RMN led the Americans. Both boys are still learning tactics, so I was not surprised they both split their forces on set up. Once the shooting started, something very incredible happened.

In Panzer, the experience/morale level of the unit impacts several game mechanics. On Initiative Rolls, units that are Elite gain a +40 while Veterans gain only +20. The level also determines Command Range – the distance units can be apart and still share a common order – with Elite having a 2-hex range and Veteran only 1-hex. In AP Fire, the superior training of Elite units gains a greater positive shift in combat (translating to better chance of hit) as compared to Veteran units. Taken together, Youngest RMN Boys’s Elite Panzers were not only superior in firepower and protection, but with their better training should have gained the initiative (control of the battle) more often. The American tanks had the advantage of numbers and mobility (both in terms of raw speed as well as turret slew rates).

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Tiger IIs in France (courtesy tanks-encyclopedia.com)

The battle actually devolved into two separate skirmishes. In the north, two Tiger II faced  off against the 5x Pershings. In the south, two Tiger II and the Jagdtiger took on the 3x M36 and Easy 8.

First blood was drawn in the north where the Tiger II’s firing at ranges between 1600-2000m “brewed up” two M26’s. Even using better ammunition, the M26s were impotent against the German armor protection.

Another game mechanic in Panzer where morale/experience is represented is Bail Out. When tanks are hit, even with a non-penetrating/non-damaging shot, the crew must roll for Bail Out. In the case of a non-prentrating/no-damage AP hit, the crew will Bail Out on a percentile die roll of 10 or less. Elite units gain a +5 modifier, literally meaning there is only a 5% chance of an Elite unit bailing out.

At the end of the scenario, four M26 Pershings were knocked out along with two M36’s. The Jagdtiger and a single Tiger II were immobilized by Track Damage. But the most astounding result was that in three of the the five German tanks the crew bailed out from non-penetrating/non-damaging hits. Statistically speaking, this was an astounding outcome.

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CoH (courtesy BGG)

Youngest RMN Boy was greatly disappointed. He was even a bit angry at his brother. The Youngest RMN Boy plays other wargames where morale is important, like Command And Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games, 2017) with Routing units or Academy Games’s Birth of America-series with the Flee combat result. Even his favorite World War II tactical combat game, Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (Academy Games)  has morale in there, though it is more “baked into ratings” than visible in a die roll like Panzer. I think what made him angry was that unlike Militia units in the American Revolution or early-war demoralized Soviet units where he expected the morale failure, he never could imagine that his Elite Panzers could be the same and simply run away.

That is perhaps the greatest lesson of Panzer; the greatest tank with the best guns and armor does not always translate into battlefield success.

I fear that in this age of push-button warfare and video games that the human factor in combat is ignored or forgotten. This is also why I play games, and wargames, with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I want them to know that war is not machine versus machine but human. I did not expect GMT Games and their wargame Panzer to be this vehicle of learning, but I am very happy that it is.

Featured image courtesy @RBMStudios on Twitter.