Saturday, January 31, 2009

First Chevauchee nothing special

The Young general and I moved on to the second scenario in the BattleLore book, First Chevauchee.

This is a straight-up fight between two identical armies, each with two red banner swordsmen, five blue banner swords, two blue banner horse and two green banner archers.

The deployments are not identical, but similar and there isn't much terrain to speak of. The main teaching purpose of the scenario seems to be ti introduce some new terrain types -- elevated ground and waterways. The waterways are impassible in this scenario, and serve to constrict the front a bit. The elevated ground doesn't affect movement, but it does provide some melee benefit. Units on the hill can attack with up to three dice, but can only be attacked with two dice in turn.

As so often happens in wargames when two identical armies face off, it was hard for either side to leverage any sort of advantage and the battle was reduced to a lot of poking around at each other, with neither side able to achieve a clear edge. It ended up coming down to a battle of attrition where the greater experience of the old warhorse prevailed by working the averages. The final score ended up being 5 flags to one, but it was a lot closer and messier than those numbers may suggest, as several of the old war horse's units were down to a single figure.

We decided not to switch sides and play again because there seemed little difference between the sides and, frankly, it didn't seem like all that interesting a battle.

Next up is Burgos, Castile, which introduces the Goblinoids and a fordable river.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Review: Buena Vista

The Battle of Buena Vista was one of two wargames in Command No. 40 (The other was Moscow Burning). With only 8 pages of rules one might expect this to be one of the simpler XTR offerings, even simplistic. But instead players will find themselves playing a surprisingly intricate and detailed wargame.

The map is an attractive Beth Queman production, Each hex represents 100 yards of ground.

Unit counters are gray for the Americans and white for the Mexicans, with full color icons depicting the soldiers from each side. Units are rated for morale and shock combat value. Fire combat effectiveness is determined by unit type and the range from a chart printed on the map.

Leaders are rated for morale and shock combat, but also have a fire combat rating. Some Mexican units are double-sized counters which have some difficulty maneuvering on the map but have four steps (using two counters) instead of the one- and two-step 1/2-inch counters.

Each game turn starts with an activation phase. Units then move and fight on the Saltillo Track, which represents an off-map area behind the American lines which saw some significant activity during the battle. Players then go through three "impulses" where units belonging to activated leaders from each side can move, shoot or shock attack. In each of the three impulses the Americans act, then the Mexicans. Finally the turn ends with an administrative phase.Each turn represents an hour of fighting. There are a maximum of 12 turns.

The number of leaders each side can activate is determined by die rolls. The Mexican player rolls a die and adds two for Gen. Santa Ana's leadership rating (unless he is wounded) and that's the number of leaders he can activate. With a good die, therefore, it's possible the Mexican player will be able to activate all 8 leaders in a turn.The procedure is different for the Americans. The army commander, Gen. Taylor, can activate three leaders per turn, although they may not be his first three choices! The US player points to a leader and rolls a die. On a 1-5 he activates, on a 6 he fails. He keeps going until he succeeds with three leaders. Taylor's second-in-command, Gen. Wool, can activate one leader under the same rules, except he only succeeds on a 1-4 roll. Wool and Taylor can also automatically activate units stacked with them with no die roll.

The U.S. force has a dozen formation leaders. Each U.S. formation leader typically commands two pieces. The Mexican formation leaders command 2-6 units each.

Both armies have some units, such as artillery batteries, that are exempt from command control.

Both sides have some interesting historical units, such as the Texas Rangers in Taylor's army and the U.S. deserter-manned San Patrico unit.

Firing is resolved by cross indexing the type of unit, the range and a die roll with results given as step losses and retreats. Shock combat is resolved on a different chart using the differential between the shock combat values of each unit. Both types of combat are modified by the terrain.

And what terrain it is, too. Buena Vista was fought over some of the most difficult terrain ever for a black powder army. While the Mexicans vastly outnumber the Yankees, they have to attack across some of the most restrictive and difficult terrain you'll ever see in a wargame. Large parts of the battlefield are slope hexes, which stop units when they enter. An impassible stream runs down the middle west side of the battlefield, crossable only at a few fords. The one usable ford near the Mexicans has to be "discovered" by them first. The battlefield is further divided by gullies, impassible cliffs and more slopes, with a few small trails here and there. The entire effect is reminiscent of Thermopolae, except the Americans have a lot more than 300 Spartans.

So the Mexicans have to struggle over hill and dale, trying to stay out of their own way with their cumbersome double-sized units while under fire from the Americans. Those Americans shoot better and often have better morale, too.

The only real advantage the Mexicans have is numbers.

Victory is assessed through victory points, which are awarded on a victory point track per step loss. Every time the step losses pass "4" and "9" a random event roll is made. Random events can result in the death or wounding of a leader, step losses, getting to move an opposing unit and other effects. The two totals are compared and the higher wins.The game ends after turn 12 unless ended sooner by the arrival of rain. Rain can arrive as a random event on any turn (which could be a problem, as it's possible the game could end as soon as the first "4" casualties are suffered by one side (a 1/18 chance, too, which is not insignificant). If not ended earlier by random event the rains can arrive at the beginnings of turns 10, 11 or 12 with die rolls of 1-2, 1-3 or 1-4 respectively. Altogether players should not expect the game to go the whole 12 turns.

For a game with relatively few rules, wargamers get a battle depicted in considerable detail. The game will take a full evening to complete unless the rains come early.


(Conditional Yes) for Wargamers if interested in the period. Others may find it a little too much detail for what is essentially a frontal assault on a formidable position.

(No) for Collectors: Nothing out of the ordinary.

(No) for Eurogamers: Way too much detail work, despite the brevity of the rules.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Review: Moscow Burning

Moscow Burning is one of two wargames in Command Magazine No. 40 of November, 1996 (The other was Buena Vista).

A game of low-complexity by wargame standards, Moscow Burning portrays the first 30 days of a potential Russian Civil War in the mid-1990s. As Putin has consolidated control recently, the possibility of this sort of outcome has receded a bit, but there was a time when it seemed Russia might fall into an internal armed conflict of the sort shown here.

Units are roughly brigade-sized (although some are called "divisions." Each turn represents three days and each hex is 20 miles. The map covers the Russian heartland from St. Petersburg to Volgograd.

The game system is straightforward IGO-HUGO with the usual XTR odd-based numeric result step-loss combat result table.The interest here is the fluid situation, as the "Reds" and "Whites" struggle to control the cities of Russia.

The game set-up is part of the game here, as players dice to see which side each of the on-map city hexes will support, which a 50 percent chance of being either Red or White. City control is depicted by militia units of the appropriate color.

There are just four basic types of units in the game.

The weakest are the militia units, which are just a single step, although it has to be the last step in a hex lost. These can range from 1-6 in combat value, the value determined by die roll at the instant of combat. This makes every city battle somewhat unpredictable. If the militia is eliminated, control of the city changes to the other side and the militia immediately reappears in the other color. Militia units never move and cannot attack.

Next are the Army/Interior Ministry heavy divisions. These have a combat value of six and movement value of four with two steps. These arrive by random event with their exact arrival hex determined by a random chit pull. They take on the loyalty of whatever the color the militia in that city at the moment. A total of 33 are potentially available. Like the militia these come in red and white versions. Their low movement allowance and scattered arrival make them useful, but not key, units in a player's order of battle.

There are three Elite ground units that start on the map. These units have combat values of six and movement allowances of four, but SIX steps, with the combat value decreasing by one per step lost. These units will play an important role in the fighting around Moscow.

Finally there are 13 elite airmobile units that can move 10, while also having six steps/combat factors. The elite units, as every other kind of unit, have a 50 percent chance of going either way. These 13 units, with their high movement allowances and staying power, are the key units in the game.

Spicing things up are random events determined by chit draw. As noted above, heavy divisions enter via random events. Other possible random events include Ukrainian intervention, nuclear explosions, a deadly plague, pogroms and miraculous events such as flying saucers or Elvis sightings! Oh yeah, and the Czar can return.

Winning is determined by having the most victory points after 10 turns. While every city hex on the map has some value, the 10 hexes of Moscow alone are worth almost as much as the rest of the map put together and the game will revolve around who controls Moscow in the end.

This game can easily be played in an evening.


(Yes) for Wargamers: An interesting military situation calling for flexibility and quick thinking, although perhaps too light for many tastes

(No) for collectors: Nothing special

(Maybe) for Eurogamers: While a hex-and-counter wargame, it's not an especially fiddly one and the situation is different from the usual.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reviewing collectible games from a wargamer's perspective: Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures 2d ed.

Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures is a skirmish-level combat game of man-to-man, man-to-monster and monster-to-monster combat. Thematically it's inspired by the Dungeons & Dragons universe and most game mechanic revolve around the rolling of a 20-sided die.

I came to the game system late, just as it was extensively revised from the original system (listed separately on Boardgame Geek's database) into what's known as the Second Edition. Interestingly, not long after making this major revision Wizards of the Coast decided to discontinue the game as a stand-alone miniatures game and make all future miniatures just for the role-playing game. Evidently the newest edition of the RPG plays much like the 2nd Ed. minis and it may have seemed to duplicate the product. The stat cards for the miniatures include data for use in the RPG, so the miniatures can do double duty as RPG tools or boardgame pieces.

The revised game is actually a little less wargame-like than the original rules, which included commanders and morale effects, but there's still considerable scope for tactics.

The game is ruthlessly small scale, with an upper limit on the number of characters on a side of 10. While artificial, it does keep the game system from degenerating by having a single powerful piece being overwhelmed by hordes of small weak pieces.

Each character has a point value used for army-building and victory conditions and an alignment of either good, evil or neutral. In the earlier version of the game the alignments were further broken down between chaotic and lawful modifiers so a creature could be Lawful Evil or Chaotic Good for example. In the new games most creatures are just plain "neutral." A fairly large number are characterized as "evil" while only a select few are "good." Good and evil characters cannot co-exist in the same warband and some game effects and powers can be affected by alignment.

Each character belongs to one of more of the four "factions" which are borderlands, civilization, the wild and the underdark. All the creatures in a given warband must share at least one faction in common, which helps provide some thematic coherence to the warbands.

Each character has a level, which can have some game effects and an armor class and a defense value. Armor class is generally used against most normal attacks while the defense value is often used to defend against special kinds of attacks such as magic or psionics. The defense value can be further modified into sub categories such as reflex or willpower when faced with particular kinds of attacks.

Every kind of attack, whether physical, magical, psionic or poisonous is resolved in the same way, which is a real strength of the game system. The attacking player rolls a 20-sides die and adds the creatures relevant attack value plus any modifiers to the result. If it equals or exceeds the relevant protecting value (armor class or defense value plus any modifiers) then the attack succeeds and inflicts the effects stated on the attackers card. These effects generally include a number of hit points but often include other effects as well. The number of hit points a creature has is listed on the data card.

Also listed on the card is a speed value, which may have an "F" denoting a flying creature. The main body of the card contains an illustration of the character, its attack actions, any keyword abilities (such as alignment, race and other common status) and any special powers.

Everything is listed on the card and a player will rarely have more than 10 creatures and their associated cards to track, so the workload isn't too bad. I've found that the game is easily teachable to fairly young players.

The cards from the older versions of the game are not compatible with the news system but WOTC is publishing online revised cards for all the previously produced miniatures that can be downloaded and printed out at home, so no creatures have been made obsolete.

For the historically oriented wargamer there's little of interest in D&D miniatures. The game play is heavily influenced by the magic-heavy D&D gaming universe where mages are as common as white-collar professionals in our world. (In contrast to the Tolkien world of Lord of the Ring: TMG where wizards are powerful and extremely rare).

That said, it is a well-designed, easy-to-play skirmish level wargame that involves real tactical choices and may provide a bridge game between fantasy-oriented RPGers and board wargamers.

As a discontinued collectible game it may be possible to pick up all the common you need off of eBay economically but rares, especially certain desirable ones, will probably command premium prices for a while. I wouldn't expect big discounts because the miniatures are also usable in any fantasy RPG and therefore probably won't end up in bargain bins.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Review: Stirke North

Command No. 39 may have been the best gaming value for a single issue of any wargame magazine with three (or four, depending how you count them) full-scale wargames included.
Besides Hoorah!, a "what-if Civil War game (reviewed elsewhere), the magazine included Strike North!, which could be considered two or three full-scale wargames on its own. While there was just one map, there were two sets of rules, three sets of counters and five very different scenarios included, covering historical and what-if campaigns in Scandinavia in World War II at 20 miles per hex.

Although sharing the map scale, and some rule sections (basically they didn't repeat the basic 'common-sense' rules such as how to read the Combat Results Table twice), the 1940 and 1943 scenarios use different game systems. looking at the 1940 system first (although it's second in the rule book) we find the 10 pages of rules describing a low- to medium-complexity wargame reminiscent of the Budapest '45 system, but with enough significant differences to be considered new. Like Budapest'45, there is a one-for-one relationship between steps and combat strength. A unit with 4 combat factors as four steps. one with a combat factor of 10 has 10 steps, etc. But the combat value is not tracked on a roster. Instead the combat value is printed on the counter and the counter is flipped or a new counter is substituted when the value changes. Preserving the "fog of war" are FOW counters bearing national flags which are kept on top of the units. The FOW counters do double duty by tracking when a unit has performed an action. As each unit moves or fights the counter is flipped to the "done" side. Twice a turn the counters are flipped back. There's a flippin lot of flippin in the game!

Every turn represents two days. Each side alternates moving units one at a time in the movement phase and in the combat phase each side alternates resolving battles. The base movement allowance is just "1" which will take some getting used to for many players. A road bonus can add a movement factor but the only way to cover large distances is rail or sea movement, both of which are restricted to certain units at certain times.

The combat results table is of the usual XTR numeric step-loss variety.

There are two scenarios. The first is the historical invasion of Norway in 1940, the second is a "what-if" examining what might have happened if the Swedes had intervened on Norway's behalf. Both games revolve around capturing cities and towns and eliminating units in 15 turns. In the historical scenario the Germans have the initiative and have to capture more than they start with. The German forces are much stronger than the Allies and the situation is largely a delaying action for the Allies, although there is some scope for sharp counterattacks and raids against unwary Germans. With the Swedes in play the initiative switches to the Allies and the burden of attack is on them, to drive the Germans back before the Spring campaign in France overshadows things.

The 1943 rules switch to weekly turns with mostly one- and two-step units in the standard attack-defense-movement factor arrangement. Those standard units are used as described in a standard set of XTR wargame rules that are 18 pages long. There won't be any surprises for veteran wargamers in those rules, which are solidly "moderate complexity."

The 1943 game has three scenarios. The first one looks at a planned German campaign to conquer Sweden, which would have gone forward had the Kursk offensive gone well. As the chances of Kursk going well were rather small, this can't be considered a particularly likely "what if," but the Germans DID draw up plans for it.In this scenario, only, the German divisions have up to five steps. Their aim to to drive through Swedish lines and capture key locations. As the Germans capture victory point locations the Swedes become more likely to surrender. The exact surrender point is determined by a die roll. Putting pressure on the Germans, they only have five game turns to do it. The strict time limit and nature of the victory conditions provides a strong hint as to the chances the Swedes can stop the Germans.

The second scenario looks at what would have happened if the Allies decided against a landing in Sicily and headed north instead (which was one of Churchill's ideas). It's hard to say whether or not this was a good idea. Hitler feared a Norway landing and kept strong forces there until the end of the war. A success there would have liberated a suffering allied country and given the Allies great bases for the strategic bombing campaign, as well as a secure route for aid to Russia. On the other hand, the historical choice did knock an Axis power out of the war and, perhaps most importantly, opened up the Med for sea traffic, adding the equivalent of HUNDREDS of ships to the Allied shipping capacity because of shortened routes.

In any case, whether or not it was a good strategy, Strike North lets players see if it was a doable task. The Allied OB will be familiar to anyone who has played an Italian campaign game. There's a lot of flexibility as to landing sites as the Norwegian coast is very long. The Allies can ensure they will get ashore. After that, it turns into a tight contest as they try to expand the beachhead against powerful resistance and win in 9 turns. Victory is based on capturing locations and sinking German ships (which make an appearance here, conducting "sorties" against Allied shipping, resolved with die rolls). The game system includes rules for all the factors one would expect: Supply, amphibious raids, weather, paradrops, air support, etc.) The game also uses an XTR-style numeric result CRT, although a different one from the 1940 game.

The third scenario is essentially the same, except the Swedes jump in on the fun. The victory conditions are the same, just a little more demanding. Between them all, the scenarios of Strike North provide a tremendous variety of possible games.


(Yes) for Wargamers: By all means

(Maybe) for Collectors: It IS a pretty ambitious game.

(No) for Eurogamers: Still and hex-and-counter affair with all sorts of special rules to account for historical realities.

Short session report: BattleLore Agincourt

My 9-year-old has been asking about playing some "real" wargames for a while. In addition to the usual family fare, we've been playing abstract strategy games and skirmish-level wargames, which are two types of strategy games that seem to be more accessible to smart people who aren't well-versed in gaming conventions. In the case of abstracts, their uncluttered rules are pretty easy to grasp for a kid, even if the deeper strategic implications are not. Fortunately for the pedagogical experience, I'm not a serious player of chess or other abstracts so there's much less of a gap between me and him than our ages might suggest. Skirmish-level games, while often fairly complex, have the advantage of dealing with a subject that people can easily relate to. Crouching, shooting, running, aiming etc. are all activities people can imagine doing and so even when the rules system is detailed the player can relate to it much easier than the more abstract situation in higher-level command.

Last year we had dabbled with Battlelore but it was a tad too difficult for him then so we move don to other games. A year later and I though maybe he'd grown into the game more so we started over again with the first Battlelore scenario, Agincourt.

We even played a match, switching sides.

For those unfamiliar with the BattleLore scenario here is the map:

The English are at the top of the map. The green units are archers, the blue units are medium swordsmen and the red unit is a heavy swordsman.

The French are at the bottom of the map. The red units are heavy horse, and there is a single unit of medium horse at the center rear of the French line. There is a single green archer unit and the rest of the French army is medium swordsmen in blue.

The victory conditions are straightforward, whoever loses four units first is defeated. While the French army is slightly larger, it is handicapped by having just a four-card hand with command cards. The English, on the other hand, are well-led with a command card hand of six cards.

I started with the French for our first game and it actually went rather well because I had excellent luck in the draw. I started with a Mounted Charge card and so I spent a couple of turns with minor maneuvering to get the horse units in position. While doing so I drew a second Mounted Charge unit. Meanwhile the English had contented themselves with some long range missile fire which did manage to reduce one French heavy horse to a single figure.

Still, when everyone was in position, I unleashed all three horse units with consecutive Mounted Charge orders which, when combined with pursuits, were able to run roughshod over the English archers and soon the score was 4 - 0.

Undaunted. the younger general was willing to switch sides and try his hand with the French. This turned into a long-drawn, knock-down drag-out fight that lasted 11 or 12 turns. My English again had good luck in the card draw, drawing Darken the Skies and building up a 3-1 lead in flags before long. The French finally got their Mounted Charge in and soon evened the score at 3 each. I had one single-figure archer unit in the front that I scooted off to safety behind Agincourt wood. Seeing this our young French commander recognized a good idea when he saw one and did the same with his single-figure heavy cavalry, which took refuge behind Tramecourt wood.

All semblance of organized order had by now disappeared in both camps and both armies were reduced to isolated and unsupported bands wandering around the battlefield. Finally a critical mass of troops clumped together at the edge of Agincourt woods where a couple of English medium foot supported by the single-figure archer were finally able to prevail in a duel with three French mediums and their archer, winning the fourth flag, although not before being saved by the dice when the single-figure archer survived a 4d attack.

This close 4-3 battle seemed to provide evidence that young general could certainly hope for victory next time.

Battlelore has a lot of tools to make teaching and learning a fairly involved little wargame easier. In particular, I found that the rule summary cards very helpful and providing ready reference for the young general. Combined with the command cards, which also are mostly self-explanatory, there was remarkably little flipping through rule books or even questions about play.

Next up will be First Chevauchee.

A strange story

I would have expected this story in The Onion: but it's pretty funny anyway.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Reviewing collectible games from a wargamer's perspective: Lord of the Rings Tradeable Miniatures Game

Lord of the Rings: Tradeable Miniatures Game is a very wargamey skirmish level collectible miniatures game.

Each miniature represents a single combatant and, while undefined, each turn rather obviously represents just a few seconds of time.

The miniatures, themselves, are very impressive. Very well sculpted, humans are about 40 mm high, making them rather large by the standards of wargame-style miniatures. All the figures are based on the movie trilogy interpretation of the Lord of the Rings world, not directly on the books, so Tolkien fans may find things to quibble about. (Fantasy Flight's War of the Ring, in contrast, is based on the books, giving fans different things to quibble about). While not always faithful to the books, the LOTR:TNG is definitely faithful to the movie.

The key element of the game design are the Combat Hex bases, which use adjustable indicators to track the changing status of each fighting piece. In the first set these indicators took the form of sliding tabs, one on either side of the figure base, which kept track of the number of hits the unit could take and the number of "action points" available. The action points are used to activate various special powers, give units additional movement or allow some die rolls to be changed. In later sets the indicators were changed to dials with the same functions.

Other data on the base includes the name of the piece, its collector number, its point vale, attack strength, defense strength, movement allowance and, in the case of missile units, a range and combat strength for missile fire.

The combat strength number indicates how many dice the unit is entitled to roll when it attacks, with 4 or better being a hit and a 1 being a "glancing blow" that i eligible for conversion into a hit if action points are spent to do so. Once the number of potential hits is determined the dice are rolled again in a "damage roll" and the defense value indicates what die roll is needed to inflict a hit. For example, a Rohirrim Archer (BS73) rolls one die in a melee attack. If he rolls a 4 hit gets a potential hit. and rolls again. If fighting an Orc Spearman (BS16) whose defense value is a "3" any damage roll of a 3 or better will inflict a hit on the Orc.

Many characters, especially named heroes such a Aragorn, Gandalf or Frodo have special abilities which grant additional combat or mobility powers. Using these powers requires spending "action points" with the number of points varying on the character and the power. The point values of the characters reflect not just their raw combat values but also the number of their special abilities and how much they cost to activate.

Combat and movement are pretty standard skirmish level stuff, with the usual terrain effects and provisions for striking disengaging characters and the like. Each turn begins with a Strategy Phase where a die roil determines initiative and each player has the opportunity to spend action points to activate certain special abilities. The attacker then conducts an action phase for all his pieces, followed by the defender. During an Action Phase pieces can move, certain kinds of combat (such as shooting) can occur and some special abilities can be activated. After both sides have completed their action phases there is a general combat phase.

This combat phase is handled a little differently than most skirmish style games and is responsible for much of the unique feel of LOTR: TMG. In cases of single combat the two involved characters duel in the expected way, with each rolling their die or dice and inflicting potential hits as appropriate. Action points can also be spent to change a limited number of damage dice rolls to higher numbers as well. But in cases where there are multiple adjacent combatants players arrange their attacks in "chains' of engaged characters according to various common sense rules to group them. For example, two characters who happen to be adjacent but facing away from each other may no end up being in the same chain. All the attack dice from units in a chain are rolled at once and the number of potential hits determined. The damage roll is then made and the hits allocated to defending units in that chain by the attacker. Hits are resolved once both sides have had a chance to attack.

While resolving a large and complex chain can be time consuming, my sense is that it takes less time than resolving dozens or scores of individual combats as is the usual practice in similar games. It definitely creates a level of tactical cohesion that reflects melee combat well. There are real incentives to keep characters groups in an organized fashion appropriate to melee combat as seen in the movie and in real life. Some special abilities such as "bodyguard" can help keep the opponent from merely picking on the best heroes, who anyway tend to have a high number of hit points and high defense values. A hero such as the mounted Eomer (TT52) can take five hits to eliminate and those hits need to be a 5 or better so it can be difficult to take them out. On the other hand, a lowly Orc Warrior (BS19) only takes two hits and they only need to be a 3 or better so large swaths of Orc Warriors can disappear in short order from a large melee.

The overall effect is to capture rather well the large sweeping battles from the movie and make it possible to re-stage battles such as Helms Deep without being tedious.

On the other hand, the game is very tactical and military and I suspect that most LOTR fans were looking for something more narrative and even "heroic" in style and the game ended up being discontinued, although not before running through several expansions and providing a useful number of characters to stage most of the battles from the movie. All the major characters appear, with many appearing in several versions. Besides the normal human-scale figures such as Men, Orcs. Elves and Hobbits there were also a number of large pieces including Trolls, Fell Beasts, Treebeard, the Balrog and even Sauron himself.

From a wargamer's perspective LOTR:TMG is worthwhile, particularly for those who are also Tolkien fans. It provides some interesting tactical decisions in a unique but sensible skirmish-level wargame that allows staging fairly large man-to-man battles in a reasonable time. It's possible to stage battles involving a hundred or more figures and resolving them in a single sitting.

Some of the neater figures are hard to find now, as it doesn't appear that people owning the game are giving them up in large numbers, although when figures do appear on eBay they are generally priced reasonably. Starter kits are widely available, but of limited use because of the small figure selection. Players should always use the so-called "Tournament Rules" which are really a revised and clarified edition of the standard rules. There are still organized playing groups in some places, including an active group in the Midwest, but the game itself is officially discontinued and no longer supported with the official Web site take down (although still available elsewhere).

Because of the difficulty in acquiring a satisfying number of figures it's hard to recommend the game to new players, but if you get an opportunity to pick up someone's collection or find some boosters in the dusty corner of a game shop somewhere I would snap it up in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

First glance: Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition

I finally had a chance to get Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition on the table and I wasn't disappointed.

It's a big, grand and entertaining game.

I only played the original game a time or two and never played Revised, so I can't really compare it to those editions, but I like the presentation and play of this edition a lot.

The only thing that caught me a little by surprise is how long the game may end up being. We played a good five hours and got 6 or 7 turns done, but the game was definitely still up in the air when we had to call time. Russia had fallen, but unlike the earlier versions, in A&A:50 it appears that's not a reason to call the game for the Axis. While the Japanese were busy helping devour Russia and gobbling up China the British Empire and the USA were able to achieve absolute naval dominance over the globe and, in my opinion, the Axis were faced with a difficult question of "what next?"

It's not clear, but I'd sure like to play again and find out.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Heroclix has a future?

Perhaps, if this report is correct:

The gist of the report is that Catalyst and Pinata have joined forces to bid for the Heroclix line.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mattel buys Blokus, Whac-A-Mole games

According to AP Toy maker Mattel Inc. said Friday it bought Sekkoia SAS, which makes board game Blokus, for undisclosed financial terms.
In a separate transaction, Mattel also acquired the rights to the Whac-A-Mole game from Bob’s Space Racers Inc.
Financial terms of that transaction were not disclosed as well.
Mattel’s purchase of Sekkoia includes Blokus Trigon, Blokus 3D, Blokus Duo, and Blokus Giant.

I wonder if Mattel is going to make a run at challenging Hasbro's dominance in the boardgame sector.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hoorah! review

Hoorah! Six Bridges: The Battle of Pittsburgh, 1 October, 1863 is a hex-and-counter wargame portraying a fictional battle for Pittsburgh during the American Civil War. A sequel to XTR’s Wahoo! Game, Hoorah assumes Lee won a substantial victory at Gettysburg and then followed up with a successful assault on Washington, D.C. Rather than ending the war, however, these battles widened it into a world war as Britain and France intervene on behalf of the Confederacy while Prussia and Russia come in on the Union side. In this new, wider, war, Lee decides to sever the east-west rail links of the United States by capturing Pittsburgh, in conjunction with a British Army from Canada. Meanwhile, Grant, leading the twice-defeated Army of the Potomac, tries to hold onto the city until help arrives in the form of Gen. Sherman and his western army and the river gunboat flotilla.

It was the issue game in issue No. 39 of Command Magazine in 1996. Also in that issue was Strike North, reviewed elsewhere. The one scenario covers the day-long battle with each turn representing 45 minutes and each hex about 400 yards. The Beth Queman map depicts the city of Pittsburgh, and the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers into the Ohio River. Units are brigades of infantry and cavalry, battalions of guns and single gunboats. The 15-page rulebook describes a game of moderate complexity by wargame standards with fairly standard Civil War brigade-level rules for combat and movement. All federal unit have one step and are therefore eliminated with a loss, while the British (well-trained) and Confederates (win streak) have two steps. The second step has one less combat and movement factor. This is the only thing I might have done differently. While the Army of the Potomac (defeated so many times, including Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Washington in this timeline) deserves a fragile morale, I would have given the troops from the U.S. Army of the Tennessee (also unbeaten to this point) two steps as well. If players agree they can have a house rule to that effect. The Army of the Tennessee only has 11 brigades, so this will not change the game enormously.

The game uses a chit-pull corps activation mechanic, where all the units of a corps can move and fight together when their chit is pulled from a cup. The defending Union Army of the Potomac comprises six corps (I, II, VI, XI, XII and Cavalry) while the attacking Confederates are organized into three infantry corps and Stuart’s cavalry.

Compared to the historical units the Army of the Potomac is missing units lost in the first two battles or detached. The most significant missing formation is the Union Artillery Reserve, lost at Gettysburg. The rebel Army of North Virginia is stronger in artillery than the historical force, mostly equipped with guns and ammunition captured from that Artillery Reserve.

Coming in as reinforcements are the two-corps strong British Expeditionary Force, the three-corps strong U.S. Army of Tennessee and the 10-ship U.S.N. gunboat flotilla.

Finally, a series of (presumably hastily-constructed) Union forts and batteries surround the city.

The game revolves around the six bridges around Pittsburgh. At the end of 12 turns (nine hours) the Confederate player rolls a die. If he rolls less than or equal to the number of bridges he controls, he wins. Otherwise the Federals win a game victory. (The fact that there’s a battle at Pittsburgh at all can only be regarded as a dire strategic situation from the federal point of view!

While these sort of alternate history games are not for everyone -- and the situation admittedly far-fetched -- it does give the players a chance to explore a very unusual and challenging situation that is arguably more realistic in many ways than a more standard historical treatment.

For example, no matter how well done, every Gettysburg game is faced with the fact that both players have far more situational awareness than the actual commanders. Historically the actual confederate commander, Gen. Robert E. Lee, did not know exactly what he was facing, especially on the first day. He hoped he was catching part of the Union army unsupported and believed he had a chance to inflict a serious defeat on at least two corps. But the player Lee knows that he is facing the whole federal army and even has a list of what roads they are taking and when they will arrive.

So Hoorah provides players a chance to test their generalship in an unprecedented battle situation, where they have only a general idea of what COULD happen and do not have the guidance of what DID happen to help.

Besides the inherent chaos of the chit-pull mechanic the game adds a highly variable reinforcement rule and a combat results table with way more than the usual variability.

Dealing the CRT first, we note that it uses a two-die roll summed result instead of the typical D6 chart. With 11 different possible results ranging from 1/36 to 1/6-chance of occurring no combat is a sure thing except at the most extreme odds. Even a 1-5 attack has some fluke chance of carrying a position while even a 5-1 attack could be repulsed!

Meanwhile, both sides will be anxiously awaiting the reinforcements. Each group (BEF, river flotilla, Army of Tennessee and, optionally, Stuart’s horsemen) arrives on a die roll of a “1.” Over the course of a 12-turn game, all should arrive, but there is no guarantee when. A force that arrives on the first turn is rather more helpful than one that arrives on turn 11 or 12, for example. And there is no guarantee that they will arrive at all. We’ve all been unlucky enough to roll a die 12 times and NOT roll the “1” we need.

If a force does arrive, where it arrives is subject to further randomization. The BEF and Army of the Tennessee each have six arrival zones, with an unequal chance of arriving at each one. In MOST games both armies will arrive West of the Allegheny, across the river from Pittsburgh, leading to a big battle outside Allegheny City. But, sometimes, the BEF will show up from the East, behind the CSA line. And sometimes Sherman will appear south of the Monongahela. If detached on a “sweep” at the beginning of the game, Stuart’s six cavalry brigades could also show up either north or south of the city. Only the gunboats, necessarily restricted to the river, have only one entry zone.

The whole situation is extremely fluid. It has the potential to be very unbalanced (For example, flotilla and Army of Tennessee never arrive, BEF and horsemen arrive early on both flanks of the city, leading to the Army of the Potomac being surrounded and overwhelmed and all six bridges captured for an automatic victory) but real battles are seldom “fair.” The game is best looked at as a test of generalship (and even character) although not necessarily a fair test of skill. Unlike many unbalanced wargames, here switching sides and playing again will not be any help. (Now playing the Rebels, our unlucky former federal player from the first example sees with horror the flotilla and Army of Tennessee arrive early and bolster his foe’s line to stall the attack. Meanwhile the BEF arrives late and behind the Rebel line, which is already too crowded with units and that damn Stuart never does show up, leading to none of the bridges being captured and no chance of victory!). No, the relative generalship will have to be settled in the time-honored historical fashion, with arguments and recriminations afterwards!

The game takes about 20 minutes to set up and can be played in one sitting.


(Yes) For Wargamers: A very different challenge from the usual.

(No) For Collectors: No remarkable collectibility.

(No) For Euro gamers: A hex-and-counter wargames with intricate and detailed rules.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reviewing collectible games from a wargamer's prespective: Dreamblade

Dreamblade is an abstract strategy collectible miniatures game that may be on ground that's a little more familiar to wargamers because dice and probabilities play a significant role in the game action.

The premise is that players are "dream lords" who can summon various creatures and locations to battle over the "dreamscape" for dominance over the dreams of mankind.

The premise isn't really all that important except that it provides an excuse for some really imaginative miniatures and allows pretty much any kind of game mechanic because there's no "reality" to constrict the design.

The basic structure of a game turn is simple. Players each roll a regular six-sided die, with the higher roll winning the initiative and performing subsequent game actions first. The total of the die rolls is the number of "spawn points" each player can use to summon new creatures to the dreamscape. The more powerful creatures cost more, naturally. During his turn each player can perform two actions, in any order, either "shifting" or "striking." During a "shift" a player can move any or all creatures one cell on the dreamscrape. During a "strike" a player can conduct combat in cells that his pieces with enemy pieces. To conduct combat players roll as many special battle dice as the total "power" (a characteristic) of the creatures in the fight. Two of the sides are misses and three of the sides bear the numbers 1, 2 and 3. The sum of those numbers is used to inflict damage on opposing creatures. If the total equals the defending creature's "defense" (a characteristic) then the target creature is disrupted and sent to another empty cell of the attacker's choice. If it equals the "life" (another, often higher, characteristic) then the target creature is destroyed. The final side of the die is a "blade" which, when rolled, often activates some special power listed on an attacking piece.

Naturally, as a collectible game there are numerous variations among the creatures and interesting interactions among them and the rules. Creatures can have special abilities activated through rolling blades, or spending spawn points during the spawn phase, or as they enter play, or as they occupy certain cells, etc.

The game is won by scoring victory points. The most common way to score points is by occupying "key cells" in the center nine squares of the 5 by 5 dreamscape that are worth varying numbers of conquest points and/or destroying enemy creatures for conquest points. Whoever scores the most conquest points win the turn and a victory point. First player to six victory points wins the game. It doesn't matter whether you win a turn by many conquest points or a few, so long as you win the turn. These can also be modified by some pieces.

As one can see, there's quite a bit of scope for strategy in the pure sense. As is always the case in collectible games, the first element of strategy is selecting your warband. Each player is limited to 16 pieces (unless modified by a special ability), so the selection of pieces involves a lot of analysis. It's good practice to include a good balance of spawn points among the selection so that any initiative roll can be used efficiently. If either player rolls a "1" then the spawn phase may be skipped (unless modified by special ability or by a tournament rule that prevents two consecutive skipped spawn phases) so a player is not guaranteed reinforcements, but it can be fatal if an opponent is able to spawn creatures and you cannot because you don't have creatures with the right spawn costs. Pieces come in one of four "aspects" which are basically factions that affect how much creatures cost and how well the work together, as well as provide a general guide for how they behave. For example, Passion creatures often have strong Power and can therefore attack well, but have low defense and life values and are therefore easily disrupted or destroyed.

Once a warband is selected there's a lot of thinking required about what order to summon your forces to the dreamscape, let alone what to do with them once they get there.

All in all it's a very deep and intricate game of the sort that will appeal to many wargamers. The biggest thing standing in the way will likely be the bizarre theme which, of course, bears no resemblance to reality, let alone any kind of history or warfare.

A lesser factor is the collectibility. Dreamblade is a discontinued game, so there is now a finite universe of pieces and boosters and singles can be had for reasonable prices except for a few prized pieces (especially the Scarab Warcharm, which still commands a premium). The competitive tournaments scene has ended, so all play now is basically casual play.

It's a reasonably popular game, according to BGG stats, with respectable numbers of plays for a boardgame, although obviously not the numbers that Hasbro/WOTC was looking for to support the game.

I like the game, but I have to admit that it's of questionable interest for wargamers. Many wargamers have other gaming interests of course, and if their those interests include abstract strategy or collectible games then I'd recommend Dreamblade. If, on the other hand, your interests are strongly geared toward historical or military-themed topics, then Dreamblade will likely be of minimal interest.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Great War in the Near East review

The issue game in Command Magazine No. 37, The Great War in the Near East, is an add-on module for The Great War in Europe, which appeared in Command No. 33. It’s also playable as a standalone game. Like the parent game, the core standard wargame supply, movement and combat rules take up only five pages of the 20-page rule book. The balance of the rules describe the special rules needed to account for the special conditions of the Great War’s secondary fronts in the Caucasus, Palestine and Iraq.

Also like the parent game, the draw of chits provides the main engine for the game’s events. Unlike the earlier game, however, where players had some input into the pace of chit events because they paid resource points for them, in this game chit draws are automatic. Resource Points are so rare that players would never spend them on chits.

The map is compatible with the Great War in Europe. The Caucasus and Iraq maps are considered “East” maps and use the same 20-22.5-mile hexes as the parent Game’s Eastern Front. Palestine, on the other hand, is a “West” map, and uses the 9.5-mile hexes and double movement allowances of the French and Italian fronts in TGWIE. Unlike the parent game, where most units were divisions, this game also has many brigades and even some battalion- and company-sized units.

Fittingly for a secondary front, events in this game are driven in large measure by factors outside the player’s control. On each front, both players try to make do with minimal resources in supply and troops and make some headway. The game system ensures that the game follows history closely, and it is not easy to make dramatic departures from the historical script. Each front has only the most tenuous connection to the others. Even the Ottomans, who are the common belligerent on all three fronts, will find it hard to redeploy forces to take advantage of his interior lines.

The Allied objective is the force the surrender of Turkey by capturing “surrender towns.” During victory check turns the allies add the number of captured towns to a die roll, if it is 11 or more, the Allies win. The Central Powers win by avoiding a loss, except if the Army of Islam chit is drawn, in which case they must also capture the Russian city of Baku.

The Central Powers can optionally take six German shocktroop divisions in 1918. If they succumb to that temptation, they have to capture three Allied Victory hexes to win.

As a standalone game it takes about 20 minutes to set up and can be played in a long sitting. While there are potentially more than 50 turns, many will go by with little or no activity.

When combined with the parent game there is not too much of an addition in playing time for the same reason, although the combined game will certainly work best for team play, if for no other reason than coping with the mental adjustments needed to play, essentially, SIX simultaneous wargames!

There’s some minor overlap in the orders of battle, the duplicate units are marked with an “X” and set aside. The chit pool is also adjusted. There are some chits from each component game that are not used and several new ones specifically for the combined game that are added. Units from TGWINE are identified with a diagonal slash. Units used only in the combined game have the slash in red.


(Yes) For Wargamers: Primarily if one has The Great War in Europe. As a standalone game TGWINE is probably only for players with a special interest in one of the component campaigns.

(No) For Collectors: Nothing remarkable.

(No) For Euro gamers: No, no, no.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Game review: The Moscow Option

The Moscow Option: Guderian's Gambit is one of two wargames in Command No. 37 (The other is Mukden).

It could be considered Proud Monster meets Budapest'45, because it marries a strategic option and the untried Soviet units from the first game with the combat/movement and unit roster system of the latter.

As a Budapest system game Moscow Option includes zones of control, a unit roster to track German step losses and 5/8-inch unit counters. The German player-turn starts with a mechanized movement phase, then goes to a combat phase and a general movement phase. The Soviets move and then fight.

But the game situation is drawn from an option in Proud Monster, where the Germans dedicate their supply network to supporting a spearhead of mobile units ( 9 Panzer divisions, six motorized divisions and three smaller units) lunging towards Moscow in an all-out bid to capture the Soviet capital and win the war. The 16 German infantry divisions plodding behind the armored spearheads can help hold ground, but have no attack factors at all.

The Soviet forces are all 1-step attack-defense-movement factor units identical in function to the Proud Monster Soviets. All start on their untried side, with values unknown to either player. When they enter combat for the first time their values are revealed. Being one-step units in the very attritional Budapest combat system, however, most Soviet units won't be around for long. The Soviets begin with 39 Rifle divisions, 5 cavalry divisions and 11 tank divisions. Another 28 Rifle divisions, 7 cavalry divisions, one tank division and 14 tank brigades come as reinforcements.

The German has 14 turns to capture a Moscow hex. Once he's in possession of one or more hexes he rolls two dice and compares the result to chart. The earlier he captures the hex(es) and the more hexes he holds the better his chances. For example, if he captures all three hexes by turn 6 he wins on any roll. If he just manages to squeak into one hex on turn 14 he'll need boxcars to win. The Germans win automatically by clearing the map of Soviet troops. The Soviets can win by avoiding a German win or by capturing Smolensk (which starts behind German lines).

Every turn the German will be making difficult choices. Although the German is strong enough to do anything he wants, there simply aren't enough units to do everything he needs to do. A typical Panzer division starts the game with 13 combat factors/steps. For the Soviet player, losses will be high, but he'll have a chance to attack as well as defend (the tank brigades, in particular, are not very useful defensively. While their attack factors range from 1-4, all have a defense of just 1.) Unlike the situation historically, when the Soviets had a chance to build a series of fortified belts before Moscow, in this scenario, set in August, it's up to the troops alone to hold out.

One notable rule prevents the "edge-of-the-world" flaw so common in wargames. Along the north east and south sides of the map is a "gold row" of hexes that only the Soviets can use. This prevents the German from unrealistically using the map edge to anchor his flanks. German zones of control do not extend into the gold row, so the Soviets always have an open flank available. This rule therefore encourages the German to keep his troops close to the Smolensk to Moscow highway that runs through the center of the map and is his supply line.

The map is by Beth Queman and is functional, if not overly attractive. The hexes are oversized, 7/8-inch across. The Soviet player doesn't have much in the way of helpful terrain. Part of one river covers a part of his front, while an expanse of woods in the center of the map is better than nothing. But for the most part, the terrain favors the German attackers.

The game scale is nine miles per hex, one day per turn. Most units are divisions and brigades. The 14 pages of rules describe a game of moderate complexity by wargame standards. Set up will take about 15 minutes and the game is playable in one sitting.


(Yes) for Wargamers: Nice, solid wargame covering an interesting "what-if."

(No) for Collectors: No special collectibility

(No) for Eurogamers: A hex-and-counter wargame with rosters, so not your cup of tea.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Game review: Mukden

Mukden is one of two games in Command No. 37 (the other is The Moscow Option). The game is an operational level portrayal of the battle that was the climax of the land portion of the Russo-Japanese war. Unlike the naval portion of the war, the Japanese were unable to score a knockout blow, although they tended to win the battles.

This game uses a variation on the system first seen in Budapest '45. The salient features of this system is tracking losses on a unit roster and designer manipulation of the turn sequence to make a point about the relative quality of the contending armies. Typically in this game system every combat factor is a step and can be lost individually. The Japanese follow this pattern, but the Russian units are eliminated before they get down to their last combat factor. This puts them at a considerable disadvantage in the game's attritional combat system, where both sides tend to lose steps in every combat.

The turn sequence is unusual, in that both sides move before either has its combat phase. In addition, the Russian army group is divided into three numbered armies, each with its own movement phase. Simulating the command problems suffered in the historical event, when each army moves is determined by a die roll, making it difficult to plan. Adding an additional wrinkle, the Japanese units get to move in between each of the Russian movement phases, making it very hard for the Russians to maneuver safely in the presence of their enemies.

Combat is a multi-step process. The Japanese start with a bombardment phase (only they have some supporting artillery units) followed by a Russian defensive fire phase by the units being attacked. The effectiveness of bombardment and defensive fire depend on the number of firing factors, modified by terrain. From 0-3 steps can be lost by the attacker. The final step is a "melee" combat that is odds based, and also modified by terrain. The Japanese (but not the Russians) can also benefit by surrounding the defending units during this combat. In Melee both sides usually suffer step losses and the defender may be forced to retreat.The Russian combat phase is the same, except they don't have any bombarding artillery.

The general course of play is a steady pushing back of the Russian line by the Japanese. While the Japanese don't have a significant advantage in combat factors, they do have many more steps, and can therefore better afford the step losses. The Russians, handicapped by their command problems, will find it very hard to attack and unprofitable when they manage to set one up.

The Japanese can win by either capturing Mukden, getting a supplied unit into the Russian "withdrawal trigger line" (the historical result) which is located north of Mukden or by eliminating 78 steps of Russian troops (which is 50 percent of their army). The Russians win by avoiding the Japanese victory condition or by eliminating 115 steps of Japanese troops (out of 214 steps). A draw is only possible if both sides exceed their loss levels in the same turn.

Physically the game map is one of the better Beth Queman efforts, with pleasing graphics and functionality. The unit counters are large 5/8-inch style with NATO-style unit symbols and unit designations. The reverse side shows the general unit type (and Army for the Russians). As usual in this system, unit rosters are kept secret from the enemy player and the unit counters are kept face down unless in combat. The Japanese are the standard XTR white on red color scheme. The Russians are color coded by Army (1st Army blue, 2nd Army yellow and 3rd Army green). Several units start the game in the "General Reserve" and are colored grey. Each can be assigned to any of the three armies and has a new counter in the appropriate color to use once it is assigned. Assignments cannot be changed once made.

Turns represent 2-3 days, each hex is three miles and units are brigades and divisions.

The game lasts 8 turns. Set up should take about 15 minutes and the game is easily playable in one sitting.


(Yes) for Wargamers: An interesting game best played as a match so both sides get to attack.

(no) for Collectors: Nothing special

(no) for Eurogamers: Not too bad for a wargame, but the roster loss system is not the kind of game mechanic you'd like.

Reviewing collectible games from a wargamer's perspective: Navia Dratp

There's not much to see here, from a wargamer's perspective. Navia Dratp is an abstract conflict game similar too chess, or, even more so, shogi. While it's a wargame in the very generic sense that chess or shogi are also wargames, Navia Dratp has even less thematic appeal to sort of things that wargamers generally appreciate such as history or military terms.

Indeed, the theme is wholly bizarre, and, I think played a big role in the game's failure to catch on. It's simply too alien from players' frame of reference. This is a shame, because underneath the odd theme there's actually a pretty interesting abstract strategy game.

Players control an army the comprises one Navia (an anime-style female figure that plays the role of a king in chess); seven black "gulled" which are pawn-like pieces that provide an added benefit of giving the player one "gyullas" (the game's currency) each time it moves, two red gyullas which can move a bit farther than the black ones and provide a bonus of 3 gyullas every time they move and seven "maseitai" which are the collectible pieces in the game. Each maseitai has unique movement ability and usually some other power as well. These other powers come into play when a player pays the "dratp" cost of the piece, which allows it to rotate a patented "compass" that reveals the maseitais enhanced powers. Sometimes this power is merely expanded movement ability, but there are many other powers as well that can affect friendly and/or opposing pieces. The more powerful the pieces, the greater the cost in gyullas to dratp it. Also, the dratp cost of the piece is how much gyullas the opponent can score for capturing the piece. It's sort as if a chess player scored a bonus of 3 victory points for capturing a knight.

Adding to the game interest and tension there are multiple ways to win. Perhaps the most common way is to capture the opposing Navia, similar to checkmating a king in chess. If a player can accumulate 60 gyullas he can "dratp" the Navia, which results in an instant win.

Harder to accomplish, but still posing a threat, if a player can move the Navia all the way across the board then they can also win. "

The Navia and the black and red gulled pieces start on the board, but all the maseitai start off board in a player's "keep." Instead of moving a piece a player can summon a maseitai to one of the summoning squares on the board. This means, in chess terms, a players risks losing tempo every time he deploys a new maseitai, providing another interesting strategic decision.

Compared to chess, most Navia Dratp figures have very restricted movement. The vast majority can move no more than two squares, and usually in quite restricted directions. A few pieces, once dratped, gain powers similar to chess bishops, rooks or the queen, but generally the game will develop at a slower pace than a chess game.

Mitigating the short movement ability, the board is only 7x7 squares and there's a lot of important game action that doesn't necessarily involve much movement.

Once you get used to the odd theme and terms, Navia Dratp is an interesting abstract strategy game. The collectible aspects are muted by the fact that the game went out of print before getting too far along. There are only 30 maseitai in the two expansions, in addition to the 14 that come with the two starter sets. All are still available online. While there are seven different Navia figures, from a game function standpoint they are all the same, so you don't need any besides the two in the starters.

As far as whether the game is recommended or not, it really depends on whether you're a wargamer who also happens to like abstract strategy games. Many wargamers like chess, but I'm not sure that they like chess out of proportion to the general population. So if you happen to like chess-like games, you may find Navia Dratp of interest.

If, on the other hand, you're pretty strictly a wargamer then take a pass on Navia Dratp. It bears not resemblance at all to a fantasy or sci fi wargame, let alone a history-based game, and, if anything, the bizarre theme will be too annoying to deal with.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Reviewing collectible games from a wargamer's perspective: Dixie Gettysburg

Dixie Gettysburg ended up being the final entry in Columbia's Dixie series of collectible card wargames based on American Civil War battles. There were apparently plans to do the Battle of Antietam, as well, but sales evidently didn't support the project. Indeed, first run cards are still available from Columbia, so the game is technically still in print.

Like the earlier games, Dixie Gettysburg is less a card game than an abstract tactical battle game that uses cards for units.

Cards representing units of infantry, cavalry and artillery and the generals leading them maneuver on an abstract battlefield divided into left, center and right sectors plus a reserve position for each army.

Units battle by rolling as many dice as their "combat value" (CV)scoring hits depending upon the type of unit firing and the range. Infantry units, for example, normally fire at "F2" at enemy units they are "engaged" with, inflicting hits on a die roll of "1" or "2."

Units that have been hit make a morale check at the beginning of their next turn, rolling a die for every hit. If any rolls exceed the CV of the target unit it routs out of play. Gettysburg adds a twist to this basic Dixie system by modifying the CV according to the unit's "morale rating" which is a letter rating from A (best) through D (worst).

Unlike the earlier games, in Dixie Gettysburg the cards generally represent brigades rather than regiments, so the regimental illustrations on the cards are selected examples of the uniforms worn during the battle. By this stage of the war both armies were more or less clothed in regulation attire (at least as far as the Confederate supply system allowed) for the most part, so there's less need to get into the regimental variations that made Bull Run and Shiloh so colorful. That said, the federal army has at least a few uniquely uniformed units, so it's not entirely a sea of blue.

Like the other Dixie series games there is no rarity between the cards. so those who purchase decks have an equal chance of getting each card. I skipped that phase entirely by buying the one-with-everything complete set of 250 cards as I found the process of collecting the cards individually rather tiresome, especially after the 400-card Shiloh set.

Like the other Dixie games, Dixie Gettysburg is much more geared for wargamers than the usual collectible game crowd. There's relatively little interaction between cards and no scope for killer combos and the like. It's a straightforward battle game.

Personally I like the game. Like many wargamers I'm somewhat of an OB nerd, so I like having the whole order of battle laid out in front of me. The illustrations by Eric Hotz are well-done and the game is really worth getting for those alone.

Compared to the other Dixie games Dixie Gettysburg adds a few more twists to the game. Besides the morale levels referenced earlier, there's also a rule for corps integrity and for fighting the battle over three "days," giving the game some of the epic feel of the namesake battle. Like Bull Run there are rules for fighting over five columns instead of the standard three, which will also make the game longer and more involved by card game standards, although still pretty light fare by wargame standards.

Game review: SS Panzer

SS Panzer: Bloodbath at Kursk is the issue game in Command Magazine No. 36. It's tactical in scope, with every unit representing a company of Germans or a battalion of Russian, except for some platoons of Tiger Tanks, battling over 500-meter hexes. Each of the four game turns represents an hour.

Players shouldn't be fooled by the mere four-turn game length into thinking this is a quick game, however, as there are a lot of units. And the rules, although only eight pages long, describe a fairly intricate game system. And finally, this is a unit activation chit draw system, so both players are involved throughout the game turn and when a formation is activated there are a lot of different decisions to be made.

This is a unique game system. Every combat interaction between units has the potential for several die rolls. Generally speaking, whether it is anti-infantry or anti-tank fire, units are rolling for hits. The number of dice a unit fire depends on its circumstances. It can range from 1 to 3, but the base number is two. Likewise, the number needed to hit varies and can be modified, but a die roll of "1" is always a hit and that will often be the number sought.

The Soviet order of battle comprises five tank/mechanized corps and one airborne division, while the Germans have three SS Panzergrenadier divisions (although at this stage of the war they are really panzer divisions in strength and equipment.)

While, as usual in XTR games, there are sudden death victory conditions in case of overwhelming success, the battle will generally revolve around fights across the breadth and depth of the map for victory hexes marked with red stars for the Soviets and SS runes for the Nazis. If the Soviets capture 7 of their 10 objectives they win, the Germans need 13 of their 18 objectives. Any other result is a draw, which was the historical outcome.

Air strikes and artillery bombardments are also triggered by chit pulls, creating a very fluid game flow, as is usual in chit pull systems.

Both sides have to try to play very efficiently, as each unit counter will only get to move or initiate combat four times throughout the game.

Physically the game is attractive, with 320 large 5/8-inch counters and 106 1/2-inch marker and an attractive and functional map by Beth Queman. Vehicle units are shown with icons while non-vehicle units use NATO-style unit symbols.

While the game rules are short at just 8 pages, the game system is unfamiliar and will require close study of the rules, especially the first time. Despite the brevity of the rules I would describe this as a moderate complexity wargame.

It will take about 30 minutes to set the game up, and playing the whole four-hour fight will take just about that period of time.


(Yes) for Wargamers: An interesting depiction of a key battle. Lots of tanks, lots of die rolls.

(No) for Collectors: No special collectibility

(No) for Eurogamers: Too intricate a game system to appeal to the tastes of most euro-style players.