Sometimes it is easy to see how the worldwide shipping challenges are changing the wargame/boardgame industry. Most visible are the delays in getting a product to market. Worthington Publishing saw what was happening and took a different approach in the publication of their “Bookgame” series:
The design of this Bookgame came about as we looked at some of our board game designs that could be delivered quickly in a book format during backlogs of worldwide shipping and supply chains caused by a pandemic. Waterloo Solitaire fit well. It could do all a board game could do if 1 die and a pen could be provided by a gamer.
Waterloo Solitaire, Designer Notes and Strategy
Using a Christmas Amazon giftcard, I ordered Waterloo Solitaire and after just a few days the book arrived. These Bookgames are print-on-demand and of good quality being standard 8.5″x11″ softcovers in full color. Waterloo Solitaire is 60 pages of which six are rules and a detailed example of play, and the rest are 24 scenarios (12 French, 12 Allied) each with two facing pages (there is one more page of Designer Notes and a scoresheet).
The rules for Waterloo Solitaire are very easy to digest and one can get playing quickly. Each turn is a simple five step process:
Choose Player Action
Roll for Opponent (BOT) Action
Resolve BOT Action
Resolve Player Action
Mark Turn and begin New Turn.
In Waterloo Solitaire each formation on the player side has a limited number of activations. When you activate, one simply notes the turn of activation. The player also has access to “Combined Actions” which activate multiple formations at once with a generally helpful die modifier. Seeing as a single d6 is used, the BOT action is easy to resolve and usually consists of five “attack” choices and a “special events” which calls for another d6 roll. Combat in Waterloo Solitaire uses a single d6 and a straight-forward table. Hits are marked off unit boxes.
Victory in a battle of Waterloo Solitaire is also very straight-forward. The French player wins if any two Allied formations (Allied Left or Right Wings or Reserve) are destroyed. They lose if at the end of any turn if all the units from the French I or II Corps are marked out. When playing the Allies, victory comes if the Allied Right and Left Wings have ANY units remaining at the end of Turn 18 or if the French I and II Corps are destroyed.
Not wanting to mark up my Waterloo Solitaire book, I photocopied the map-side of the first scenario which is a French player against a “Challenging Allied BOT.” I quickly lost as I failed to reinforce my I Corps and lost the last unit in Turn 5. I quickly reset (photocopied a new sheet) and restarted. This time my French (barely) won on Turn 13 with the destruction of the Allied Left and Right Wings. The Prussians never arrived to the battle (never rolled a 6 for an Allied Action). In total, the first and second play of Waterloo Solitaire battle took about 20 minutes.
[As I was writing this post I looked closer at the 12 French scenarios and realized there are actually only three sets of four scenarios. Each “set” uses a slightly different BOT (“Challenging,” “Veteran,” or “Tough”)—you actually play each scenario four times in a set. The same goes for the 12 Allied battles. Honestly, that’s a slight disappointment but in retrospect not surprising. Developing six BOT tables may be all the game design can handle.]
To experiment with the different BOT challenges in Waterloo Solitaire I advanced to playing the French against the “Veteran” BOT. The battle was more of a near-run thing for the Prussians arrived and attacked my French I Corps late in the game. However, on the Hougoumont side of the battlefield II Corps with some reinforcements from the Reserve got the best of the Allied Right Wing and, after the Imperial Guard couldn’t finish the job, were exhorted by Napoleon himself to attack just one more time and rolled up the Allied Reserve on Turn 11 for the victory just as those pesky Prussians arrived in force.
While the game mechanisms of Waterloo Solitaire are simple, it surprised me as the how much I was pausing to think about what units to activate. The designers were quite accurate when they said, “You make the decisions on the best way to pursue your strategy.” As the French you MUST attack but you also have to manage your reserves all while awaiting the blasted Prussians. As the Allied player you have to stall and await the arrival of the Prussians. Both sides demand playing with finesse.
Waterloo Solitaire is highly suitable to be added to my “Office-al” games collection as it is a perfect lunchtime pastime. The fact that each battle is fought more than once is not necessarily bad; as a player you now have multiple chances to explore the battles and the randomness of the BOT will very likely assure that no two games ever are the same.
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!
Recently visited the Seattle area and found The Waffler, a most excellent breakfast restaurant!
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)
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!
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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
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.
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.
[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.
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.
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.
Scythe Complete Rulebook (Stonemaier Games, 2020): Publisher-direct Preorder.DELIVERED.Having recently started replaying Scytheand nearing completion of our The Rise of Fenriscampaign 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.”
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.
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.”
French & Indian War 1757-1759 (Worthington Publishing): Kickstarter Wargame. From aJuly 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!!!”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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 GeekListsits 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:
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!!!”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.