Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Another BattleLore hero -- the Rogue

Fantasy Flight previews another hero, this time the Rogue.


This is shaping up to be a good expansion that adds more options that make the game different from Commands & Colors: Ancients and Memoir '44 and helping cement its fantasy wargame flavor.

One interesting thing is that it appears that Fantasy Flight is retaining the packaging format established by Days of Wonder. I have mixed feeling about it. While it protects the miniatures it does take up a lot of space, which becomes a consideration for expandable games. I wonder if FFG will come up with something like the campaign bag for BattleLore. It's already quite a chore to carry it around.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Ask Ouija: can Battleship win an Oscar?

At NPR they took note of the upcoming movies based on various Hasbro toys and games:

"The new blockbusters, meanwhile, feature bombastic special effects and involve partnerships with some of the biggest names in movies — including Michael Bay, Steven Spielberg, DreamWorks, Paramount and Universal. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which opens in August, will try to duplicate the success of the Transformers franchise by offering its own explosions and action.

The big-screen strategy is one that seems to be working: "It's pretty much as close to printing money as you're going to get in the toy business," said Cliff Annicelli, who runs the toy industry journal Playthings.

Annicelli says that by letting the movie companies take the financial risk of producing the films, Hasbro is playing it smart with the Transformers and G.I. Joe movies. Though the company misses out on the box office take, it gets to sell all those toys to a new generation of fans.

Up next: a string of movies based on some of the most famous names in Hasbro's toy chest, including the board games Monopoly, Ouija, Candy Land and Battleship."

Actually, Transformers and G.I. Joe are not hard to see as a source for movie ideas. As a toy series, each does have a notional back story and a continuing narrative. They are also self-evidently action oriented toys and seem an easy fit for action-oriented movies. Action movies have always served as an excellent source for action toys tie-in as well. On the other hand, how many toys came out of Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient or No Country For Old Men?

But Monopoly, Ouija, Candy Land and Battleship? While they have themes, none of these have a story, so it's hard to see how the screenwriters can do more than just borrow the name from the game. Even the movie version of Clue suffered somewhat from this problem, although even that game has a little more narrative to it and some identifiable characters. Still, while a valiant effort, the Clue movie was hardly a success.

Of the four listed, I think the Ouija board may be the easiest to write a screenplay for. For one thing, Ouija isn't really a game. It would be pretty easy to take a Jumanji sort of approach where the Ouija board is used as a springboard for some other sort of story.

Candyland also seems to have a low entry bar. It's not much of a game, so the screenwriters could use it to tell any sort of kid-friendly story they wanted without having to worry too much about being constrained by the game in any way.

On the other hand, Monopoly seems tough. Everybody knows the game, so the audience will have more expectations about what they're going to see and therefore more opportunities to be disappointed. The success of some recent adaptations such as the Lord of the Rings and some of the recent superhero movies such as Spider-Man and the Dark Knight may obscure the poor track record of such efforts. For every Batman Returns there's a dozen Daredevils.

And turning Battleship into a movie? That's going to be an interesting assignment for a screenwriter. At least Monopoly has Mr. Monopoly and some recognizable locations like Boardwalk and the Reading Railroad to anchor it.

It would actually make more sense to me to use the Axis & Allies brand as a movie tie-in, or Heroscape or maybe Godstorm Risk. While not quite as well-known as Battleship, there's a narrative to mine for story ideas.

Most of these movies are set to come out in the next few years so I guess we won't have too long to wait to see how they turn out.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

WizKids site is down

While the good news is that there seems to be some movement on the licensing for Heroclix, the bad new is that WizKids has tired of maintaining its supporting Web presence for the game and it is down.

This is unfortunate because most of the fans sites associated with the game are also gone. For example, I had tracked my figure inventory with MyHeroClix.com's database. It was quite useful.

I think at this point that I'm just about done with collectible games of any sort.

I'll be maintaining my Axis & Allies Miniatures and A&A War at Sea so long as Hasbro continues them, but there's no way I can be persuaded to get into any new collectibles - ever. Aside from the aggravation of the collectible format, which I had more or less come to terms with, the fact of the matter is that a collectible game is too dependent on continuing company support.

I have literally dozens of boardgames from long-defunct manufacturers that I get plenty of playing enjoyment with. I can find opponents. I can haul them out anytime. Some games become more or less obsolete because of shortfalls in the game itself, but almost never solely because the game is out of print. I can easily get in a game of Up Front, for example. I can play old SPI games online at Hexwar.com.

But with collectible games it appears to be a truism that being discontinued is a death sentence, even if the game is pretty good. Perfect examples of this are Navia Dratp and Dreamblade, which were both pretty good games that still have fans but seem to be in terminal decline. I mostly got into HeroClix in the first place because there was a local group that gathered every Sunday for competitive play. I wasn't all that competitive, but I enjoyed playing. But since company support ended that group simply disappeared. No company support, no play.

Company support, on the other hand, is basically a bonus for regular boardgames. Sure, tournament support is nice, but it's hardly a requirement. There are games still being played competitively at the World Boardgame Championships that are no longer in print. And many that are in print don't get significant company support. Except for brand-new games that are getting support for marketing purposes, company support is not a mandatory element for continued play. Indeed, there are some notable games that have been published by a whole series of publishers over the years -- Acquire, Cosmic Encounter, Diplomacy for example -- without any detrimental effects on their popularity.

I'm done.

HeroClix stirs

A short blog post from WizKids last week says that the licensing issues are close to being worked out. http://wizkidsgames.blogspot.com/2009/06/news-from-topps-june-18-2009.html We shall see

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bosworth -- Intense fun

There's a lot of satisfaction to be found in playing a game that rewards long-term plans, clever combinations and deep strategy.

But sometimes you can have a lot of fun with a game that's none of those things -- like Bosworth.

Billed as the game "you already know how to play," Bosworth essentially throws chess armies onto a quarter-sized chess board for a close range knife fight of a game. each player starts with four pawns, which have slightly expanded movement over their true chess namesakes, and has another dozen pieces (the rest of a standard chess army) in reserve to be entered into play in the player's camp, a special four-square area on each board edge. These camps are playable spaces during the first part of the game, but when a player no longer has pieces available to enter in the camp the empty camp spaces become impassible.

I have the original, 1998 card-version, which uses John Kovalic illustrations, but the game can be played with standard chess pieces and there are variant themes shown on Boardgame Geek as well.

In the card-based version I have the player doesn't have complete control over which cards are available. Instead the player has a "hand" of four cards to enter on the camp as spaces become available and draws from the reserve pile to refill the hand to four each turn.

This week we got to play a four-player game for the first time, which is definitely the best way to play. While the game can be played 2-player or 3-player, the 4-player configuration is best. The 2-player game is a little too chess-like and in the 3-player version the middle player starts with a rather disadvantaged position, but with four players the game really comes into its own. Long-range planning is tough with three other people moving in-between every move opportunity you have.

So instead you have to play very opportunistically. It's a fast-moving game, so we used it to cap off a day of wargaming. It ended up being close, but Mike P. came out on top in game with yours truly, Dave and the Little General Who Will Soon Be 10.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Axis & Allies: Europe nailbiter session report

Played a 3-player Axis & Allies: Europe yesterday that was such a nail-biter at the end that everyone ended up standing up for the last couple of turns!

Although it's been out for 10 years, I only picked up a copy of this a few months ago, and then only because it was on half-off clearance at a local comic book store. I gather from BGG comments that experienced players have some beefs with the game, but nothing was wrong with it from what I could see -- well, except for some damn dice. You'll see why later.
A&A Europe, unlike most of the recent games bearing the Axis & Allies name, is a true Axis & Allies system game, not just a brand. Its mechanics, strategies and tactics are all familiar to Axis & Allies players. Indeed, some innovations in A&A:Europe, such as destroyers and artillery, have become standard parts of the game. The main difference from other versions of Axis & Allies is that this version focuses purely on the European War, with the player nations being Germany, Soviet Russia, the British Commonwealth and the USA. For a three-player game, such as what we played Thursday, the same player controls British and US forces, but they are still distinct countries, moving and fighting separately during their own player turns.

While the most experienced wargamer in our trio, having played since 1969, I never really played all that much A&A. I did play the old Nova version once, before Milton Bradley (later Hasbro) owned it, and I think I played it once or twice after that, but by the time it came out I was much more heavily into detailed hex-and-counter games such as World in Flames and A&A seemed too simple. Subsequently I find my tastes evolving and something along the lines of Axis & Allies is much more my cup of tea these days. Still, my only recent experience playing Axis & Allies was an Anniversary Edition game against Mike "Private" Powell.

Mike, in contrast, was an old A&A hand, having had a fairly regular group coming over his house to play the original edition game for a while, although he hadn't played much of the newer versions, aside from the previously mentioned game of AA50 and a game of the somewhat similar A&A: D-Day against me. It goes without saying that he won the A&A: D-Day and was ahead in the AA50 game when we had to call it for time.

He brought over his friend Dave, a fellow of more recent vintage than Mike or I, and therefore someone who'd had less opportunity to gather experience. Still, I gathered that Dave had put in a few A&A games and was therefore more experienced in the game than I was.

Based on the relative levels of experience I suggested I play the western allies, while Mike and Dave split up the more critical countries. Mike ended up taking Russia, while Dave was the Germans.

The game more or less followed the course I expected, with Germany embarking single-mindedly on taking out Russia while Russia held on. The main variation was that Germany abandoned the U-Boat war, preferring to use his subs to take out the Allies navies so that he could use all his air on the Russian front. He also barely contested North Africa, so the British were able to clear that area.

My inexperience with the game may very well have cost the Allied side because I suspect my builds could have been more efficient. I ended up with some land troops in both the US and England that never got into the fight, indicating to me that a few IPCs were misallocated.

Despite that, the game came down to a hair-raising finish, with both Moscow AND Germany coming under serious attack around the same time. Unfortunately the dice took a decidedly unfriendly turn for the Allies at this precise moment. Mike noted that the most critical round in any A&A battle is the first one, as a bad set of rolls has a snowballing effect in later rounds. Units killed in Round 1 aren't inflicting damage later. The Soviet defense of Moscow should have been adequate to hold out, but a great first round of attacks by the Germans gutted the Soviet defense, (I think there was just 1 miss) and the Germans took Moscow.

Hope was not lost, however, as the German emphasis on Russia had left its homeland defense at a risky level, with just two tanks and about eight or nine infantry. The Allied plan was for a one-two punch by the Allies with consecutive amphibious invasions backed heavily by air support. The idea was that the British would be expendable, so long as they killed at least 4 or 5 German defenders, clearing the way for an even bigger US invasion later that turn.

Unfortunately the dice again displayed a pro-Axis bias at the worst possible time. Although Axis anti-aircraft fire had been notably ineffective over several turns of strategic bombing raids prior to the invasion, when the three British Lancasters appeared overhead to support the invasion two of them were shot down! As they were expected to get at least two rounds of firing at the Germans and therefore probably would have killed 4 Germans alone (with any hits by the troops or destroyers a bonus, this was a heavy blow indeed. Of course the follow-on invasion only killed a couple of Germans and there simply wasn't any way that the US forces could trade blows with the number Germans left.

Our post-mortem analysis suggested that the Western Allies were a turn or two too late. I agree. While risky, Dave's laser-like focus on Russia paid off in the end.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fiddled with Waterloo a bit today

Finally had the time needed to try a couple of test turns in Waterloo.

it's an intriguing design, and while completely different from Bowen Simmons' Bonaparte at Marengo or Napoleon's Triumph , Martin Wallace's Waterloo is similarly completely divorced from the hex-and-counter wargame tradition.

While traditional hex-and-counter wargames have their flaws and limitations, they do have the considerable advantage of familiarity. After some 40 years of playing them it's pretty easy for me to sit down with an unfamiliar h&c wargame and get up to speed relatively quickly. Are there zones of control? Are they locking or semi-rigid? Is the CRT odds based or differential, etc.

Waterloo is different enough from all that to have required a dedicated stretch of time to set it up and try to step through a couple of turns without interruption. So today I ran through the set up and first two turns solitaire.

What's immediately apparent is that, notwithstanding Mr. Wallace's protestations and the cute little meeple soldiers, Waterloo is definitely an intricate wargame, not a euro. While flavored with some euro-style mechanics (such as casualty cubes instead of loss point markers) the game is much heavier than most euro fare and is probably a heavier wargame than Borg's Commands & Colors system.

There's a lot going on, and while I think experienced players will probably hit pretty close to the 3-hour playing time mark promised by the box art, I wouldn't be surprised to see early games take twice that long to play. A combined arms assault into a heavily defended area can easily be a very intricate affair, with defending cannon fire, a multi-step cavalry melee, a cavalry vs. infantry duel, a two-step contest between infantry and finally an overrunning of the guns!

Because it's a wholly new system, it's not immediately obvious what to do and what the pacing will be, but my 2-turn play through revealed that it's certainly not a game that will reward just tossing troops at the enemy and seeing what will stick. Similarly to Simmons' games, although getting there in an entirely different way, it's best to think of battles as multi-round affairs that will require staging, reinforcements, counter attacks and combined arms.

It's definitely NOT a filler game, but must be the main course for an evening's gaming.

Heroes coming to BattleLore

After a long hiatus, it appears we're going to start seeing some action on the BattleLore front. A Heroes expansion is coming.


The first one highlighted is a cleric. This promises to enhance the fantasy theme of BattleLore and help differentiate itself from the other Command & Colors games. I think it's interesting how some fairly subtle differences in the rules can create games with considerably different flavors.

Memoir'44, C&C:Ancients, BattleLore and Battle Cry all play very differently, despite sharing a fairly simple game system.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Error in Waterloo's rules, or just awkward wording?

I'm not sure how often it will come up, but there is a possible contradiction between the rulebook and the player aid on when the initiative changes at 7 p.m., or perhaps just unclear wording

According to the rulebook, the French player keeps the initiative "If at the start of the 7 p.m. turn the French holds all three strongpoints."

The player aid states "The Allied player will take the the initiative if the French player does not control one of the three strongpoints."

I think it's trying to say the same thing, which is that the French must hold all three strongpoints in order to keep the initiative. That would be the historically correct interpretation. Hougomont never fell, but the French did occupy the other two.

But I could see a French rules lawyer arguing that he does control one strongpoint and therefore keeps the initiative. I think it's a tortured reading, but I've run into worse over the years.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Small World session report

Got in a three-player game of Small World. We were all newbies.

There were lot of declines and inter-player conflict. so it was a wild game.

The final score was 108 for the guy who won who wasn't me, 105 for me and 90 for the guy who lost who wasn't me.

As there was only five points between the top two finishers, there were probably a lot of possible swing points, but given that none of us knew much about the game's flow it was amazingly close all around. Even the third place finisher, who rather felt beat-up most of the game, was only 18 points behind the leader, which is a little more than one good turn's worth of points.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Mainstreaming games in the media

Interesting gaming reference in a mainstream magazine this month. An article in Armed Forces Journal uses the example of Leeroy Jenkins, a legendary character from a YouTube about an incident in World of Warcraft" video game that ended up going viral. It appears that a character called Leeroy Jenkins charged in recklessly, disrupting the carefully laid plans of a party and resulting in that party getting wiped out.

The character became so famous he got his own card in the collectible card edition of World of Warcraft, shown above.

The whole incident in the hook for a story about reforming the way the U.S. military approaches the adviser mission in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Capt. Robert M. Chamberlain's point is that the U.S. approach to advisor missions has been too U.S.-centric and not focused on local needs and realities. The go-it-alone and can-do attitudes of US troops mean they're not being as effective advising local units as they need to be. Chamberlain proposes reforms to address this.

Still, it's interesting that Chamberlain selected a popular game venue to capture his readers' attention. It suggest that for his peers and immediate supervisors, this kind of example would resonate. Juts as in an earlier era a writer might have used a poker or chess analogy to make a point, it now seems that popular games like World of Warcraft are embedded enough in the culture to be for a similar role.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fudge factors

Gen. Pope stood at the treeline outside Groveton, examining the Rebel line with his spyglass. If he could destroy the Secessionist Brigade opposing him, believed to be Pickett's, he could break through the enemy front. Unfortunately, despite having five brigades immediately at hand, under the commands of Meade, Butterfield, Robinson, Milroy and Hatch, experience told him there was a good chance that a full-fledged assault would merely push the enemy back, or succeed with high losses. Pope was sore tempted to send in just three brigades. The weaker attack was still guaranteed to succeed, but likely at reduced cost.

Rebel brigade is 4 combat factors. It can only be attacked from three contiguous hexes by five federal brigades totalling 21 factors for a 5-1. 33% chance of a defender retreat, 33% chance of an exchange and a 33% chance of a defender eliminated. Using just three brigades (12 vs. 4, or 3-1) provides just a 1/6 chance each of a DE or EX, while a 2/3 chance of a DR.

"Bad news, sir," said a nearby aide, a young major. "Another rebel brigade has come up in support!"

Pope could see that was true. A slightly smaller Rebel brigade was taking a position beside the first.

"Not at all!" exclaimed Pope, snapping his telescope shut. "Pickett is doomed, now. Quick. Send word to Hatch to swing around from the right flank and join Meade in attacking this new arrival. Once they've driven them back, tell Hatch to be sure to follow. Then order the rest to hit Pickett"

"But sir," the major protested. "We have Meade and Robinson already in position to attack the newly arrived brigade! Shouldn't we attack now?'

"No, no," Pope explained. "Hatch will bring an extra factor and give us exactly enough for a 3-1!"

Hatch's 5 combat factor brigade moves to stack with Meade's 4-factor brigade adjacent to the 3-factor Rebel Seddon's Brigade. Butterfield, Milroy and Robinson, total of 12 factors, stack in the remaining two hexes to attack Pickett. Hatch and Meade combine for a 3-1 against Seddon, which is guaranteed to clear the hex. Even and EX allows Hatch to advance, cutting off Pickett's retreat, meaning that the subsequent 3-1 against Pickett is guaranteed to eliminate Pickett.

The above is a commonplace scenario in traditional hex-and-counter wargames, in this case the Second Bull Run scenario from the Blue & Gray quad.

For more than 40 years I've grudgingly tolerated this aspect of the games, while never really being a fan of it, ever since discovering it in the old Avalon Hill game Stalingrad. I understand that all wargames result in some compromises for the sake of playability, but factor-counting has always grated a bit. Perhaps it's because I never really developed a knack for it, despite the fact that it's really required for good play. But I think it's largely because it's a distraction from the real art of generalship in a game. The above example illustrates the absurd nature of factor-counting. There's no equivalent in real battlefield command of counting out combat (or movement) factors in order to gain a precise advantage.

I think that's one reason why games like Memoir '44 or Battle Cry don't bother me. To my mind, a game that reduces generalship to commands like move a couple of units on the Left or fire the guns in the center seems just as authentic as a game that purports to be realistic by accounting for the slight strength differential between Hatch's brigade and Meade's.

Most infantry brigades in the Blue & Gray quads are very similar in strength, and this is no accident. Both armies generally tried to keep brigades around the same strength in order to simplify command and control. Each brigade was supposed to be able to do about a brigade's worth of work on the battlefield. I don't think you'll find many instances in the Official Records when the commanding general sent Brigade "A" on a mission because it had one more regiment than Brigade "B." That sort of detail is invisible at the battlefield command level. The Battle Cry approach where all the units are the same functional strength is really more valid than it might appear at first glance.

This opinion is likely why I've generally been pretty open to non-traditional approaches to wargames such as Up Front, Columbia's block games, Bowen Simmons' recent designs and area/point-to-point games such as A House Divided or Storm Over Arnhem. There are many great hex-and-counter wargames, but in many cases they do tend to focus the gamer's attention on minute details at the expense of larger truths.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Waterloo out of the box impressions

Game arrived today and I couldn't resist opening the box right away.

After looking it over most of the afternoon I have to say I am intrigued. It appears to be a pretty original approach to a wargame, reminding me in many ways of games such as Napoleon's Triumph, Friedrich or Hammer of the Scots. The components are fine-looking, in a euro sort of way (I don't mind the meeple troops, but they've gotten a very mixed reception among wargamers, it seems).

Indeed, BGG comments also seem to indicate that eurogamers also don't know quite what to make of it.

First off, despite physical appearances, and Martin Wallace's disclaimer that it's not an attempt at "simulation," let there be no mistake -- this is a wargame. It's probably even more firmly in the wargame camp than Borg's Commands & Colors system. And I think Wallace may be selling his design a little short. While he didn't do an SPI-style system analysis. detailed OB study or terrain walk, Waterloo is not some simplistic or stylistic war-themed game either.

Still, it may be too euro for most hex-and-counter lovers and too wargamey for Wallace's usual fans. I'm looking forward to trying it out.

My only component reservation on first glance is that the dark blue of the French Imperial Guard is hard to pick out from the black color of Prussian regulars under some light conditions. This may not turn out to be a problem in actual play, but it would have been better to have a little more separation in shade, I think.

Clash for a Continent, Ticonderoga session report

Mark and I both went into this scenario highly dubious about the British army's chances. I got the British for the first go-around,

While the British host grossly outnumbered the French, half of it was American militia, which experience had already shown us were as likely as not more trouble than they were worth. I know I had no intention of letting many of them anywhere within the range of the French.

The remaining British were high quality 4-factor line, a couple of 4-factor elites and a 3-factor light infantry and led by two officers, so they had an edge over the French, who were all 3-factor infantry, except for a couple of generals. But the French manned a line of entrenchments with a 2-hex wide field of fire, so it looked like t would be tough for the British to avoid losing six VP worth of units before they killed a like number of French, and the three VP counters deep inside the French position looked quite out of reach.

My plan as the British was to extend my left through the woods facing the French right, mostly to pin those French in position. Then I would attack the opposite end of the French line, next to the waterway, hoping to induce a gap in the French center which would then be assaulted by my third wave, the two elite units and a helper.

In the actual event the waterway flank assault, despite taking some grievous losses from French volleys, managed to get a full-strength British line unit next to the entrenchments. With a hurrah they scaled the parapet and gained entry. The immediate French counterattack failed and I rushed some more nearby British units into the breach, including one of the elites. The French were forced to fall back to the central hill. After a slight detour to collect the victory point inside the fort hex, the British successfully stormed the hill. Between the VP markers on the hill and French casualties they made their six points.

We were a little surprised by the result and concluded that the scenario was more competitive than it first appeared. It does leave me pondering what the French defensive policy ought to be, because it appears that the entrenchment line isn't quite the obstacle I thought it was, based on previous battles. One key difference in this particular fight is that the French have no artillery at all, whereas in previous scenarios the forts always had a cannon unit which was usually devastating to some attackers. In this scenario on the other hand, it's all up to the muskets.

While a Clash for a Continent scenario and played under that game's rules, we used the pieces from Hold the Line. this worked so well I'm considering freeing up some shelf space by eBaying my copy of Clash.

Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition reprint

Now there's word on the AH boards that there may be a reprint of A&A 50 after all.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

TOI's Chain of Command session

Mark and I continued our mini-TOI marathon with a match of Chain of Command, the second "bonus" scenario from the Tide of Iron Designer's Series Vol. 1.

Like its twin, Breaking the Line, Chain of Command turned to to be a well-balanced, taut scenario that could go either way, although this time I happened to win both times.

An American infantry force with three half tracks is attempting to fight its way through a smaller German force and off the board, but faces a choke point at a bridge and limited time. Adding to the time pressure, the Germans have a reinforcement deck and can look forward to getting some help right at the end of the scenario, when it will do the most good.

I had thought we might play this game first, so I had a German set-up already in place. Perhaps unduly influenced by my set up, Mark left what may have been its most controversial aspect in place, two elite-heavy anti-tank squads ready to occupy the command-point providing building on the German left. He did adjust some other aspects of the setup, though, but to his detriment. He moved up one machine gun squad to a position that proved exposed and only covered the bridge with one squad, which meant the Germans had to choose between getting a victory point for occupying the bridge and occupying a second command point source.

Given the concentration of officer-led, anti-tank equipped elite guys on the German left I decided it would be prudent to go the other way. I pushed through a few squads into the woods to provide interdicting fire to keep the elites in place. With some fortunate shooting that detachment also chased away the exposed machine gun squad. Meanwhile the half tracks and a couple of squads attacked along the narrow avenue of approach leading to the German right, eliminating the other machine gun squad,

The half tracks and squads continued their sweep, closing on the bridge. A heartbreakingly successful suppressive fire attack from the Germans routed an elite squad of Americans, but generally the firefights tended to favor the US side due to the concentrated fire of the half tracks.

The US troops based in the woods were able to hinder the attempts by the elites to react to the threat and eventually the US troops overwhelmed the bridge garrison and its erstwhile saviors. A couple of half tracks took light damage but two half tracks were able to exit for four VPs, which was enough to guarantee a win as the Germans had also lost the bridge.

Switching sides, I decided that my original notion of making a stand at the exposed command-point generating building was a poor idea and this time I committed just one squad of regular troops to make a stab at grabbing the site for a few quick command points, with little expectation of staying long. As it turned out they never made it, being pinned by the US mortar early and often and eventually succumbing to repeated attacks.

Instead I concentrated on the low-hanging fruit and occupied the bridge and the adjacent command site, as well as the other command site with the anti-tank elites and friends. The Germans right was covered by both machine guns.

The US attack seemed to develop a little too slowly, partly because Mark's firers missed a few times around turn 2, which meant that the bridge position didn't really come under heavy attack until around turn 4. A long-range anti-tank attack on a half-track, while missing, made the US wary of closing too quickly. By the time the US was seriously threatening the bridge three squads of Germans reinforcements had appeared and it became evident the US wouldn't have sufficient movement available to exit any of the half tracks before the end of the game, so the 4 VP already earned by the Germans ensured victory.

Overall an interesting contest. I think the US should use the half tracks primarily as fire support and only secondarily as a source of VPs. If just one manages to exit the US can win, because exiting implies gaining control of the bridge by turn 4 or 5 and getting 2 or 3 VPs for that.

Pawndering green

It's a trifling gesture, but I'm switching this humble blog to a green theme for a bit to express support to the Iranian people.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Couldn't catch a break

The Tide of Iron Designer's book includes a couple of bonus scenarios that were previously unpublished "demo" scenarios used during the prepublication marketing. They were designed to be simultaneously playable using one base set of the game, which made them attractive choices when I invited the redoubtable Mark K. over for a game day because it allowed me to have two games all set up before he arrived.

We played "Breaking the Line" first, in which a large American force attempts to seize a defended point atop a fortified hill from a smaller German force. Neither side receives any reinforcements and there are no vehicles involved.

I played the Americans first. My initial plan was to use Division 2 as a base of fire to cover Division 1 moving onto the flank. Division 1 would then become the base of fire and cover the final assault by Division 2.

This neat plan broke down under fire and my advance degenerated into a series of "Indian rushes" instead. I was able to get several squads into position for the final rush onto the objective, but all were cut down before they could launch actual assaults.

In retrospect I think I overindulged in "suppressive" attacks. While useful in covering maneuvering, it left too many live enemies for the end game. Failed or moderately successful suppression leaves most of the enemy in place. In contrast, Mark's Germans generally used "normal" (or as we took to calling them, "killing" ) attacks, so the American forces were taking heavy casualties -- helped by some good die rolls. Particularly annoying was a German double-mortar squad, which did a lot of damage until I got a lucky shot at it which killed off one crew. The survivors pulled back into deep cover. They played a lesser role after that, but they'd already done a lot of damage. Even "suppressive fire" can be deadly when there's 8 dice of it.

Still, despite everything, I felt that I had a shot at winning and it went to the last turn with the issue still in doubt, although a betting man would have probably laid in odds against me by turn 4 of the 6.

The switch game wasn't as close. Mark again concentrated on normal attacks. I made a stab on the right flank at threatening to deny him the 3 command points he'd normally get for occupying the "3" marker but a suppressive fire that could have pinned his unit tasked with capturing that key point missed. The two German squads on that side slowed his advance a bit, but ultimately vainly, as his barrage of fire gunned down all the hill's defenders despite their entrenchments. With the hill empty of defenders and none of the surviving Germans able to prevent it, Mark scooted a squad up onto the hill using the "Critical Objective" card (and its 2 movement point bonus) on Turn 5, for a clear and decisive win.
As we were both still getting used to the game (he'd only played it solitaire, and I had played it a couple of times) it took a long time to play, especially the first game, but as the evening wore on we sped up a lot. Mark was definitely the TOI Master after two games, but I was about to have my revenge in our next set "Chain of Command," which I'll report on tomorrow.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Got GD'42 today

I was there at the beginning.

20 years ago I bought Bloody 110, the first game in the second series of games by The Gamers, which was predicated on presenting players with series based on standardized rules so they could spend time playing and not wading through rule books. They were not completely successful, as most games from The Gamers were pretty heavy. And the Tactical Combat Series, TCS, was no exception. Make no mistake about it, TCS is a full-blown grognard hex-and-counter wargame system, which puts authenticity first. It luxuriates in charts, die roll modifiers and intricate procedures.

What it doesn't so, however, is bury itself in abstractions. While detailed and intricate, the game system is surprisingly intuitive. At 125 yards per hex, 20 minutes per turn and with platoon-scale troop units and individual tanks it's obviously very tactical. But at its heart it's not a game about lieutenants and captains, but a game about majors and colonels. Although games in the series cover everything from actions by company-sized commands (Semper Fi) to corps-sized commands (Black Wednesday), it's at the regimental level that most action takes place, with battalion as the main maneuver element.

It's also been a remarkable stable set of rules Bloody 110, which came out in 1989 was follwed a year later by Objective Schmidt and Omaha and a Second Edition of the rules, which simplified some of the more excruciating procedures, including the artillery fire system. I'm an artilleryman, and I still found the round-by-round tracking of fire missions in the first edition tedious. Optional "Miller Tables" started a process that resulted in much more sensible artillery rules later on. In 1993 a third edition of the rules, styled 3.0, appeared in Matanikau and GD'40 which further simplified things.

GD' 40 also inaugurated an interesting experiment, where the game system would attempt to follow one famous unit, the German army's GrossDeutchland, throughout the war with a game from each year it fought.

Finally, in 1994, the rules stabilized with version 3.1, which introduced battalion-level morale, and the final version of the artillery rules. Oddly, this 1994 game, Hunters From the Sky, which included the 3.1 version of the rules, didn't use most of that rule book because that game, uniquely in the series, didn't use the command rules. Now, while it's certainly possible not to use the command rules, it seems rather pointless to. They really form the heart of the game system.

Relying on written plans, inspired by actual military maneuver graphics and procedures, the command system is an important part of the system's authenticity. Older tactical combat games such as PanzerBlitz suffered from the problem of too much happening. Even Squad Leader and the later ASL suffer from this flaw. The typical game of PanzerBlitz or ASL depicts an hour or so of fighting and moving, but at far too accelerated a rate. Real battles can last hours, due to fear, confusion, coordination, etc. and all the other friction of war. TCS battles, in contrast, unfold at a much more realistic pace.

With the 3.1 rules the system reached a stable state that would last for 15 years, over nine more games and even through the sale of The Gamers to Multiman Publishing in 2000.

An important part of the system's longevity was system designer and guru Dean Essig's insistence that no game ever be made obsolete by later editions. All updated rules were backwards compatible. This no doubt constrained design choices somewhat, but it was a real reward for those who stuck with the system. So often early adopters of game systems end up finding their early support "rewarded" by having their initial games being made obsolete by newer versions.

This policy, however, apparently helped insure that the 4.0 rules were a long time coming. TCS was always an infantry- and artillery-centric system, which is no surprise, given that Essig was formerly an infantry officer who commanded a mortar platoon before a tragic training accident caused his military career to end. It worked best for infantry-dominated fights, but had some problems in games that included a large amount of armor on both sides. While some other changes were made in 4.0, it was the perceived need to fix the armor interaction that drove the development of 4.0. But the rules also had to remain compatible with all earlier versions, which meant no new markers or new values for counters.

How successful 4.0 is in this regard, I can't say yet, but given that it's been playtested for about a decade I think the chances are good.

GD '42 introduces a new graphic style for both counters and map, compared to all earlier versions. As it's only the third new TCS game since MMP took the line over it's a welcome addition and provides hope that the system will continue. It's possible the pace of TCS releases may pick up now that 4.0 is out, because I believe several other TCS titles that feature armored fights were on hold until the problem was solved. The game before GD '42 was Bloody Ridge in 2005, which didn't have any armor.

I'm hoping we nee more TCS soon. I've been anticipating Arracourt for a long time.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Magic: The Gathering overhaul

So the new core set of Magic, Magic 2010 will also introduce some major changes in the game, according to Wizards of the Coast.


The official line is that these changes are meant to simplify the game and get rid of a lot of counter intuitive aspects of the current game so that more casual players can be playing correctly.

As a casual player, my first impression of the changes is positive. One of the things that makes Magic hard to stay with is a sense that you can't really keep up with all the arcane rules if you don't play all the time. I don't think these changes come anywhere near limiting the advantage serious players will have over casual players. The serious player will still, after all, have many more cards in his/her collection. The serious player will have a much better understanding of the possible card interactions and the deeper implications of certain plays. But some of the truly odd-seeming manipulative stuff that used obscure timing effects and the like that would really befuddle and turn off a casual player are gone.

Among the significant changes is an end to mana burn. In my experience this was one of the more abused rules. I remember falling victim to a degenerate deck that used a combo to force the target, me, into a mana burn death. Now unused mana simply disappears, which returns the battle to the battlefield where it belongs.

Oh yeah, the "battlefield.' This is the new term for "in play" It's much clearer and more in keeping with the theme as well. Other term changes that better reflect the theme while also being more clean include "exile" for cards removed from play and "cast" (which used to be the word) for putting into play.

It will interesting to see the reaction among the serious players to these changes. I would expect a certain hue and cry, simply because many people hate change, period.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Real "Patton's Best"

Interesting story at the US Army's Web site about the rediscovery of a historic tank. The full story is here: http://www.army.mil/-news/2009/02/25/17393-cobra-king-led-4th-armored-division-column-that-relieved-bastogne-during-battle-of-the-bulge/

And more details here: http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=59651

The bottom line is that a certain "Jumbo" Sherman tank from C Company, 37th Tank Battalion of the 4th Armored Division "Patton's Best" that led the way into Bastogne still exists and has been sitting as a memorial outside a base in Germany.

Here's how the tank looked in 1944

And here's how it looks recently

It appears that Avalon Hill took a little artistic license with the cover of the solitaire game Patton's Best. The tank on the game box cover has the tactical markings for the 4th Armored Division's 37th Armored Battalion, which is accurate enough, but the tank depicted appears to be a basic M4A1, tank No. 4 in the game. It's quite possible there were some M4A1s still with the 37th Armored, but the leading tank in a 1944 tank thrust was often an M4 "Jumbo" like Cobra King.

Interestingly, it appears that Cobra King was a 75mm armed M4 M4A3E2 "Jumbo" during the Battle of the Bulge. The photo above clearly shows it was armed with a 75mm, and one of the crewmen is quoted as talking about how he fired the 75mm gun "like a machine gun" during the battle. It definitely looks most like this drawing from the Patton's Best game, tank No. 12:

But the modern photo also clearly shows that Cobra King was upgunned to a 76mm gun at some point. The 75mm gun was good enough for most purposes, but was inadequate when facing first-line German tanks such as Panthers and Tigers. The 76mm-armed version of the Jumbo Sherman is card No. 13 in Patton's Best.

According to the articles there are plans to move the tank from Vilseck, Germany, where it's apparently been since the war to a museum in the US. It will also be "restored," although I'm not sure if that means it will be restored to its appearance at Bastogne or not. It appears to be in pretty good shape already, judging from the photos, so it seems reasonable to think that the tank may be restored to its Bulge appearance.

Interestingly, the fact that the Cobra King was a Jumbo Sherman explains why it's managed to survive so long. While Jumbos, as the lead tank in a column, often took heavier fire than the average tank, the thick armor let them take it. But there are lots of ways a tank can suffer an ill fate, and most of Cobra King's mates at Bastogne from C Co. of the 37th Armored Battalion, if they survived the Battle of the Bulge, were undoubtedly lost during the infamous Hammelburg Raid. C Company formed the core of Task Force Baum, which Patton dispatched on a raid to liberate the POW camp at Hammelburg where Patton's son-in-law was being held. The entire force was lost. Presumably Cobra King missed the raid because a Jumbo would slowed the column too much.

Patton's Best allows players to recreate Cobra King's drive on Bastogne. It's Dec. 26 on the Combat Calendar, A/9/H meaning Farm fields/ 90% chance of contact/ Heavy action.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Small World first impressions

I do have to say that my first impressions of the game are very positive. It seems very well thought out as far as player aids and other components and the balance between forces. Some commentary has criticized the dwarves as being too weak, but I think that not having a perfect balance between races is not a bad thing. Much of that criticism seems to be coming from a eurogame perspective, but as a wargamer I'm pretty used to units that simply aren't as good as others. For wargames that's simply something you cope with. That militia may be close to worthless, but that's what you have, so deal with it.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Session report for Red Dragon Rising

Warning long session report:

Session report for Red Dragon Rising, the coming war with China

Thought some you might be interested in how the recent Taiwan incident looked overseas to those without a dog in the fight.

Here are some clippings from the Gambrone (Botwana) Times World News in Brief column from July.

June 30

TOKYO -- Explosions were reported at multiple sites in Taipei, Taiwan shortly after midnight, local time, according to radio reports monitored here. Taiwanese bloggers in several cities also reported explosions and what appeared to be large numbers of missiles streaking across the sky from the west before all Internet traffic to Taiwan was blocked by what appeared to be massive denial of service attacks. All telephone and satellite telecommunications also appeared to be out f service overnight. There was no official confirmation from the Chinese government. A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that initial indications were that a “large number, thousands” of missiles were fired from China In a coordinated barrage at Taiwan starting about midnight, local time.

July 1

TOKYO -- All telephone and Internet communications to Taiwan were still out of service today, but reports from ham radio operators in Taiwan report widespread destruction of critical sites, a complete collapse of electrical power and a news blackout. There appeared to be a lull in Chinese missile attacks. One ham radio operator reported that a Taiwanese fishing vessel had transmitted a brief report of large naval force at sea in the Taiwan strait before being cut off. The Japanese government had co comment about reports that elements of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force had sailed from their bases along with U.S. Navy forces.

WASHINGTON -- In an address to the nation, the U.S. president promised to come to the aid of Taiwan, saying that using force was not the way to reunite the Chinese people. The president also revealed the existence of a Top Secret space-based kinetic energy weapon known as the Remote Orbital Delivery of ROD, which had its first combat use overnight when it destroyed the Chinese light carrier Beijing in Taiwan strait. The president demanded that large Chine fleet at sea return to base and an immediate cease-fire be implemented. There was no comment from official Chinese sources which have been unavailable since the crisis erupted.

July 2

TAIPEI -- The Taiwanese government was able to get a radio station back on the air for a few hours just as waves of Chinese warplanes appeared over the island. Official sources would only say that the Taiwanese military forces were fighting valiantly, but admitted to “heavy” losses among all branches of the service. A ham radio operator reported a downed Chinese SU-30 on a beach along the island’s western coast, but also reported seeing what appeared to be fiercely blazing ships offshore. It was unclear what the nationality of the ships were, but there were no reports that Chinsese ships have been sighted near Taiwan as yet.

WASHINGTON -- Pentagon sources said that a massive naval battle, the largest naval battle since Leyte Gulf,” was underway in the Taiwan strait this afternoon. Details were sketchy, but the Pentagon sources indicated that Chinese naval losses were “extremely” heavy, and while there had been some losses among Japanese and U.S. naval forces, they were relatively light.

July 3

WASHINGTON -- The massive air and sea battle of the Taiwan strait continued for a second day as Chinese aircraft reportedly joined the fray. US sources said that Chinese losses continued to be heavy, but admitted that Chinese attacks had managed to get through and damage two American carriers, although officials declined to identify which ships pending notification of families. They said that the damaged vessels were withdrawing from the battle zone under heavy escort, having “accomplishing their mission.“ Officials off the record also confirmed that several US. Submarines were missing and presumed sunk, as well as an unknown number of Japanese naval vessels.

July 4

LONDON -- The British Ministry of Defense announced that a naval task force has joined U.S. Naval forces at Guam and will take part in future operations. No other details were released.

TOKYO -- Japanese government sources said air strikes were continuing over Taiwan today, but with much reduced intensity from the first days of the war. Japanese sources said Taiwanese air defenses seemed to have recovered somewhat from the opening shock of the war and were reportedly having some success downing Chinese aircraft. Meanwhile more details were coming out about the massive air-naval battle of the Taiwan Strait. Allied sources reported that the Chinese invasion fleet was “smashed” and the counterattacking Chinese air forces “decimated” in the 2-day battle. Dozens of ships, hundreds of landing craft and several hundred fighters were lost. Sources said the loss of life among Chinese troops aboard the landing fleet must have been horrendous and it may have been the deadliest naval battle in history. The Japanese reportedly lost several destroyers and the USS Reagan and USS Bush were damaged, as well as several nuclear attack submarines lost and presumed sunk.

July 5

CANBERRA -- In a surprise development, the Australian government announced that it would be neutral in the ongoing conflict in the western Pacific. An Australian government spokesman said that the government had determined that it could be most useful to the cause of peace by playing an “honest broker” between the two sides.

OKINAWA -- U.S. Pacific Command reported that a massive Chinese long-range bomber strike on the retiring damaged US carriers Reagan and Bush was intercepted by Air Force and Navy carrier aircraft and Okinawa-based fighters today, resulting in dozens of Chinese aircraft being destroyed, although not before many launched missiles at the U.S. task force. While the carriers were not hit, losses were very heavy among the screening forces, the US. admitted.

July 6

TEL AVIV -- Israeli air strikes pounded the Palestinian city of Jenin today in retaliation for rocket attacks that killed 17 Israelis this morning. An Israeli armored column punched through a gap in the border wall to rescue Israeli settlers besieged in several settlements inside the former West Bank.

TOKYO -- Japanese Ministry of Defense source reported that Chinese ground troops have been spotted moving into North Korea. Meanwhile the damaged US carriers Reagan and Bush sailed into Tokyo Bay escorted by Japanese warships.

CARACAS -- President Hugo Chavez announced the “full mobilization” of Venezuela’s armed forces in solidarity with China, while Cuba announced that its forces would go on heightened alert in anticipation of the expected US response. The administration downplayed the significance of the Caribbean , but announced that two brigade combat teams and the USS Roosevelt would move to the Gulf Coast as a “precaution.” The administration spokesman insisted these moves would not impact the war effort in the Pacific.

July 7

HANOI -- The Vietnamese government denounced the Chinese occupation of the disputed Spratley Islands today. Vietnam’s defense ministry said a “substantial Chinese fleet that had sailed from the Hainan area a few days ago had landed troops on the islands. The mystery of Chinese intentions was deepened by the move. A week into the war there has still been absolutely no Chinese comment about the fighting, even off the record. Some analysts suggested the Chinese move on the Spratley’s might be a face-saving move to make up for the failure of the Taiwan invasion. Meanwhile, Navy sources in Washington said that the last of China’s submarines forces in the Taiwan strait had been hunted down and eliminated. The entirety of China’s remaining naval strength was committed to the Spratley expedition, these sources said and the danger of an amphibious landing in Taiwan was past. (+4 China VP)

July 8

TAIPEI -- After a lull of a few days Chinese air strikes resumed over Taiwan today. There were reports of damage at several sites, but ham radio operators also reported witnessing several shoot downs of Chinese aircraft. Administration officials announced that additional naval and land forces have been dispatched to the Pacific, including the USS Nimitz.

July 9

TAIPEI -- In the latest twist in the bizarre Asian war, Chinese troops alighted on the island using a variety of transports, including helicopters, gliders and crash-landed civil aircraft. The assault troops attempted to seize several airports but suffered heavy losses in the attempt. US air strikes and cruise missile attacks in support of the Chinese troops caused additional losses and by nightfall there was just a single brigade’s-worth of Chinese troops ensconced around one airfield in Taiwan. Taiwanese officials said the situation was “serious” but not out of control.

July 10

SINGAPORE -- Alarm broke out in Singapore as the Chinese fleet made an unexpected appearance off the coast of Malaysia. Singaporean officials attempting to contact the Chinese embassy found the gates locked and embassy officials out of sight. Meanwhile, in heavy fighting, Taiwanese troops mopped up the last of the Chinese air assault forces.

July 11

SINGAPORE -- Chinese marines landed on Malaysian soil a few miles outside the borders of Singapore., supported by several destroyers. There was no armed opposition, although Malaysian officials lodged a protest at the United Nations. In San Diego additional US naval forces left for the war zone. (+1 China VP, total +5)

July 12

TOKYO -- Japanese Defense Ministry officials reported that China has redeployed most of its surviving air strength to North Korea. Japanese shipyard crews have also finished emergency repairs on the aircraft carrier USS Reagan. Work continues on the USS Bush, but officials would not speculate on how long it might take to get the Bush ready to return to combat.

July 13

SEOUL -- Missiles, artillery shells and special forces commandoes rained on South Korean border areas and the capital city before dawn as the widely expected Second Korean War started. As most civilians had been evacuated south of the artillery zone over the past few weeks casualties were low. There were no reports of significant incursions in the early hours of the war. The Chinese delegation vetoed a UN resolution calling for a cease-fire throughout the theater without comment. The US announced an airlift of a light infantry brigade combat team from Hawaii to South Korea. The Chinese-owned corporation that operates the Panama Canal announced that the canal is closed for the duration of hostilities, disabling the locks. (+1 China VP, total +6)

July 14

TOKYO -- The South Korean government announced an immediate cease-fire and treaty of eternal friendship with China today. U.S. troops disembarking from their transports were interned and incoming flights were diverted to Japanese airfields. South Korean officials speaking on condition of anonymity due to the extremely sensitive nature of the information said Chinese officials had sent word that they would use a barrage of nuclear weapons against South Korea’s cities unless the country capitulated immediately. Officials indicated the Chinese gave the South Korean government les than 12 hours to decide. The USS Bush was ready for sea, the Japanese government said. (+4 China VP , total 10)

July 15

TOKYO -- Taiwan surrenders! Citing credible threats of “intensive “ nuclear strikes across the island from Chinese officials, Taiwan’s president announced that his country was reverting to its proper provincial status and all national government offices except for vital public services were to stand-down until further notice. Stunned US officials insisted that the Chinese nuclear bullying would not stand and was “mot the last word.” Additional US forces including an Army Stryker Brigade and a Combined Arms Brigade, as well as more surface ships and submarines were on their way to the theater, officials said. (+6 China VP, total 16! China wins! In error play continued)

July 16

TOKYO -- Air battles were reported over Taiwan as Chinese fighters flew into the captured country’s airfields. Dozens of aircraft were reported downed, many as they were on their final approaches to the airfields. Meanwhile, saying that the Chinese aggression was unacceptable, the government of the Philippines said it was joining the US anti-Chinese coalition.

July 17

TOKYO -- U.S. Naval officials announced that the USS Enterprise, the last carrier still in Chinese waters was badly damaged by a Chinese suicide plane attack from Taiwan’s airfields. More than 100 Chinese aircraft were shot down during the mass attack, but one plane managed to crash into the bridge area of the carriers, causing extensive damage and forcing the US task force to retire.. No other ships were damaged, the Navy spokesman said, and loss of life aboard the Enterprise was relatively low, although the ship’s captain and the admiral leading the task force were both killed, along with several other key officers.

July 18

HANOI -- Vietnamese officials report that the Chinese naval forces formerly off the Malayan coast have disappeared, apparently heading back Towards China. Eyewitnesses report the USS Enterprise task force entered Tokyo Bay and the damaged carriers was immediately swarmed with workers, even before the ship docked.

July 19

MOSCOW -- President Vladimir Putin announce that Russia will “under no circumstances” get involved in the far eastern war. “This is a local affair and must be resolved by the concerned powers,” Putin said.

TOKYO -- Japanese officials said North Korean aircraft have been seen flying into Taiwanese airfields. Intelligence sources suggest that the planes are crewed by Chinese pilots, but air losses have been so severe that China has had to “borrow” first-line aircraft from their North Korean allies. In a feat of naval engineering reminiscent of the work on the USS Yorktown before the World war II Battle of Midway, the USS Enterprise was ready for sea within 24 hours of arriving at Tokyo.

July 20

TOKYO -- Vietnamese sources report that most Chinese troops have let the Spratly Islands, leaving just a skeleton garrison., and apparently rejoined the Chinese at-sea forces. Meanwhile the USS Enterprise, USS Reagan and USS Bush sailed out from Tokyo Bay under escort from US and Japanese warships. All three ships were fully combat capable, the U.S. Navy said although workmen were still aboard all three ships.

July 21

TOKYO -- Saying that Japan had already done “more than its share,” the Japanese government announced that Japan was withdrawing from active combat operations effective immediately and that all US combat forces based in Okinawa would have to depart within 24 hours or be interned. Support and administrative forces and dependents were given a week to depart. US officials said they “regretted” the Japanese action, and said Japanese workers aboard the three carriers would be sent home “soon.”

SINGAPORE -- Malaysian sources said all Chinese troops except for some support cadres have re-embarked on their transports and left for “parts unknown.’

July 22

BAGHDAD -- Iranian troops seize the Al Faw peninsula today, cutting off Iraq from the sea and brushing aside the small Iraqi forces in the way. The US administration announced that three fighter wings would be dispatched to Iraq to provide air support for Iraqi forces and help them drive the Iraqi forces out.

LONDON -- The ministry of Defense issued a brief statement that Royal Navy forces had rendezvoused with U.S. naval forces “at sea.” The spokesman would provide no details as to where and for what purpose the fleets had joined.

July 23

SINGPORE -- The rogue Chinese fleet has reappeared, Singaporean officials said, this time off the coast of Borneo. Officials said it appeared Chinese forces were going to take advantage of Indonesia’s weak military to grab coastal territory that might be useful as a bargaining chip. To this date the Chinese government ahs not said a word about its war aims or even commented officially on any aspect of the fighting. The entire country is on an Internet blackout and state media has played nothing but martial music and shown patriotic films for more than three weeks.

MANILLA - A Philippine fishing boat reports seeing a vast armada approaching the coast of Taiwan today.

July 24

JAKARTA -- Indonesian officials said Chinese marines have splashed ashore on a remote section of the Borneo coast in an obvious attempt to insult the US president by occupying a portion of his childhood home. (+1 China VP, total +17)

WASHINGTON -- The administration said the Chinese aggression was ‘pointless” and resulting in unnecessary suffering all over the Pacific. Navy spokespeople said carrier aircraft from the Bush, Enterprise, Nimitz and Reagan had conducted air strikes to achieve air supremacy over Taiwan. Chinese/North Korean aircraft rising to contest the US strike were “brushed away.”

July 25

JAKARTA -- Indonesian officials said Chinese marines have re-embarked on their ships, leaving behind a detachment of troops.

TAIPEI -- US Marines splashed ashore on the beaches outside the capital city while US Army troops landed elsewhere on the island. Few Chinese troops were seen and there was no serious fighting reported. US officials said a new, independent Taiwanese government would be formed. (-6 China VP, total +11)

July 26

HANOI --- The Vietnamese government, denouncing Chinese “aggression,: said it was joining the US coalition. Observers noted the irony of the Vietnamese joining their erstwhile foes from the Vietnam era.

MANILA -- Philippine military officials said Chinese naval forces have been spotted off the shore of Palawan Island. They said that the US naval armada that liberated Taiwan was now on its way to rescue the Palawan islanders.

July 27

MANILA -- As expected, some Chinese troops have gone ashore and planted their flags, in what has now become a bizarre ritual. Meanwhile the US armada was reported to be approaching Palawan from the north and just hours away. (+1 China VP, total +12, China wins again! Game still continues in error)

July 28

MANILA -- Like ghosts, the Chinese fleet has disappeared, just as the US armada appears offshore of Palawan island. The hasty departure of the Chinese fleet left one brigade of Chinese troops on the beach, however.

July 29

MANILA -- In a day of sharp fighting that culminated in a mass suicide charge by explosive-vest wearing Chinese soldiers that caused heavy casualties among attacking US Marines Palawan was liberated.

JAKARTA -- Chinese marines landed at a remote village on the island of Celebes , today, in another move the Indonesian military was helpless to prevent. (-1 China VP, + 1 China VP. Total still +12)

July 30

WASHINGTON -- U.S. officials announced the loss of the USS Reagan today to a Chinese suicide submarine attack. A Chinese stay-behind special forces submarine armed with a directed energy warhead managed to explode directly underneath the super carrier, breaking its back and resulting in its total loss. Fortunately the ship sank slowly and most of the crew was rescued by accompanying vessels. In related news, administration officials announced that B-2 bombers armed with satellite-guided weapons had struck the Chinese fleet off the Celebes, sinking several warships. All US bombers returned safely, officials announced. (+2 China VP total +14)

July 31.

NEW YORK -- In a surprise development, Chinese officials announced they were accepting the UN cease-fire and were prepared to open wide-ranging negotiations on all “outstanding issues in the region.” Observers at the UN suggested that the Chinese had salvaged in the end some bargaining chips after a disastrous start to the war.

Final VP


4 VP for Korea
4 VP for the Spratley Islands
3 VP for Malaya, Celebes and Borneo
2 VP for one sunk CVN
1 VP for Panama Canal closure

Total of 14 VP = Chinese victory!

Long session report. Misread victory conditions and thought China won on points at game end, not at the end of any turm, so the game continued . The "real" end came quickly. The US probably should have reinforced Korea, but the Chinese rolled a 6 for resolving the Korean war This created a dangerous situation for the US that really couldn’t be helped. Despite completely destroying the Chinese invasion force they Taiwan still surrendered and gave China the points it needed. The end game played in error still showed that the Chinese have some dangerous capabilities even when reduced. The US should ruthlessly hunt down any Chinese expeditions that get loose around Indonesia.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

D-Day 2009

It's a small thing, but I did manage to mark the 65th anniversary of D-Day in a couple of ways.

I watched the president's speech on the beach this morning. And Young General and I played one quick game of Lightning: D-Day.
I commanded the Allied forces, which successfully stormed the beaches.
One of these June's I'm going to have to do a whole weekend of D-Day re-enactments in "miniature." Besides Lightning: D-Day, I have Memoir '44 (doing an Overlord scenario on June 6 would be sweet), Axis & Allies Miniatures (with Higgins Boats!) and, of course the two giant games I would dearly like to do at least once, each -- the TCS game Omaha and the AH monster The Longest Day.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Check out Proceedings Story - U.S. Naval Institute

Take a look at: Proceedings Story - U.S. Naval Institute


It makes a simlar argument to my earlier post about fleet actions being confined to certain periods of history.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Catan threatens Hasbro cash cow?

Well, that seems to be the opinion of this industry analyst at TD Monthly, anyway:


Hasbro has reigned as the absolute market leader of the board game category for many years. Last year, the company sold $815 million in the United States. This is the equivalent of about $1,220 million at retail, or a market share of 53 percent. Games and puzzles are also Hasbro’s largest product category, accounting for nearly one-third of its sales last year. While Hasbro does not break out gross profit by category, I understand that games and puzzles represent about 40 percent of Hasbro’s gross profitability. Its single largest board game brand, Monopoly, has sold, over its lifetime, about 300 million pieces and moves about 3 million units every year in the United States alone. This fat tidbit has long attracted the attention of competitors, but none has succeeded in capturing it. However, it looks as if things are about to change.

The writer then summarizes some action in the category, namely Mattel and Blokus, Lego and some unspecified games and Mayfair with Settlers of Catan.

He also claims Hasbro's game business was down.

Hasbro’s board game business declined last year despite strong demand for the category. I predict this will happen again in 2009 and 2010.

Turns out that's not entirely accurate. According to Hasbro's Q4 transcript: Board games were up 2% while the total games and puzzle category was flat compared to a year ago.

So apparently puzzles were down, not games. A significant point, I think.

Frankly, I don't buy it. Hasbro has such a dominant share of the board game world that it's going to take a lot more than a couple of hot games to change that. Blokus and Settlers of Catan have been out for a while already, and I see little evidence they're about to displace Monopoly.

Indeed, his very premise may be mistaken. He seems to assume that it's a zero-sum situation and that any growth in board game sales by other manufacturers will necessarily come at Hasbro's expense. On the other hand, it may be that renewed interest in the category will boost sales for all concerned. More games may mean more game players which may lead to even more game sales. Games are not necessarily competing against other games for sales but are competing against other forms of entertainment.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Axis & Allies Miniatures: Mosin-Nagant

I'll be posting, on an occasional basis, musings about particular pieces in the Axis & Allies series of miniatures.

Like the basic infantrymen of all countries in the Axis & Allies: Miniatures system, the Soviet rifleman is identified by his trusty long arm, in this case the Mosin-Nagant rifle. Like the Russian soldier the Mosin-Nagant was reliable, simple and rugged . It;s collector No. 5/48 in the Base Set and 21/60 in the 1939-45 set.

Base set


Rarity: Common
Speed: 1
Defense: 4/4
Cost: 3

Attacks vs troops at short-medium-long ranges: 8 -6 -0
Attacks vs vehicles at short-medium-long ranges: 2-0-0

Special abilities: Command Dependent, Close Assault 8

1939-45 set

Historical text
Soviet rifleman carried the Mosin-Nagant 1891/30, known in the Soviet Union as simply the "vintovka mosina," or Mosin rifle. This cheap, simple and rugged weapon was of somewhat poorer quality than more modern rifles.

The unit in history: The Soviet Union suffered horrendous losses during World War II, with the bulk of its 10 million battle losses occurring among the infantrymen. Ill-trained by Western standards, sparingly equipped and often poorly led, the Soviet rifleman was known for being tenacious in defense of Mother Russia. While not a match for his German counterpart on a man-for-man basis, the Soviet soldiers eventually prevailed.

The unit in the game: The Mosin-Nagant generally has the same stats found of the standard rifleman in most AAM armies. What makes it interesting and unusual are its two special abilities. Command Dependent could more properly be called a special disability, because it makes the Soviet infantry challenging to use offensively. Any Soviet force will probably have to have more than the usual number of leaders in order to move and those leaders will be drawing a lot of fire. The need to stay adjacent to leaders will often mean that Soviet riflemen can't take full advantage of available cover. On the other hand, this special disability buys a very powerful anti-tank capability for a 3-point unit. Indeed, the Mosin-Nagant's Close Assault 8 ability is at a level otherwise generally seen with elite and specialized anti-tank troops that cost considerably more. What this means is that Axis armor must always be cautious in the vicinity of Soviet infantry, because rolling 8 dice against the rear armor without a chance for a cover roll is nothing to sneeze at, even for a Tiger tank.