The MAD #Wargame – Ultimatum: A Game of Nuclear Confrontation (Yaquinto Publications Inc., 1979)

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?

98B0A385-217B-4828-B94D-1C1EDA27F18F.jpeg
Look at all them mushroom clouds!

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.

That’s….mad.

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.

Doubly mad.

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.

2317224E-E5EE-4A65-BD61-285A6E256717
Crisis Areas around the edge. Notice “The Button.”

A Tournament Game of Ultimatum is really the Cold War played out. Each turn both players execute three phases:

  1. Allocation Phase – Determine income and spend money
  2. Deployment Phase – Distribute money to Crisis Areas and deploy or activate units
  3. 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.

IMG_0798
Uncontrolled Crisis Area Event ‘Cards’

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.

1166F2CA-A2E8-4CE4-9A9E-6281D7257E24


*MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction

 

 

 

A #wargame journey from hex & counter to waro through Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs (@gmtgames, 2019)

BARRING ANY UNFORSEEN CIRCUMSTANCES, Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs (GMT Games, 2019) is very likely to end up as my Game of the Year. As a dyed-in-the-wool hex & counter wargamer, I find myself equally surprised and ashamed when I make statements like that. Designer Mike Bertucelli (@Hobiecat on Twitter) has done what I thought was impossible – make an enjoyable tactical tank combat wargame without a hex board or dice.

pic1444385
Courtesy BGG

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 needed must 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!

tank_duel-main-1420
Courtesy Inside GMT Games

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.


Feature image by self

#Boardgamer or #Wargamer? Let’s throw in a little Kickstarter rant too

I was listening to designer Tom Russell in his interview on 5 Games for Doomsday. Tom talks about how he didn’t play games with his family growing up. This got me thinking about how I got into hobby gaming and where I am today.

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.

Gulo Gulo BoxFrom 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.

Dk_yqCEWsAki4_HIn 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. Scythe will 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.

And I’m going to enjoy every game played.

#WargameWednesday #Retroplay CSR #Wargame – Wings (Yaquinto Publishing, 1981)

I have been working my way through my 2019 Wargame Challenge – The Charles S Roberts Awards with Wings (Yaquinto Publishing, 1981) being the latest to get played. This game was the 1981 CSR winner for “Best Twentieth Century Wargame,” and deservedly so! I am very fortunate that I still have my Yaquinto First Edition with John Hagen’s beautiful cover art

Wings is designed by the prolific S. Craig Taylor, Jr. whose previous air combat game designs included Air Force (Battleline, 1976) – a game enjoyed by the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself. By 1981, the Battleline games had been taken over by Avalon Hill and Mr. Taylor worked for Yaquinto. In the Designer’s Notes for Wings he comments:

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 Wings is 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 Wings used 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).

byuHqTvnT6iCidT7c7O56A
Credit – Self

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 Wings grognards 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.

Post Script

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.

Too bad.


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


Feature image BoardGameGeek.com

 

#Solo #Wargame – Solitaire rules in #Panzer Expansion Nr. 4: France 1940 (@gmtgames, 2018)

pic1444385
Panzer – Yaquinto Edition (courtesy BGG.com

I have been playing Panzer by James M. Day since the Yaquinto Publishing first edition in 1979. As a matter of fact, Panzer was 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 #4 actually 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 Panzer fan 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 Panzer rules” 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.

pic2821372
Eastern Front Solo cards (courtesy boardgamegeek.com)

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 Solo is 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.


Feature image courtesy GMT Games

#Wargame #Retroplay – The Ironclads (Excalibre Games,1993)

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 Ironclads fans, 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 Ironclads shows 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)

css_atlanta_2
The capture of CSS Atlanta (at left) by USS Weehawken, in Wassaw Sound, Georgia, 17 June 1863 (americancivilwar.com)

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.

 

 

Pounding Panthers with Panzer (Second Edition, @gmtgames, 2012)

pic1444385_md
Courtesy BGG

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.

XlIiZqdoRPa%fwjN9rRZoA
The Soviets hold the village for now, but 4x Panthers backed up by a StuG IIIG will make short work of them soon….

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” Panzer should be).

pic439690_md
Courtesy Academy Games

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.

Panzer was 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.

Featured image courtesy Roger MacGowan (@RBMStudio1 on Twitter)

Sinking with Buoyant Feelings – Retroplaying Wooden Ships & Iron Men 2nd Edition (Avalon Hill Game Co., 1981)

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&IM I 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 Captain from Minden Games fan). I have fond memories of WS&IM and 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.” 

ljMIZhh0TfmgP28RhgZqsQ
The French SOL (2206) just before striking her colors.

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.”

EwkNNZOaQj+E4TJ2Rfp1+A
End of the game. There will be no escaping the blockade for the French today!

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&IM are 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!

pic136929_md
Courtesy BGG

Of course, Wooden Ships & Iron Men is one of the oldest Age of Sail fighting games. I also have Close Action from Clash of Arms and most of the Flying Colors series from GMT Games. The Youngest RMN Boy asked about The Ironclads (Yaquinto/Excalibre) that he sees on my game shelf. I was not sure the RMN Boys would accept “old School” wargames but after playing WS&IM this weekend I think they can handle the game mechanics. Indeed, I think they will even enjoy it!

#WargameWednesday Retroactive – Hammer’s Slammers (Mayfair Games Inc., 1984)

pic772418_md
Courtesy BGG.com

After looking to create a Hammer’s Slammers hover tank in #CepheusEngine RPG last week, I decided to pull out my “real” Hammer’s Slammers wargame. I kinda remember playing this one several times when it first came out but it never reached the same status in my mind as the Yaquinto Panzer-88-Armor-series that my friends and I played so much. Much to my surprise, this simple game actually packages great depth of gameplay.

Hammer’s Slammers is a true hex-n-counter game using small counters, a thick modular mapboard, and a 2d6 Combat Results Table (CRT). There are four forces provided; Hammer’s Slammers (blue), another Mercenary Force (red), and two Conventional Armies (green and tan). Interestingly, there is no scale designated although units look to be platoon/battery organizations and each hex multiple (?) kilometers.

Hammer’s Slammers is taken straight from the first book. Hover Tanks, Combat Cars, Infantry on hover scooters, and Hover Self-Propelled Artillery. The “Red” Mercenary Force is the same plus optional Large/Small guns (for indirect or direct fire), Howitzers (indirect fire only), or a Self-Propelled Calliope (for Counter Paratrooper or Counter Artillery Fires). Slammers and Mercenary units generally pack more firepower, have better protection, and come with superior speed. Conventional Forces use Tracked Tanks, Armored Cars, Armored Personnel Carriers, Large/Small Guns, Howitzers, Tracked Self-Propelled Artillery, Wheeled Self-Propelled Calliopes, and towed Calliopes. This mix of units lets one recreate many of the battles found in the books where the technologically superior but numerically inferior Slammers fought against other mercenary or conventional units.

The main rulebook is 16 pages long, but the first nine are reprints of the “Interludes” found in the original Hammer’s Slammers book. This leaves seven pages of two-column text and tables for the rules. Every turn each player sequentially resolves their action in the order of Rally (Moving Player) – Paradrop & Counter Paradrop FireMove (Moving Player) – Ranged Combat (All Players – Indirect Artillery & Counter Artillery Fire – Direct Fire) – Close Assaults (All Players). Once all players have gone the next turn begins.

Units that are Disrupted in Combat can Rally. For this each force has a Morale Number that must be rolled above on 2d6. Many scenarios have a variable Morale Number based on increasing losses – the more units lost the harder it becomes to rally a unit. A simple mechanic that doesn’t get in the way of play but adds a nice layer of realism.

I don’t remember any paradrop operations in the original stories so Paradrop & Counter Paradrop Fire seems a bit out of place to me. It does allow a nice way to enter units onto the map quickly.

Movement is again very traditional with each hex having a movement cost to enter. Hover and Conventional units have separate movement charts reflecting the different mobility of hover versus tracked/wheeled. There is not much difference but there is enough to be evocative of the setting.

Ranged Combat is where the differences between forces really stands out beginning with Indirect Fire & Counter Artillery Fire. Indirect Fire attacks the defense factor of the hex, not the units. This makes indirect fire very dangerous because the 8-defense factor Hover Tank in the Clear hex actually has a defense factor of 2 against artillery. To offset this vulnerability, Hover Tanks and Calliopes have the Counter Artillery Fire (CAF) capability which allows each unit to cancel a single artillery barrage in range. Of course, this comes at a cost; units firing CAF cannot fire in the Direct Fire phase.

Direct Fire is very simple; compare Attack Factor to Defense Factor, convert to odds, roll on CRT. Stacked units can combine fire and attack other stacks or individual units. Firing out to twice your range cuts the Attack Factor in half. Terrain Modifiers add to the Defense Factor. Combat results are No Effect, Disrupted (no indirect or direct fire, half movement), Defender Eliminated, or Defender Eliminated with Rubble (adds to movement and defense). There is an optional rule for Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) which allows Mercenary and Slammer Hover Tanks to “jam” conventional units which means the target cannot combine their attack nor spot for an indirect fire unit.

Close Assault takes place when units are in the same hex. All undisrupted units get a positive column shift and infantry fights with doubled Attack Factors. Units in Close Assault cannot leave the hex until all enemy units are eliminated.

There are other rules for Fortresses and Gas Attacks but generally that is it. You can play one of the 14 scenarios or Design Your Own using the point-buy system provided.

IMG_0139
Slammers in Action

I played two scenarios. “Badger Hunt” is the introductory scenario that uses Conventional Forces only. I also played “Slammers” which is a three-way brawl with the Slammers squaring off against the Green Army (lots of long-range artillery and infantry with few mechanized) and the Tan Army (Mechanized and supported by a few Small Guns – no infantry). Each player has six turns to get as many points as possible (points are scored using the Design Your Own Scenario values). I used the Slammers with ECM to get as much high-tech effect as possible.

Hammer’s Slammers plays out much differently than I remember. I kinda remember the CPF and CAF rules and I don’t think I ever actually played with the ECM rules. I sorta remember the game as being very vanilla; simple and bland.

This time it was a much deeper experience. The low rules overhead meant the game could be played with minimal relearning. The differences in forces is just enough that there is no one-size-fits-all approach or best strategy. In the “Slammers” scenario, the Slammers start in the center and must determine how to deal with each force. I painfully learned that the Hover Tanks greatest asset is not its firepower but its CAF capability. The Hover Tanks ended up providing cover for the Combat Cars until they got close enough to dash in and deal with the guns. Of course, nipping at the flanks or blocking the direct route was that pesky tracked armor. This forced a decision; drop the CAF for Direct Fire or cover the force and let the lesser combat cars try to deal with the threat? For the Green or Tan Conventional Armies the key is combined arms and interlocking fields of fire. Artillery is in many ways still the King of the Battle.

pic1100227_md
Courtesy BGG.com

As much as Mayfair’s Hammer’s Slammers game captures the flavor the of books, it best replicates battlefield force-on-force situations. There is one scenario, “Hangman,” where a Mercenary force takes on Militia and Buses. It’s a one-sided bloodbath. The game has no real ability to present an asymmetric combat situation. I have to admit the best game I have in my collection for that is actually Tomorrow’s War: Science Fiction Wargaming Rules (Ambush Alley Games/Osprey Publishing 2011). This is a skirmish game played at a much more granular scale than Hammer’s Slammers. In many ways, Tomorrow’s War is a direct competitor to my other HS game, The Hammer’s Slammers Handbook (Pireme Publishing Ltd, 2004) which is a set of miniatures skirmish rules published in the UK which still has its own website.

pic87199_md
Courtesy BGG.com

I also think back to the Hammer’s Slammers sourcebook from Mongoose Publishing for their Mongoose Traveller (1st Edition) RPG. As I have written before that product was a real disaster.

So when I look at the Mayfair Hammer’s Slammers game today I actually see a real gem. The game is a close to an introductory-level game in terms of rules, but the variable forces and modular map make for endless play variations. As simple as the rules are, the designer has actually captured a good deal of the flavor of combat in the Hammerverse. The game also has a very small footprint; the “Slammers” scenario map was playable in an area literally 18’x24″. A 3’x3′ table is more than sufficient for even the largest scenarios!

RockyMountainNavy Verdict: MUST PLAY MORE!

 

 

#WargameWednesday – MBT (2nd Ed) Scenario 1 Playthru

pic1444385_mdJim Day’s Panzer by Yaquinto Publishing was my first ever wargame, coming as a Christmas gift in 1979. I liked the game so much that I picked up the rest of the series, ’88’ and Armor as soon as they were published. These games are touchstones of my young gaming life; they were how I cut my teeth in the wargaming hobby.

Last year I ordered GMT’s MBT (2nd Edition). I have heard great things about the Panzer and MBT system over the years, but had drifted away over the decades. I am glad I came back to Jim Day’s tactical armored combat games!

pic2958247_mdI played Scenario 1 – First Clash Pt 1 using the Basic Game Rules with the addition of Advanced Game Rule 6.2 Advanced Game Command Phase and 7.43 Command Span. I actually started play with just the Basic Rules, but quickly discovered the Soviets were running amok. I reset the game and introduced the advanced command rules to bring some sanity back to the situation.

The battle went in ebbs and flows, with the Soviets initially gaining the upper hand. The Soviets entered from the left side of the board which is generally more open than the other edge. One platoon in the center of the battlefield caught a US platoon in the open and decimated it. After that the Americans were more cautious in the advance seeking cover where available. The Soviets rapidly seized the center bridge crossing and were advancing for cover when it was ambushed from their flank by a US platoon that had gotten relatively close using cover. On the bottom edge, two Soviet platoons took on an advancing US platoon protected by overwatch fire. In a real bloodbath, the US lost a platoon but destroyed both Soviet platoons in return. 

I was really glad I reset the game and used the advanced command rules. The Soviets have a single Company HQ tank that has to orchestrate their entire battle. This forced the Soviets to concentrate on the center and one flank. The Americans have two Company HQ  tanks so they were able to split their force and remain effective. About mid-battle, the Soviet commander attempted to displace forward because his advancing platoons were actually exceeding his Command Span causing a lose of control. A US M-60 in Overwatch was able to get a lucky shot and destroy him. This crippled the Soviets as they were now severely limited in command actions. As a result, the Americans were able to roll up the Soviet’s flank  and eventually eject them totally.

At first, I was worried that the extensive use of chits for marking spotting, command, and various other admin was going to crowd the map too much. I was very pleased that my fears are unfounded. The game flows very naturally and the chits do not get in the way. Very important to me, the game play and results feel realistic and not forced or contrived.

I previously told myself that the MBT core game was going to be sufficient to scratch the itch of my modern armor combat and I don’t need any expansions. I told myself that I have the old Panzer series for WWII armored combat and I don’t need the new one. Unfortunately for me (but fortunate for Jim Day and GMT) one day’s play of MBT has totally changed my mind.

Now where’s my wallet?


All images courtesy BoardGame Geek.