In my local area social distancing has been in force for about a week now.
Schools are closed thru mid-April.
Mass transit is “essential travel only.”
Office is teleworking to maximize social distancing.
The nature of my job does not lend itself well to social distancing as in-person ‘collaboration’ is a vital part of the business. The nature of our product is not also conducive to working from home. So my coworkers and I have to make do.
Luckily for me, gaming crosses both work and family. The past week I conducted ‘deep analysis’ of a conflict simulation involving the Korean Peninsula. Here I used Next War: Korea 2nd Ed (GMT Games, 2019) along withNext War: Series Supplement #1(although I didn’t use the Cyber Warfare rules) and Next War: Series Supplement #2to go in depth. I played two scenarios; a Standard Scenario to familiarize myself with the basics of the Next War game system and an Advanced Scenario to go more in depth. I didn’t really keep up on Victory Conditions as I mostly used the game to explore the order-of-battle and relative combat potential of the major combatants. I noted some professional qualms with a few rules; I will dig into those deeper at a later time. All in all a good ‘deep dive’ into the military situation on the Korean Peninsula. I also ordered a Next War: Korea poster from C3i Ops Center. I’m not sure it will arrive anytime soon as it looks like I just missed getting it shipped before the Coronavirus shutdown order in California started.
On a more personal note, RockyMountainNavy T and I restarted our playthrough of all the scenarios in Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 2019). We played two scenarios; Little Round Top and Chickamauga. This time RockyMountainNavy T took the Confederates while I took the Union. Didn’t matter; he still soundly trounced me at Little Round Top (0-7) and although I did better at Chickamauga (3-7) he continued his unbeaten streak. The game mechanics in the Hold the Line series definitely seem to favor the defender – in each game he has not only tenaciously defended his lines but also rolled quite well for Bonus Action Points and when attacking or making a Morale Roll. Myself on the other hand….
One evening, the oldest Boy, Big A, joined us for a rare 4-player session of Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017). [EoR is on sale for $37.50…a real steal for a great family lite-waro]If there was one negative it was that Big A is not aware of our usual no cellphones at the table rule. He rarely plays a boardgame with us so rather than make it an issue I let it slide. After the game the other RMN Boys mentioned how distracted he was, missing changes in the game state and not thinking much about his moves. No wonder he placed last. We agreed that family boardgames are supposed to be for family togetherness and cellphones just distract.
I ordered Azul: Summer Pavilion (Next Move Games, 2019) from Miniatures Market for a family-friendly abstract boardgame. Mrs. RMN is occasionally helping take care of a few kids when their parents have to work. One of them, a fifth grader named Miss Courtney, is anxious to play boardgames. She is an only child but really enjoys sitting down at a table to play games. I think can tell she really craves the social interaction. She is also a great artist so a game like Azul should capture her imagination (much like Kingdomino from Blue Orange Games has already).
I also tried to help local retailers a bit this week. I visited our FLGS, Huzzah Hobbies, and picked up the Terraforming Mars: Folded Space Insert v2 (Folded Space, 2019). The RMN Boys also used the trip to stock up on paints and other supplies for their plastic model building hobby (looks like they have LOTS of time to work off a few projects – as I should too). I encourage everyone to do what you can for small local businesses during this challenging situation. For ourselves, when getting to-go food we are bypassing the chains and making a dedicated effort to use local Mom & Pop restaurants instead. Not only is the food better but you can also see how much they really appreciate your business. Further, the entire community will be better if they are around in the future!
AS OF THIS MORNING (15 MARCH), my local county health department is reporting 10 ‘presumptive positive’ cases of COVID-19. The school district has already shut down thru 10 April and many events are cancelled to encourage ‘social distancing.’
In the RockyMountainNavy household, we have dealt with COVID-19 since Mrs. RMN returned from Korea right as the epidemic was breaking out there. She laid low for 14 days not because of self-isolation but because others avoided her (the worst ‘racists’ are often from one’s own race). Now there is panic in the wider community (why are people hoarding toilet paper?) and much is being cancelled. One aspect of social distancing we are practicing is to distance ourselves from social media. Frankly, its all doom and gloom with lots of disinformation. In a practical response this means that wargames and boardgames are hitting the gaming table more often.
I want to thank all of you who took the time to make my post RockyMountainNavy’s influential #wargame from the 2010’s my most-read article this year. Sensing a good thing and wanting to keep try and keep the bandwagon going, I now will regal you with my fifteen most influential boardgames that I own or played that were published between 2010 and 2019.
Like I said in my wargames of influence post, I ‘rediscovered’ the hobby boardgame industry in late 2016. Sure, I had some hobby boardgames, but I had not seriously tried to get the family into gaming. In late 2016 we started playing more games and by late 2017 we had instituted a Family Game Night on Saturdays.
As a grognard wargamer, moving from wargames to boardgames was a bit jarring. I mean, you often times play with more than one opponent? Although they were not new to me, I really came to understand the Ameritrash vs Eurogamer battle and started looking at games from both a thematic and mechanical perspective. Along the way, I never gave up on wargaming and introduced the RockyMountainNavy Boys to the wargame niche. The challenge was finding good multiplayer wargames that could be played in an evening.
Here comes the Waro
I needn’t have worried, for in late 2017 a new ‘genre’ of boardgames was starting to be talked about. Here came the waro, or wargame-Eurogame. There is no single definition of what a waro is, but to me it is a wargame that incorporates elements, be it mechanical or component-wise, of Eurogames. In 2019 Brian Train used the term, “militarized Eurogame” which I find both very simple and highly descriptive. So the list you are about to see has more than a few waro games on it. That is because as a wargamer these titles often speak to me and have brought gaming joy tot he RockyMountainNavy household.
Unlike my previous list which was presented in order of year of publication, this one will be a vain attempt by me to rank them. Please don’t ask me to define my criteria; this is really a ‘gut feel’ of how I rank these games. Like before, the list is light on pre-2016 games because it was then that I turned hard into the hobby. I am sure some real gems from earlier in the decade deserve to be here; I either don’t own them or simply missed them as I took in the later-half of the decade.
The ‘dungeon crawl’ is a very popular boardgame format. In the RockyMountainNavy house we tend to stay away from fantasy but the RMN Boys are Star Wars fans so we own and played Star Wars: Imperial Assault after it came out. I recognize that the game is very popular (currently #37 overall on BoardGameGeek) but as big fans as the Boys were the game never really clicked. Indeed, the entire dungeon crawl gaming genre (as well as man-to-man scale skirmish games in general) seemed kinda lost on the Boys and myself. That is, until I played Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon.
Maybe its the 3D terrain. Maybe its the fact I am not familiar with the setting and therefore more open minded. Maybe I am more accepting of modern superpowers vice always fighting Star Wars ‘canon.’ Whatever the reason, I really enjoy the game. I really like the character and unit tableaus and how they enable handling them in a very easy manner. There is no need to lookup a table or chart; its’ all really in front of you.
Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon makes my influential list because it shows me how a skirmish / dungeon crawl-like game can be made fast, fun and furious (to steal another RPGs tagline).
According to BGG and Stronghold Games, AuZtralia is an “adventure/exploration game.” To me, I think they forgot “wargame.” To me, AuZtralia is a waro but in a slightly different sense of the word. In the first part of the game, AuZtralia is a Eurogame of building railroads and seeking resources. At some point, however, it switches over to a wargame where your armed forces (supported by certain individuals) are fighting the Old Ones. I like this schizophrenic design approach. It is certainly one way to approach a waro; in this case one I really enjoy.
AuZtralia is influential because it shows the very direct marriage of a Eurogame and wargame.
I think Cataclysm has an identity crisis. Thematically, the game covers the Second World War periods. Published by GMT Games, it just must be a wargame since that is what GMT publishes, right? To all of you I say, wrong! To me Cataclysm is not a wargame of military conflict, but a game of politics where military action is one possible tool in your kit. Yes, I declare that Cataclysm is a political game. Like the ad copy says, “This is not your father’s panzer pusher.”
Cataclysm is influential because it forced me to stretch my definition of wargame and give serious consideration to the politics of conflict, not just the military confrontation.
The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself are not really into cooperative games. That said, we always have fun playing the original Pandemic and have used it to introduce hobby boardgaming to others. That said, we are not huge fans so have not sought out other Pandemic titles. That is, until Pandemic: Fall of Rome came out. At first I bought the game because I had dreams of enticing the oldest RMN Boy (the non-tabletop gamer) to play because he loves ancients. That didn’t work, but I discovered a new Pandemic, one that included ‘battles.’ Like AuZtralia, I categorize Pandemic: Fall of Rome as a waro because it very successfully mixes both Eurogame and wargame.
Pandemic: Fall of Rome is influential because it demonstrates the power of mixing a very cooperative ‘stop the spread’ Eurogame with key wargame (battle) mechanics.
As I really discovered hobby boardgaming (and wargaming for that matter) in late 2016 I heard about this thing called the COIN-series. At first I was not interested because professionally I tend to pay more attention to rogue nations and peer competitors and never really got into the counterterrorism or counterinsurgency areas. At the same time I also had moved to the East Coast of the US and was studying more Revolutionary history. I passed on COIN until I saw GMT Games getting ready for a second reprint of Liberty or Death. The approach of the game was intriguing; framing the American Revolution as an insurgency? I bought it and was confused at first. This is a complex game! But I persevered and eventually, after several plays, it started to click.
Liberty or Death is influential because this game showed me that games can be used to teach and explore very serious political topics.
Brian Train, co-designer of Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest, writes in the designer’s notes how this title is a “militarized Eurogame.” I adit I bought this game at first because it is a Brian Train design and I like how he sheds light on smaller or less known conflicts in history. The topic of Nights of Fire is very niche, the Soviet invasion of Budapest in 1956. Nights of Fire, however, uses a very Eurogame-approach to model this battle with cards and area control and blocks and tokens. This is really a card game with hand/action management and block wargame put together. I also respect the designers that were able to make the same game play competitive, cooperative, or solo.
Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest is influential because I consider it the best example of the ‘bleeding edge’ of waro design.
Root is a wargame, right? Look at BoardGameGeek where as I write this it is the 19th-ranked wargame (as well as the #33 Strategy Game and #39 overall). With all the battling in the game it must be a wargame, right? As much as I want to agree, I see two games here, but neither of them are truly a wargame. On the mechanical level, I am in awe of the design of Root that incorporates so many different game mechanisms into a well integrated package. Every faction plays differently, be it set collection or action-selection or hand management. I am totally amazed that Cole Wehrle makes this all work together. But none of those mechanisms are ‘wargame.’
On the second level, I see Root as a political game. Each faction has a different way to victory and battling is just one lever of power a faction can wield. Once again, you can play Root as a ‘wargame’ but, like Cataclysm before, this is really a political battle where fighting is a tool that can be chosen.
Root is influential because it shows me how one integrates many different game engines into a political game that is vicious despite the cute and fuzzy animals. Truly a wild kingdom!
Spoiler Alert – you’re going to see Kingdomino a bit later in this list. As much as we like that game, the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself also really enjoy Queendomino. That is because we view Queendomino as the ‘gamers version’ of Kingdomino. We really enjoy how the designers took the simplicity of Kingdomino and added jus the right amount of new mechanisms to make the game vastly more interesting yet still simple to play.
Influential because Queendomino demonstrates how to take a great simple game, add a bit of complexity, but still keep it easy and fun to to play.
Finally, you say! A game from before 2016! I think I actually bought this game in 2011 from Petrie’s Family Games when I lived in Colorado Springs. I seem to remember the owner, Cameron, giving me a strong recommendation and, seeking a game to play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys, I purchased it. Then life got in the way and I moved to the East Coast for a job while the RMN Family stayed in Colorado. It was not until 2013 that we were all back together again, but then I was concerned that all the reading on the cards and how to put a strategy together would be too much for my middle boy who is on the Autism Spectrum. As a result, we really didn’t get this game to the table until 2017.
Suffice it to say I was stupid. The RMN Boys can handle this game quite well. They love it so much they both put their own money forth to buy expansions.
Quarriors! is influential because it is one of the most-played games in the RockyMountainNavy collection and often used by the Boys to beat up on old Dad because they are much faster at building synergistic dice pools than I am.
A yellow- box game from HABA is for kids only, right? Sure, the box says for ages 5-99 but we all just know its really a kids game. WRONG! I cannot even start to count all the hours (and I mean hours) of fun play this game has occupied int he RockyMountainNavy house. Not only hours of fun for the RMN Family, but Rhino Hero is a title we use to introduce others to hobby gaming.
Rhino Hero is influential because it has opened the eyes of many non-gamer friends to a different type of family game and shown them good family fun.
When I pulled Kingdomino out the first time the RockyMountainNavy Boys were dubious. After all, how hard could it be to place dominos on a 5×5 grid? Years later this game is often the go-to when we need a quick filler game before dinner. Or when we want to introduce somebody to gaming. It is very easy to teach. I also enjoy watching a new player as they play their first game; you can literally see the lightbulb go on in their head as they realize what they can do when selecting a tile. You can see their eyes dart between the tiles and their kingdom, and eventually the other players, as the strategy develops in their head.
Kingdomino is influential because not only do we enjoy every play, it is our gateway game of choice to introduce others to hobby boardgaming.
Somewhere I think I heard that Terraforming Mars was a good science lesson. Wanting to encourage the youngest RMN Boy to pursue the sciences I purchased this game. At first I was doubtful as the sheer number of cards seemed overwhelming. I also was concerned (again) whether my middle boy could handle all the reading and assemble a strategy. Well, the youngest was taken by the game (“See Mom, it teaches me!”) while the middle boy caught on (maybe faster than I did). Once we added the Prelude expansion that jump-starts your Corporations we find ourselves playing this game even more often than we did before. Now our neighbors have the game, making a inter-family game night a real possibility.
Terraforming Mars is influential because it showed that we all can enjoy a good middle-weight Eurogame and are not limited to simpler titles or wargames.
(Yes, another pre-2016 title!) Alas, I did not discover this game until I had a conversation with Uwe Eickert of Academy Games at the wargaming conference CONNECTIONS 2017. While discussing his excellent Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear second edition (Academy Games, 2012) I mentioned I was always looking for a good family wargame. Uwe immediately sold me on his Birth of America series so we soon had 1775: Rebellion on the table. We now own the entire Birth of America and Birth of Europe series and we will surely buy any new game in the future.
1775: Rebellion is influential because showed us that a lite family strategy/wargame does not have to be Risk; indeed, there is much better out there that not only is fun to play but also teaches good history.
The lite family strategy/wargames of the Birth of America series (Academy Games) were such a big hit in the RockyMountainNavy house I went looking for more. Given the oldest RMN Boy’s interest in Ancients I chose Enemies of Rome as a good candidate game. Little did I realize how much the other Boys (especially the youngest) would be taken with the game. Enemies of Rome is one of the most-played games in the RMN collection and there is no sign the Boys are going to lose interest. Heck, even I will probably not lose interest because every play has been different. Just last week, I started out in Syria and halted my expansion across Africa because I was sure that card that brings hoards of ‘Enemies of Rome’ out across North Africa was going to come out next. It never did because it was one of the cards removed at setup. But I was so sure it was going to come I I followed a strategy that defended against a non-existent threat. Now the RMN Boys are looking to use this game for the Neighborhood Gaming Gang since it plays up to five.
Enemies of Rome is influential because it is our most-played lite family strategy/wargame that is simple to learn yet offers deep play time and time again.
Another recommendation from Uwe Eickert at CONNECTIONS 2017. I had never played a Eurogame of this sort before and my first reading of the rules were daunting. I played it solo a few times then tried to teach it to the RMN Boys.
Second is the game mechanics. Middle-Heavy Eurogames are not in our usual wheelhouse. Scythe was so different than anything we played before. But the asymmetric powers of the factions and economies makes no two games alike. The expansions are clean and add good flavor; the campaign is an incredible journey.
Scythe is influential because it opened our eyes to a whole new type of boardgame and it keeps us coming back with innovative expansions and endless replayability. I think we will still be playing this game in 20 years.
ENEMIES OF ROME (Worthington Publishing, 2017) is most-played wargame-boardgame in the RockyMountainNavy household. Yes, this grognard of 40 years has played this blocks and cards waro more times since I started seriously recording my game plays in mid-2016. Why this game?
Because it’s fun. Here is the publishers blurb:
You and up to 4 other players are one of Rome’s great leaders. Take control of legions and lead them across the known world for the next 600 years as you deal with uprisings, rebellions, political intrigue, and wars. Players can make alliances with one another (and true to Rome, break those alliances!) maneuver their forces and the enemies of Rome, all as they try to become the one true Caesar! All others are fed to the lions and their legacies lost to history…
I have discussed Enemies of Rome before. I initially started off a bit against the game but over time we keep coming back to it. Every time it gets better. Yes, even after 13 plays it still keeps the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself engaged. This weekend’s game night showed that Enemies of Rome always has surprises in store.
Unlike several other plays of Enemies of Rome, this game played out a bit differently with much more head-to-head battling. Although the game looks like it should be an area control game, in reality you score ‘Glory’ (VP) by winning battles. With this thought in mind I adopted a strategy of trying to win at least one battle every round. I also used Enemies of Rome (Barbarian) Movement to not only move Barbarians towards my opponents, but to also move Barbarians away from areas I wanted to attack. More than a few times I ‘cleared out’ an area and left it easy-pickings for myself. The strategy almost worked – except the RockyMountainNavy Boys caught onto what I was doing and quickly imitated my strategy.
In the end, RockyMountainNavy Jr, Proconsul of Hispania, and myself, Proconsul of Syria, were tied for Glory. The tie-breaker goes to the player with the most Legions on the map. Alas, that was not me.
Both RockyMountainNavy T and myself set Personal Best scores this game. All that in a game that took 90 minutes to setup, play, and tear down.
The RMN Boys noticed that Enemies of Rome plays up to 5 players making it a good candidate for the Neighborhood Gaming Gang. I get a feeling that our copy is going to get many more plays in the year ahead….
P.S. As I write this blog post (Jan 04, 2019), I notice that Enemies of Rome is ON SALE at Worthington for $37.50 as compared to a retail of $75.00. A REAL BARGAIN!
2019 was a pretty good year for gaming in the RockyMountainNavy household. This year, I played 119 games a total of 221 times. Compared to 2018, this was fewer plays (221 vs 357) but more actual games (119 vs 105). This year I only had two ‘Dimes’ (played 10 or more times) and three ‘Nickels’ (played 5-9 times).
Dimes & Nickels
Quarriors! (WizKids, 2011) – 21 Plays
Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 2019) – 10 Plays
The Mind (Pandasaurus Games, 2018) – 7 Plays
Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2016) – 6 Plays (including the first three episodes of the Rise of Fenris Campaign).
Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs (GMT Games, 2019) – 5 Plays
Eight (8) other games sat at four plays during the year and another seven (7) were played three times. Basically these top 20 most -played games account for around half of the game plays during the year.
What comes in 2020?
In an upcoming blog post I’m going to dig deeper into the numbers for 2019 but suffice it to say for now that it was a good year.
How was your year? What games are you looking forward to playing next year? For myself, I have a few new Gaming Challenges I am going to reveal just after the new year.
AS WE MOVE INTO THE HOLIDAY SEASON I am looking forward to the myriad of sales that are forthcoming from multiple game publishers. Well, at least the wargame publishers. The annual GMT Games sale is past and others are either underway or imminent.
Kickstarter doesn’t have any real ‘sales’ since their whole sell model is (supposedly) built on ‘deals’ for supporters. Timelines also are much different – order (and pay) now for promised delivery then. So in order to get something for the Christmas season it means making a commitment months (if not years) in advance…and just how many Kickstarter projects have actually delivered on time?
In the last year I supported more Kickstarter projects than ever before. I currently have five projects outstanding. I also am keeping my eye on several others that are closing in the next 20 days or less. What am I thinking?
This game looks incredible and highly innovative., but at $225 (GASP!) for the ‘Colonist – one way ticket’ level it’s wayyyyy too rich for me. This is also their first ‘creation” – I see lots of risk here. PASS.
I missed it but at $119 for the ‘Interplanetary Explorer’ level it’s a fair chunk-of-change to ask for during the holiday season when I am looking for economy in my purchases.
KICKSTARTER OF SHAME (1)
Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game (Cam Banks) / ‘Prime Softcover Plus’ level / Funded 29 May 2017(!) / Estimated delivery: April 2018 / LATE MAYBE NEVER
I pledged at time when it still looked like RPGs would be a major part of the gaming scene in the RockyMountainNavy house. Since then, I cooled considerably to RPGs. This campaign has seen the designer move to New Zealand (I’m not saying he took the money and ran but….) and an endless string of delays. In September 2019 the designer announced an alliance with a whole new company and a whole new production model – but no delivery date. Like others I tried reaching out to the campaign to get a refund. Like many others I am ignored.
Feature image courtesy entrepreneur.com / Game cover images courtesy BGG.com
Over on Rex Brynen’s excellent PAXSIMS website, he posted a link to BEAR RISING, a Matrix game looking at the Baltic in the post-INF Treaty era. As a wargaming professional, I appreciate that Matrix games can be used to explore policy issues and generate greater insight into the issue. Matrix games are a part of wargaming, but apparently some out there want to distance themselves from that connection. Taking a look at BEAR RISING you find this:
What are matrix games? Matrix games are different to normal Wargames. In most of those games you will probably compare lists of statistics and peer at complicated books of rules containing someone else’s idea about what things are important, before making a decision, checking that it is covered by the rules and rolling dice to see if you succeed. It can take a long time, look really complicated and can be very difficult to explain to a newcomer. Instead, in a matrix game you simply use words to describe why something should happen, the Facilitator or the players (or both) decide how likely it is, and you might roll a dice to see if it happens (but equally, in the face of a compelling argument, you might not need to). If you can say “This happens, for the following reasons…” you can play a Matrix Game. The games themselves are not intended to be fiercely competitive, with obvious winner and losers. Instead they operate with the players working to generate a credible narrative. It is from examination of this narrative after the game that the player gain insights to the situation being portrayed. The player roles have objectives that will place them in conflict with other players, but it is perfectly possible for all of the players to achieve at last some of their objectives by the end of the game.
Let’s take a few of these sentences apart:
“In most of those games you will probably compare lists of statistics and peer at complicated books of rules containing someone else’s ideas about what things are important before making a decision, checking that it is covered by the rules and rolling dice to see if you succeed.” I guess you have only played wargames like Advanced Squad Leader, right? You totally have missed out on many “light” wargames like Brave Little Belgium or uncountable others? I hope you are consistent in your views and have the same disdain for heavy Eurogames out there and especially for anything designed by Phil Eklund, right?
“Instead, in a matrix game you simply use words to describe why something should happen, the Facilitator or the players (or both) decide how likely it is, and you might roll a dice to see if it happens (but equally, in the face of a compelling argument, you might not need to).” But you just disparaged rolling dice above….
“The games themselves are not intended to be fiercely competitive, with obvious winner and losers.” Ah…another bias. Wargames “must” be “fiercely competitive.” Let’s not talk anything about the learning that can come from exploring the situation; it’s war and war is automatically evil! To that I say si vis pacem, para bellum.*
“Instead they operate with the players working to generate a credible narrative. It is from examination of this narrative after the game that the player gain insights to the situation being portrayed.” I would argue that some of the best wargames, like the new Tank Duel (GMT Games, 2019) or Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid (GMT Games, 2018) generate a “credible” narrative during the game and don’t need a scribe to explain it to the players afterwards.
“The player roles have objectives that will place them in conflict with other players, but it is perfectly possible for all of the players to achieve at last some of their objectives by the end of the game.” Is this not the hallmark of a good game design? A good design will see all players work towards their objective, with the end result being a measure of how well they achieved those objectives. The objectives themselves do not have to the same (for example, who controls the most territory) but can be different like in Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest (Mighty Boards, 2019) where the Revolutionaries try to save civilians while the Soviets try to control the city. Or maybe the designers of BEAR RISING are not familiar with a GMT Games COIN game like Colonial Twilight (see Grant from The Players Aid comments about terror) or the asymmetric Root from Leder Games?
I will repeat what I said before; Matrix games are useful to explore policy issues and generate insight. But they are one tool in the vast kit available to designers. To maximize that insight, I prefer designers and players to have open minds and to avoid/remove as much bias as possible. In the case of the BEAR RISING designers, they show me that they have deep biases that make me doubt the assumptions their game is built on.
* “If you want peace, prepare for war.” In my case I strongly advocate studying warfare to understand – and avoid – military disasters of the past.
September was a very slow gaming month. As a matter of fact, my 11 plays is the least amount of gaming since April this year and a four-way tie for the second-fewest monthly plays since I started seriously recording my plays in August 2017. I can’t really complain though; the few plays I got were very special.
The most interesting game is that “Unpublished Prototype” listed above. This is a game by a fellow gamer that I met at CONNECTIONS 2019. The game is in a very rough state but I have a copy for the next few weeks and will be working my way through it. Don’t know if the game will ever see publication but still I feel I am doing something for the greater hobby community.
Looking at my Preorder and Kickstarter line up, I have significantly trimmed down the collection. At the beginning of the month this list was up to 26 games. Between canceling orders and deliveries I am down to 13, of which eight (8!) may deliver by year’s end. I admit it; I had a touch of FoMO* and it took Mrs. RockyMountainNavy to cure me of it. I have an antidote on hand – my 2019 Challenges still await completion!
With the summer doldrums almost ended and the seasons turning, the RockyMountainNavy family will move indoors a bit more. Later this fall, Mrs. RMN will be on travel for a few weeks meaning I will just have to get games to the table to keep me from going crazy.
So, so long Summer, hello Fall, and bring on the dice!
* FoMO – Fear of Missing Out; an uncontrollable urge to buy as many new games as possible (or even not possible) for fear of “missing out” on the gameplay.
MY MIDDLE BOY IS ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM. As a gamer, this means that some games are harder for him to process and connect with than others. Through the years he has had success, and challenges, with different games. Recently, I introduced him to Hold the Line: The American Revolution (Worthington Publishing, 2018). The game immediately captured his attention, so much he asked for a different version of family game night where he played against his brother (first-time HtL player) while I “umpired” the game. The boys played the Battle of Champion Hill, part of the Vicksburg Campaign. After a hard fought battle taking all 20 of the allotted turns, Middle RMN Boy playing the Confederates took the win 7VP to 6VP. This was his third win in a row and he wants to play even more. So why is it that Hold the Line: The American Civil War has so totally captured his interest?
Hold the Line: The American Civil War captures his interest because of two factors: tactile components and extreme ease of play. It also uses very few Zones of Play.
Tactile Components: Middle RMN Boy loves the blocks in HtL: ACW. Not only are the blocks easy to distinguish, he can arrange, and rearrange, the blocks in many different ways. Sometimes he puts all the infantry in a column; other times he arranges them in a 2×2 formation. Sometimes he faces them towards a hexside in a manner that makes his opponent feel surrounded like they are turning a flank. But it’s not just the blocks on the map, the blocks used to track the Action Points (AP) on the Player Aid Card also give him that tactile interaction with the game.
Extreme Ease of Play: HtL: ACW is very rules-lite. More importantly, a player’s turn is a short, easy to understand (and remember) sequence of Roll Bonus AP, Spend AP, and Reset. Within each phase there are very few rules to remember and the most important information can be found on the Player Aid Card. Bonus AP? Roll 1d6 and get 1-3 AP. Actions? Movement comes in only three flavors. Combat is resolved using a set number of dice using a table on the Player Aid Card. The Morale Die can be tricky but it really is only used in two ways. All told there are something like 24 rules that must be remembered, and most actually can be found on the Player Aid Card so it’s not memory of details, but grasping of a process that must be mastered.
Given the short, easy to remember Sequence of Play and many rules found on the Player Aid Card means that Middle RMN can focus on playing the game, not executing the processes. With Hold the Line: The American Civil War he can feel like a General and fight a battle, not an administrator trying to follow a detailed methodology.
In HtL, Middle RMN only needs to use his Hands (Zone 1 or 2) to move items. The Player Aid Card with the the AP Track is his Tableau (Zone 3), which also doubles as an easy-to-reference rulebook virtually eliminating the need to search the Rule Book in Zone 6. The Board (Zone 4) is small enough to reach across and easy to understand. In a Memoir ’44 game, he uses many more zones; his Dominant Hand (Zone 1) to hold his cards, his Non-Dominant Hand (Zone 2) to move, his Tableau (Zone 3) to show played cards, the Board (Zone 4) to fight on, a Sideboard-extension (Zone 5) of his Tableau to hold Special Rules and Reference Cards, and the Rule Book (Zone 6) to reference often for the many items not on the Sideboard. Taken together, Commands & Colors occupies more Zones and is actually much more complex. HtL, on the other hand (no pun intended), occupies fewer Zones of Play and within each zone the rules are easy to understand and remember and the components attractive and tactilely fulfilling.
Getting HtL to the table with both boys may be a bit difficult. Younger RMN found the game easy to play but struggled to find the right tactical approach to fighting his brother. Middle RMN found the game exciting, especially since he won. I am sure that he and I will fight many more battles when his younger brother is unavailable. As an old grognard, a game like Hold the Line should be considered too easy and not detailed enough to play seriously. But looking at how much my middle boy enjoys the game makes replaying HtL not only inevitable, but something I look forward to because when he is “in the zone” the game is secondary to our enjoyment.
We set up the first scenario in the book , First Bull Run. Middle RMN took the Confederates and I took the Union. After a short rules explanation (the rules are very simple) we kicked off.
Like the historical battle, I pushed hard across the Stone Bridge at Sudley Ford. Unfortunately, two batteries of Confederate artillery proved most devastating and all four Union infantry units at the bridge were quickly (and I mean quickly) blown away. Considering the Confederates only need 6VP to win this put them far ahead. However, to the north the Confederates ceded Matthews Hill to the Union without a fight.
Comment: I was very surprised by this move by Middle RMN but I didn’t say much for I needed all the help I could get after losing the entire flanking attack at the Stone Bridge.
With the Confederates falling back to the Stone House and Henry Hill, the path was wide open for the Union to swing the Confederate flank and reach the two VP markers at the southern edge of the board. When the Union took the Stone House in a Close Combat without loses it started looking like the battle could swing.
However, as the Union was pushing from the Stone House past Henry Hill, it became obvious that the Confederate’s were in a good position to keep sniping away at the Union troops as they moved past. Even units using the woods to the west of Henry Hill had to come out eventually. I had two choices – keep losing units as they try to get past Henry Hill or assault the hill and eject the Confederates to secure my approach route.
Oh yeah, did I mention the Confederate reinforcements had arrived by now? Worse yet, the Confederates had better leadership. In Hold the Line each side gets a certain number of Action Points (AP) to reflect their Command & Control capacity on the battlefield. In this battle, the Union started out with 1x Leader and 4AP. The Confederates start with 1x Leader and 3AP but…when the reinforcing troops of General Johnson arrive the Confederates get a second Leader and their AP increased by 2 for a total of 5AP each turn. To further hurt, Middle RMN was rolling hot during the AP Determination Phase and consistently gaining 2 or 3 extra AP each turn whereas my dice were cold and I was only occasionally getting 2 extra AP and often only one.
Comment: Thematically, I imagined a lethargic Union command staff not reacting quickly to the situation while the Confederates kept on the hop. Thus, the Confederates were able to move quickly about the battlefield while the Union slowly plodded along. A simple rule but great impact on play.
In the end, the Union could not turn the Confederate flank and push to the VP hexes. Even taking Henry Hill didn’t help. With only one Union Leader to Rally units I was unable to keep enough strong units in front. As it was, two units, on the opposite end of the line from where McDowell was, suffered and were in the process of pulling back when the lone Confederate artillery battery hurled canisters of death upon them. The death of those two units pushed the Confederates to 6VP and the win.
Comment: The Confederates reaching 6VP while the Union had only 3VP does a great job of representing the rout of the Union troops as they see their lines crumble. A nice marriage of Victory Conditions and historical theming.
Post game, Middle RMN Boy expressed a real like for Hold the Line: The American Civil War. We talked bout how it is like the Commands & Colors-series (GMT Games) but without the cards. Middle RMN marveled at how quick the game plays. Our battle, which went to 11 of 18 possible turns, took about 60 minute to setup, learn, and fight. Middle RMN looked at the 14 different scenarios in the box and wants to play more against either me or his brother.
If you are looking for a lite-wargame then you really can’t go wrong with Hold the Line: The American Civil War from Worthington Publishing. Even an old grognard like myself finds it simple to learn but delivering a deeply thematic experience. The game is a winner and will surely get to the gaming table again and again.