#Wargame Wednesday: Save Me! Nations at War: White Star Rising (@LnLPub, 2010)

“Your turn.”

“Let me reach into my magic bag here and see what I get. Oh, will’ya look at that?”

“Yeah for me.”

“OK, first I roll for morale. I need a 7 or less. (Dice rolling). Heh heh.”

“You just got lucky.”

“Well, now I’m going to move like a hellcat through these woods, stopping at the edge and attack at point-blank range. So….I get to roll 3d6 and any 4 or more is a hit, agreed?”

“Short range is -1, but moving is +1, right? So they cancel out. OK.”

“Alright (dice rolling). Well, look at that! Three hits!”

“Lucky….but I still get my saving roll. Lets see…Mr. Tiger defends with 3d6 and any 4 or better blocks a hit. Good odds….(dice rolling)….Well, frak.”

“Oh, darn your bad luck – nothing. So my three hits get through. Lets see, first disrupts, second is step 1, third is step 2. You’re dead!”

“Well blast. And here I always thought Tigers were powerful.”

This (somewhat) dramatized exchange was not taken from a roleplaying game session. It describes an actual engagement between an American M18 Hellcat tank destroyer and a German Tiger I tank in the wargame Nations at War: White Star Rising from Lock ‘n Load Publishing (2010). What I hope stands out to you is that very non-classical, no odd-based combat resolution system. Indeed, the combat mechanics of Nations at War: White Star Rising is what sets the game apart to me.

Another Tactical WWII Game?

I recently acquired Nations at War: White Star Rising (hereafter NAW:WSR) in a trade. The copy I got is a ‘players copy’ in relatively good shape. A previous owner took it upon themselves to clip most of the corners on most of the counters. I traded more out of curiosity than to get another tactical World War II game; one of my favorite wargames (of all eras or types of conflict) is Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel 3rd Edition (Academy Games, 2019) and I was sure this would not replace that game in my pantheon of wargame heroes. That said, the Nations at War series struck me with a bit of a PanzerBlitz-vibe and I thought it would be good as a simpler, quicker-playing wargame for weekday nights against my battle buddy RockyMountainNavy T.

A Systematic View

I admit it; I am a bit of a game mechanics freak. I love playing wargames to not only explore the history of the situation, but to also explore how different designers approach an issue. When I got NAW:WSR to the table I quickly discovered that the initial PanzerBlitz-vibe I got was purely from scale and looks. As I explored the gameplay in NAW:WSR I discovered a very different approach to depicting conflict in World War II. The system integration of Chit-Pull, Command & Morale, and a different Combat model make NAW:WSR a unique game that captures the essence of the fight in a very streamlined set of rules

Well, Chit

Each turn in NAW:WSR is very straight-forward; Pull a Formation Marker from the cup and execute actions with that formation. Once two End of Turn chits are drawn, the turn ends and play proceeds to the next turn. Yes, NAW:WSR uses that favored mechanic of mine – chit pull. This makes the game both very-solo friendly but also introduces some ‘friction’ into play since players can never be sure just when they are going to activate.

Command & Morale

The second element of the design of NAW:WSR that I really enjoy is the simple command rules. Each formation has at least one Headquarters that is rated for Leadership, Command Range, and Morale. When the formation is activated all units check to see if they are in command range; if yes they activate normally. However, if a subordinate unit is NOT in command range, they need to pass a Morale Check (each hex rolls equal to or less than the Morale Level) in order to activate normally. If the unit fails the Morale Check, an Out of Command marker is placed on the unit that limits what it can do during the turn. This simple mechanic nicely captures the essence of the C2 problems forces on the battlefield faced – again using a relatively simple mechanic that plays quickly without bogging down the turn.

Combat Saves

As you can see from the narrative at the beginning of this post, combat in NAW:WSR is somewhat different than many wargames. Although this title has been available since 2010, this was the first time I can personally recall seeing this sort of system used in a wargame I own. But does it work?

NAW:WSR is a platoon-level wargame which places it in an interesting area on the spectrum of conflict simulations. Platoon-level games are simultaneously detailed and abstracted. The detail is often found in the order of battle for at the platoon-level you can easily depict the many elements of the combined arms fight. Thus, you don’t get just a Sherman tank, you can get an M4A1 or an M4A3E8 (aka “Easy 8”). To tactical gaming purist out there, those are two very different beasts!

The problem is that the detailed order of battle in turn demands a way to differentiate units in terms of their capabilities. Traditionally, hex & chit wargames use the classic Attack-Defense-Movement triumvirate of ratings to describe units. This simplification sometimes has difficulty keeping up with the detailed order of battle because unless you get more detailed the abstraction of triumvirate often fails to differentiate between units. The lack of differences can be made worse by the use of a traditional Combat Resolution Table (CRT) that strictly compares odds. A greater part of this issue is the classic use of 2d6 for games which limits the range of results and can be very sensitive to modifiers if not used carefully.

NAW:WSR takes a different approach to differentiating units by using five descriptive ratings:

  • AP Firepower rated by Range-Firepower-To Hit#
  • HE Firepower rated by Range-Firepower-To Hit#
  • Assault Factor rated by Assault Factor-To Hit#
  • Armor Value rated by Armor Value-Save#
  • Movement Factor

Taken together, these ratings can be used to describe a finer grade of differences between combat systems without becoming too detailed. One can capture which weapons reached further than others; the combination of Firepower and To Hit# gets to now only who throws more ordnance downrange, but how likely it is to do something if it hits. Then there is the Armor Value and Save# which not only describes how much armor there is but how likely it is to actually do something.

It’s easy to see that the designer of NAW:WSR tried to avoid an odds-based Combat Resolution Table (CRT). To attack, the player selects the appropriate Firepower ensuring that the target is in Range (Extended and Reduced Range is possible) and then rolls a number of d6 equal to that Firepower. Every die that is equal to or greater than the To Hit# scores a Hit. If the target is a ‘soft target’ (non-armored) they roll a number of defensive d6 equal to the terrain defense bonus. For every defender die that rolls five (5) or greater one hit is ignored. In a similar fashion, ‘hard targets’ (armored vehicles) roll a number of defending d6 equal to the Armor Value plus the terrain defense bonus. Each defense die that rolls equal to or greater than the Save Number offsets one hit.

This is how you get a US M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer (AP Firepower 6-3-4) attacking a German Tiger I (Armor Value 3-4) at range 1. The Hellcat has a Special Scenario Rule (SSR) that allows it to move up to three movement points and still shoot but at a penalty of +1 on the To Hit#. During the turn in question, Kamfgruppe Beck (the Tiger I formation) had already activated and the Tiger I moved resulting in an Ops Complete marker being placed on the unit. When the 507 PIR formation was activated (the M18 being cross attached) the Hellcat player recognized that since the Tiger I was Ops Complete it was not eligible for Opportunity Fire. Using the SSR the M18 moved through a hex of woods and pulled up one hex from the Tiger I. The M18 then took the shot at range 1 (Reduced Range) which is -1 on the To Hit#. The Hellcat here rolled 3d6…and each was a 4 or greater scoring three Hits. The Tiger I attempted to save itself and rolled 3d6 (Armor Value) but got no additional defense bonus die because it was in open terrain. None of the three die rolled were equal to or greater than 4 meaning all three Hits scored. This was enough to outright destroy the Tiger I. That was by far the best outcome for the Hellcat because if the roles were reversed it is doubtful the Hellcat would survive. The Tiger I would attack at 7-3-3 whereas the Hellcat defends at 1-6. At Reduced Range that AP Firepower becomes 7-3-2 meaning any of the 3d6 rolled that come up at 2 or more is a hit. The poor Hellcat would get a defense bonus die for being in the woods but even so that’s only 2d6 rolled…and each needs to be a 6 to offset a hit!

All of which is a long-winded way of saying the Save Number works. Even in a wargame. When it comes right down to it, the combat model in NAW:WSR is not really all that different than the traditional odds-based CRT, it just uses a different randomizer model to deliver similar odds. The real difference is that the NAW:WSR model “operates faster” because there is little need to “math it out;” instead you simply pick up dice and roll comparing to a number on the counter.

What’s Old is New Again

Nations at War: White Star Rising will get to the table against my battle buddy. The relatively small footprint and quick-playing nature of the game along with just enough ‘detail’ helps to create an immersive, narrative gameplay experience. The different mechanics are just that, different.

After #SpringBreak Di$ney it’s time to get back to #wargames

I have not played a wargame or boardgame in over a week now. Not because I have stopped playing; instead I have been off playing with the RockyMountainNavy Family at DisneyWorld. Now fully recharged I am ready to get back to the gaming table!

ZQXOtLiRS4yH9j7lKgkrigBefore Spring Break, I had several opportunities to play @HBuchanan2‘s Campaigns of 1777. These days I am becoming a sucker for the chit-pull mechanic in games as they make the game very solo-friendly even without a dedicated solitaire version. I am also a sucker for wargames the American Revolution era. After driving from Virginia to Florida and passing by several Revolutionary War sites, I really hope he goes ahead with southern campaign version too!

sru0+D2iRSaTaHyp5osoWwAround the same time Campaigns of 1777 arrived I also too delivery of my GMT Games P500 order of @tdraicer‘s The Dark Valley Deluxe Edition. This is in many ways a modern monster game covering the complete Eastern Front campaign in World War II. I bought into the game based (once again) on the chit-pull mechanism that I enjoyed in the previous Ted Racier/GMT Games title, The Dark Sands. I have to admit that I want to get this one to the table soon; as I was inspecting the game and had the board laid out Youngest RMN and I started looking at the geography and talking in general terms about Operation Barbarossa and Eastern Front. Historically I have avoided anything above tactical-level games about the Eastern Front; looking to change that with The Dark Valley!

Y0BIfKqBQvWvDsPxZeosHgFinally, on the day before we travelled, a relatively new publisher, Canvas Temple Publishing, delivered their Kickstarter for WW2 Deluxe. This is supposed to be a game where one can play the European Theater (or Western Front) in World War II in an evening. First pass through the rulebook and components looks promising!

We actually took a few boardgames with us on vacation but were lucky and had not bad weather days so the games remained unplayed. The RMN Boys did play a few games of Ticket to Ride or Battlelore or 1775: Rebellion on the iPad but I didn’t get to play (something about driving and playing at the same time just doesn’t work!). We had considered taking Villainous with us but thought that would be too much Disney. So, with vacation behind me and now emotionally recharged, it’s time to get back to wargaming and boardgaming.

 

#WargameWednesday – Deep Play of Patton’s Vanguard (Take Aim Designs/Revolution Games, 2017)

Patton’s Vanguard: The Battle of Arraourt, 1944 covers key battles in September 1944 in the Lorraine region of France. Designed by Mike Rinella (Michael Rinella on BGG) with graphics by Charles Kibler (BGG link), the game was published by Take Aim Designs and Revolution Games in 2017. Although I had played the game twice while on a road trip, it was not until this last weekend that I really played a deep dive of the First Scenario.

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Patton’s Vanguard comes with two scenarios, each covering four days battle. Turns are a single day, units are Company-level, and the map uses areas to segment the battlefield. The really interesting game mechanic is found in 8.0 Impulses. Each Impulse the German then the American player performs one action. If the first American die roll (DR or 2d6) of the turn is equal to or greater than the Impulse number, the next Impulse is played. If the DR equals the Impulse number the weather also changes. If the DR is less than the Impulse number the Daylight Phase of the turn ends and the Refit and End Phase is executed and play goes to the next Turn. This mechanic is called the Sunset DR. It is what makes Patton’s Vanguard a tense game; one can never be sure just how long each turn will last. With only four turns to achieve victory the pressure is on the Germans to attack.

Using an area map also means there are no Zones of Control. Well, not officially. One of the hardest concepts for me to wrap my head around is the concept of Contested Areas in the game. Contested Areas first appears in 7.0 Stacking and Control.

7.4 Contested – An area is considered Contested if it contains units of both sides. Contesting an Area that is controlled by the enemy does not alter control of that Area. Units within a Contested Area may only conduct a Ranged Attack (8.1.2) or Bombardment (8.1.3) against enemy units within that Contested Area.

Sounds simple enough. An Area with units from both sides is Contested. Units in Contested Areas can only use Ranged Attacks or Bombardments. Looking at 8.1.2 The Ranged Attack Impulse further specifies in part:

….A ranged attack may not be declared in Fog Weather (9.1)….Units in the Active Area may attack (only).

The sticky wicket here is that each turn the weather starts at Fog Weather and it stays that way until the Sunset DR changes it or Impulse 6 when the fog automatically burns off. So units in a Contested Area cannot move –  or attack – in Fog Weather.

OK you say, so armor and infantry can’t attack if stuck in a Contested Area during Fog Weather. Just use your artillery to bash’em.

Hold on. 8.1.3 The Bombardment Impulse states in part:

Artillery and Air Bombardment may not be declared in Fog Weather (9.1).

So OK, find a way to move them. Maybe 8.1.4 The Regroup Impulse? Be careful though:

….Units within a Contested Area may not Regroup into another Contested Area, even if friendly controlled….

In my postgame review I discovered the counterbalance to Contested Areas. It is 11.1 Mandatory Attacks and 11.2 Optional Attacks. Specifically, 11.1 says in part:

….If a Mandatory Attack results in a Repulse (11.5.4) all participating units must retreat (14.2).

11.2 Optional Attacks states in part:

….Moving units may not join with units already within a Contested Area (7.3) to make one combined attack.

Which shouldn’t make a difference until one reads Repulse in 11.5.4 Computing Results:

….Retreat is required in cases of Mandatory Attacks (11.1). Attacking units making an Optional Attack (11.2) may not retreat.

Why this detailed discussion? Because I totally messed up Mandatory Attacks and the Repulse part of 11.5.4 in my deep dive game. I didn’t retreat correctly (i.e. often enough) meaning I missed many opportunities for an Assault (move & attack) by making units too sticky with Contested Areas.

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End of First Scenario…sort of

You might be thinking I am hating on Contested Areas and all the nuanced interactions with movement and attack and retreat. YOU. ARE. WRONG. I actually think Contested Areas is a BRILLIANT game mechanic and the very heart of Patton’s Vanguard. I am not disappointed or angry after my deep dive game, I am immensely happy that I unlocked another level of understanding in this game.

I am also amazed at the amount of chrome that is found in the short 16-page rulebook. Chrome like US airpower or weather or historical leaders. Chrome that is seamlessly integrated into the game and contributes to the experience rather than a useless bolt-on mechanic put there to be “historically accurate” with no real game reason.

Patton’s Vanguard is a refreshingly different operational-level view of the Battle of Arracourt. Kudos to Mike Rinella for delivering a tight, tense game. Even though I made mistakes the game continues to intrigue me. Will have to get it back to the table for the larger Second Scenario covering September 25-28, 1944.

 

 

 

#FirstImpressions – Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games, 2018)

Once again, I blame @PastorJoelT on Twitter for this purchase.

Kidding aside, I am very pleased with the game. Cataclysm: A Second World War challenges 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!

GMT Games describes Cataclysm: A Second World War as:

…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 Reich by 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 “second” game that clouds my thinking is actually two linked games. World in Flames (Australian Design Group) is a MONSTER game that covers the fighting for the entire war. I have never played a full game (up to 6000 minutes according to BoardGameGeek). The second-second game is Days of Decision II again by ADG. DoDII is a complete game of global politics starting in 1936 but it can be combined with WiF. As the BGG entry states:

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 DoDII but 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*.

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Scenario C.2 Days of Decision Set Up

Rules-wise, the mechanics of Cataclysm take 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.

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C.2 Days of Decision – end of 1940. Germany strikes west and Paris falls

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. Cataclysm delivers 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.

*(Sigh) Lots is being said about the color of the “white” cubes. Just play with good lighting.

 

 

#Wargame Wednesday – Merrill’s Marauders (Decision Games) First Impressions

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Merrill's Marauders: Commandos in Burma 1943-1944, Decision Games, $12.95. Designed by Joseph Miranda. Part of the Commando-series of games. A Decision Games mini-series product which is intended to be introductory-level and playable in an hour or less. Comes with an 11"x17" mapboard, 40 counters, 4 mission cards, 14 event cards, a four-page series rulebook and two-pages of scenario instructions. Play time is rated at 1-2 hours, but this seems to be the time necessary for an entire four-mission campaign as an individual mission can take 30 min or less.

Merrill's Marauders is a solitaire game that covers commando missions behind enemy lines in Burma during World War II. The player is the Allied commandos while the game engine is the OPFOR (opposition force). The commando player has to enter the map area and recover objectives while avoiding ambushes and other patrolling Japanese units. The game comes with four "missions" that can be played separately or strung together to form a campaign. The Mission Cards specify the number of objectives and ambushes to be secretly placed, the mission objectives, how many "operations" (time) is allowed, the force level available to buy, and any leaders. During each operation a stack of units move and event cards are drawn to determine what happens next. Battles are a simple nd6 roll against a Battle Results Table and is bloody.

The rules and game mechanics for Merrill's Maraudersare easy and certainly meet the "introductory-level" criteria of a mini-series game. The map is extremely functional, with almost all the information needed to play on it. Once the rules are learned (not a very steep learning curve to achieve) between the map and the event cards almost all the information needed to play is present. The "Operations" mechanic which counts down the number of operations (actions) available to the commando player is a nice touch that adds a time-crunch element, and winning battles (gaining Operations Points) becomes a key part of the commando players strategy. Although only four missions are included, the variable setup ensures the few missions are not going to be identical, leading to increased replayability.

Although the rules are easy to learn, they also are the weakest part of the game. This is because more than a few of the series-standard rules are superseded by the scenario instructions and the differences can dramatically alter play. For instance, standard rule 16.0 EVENT CARDS specify that when a commando force ends its movement, an Event Card is drawn. If there is an objective marker in the space, one Event Card is drawn normally and implemented, then a second Event Card drawn and implemented. This goes hand-in-hand with 23.0 OBJECTIVE MARKERS which specifies that a marker is not revealed until AFTER the two events are played. However, scenario instruction 38.1 Objective Segments & Real Objectives are revealed before drawing an event card and if an Ambush no Event Card is drawn. Elsewhere, standard rule 22.0 KILLED IN ACTION (KIA) which scores panicked and eliminated units is totally changed by scenario instruction 39.9. This change is welcome, but even with this change the ability for the commando player to score the necessary KIA to win is extremely difficult to achieve.

Despite the rules challenges that require careful reading and cross-referencing the first few times thru, Merrill's Maraudersturns out to be a short, enjoyable game that really captures the flavor of commando actions behind enemy lines. Once the rules are understood, the game becomes a deeply narrative experience that can turn out to be quite immersive.

RockyMountainNavy Verdict: MUST PLAY

#ModelMonday -The Me-262 (Pegasus Hobbies)

img_1375Another weekend another model for Little RMN. This time it’s a Pegasus Hobbies 1/48-scale German Me-262 jet fighter from World War II. I really like the Pegasus Hobbies models; these are snap-tite and go together really well. They come molded in a base color making the paint job one step easier. This Me-262 will soon be joining others World War II fighters in the “dogfight corner” of his bedroom ceiling.

Book Finder – February 2017

Visited the Friendly Local Model Shop today. They are (unfortunately) going out of business following the death of the owner. As part of their end-of-days, they put all their items up on a great fire sale.

img_1351Among the many models were more than a few books. I picked up a few. As you can see, they were mostly Osprey and cover some eras I really love, like the Falklands War, and aircraft I admire (Tomcats Forever!).

After playing Wing Leader: Victories and Wing Leader: Supremacy, I realized I don’t know as much about Japanese fighters as I thought I did. The Japanese Army Air Force Aces 1937-45 book is the usual Osprey-fare with many pictures and plates and just enough depth to make it interesting. The Japanese War Machine is a 1976 publication and is what I call “coffee-table history;” i.e. an oversize book with many pictures and maps and not too in-depth text.

Air War in the Falklands 1982 looks to be an updated version of an earlier Osprey publication. Glancing through it I noticed many more Argentinian pictures and related text. It is good to see “the other side” of this war.

Iranian F-14 Units in Combat is another “forgotten war” book. As much as the US flew the F-14, it was Iran who flew the Tomcat in combat during the 1980’s. There are many little snippets in here that make good scenario fodder for Flight Leader or Air Superiority or Birds of Prey.

I am also very blessed in that my boys are interested in history and are voracious readers.  They too will read these books and we will likely have several long discussions about them. Although I didn’t pay much for these book, the real payoff is in the talks with my boys which are priceless.