Saturday, February 28, 2009
Hope they do a better job than last time.
Supposedly there are a bunch of other movie projects based on Hasbro games including Monopoly.
I wonder if they'll do PanzerBlitz, ASL or Axis & Allies movies? ;) THAT would be something remarkable.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Some of this is bookkeeping work, either with papers or markers, that seeks to track some of the varied factors that affect battle outcomes in the real world such as fatigue, casualties, ammunition, fuel, etc.
Some fiddliness comes from the detailed accounting of military strength, of movement allowance and terrain effects.
Some results from intricate game phasing and procedures that try to account for weapons effects, doctrinal practice or communication.
Wargames are, indeed, rather intricate, and I think this results from a fundamental tension between design goals.
No, this is not another entry in the realism vs. playability debate, although it's related.
No, the tension is between the game designer's need to represent the decision points that the player/commander should influence and the need to provide the entertainment value of the game player as a witness to the spectacle of combat.
A real-life commander at any level has very limited means for knowing what's going on and issuing orders to try to influence the action.
During the battle of Waterloo, for example, Napoleon probably issued no more than a half-dozen orders all day. He certainly wasn't involved in any activity that remotely resembled counting combat factors, coordinating the precise configuration of attacking divisions and assessing exactly how many movement factors were needed to get everyone in position.
When Lee ordered Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg he issued only the most general guidance to Longstreet, with his biggest role being assigning the attacking divisions and specifying the point of attack. A player/Lee will be far more involved in the details.
Some of this work is, of course, a consequence of the physical limitations of a manual wargame, but not all of it is, as can be seen when you look at turn-based computer wargames which could strictly limit the player to a historical amount of control, but typically don't.
Indeed, even a manual wargame doesn't have to get down into the weeds. Is Memoir' 44 an unrealistic wargame because it doesn't have a lot of detail -- or is it actually a more realistic game because the player/commander doesn't do much more than issue general orders to attack or move here or there?
What Memoir'44 doesn't do is allow the player to witness all the activity that's going on. A unit moves, takes a shot (rolls dice) and something happens (or not) to the target. Exactly what going on when the target loses a figure and retreats a hex isn't specified. Are those losses casualties or deserters? Is the retreat orderly or a a near rout?
At the other end of the spectrum you have a game like Advanced Squad Leader, which depicts the action in excruciating detail, down to the facing of individual tank turrets, the malfunctioning of individual weapons and whether a squad passes through a building or alongside of it. The player has far more control of the action than any real-life commander could dream of. Indeed, the player has more control of each piece than the commander of that piece would have. Maneuvering a tank through a village the player controls every increment of movement, every swing of the turret, while knowing the exact lay of the land -- things even the actual tank commander couldn't do.
But it's entertaining as hell, which is why ASL is such an involving game to play. But witnessing every detail of the action comes at a considerable cost in "fiddliness." And at the end of the day, after executing a half-dozen die rolls and following several procedures you end up with a result -- which could have been expressed as "you lose a half squad and they have to rout to that patch of woods." Not all that different than Memoir '44.
Non wargames can generally dispense with a lot of details because the entertainment value of the game is heavily focused on the decisions of the players and the interactions between them. Exactly how the conflict (if there is any) or other actions are resolved is neither here nor there.
Player decision-making can be important in wargames, too, but it's not even necessarily of first importance. In many wargames the player has surprisingly little real impact on the course of the game and in most wargames there can be a lot of entertainment found in playing the game solitaire. Players of nonwargames may play the game through alone on occasion to learn the rules better or try out a strategy but I don't think they do it regularly. The game's fun is provided by the social interactions and the chance to match wits with an opponent.
On the other hand, a wargame can be very entertaining to play alone because a big chunk of its appeal is in witnessing how the action unfolds. Providing that appeal requires that the "how" be depicted and that, I think, is one of the factors that distinguish wargames from other games.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
The character of the two games we played could not have been more different.
In the first battle the Old Warhorse took the role of Owain the Red Hand (the standards army, with the dwarves and spider).
Despite the presence of level 1 wizards on both sides and the spider, this turned into a very conventional battle. Neither wiz was all that effective, again, as being level 1 definitely reduces the impact of the best spells. And it never seemed worthwhile to activate the spider, so that unusual creature took absolutely no part in the battle.
Instead it turned into a battle of quality. Both sides used Mounted Charges to god effect, but the Goblins once again lived up to their reputation of not being worth the trouble as they melted away when facing the dwarves. In the meantime the dwarves chewed through everything they faced and the battle ended up a fairly convincing 6-3 win for the dwarf side.
When we switched sides, on the other hand, the battle was a free-wheeling affair The Young General got a lot of use out of the spider, which turned into a real bane for Edward's troops. Both sides again made extensive use of Mounted Charges which decimated both cavalry forces by the time it was over. Both sides did a lot of spell-casting as Young General finally got over his aversion to spending Lore. While not decisive,the spells definitely provided important support. Still, the star of the battle was clearly the Spider, which avoided many critical hit rolls while laying waste to the opposing army. The final score was 6-5 for the Dwarves, so Young General added another notch to his belt with a win over the Old Warhorse.
Friday, February 20, 2009
While five by five boards are seen carved in ancient stoneworks there's apparently no proof that Seega was played on them and Bell and others apparently think the game is of recent origin, perhaps the 18th century.
On the other hand, it's quite possible it's a very old game indeed. Like many very old games it's very abstract, relying on a handful of easy-to-remember and teach rules suitable for an oral culture. It doesn't require any special materials. The game's grid can be scratched out in the sand and sticks and stones can be used for the pieces.
Like some other ancient grid-based games the exact number of spaces could vary from time to time and place to place. (Go, Latrunculi, Morris also have this characteristic) The main effect of adding pieces is to lengthen playing time, so the most popular version is the simple 5 by 5 grid.
While associated with Egypt, the game is apparently more popular these days in Somalia, according to Bell and others. It's apparently played in West Africa as well, however, as the World of Games book has a photo showing a group of boys in Senegal playing the game in the sand.
The game uses the same two-phase organization seen in Nine-men's Morris and Kensington, where the players begin by alternately placing pieces on the board without moving them (and in Seega's case, not capturing them) followed by a second phase when player's alternate moving one piece from a square to an adjacent unoccupied square. The game uses the ancient "custodial capture" technique, where a piece is taken if an enemy token moves next to in such a way as to "sandwich" it between the moving piece and and another enemy piece. If the capture is made then the capturing player can move again.A player wins by capturing all but one enemy piece. An alternative way to win is by blocking the opponent so he cannot move. In this case whoever has the most pieces left wins.
As one can see, the game mechanics are very, very simple and very ancient as well, which lends credence to the belief that the game is older than believed. I think the fact that it's generally played with ephemeral materials and has no need for written rules has obscured its ancient origins. It doesn't seem to have inspired the religious associations that helped preserve Senet or the urge to create beautiful playing materials that's helped provide evidence for the antiquity of Go or Chess. But I think the internal evidence provided by the games rules suggest it's rather older than credited.
As a capturing game, there' s a tendency for a rich-get-richer and poor-get-poorer effect to kick in. The initial placement is vital, with corners and side positions to be prized. A piece in the central square is immune from capture, making this a useful location in the early game.It's a quick-playing game, but one that will have trouble keeping the interest of adult players, especially those who have been exposed to more sophisticated abstracts. It can be some fun played with younger players, helping them develop some tactical skill in analyzing board positions.
While there are versions available for purchase, there's really no need to buy one as the game is easily fabricated with materials at hand. Simply draw a 5 x 5 grid on a piece of paper, put an "X" in the middle square, dig out a dozen pennies and a dozen nickels out of the coin jar and you have all you need to play. For those who want something fancier, The World Of Games describes how to build a set using a leather board and polished stones.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
This may clear the way for more Marvel-theme related games, such as Heroscape.
Using a variation on the game system first seen in Fateful Lightning, Chattanooga is heavily weighted towards morale effects, rather than factor counting or numbers. Units are rated for “Intensity” which measures its willingness to enter into close combat, and “Morale” which measures staying power.
In addition to the standard historical scenario, there are two other scenarios. One assumes that Bragg had followed up his success at Chickamauga and pressed the pursuit harder. This results in a low-counter-density scenario that makes a good introduction to the entire game system. The second scenario covers a smaller preliminary night battle on 28 October.
The battlefield is very open, with some prodigious slopes restricting maneuver in some key spots.The game system is unusual, and is a departure from the usual XTR/Command style. While a “mini-monster” the game does not use standard wargame mechanics and instead uses an uncommon and rather intricate game system, by Command standards. Every hex represents about 176 yards, units are regiments of infantry and artillery batteries. The game uses the universal color scheme of Civil War games, blue for the federals and gray for the confederates. Units show iconic representations of the soldiers on each side, in a variety of poses and uniforms. Unlike Fateful Lightning, however, which depicted each unit in its correct uniform, Chattanooga does not. Turns represent two hours during daylight, plus an overnight turn. Each turn comprise player “couplets,” which might be considered turns in most other games. How many couplets make up a turn varies. After each couplet a die is rolled. Depending on the result play proceeds to another couplet with the same side going first, or to another couplet with the player order reversed or the end of the turn.
Combat is handled in an unusual way. Ranged fire combat is possible, but tends to be indecisive and long ranged shots are hard to set up because of the amount of woods. Surprisingly, firing units can suffer adverse results when they shoot. The number of firing factors is added up and a 10-sided die rolled. Results tend to be disruptions and morale checks. Much of the combat will consist of assaults. Assault combat is resolved by selecting a column on the CRT based on the attacking units’ intensity and then rolling a 10-sided die. Both intensity and the die roll can be affected by a number of modifiers. I found this system rather burdensome and even arduous, because it meant a large number of repetitive calculations. There are likely to be dozens of combats in each player couplet, each one involving adding up modifiers, which will generally tend to be very similar.
The games includes a number of other unusual subsystems, such as "extra strength" which is used to recreate units from the dead pile. Units can also be recreated without using extra strength, but risk being permanently eliminated at a victory point cost. The game does appear to be a reasonable simulation, but its level of detail and the work required of each player will restrict its appeal to hard-core gamers with a particular interest in the topic.
(Conditional Yes) For Wargamers: A large and detailed replication of the Battle of Chattanooga for Civil War and tactical game buffs. It’s of limited interest to others.
(No) For Collectors: Nothing special.
(No) For Euro gamers: A very hard-core hex-and-counter wargame.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Friday, February 13, 2009
Thursday, February 12, 2009
The game is one of XTR’s signature ‘Alternative History’ wargames, exploring a what-if situation, in this case, an invasion of Britain by Napoleon. When done well, this kind of game can provide insight into the consequences of human choice in historical affairs and provide a tool for evaluating debate over those choices.Did the allies make a mistake by not invading Europe in 1943? Second Front Now, for example, suggests that an invasion might have succeeded, but with a significant risk of disastrous failure. Even when not tied closely to a historical what-if, alternative history games can provide unusual game situations, such as the four-army, three-river melee in Hoorah.
Unfortunately, Perfidious Albion doesn’t manage either. It isn’t set in 1805, when Napoleon actually had an army ready for an invasion of Britain, but in 1814, based on a fanciful alternative history involving Robert Fulton, steamboats and a successful Russian campaign by Napoleon. So it provides little insight into the actual historical what-ifs. Yet it also fails to deliver an interesting game situation, ending up being a fairly conventional invasion of Britain game that feels more like it’s set in 1914 than 1814.
The game includes stacking rules that essentially limit stacking to two corps per 5-mile hex. This creates a more 20th-century style battle of opposing lines instead of the Napoleonic practice of moving dispersed and then concentrating for battle. Turns are a week, which creates multi-week battles, as opposed to the actual Napoleonic experience where many battles were fought in a single day and only a notable few lasted up to three days (Borodino, Leipzig). Fairly restrictive supply rules tie the armies to the road net, despite the fact that southern England was easily rich enough to support armies living off the land, as was Napoleon’s common practice.
The end result is a game that simply does not ‘feel’ Napoleonic at all. Instead it feels more like an early 20th Century wargame, complete with the move/fight or fight/move turn sequence seen in a number of other XTR wargames and an odds-based CRT.
Altogether one of the most disappointing XTR designs.
(No) For wargamers. It does not successfully convey the illusion of Napoleonic warfare nor provide a convincing ‘what-if.’
(No) For collectors.
(No) For eurogamers. Just a typical fiddly wargame from that perspective.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
It's a pretty straightforward fight, meant to showcase the Lore rules and introducing the Wizard Loremaster and his Lore cards.
As it turned out, the Lore cards had remarkably little effect on the proceedings. In part, this was simply because a level 1 wizard isn't all that powerful, the Old Warhorse rolled sucky dice with his spells and the Young General turned out to be a Lore miser.
I'd noticed this trait in other games, such as Monopoly, where he was overly reluctant to part with his cash, but here it was really pronounced. He loved accumulating Lore but hated to spend any of it, despite the Old Warhorse pointing out that there was no end-of-game bonus for having more More. If the Old Warhorse's spending on Lore had provided more obvious benefits the argument may have carried more weight, but altogether the Lore spells just picked off a stray figure or two and didn't leave a big impression. Even the Fireball and Creeping Doom didn't do much, between the level 1 loremaster and poor dice.
The game ended up being decided the old-fashioned way, with cold steel and Mounted Charges leading to a 6-2 flag win for the Old guy.
Axis & Allies D-Day is a clear break from the earlier A&A titles. It focuses on one particular campaign while using a largely different game system. It does use many of the same pieces as the original game, and most of them have similar combat values, but that's about it for similarities.
Axis & Allies D-Day depicts the first part of the Normandy Campaign, from D-Day to roughly the point where Operation Cobra was launched. Units represent roughly regiment and brigade-sized forces of infantry, armor and artillery, with support from coastal fortifications for the Axis and air units and naval gunfire for the Allies.
United States forces are green figures -- a U.S. Army rifleman representing infantry, a Sherman tank for armor and a 105mm howitzer for the artillery. The figures are not in scale with each other, but are all around the same size, around an inch. The U.S. Army Air Corps is represented by four P-38 fighters and a B-17 Bomber model. The British Commonwealth forces are similar, but in a light tan color. The British also use the Sherman tank (accurate) and 105mm howitzer (not) to represent their armor and artillery forces, but have a specifically British soldier for the infantry and four Spitfire fighters and a Halifax heavy bomber representing the Commonwealth air forces.
The Axis are all black or very dark grey, with a Mauser-armed German soldier representing the infantry, a Panther tank for the armor and the infamous '88' representing the artillery. There are also some small pillbox figures representing the German coastal forts. These pillboxes are unique to this game and don't appear elsewhere in the A&A line.
Units have varying combat values, depending upon their type and whether they are the attacker or defender in a specific combat. Combat is always resolved by rolling a "hit number" or less on a single die for firing figure with each success causing a casualty on the enemy. For example, a British Sherman tank attacks with a values of "3" so it hits on a roll of 1-3, but if it's firing as a defender it's value is just a "2" and it hits die rolls of 1 or 2.
The map depicts the Normandy region using irregularly-shaped areas of roughly similar size. There are no terrain effects at all, but three areas, containing the cities of Caen, St. Lo and Cherbourg, are important for victory.
The map also contains holding boxes for the five invasion beaches and three parachute divisions, a turn record, holding boxes for the air units and spots for the order cards (which I'll discuss later). The entire map has a very muted look but is very clear and functional with no questionable borders or unclear functions.
The game also includes three light card stock reinforcement charts (one each for the Americans, British and German) and a battle board.
The rule book is 24 pages, done in a World War II-era graphic style that's since become the standard for all Axis & Allies line games. Rounding out the components is a small turn marker disk, eight dice and 48 cards.
These cards are the heart of the game system and drive all the action. 16 of the cards are "Order cards, which cleverly lay out the sequence of play in a way that will be especially useful for players with no previous wargame experience. The cards are drawn in a set order. As each card is turned over the player executes the functions named on the card. Once the deck is gone through a turn is completed and the players start over. This approach save a lot of rules reading and memorization. Some cards are used just once and removed from the deck, but players can also save time by removing any cards that no longer apply. For example, once all the pillboxes are gone the Allied naval bombardment cards and German pillbox firing cards can simply be removed from the deck.
As optional rules the players can by mutual consent add two other 16-card decks which add variability to play.
The first set are called "Fortune" cards. These are drawn just before a regular Order card is drawn and may effect that card. Each works the same way. A die is rolled. On a die roll of "1" something that affects the player positively happens, on a 2-4 nothing happens and on a "6" something happens that affects the player negatively. For example, Fortune Card 13 affects the "Axis Attacks/Allies Defend Order card. On a 1 the Axis player benefits from "Coordinated Infantry -- Axis infantry hit on a 2 in this phase." (Normally it's a 1 to hit.) On a 6 the Axis player suffers from "Uncoordinated Attacks -- Axis land units can attack in only two zones in this phase." (Normally there is no limit.)
These Fortune cards are a mixed bag and I'd hesitate to actually recommend their use. They add a lot of diceyness to a game that's already pretty dicey to begin with. Unlike the regular diceyness of the game, which is mitigated somewhat by the sheer volume of rolls, which will tend to even out over time, the fortune cards can have a dramatic effect on the game from just a single roll. A couple of them, especially Fortune Card 9 which increase the effectiveness of the pillboxes and card 10 which blocks landings from all but two beachhead boxes can be devastating to the Allies chances if they take effect early in the game. In their favor they do add some flavor to the game.
There is also a deck of Tactics cards. These are drawn after the order card, and generally give the player a one-time option to do something that benefits them. These add a lot to the game because they give the players meaningful decisions to make. While very card is beneficial to use, the timing of their use can be critical. For example, Tactics Card 10 "Combined Assault" increases the attack value of Allies infantry to 2 for each matching artillery unit in the zone, so the Allies player will want to spend the effort to set up a turn that maximizes this benefit of this. These are recommended for use.
Both sets of cards are optional, but the rules state that all the cards from a set should be used if any are used. I do think that there's room for adjusting this somewhat, especially if you're an experienced player teaching a new player. You could strategically include or exclude certain cards to balance the chances a bit.
The game takes about 15 minutes to set up and is easily playable in 2-3 hours. It also scales well for three players, dividing the Allies side into British and American.
I think both sides have an equal chance at victory, but the game will tend to disappoint history-oriented folks because it doesn't really unfold like the actual battle did. Indeed, it has a sort of Retro feel to it. Like many 1960s-era Avalon Hill wargames it tends to degenerate into a "last man standing" situation where a handful of surviving units are scrapping over the last victory space.
This is cause partly by the victory conditions, which revolve solely around the possession of the three cities of Cherbourg, Caen and St. Lo in theory, but really St. Lo is the key zone. Cherbourg is too far from the German reinforcement zones and Caen too close to the British beaches for the Axis to have a realistic chance of holding, so the battle usually ends up being decided at St. Lo.
Contributing more to the last-man-standing character of the game is that the combat system is simply too bloody. With the minor exception of a couple of cards there's no provision for returning eliminated units to play and the battle losses will tend to outpace the arrival of reinforcements. This was a common problem back in the 1960s with games such as classic Gettysburg but most designs since then have done a better job of balancing the ability to take losses and inflict them so that armies don't evaporate during the game. This isn't a complete surprise, of course, because the original Axis & Allies often suffers from the same problem.
The historicity of the game suffers from some other peculiar design decisions. For example, even though the U.S. fielded dozens of independent tank battalions, enough to equip several armored divisions, they disappear in this game instead of beefing up the infantry units. Meanwhile, German Panzergrenadier units, which were also mostly infantry with a few assault guns, get beefed up into tank units.
On the other hand, there are a lot of nice touches, such as identifying the participating divisions on the map and in the reinforcement boxes and the figures, themselves, which can provide fodder for game table discussions about history.
There's not much here for serious historical wargamers., who probably already have several more authentic D-Day wargames in their collection, but Axis & Allies D-Day does have some usefulness as a teaching or introductory game. It's also a good game for more casual gamers who might want to try a wargame now and then or have a wargame in their general game collection. Axis & Allies is definitely not a euro-ized wargame, but it is a wargame presented in a very user-friendly way. Unlike most wargames, I think this one is one that a virgin player could teach himself, instead of having a wargamer teach him.
Wargamers (Conditional Yes) Good teaching game
Collectors (No) Unless you are an Axis & Allies completist.
Euro-gamers (Yes) One of your best choices for an accessible wargame
Using a variation on the game system first seen in Fateful Lightning, Hell Before Night is heavily weighted towards morale effects, rather than factor counting or numbers.
Units are rated for “Intensity” which measures its willingness to enter into close combat, and “Morale” which measures staying power. Compared to the other games using the same system, unit morales tend to be lower, which befits the green armies involved on both sides.
There are few surprises in the general game situation, and anyone familiar with the historical battle or any of the other games on the battle know what to expect. The entire Confederate Army starts either on the map or will enter shortly, while the Federal forces are lined up near their camps, attempting to slow down the rebel onslaught. The Rebels will spend the first half of the game driving towards Pittsburgh Landing. Its capture will end the game in an immediate and decisive victory. If night falls before they get there, a whole new army of Union troops arrives overnight to launch a counter attack the next morning. The battlefield is wooded and constricted, so there is little scope for maneuver. It’s an all-out, straight-up slugging match.
The game system is unusual, and is a departure from the usual XTR/Command style. While a “mini-monster” the game does not use standard wargame mechanics and instead uses an uncommon and rather intricate game system, by Command standards.
Every hex represents about 176 yards, units are regiments of infantry and artillery batteries. The game uses the universal color scheme of Civil War games, blue for the federals and gray for the confederates. The Union Army of the Ohio, which arrives on the second day is in green, instead of blue. Units show iconic representations of the soldiers on each side, in a variety of poses and uniforms. Unlike Fateful Lightning, however, which depicted each unit in its correct uniform, Hell Before Night does not purport to show actual attire but merely generic blue and gray.
Turns represent two hours during daylight, plus an overnight turn. Each turn is comprised of player “couplets,” which might be considered turns in most other games. How many couplets make up a turn varies. After each couplet a die is rolled. Depending on the result play proceeds to another couplet with the same side going first, or to another couplet with the player order reversed or the end of the turn.
Combat is handled in an unusual way. Ranged fire combat is possible, but tends to be indecisive and long-ranged shots are hard to set up because of the amount of woods. Surprisingly, firing units can suffer adverse results when they shoot. The number of firing factors is added up and a 10-sided die rolled. Results tend to be disruptions and morale checks.
Much of the combat will consist of assaults, however, because the Rebels really need to press ahead at all costs. Assault combat is resolved by selecting a column on the CRT based on the attacking units’ intensity and then rolling a 10-sided die. Both intensity and the die roll can be affected by a number of modifiers. I found this system rather burdensome and even arduous, because it meant a large number of repetitive calculations. There are likely to be dozens of combats in each player couplet, each one involving adding up modifiers, which will generally tend to be very similar.
The games includes a number of other unusual subsystems, such as "extra strength" which is used to recreate units from the dead pile. Units can also be recreated without using extra strength, but risk being permanently eliminated at a victory point cost.
If Pittsburgh Landing holds, then victory is decided by comparing victory points, which are accumulated by killing enemy leaders, capturing units or units that are permanently eliminated when rolling to return to the map without using extra strength.The game does appear to be a reasonable simulation, but its level of detail and the work required of each player will restrict its appeal to hard-core gamers with a particular interest in the topic.
(Conditional Yes) For Wargamers: A large and detailed replication of the Battle of Shiloh for Civil War and tactical game buffs. It’s of limited interest to others.
(No) For Collectors: Nothing special.
(No) For Euro gamers: A very hard-core hex-and-counter wargame
Saturday, February 7, 2009
The game uses turns representing two days, hexes representing seven miles and unit counters representing divisions and some smaller units.
In general, the game is fairly typical of XTR World War II operational-level wargames, with standard wargame attack-defense-movement factor unit counters, zones of control, an odds-based numeric step loss combat results table and players turns comprising two player turn “couplets,” which means the actual number of player turns is about double the number of the player turn track.
Systemically, there are two notable rules.
The first of these is the variable order of the movement and combat phases. During a player turn couplet the active player can choose to either move and then attack or attack and then move. The Germans get a one-columns odds shift in their favor if they choose to attack first, then move, on the theory that their usual technique involved hasty attacks, so taking extra time benefits them. The Allies, on the other hand, suffer an odds shift penalty if they move, and then attack, on the theory that their more ponderous command style usually needed to set up attacks deliberately and they were at a disadvantage in mobile operations. This simple variation in turn sequence goes a long way towards capturing the difference between the two armies without extensive special command control rules.
The second notable design technique is “volatile” units. The defending side’s units in each scenario (Germans in 1939, Allies in 1940) have variable combat strengths that are determined each time the unit is involved in combat. For example, a typical French Infantry division in 1940 has factors of +3-+5-6. When it attacks it rolls a die and adds the attack factor as a modifier to the result, so the final attack value will range from 4-9. Likewise, when defending +5 is added to the die roll, resulting in a defense strength between 6-11. This provides an effect similar to the “Untried Units” rules in other wargames, except here the value can vary from battle to battle. The modifier can be a negative number. For example, a Dutch static brigade with a combat value of -2 would subtract 2 from the die roll, to a minimum of 1, so it’s value in attack or defense will range from 1-4.
This provides an antidote to “factor counting” and captures the greenness of the armies involved, at a considerable cost in “wristage,” as the designer admits. An attack by three fully-stacked hexes of French units against a German-occupied hex will needs 13 die rolls to resolve!
This is an extreme case, however, as neither side will have the luxury of organizing very many such massive battles.
In the 1939 scenario the French have seven turns to drive through the Siegfried Line to the Ruhr area. If they succeed in getting a unit within a “Ruhr Endangered Area” they win, otherwise they lose. In this scenario it’s the Germans, in grey. who have most of the “volatile” units, with 34 “0-+3-6 infantry divisions on the defense. (A volatile factor of ‘0’ means there is no addition or subtraction from the die roll, so this units have attack factors of 1-6.) The sole “mobile” reserve is the 0-+2-10 76th truck-mobile Infantry Division. Eight more volatile infantry divisions make up a strategic reserve. All these units have just one step. On the fourth turn the Germans get two experienced two-step, non-volatile 8-10-6/4-5-6 infantry divisions transferred from the Polish front.
The French (in red-on-white) have 47 non-volatile divisions available for their offensive (The British have not arrived, the Belgians and Dutch are assumed to stand aside). Handicapping the French are a very inefficient peacetime deployment at start and the fact that all their units have just one step. Except at the very highest odds the attacker will usually lose at least a step or two in every attack, making the French army powerful, but brittle in the extreme. In addition, the terrain on the Germans side of the border is heavily fortified, filled with rough terrain and cities and cut by numerous rivers. Between the various movement and combat penalties, the French will find the going very tough, especially considering the limited time they have.In the 1940 campaign, of course, it’s the Germans who are on the attack. Their white-on-black Panzer divisions have four steps, and their field grey infantry two steps each.
On the other side, the yellow, red and dark blue French units all have just one step, as well as volatile combat factors. The BEF, in tan counters, has volatile factors but two-step divisions, giving them more staying power.
Various special rules account for the German “Sickle Cut” operation through the Ardennes, airborne Coups de Main, Allied capitulations and other facets of the campaign. The Germans win by achieving victory points for forcing capitulations, breaching the Maginot line “destroying: the BEF or causing “severe” RAF pilot losses. They lose victory points if the Allies control any German cities (hah!) or cause “severe” losses to the German forces. Whether the criteria in within the quotation marks above have been met is determined by rolling a die and comparing the result to a table of losses. The game is 10 turns long. The amount of luck involved in all this may bother some players. By the way, the historical result was a game victory for the Allies! The designer explains that the Allies did go on to win the war, so the German player has to do better than the historical result in order to win.
(Yes) For Wargamers: A reasonable simulation of a difficult-to-simulate situation. The conventional wisdom is that the French had very little chance of winning this campaign because of deeply rooted flaws in their military doctrine, so the challenge is creating an interesting situation for the player of the doomed side. In this the game succeeds.
(No) For Collectors: Nothing special.
(No) For Euro gamers: A hard-core hex-and-counter wargame. The volatile unit mechanic, in particular, will not have any appeal.
Friday, February 6, 2009
With two maps and 720 counters it is a big game. Like most monster games the game system is kept pretty basic, with the usual combat factor-movement factor NAT)-style unit symbol ½-inch wargame counters. The SS are in black, Luftwaffe in blue and German Army in light grey, while the Americans are in their standard XTR olive and the British are tan. The map scale is 1.5 miles per hex and covers pretty much the same ground as every other Battle of the Bulge wargame since the first. As one would expect, the map is covered with small villages, dense woods, rivers and altogether is a busy terrain study. As always with a Beth Queman production, the map is functional, although, as is often the case with one of her maps, not particularly attractive.
(Shown clockwise from upper left are the US 26th Infantry Division, the US 4th Armored Division, the German 9th Panzer Division and the 246th Volksgrenadier Division)
Each of the 17 turns is a day, with two “player couplets” each. The only unique action in the game turn is the weather determination, so the play sequence could have just as easily be organized as one player couplet per turn with weather checked every other turn. Players could consider this to be a 34-turn game, which may give a better understanding of its scope. Despite the relatively straightforward rules (15-page rulebook, moderate complexity) the large number of turns and units means this game will take a long time to play, probably at least one whole weekend day.
The most notable aspect of the player turn couplets is the player’s ability to choose whether to move and then fight, or fight and then move. Moving first allows the attacker to get an attack off before the defender can react, but limits the ability to exploit successes. Attacking first gets a favorable odds modifier and allows a full movement phase to exploit any breakthroughs. On the other hand, the attacks have to be set up the player couplet before, which gives the defender a chance to spoil the attack or retreat away from it.Combat is odds-based, with attacking voluntary. As in nearly all XTR games, the CRT provides numeric results for attacker and defender which are taken as step losses. There are no retreats and no zones of control.
Most of the time the player will wish he could move and then attack in some parts of the battlefield, while doing the opposite in other sectors, but he must choose, creating an interesting game tension and some choices.
The general course of play will be no surprise to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the historical event. The Germans attack a thin line of American units with overwhelming force. They pour through the gaps while the Americans rush reinforcements to the battlefield. The difficult terrain, limited road net and heroic defense by small packets of U.S. troops begins to throw the Germans off their timetable. Small delays add up to big ones. The American front line slowly stiffens while the forward progress of the Germans slows. Finally the German offensive grind to a halt, and the Americans start limited counter attacks until the game ends on Jan. 1. Historically the fighting went on for a couple more weeks as the Allies pushed the bulge back, but nearly every Battle of the Bulge game does stop right around Jan. 1 because the latter phase of the battle is not very interesting to game.
As usual in this sort of game, the fun is in the detailed battling within the overall script. The big strategic decisions have been made and there is very little scope for either side to make big departures from the historical event. The German player, for example, can win a decisive victory by getting a single unit across the Meuse River. The singular nature of this victory condition hints at how unlikely it is.
The Allies have sudden death victory opportunities if the Germans are driven completely back to the start line or fail to hold St. Vith at game end, also unlikely outcomes. (These victory conditions are designed to prevent the German player from simply sitting behind his Westwall fortifications and skipping an offensive altogether.)
Most matches will come down to points, which are scored for capturing cities, eliminating enemy steps and a few game events.
(Yes) For Wargamers: Absolutely. The Battle of the Bulge is a classic game situation and if you have the time to play this, you’ll find it a very satisfying wargame.
(No) For Collectors: No special collectibility.
(No) For Euro gamers: Way too much wargame for you.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
The notable feature of this battle, besides introducing the redoubtable Iron Dwarves, is that an important part of one army starts the battle shoved forward close to the opposing Goblinoid/Human army.
The first battle was a pretty intense mash-up in the center that managed to take out a couple of the dwarves but the tide of battle turned against the Goblinoid/Human host rather dramatically as the heavy horse and the medium horse once again rampaged through the human forces. The Goblins actually did OK and only one of the six lost flags from their side came from a Goblinoid unit. The final score was 6-4.
The second game looked at first like it was going to be a runaway win for the Dwarf/Man side, but after taking an early lead a few enemy good rolls, some cavalry pursuits and some disappointing rolls on my side saw things swing the other way. Eventually, however, the superior quality and staying power of the dwarves started to kick in as they faced the Goblins and the final score ended up being a narrow 6-5 win for the Dwarven/Man side after all.
The first go-around I took the Don Pedro's army of Goblins and men (Castilians?) . They are at the top of the map. Young General was Henry of Trastamara with his Trastamarans (?).
I wondered what's the best policy with the Goblinoids. On the one hand, maybe it's best to try to keep them back, out of the fight, because they're relatively easy to kill. On the other hand, maybe they should be rushed forward to give them a lot of room to retreat.
As it turned out, it was mostly a moot point because I drew very few cards that let me do anything on that flank. Eventually I moved the foot guys forward and dispatched the riders to the center, but they weren't the reason why I lost.
No, as it turns out, Young General was able to parlay a series of good move cards for his right and center and a couple of well-timed Mounted Charges with his three medium cavalry to chew up my flank. The pursuits, in particular, were brutal and he ended up winning with six flags to 2.
We switched sides. He didn't think much of the Goblins and he started off keeping them out of the fight, going so far as to hide the riders in the rear of his line. He decided his personal goal was to "do better than dad" and get at least three flags before defeat. He still has a propensity to send his troops forward with inadequate support, and my Trastamarans were able to win the detailed fight. Young General was reluctant to pull damaged units out of the fight and when he got a Mounted Charge he sent the Goblin riders out (their speed was too tempting) but even with the +1 die bonus they don't have much hitting power and they came out on the short end of the stick.
Still, while Don Pedro's troops came up short again, Young General achieved his goal, as the final score was 6 flags to 3!
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
I was never a big purchaser of the line, but I always thought they were very clever and often surprising.
It's reported that his favorite creation was the pirate ship, shown here.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Monday, February 2, 2009
This report, for example, indicates a decline in December, making it the sixth consecutive monthly drop:
I find it hard to believe that this won't have an impact on the game industry, especially considering that most of the companies are small businesses that are not operating with a big cushion even in good times.
I plan to go to the World Boardgaming Championships this August. It will interesting to see what the vendor area looks like.
Overall I am sensing a slowdown in new offerings. It appears that a lot of product plans may be on hold. Many companies are relying on a P500 system to guide their publishing plans, but if they don't have a hard P500 with credit-card backed purchase orders they may find their P500 less of an insurance policy than they think.
Games are definitely a discretionary purchase. While I don't think game playing will suffer during the recession, purchases of new games very well may. Many of us already have more games than we will ever likely play, so it will be easy to talk ourselves into deferring purchases for a bit.