What You See is What You Get and More – or – Why I Love the Modern Wargame Renaissance

I HAVE BEEN A GROGNARD since 1979. I started out by playing board wargames and still play board wargames today. I have seen the height of wargame companies like SPI and Avalon Hill as well as the darkest wargaming days in the 1990’s caused in part by The Great Magic: The Gathering Extinction Event. These days, I think wargaming is in a renaissance period. Although there are quantitatively many wargames being published, the part that excites me the most is the quality of those games. Today you can still find a “classic” hex & counter wargame with a CRT it but is the innovative designs with modern presentation and gameplay that really grab my attention.

Harold Buchanan, designer of Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (amongst other games) has a really neat podcast called Harold on Games hosted off his website conflictsimulations.com. Episode 10 is an interview with designer Uwe Eickert, Principal at Academy Games. Uwe (pronounced “oova”) has a lot to say in the interview and listening to the whole podcast is well worth your time. For this post, I want to focus on his thoughts regarding presentation and probability in wargames.

Uwe believes (I’m paraphrasing here) that a major reason modern wargame designs are exciting is because they are incorporating many of the best practices in game presentation and streamlined play.  Although he didn’t mention it in the interview, Academy Games also uses the Warcholak Guide, named after editor and developer Nicholas Warcholak, which states:

Is the rule necessary to simulate the TYPICAL (over 10% of the time) conditions and outcomes on the battlefield? If YES, keep. If NO, go to 2. Does the rule require significant mental resources to remember to play? (Significant is defined as needing to remember more than 2 facts.) If YES, dump. If NO, go to 3. Does the rule add to the fun of the game? Does it produce outcomes that add significant replayability, oh-no moments, gotcha momments, or simulation pay-off outside the general flow of the game? If YES, keep. If NO, dump.

In the interview, I keyed in on Uwe’s comments regarding charts and tables in wargames. He advocates for more modern design elements and especially a need to incorporate “the math” into different die rolls instead of endless modifiers and tables. This approach preserves the “probabilities” (and realism) of a wargame but also makes it fun! I absolutely buy into Uwe’s approach, which is also why I have bought many Academy Games designs to grace my gaming collection.

Listening to the interview with Uwe, I also discovered a real gem of information. Academy Games has a Kickstarter campaign for Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon that is nearing delivery. This game, based on the Saint’s Row video game universe, is a “story-driven 3D tactical boardgame.”

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Agents of Mayhem (Courtesy Academy Games)

The part not mentioned in the publisher’s blurb but stated by Uwe in his interview is that Agents of Mayhem is based on their “Falujah game” for the US Marine Corps. Looking at Agents with this thought in mind it makes perfect sense! More pertinent to this post, Agents of Mayhem shows the extreme implementation of modern gaming presentation and gameplay mechanics. In wargame terms, Agents of Mayhem is a skirmish game. This skirmish game features a destructible 3D terrain board. Each soldier or squad has a tableau that in a graphically intuitive manner shows capabilities and available actions. Combat is resolved using special die rolls with few modifiers that capture the essence of combat in a speedy, easy to understand (i.e. highly playable) manner.

I really am enjoying the modern wargaming renaissance. As much as I am a classic hex & counter gamer, the newer designs are really exciting and I look forward to more!

Featured image – Conflict of Heroes – Guadalcanal, 1942 (Academy Games, 2016)

#WargameWednesday – Not Conflicted Anymore about #ConflictofHeroes

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Earlier this year I got Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal 1942 – The Pacific (Academy Games, 2016). I wrote out my First Impressions where I was impressed with the game mechanics but unsure about how the game came together.

In early August I was fortunate to attend CONNECTIONS 17 and met the designer of Conflict of Heroes, Uwe ('Oova') Eickert. In the evening "game labs," I actually sat down with Uwe and he walked me and others through the Conflict of Heroes system using Awakening the Bear (2nd Edition).

I'm absolutely sold – on several levels.

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From the GAMEPLAY perspective the Active/Spent Units, Action Points/Command Action Points, and Command/Bonus/Action Card mechanics make for quick play. In the rules I can see the influence of Nicholas Warcholak, in charge of Editing and Game Development for Academy Games. The Academy Games website lays out the Warcholak Guide to keep game rules streamlined:

  1. Is the rule necessary to simulate the TYPICAL (over 10% of the time) conditions and outcomes on the battlefield? If YES, keep. If NO, go to 2.
  2. Does the rule require significant mental resources to remember to play? (Significant is defined as needing to remember more than 2 facts.) If YES, dump. If NO, go to 3.
  3. Does the rule add to the fun of the game? Does it produce outcomes that add significant replayability, oh-no moments, gotcha momments, or simulation pay-off outside the general flow of the game? If YES, keep. If NO, dump.

Conflict of Heroes implements the Warcholak Guide in spades! The rules, in combination with the graphical presentation, means the game can be taught almost without referencing the rule book.

From a HISTORICAL SIMULATION level of play, Uwe opened my eyes to the deep amount of historical detail baked into the game. For instance, the number of Action Points necessary for a unit to shoot is often a reflection of leadership and command & control. Unlike other games which use many 'rules by exception' to implement the intended effect, Conflict of Heroes "bakes" the rules into a few key factors. For example, when a unit is activated it gets 7 Action Points (AP). Both German and Russian infantry use 1 AP to move, but it takes a Russian infantry unit 4 AP to fire whereas a typical German infantry unit only needs 3 AP to shoot. Thus, A Russian unit will only be able to fire once per activation unless they call upon Command Action Points (CAP – representing higher HQ and prior planning). A German infantry unit can fire twice without calling upon CAPs. This subtle one-factor difference brings out so much of the command & control issues facing the combatants without needlessly complex rules.

fullsizeoutput_242This past weekend, the RockyMountainNavy Boys (even the oldest) play Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! – Russia 1941-42 (2nd Edition). We played Firefight 2 with four commanders (two per side). IT WAS A BLAST. The rules were easy for me to teach (and the boys to learn) so we got into PLAY right away. All the RMN Boys are now Conflict of Heroes fans (dare I say the youngest is a FANatic?).

I have also purchased the Firefight Generatorand the Solo Expansion. I saw Uwe demo the Solo Expansion with its 'Athena AI' at CONNECTIONS 17 and I have to say I am VERY INTERESTED.

The Eastern Front Solo Expansion is the highly anticipated rule set that has been in development for over 3 years! A player will be able to play Awakening the Bear against a highly reactive game AI. This AI is based on the most modern Emergent Behavior and Agent Based Logic programming systems. AI units are not individually programmed like in past solo games. Instead, each situation is evaluated and the best course of action using available AI resources and unit assets is implemented. This is a radical and groundbreaking implementation of advanced computer programming by Academy Games for their Conflict of Heroes series. Players will be surprised by the AI strategy and actions that emerge as a result of the player's own battle tactics. This may force even veteran players to hone and adapt their own playing styles in order to overcome the AI. (From the Academy Games website)

Honestly, I found many solo game engines quite cumbersome; or very formulamatic (see Tokyo Express from Victory Games, 1988). The Athena AI, implemented using cards in the Conflict of Heroes system, looks to create a "living opponent" again without a burdensome rules overhead.

Though not recognized as one of the true "Grognard" wargame companies, Academy Games is truly on the cutting edge of game design. There are several other companies trying to do the same, but it remains to be seen if the wargame hobby as whole can keep up with the likes of Academy Games.

RockyMountainNavy Verdict: MORE MORE MORE!