In 1979, a hit movie of the year was James Bond 007 in Moonraker. For a sci-fi geek like myself, the battle in space was a definite highlight moment of the film. Silver-clad space suited Marines with thruster packs and chest-mounted lasers take on the bad guys high above the earth!
That same year, I spied a box in my FLGS, Fascination Corner. On the cover was another silver space-suited soldier with a thruster pack. It looked like they were being dropped over a domed city from a very Traveller roleplaying game-looking ship. Without even reading the back of the box I had to have this game—Marine: 2002.
Alas…I never got it.
Marine: 2002 – A Game of the First Lunar War is designed by Kerry Anderson and published by Yaquinto Publications in 1979. It is a tactical wargame that depicts combat actions on the surface of the moon. My copy is technically from the second printing in October 1980.
Physically, Marine: 2002 comes in 1.5-inch deep 14″x11″ flat box. I’m a bit surprised the box has lasted over 40 years because the cardstock used is on the lighter side. Inside the box comes a rulebook, player aids, a three-piece geomorphic map, counters, dice and a storage tray. Oh yeah, my copy also has a Yaquinto Publications sales flyer from 1982.
The rule book for Marine: 2002 is in the Yaquinto landscape format. It uses a modified case system like a good wargame should. The player aids are functional if not fancy. The counters are nice and colorful. When I opened my box the counter sheets were complete but warped. A few days under a stack of heavy books restored them to flat. The three geomorphic maps can be arranged in multiple ways to create a map that is square, long, staggered, or some combination of the others. The color is on the brownish-tan side; I kinda expected something a bit more gray. The storage tray has no cover, but the rule book recommends simply getting a piece of cardboard and using “cellophane” tape to attach it.
Sergeant Draper reporting for duty, sir!
Marine: 2002 is a squad-level tactical wargame. Each hex is .5km across and each counter represents a squad or team of 2-4 soldiers. Each vehicle or gun represents a single item. Each turn represents about 5 minutes of time. The sequence of play is simple and straightforward:
Step A: Movement Initiative Phase
Step B: Moving Player Phase
Units in F-mode (discussed below) conduct direct fire in this phase
Step C: Movement Alternation Phase (non-initiative player moves)
Step D: Indirect Fire Phase (Advanced Game only)
Step E: Direct Fire Phase
Step F: Direct Fire Morale Phase (Advanced Game Only)
Step G: Turn Adjustment Phase
There are two rules that set Marine: 2002 apart from other tactical combat wargames—mode and line of sight.
Take the high ground!
In Marine: 2002, units can select different movement modes which affect how far they travel and how well they fire in combat.
‘G’ or Ground-mode moves a maximum of 2 hexes on the surface of the moon; the slowest form of movement but has advantage of cover
‘N’ or Normal-mode moves a maximum of 4 hexes; trade-off between movement and cover
‘A’ or Air-mode (on the airless Moon?) moves a maximum of 10 hexes; most rapid but no cover
‘F’ or Fire-mode does not move; is considered in G-mode for cover but has advantage in fire combat.
“Don’t fire till you see the whites of their eyes!”
If Marine: 2002 has a “gimmick” rule—one that sets it apart from other wargames—it is the line of sight rules. In Marine: 2002, the movement mode of a unit is associated with a height above the ground and each has a different Horizon Line:
G-mode has a maximum horizon (horizon line) of 5 hexes
N-mode has a horizon line of 12 hexes
A-mode has a horizon line of 20 hexes
Units in F-mode are grounded with that same 5 hex horizon line as G-mode.
Horizon lines not only determine what you can see, but what you car fire at. When it comes to fire combat there are three weapons ranges; Short is 0-3 hexes, Medium is 4-10 hexes, and Long at 11 hexes to the maximum horizon.
On the bounce!
Mode and horizon combine in Marine: 2002 to become the primary factors in your tactics. Fire Mode is certainly best for attack, but with the loss of maneuvering. Air-mode is the fastest moving and can see the most, but your soldiers are the most vulnerable when using this mode.
Squad Leader in spaaaaace!
[I hate rating a wargame’s complexity because it is such a personally subjective matter. I’ve been playing wargames for 40 years and have learned rules ranging in complexity from Ogre to World in Flames. What is simple or complex for me might be second nature or totally incompressible to others.]
The rules for Marine: 2002 are pretty much what I expect from the era. While I reference Squad Leader in the header here, Marine: 2002 is not that complex a game when it comes to the rules. In more than a few ways, the tactical combat games from Yaquinto that I experienced skewed towards a kind of “minis on a hexmap, but with cardboard chits.” This means that physically manipulating the game was often the most complex part of play. For instance, in order to properly show what mode a squad counter is in, each player keeps a Mode Orientation marker on the board to show which way is “up.” Each counter has a different mode in each corner and to show which mode the unit is in the proper corner is oriented to the Mode Indicator. Good: No extra admin counter to stack. Bad: Making sure you turn the counters right according to the mode and your indicator. Marine: 2002 also offers the use of a range stick (center spine of the counter sheet) to measure range—its harder than simply counting hexes and another thing that can bump counters and make them “lose their mode.”. There are also more than a few tables to reference in play. Administrative tracking is done with a combination of off-board tracking sheets that are marked off in pen/pencil and on-map administrative markers. Step losses are tracked by replacing squad/team counters—each squad of four soldiers has four counters and as soldiers are lost the counter is replaced by the one reflecting current strength. The end result is that, while the rules for movement or combat or morale are not that complex, tracking the effects of those rules is cumbersome at times. Marine: 2002 is a very functional game, but—to use a very modern game design concept—it lacks “elegance” in how it’s implemented.
The First Lunar War
If there is one place where Marine: 2002 totally misses it’s the story it tells. I mean, look at that cover? What do you see? I see an exciting story. Fortunately, the rule book includes a note on the cover illustration:
COVER ILLUSTRATION: “The Descent into Hell.”
The Armored Shuttle, U.S.S. Werewolf ‘high jumps’ Howard’s Howlers (Alpha Company, 1st Special Battalion, United States Marine Corps) above the Soviet military installation in the Hell crater on the Deslandres Plain at the height of Operation Dante. Though virtually annihilated in the ensuing action, Alpha Company, whose mission was to merely draw fire of the powerful Soviet fixed batteries, successfully penetrated and neutralized the command dome, eliminating coordinated Soviet resistance in this pivotal lunar battle.
Of the 121 men in Alpha Company only 7 survived, including Col. William Howard the company commander.
Marine: 2002, p. 2
That passage right there is pretty much the extent of the “canon” of Marine: 2002. The rule book does briefly mention in the General Introduction the “First Russo-American Lunar War of 1998-2002.” The design notes, “Weapons in Space,” goes a long way towards making the claim on the box back come to life:
Marine: 2002 is a tactical level simulation of combat on or near the surface of the moon. The futuristic weapons used (neutron warheads, rocket shells, lasers and charged particle beams, and conventional shells) are playably duplicated with a system that faithfully shows their strengths and weaknesses. The game includes rules that cover ground and air movement for all units, combat with beamed weapons and a battlefield which is limited only by a horizon which varies with the current altitude of engaged units. Other rules easily account for communication and command control, morale, individual casualties, cumulative vehicle damage, orbiting weapons platforms and much more.
Marine: 2002, box back
After all that exciting build-up I was anxious to play the game. Then I got to the scenarios which are named:
SCENARIO ONE: BASIC GAME RULES
SCENARIO TWO: BASIC GAME RULES
SCENARIO THREE: BASIC GAME RULES
SCENARIO FOUR: ADVANCED GAME RULES
SCENARIO FIVE: (ADVANCED GAME RULES)
SCENARIO SIX (OPTIONAL RULES)
SCENARIO SEVEN (OPTIONAL RULES)
Each scenario consists of the same seven items of information:
Order of Battle
No “situation.” No “historical outcome.” No “meeting engagement” or “high-jump assault” or…anything that triggers a story. Granted, every scenario is playable, but there was a great opportunity missed here to tell a story. I don’t need a “historical” campaign, but may adding a bit of some “flavor” like “Scenario One: First Encounters – US Marines encounter a Soviet patrol at the confrontation line” would make playing this game that much more enjoyable. Sure, I can create that narrative in my head, but that is best done when designing my own scenarios (which the designer encourages) rather than left to the “first encounter” with the scenarios.
Shake off that lunar dust…
Marine: 2002, though of a dated—if not inelegantly manipulative—design, lacks a full story but is still an excellent game. It takes a bit of some patience and organization to play, but the emphasis on movement modes and horizon lines is easily understood and made central to the game experience. Maybe the challenge here is for me to mix my roleplaying game campaign building with Marine: 2002 and make my own history of the First Russo-American Lunar War. You know, something like For All Mankind.
OVER ON TWITTER, MARK JOHNSON (@WargamesToGo) tweeted about playing some Cold War wargames. “Hey self,” I said to myself, “you have maybe the ultimate Cold War wargame!” So I went deep in the back of the wargame shelves and brought Ultimatum (Yaquinto Publications Inc, 1979) to the table. I remember playing this game more than a few times back in the day. I mean, come on now, any game where almost half the counters are mushroom clouds has to be great, eh?
I must be getting old, because this is not the Ultimatum I remember.
“Mr. President, about, uh, 35 minutes ago, General Jack Ripper, the commanding general of, uh, Burpelson Air Force Base, issued an order to the 34 B-52’s of his Wing, which were airborne at the time as part of a special exercise we were holding called Operation Drop-Kick. Now, it appears that the order called for the planes to, uh, attack their targets inside Russia. The, uh, planes are fully armed with nuclear weapons with an average load of, um, 40 megatons each. Now, the central display of Russia will indicate the position of the planes. The triangles are their primary targets; the squares are their secondary targets. The aircraft will begin penetrating Russian radar cover within, uh, 25 minutes.” – General “Buck” Turgidson – Doctor Strangelove (Movie)
I first was blown away by the Initial Set-Up:
Once both players have picked out the forces appropriate to the scenario, they should begin their deployments. ICBM’s are first, then ABM’s, if any. Then place bombers, then interceptors. Finally place the SLBM’s upside down in the sea station boxes. When all the units have been placed, the player’s may study the opposing player’s deployment. They may not overturn upside down SLBM stacks. The players determine who will launch the first strike. This can be done by agreement, or if there is none, then by the roll of the die. The first strike player then picks whichever launch sequence he desires and launches his first attack.
That’s it. That’s the game.
Well, that’s the Basic Game for Ultimatum. Victory is determined by counting the difference in population points destroyed. You have to to kill more to win.
I looked through the rules of Ultimatum carefully, looking for some sort of decision to be made. There are a few (very few) decisions to be made, like does the First Strike (FS) player employ a Simultaneous or Phased Launch strategy.
I set up and played the first scenario, The Cuban Missile Crisis. Here you have a bomber-heavy USAF with a few ICBM and several Polaris submarines and some homeland interceptors against a Soviet Union with few bombers, fewer ICBMs and subs, but many interceptors on defense. The war started with a Soviet First Strike using Simultaneous Launch. The result? A US victory but still many mushroom clouds across America.
I felt empty. This Ultimatum is not a game (like nuclear war ever is) but barely even a tabletop exercise.
General “Buck” Turgidson: Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing. But it is necessary now to make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless *distinguishable*, postwar environments: one where you got twenty million people killed, and the other where you got a hundred and fifty million people killed.
President Merkin Muffley: You’re talking about mass murder, General, not war!
General “Buck” Turgidson: Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.
– Doctor Strangelove (Movie)
I kept reading the Ultimatum rule book and came to the Tournament Game. I found the description intriguing:
The Basic Game is designed primarily to familiarize the players with the principles and strategies of nuclear war, and to inform them of the strengths and weaknesses of the various nuclear weapons systems….In the Tournament Game the players make the same kinds of decisions about weapons system procurement, global strategy, and diplomacy that the leaders of the two Super-powers faced in the arms race. There is a distinct possibility of nuclear war, and this is the driving force behind the Tournament Game decisions. If such a war occurs, it is fought under virtually the same rules as the Basic Game except a scenario sheet is not used. But the Tournament Game adds the possibility of winning the Game through non-nuclear means. Such a victory can include conventional warfare or even diplomacy.
Victory in the Tournament Game of Ultimatum is far different than the Basic Game. Whereas in the Basic Game you score for ‘killing the mostest,’ in the Tournament Game you have must 1) Preserves your own population while 2) score points through control of Crisis Areas or destruction of enemy population. Most important is that own population factor; the first measure of any victory level is how much population you have.
A Tournament Game of Ultimatum is really the Cold War played out. Each turn both players execute three phases:
Allocation Phase – Determine income and spend money
Deployment Phase – Distribute money to Crisis Areas and deploy or activate units
Decision Phase – Call for Confrontations in Crisis Areas or start the nuclear war.
The Allocation Phase in Ultimatum is full of decisions. What do I buy? What do I upgrade? Do I invest in my economy? How much do I spend in a Crisis Area? Just like in the real world there is never enough money (Money Factors – MF) to do everything you want.
I set up a Tournament Game scenario starting in 1960, the game runs to a maximum of 20 turns (10 years). Every turn in that Allocation Phase one must divvy up their budget between new systems, Qualitative Improvements (mostly Accuracy or MIRVs), Defensive Improvements (SAMs and ECM), ASW, and Aircraft on Alert. Oh yeah, you also need to set money aside for Crisis Areas and maybe your Economy (invest now, in 15 turns get 150% return).
The real heart of the Tournament Game in Ultimatum is those Crisis Areas. Both players are spending money (influence) and final control will be determined by a Confrontation. In that Confrontation, both players will announce a strategy. Different strategies give different die modifiers to the confrontation die roll. Strategies range from Economic to Political/Social to Guerrilla to Conventional War to Tactical Nuclear conflict! Here is how the Ultimatum rule book itself talks about Crisis Areas:
One of the most important ways to spend money factors is on the seven Crisis Areas. Money spent on these areas can result in points for the player without endangering the player’s own population through nuclear war. On the other hand, MF’s invested in qualitative improvements and defense measures do not directly result in points gained unless there is a nuclear war and the player’s own population is in severe danger. Because gaining control of the Crisis Area is a safer way of getting points, players should usually allocate a substantial portion of their MF’s to the Crisis Areas.
As I so often do in these coronatine days, I played two-handed solo. For each side I chose a general strategy to follow. For the US I decided to invest in a smaller but more capable nuclear force and focus on the First to Third World for Crisis Area investment. For the Soviets, the strategy was a more numerous but less capable force with priority of investment in Crisis Areas going from Third to First World. Almost immediately both sides changed their investment strategy as I realized how stupid it was for the superpowers to compete that way for the Soviets would fall far behind. So while both power maintained relative parity in Europe (65 Points), Japan-Korea (40 Points), and the Middle East (35 Points) the real areas of confrontation were Latin America (20 Points), Central East Asia (15 Points) and South Asia (15 Points). Southeast Asia, at only 10 Points, became a real backwater.
“Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face.” – General Jack D. Ripper: Doctor Strangelove (Movie)
My Tournament Game play of Ultimatum came out much different than my first play. As the game progressed toward the late stages the need to gain control of Crisis Areas led to Confrontations. Both sides were relatively even, but quickly Latin America went to the Americans while Central East Asia and South Asia went to the Soviets. A massive US investment in Japan-Korea followed to ensure it entered the US sphere. It was at this point that the one Optional Rule I was playing with came to the forefront.
Optional Rule 6. Uncontrolled Crisis Area Events is a set of 26 ‘cards’ that depict events that can greatly alter history. At the beginning of each game turn, the American player rolls one die and, if a six is rolled, turns over the top card. That’s how it came to pass that a severe depression hit the Common Market (Europe) countries, Ireland invaded Northern Ireland, the Communists took power in France and Italy and withdrew from NATO all while Greece and Turkey went to war and NATO dissolved. The net impact to the game was a die roll to see how many MF the Soviets gain. A roll of 5 gave the Soviets +16 – a nearly 50% boost in their budget that turn. It was enough to embolden the Soviets to confront in Europe and tip it into the Soviet sphere.
“Well, boys, I reckon this is it – nuclear combat toe to toe with the Roosskies. Now look, boys, I ain’t much of a hand at makin’ speeches, but I got a pretty fair idea that something doggone important is goin’ on back there. And I got a fair idea the kinda personal emotions that some of you fellas may be thinkin’. Heck, I reckon you wouldn’t even be human bein’s if you didn’t have some pretty strong personal feelin’s about nuclear combat. I want you to remember one thing, the folks back home is a-countin’ on you and by golly, we ain’t about to let ’em down. I tell you something else, if this thing turns out to be half as important as I figure it just might be, I’d say that you’re all in line for some important promotions and personal citations when this thing’s over with. That goes for ever’ last one of you regardless of your race, color or your creed. Now let’s get this thing on the hump – we got some flyin’ to do.” – Major T.J. “King” Kong: Doctor Strangelove (Movie)
Clearly falling behind, the Americans decided the Soviets had to be stopped – at any cost. So the nukes started flying with a US First Strike using a Phased Launch strategy. The Soviets had not invested in Aircraft on Alert nor much ASW so many Soviet bombers were caught on the ground while US submarines got good strikes launched. Many mushroom clouds later the (gruesome) tally was counted up. In the future, historians would write much about the American Marginal Victory (have at least 100 population points left while scoring 10-25 points more than opponent) and try to make sense out of it.
That was a mad game…and it left me wanting more.
Ultimatum is a snapshot in time representing the world of nuclear warfare in the 1960s and early 1970s. This is the world before the START Treaty. It also has many interesting optional or special rules. Like letting the US build “silo busters” when they didn’t. Like adding Cruise Missiles to American bombers in later periods. Like adding a Directed Energy ABM for the Americans (aka Star Wars). It could use an update; indeed, I found my handwritten notes for US vs Soviet nuclear forces from the mid-1980s.
“It is the stated position of the U.S. Air Force that their safeguards would prevent the occurrence of such events as are depicted in this film. Furthermore, it should be noted that none of the characters portrayed in this film are meant to represent any real persons living or dead.” – Title Card: Doctor Strangelove (Movie)
As I often do, I always read the Designer’s Notes. Here’s where Ultimatum may have the greatest understatement by a wargame designer ever written:
There is one final note to be made on the design on this game. Several hours were spent attempting to give the players some reason (moral, love of fellow man, nationalism) for avoiding nuclear war. The destruction of a nation of tens of millions of people weighs heavily on the minds of the leaders of both the Soviet Union and the United States. But in a game the players have no such weight balancing their decisions. It becomes an abstraction and the players easily forget what the game is simulating. More than any other game on the market, this can create problems in the simulation of reality.
In Ultimatum, it is best to think of the Basic Game as the ‘Combat Game’ and the Tournament Game as the ‘Cold War Campaign.’ As much as I remember playing the ‘Combat Game,’ I totally had forgotten about the Tournament Game. However, it is that Tournament Game that teaches the most about the Cold War. I agree with the designer; at heart Ultimatum is a flawed simulation of reality, but that very flaw actually teaches us maybe the most important lesson of the Cold War. Ultimatum is a mad game about a very MAD* time.
Tactical tank combat games have a special place in my wargaming heart. Indeed, the first wargame I ever played was Jim Day’s Panzer (Yaquinto Publishing, 1979). In many ways, that game set my expectations of a wargame for most of the rest of my life. I believed that a wargame neededmust have a hex map, combat results tables (CRT), dice-rolling, and detailed rules. At the same time, I fell into a very detailed, simulationist portion of the wargame hobby that focused on tactical warfare. Panzer or MBT or Squad Leader for ground combat, the Admiralty Trilogy (Command at Sea or Harpoon) for naval combat, JD Websters Fighting Wings (Actung: Spitfire or Speed of Heat) for air combat. I even took it to the science-fiction realm going all-in on the original Star Fleet Battles-series of games.
Over the years, my fetish for detailed simulations weakened, and in the mid-2010s when I really discovered hobby boardgaming with the family my wargaming perspectives also changed. I needed to find wargames that I could play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys in an evening. I needed wargames that were more than manual modeling & simulation designs. I needed games that would engage them with the history; building a narrative of history through play. This led me to waros, or “wargame-Eurogames.”
Which brings me back to Tank Duel Enemy in the Crosshairs. The GMT Games pages describes the game as follows:
Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs is a card-based game for 1 to 8 players that depicts tank-to-tank warfare on the Eastern Front of World War II in the early to mid 1940s. It attempts to convey the claustrophobia and urgency that tank crews experienced in this bitter conflict, utilizing a simple Action system to keep the action moving at a rapid pace. Players will issue commands with the use of Battle Cards and attempt to score Victory Points by claiming Objectives and eliminating their opponent’s tanks and crew.
The tank board will be used to keep track of information regarding the status of a tank and its crew. Types of condition could include, tank on fire, damage tracks, immobilized and damage to the gun.
Each player will be managing a hand of cards. With these cards the player will be able to take actions.
There is so much here that doesn’t meet my classic (stale?) wargame definition; 1-8 players? Simple Action system? A tank board? Hand of cards?
But it works. I mean, it really works!
A typical Tank Duel game will see four tanks (or more!) in a fight. There is no mapboard but only an abstract range from battlefield center. Lateral movement is through flanking cards. Terrain is also depicted by cards. The battle lasts only long enough to cycle through the deck several times. Best of all, if a tank is destroyed a new one replaces it next turn.
There are still several echos of my tactical tank games here. Panzer players will feel comfortable with the combat tables. But all that detail gets hidden by a set of very innovative Battle Cards. Many will claim that this has been done before in Up Front (Avalon Hill, 1983) and several other games since. That may be true, but in today’s hyper-competitive publishing market it is actually rare to find wargames that totally dispense with the mapboard or dice.
However, it’s not the “non-traditional” mechanics that make Tank Duel a game I enjoy. Few wargames have ever generated a narrative during play like I get playing Tank Duel. As I look over my hand of cards, I try to put together a plan. I try to dash up the hill (Move) so I can get into an overwatch position to shoot (Fire) only to be mired by my opponent playing a Mud card (Terrain) which allows him to flank me (Flank card). As my crew tries to unbog the tank my turret is hammered, killing my Commander and breaking the morale of the crew. As my tank brews up I reset my Tank Board to bring my next tank into the battle, swearing at the loss of my fellow soldiers and looking to avenge their deaths. The more I played, the more I came to realize that what I enjoyed was not the details of the battle (Hey, my 8.8cm gun penetrated your turret from 400 yards!) but the visceral tension of the combat (I have to close the range…I am going to play two move cards to close the range and go hull down to be ready to shoot after that…unless my opponent plays a mud card and bogs me down in something I cannot see!). The real tension of Tank Duel is not the details of the combat, it’s in the making of a combat story.
A combat story without hex & counter or dice or complicated rules but abstracted using a tableau and innovative cards.
I got seriously into gaming in 1979 when I was in middle school and discovered Jim Day’s Panzer from Yaquinto Publishing. In the years prior to that my parents had a few games around but we barely played them. The titles I recall are Monopoly, Clue, Othello, and Waterworks in addition to Chinese Checkers. The only games I really remember playing are Chinese Checkers and Othello.
From 1979 until the early 2000’s I was a pure wargamer. I also dabbled in roleplaying games but wargames were my real hobby. It was not until the RockyMountainNavy Kids grew up a bit that I tried some family games like Gulo Gulo (still a favorite).
In 2016 my hobby took on a new direction with the real discovery of hobby boardgames. At the recommendation of Uwe Eickert of Academy Games I picked up Scythe – and discovered a whole new world of gaming. In 2017 and 2018 I went overboard with rediscovered wargaming and boardgaming. Too far overboard – at the start of 2019 Mrs. RockyMountainNavy asked that I look hard at my gaming budget and think about some restraint.
So in 2019 I have tried to restrain myself. In doing so, I have thought about my game buying habits in 2017 and 2018. I continuously told myself that I was not a member of the Cult of the New or susceptible to the Fear of Missing Out.
Wrong. Not only was I a CotN member, but I was fully infected with FoMO.
In 2019 I initiated a series of gaming challenges (CSR, Origins, Golden Geek) that have forced me (willingly) to explore older games in my collection. I have found some bad ones, but many good ones. It has been a great reminder that I have good games in my collection and they deserve some love.
In 2019 I have tried to find my roots. As I look across the boardgaming world I find fewer and fewer titles that appeal to me. If there is one area that I am really interested in, it’s hybrid games like Root (wargame or strategy game?) or several Hollandspiele titles like the Supply Lines of the American Revolution series.
Another part of the hobby I am less-than-satisfied with is Kickstarter. I respect companies that use Kickstarter to bring games to print that would otherwise never see the light of day. But more and more I see companies using Kickstarter as a glorified pre-order system. I understand that many companies like the fact that the risk is moved from them to the consumer. They may like it but I am not as appreciative. What I see in many cases is that I am advancing the company a loan – without interest.
Now, I don’t necessarily define “interest” as money. A Kickstarter campaign that offers exclusives or stretch goals that area only available to backers is one form. But more and more I see companies not offering stretch goals or campaign exclusives – what you get in the campaign is what you can buy at retail.
I also dislike the risk that I am assuming in the enjoyment of the game. Kickstarter demands you pledge to support a game based upon only a few known, and many unknown, factors. Maybe that designer has a history of good games but I am sure there are a few turkeys in there. That company has its own history too. But what about the game? How does the game really play? This forces a dependency on hobby content providers at a time when “critical” reviews are fewer and fewer. Nobody watches a 30 minute video review of a 2 hour movie; why should we be forced to watch a lengthy video for a game? No.
So I have returned to being a wargamer first and a boardgamer second. I have several good titles in my collection. Scythewill remain. Terraforming Mars(minus several expansions) will stay in the rotation. Firefly: The Board Game will get played but Star Wars: Outer Rim is likely a pass. I’m going to finish up my challenges for the year.
I still take quite a bit of pride in the game system used in that series of games, but now, in 1981, that system is over five years old, and is no longer “state of the art” in wargame design. WINGS presents a new and improved game system that, while being radically different in many ways, maintains the playability of the earlier game system while being far more accurate, adaptable, and flexible.
My impression of Wingsis that the system is more an incremental evolution of the original plotted air combat system in Air Force and less a “radically different” game. I think that is why I was able to pick up the rules for this game quickly back in the day and am able to do the same even now.
Like many Yaquinto games of its day, the rule book for Wingsused a landscape 9″x12″ booklet clocking in at 52-pages; a bit “heavy” for its day. However, there literally is five games in the rule book; the Basic Game, Advanced Game, Optional Rules, The Duel Game Rules, and The Mass Game Rules. Each one can be learned in smaller, more easily digestible chunks. Indeed, this is what Mr. Taylor recommends:
These rules may seem to be long and complex, but their bulk is deceptive. The rules need not be memorized, but should be carefully and thoroughly read. To jog the player’s memories, the most commonly used and needed information is given on the Game Cards, the Data Cards, and the Command Sheets for easy accessibility during play. In fact, players will discover that learning the game consists of learning relatively few procedures, and understanding what the information on the Game Cards, Data Cards, and Command Sheets means. The rules should be used as a reference for questions that arise during the actual play of the game, and a Table of Contents is included for ease of locating needed rules. The rules do not have to be learned in one sitting. Games can be and should be played using only the Basic Game Rules, until these are mastered and thoroughly understood. Then, learn the Advanced Game Rules, and play some games with those. The Optional Rules should be learned last, and selected Optional Rules introduced as the player’s mastery of the game increases. The Duel Game Rules should be tried only by players who have fully mastered the Basic and Advanced Games and the Optional Rules, and desire a game of great complexity and detail. If the players master each part of the rules before going into the next part, they will find that learning and mastering the rules will be much easier. There is no need for a new player to read further than to the end of the Basic Game Rules before proceeding to the scenarios to begin setting up the first game. (Emphasis in original)
This is excellent advice for any boardgamer or wargamer. Much like Alexander from The Players’ Aid recently talked about.²
For my game I used the Basic and Advanced Game Rules as well as the Optional Rules for Sighting (The Optional Rules, III. Sighting Rules). I set up according to Scenario TWO: “Dogfights” and used the Suggested Plane Charts on the Wings Set Up Card to pick two aircraft in a mid-1917 battle. Wanting to move away from the classic Western Front match-up, I instead looked for an Italian versus Austria-Hungary confrontation and ended up with a Italian HANRIOT HD.1 against an Oeffeg-ALBATROS D.III (mid 1917).
Mechanically, the game flows very well. One innovation introduced in Wings as compared to Air Force is the use of plotting by impulses. Instead of writing out a single plotted line, each turn is divided into impulses and the number of impulses plotted is equal to the aircraft speed. There is also an updated method of plotting for maneuvers which helps ensure the proper pre-maneuver costs are paid. Not shown in the photo above are the very small tokens for the plane counters that show aircraft bank status. Although a bit fiddly, showing the bank status directly on the board (rather than being kept only on the Command Sheet) helps get past some of the “tailing” issues that arise from the simultaneous movement.
Which leads into the only real negative I have for Wings – the size factor. Aircraft counters are 5/8″ but the little tokens are really tiny. Additionally, the Data Cards are 2.75″x4.25″ with a really tiny font. Both get hard to handle or read.
Combat does require the use of tables but with a little familiarity it can be resolved quickly. Basically, the firer cross-references the number of bursts with the range on the GUNNERY TABLES along with a few modifiers to generate a Hit Table Number that is rolled against on the HIT TABLES. The resulting damage is crossed off the Command Sheet and the impact assessed.
And it all works. Fairly quickly. Realistic feeling yet playable.
Wings is a very good game and I can see why some folks use the rules even these days for miniatures. Indeed, the rise of Wings of Glory (Ares Games) gives Wingsgrognards like myself a chance to bring out the rules again usinf the pre-painted miniatures. Wings was a winner in 1981 – and it is still a winner today.
Attentive readers will note that the Basic Game, Advanced Game, Optional Rules, and Duel Game are only four. So where did the fifth game go?
The fifth game in Wings is The Mass Game. This game is really different from the others being literally a separate game:
These rules have little to do with the other sections of this rulebook, and other rules do not apply unless specifically stated to do so. Dice rolls are handled as explained earlier, and only the Point Values, Notes, and Mass Game Information sections of the Data Cards are used. The Mass Game is intended to provide an abstract game – a simple and fun set of rules that enables players to easily and quickly handle large numbers of planes. Two, or more, players can participate, with each player controlling six to twenty-four individual planes.
I remember playing a Mass Game back in the day with many planes. I remember it as fun. I probably need to try it again….
As though five games was not enough, the Designer’s Notes talk about a “sixth” game:
A second game (as yet untitled) to supplement WINGS is planned for release in 1982 or 1983. This game will contain an additional fifty Data Cards and their accompanying Plane units, additional Optional Rules and Scenarios, and a complete “Strategic Game” that can be played independently, or used to generate tactical games using the Wings rules. Together, the two games should present the most complete and detailed look at World War I in the air ever presented in game form.
I never saw that game. I don’t think it ever got printed.
¹ At the time I drafted this post Mr. Hagen was not credited in BoardGameGeek with this box cover. Correction submitted!
² For another really good perspective on reading rules watch this video from Alexander over at The Players’ Aid
I have been playing Panzerby James M. Day since the Yaquinto Publishing first edition in 1979. As a matter of fact, Panzerwas my first wargame ever (nothing like jumping straight into the deep end!). Through the years I followed the development of the Panzer and the sister modern version, MBT, but it was not until GMT Games brought out Panzer (Second Edition) that I upgraded my collection. The latest expansion to drop is Panzer Expansion #4: France 1940. In addition to covering the Invasion of France in 1940, the game also includes a new set of rules for Panzer players that have a hard time finding face-to-face opponents or are tired of always trying to outsmart their alter-ego.
Surprisingly, GMT Games apparently didn’t really play up this angle of the new expansion. One has to look deep within the publishers description on the game page to barely find mention of solitaire rules:
The two solitaire scenarios utilize a game driven AI system for French forces in The 6th Panzer is Delayed and the German forces in Billote’s Charge.
In stark contrast to that short blurb, Panzer Expansion #4actually includes a very robust set of solitaire rules. As in 15 pages worth (in a Playbook of 68 pages). The Solitaire System is credited to Fernando Solo Ramos, a long time Panzerfan and the man responsible for the best Panzer wargame support site on the internet, The Panzer Pusher.
Fernando explains the intent of the Solitaire Rules in section 10.1 Introduction:
The Panzer Solitaire Rules are intended to offer the solo Panzer player a guideline to enjoy the game, fixing the two aforementioned problems of solitaire play; enemy unit placement and enemy intentions. The Panzer Solitaire Rules use Hidden Unit rules to manage the player’s knowledge about the exact location of the enemy units. The player only knows the most probable locations of the enemy, and only when an enemy unit actually appears on the map does the player know the exact number and type of those enemy units. In addition, several tables handle the behavior of the enemy, determining their commands and their actions, all without compromising the standard Panzer rules.
Mr. Ramos has very thoughtfully provided many designer’s notes inline to the rules text. These comments help explain some of the rules and are essential to getting the original grok of the rules. Concepts like Enemy Main Unit and Most Dangerous Friendly Unit seem complex at first, but after reading the designer’s intent then stepping through the rule it (sorta) all comes together. The back cover of the Playbook is the complete Panzer Solitaire Tables. [I really wish this had been separate Play Aid because it gets constantly referenced in executing the Solitaire Rules.]
Although the designer claims the Solitaire Rules work “without compromising the standard Panzerrules” the harsh reality is that one needs a better-than-average familiarity with the standard rules to make full sense of the new design. After having read and reread the rules several times already, I think I am ready to try the first solitaire scenario, The 6th Panzer is Delayed: Monthermé, France, 15 May 1940. In this scenario, the AI controls a reinforced French Anti-Tank Battery against a Light Tank Company and mixed Infantry Company of Kampfgruppe Raus. This is a simple “cross the defended map” scenario. Using the Solitaire Rules will be interesting.
To be honest, after reading the Solitaire Rules I am going into the first scenario play with a good deal of trepidation. I am worried because I feel I need a better familiarity with the standard rules before stepping into the solitaire version. Not that the solitaire rules are hard in concept, but there are so many rules interactions it worries me that I will miss something simple.
Although I have yet to play a full scenario, I cannot help but make comparisons between the Panzer Solitaire Rules and the card-based AI system in Conflict of Heroes: Eastern Front Solo Expansion (Academy Games). The Panzer approach is a traditional, table-driven design whereas the Eastern Front Solois very innovative card-driven design. Two radically different approaches to the same wargaming problem.
I really need to get the Panzer Solitaire Rules to the table sooner than later to judge for myself how well it works.
The next game in my 2019 Charles S. Roberts Wargame Challenge is The Ironclads. This game, by designer John Fuseler, was originally published by Yaquinto in 1979. Long ago I owned a copy of the Yaquinto edition, and equally long ago I made a terrible mistake and traded it away. In the years since, I picked up the newer (as in 1993 vintage) Excalibre Games Second Edition. Among The Ironcladsfans, the Excalibre Games edition is heavily criticized. The two biggest criticisms are the use of side-view ship counters (instead of the classic top-down view) and the horrendous font selection in the rule book. I am not going to argue a counterpoint; I strongly agree that the criticism is fair and richly deserved. However, I will argue that even after all these years the core game engine of The Ironclads delivers an awesome American Civil War naval wargaming experience.
Some of the game mechanics used in The Ironcladsshows it’s retro-wargame heritage. Preparing to play takes a while because for each ship the player must create a Log Sheet which requires a (somewhat) tedious transfer of information from Data Cards to the Log. A modern solution would be a file with print-on-demand logsheets. Indeed, the files pages for The Ironclads on BoardGameGeek includes just such a file!
The Ironclads uses Plotted Movement which is certainly not a game mechanic in vogue these days. However, in The Ironclads it works given the smaller speeds and impact of river currents on the ships. Gunfire Combat requires the use of multiple tables (Gun Hit Probability Table, Position of Hit on Vessel Table, Section of Vessel Hit Table, and Hit Damage Table). This sounds complicated and time-consuming but I found that if I rolled five d6 (2x black, green, white, and red) at once I streamlined the entire process. The 2x black d6 determined a hit, the green plus white gave me the location (Position & Section) and the red determined damage. Roll them all at once and go!
I will admit that Ramming Combat is a bit complicated as it requires the use of four different combat tables and some math. Thankfully, I find that ramming occurs only occasionally in my games so the rule is called upon infrequently. I would make reorganizing the combat tables as a whole a priority effort in any updated edition.
As I relearned the game, I was surprised by just how much “game” the Basic Game covers. The Advanced Rules are few and very easy to add to the game with little real increase in complexity.
My battle used Scenario 2: Ossabaw Sound, Georgia, June 17, 1863. This battle features CSS Atlanta‘s run down a river against two Union ironclads; USS Weehawken and USS Nahant (both Passaic-class Monitors). This is an interesting battle if for no other reason then the match up of guns. For the Rebs the best guns on Atlanta are 7″ Brooke Rifles which are best against the Union monitors when within 7 hexes (~700 yds). On the Union side both monitors have 11″ and 15″ Dahlgren guns in a turret which should easily penetrate Atlanta – when within 4 hexes (~400 yds). The Dahlgren guns can also only fire every other turn. Atlanta must run down river (avoiding shoals) and try to inflict maximum damage to at least one monitor and either make a run across the last stretch of open water board to escape or return upriver to her starting position.
Historically, the real battle was not much of a contest:
At the crack of dawn on 16 [sic] June 1863, after toiling along the shallow waters of the narrow and winding reaches of the river and losing several days, the first because of running aground, then again because a boiler’s valve had to be replaced, the Atlanta advanced into Warsaw Sound and was immediately sighted by the Federals.
[U.S. Navy Captain John] Rodgers steered to attack with both his ironclads. Unfortunately for the Confederates, the Atlanta grounded and heeled enough to make it impossible to use her guns. The Weehawken, followed by the Nahant, closed to within three hundred yards and began to pound the inert, immobile ship with their huge 15-inch and 11-inch Dahlgrens. It was no longer a battle: it was target practice that would fast become an execution. (Raimondo Luraghi, A History of the Confederate Navy, Naval Institute Press, 1996; p. 215)
My battle ran a bit different. Atlanta and Weehawken first met in the river. Atlanta was a bit speedier with the current pushing her along while Weehawken was slowed moving against the current. Both ships were also restricted in their maneuvers by the need to avoid active shoals and only got a few shots off at each other before it became a stern chase for Weehawken. Atlanta then had to get past Nahant which had fewer shoals to worry about and was able to close the range. Both Atlanta and Nahant took damage.
At this point Atlanta should have simply escaped but, when reading a bit about Atlanta’s captain, William H. Webb, I noted this description of the man: “…he lacked not bravery but good sense.” (Luraghi, p. 215). So Atlanta did not flee but continued to fight.
The rest of the battle consisted of Atlanta trying to fight from within her “immunity zone”; at ranges between 500-700 yards where her Brooke Rifles could damage the monitors while staying outside of the most dangerous range of the Dahlgrens. At this range her armor was proof against at least the 11″ Dahlgrens. On the other side, although Weehawken and Nahant could only fire each gun every other turn they had the advantage of numbers and boxed Atlanta in. Atlanta found herself being ground down and by the time she had sufficiently damaged Nahant to partially meet her victory condition she was in turn also crippled. Atlanta tried to exit the board (the second part of her victory criteria) but was run down by Weehawken and pounded into a sinking condition for a Union victory.
Even as I write this post-action report I am amazed by the narrative of battle The Ironclads builds. Mechanically the game flows quickly even with plotted movement and multi-roll combat resolution. With a bit of some organization the different tables that must be referenced and those multiple die rolls can be found and resolved quickly. In replaying The Ironclads after so many years I discovered not a complicated simulation of naval warfare in the American Civil War, but a very playable wargame that enables players to build a vivid narrative experience of those battles.
The very first wargame I ever owned was James M. Day’s Panzer published by Yaquinto in 1979. My friends and I played the h*ll out this game, and the companion ’88’and Armor. Looking back, I am amazed that these were my gateway games into the wargaming hobby. They definitely are not for the faint of heart as the rules are very fiddly. Today I introduced the updated Panzer Second Edition (GMT Games, 2012) to the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I am happy to say the updated Second Edition is a fine game too.
We played the Basic Game version of Scenario 2 The Village: Poland, late 1944. The RMN Boys took the Soviets and entered from the river edge of the map. I was the Germans and entered behind a small series of hills on an adjacent edge.
Given the two Boys, the Soviet force was divided between them. Little RMN took his part of the force (which included three T-34/85 and a SU-85 and SU-100 tank destroyer) and immediately turned to fight the advancing Germans. Meanwhile, the rest of the Soviet force (seven T-34/85’s) dashed for the village. The Germans were able to top the hills and shoot down at the exposed medium tanks and tank destroyers, eliminating all six tanks for a loss of a single Panzer IVH destroyed and a Panther damaged.
The other Soviet force buried themselves in the village but the relentless German drive eventually evicted them. A few more Germans tanks were lost, but the rest of the Soviet force was destroyed.
The Basic Game in Panzer focuses on the Sequence of Play and utilizes a simplified damage resolution system. Most importantly, armor has only two factors, frontal (forward hemisphere) and rear (back hemisphere). In this simple matchup, the frontal armor of the Panther was impervious to all the Soviets guns beyond a range of 4 hexes (400 meters). The Youngest RMN Boy expressed extreme displeasure with this condition – he had read that one way to beat the Panther (or Tiger tanks) was hit it from the side or behind. In the Basic Game this is hard to do because the “frontal” armor covers the forward 180-degree hemisphere – there is just no “side” armor unless you are behind the tank! This led us to a discussion of the Advanced Game with a much more detailed hit location and armor penetration model. Both RMN Boys expressed a desire for a rematch using the Advanced Game rules because the Basic Game just “doesn’t feel right.” Youngest RMN Boy also commented that Panzer helps him understand World of Tanks better where a Panther is Tier 7 but the T-34/85 is a Tier 6.
Overall, I have to rate the RMN Boys first reaction to Panzer (Second Edition) as “guarded interest.” They didn’t dislike the game, but they immediately compared it to Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear(Second Edition, Academy Games, 2012) which they have played often. They agreed with me that CoH: AtB is more a “game” and less a “simulation” whereas the Basic Game of Panzer is too much game in what should be more a simulation (meaning the Advanced Game is the “gamed simulation” Panzershould be).
The RMN Boys want to play Panzer again as they (especially Youngest RMN Boy) want to get into some of the details and experience what they have only read about in Osprey Books and the like. That said, they are also looking forward to the delivery of the new edition of Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! 1943 – Kursk to see how the tank battles version of that series plays out.
Panzerwas my gateway game 39 years ago. It is good to see that 39 years later the game still ignites the imagination and promotes learning. The game has stood the test of time well, and I expect it to continue to do so into the future.
The RockyMountainNavy Game Night this week went Old School. As in real Avalon Hill wargaming with Wooden Ships & Iron Men(Second Edition, 1981). This is one of the oldest games in my collection and I have not recorded a play since joining BoardGameGeek in 2004. The last game of WS&IMI can remember playing was with the Sea Cadets in Pearl Harbor in 1997 or ’98.
The Youngest RMN Boy had been asking about the older games in my collection. He also has an interesting naval warfare (being a big Battleship Captainfrom Minden Games fan). I have fond memories of WS&IMand remember how much fun the Sea Cadets had playing it. I pulled out the rulebook on Friday night and reread the Basic Game in preparation for the weekend.
Our scenario was a home-brew; during the Napoleonic Wars I sailed two French 74-gun Ships-of-the-Line (SOL) with Crack crews attempting to escape a blockaded harbor. The RMN Boys sailed two British 74-gun SOL also with Crack crew to stop the French from escaping.
Both sides started with the wind off their aft quarter (up to full speed in the game). In the first turns the range quickly closed, and the lead French ship actually got past the British and looked to be home free. Unfortunately, the British did get multiple Rigging Hits and succeeded slowing the ship down – significantly. In the meantime, the training French ship got caught in between the two British ships and was pounded, eventually losing all Rigging and “surrendered by striking her colors” and otherwise met the conditions to “surrender by immobility.”
The first French ship should of kept on and tried to escape. Before the game, we specified that simply exiting the board edge was the Victory Condition. However, I was too heroic and instead of running away turned parallel to the battle to offer some long-range fire support. This was a mistake, and once the first French ship surrendered the British used their (slightly) superior speed to pursue the French ship. Faced with a hopeless situation, the French SOL turned to flee, but in doing so offered her stern for several Raking shots. Shortly thereafter, this ship too “surrendered from immobility.”
Total game time was just over an hour. There were some mistakes and we didn’t have more than one Melee with Boarding Parties. Both RMN Boys agreed the game was fun and want to play again using the Advanced or Optional Rules. During the game, we discussed basic naval tactics and the advantages of shooting Rigging or Hull. The RMN Boys became painfully aware of the wind and its impact on movement as well as the dangers of Raking shots. Overall, the
Compared to many games published today the graphics and components of WS&IMare simple – even crude. That said, the game play is simple and quick. Movement rules are easy to grasp even if they require one to plot their movement (oh, the horror!). The Combat Phase requires a Hit Determination Table lookup and rolling against Hit Tables but the actual mechanics play fast. The RMN Boys were amazed that the entire game can be played with a single old-fashion d6!