Sunday Summary – Catching up on @kickstarter & playtest commitments #wargame #boardgame @Academy_Games @stuarttonge @DracoIdeas @fortcircle @Bublublock @FoundationDietz @Worth2004 @hexsides

While my summer gaming has been languishing lots of work from Kickstarter campaigns continues. Some of the news is better than others and all seem to be feeling the effects of the shipping industry challenges.

Speaking of playtesting, I am overdue in getting the playtest kit for Warsaw Pact by Brad Smith to the table after he also graciously provided it to me. Looks like I have some printing, cutting, and taping in the (overdue) near future!

Full Foodie

Recently visited the Seattle area and found The Waffler, a most excellent breakfast restaurant!

Breakfast Waffle Sandwich with Home Fries. Yes, it’s as big as it looks!

Sep/Oct #Wargame #Boardgame Acquisitions featuring @gmtgames @hollandspiele @worth2004 @MultiManPub @LnLPub @Academy_Games @FFGames @UnstbleUnicrns @MoonrakersGame

In early September I wrote about how many games might be arriving into the RockyMountainNavy gaming collection given the reawakening of the publishing industry as they struggle to recover from COVID-19.

Boy, did I underestimate myself.

Turns out that between September 1 and October 15 I took delivery of 16 (!) items into my gaming collection. This includes:

  • 8 wargames (+3 expansions)
  • 3 boardgames (+1 expansion)
  • 1 accessory

I also diversified my acquisition chain. In addition to Kickstarter and publisher pre-order systems, I also used a local flea market, online digital, BGG trading, publisher direct sales, and (gasp) my FLGS!

Wargames

Washington’s Crossing (Revolution Games, 2012) – A not-so-complex look at the Trenton Campaign of 1776. My more detailed thoughts are here.

Flying Colors 3rd Edition Update Kit (GMT Games, 2020)(Expansion) So many Age of Sail games take a super-tactical view of ships that playing them can become unwieldy. Flying Colors takes a more ‘fleet commander” point of view; here you can be Nelson at Trafalgar, not Captain Hardy. The 3rd Edition Update Kit brings my older v1.5 up to date with the latest counters and rules, allowing me to set sail for new games in the future.

White Eagle Defiant: Poland 1939 (Hollandspiele, 2020) – The follow-on to the gateway wargame Brave Little Belgium (Hollandspiele, 2019). Don’t let the low complexity of the rules fool you; the game is full of impactful decisions. I have more thoughts here.

French and Indian War 1757-1759 (Worthington Games, 2020) – Another entry in my collection of Worthington block wargames. Simple rules but deep decisions. It’s been a long-time since I labeled a wargame a “waro” but this one crosses over between the wargame and boardgame crowds.

Harpoon V: Modern Tactical Naval Combat 1955-2020 (Admiralty Trilogy Group, 2020) – More a simulation model than a game. I’ve played and owned Harpoon titles since the early 1980’s. Can’t help myself; I love it.

Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989 (Multi-Man Publishing, 2020) – Another entry in the Standard Combat Series from MMP. I like the multiple eras of play and the ‘Road to War’ rules that deliver replayability in a (relatively) small package.

Konigsberg: The Soviet Attack in East Prussia, 1945 (Revolution Games, 2018)Acquired via trade. I like chit-pull games as they are good for solo play. I am also interested in this title because of the time period; I have played Operation Barbarossa to death and am interested in a late war perspective when the Soviets were on the offensive and it was the Germans rocked back on their heels.

Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010)Acquired via trade. Got through a trade more on a whim than with any real thought. First look is a very simple ‘Cold War Gone Hot’ wargame. Realistically it has only seven pages of rules!

Nations at War: White Star Rising (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010) – I don’t really need another World War II tactical game system; I’m very happy with my Conflict of Heroes series from Academy Games. Acquired through trade with no real big expectations. First impression is this platoon-level game is reminiscent of PanzerBlitz (Avalon Hill, 1970) but with chit-pull activation and command rules (both of which I really like). Maybe some interesting potential here, will have to see…. (Acquired at same time were two expansions: Nations at War: White Star Rising – Operation Cobra and Nations at War: White Star Rising – Airborne)

Boardgames

One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020) – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; worker placement games is not really my thing. However, I really do like One Small Step. Not only does the theme engage me but the team play version of worker placement makes it a good game night title for the RMN household.

Star Wars: Rebellion (Fantasy Flight Games, 2016) Acquired via flea market. I jumped at an opportunity to get this game via a local flea market at an excellent price. Thematically excellent but I still have doubts concerning gameplay. It does create a very good narrative though….

Here to Slay: Warrior and Druid Expansion (Unstable Games, 2020) (Expansion) Here to Slay is the #1 played game in the RMN home. The RMN Boys (and their friends) love it. The game is far from perfect; like many others I don’t feel it is anything like an RPG as it proclaims and it’s too easy to win with “six classes in your party” versus slaying three monsters. Maybe this new expansion will change that with a bit more focus on the warrior class. Maybe….

Moonrakers (IV Games, 2020)Fresh arrival. Bought because I keep looking for a decent Traveller RPG-type of boardgame or something that captures the same vibe as Firefly: The Game (Gale Force Nine, 2013). My other attempts to find these types of games, Scorpius Freighter (AEG, 2018) and Star Wars: Outer Rim (Fantasy Flight Games, 2019) were less-than-successful. This title just screams OPA in The Expanse. Playing it will have to wait as there is a backlog of games in front of it in the to-play queue (obvious from the above).

Accessories

Sirius Dice: Spades (Sirius Dice) – I picked these up sorta on a whim. They look and feel good. If I ever get back to playing RPGs they may come in handy.

#Wargame Wednesday – Chronicling my French and Indian War 1757-1759 (@worth2004, 2020)

One of the new wargame arrivals this past week was my Kickstarter Exclusive edition of French and Indian War 1757-1759 from Worthington Publishing (2020). In a ‘Wargame Wedge’ posting I talked about my expectations going into the game, in particular how this game could serve as a weekday filler game, the simultaneous hidden movement, and it’s possible use as a ‘gateway wargame.’ After my first play, my initial impression is very favorable and I feel French and Indian War 1757-1759 is indeed a both an ideal ‘weekday filler’ and ‘gateway wargame.’ My thoughts on the Simultaneous Hidden Movement await further play.

Pre-Game

Game day started out with the obligatory stickering of the blocks in preparation for play. Here I realized that my game shipped with two DIFFERENT sticker sheet; the standard and the Kickstarter Exclusive. Both sheets have a complete set of stickers and a spare set. I used one of the Kickstarter Exclusive sets; I’m not sure what I really can do with the others.

Standard Stickers (left) & Kickstarter Exclusive (right)

A note on components of French and Indian War 1757-1759 here. In a word – Gorgeous. Hats off to Sean Cooke who did the Artistic Design and Layout. It starts with the box which features Washington at the Battle of Monogahela by Emanuel Leutz (ca. 1858) which depicts the moments George Washington takes charge of the British cannons. The use of the tomahawk in the logo is also inspired. I’m not sure which painting the inside box edge uses but it certainly is period-correct. The map is simple yet functional. It doesn’t matter which sticker set you use; both are easy to understand.

Box Cover featuring ‘Washington at the Battle of Monogahela’

I also didn’t find a bad block in my entire set. In my past experience with Worthington Publishing block games there is usually a few blocks that are chipped or dinged.

Blocks as shipped – No chips or dings in this set!

The Way of War

For my first play of French and Indian War 1757-1759 I used the historical set up. Here I feel designers Mike & Wylie Grant of Worthington missed a (small) beat. The units in FaIW are named but the set up only calls out the different classes. For a ‘historical’ game where I see named units, I sorta expected to see a ‘historical set up’ that uses those named units. I don’t think it adds any extra work as I’m sure the designers had the information; they just needed to put it in the historical set up.

Set Up Player Aid

When I first looked at the Sequence of Play for French and Indian War 1757-1759 I thought there was no way it would play fast. After all, each of the three Campaign Years (1757-1759) is composed of 11 (or 12!) turns. However, given each side can only move one unit or group each turn, each turn is very, very quick. I used the alternating movement method each turn where both sides roll a d6 with the high roll choosing who goes first.

Mounted Map (folded) showing Turn and Casualty Tracks

[Here I found it useful to use two of the extra blocks (one from each side) and stacked them according to the initiative order near the Turn Track to help players remember.]

(My) French and Indian War 1757-1759

Game set up and ready to play

The French started out the first three turns of 1757 gaining the initiative. They pushed down the Montreal – Fort St. Frederic – Fort Carillon line and ejected the British from Fort William Henry. After the fall of Fort William Henry the French were so swollen with victory fever that when they got the initiative again they set off against Albany. Here the French were rebuffed and forced to retreat back to Fort William Henry. The balance of 1757 saw both sides reinforcing their thinned out forces at Fort William Henry for the French and Albany for the British. As winter approached, the French realized that Fort William Henry, being an opposing location, could not supply the number of forces there. In FaIW, each winter turn features Winter Attrition where units in excess of the capacity of an area lose strength points due to overcrowding. Fort William Henry has a Winter Attrition Value of 1 meaning any unit past the first suffers attrition (except for the first Irregular unit). Furthermore, in opposing locations (enemy spaces) the Strength Point (SP) loss is doubled. Not wanting to face this awful attrition, the French actually spent the last few turns of 1757 withdrawing forces back to Fort Carillon (Winter Attrition Value = 2), Fort Saint Frederic (Winter Attrition Value = 1), and Montreal (Winter Attrition Value =3).

[What an awesome way to sneak supply rules into the game without forcing players to trace supply lines or the like. It also captures the feel of the campaign season during this age of warfare and the risk of pushing too far into the fall before getting into winter quarters.]

At the end of 1757 there had been casualties but little actual exchange of land. The British also controlled the Atlantic (worth 2 Victory Points (VP)). Although the French occupied Fort William Henry and Oswego the year actually ended in a 5-5 VP tie.

If 1757 was a good year for the French then 1758 proved a near complete disaster for them. British reinforcements consisting mostly of Regulars flowed into New York and marched up through Albany into Fort William Henry. In 1758 the French get far fewer reinforcements and it proved difficult to get forces to the right place to oppose the British. The British set off from Fort William Henry and quickly defeated the French at Fort Carillon and Fort St. Frederic. Much like the French in 1757 looked at Albany, the British could not avoid the lure of Montreal which they took after a short fight. Alas, just like the French the year before the British too proved incapable of holding a prize city. French reinforcements from Quebec finally arrived and ejected the occupying British from Montreal. Part of the reason the British proved incapable of holding Montreal is because two French Militia troops set out through Hampshire and Deerfield before actually threatening Boston. The British needed to shift forces to defend Boston and New York; forces urgently needed to reinforce the battle lines at Montreal. After the French ejected the British from Montreal the British, like the French the year before, moved back through Fort Saint Frederic to Fort Carillon to find safer winter quarters.

A comment about battles in French and Indian War 1757-1759. The use of the custom dice make this simple ‘roll a 6 to hit’ game quite a bit more interesting. When rolling in combat, units hit on a roll that is the same as their unit type – Tomahawks for Irregulars, national flags for Regulars, and muskets for Militia. Naval Units hit on ships and the star is used for retreats.

Custom Battle Dice

Further, the Battle Sequence nicely captures the difference in capabilities of Irregular, Regular, and Militia forces. Although you will find the usual defenders fire first in combat, the Battle Sequence actually has three stages. In the first stage, Irregulars fire suffering a -1 die in the first round if attacking a port or a fort. In the second stage, Regulars fire, and in the 3rd stage Militia fire suffering a -1 die in the first round against Forts or Ports. Retreats are also possible, but when doing so the retreating unit must roll a custom die and if they roll their symbol or the special starburst they suffer a hit. Taken together the combat system neatly captures the essential element of 18th century combat in the frontiers of America in a set of short, easy to learn and easy to use rules.

Battle Board

[In combat I also found another use for those extra blocks. Since larger battles are moved off the main map to the Battle Board, I found it useful to place a block of the attackers color in the space of the battle to help remember who was the attacker and where the battle took place.]

The year 1758 ended with the British not occupying any French locations while the French held only Oswego. The British retained control of the Atlantic. The British were slightly ahead on eliminated French units. The year ended with 11 British VP against 8 VP for the French.

In 1759 British reinforcements, consisting entirely of Militia forces, streamed towards the frontiers while only two lone French units arrived. With neither side finding success up and down the Hudson River Valley both looked for alternate lines of approach. The year started out with the French winning the initiative for several turns which allowed them to launch a mixed Irregular/Militia force from Fort Dusquesne through Cumberland into Alexandria. Once again, the British shifted forces from New York and Philadelphia to face the threat. Meanwhile, the British finally took advantage of their control of the Atlantic and launched another drive into New France, this time from Halifax to Quebec whose defenses were weakened by the French in a quest to build a solid front above Fort William Henry.

[A comment about Naval Units. In the basic rules when ships are hit they simply return to their respective holding box. I strongly recommend the use of Optional Rules 13.2.3 where hit ships are turned face down and unplayable for TWO turns and retreating naval units are turned face down for ONE turn. The simple rule change adds to the value of the Naval Units and makes you really think about how long you want to stand in to combat.]

At the end of 1759 the British had ‘clearly’ won the war. The British ended the year with 20 VP against 9 VP for the French. To win the game of French and Indian War 1757-1759 the British need 10 VP more than the French. Surprisingly, as lopsided as the score was it actually was a very narrow British victory.

Post Game

As tight as this first game of French and Indian War 1757-1759 was it still was played in less than 90 minutes. Thus it appears the title will indeed be that good ‘weeknight filler’ game I hoped it would be. The game also proved easy to learn and quick to play yet still captured much of the feeling of combat in that era. The use of blocks, the simple ‘roll a 6 to hit’ variant combat system and easy retreat rules as well as the winter attrition rules all comes together in a game that doesn’t feel like a complicated wargame. Indeed, I think many boardgamers looking for to add a bit of conflict simulation to their collection can’t go wrong if they invest in this game.

I think we are going to get a few more play of the basic rules under our belt before we try the Simultaneous Hidden Movement rules. I also need to try the solo bot – but that’s going to be yet another day.

#Wargame Wedges – Early Thoughts on French and Indian War 1757-1759 (@worth2004, 2020)

This past week saw yet another wargame arrival with the delivery of the Kickstarter campaign for French and Indian War 1757-1759 from Worthington Publishing. I am a bit of a late-comer fanboy to Worthington Publishing owning only five of their titles (six if you count the Soviet Moon Expansion to Tranquility Base). Which is sad because several of these games, Enemies of Rome and Hold the Line: The American Civil War are favorite games of RockyMountainNavy Jr. and RockyMountainNavy T respectively. As I read the rules and get ready to play the game the first time here are some of my early thoughts:

  • Weeknight Filler: French and Indian War 1757-1759 is a relatively simple to learn area movement block game. The rulebook is 12 pages with the last page being a player aid. The game is supposed to be playable within an hour making this an ideal candidate for a weeknight filler game. In the RockyMountainNavy house, we often need a weeknight filler game, especially these days with RockyMountainNavy Jr. back to school (sorta) and RockyMountainNavy T underemployed (thanks COVID). Having a game that we can pull out and play after dinner without going too deep into the evening is very valuable.
  • Simultaneous Hidden Movement: Many block games by their very nature introduce a Fog of War element in that you can often see the blocks but don’t always know what it is until you engage with it. French and Indian War 1757-1759 introduces a simultaneous hidden movement system that looks interesting. Maybe we will try it someday. We might even adopt it, as long as it doesn’t extend game time too much and ruin the ‘filler game’ aspect we are looking for.
  • Gateway Wargame: RockyMountainNavy Jr. is also interested in this game as a possible ‘gateway wargame’ that he could use with his friends. The table presence of Worthington Publishing games is always noteworthy; the use of blocks and areas instead of traditional wargame hex & counter make their games more approachable (presentable?) to non-wargamers who nonetheless are interested in a good boardgame.

It is very likely that RockyMountainNavy T and myself will get a chance to play this game in the next few weeks. We just need the right weeknight opening.

September #Wargame #Boardgame Forecast – It’s Raining Games!

In late June I made a bold forecast that as any as nine (9) of 27 games I had on preorder or Kickstarter could deliver by the end of July. Alas, it didn’t quite turn out that way.

August looked much better. Let’s see what happened this month and look a bit ahead to September….

Delivered

  1. Undaunted: North Africa (Osprey Games, 2020)Preorder Waro. DELIVERED. Good game slightly marred by the printing errors….
  2. Fort (Leder Games, 2020): Publisher-direct Preorder. DELIVERED. Who are your friends? Only the ones you play with!
  3. Quartermaster General: The Cold War (PSC Games, 2018)Online Retailer Purchase. Strategy Wargame? – DELIVERED. BGG lists this as a wargame. Not so fast….
  4. Scythe Complete Rulebook (Stonemaier Games, 2020): Publisher-direct Preorder. DELIVERED. Having recently started replaying Scythe and nearing completion of our The Rise of Fenris campaign its good to get all the rules in one organized place. Email Update 28 Aug“To-date we have not found a single instance of a rules error impacting gameplay in the 136-page document. Except in one section. The Automa rules need some work. I apologize for this and we take full responsibility. We believe these errors are large enough to justify a reprint. The good news is that many of you don’t play using the Automa (solo mode), and may never reference this section of the rulebook. But if you use the Automa or plan to in the future, we will send you a new spiralbound Scythe Complete Rulebook for free.” Here’s what we’ll do. Simply fill out this form and we’ll send you another Scythe Complete Rulebook when it’s reprinted in a few months using the mailing address from your previous order.”
  5. Dragomino (Blue Orange Games, 2020): Bonus Purchase – DELIVERED. Billed as “My First Kingdomino” I was a bit dubious as to how they could accomplish this. After all, Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017) is already a very simple game. Ordered as part of the Gen Con Online specials. SO HAPPY! Mrs. RMN introduced this game to all her students; all love it. Even RMN Jr (Mr. Kingdomino in the RMN House) likes to play!
  6. Dig Dog Dig (Flying Meeple, 2019): Bonus Purchase – DELIVERED. Another game bought to support the younger students of Mrs. RMN. This title is criminally under-appreciated. At heart a memory game, the toy factor and play makes this perfect for the early reader or younger gamers in your family.

Still Waiting

  1. One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020)Kickstarter Boardgame. UPDATE from August 7– “The container ship Seaspan Raptor is currently off the coast of Mexico and will arrive at the Panama Canal today. It is expect it to arrive in Florida August 10th! Your games will be shipped to you by Quartermaster Logistics, located in Orlando, FL hopefully by the end of next week.” NOTHING SEEN/HEARD SINCE.
  2. The Shores of Tripoli (Fort Circle Games, 2020)Kickstarter Waro. August 10 Update: “I also have some bad news. The shipping date from China has been pushed back further – to September 7. Just as you all have shown patience with me, I know I have to show patience with the folks manufacturing the game. But it is still extremely frustrating. And, unfortunately, airmailing the games here is truly cost-prohibitive – sink the company, never to be seen again level of cost-prohibitive. So this means it won’t be in anyone’s hands until October.”
  3. French & Indian War 1757-1759 (Worthington Publishing): Kickstarter Wargame. From a July 29 Update “The ship carrying both CRUSADER KINGDOMS and FRENCH & INDIAN WAR will hit the port in New York August 13.  We should expect for us to receive the games within 2 weeks of that barring a customs snag. Thats means it is possible we may be shipping the last week of August, and if not then the first week of September!!!”
  4. Flying Colors 3rd Edition Update Kit (GMT Games): P500. Charged 05 August. To ship shortly thereafter. Enroute!

New Orders

  1. Empire of the Sun, 4th Edition (GMT Games, 202?): New to the P500 this month. Could. Not. Resist.
  2. Supercharged (The Dietz Foundation, 2021?): Kickstarter. Looks like a good racing game. As the husband of a mother that uses boardgames to teach I also like what the Dietz Foundation stands for. Here he talks about how to use racing games (like Supercharged) for learning. At the time of this post, it sits just under 80% funded with about 20 days to go. HEY, RACING FANS! LEt’s get behind this!

“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.

UPDATED July #Wargame #Boardgame Forecast – HOT to NOT!

In late June I made a bold forecast that as any as nine (9) of 27 games I had on preorder or Kickstarter could deliver by the end of July.

Not so fast.

It looks like the boardgame/wargame publishing industry is coming back, but at a bit of a slower pace. Let’s look at my forecast and then discuss the reality.

  1. One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020)Kickstarter Boardgame. An update from mid-May stated that shipping in July was expected. I have not seen an update since. Academy Games does not have the best track record for keeping to timelines but that negative is more than compensated by the top-quality game that usually ends up being delivered. UPDATE from July 8 – “August 11, 2020 Arrival Date: Jacksonville, FL, USA. Note, that shipping to Florida takes 10 days longer than to our normal shipping destination in Cleveland. To Cleveland, the product is shipped to Seattle, WA and then transported by rail to Cleveland. Whereas to Florida, the ship needs to steam to Panama, cross through the Panama Canal, and them make its way up to Florida. USA and Canadian pledges will be shipped from Quartermaster Logistics, which is based in Orlando, FL.”
  2. Wing Leader: Origins 1936-1942 (GMT Games, 2020)P500 Preorder Wargame. This one is a lock as I already have my UPS tracking number with delivery scheduled for 1 July. UPDATE: DELIVERED July 3.
  3. Philadelphia 1777 (Worthington Games, 2020)Kickstarter Wargame. A late June update reported the game is arriving at the freight-forwarder and Worthington expects to take possession early in July and start shipping immediately. UPDATE: Delivered July 17.
  4. The Shores of Tripoli (Fort Circle Games, 2020)Kickstarter Waro. Coronavirus delays have pushed this one back from April, but it looks like July is seriously in play. UPDATE from July 21 – “My post-pandemic expectation was that our print run would be ready to ship from China in early July. Because of a bottleneck at one of the factories (our manufacturer, Panda, uses three different factories for our game – one for the dice, one for the wood pieces and one for the printing and final assembly), the games will not be ready to ship from China until mid-August. The slow boat from China takes five to six weeks, so I am looking at alternatives – mainly, having enough copies airmailed to our distribution points (we are using Quartermaster Logistics and their overseas partners) so we can ship to all of our backers before the end of August. If it is not cost-prohibitive, that is the plan. But if it is cost-prohibitive, then we are looking at delivery in late September. Ugh, I do not even want to contemplate that. As I know more, I will keep all of you updated.”
  5. Here to Slay (Unstable Games, 2020)Kickstarter Card Game. Late June update reported game is out of production and on way to publisher for fulfillment. DELIVERED July 25.
  6. Undaunted: North Africa (Osprey Games, 2020)Preorder Waro. All looks to be on track for an early July release. UPDATE: Bought through a 3rd Party seller who expects it to their location “late-July.”
  7. Heights of Courage: The Battle for the Golan Heights, October 1973 (MMP, 2013)Sale Wargame. Bought as part of an amazing MMP sale in June. Having never ordered before from MMP I don’t know how fast they usually fulfill orders and realize coronavirus restrictions may be slowing them down. I had hoped to have these games in hand before July but it looks like they will not arrive until after the new month starts. DELIVERED JUNE 30.
  8. Panzer Battles: 11th Panzer on the Chir River (MMP, 2016)Sale Wargame. Like Heights of Courage above, this is another Standard Combat Series game. I have little experience with MMP so these two games will serve as my introduction to SCS. DELIVERED JUNE 30.
  9. Operation Mercury: The Invasion of Crete (MMP, 2017)Sale Wargame. On sale for an incredible $40 versus the usual $172. Will be my first foray into the MMP Grand Tactical Series (GTS) of games. DELIVERED JUNE 30.

It appears to me that shipping, not actual production of games, is a new long pole in the tent. Not surprising given the lack of air transportation worldwide. I know that many games are not airshipped, but the maritime shipping, rail, and truck industries are picking up other cargoes that air shipping used to handle leading in turn to a general slow down of those transportation modes. If you look close even Amazon Prime is sometimes backordered.

How about the look ahead to August? Here are what games may be in play (pun fully intended).

First, my Preorder & Kickstarter GeekList sits at 23 games. Of the three carry-overs from July (One Small Step, Shores of Tripoli, and Undaunted: North Africa) there is a good chance that all but Shores of Tripoli will deliver in August. Of the remaining 20 games:

  1. French & Indian War 1757-1759 (Worthington Publishing): Kickstarter Wargame. From a July 29 Update – “The ship carrying both CRUSADER KINGDOMS and FRENCH & INDIAN WAR will hit the port in New York Auugust 13.  We should expect for us to receive the games within 2 weeks of that barring a customs snag.  Thats means it is possible we may be shipping the last week of August, and if not then the first week of September!!!”
  2. Flying Colors 3rd Edition Update Kit (GMT Games): P500. Per July 23 Newsletter – “Charging August 5. Shipping roughly mid-August.”
  3. The Battle of Rhode Island (GMT Games): P500. Scheduled delivery 31 JULY.
  4. Fort (Leder Games): Publisher-direct Preorder. Scheduled for August release.

Of note, these are the three games I added this month:

  1. Buffalo Wings 2nd Edition (Against the Odds): Kickstarter Wargame. As the economy tanked I backed out of Wings of the Motherland from Clash of Arms. Mistake. Need to get that one too.
  2. Fort (Leder Games): Publisher-direct Preorder. After reading Dan Thurot’s review on Space-Biff this became a must-buy.
  3. Wing Leader Supremacy 2nd Edition Upgrade Kit (GMT Games): P500. I am a sucker for the Wing Leader Series. I have barely gotten Wing Leader: Origins to the table and Wing Leader: Legends is not quite to 500 orders. But. Must. Buy.

Looking ahead to the end of the year, it is possible that as many as eight or nine of the games on my current Preorder & Kickstarter GeekList could deliver. Like I said before, that would not only be good for me, but more importantly good for the gaming industry.


Feature image “United fleet grounded in Washington Dulles” James Dingell Photography

#Wargame #FirstImpressions of Campaigns of the #AmericanRevolution Vol. 4: Philadelphia 1777 (@worth2004, 2020)

LIKE MANY HISTORIANS, I FIND THE CAMPAIGNS OF 1777 in the American Revolution fascinating. On one hand you have the great American victory at the Battle of Saratoga, and on the other hand you have American defeats at Brandywine, Paoli, and Germantown and the loss of the capital, Philadelphia. Philadelphia 1777 (Worthington Publishing, 2020) focuses on the defense of Philadelphia, starting with the British landed at Head of Elk, Maryland and marching forth. Philadelphia 1777 is a low complexity wargame that captures the essence of the campaign that is easy to learn and fun to play while retaining sufficient historical flavor to provide insight into the decisions Generals Washington and Howe faced during this short month-long campaign. Philadelphia 1777 is Volume 4 in the Worthington Publishing Campaigns of the American Revolution Series. This is my first title in the series and my introduction to the rules.

‘Squarely’ a Wargame

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Worthington Publishing in one of the leading publishers to use blocks for their wargames, and Philadelphia 1777 is yet the latest in a string of block games. There are four different types of units represented by the blocks; Leaders, Regular Infantry, Artillery, and American Militia Infantry. Like most block games, you must apply the sticker to the blocks before your first play. In the cases of infantry and artillery the blocks are rotated as they absorb hits to ‘count down’ remaining Strength Points (SP).

The square map in Philadelphia 1777 depicts those portions of the mid-Atlantic colonies of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey over which the campaign was fought. The game uses point-to-point movement along roads with points often being those key crossroads or towns that acted as natural stopping points. Rivers and creeks, like Brandywine, are also identified and can become a key factor in movement and battles. The map also has several convenient holding boxes for you larger armies as well as the turn track, Action Point (AP) track, and a Weather track. There is also a separate 8.5″x11″ Battle Board.

Between the simple blocks and somewhat bland map, the table presence of Philadelphia 1777 appears a bit subdued. While the components don’t scream with bling, they are far more than functional; the blocks are wide enough not to easily fall over and the roads and points on the map are easy to see with those rivers and creeks being obvious too. In other words, the components deliver the information they need to and don’t get in the way of play.

History as a Wargame

I was fortunate enough that as Philadelphia 1777 arrived I was reading John Ferling’s Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence (Oxford UP, 2007). Chapter 8 “Choices, 1777” and chapter 10 “‘We Rallied and Broke’ – The Campaign for Philadelphia, September – December 1777” provide excellent background and a short, comprehensive narrative of the campaign as it unfolded. It is quite possible to use Philadelphia 1777 as a sand table to set up and follow the campaign. More importantly, it allows you to play out alternatives.

While Howe had his choice of where to land his British and Hessian force, Philadelphia 1777 starts with the historical landing at Head of Elk, Maryland. America forces are initially arrayed pretty much as they were in late August 1777 with Washington around Pawlett, PA, Sterling around Concord, PA, Greene near Wilmington, DE and Sullivan in Philadelphia. American state militia (ten units) are also present on the map with no more than one per location.

Action Point Action

Like many Worthington Publishing games, in Philadelphia 1777 both sides gain Action Points (AP) every turn to show the friction of war. Every turn (there are 20 in the game) starts with both sides determining how many AP they have. Both start with 2 AP and can gain as many as three more for the turn. Moving a unit requires the expenditure of an AP. Leaders have a group limit rating which is the number of units that can move with that leader. Obviously, with the few AP on hand each turn, Leaders become important to the maneuver of forces across the map.

Moving About

As already mentioned, Philadelphia 1777 uses a point-to-point map. Movement rules are quite simple with individual Regular Infantry and Artillery possessing one Movement Point (MP) per turn. Individual American Militia Infantry possess 2 MP, and Leaders have MP depending on who they are (usually 1 MP with a few having 2 MP). There is no limit to how many SP of troops can move along a road unless you cross a river when attacking where only 10 SP can cross in a turn. Units crossing a river must also stop at the next location even if they have MP remaining.

Every turn there is a 1 in 6 chance of poor weather. Poor weather reduces movement.

Battle Blocks

Combat in Philadelphia 1777 is insanely simple. When the active player moves into a location with enemy blocks a mandatory battle occurs. Battles take one of three forms:

  • Over Run: If three or more attacking units battle in a location with less than three defenders, the battle is an Over Run. All defending units lose 1 SP and must retreat. The attacker can continue movement if they have any remaining.
  • Skirmish: If the attacker has less than three units, then a Skirmish is fought. Using the Battle Board, all units are placed in the Center battlefield portion. American Militia unit that are forced to flee move to the Reserve but cannot renter the battle (more on flee later).
  • Larger Battles: In battles with three or more units on both sides are involved, then all locations (Left, Right, Center, and Reserve) on the Battle Board are used.

When fighting, a unit rolls a number of d6 equal to its current strength. Infantry (and Leaders) hit on a roll of 6; artillery hits on a roll of 5 or 6. The only time a block rolls less than its SP is when attacking across a river or against a fort when the unit rolls one die less than it’s SP for the first round. Additionally, anytime a British or Hessian unit rolls a 1 against an American Militia Infantry, the militia unit flees the battle. The militia unit is placed into the Reserve but cannot rejoin the battle.

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Cornwallis attacking Washington across a river….

Battles are fought until one player decides to voluntarily retreat, is forced to retreat, or is eliminated. In every round of combat, a unit can attack or move to a different location on the Battle Board.

If one side want to voluntarily retreat they remove all forces from the Battle Board and the non-retreating side gets one die roll for each infantry unit on the battlefield (not in the Reserve) as one last attack against the rearguards.

If one section of the Battle Board (Left, Right, or Center) is unoccupied then that side is forced to retreat. However, in the case of an involuntary retreat, all non-retreating infantry in battlefield positions get a final attack using their current SP.

Low Complexity but Deep Teach

Taken as a whole, the few movement and combat rules in Philadelphia 1777, while simple, are quite illustrative of warfare in the American Revolution. Rivers and creeks, as natural barriers, were prominent factors in battle locations. The Battle of Brandywine, part of the Philadelphia campaign, is a great example.

The special militia rules in Philadelphia 1777 are also highly illustrative. While militia start with less firepower than regulars, they have the advantage of greater mobility. In combat they tend to be fragile units and just as easily run away as they stand. Indeed, even with the regular combat rules one quickly discovers that staying in the battle until the bitter end is not worth the cost; better to run away when you can and fight another day.

Philadelphia 1777 also uses a set of simple supply rules. British and Hessian units must be able to trace a supply path free of enemy units to a port location. American units must be able to trace a supply path to any of four towns along their board edge. Units not in supply must take a Supply Reduction where each unit is reduced 1 SP up to a maximum of 10 SP for the turn.

Victory in Philadelphia

Winning in Philadelphia 1777 is straight forward. The British win if they occupy Philadelphia for two consecutive turns while in supply. Since British supply must be traced to any port location on the map, in effect this means the British must not only hold Philadelphia but also create a supply line to the city or seize Fort Mifflin on the Delaware River. The British also win if the American army drops below 20 SP (they start with around 60 (~40 Regular and ~20 Militia). On the other hand, the Americans win if they prevent the seizure of Philadelphia at the end of 20 turns or reduce the British/Hessian force to less than 25 SP (they start with ~85 SP).

Like history, it is difficult for the Americans to win in Philadelphia 1777. Not impossible, but difficult. Like Washington, the American player has a numerically inferior army with a large, sometimes undependable, militia element. Like Washington, they must slow down and wear down the British while not losing too many of their own force. The British, on the other hand again, must not lose focus of their objective and strike hard for Philadelphia while maintaining a supply line against those pesky militia and avoid being overwhelmed in any single battle against regulars.

Philadelphia 1777 is my first introduction to the Campaigns of the American Revolution Series and I like what I see. This low-complexity wargame covers a difficult campaign and is playable is two hours or less. Perfect for boardgame night. I see that I can get the first three volumes (New York 1776, Trenton 1776, and Saratoga 1777) at a nice discount….


Feature image courtesy Worthington Publishing

July #Wargame #Boardgame Forecast – HOT!

IT IS PAINFULLY OBVIOUS THAT CORONAVIRUS ADVERSELY AFFECTED THE HOBBY GAMING INDUSTRY. I have yet to hear of a game company that has gone under but it’s easy to see the stress many are operating under. As the economy starts recovering from coronavirus shutdowns more game production is coming back. Looking at my Preorder & Kickstarter Roll on BoardGameGeek, it looks like July may be a VERY good month for a return to gaming!

Of the 27 games I list on 28 June, there is a better-than-even chance that as many as nine (9), or 33%, could deliver or otherwise fulfill in July. These include:

  1. One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020)Kickstarter Boardgame. An update from mid-May stated that shipping in July was expected. I have not seen an update since. Academy Games does not have the best track record for keeping to timelines but that negative is more than compensated by the top-quality game that usually ends up being delivered.
  2. Wing Leader: Origins 1936-1942 (GMT Games, 2020)P500 Preorder Wargame. This one is a lock as I already have my UPS tracking number with delivery scheduled for 1 July.
  3. Philadelphia 1777 (Worthington Games, 2020)Kickstarter Wargame. A late June update reported the game is arriving at the freight-forwarder and Worthington expects to take possession early in July and start shipping immediately.
  4. The Shores of Tripoli (Fort Circle Games, 2020)Kickstarter Waro. Coronavirus delays have pushed this one back from April, but it looks like July is seriously in play.
  5. Here to Slay (Unstable Games, 2020)Kickstarter Card Game. Late June update reported game is out of production and on way to publisher for fulfillment.
  6. Undaunted: North Africa (Osprey Games, 2020)Preorder Waro. All looks to be on track for an early July release.
  7. Heights of Courage: The Battle for the Golan Heights, October 1973 (MMP, 2013)Sale Wargame. Bought as part of an amazing MMP sale in June. Having never ordered before from MMP I don’t know how fast they usually fulfill orders and realize coronavirus restrictions may be slowing them down. I had hoped to have these games in hand before July but it looks like they will not arrive until after the new month starts.
  8. Panzer Battles: 11th Panzer on the Chir River (MMP, 2016)Sale Wargame. Like Heights of Courage above, this is another Standard Combat Series game. I have little experience with MMP so these two games will serve as my introduction to SCS.
  9. Operation Mercury: The Invasion of Crete (MMP, 2017)Sale Wargame. On sale for an incredible $40 versus the usual $172. Will be my first foray into the MMP Grand Tactical Series (GTS) of games.

Looking ahead to the end of the year, it is possible that as many as half of the games on my current Preorder & Kickstarter list could deliver. That would not only be good for me, but more importantly good for the gaming industry.

#Coronapocalypse #Wargame Month-in-Review (March 15 – April 15, 2020)

HERE IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA the DECLARATION OF A STATE OF EMERGENCY DUE TO NOVEL CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) was issued on March 12, 2020. For me the real Coronapocalypse started on March 15, the day before I started my new job. The onboarding was surreal; rushed to get people out soonest, walking into a deserted office, then being told to go home and telework when I don’t even have an office account. Although the teleworking eventually worked out, I still found myself at home more than expected. Looking to fill my time, gaming has been a part of my therapy to avoid going stir-crazy.

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In the first 30 days of my Coronapocalypse, I played 19 different games a total of 38 times. Looking at the list, I think many will be surprised to see Elena of Avalor: Flight of the Jaquins (Wonder Forge, 2017) as one of the top-played games. This of course is because we were helping our friends with taking care of their kids while they were working. Fortunately, it is not a bad game – for kids – and was an unexpected discovery (especially given that we purchased our copy for less than $5).

I am very happy that I got in multiple plays of Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987 (GMT Games, 2019). Getting time to do multiple plays allowed me to get deeper into the design and enjoyment. The same can be said about Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid (GMT Games, 2017) which had the bonus of being a dedicated solitaire design that was perfect for Coronapocalypse gaming. This multi-play approach also enabled me to rediscover Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra, 2018), a game which I had under-appreciated.

Given I am stuck working at home, I tried to find ways to mix my wargaming into “professional training.” So it came to be that Next War: Korea 2nd Editions (GMT Games, 2019) landed on the table. I also ordered a copy of the game poster from C3i Ops Center for my new office but, alas, the California shutdown stopped it from being sent just after the label was created.

As disruptive as the Coronapocalypse is, here in the RockyMountainNavy home we tried to keep some semblance of order. This included our Saturday Boardgaming Night with Azul: Summer Pavilion (Next Move Games, 2019), 878 Vikings (Academy Games, 2017), Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017), and Firefly: The Game (Gale Force Nine, 2013).

This month I also explored a few more solitaire gaming titles in my collection. I continue to insist that AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018) is one of the best ‘waro’ games out there. I also got Mrs. Thatcher’s War: The Falklands, 1982 (White Dog Games, 2017) to the table right around the time the historical conflict started. Late in the month, my copy of Amerika Bomber: Evil Queen of the Skies (Compass Games, 2020) arrived. First impressions will be forthcoming.

Coronapocalypse also gave me the chance to play more one-on-one with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. RockyMountainNavy T continued his punishing win streak by besting me, again, in two plays of Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 2019).

The game of the month was actually the last one I played. I pulled Patchwork (Mayfair Games, 2014) out to play with one of Mrs. RockyMountainNavy’s students. The box was still on the table later that night and I asked Mrs. RMN if she wanted to play. She said yes. You have to understand that Mrs. RMN is a strong advocate of gaming but she rarely plays herself. So we set up an played. She beat me handily (I actually had a negative score). I hope this is a harbinger of future gaming, especially with a title like Azul: Summer Pavilion.

How has your Coronapocalypse lock-down gaming gone?


Feature image courtesy laughingsquid.com