Friday, October 31, 2008

More thoughts on Austerlitz strategy for the Allies

I've now got a few more plays under my belt and adjusted my thoughts on Allied strategy accordingly.

I still think the French side is easier to play. They have the better army, with a larger stacking limit, a finer degree of articulation in units strengths (making it easier to achieve efficient odds and exchanges) and faster units. All these things make that side easier to handle. The speedy units, especially, make it possible for the French player to react to whatever strategy the Austro-Russians pursue.

The Austro-Russian allies do start with the initiative, and if they fail to keep it the French will eat their lunch.

There are three general strategies available to the Allies. My initial preference was to give up on the idea of winning by exiting units and concentrate on winning the attrition race to demoralization and seek out a decisive battle in the center of the map. With more experience I conclude that my aim was sound, but my means was deficient. It's certainly possible for the Allies to win such a battle, but against a clever French player the odds are not good. The French stacking advantage and speed will tend to result in unfavorable matchups in a main force confrontation. It's true that whichever side gets demoralized first will promptly lose, but on average it will be the Allies who suffer that fate.

A second approach that shows some promise is to try to pull the Allied army back in good order and exit off the East edge. Against a cautious or slow French player this can work. The threat of exiting most of the army may panic the French into attacking too hastily. If they do the Allies may have a chance to destroy enough French to demoralize them. Even if they don't, the Allies may be able to get enough off to win. The best French counter is a strong attack to demoralise the Austrians quickly, cut off their escape route off map and then mop up the survivors. Because there is a good counter strategy, however, it may not be as effective as the third choice. It's also likely to result something less than a decisive win for the Allies, if they win at all.

That involves making a serious effort to follow the historical Austro-Russian plan and attack on the left. The right flank Allied units and the small reinforcement group should stand on the defense at first and try to lure the French into committing a sizable force to that sector. If the French ignore them, move up. If they send too few troops over, kill them. If they send too many to fight, exit the map. The points probably won't count, but they won't count for the French, either.

Meanwhile, the Allied main body moves at top speed against the French right and the high-value exit area. They're not fast enough to make it off before the French get there, but the threat may induce the French to approach in a piecemeal fashion. If they do, then the Allies have set the stage for a winning attrition battle against just a portion of the French army. It's no sure thing, but it provides a good chance to demoralize the French. If demoralized, the surviving French will not be able to stop the Austrians from exiting enough to win a decisive victory.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Antietam: Burnished Rows of Steel

George B. McClellan was possibly the most frustrating man to ever command an American Army. He was brilliant and incompetent at the same time. An incomparable organizer, beloved by his soldiers of the Union Army of the Potomac, he was a good strategist. Yet he was also a coniver, a complainer, and a backstabber. He was overcautious and an inept battle manager.
Antietam was his greatest victory, but at the same time his most disappointing performance. The famous "Lost Orders" allowed him to concentrate his entire army against a portion of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. And yet, despite outnumbering Lee by two to one, he failed to destroy him.

The issue game in Command No. 22, Antietam: Burnished Rows of Steel is a moderate complexity wargame depicting the battle. Units are brigades, turns represent 60 minutes and each hex depicts 250 yards.

The large-sized unit counters bear a full-color icon showing a soldier, a morale value, step strength, combat value and movement allowance.Turns comprise a movement phase, artillery bombardment phase and two rounds of combat. Combat is resolved brigade by brigade, with combat strengths comapred for a differential ranging from -1 to +2, unless the attacker is at least twice as strong and qualifies for the 2-1 or more table. Differences between morale levels, being surrounded and terrain effects can modify the die roll, but in almost every case both sides will take step losses on the bloody table.

The heart of the game are the Corps Commitment rules. If McClellan had committed all his troops he would have easily overwhelmed the outnumbered Confederates. Instead he committed his units piecemeal and Lee was bale to counter each blow in turn and stand his ground. The game handles this by allowing the Federal player to commit just two of his six corps at any one time.

The game also includes solitaire rules that use a modified version of the commitment rules, where the game system handles the Union side and the player represents Lee.

The quick set up will take about 20 minutes, while the fixed set up will take about 30 minutes to execute. The 11-turn game is playable in a long evening.


(Yes) for Wargamers. A rare workable hex-and-counter solitaire game. The two-player version is also of interest.

(no) for Collectors. No special collectibility

(no) for Eurogamers. Units are represented by multiple counters for the different step strengths, there are sixteen pages of rules and the combat rules are involved.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A wargamey approach to D&D Miniatures

Most wargamers, even those with pretty eclectic tastes, will have certain types of games that appeal to them more than others. I've always had a weakness for man-to-man level skirmish games, for example. I own more than a dozen right now and have owned or played dozens more since playing Sniper! back in the 1970s.

Every wargame has to strike a balance between realism and playability, but higher-level wargames can mask some of their abstractions more easily than skirmish games. Few people who have never served at a higher-level military headquarters have a strong idea of exactly how an army works. But just about everybody can imagine very easily the potential moves of an individual soldier, so there's a strong incentive for a skirmish level wargame to become very detailed. The player knows that in real life the soldier could peek around a corner, so he wants his soldier to be able to do it.

Yet action at the skirmish level is fast and furious and a game that bogs down in too much detail runs the risk of failing to captures the chaos and quick reaction of a melee.

There's no right answer, and I've found games at both ends of the spectrum that do an acceptable job. Gunslinger, for example, may be one of the most detailed non-computer man-to-man shooter games ever published and is well-regarded and popular, But so is Cowboys, Worthington Games' newer game on the same topic that eschews much of the detail in favor of speed and ease of play. A 30-second gunfight in Gunslinger will often take a couple of hours to play. A similar gunfight in Cowboys will still take more than 30 seconds, but it's unlikely to take more than an hour.

My association with Dungeons and Dragons also goes back to the 70s. I first played with the original three books, although I never became a hard-core RPGer, preferring historical wargames instead. When I did role play, I soon moved over to the more tactically oriented Fantasy Trip which further evolved into GURPS. Interestingly enough, in its later editions D&D has also become more like a tactical skirmish wargame.

The D&D miniatures game is a simplified version of the D&D tactical system and indeed, it appears that there's not an awful lot of difference between them at this point. WOTC has recently (October) announced that it's going to discontinue new releases of the D&D Miniatures game in favor of making miniatures that are just geared toward the roleplaying game.

As a late comer to the D&D miniatures this is mildly disappointing, as I think it's actually a pretty decent light skirmish wargame, but there's a silver lining to the news, nonetheless.

Like most miniatures games these days, D&D Minis are collectible, with all the money sink potential that implies. It also means a business model heavily reliant on sanctioned tournament play that encourages constant purchases to stay competitive. While a successful approach for collectible card games, this has worked out rather less well for miniatures. The only long-running collectible miniatures game that seems to have held its own is HeroClix.

For non-competitive play, however, the end of competitive play means that after-market prices and availability of miniatures will improve and the freezing of the game's further development makes it much more favorable for casual players.

For those casual players, what does D&D miniatures offer.

It's a very straightforward man-to-monster level game. A 200-point game gives each player about a half-dozen to up to 10 figures that can battle on a square-gridded map. The usual battlefield has starting areas for each player and "victory point ares" for each that tend to lie on the opponent's side of the field. Occupying a victory area (presumably looting some treasure) provides victory points, as does eliminating enemy figures. This simple expedient encourages players to close and fight and provides a context for the battlefield maneuvers.

Combat is very simple, and is handled the same way whether it is a melee attack, a ranged attack or a magic blow. The attacking player rolls a 20-sided die (a D&D tradition) adds any modifiers and compares that result to the target's armor class (or its separate "defense" values for some kinds of attacks). If the result equals or exceed that armor value then it's a hit and it does the number of"hit points" (another traditional D&D term) indicated on the attacker's stat card. Once a target accumulates more than half it's Hit Point value in damage it is considered "bloodied" which often provides benefits for subsequent attackers. When damage equals a target's hit point value it's eliminated.

Various special powers apply various elaborations to this combat routine or affect movement or the timing of actions, but that's the essence of the game.

It compares in complexity to Heroscape or Cowboys and is a skirmish game you can definitely play with younger gamers, while the interaction of powers and the metagame of warband construction provides scope for more experienced gamers.

The miniatures are also fully usable with the role-playing game and include stats on the reverse side of the card for the role-playing rules. Having no game-specific data on the bases, the miniatures are also suitable for use with any other set of RPG rules or even other skirmish level games that use similar sized figures. (The D&D minis are billed as "28mm" scale.)

Nuclear War tournament session

We didn't have a very big turnout, I'm afraid, but the three of us who did make it had an enjoyable time of it. I decided to try the Weapons of Mass Destruction edition of Nuclear War as it seems well suited for a smaller group.

There was the usual tossing around of propaganda to start. There was an abortive start to the war as our youngest player misplayed his card order, but eventually the missiles started to fly. The youngest player attempted to minimize the chances of annoying either of his foes too much by randomizing every attack with a die roll -- which might have worked out except that every single roll came up against the middle player!

Myself, as the oldest player, managed to benefit from this turn of events, but not enough to bring victory as I had my all-too-common very poor population draw and skimped by with what events would prove to be far less than a fair share.

My missiles were able to wipe out our young friend, who maintained his policy of "random" attacks during his final retaliation, which all (four shots) happened to hit our middle player.

Despite this barrage the middle player still had the most population cards and in the brief interlude of peace that followed he was winning the propaganda war quite handily. With just 4 million people left I launched my last attack and got through. A Secret Card on Middle Player's draw wiped out the last of my folks and I launched my final retaliation in hopes of immolating the whole world. Middle player happened to have an anti-missile which shot down my best missile (a Coyote). My other two shots got through and did a lot of damage, but he ended up surviving with just 8 million left -- which happened to be the base loss the Coyote's warhead would have inflicted!

So despite being the target for almost every nuclear attack in the game, the Middle Player won.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Nuclear War tournament Sunday

Mark the weekend that the world didn't end 46 years ago by taking part in a tournament of the Nuclear War card game at The Citadel Game store, 537 Long Hill Road, Groton CT from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

$5 entry fee, prizes.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hold the Line expansion session report

I tried a solitaire run-through of the first scenario in the French and Indian War expansion set for Hold the Line.

Depicting the Battle on Snowshoes on March 13, 1758, this scenario prominently features the two new unit types introduced by the expansion, Indians and Colonial Rangers.

I was curious about the scenario because the rangers are grossly outnumbered, with just five combat units and a leader facing 13 combat units and a leader.

Setting up the scenario the first thing I noticed is that I'd have to proxy some of the terrain, as there's nowhere near enough woods tiles. This was an annoying discovery and should have been pointed out in the rules.

The essential nature of the scenario is that the rangers are trying to hold out for 18 turns without losing too many units or letting the French cut them off from a retreat at nightfall. The latter condition is represented by having a couple of VP hexes behind the Ranger lines. The French win by getting 5 VPs. Between units, leader and VP hexes there are 8 possible VPs available, so winning will require doing a lot of damage to the Ranger force. The Rangers can win by avoiding those losses or, alternatively, by inflicting 7 Victory points of losses on the French, which amounts the half of the 14 possible.

The rangers set up on the edge of a big clump of 27 woods and hills hexes. Events would show that, while outnumbered, the rangers are truly an elite and dangerous force in this kind of terrain. Led by a 2 value leader (the famous Rogers), blessed with a base of 3 command action points and able to move through two woods hexes per turn the rangers are an agile force that will usually be able to move nearly every unit every turn.

The French start out with some Indians posted as an advance guard in some scattered trees in a semicircle matching the ranger front, a line of militia units and then a line of regulars. They have just one average leader for their large force and just 2 command action points so they will only be able to act with about a third or less of their army every turn.

I decided the rangers would play an active defense, using their mobility advantage to the full.

The French force started out trying to send the Indians on wide flanking maneuvers to get around the rangers with the aim of thinning the ranger front lines and threatening the VP hexes in the rear.

At first this looked promising bu the rangers were able to parry the move fairly easily and counter attack the unsupported Indians while the French were trying to sort out their infantry lines (the militia was in the way of the regulars and it seemed unwise to let the militia lead the way into the forest.

While the Indians were able to kill one ranger unit, they lost four in return (although one Indian did manage to make it to a VP hex before being killed. This put the French unider a severe VP deficit and time was also starting to become an issue.

The slow-moving French main body was forced to leave about half of its units behind as it tried to close with the rangers, who now fell back deep into the woods.

The final showdown near the VP hexes found one French regular with leader Langy, a milita unit and the surviving Indian facing off against Rogers and the surviving rangers, two of which were reduced. Another French regular unit was close by, but not quite able to get into the fight.

Langy and his regular were able to push the rangers back inexorably, killing one and capturing a victory hex for the second time, but it was in vain because the other three rangers were able to eliminate the last Indian and the militia unit, although losing one more ranger in the process. The final score was 4 to 7.

This result was close enough to suggest that the French can win, although next time I think I'll spend more time bringing up the main body before sending the Indians on their flanking task. Committing the Indians too early allowed the rangers to defeat them in detail.

Overall it appears to be an interesting scenario. Just remember to borrow some extra woods hexes from Clash for a Continent or Memoir '44.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

National Heroscape Day

I wasn't able to attend any of the scheduled events, but i did the next best thing by playing a couple of games with C.K. at his house.

While I had a good time, I can't say I had a very successful outing.

We played two game using a map set up from one of the download sites. It was a pretty straightforward battlefield just using the basic set terrain. Essentially it was a flat battlefield with a steep and fairly high hill on my left and a small knoll with a glyph on the right. Running down the middle of the battlefield from the high ground and around the glyph's knoll was a stream.

Our first contest was a straight-up 450 point fight to the death. And die my army of elves did. I had a handful of elven wizards backed by some elven archers against a force of knights, a Soulborg and a dragon. All were wiped out with no real damage to C.K.'s force. The Elves suffered from not having any real heavy hitters and pretty weak defenses to boot. They had quite a few special abilities, but nothing that could turn the tide.

The second battle was a 600-point battle. I went with a Vydar largely Soulborg army while C.K. went with a pure Marro host. Things went decently well at first. I was able to use my range advantage to pick off a large portion of his forces while just losing one Major and a few squad pieces. Unfortunately his Marro drones got into close combat range and a good turn of fighting and a key initiative loss led to my force being mauled.

Enjoyable game, but I suffered a bit from not having played in a little while.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dunnigan and The Drive On Metz

Charles Roberts may be the founder of modern board wargaming, but no one individual did more to expand the reach of the hobby than James F. Dunnigan. Under his leadership SPI and Strategy & Tactics magazine produced a flood of wargames tat shaped the direction of the hobby for years to come.

From a player's point of view Dunnigan's designs were definitely misses as least as often as they were hits. Dunnigan clearly came down on the realism side of the realism vs. playability debates that raged in the 70s and 80s. Still, some of his games were really quite good.

Dunnigan left active boardgame design for the most part when he left SPI just before its collapse and purchase by TSR. He found a second career as a military analyst and popular author on military affairs. He wasn't completely absent however, returning for a brief stint as editor of S&T at one point and authoring the Wargames Handbook, which is still one of the basic works about the hobby.

In the Wargames Handbook Dunnigan included a sample wargame, Drive on Metz, although not in ready-to-play format. The player would have to photocopy and cut and paste in order to actually play the game from the book. Recently, however, the game has appeared in ready-to-play formats in two venues C3I magazine and as a standalone from Victory Point Games. I recently picked up a copy of the latter edition.

As a writer Dunnigan has a pithy style, so it seems appropriate he's designed a pithy little wargame that makes his design points in the most economical way possible. With a battlefield of just 99 hexes The Drive on Metz is on the small side in the wargame universe, but more notably it includes just eight U.S. pieces and 11 German units.

In many ways the game is standard hex-and-counter wargame, with zones of control, combat and movement factor counters with NATO symbols and a simple IGO-HUGO turn sequence.

Yet clever victory point assignments, an unusual disparity in combat strength between the German and American units, a bloodless CRT and careful terrain design turn a minimalist design into an interesting little contest between quality and quantity. (In this case, the U.S. forces represent the quality and the Germans the quantity.)

The Victory Point Games version adds a few optional units and rules, but leaves the game's nature unchanged.

The Americans have enough power to do anything they want, but too few units to do everything they want. The Germans have the challenge of fighting an economy of force delaying action, trying to minimize U.S. progress while also freeing up some combat power for use elsewhere.


(Yes) For wargamers: A fun little wargame that is good for introducing the hobby to newbies.

(No) For the collector: Not rare

(Yes) For eurogamers: A great sampler of wargaming principles in a tight, inexpensive package.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Blood & Iron review

Blood and Iron is the issue game in Command Magazine No. 21 in 1993.It's a straightforward wargame in the classic style. Two evenly matched armies go toe to toe on an odds-based combat results table, using an IGO-HUGO turn sequence, with combat factor/movement factor units that exercise zones of control. Units are brigades for both armies, every turn represents one hour of fighting and every hex represnts 500 meters of actual ground.

In usual Command Magazine fashion the game hangs some special chrome rules on its basic standard wargame structure to provide a reasonably authentic portrayal of the decisive battle of the 1866 war between Austria and Prussia.

The 1/2-inch unit counters are functional and easy to read. The anachronistic NATO-style unit symbols are color-coded to designate which Army (Prussian 1st, 2nd or Elbe; Austrian North, Saxon or optional South) the unit belongs to. The background colors are based on the traditional uniform colors of the two sides, field grey for the Prussians and white for the Austrians.

The most important chrome rule has to do with leadership. The Prussian leaders are assumed to be efficient and competent, allowing the whole Prussian army to operate without command problems unless completely cut off from friendly lines. The Austian side is a different story. The fractious and politicized Austrian high command is depicted with a leader counter for every corps, and the Army leader Benedek. In order for Austrian units to operate at full effectiveness they must be within command range of their corps leader (2-4 hexes) and that leader has to pass a command control check on a two-dice roll (usually a 7 or less, although some poor leaders need a 5 or less). In addition, if the command roll is high enough (usually a 12, although for one leader its 11 and another it's 10) the [i]Prussian[/i] player gets to move that corps!

Victory is assessed through accumulated victory points. Most are scored for eliminating enemy units, but some geographic points are also worth points to one side or the other.

The game includes scenarios for the historical battle (either the morning only or the whole day); an earlier start (5 a.m. instead of 8 a.m.); or an Austrian offensive. In addition, there are two variants presented. The variants assume the Austrians sent their best general (Archduke Albert) to the key front instead of wasting him in Italy and add either him alone, or him and his South Army, to the Austrian OB.

Set up is semi-free deployment off a list, taking about 20-30 minutes. The 5-turn morning battle can be easily played in an evening, while playing the longest 16-turn early start scenario may take two evenings or a sSaturday afternoon to finish.


(Yes) for Wargamers: A good, solid, old-style battle game.

(No) for collectors: Nothing special

(No) for Eurogamers: An old-style hex-and-counter battle game.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Cortes review

Cortes: Conquest of the Aztecs is the kind of wargame that only could appear in a magazine.
As important as the event was, there are no panzers, it didn't involve English speaking peoples and it involved high dissimilar armies.

One value to magazine wargames is the chance to learn some history and maybe experience an unusual game situation. Cortes, the issue game in Command No. 20, succeeds on those grounds.
While the 14-page rules describe a moderately complex wargame, they include a lot of chrome that helps capture the color in a colorful campaign that featured some colorful characters. As noted in the game description, this may be the only board game that includes a rule for human sacrifice!

The tactical problem is unique, with the Spanish assaulting a island connected to the mainland by several causeways. Every hex represents 300 meters, but the turn length is indeterminate, representing anything from a few minutes to several days. Most of the Indian units represent several thousand warriors, but the elite Aztec knight units represent about 200 individuals. The Spanish units represent about 50 foot soldiers or 20 mounted troops.

The turn sequence is a straight-forward movement and combat phase system.

The 128 large 5/8-inch counters have full-color iconic representations of the various warriors, with the Aztecs on green and the Spanish and their allies on light brown. Fourteen of the Spanish units are boats and many of the Indians have an ability to move onto the lake using their canoes. While land movement happens on a hex grid, the lake is divided into areas.

Unusually for a Command game, the combat result table uses a two-dice sum, but the results are the usual Command step loss numeric result. Units are either four or two steps in strength.
The Aztecs win by killing Cortes, or failing that by racking up "loss points" for eliminating Spanish units. The Spanish player has the option of pausing his assault for a mutual Redeployment and Recovery interphase. During an R&R both sides can recover lost steps, although the Spanish will tend to recover a larger portion of their strength. Every R&R phase cost the Spanish 5 loss points, however, meaning that having more than two will probably cost the Spanish player a victory.The game lasts until the Spanish clear the city of Indian units, however long that takes.
Set up will take less than 10 minutes, with a semi-free set up for both sides. The game will probably take one sitting to play, although the lack of a time pressure for the Spanish player could cause the game to drag a bit with some playing styles.


(Yes) for wargamers. Interesting and unique tactical situation depicted in colorful yet authentic fashion.

(No) for collectors.

(No) for Eurogamers. A hex-and-counter wargame without mitigating factors that might appeal to eurogamers.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Port Arthur review

Highly scripted, even by wargame standards, the Command Magazine game Port Arthur, when played correctly by the rules, will follow the historical course of events very closely. There will be an initial skirmish along the border, a brief stand at Liao Yang, a long and bloody siege at Port Arthur and a final, climactic battle on turn 9 or 10 at Mukden.

With only 10 pages of rules and fairly standard hex-and-counter wargame mechanics, this game seems nonetheless to have confused a lot of players with the unusual strategic movement rules.

Essentially, after every set of regular player moves there is a special strategic movement segment that allows unlimited movement across the map so long as units do not pass adjacent to enemy units. Players who fail to understand the implications of this rule and do not set up their forces accordingly are in for a disaster shortly. The sequence of play makes the Russians most vulnerable to this, as the Japanese strategic movement comes right after the regular Russian movement phase. Russian players have to be sure to use their movement phase to protect themselves from being surrounded or outflanked. The Japanese, on the other hand, can use their strategic movement to make sure their own army is safe from Russian mischief.

The overall effect is to keep the initiative firmly in Japanese hands and induce a suitably historic sense of caution in the Russians.

The game cannot be won on the first turn by either side. (The strategic movement rules don't kick in until the second turn, so both sides will have two regular movement and combat phases before the first strategic movement occurs.)

Each hex represents five miles and each turn is a month, except for the wintertime when it's two months per turn.

Units are generally divisions for both sides. Japanese divisions have four steps and Russians have two steps.

The combat system is the familiar odd-based numeric result style common in Command games where results list losses in steps and defenders can mitigate the losses partially with retreats.

Japanese units are white on red, while Russians are yellow on green, on the larger 5/8-inch counters common in Command issue games during this era.

There are 101 counters, with most representing units.

The game will only take about 10 minutes to set up and can easily be played in one sitting.


(Conditional Yes) for Wargamers: There's little scope for innovative strategies. Any attempt to deviate from the script is an invitation for swift defeat. On the other hand, the game is a tight contest that will usually be decided on the last turn.

(No) for Collectors: Nothing special.

(No) for Eurogamers: In addition to all the usual drawbacks of hex-and-counter wargames from their point of view, Port Arthur is highly scripted AND unforgiving of error.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Axis & Allies and How the Allies Won

A passing comment by Axis & Allies designer Larry Harris on some forum helped put his classic Axis & Allies design into a different perspective for me. He remarked that in order to be historically accurate the U.S. should have double or even triple the resource points the game gives. The lower number is used for game balance purposes.

Given this design note, I think it's fairer to consider the standard Axis & Allies (and all its related strategic level games like the Revised, Europe, Pacific and upcoming Anniversary editions) as really being an "alternate history" of World War II rather than a model of the actual conflict.

This isn't as unreasonable a design approach as it may seem, either. While the common perception today is that an Allied victory in World War II was inevitable, if wasn't seen that way at the time -- especially from the perspective of 1941 or 1942 when the game starts.

Richard Overy's excellent book, "Why the Allies Won," explains how an Allied victory was far from inevitable. He outlines a number of critical factors that played a huge role in the outcome of the war, but one in particular is notable in the context of Axis & Allies.

One advantage a simple game like A&A has over more complex treatments of the same topic is a certain freedom from constraints. Usually a more detailed design adds more and more restrictions on what the player can do. While certainly justified from one perspective, as the real world is indeed full of constraints, it also means that the game player is forced to accept the designer's premises. The necessity of keeping a complex design manageable will keep the designer from straying too far from his design parameters. A complex simulation of World War II will have to stick to the historical script on the really macro issues such as economic mobilization.

But the differential between the economic efforts of the Axis and the Allies was one of the key reasons for the outcome of the war, according to Overy. In particular, the Americans and the Soviets each, albeit in different ways, mobilized their economies far in excess of what the Germans thought possible. Meanwhile the Gemrans, despite having the resources of all of Europe and an educated, skilled workforce, didn't make the most of what they had. Those interested in the details of the argument are directed to Overy's book, but the bottom line is that the Soviets were able to outstrip the Germans despite having an economic base just a fraction of the size. And the Americans were able to switch over from a peacetime economy to a fully mobilized war effort in a little over a year.

So, while it's true that the Germans were overwhelmed by superior numbers, it's largely their own fault. Had they mobilized an effort comparable to the Americans than the war might have turned out quite differently. Indeed, once Speer took charge of the economy the Germans started to turn things around. But just as Speer's reforms were beginning to bite the Allied bomber offensive started to hinder the German economy effectively. It was a near-run thing. Had Speer been put in charge six months or a year earlier, the bomber offensive might never have been able to really get going. (That bomber offensive is another of Overy's key factors.)

Axis & Allies allows some experimentation with the potential consequences of a better German economic mobilization by increasing the number of German resource points.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tet 68 review

The issue game in Command Magazine No. 18, Tet 68 is the most S&T-like wargame to appear in the pages of Ty Bomba's competing periodical. While always clearly simulation wargames, rather than just war-themed games, most Command Magazine wargames stressed playability as a major factor. One of their techniques was a reliance on standard wargame mechanics and an avoidance of charts and tables whenever possible, which caused some critics to say the games were too much alike (but it did succeed in making the games easier to play).

On the other hand, over its long history Strategy & Tactics magazine games have often experimented with different game mechanics and have not been afraid to use charts/tables and intricate game rules in order to be more realistic. Many S&T games seem designed more to be a study than a game.

Tet 68 is closer to the S&T philosophy than most Command games, which is not surprising, considering that the game's designer, Joe Miranda, designed many games for S&T and eventually became its editor. Miranda's designs are notable for paying a lot of attention to the political aspects of warfare, and Tet 68 is no exception. Players who bring a "panzer-pushing" mindset will find themselves losing in spectacular fashion, especially as the Communist side. But even US/ARVN players are cautioned that a purely military approach will not bring victory in this game, which covers the decisive 1968 Communist offensive. While a failure militarily, the Communist offensive's political impact was wide and deep and set the stage for their eventual victory.

Each hex is about 25 miles across and the map covers all of South Vietnam and southern Laos, and parts of Cambodia, Thailand and North Vietnam. Another functional and attractive Mark Simonitch production, it shows a wide variety of natural and man-made terrain, including jungles, swamps, mountains, cities, towns, camps, roads, bases and rivers. One unusual terrain feature are "popular areas" which represent rural regions that were friendly to one side or the other. Concentrated in the southern part of South Vietnam, they play a large part in the political warfare of the game.

The 1/2-inch counters in wargame standard NATO symbol/combat factor/movement factor format depict the sides in the by-now familiar color schemes that were usually used by XTR. The US forces are in black on olive, South Vietnamese are red on yellow and various allied forces (Australia, South Korea, Philippines, Thai, Laos, Cambodia) are black on brown. Units are divisions and brigades/regiments. US divisions have two steps while other units have just one. Some of the unusual units that appear include military police, psychological warfare units and various kinds of special forces.

The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) units are yellow on red and Viet Cong forces are black on red. All the Communist units are one-step, with the other side using a yellow or black star to show the Communists in "underground" mode. A few US side units also have this ability.This "underground" mode is the key design element of the game, as it allows guerrilla units to be hidden, and makes them immune from attack except under certain conditions.

The 14-pages of rules include sections on intelligence, combat support, popular areas, Dau Tranh (Total Struggle) and other peculiar aspects of the war, for a game of moderate complexity by wargame standards. Victory is measures by victory points, with both sides amassing their totals separately (one side's gain is not the other side's loss, directly). The Communist player gets points for attacking American units, holding cities and bases. The American side scores points for eliminating Communist units. Both sides can gain or lose points for political combat and collateral damage.Combat is firepower based, with the more combat factors increasing the chances or a favorable result. Defenders fire first, followed by the attacker. The US side had an enormous advantage in available firepower, naturally.

The game takes about 20 minutes to set up and can be played in one sitting.There is a 10-turn standard scenario covering the first phase of the offensive and a second 11-turn "total victory" scenario for the Allied counteroffensive. Each turn is a week.


(Yes) For Wargamers: A interesting game on the campaign.

(No) For Collectors: No remarkable collectibility.

(No) For Euro gamers: A detailed, intricate hex-and-counter wargame with some arcane game mechanics on top of that.