March was a bit of a slow gaming month here at Casa RockyMountainNavy.
The numbers are a bit deceptive; 23 plays of 12 different games but if you throw out the 11 plays of Quarriors (WizKids, 2011) than that is a single play of most other games. Quarriors dominated the family gaming time this month with many games played in the short time after evening chores and bed time. Great family filler game!
After flirting with Villainous, I picked up the expansion. It kinda fell flat. There is not anything necessarily wrong with the game, it just didn’t grab us. Same goes for Illuminati; mechanically the game doesn’t know when to end and my older version has political and social references lost on the younger generation (to their detriment).
Speaking of Commands & Colors, there are some interesting developments in the series. I always understood that the main designer is Richard Berg, but didn’t realize until this month how the game license is divided up amongst publishers by era. GMT Games has Ancients, Medieval, Samurai, and Napoleonics; Compass Games has The American Revolution; Fantasy Flight Games has fantasy; PSC Games has World War I and space; and Days of Wonder does World War II. The question becomes who is going to do the American Civil War or the French & Indian War? This is important for my gaming budget!
I always remembered World in Flames (WiF)as a near-unplayable monster. Too many many maps. Too many rules. Too many counters. Too much time.
But it’s also really fun.
Why do I remember the game so poorly? Looking back, I think my friends and I were too ambitious. After all, we were wargamers! We can play ANY wargame, right? We were so good players we could jump right into the four-map campaign game like every sane grognard does. Truth is that approach doesn’t always work.
This time I took a much smaller bite of the WiF apple. I played the 5-turn introductory Barbarossa invasion scenario. Actually, I played the first turn twice because I messed up 15. Surprise.
My biggest take-away from playing WiFis that I can see how I have matured as a grognard wargamer in the past 20+ years since I last played this game. I now recognize that the Reorganisation action is actually the most important, especially 11.18.2 HQ Reorganisation. I used to hate any logistics or command rules that slowed me down; now I see that they are a critical part of the design elegance in WiF… and what an elegant design it is. So elegant in fact I want to try the other introductory scenario, Guadalcanal, and explore the naval aspects of the game.
Yes, you heard me; I want to play more WiF. I think another intro game is in store, and maybe a two-mapper campaign later this summer. Small bites.
There is a very good game here. The choices of major actions (Naval, Air, Land, Combined) is very interesting. It makes for challenging choices concerning in timing and forces used. WiF is still a big game, but it delivers big decisions too. It’s also much better than I remember.
Rediscovering WiFproves that older games still have much to offer. That thought is easy to miss in this era of FOMO* or CotN**. I have many games in my collection and many of them are criminally underplayed. My 2019 challenges are an effort to rediscover those older games and try each one at least once. As this play of WiFshows me, my memory of some of the games of yesteryear are cloudy and quite possibly incorrect. Thankfully, this is one correction I really enjoy.
Going into this part, I was very worried about the area that I would need to setup. Each of the four maps in WiF is ~22″ wide and ~33″ tall. Fortunately, for the introductory scenario 23.2.1 only the north half of the East Europe map is used. Thus, I was able to set up on a small low table (3’x3′) with extra charts and tables handy nearby. (Whew!)
I was also worried about the number of counters because, after all, there are over 3600 counters in the game! Remember that I am using the basic WiFrules and not all the expansions for this replay. This gives the Soviets 29 Land Units, 9 Aircraft Units, and 5 Naval Units at the start defending against a German invasion of 46 Land Units, 16 Aircraft Units, and one Naval Unit. That’s around 100 counters on a map area of 30×26 hexes. Note also the stacking limit is 2 land units per hex (2.3.1 Limits / Land unit limits). In other words, it’s manageable. (Double Whew!)
Sorting the counters did take a bit of time. When rereading the rules I noted 23.1.5 Sorting out the counters. Although the rules recommend sorting national forces by force pools, I instead just had a single large bag by nation. If I was ever to get seriously back into playing WiFI would absolutely need to do a major reorganization of all the counters!
[This is the point my wife usually reminds me that organizing yourself is the key to success. Yes, dear!]
The rules for the scenario setup are actually quite short. Amazingly, the Players’ notes take up over two-pages of space! This is absolute required reading for a first play…and digesting it takes time. It certainly helps to understand what you are getting yourself into!
So…set up and ready to go. Now for the plan of action….
So the next game in my 2019 Charles S Roberts Awards Wargame Challenge is World in Flames (Australia Design Group). This game won the CSR in 1985 for The Best Twentieth Century Game. I own the 1996 World in Flames Final Edition (or Sixth Edition). My WiF Deluxe also included Africa Aflame, Asia Aflame, Planes in Flames, Ships in Flames, and Mech in Flames. That alone is 7 maps and 3600 counters! I later added America in Flames and Carrier Planes in Flames for even more maps and counters. World In Flames is the very definition of a MONSTER GAME. Playing tie is rated on BGG as 120-6000 minutes (that’s right – 100 HOURS).
When I pulled out the box and started thinking about my challenge, I almost gave up. By God, it’s just too big! I don’t have the table space! I don’t have the time!
Instead, am going to take this challenge game in baby steps. Looking over the rulebook, I focused in on 23.2 The 5-Turn scenarios, in particular 23.2.1 Barbarossa ~ “One Kick…” The Player’s notes state, “This is the ideal scenario to try first because it deals mainly with the parts of the game most commonly used in general play, the land and air system.”
Whew. Baby monster!
Before playing a game, and especially before playing a game I have not played in a long while, I need to review the rulebook. In this case, I was able to read the rulebook and skip major sections (like 9. Declaring War) since I know they do not apply. I also decided to forego the Optional rules and focus on a basic game.
In World in Flames, each turn is broken down into Impulses and within each Impulse you can choose an Action. There are only five Actions to chose from; Pass, Air, Naval, Land, or Combination. Another important concept is Reorganisation. Then there is Production….
I vaguely remember back in the day when I got this game not understanding this whole idea of Impulses and Actions. Reorganisation also befuddled me, and I wanted to fight, not plan an economy! Just give me movement points for a counter, by gosh! Looking at it from today’s perspective, I can see that I have matured as a gamer and am more ready to accept alternate design mechanics. What I viewed in 1996 as unfathomable I now see as a very interesting design approach to modeling total warfare at the operational-strategic levels of war.
My next step in the challenge is to set up the scenario. Oh boy….
This is the time of the year that many in the boardgame community start their “challenges” for the coming year. The classic is the 10 x 10 – pick 10 different games and play each ten times during the year. As a wargamer, I sort of like that thought but want something more applicable to my niche of the hobby.
The other night I was messing around with the Advanced Search function of BoardGameGeek and sorting my collection in different ways. For some reason I noticed certain games of mine are Charles S. Roberts Award winners. This drew my attention because wargamers know that Mr. Roberts is the father of modern wargaming:
Charles S. Roberts…invented the modern wargame industry virtually single-handedly. As a designer and original owner-operator of Avalon Hill, he was responsible for the creation of the first modern wargame, including many of the developments, such as the Combat Results Table (CRT), which were later to become commonplace. (grognard.com)
The Charles S. Roberts Awards (or CSR Awards) was an annual award for excellence in the historical wargaming hobby. It was named in honor of Charles S. Roberts the “Father of Wargaming” who founded Avalon Hill. The award was informally called a “Charlie” and officially called a “Charles S. Roberts Award”….Created at the first Origins Game Convention in 1975….The last year the awards were given was 2012.
After sorting my game collection, I discovered I own 20 CSR Awards winners. The challenge I am giving myself is to play all 20 games at least once by the end of calendar year 2019.
Kidding aside, I am very pleased with the game. Cataclysm: A Second World Warchallenges my perceptions of what a grand strategy game of World War II by delivering a game where players control the narrative of the conflict. In Cataclysm, player decisions (political and military) really matter!
…a quick-playing game about politics and war in the 1930s and 40s, designed for two to five players. The three primary ideologies of the time contend to impose their vision of order on the world. The Fascists (Germany, Italy, and Japan) seek to overthrow the status quo, which favors the Democracies (France, the United Kingdom, and the United States), while the Communists (the Soviet Union) look for opportunities to storm the global stage.
The description goes on to say:
Not Your Father’s Panzer Pusher
Cataclysm is unapologetically a game of grand strategy. Military pieces have no factors or ratings. The capability of your forces increases as you shift the commitment of your economy from civilian to military production. Land, air, and naval forces all have their role in prosecuting war. There is no Combat Results Table; instead, battles are resolved by opposed die rolls with a limited number of modifiers capturing the most important operational effects. The area map emphasizes political boundaries, drawing attention to strategically critical territory, encouraging players to think in broad terms of resource acquisition, control of border states, and the perception of power as the arms race plays out.
Growing up, two wargame titles epitomized “grand strategy” to me and have since influenced my thinking and perceptions.
The first was Rise and Decline of the Third Reichby designers Don Greewood and John Prados (a current favorite author of mine). Published by Avalon Hill Game Co., my gaming friend owned the Second Edition (1981). We got the game to the table a few times, the one time I remember best being an epic overnight birthday party where we actually played the full campaign game. What I remember about Third Reich is that it was long and focused near-exclusively on combat with little political choice. It is a game about “fighting” the war, but not the “whys” of the war.
The game is very detailed in its political aspect, and is more a political game than a wargame. Each country affected by the war is represented on an “ideological” chart which tracks the movement of the powers into the different spheres of influence: Fascist, Communist and Democrat. Where each country lies on this chart is vital to which country controls their decisions and forces. Political decisions are chosen from a large array of IPOs (International Policy Options) and a number of Political Options available only to the country that you’re playing.
As with WiF, I have tinkered with DoDIIbut never played it. The 300 minute playtime is a overwhelming frightening. These days I cannot imagine actually playing a full WiF game with DoD layered on top.
Component-wise, Cataclysm is simple. One can easily set up the entire game on a 3’x6′ table with plenty of room to lay out all the materials. The introductory/learning scenario (C.2 Days of Decision) could be played on a 3’x3′ table if necessary. There are less than 500 counters and 160 cubes*.
Rules-wise, the mechanics of Cataclysmtake some learning. It’s not that they are difficult (indeed, almost everything is resolved with a simple die roll) but there is much choice. Behind each choice is a decision that must be made and Cataclysm gives the players many choices. I strongly recommend that after reading the Rulebook new players set up Scenario C.2 and step thru the Example of Play in the Playbook. It won’t take long but physically moving the pieces and reading the reasons why enhance the learning. For me learning is best actively experienced not just passively read which s why I enjoy Playbooks so much these days. Once thru reset the game to the beginning at start over. This won’t take long; Cataclysm is quick-playing and I made it thru the Playbook example and my own session in about 4 hours.
My early plays of Cataclysm challenge my perceptions of how a grand strategy game of World War II can be shown on the gaming table. Cataclysm is so much more than Third Reich because it gives the players narrative control (to steal an RPG term) over the war. Cataclysmdelivers this narrative control using political and combat concepts much simpler than Days of Decision and are part of the game not an adjunct add on. In a time when I am gaming more, but actually have less time for each game, the thought of being able to play an entire war (1933 to 1950?) in 5-6 hours means this one has a real chance of landing on the table.
To me, Cataclysm: A Second World War is the love-child of Third Reich and Days of Decision. That is, a much smarter and modern love-child in that the combat and political mechanics of Catayclsm are much more streamlined that either of the former. This makes Cataclysm a playable grand strategy game – filling a niche in my gaming collection that I didn’t realize I was missing.