Friday, October 30, 2009
After playing a few times solitaire and against live opponents, I think a review of Martin Wallace's unusual Waterloo game is in order.
The game caused quite a stir when first announced, especially when Mr. Wallace indicated it was going to be a limited run special edition. Wallace is a justly well-regarded eurogame designer, with some big hits in that field, but Waterloo was his first foray into wargaming.
And there's no mistake, Waterloo is definitely a wargame, although a highly innovative one, and not a merely Waterloo-themed Martin Wallace game. This caused some confusion among many Wallace fans, it appears, and not a little disappointment, as the game wasn't what many of them were expecting. It's not some super-elegant, stripped down intriguing game-puzzle of the sort prized among many eurogamers. Waterloo is full of the sort of procedures, modifiers, exceptions and quirky rules wargamers are used to seeing as their games try to wrestle the chaos of battle into some sort of game system.
On the other hand, Waterloo is not a simulation. In his designer's notes (another wargame staple rarely seen in euros) Wallace expressly denies any simulation intent and says there was no attempt to, for example, make his Napoleonic meeples represent a certain number of troops each or specific military units. But his rules do take into account the different arms of Napoleonic era warfare (infantry, artillery and cavalry) and the importance of troop quality (various rules benefit or penalize Imperial Guard, British, Dutch and Prussian Landwehr, for example).
So if not purely a game, and yet not really a simulation, then what is it? I'd say it's a dramatization of the Battle of Waterloo in game form, more than anything else. I think this characterization accounts for some of the details that euro-conditioned Wallace fans may have found so off-putting. There's a lot of little modifiers to remember and some of them may not make a lot of sense in game terms, but do in dramatization terms. While Wallace denies that there's a simulation going on, his rules do penalize British guns -- not because they were poor, but because there actually were not so many of them as he provides. He explains that they were spread out across the British front, a well-known fact to wargamers. Likewise there are rules for forming squares. Not because they're particularly relevant from a simulation point of view (few wargames set at this level -- roughly brigades -- use squares. that was tactic for battalions) but because, I suspect the British squares at Waterloo were too famous and dramatic element to leave out.
The game itself is probably best known for its use of Napoleonic "Meeple-style" wooden figures to represent the leaders, cannons, cavalrymen and infantry troops. This is not the only unusual aspect of the game, or even the most innovative, but it does illustrate the fresh approach Wallace took to the whole wargame genre -- something that I think many wargamers may have been uncomfortable with. Wallace's design accomplishes many of the same design goals of traditional wargames but gets there in fresh ways. For example, casualty markers and step losses have been seen before, but not quite in the same way as Wallace's use of damage cubes which sort of float around until a moment of truth requires them to be allocated.
Some love the Meeples, some hate them, but they are different. Myself, I think they're charming but they're not just there for decoration. Wallace uses their physical characteristics to include more dramatic elements while avoiding a lot of messy markers or rules. The British troops famously lay down to avoid artillery fire -- the player can lay his meeples down for defensive benefit. Blown cavalry mounts figure in most accounts -- so players may find their fresh upright cavalry units reduced to a "tired" status and have to lay them on their side.
And so it goes throughout the design. Although eschewing the rigors of simulation pretension, the game falls well within the mainstream of Waterloo presentations. One can quibble with design points on simulation grounds, but the overall effect is not "off" in any major way, except perhaps for pacing. It seems to unfold a little too fast, but that may be a function of player inexperience. I think casualty rates may decline a bit as players learn how to avoid costly blunders.
And the game is as intertwined with the history that it represents as any detailed simulation might be, so it's far from treating its theme as a decorative device far removed from the core game elements. Treating all the strongholds alike would have been simpler, for example, but instead each of the three key natural bastions in front of Wellington's line -- Hougoumont, La Haye Sainte and Papelotte -- has its own flavor, based on their historical impact.
Martin Wallace's Waterloo, not unlike Bowen Simmons' equally fresh (although systemically quite different) Bonaparte at Marengo/Napoleon's Triumph, shows there are different ways to skin the cat of Napoleonic wargaming other than hexagons and cardboard counters. From a wargaming design perspective it's an interesting design that questions some conventions and assumptions underlying conventional wargames.
And from a game player's perspective, the game succeeds in providing a very intense and involving and dramatic experience that does evoke the colorful aspects of Waterloo. British squares and impetuous cavalry charges, stalwart Prussians rushing to join the fray, Napoleon's grand battery blasting away and the Imperial Guard pressing forth to carry the day -- or perhaps La Garde Recule!
The physical presentation is absolutely first-rate, far above typical wargame fare and matching many of the nicer euros. As mentioned, the meeple troops will be a hurdle for some, but they do serve a useful game purpose while providing a distinctive look.
I'm very pleased with the game. I certainly wouldn't claim it's the ultimate Waterloo simulation and it's not the only Waterloo game I own. It might be the only Waterloo game in a more game-oriented collection, though, and I'd call that an excellent choice.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
In an interesting development, Looney Labs, best known for its loopy card game Fluxx and the various Pyramid games has started a whole new game company to market adult-themed games. Turns out Andy Looney (yeah, really his name) is a marijuana legalization activist, as well as game designer but felt that there was a growing conflict between his light-hearted Looney Labs line of game products (like Family Fluxx) and his activism on the marijuana issue. So he decided a clean break was in order, hence the new imprint Fully Baked Ideas.
The initial product for the new line is a new edition of Stoner Fluxx, which is, naturally, a pot-themed version of Fluxx. Stoner Fluxx is being removed from the main Looney Labs line and won't be mentioned on its Web site or catalog.
Given how crazy a Fluxx game is anyway, it might very well be even more amusing to try playing it while stoned. Looney reports they're working on a drinking-themed version of Fluxx as well, although I suspect more than a few game groups play an alcohol-enhanced version on their own anyway.
(Optional explanation -0- skip if you know how to play Fluxx) Fluxx is a card game of ever-changing rules. The game starts with just two rules: Draw a card and then play a card. But new rules can be played that change those rules or add to them. Some cards are Actions that allow you to do certain bonus things. Other cards are Keepers, which are played in front of the player and other cards are Goals, which specify the current winning conditions -- which usually involve having particular Keepers in play. A (usually) bad kind of card is a Creeper (a sort of anti-Keeper), which prevents a player from winning -- unless a Goal says otherwise! It' s all gloriously chaotic and occasionally confusing, but a lot of fun.
It will be interesting to see how this initiative pans out, but I think there's a growing sense among the public that the so-called war on drugs has been an irredeemable failure and medical-use marijuana has increasing support as well. This may be an issue of, er, growing relevance in the future.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
It might have remained a bit of a curiosity, except in 2007 it reappeared -- in not one, but two brand-new print editions!
In one case it appears as a full-fledged wargame inside the pages of GMT's C3i Magazine, issue No. 20., on a countersheet otherwise filled out with variant and bonus counters for more than a half dozen other wargames.
The other edition is a more deluxe. stand-alone version of the game published by Victory Point Games.
None of the games differ substantively in the rules, although the sketchier rules found in Dunnigan's book are filled out a bit in the magazine version and much more in the stand-alone version, which includes more examples of play.
The game itself depicts the attempt by a US corps in Patton's Third Army to seize the ancient city of Metz before the disorganized Germans can react. The Germans forces are a hodge podge of units, seriously understrength, attempt to stop them.
Normally a wargame about a battle at this scale would be set at the battalion level in order to give each player a substantial number of units, but Dunnigan's aim is to keep things simple and one way he does this is by bumping the scale up a notch, the regimental level. This results is just eight US pieces battling 10 German units at the start, plus one reinforcement. Combat is handled with a D6 die roll on a differential combat results table. American units range from a 4 to a 7 in combat strength, while the Germans are 1s, 2s or 3s. The battlefield is full of restrictive terrain, with forests, hills, forts, cities and a couple of major rivers aiding the Germans.
Book -- Half-inch counters that you'll have to photocopy, cut out and past onto cardboard to use. The American units are black print on white, the Germans are black print on gray. An optional counter for the US 502d Airborne regiment is mentioned i the rules, but not provided. There's also a game turn marker.
C3i -- Half-inch counters that you can punch out. The American units are multi-colored on green, with two optional units, the 502d and an additional infantry regiment. The German units are multi-colored on gray for the regular army units and white on black for the SS. The German units are backprinted with a combat value one higher than their standard value for use in a variant. Besides the game-turn marker, there are markers to mark the capture of the cities of Thionville and Metz, which are worth VPs.
VPG -- Three-quarter inch counters to punch out. The American and Germans are colored much like the C3i version, but here the German variant units are separate counters. Again there are markers for the capture of Metz and Thionville and for the game turn.
In all versions the player has to provide a six-sided die.
Book -- The map is on back and white on an 8 1/2-inch by 5 1/2 inch page in the book. To play it will need to be photocopied.
C3i -- The map is in color on a 17-inch by 8 1/2-inch paper surface, with the actual map taking up half the area and the rest being fileld with charts and tables needed for play.
VPG -- The map is in color on a 17-inch by 8 1/2-inch cardstock surface. The actual map takes up about 60 percent of the area, with the tables and charts making up the rest.
Book -- 12 pages of rules in the book.
C3i -- Six magazine-sized pages as an insert.
VPG -- Six magazine-sized pages
Book -- Well, besides a 332-page book on the design, history and play of wargames, the book includes a 15-page illustrated example of play.
C3i -- A 48-page magazine with inserts, but nothing else directly related to the game.
VPG -- A four magazine-sized illustrated example of play. A setup map. A small insert about computer versions of the game.
Book -- It's free online, but the map and counters are rather poor-quality scans from the book. The 3rd edition of the book is listed at $23.95, but Amazon lists it as low as $16.
C3i -- Included in the magazine, which is $20.
VPG -- List price is $19.95, but currently on sale at $12.95.
There's not much to choose from in price between the different editions, although I think the Victory Point Games edition is probably the best value unless you also own some of the GMT games featured in the magazine, like Asia Engulfed, Flying Colors, Command & Colors Ancients, Down in Flames, etc. The book version is free, of course, if you download it, but more work to prepare.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
In Munchkin-series games treasure cards are important, but it's Door cards that you interact with very turn. The very first thing a character does is open a door and, if no monster is present and none brought out of the hand to fight, a second door card is drawn while "looting the room."
Monsters -- 37 cards with nominal levels ranging from 1 to 20 broken down as follows: Five each Level 1 & 2; Four each Level 4,6 & 8; three each Level 10, 12, 14 & 16; Two Level 18 and one Level 20. I say "nominal" because 50 of them have bonuses and/or penalties depending upon the class, gender, loyalty or other characteristics of the player character fighting them.
Discussion -- In keeping with the general lack of inspiration in this particular set, I didn't find any of the "monster" names (and monster seems an odd name for them anyway) especially funny. I mean "Dr. Maybe" is a pretty lame and obvious joke. There's nothing half as funny as the "Space Goats" of Star Munchkin for example. Four of the monsters are "(monster) in black" which allows them to be reinforced in a fight by other "in black" monsters which provides some limited scope for thwarting a player's bid for victory is he's incautious enough to try to beat an "in black" creature for his 10th level. The "in black" thing is odd, though, because that's more of a Sci Fi thing than a Spy genre thing. Two monsters are "undead" which has no effect in MI but may in a blended game.
Loyalty -- 12 cards. Three each of American, British, Chinese and Russian. Loyalty is a new attribute in the Munchkin series, but operates much like a class, providing certain benefits. For example American Loyalty allows you to use one extra hand's worth of items and get a 300 gold piece bonus when selling items for levels. A player can have just one loyalty unless allowed by another card (such as Double Agent) to have more.
Discussion -- American, British and Russian loyalties all have good and obvious advantages, but the Chinese loyalty's edge seems kind of underpowered. You can take a Level 1 or 2 monster off the top of the discard pile at the beginning of your turn, if it happens to be there and there's no limit to to the number of minions you can have in play -- but there are only four minions in the game, so this isn't a big help either.
Trap! -- 11 cards. Nine of them may cause you to lose cards from your hand or on the table, two cost a level.
Discussion -- If encountered while opening doors, these can be annoying, but usually aren't too debilitating. With 11 in the deck they'll come up pretty often and only the Playboy class has any anti-trap ability. But if collected while looting the room these may be one of your few tools to stop an opponent's bid for victory. The two Lose a Level traps (Snake Pit and Shark Tank) are especially worth holding onto if you have it in the late game.
Class -- 9 cards. Three each of Assassin, Playboy and Tourist. Every Munchkin game includes class cards, if for no other reason than the opportunity to use the line "Everyone starts as a Level 1 character with no loyalty and no class. (heh heh)." Each class provides a couple of bonuses. A player can belong to only one class unless having a card that allows otherwise such as Super Munchkin.
Discussion -- With only three classes available the class attribute plays a smaller role in MI than the typical Munchkin game. All three classes have useful and obvious advantages, so there's little to choose from between them. Note that the British loyalty automatically provides them with the benefits of Playboy as long as they don't have another class, so Playboys will be the most common type in play.
Training -- 8 cards. These generally provide level bonuses either directly to the character (like Karate Training +4) or indirectly (Knife Training gives +3 per knife) although a couple provide other benefits. A character can have one training unless another card, such as Extra Training, allows more.
Discussion -- Training is another new attribute in the Munchkin series, providing a similar benefit as Style in Munchkin Fu.
Munchkins --8 cards. While not a formal category under the rules, these all operate in much the same way, allowing the player to "break" the rules by allowing additional classes (Super Munchkin) , loyalties (Double Agent and Triple Agent), items (Cheat) or training (Extra Training).
Discussion -- One of the core concepts underlying the design of the series, Munchkin-style cards are pretty common in this set and player characters with multiple loyalties, classes and extra training will be common.
Miscellaneous -- 7 cards. These provide a hodge-podge of benefits. All but one is one-use only.
Discussion -- Using these cards is situational, but most provide an unsubtle benefit like Scripted Escape which allows an automatic escape from combat if you fail your roll to run away. Gender changing is pretty far outside the spy genre, so MI only includes one sex-changing card, Discard Clever Disguise, which changes the player character's sex without penalty ("because you were really that sex all along"). Because of this, the usefulness of the two Seduce Enemy Agent cards will depend an awful lot on the composition of your gaming group, but if it's a bunch of guys then these may be nearly useless outside of a blended Munchkin game.
Monster enhancers -- 6 cards. Two are +10 to the monster's level, three are +5 and one is a -5 penalty.
Discussion --There are just a half dozen of these, so their rarity makes them valuable. The dramatic end-of-game-bid-for-victory that other players beat back is less common in MI than the other Munchkin games. It's hard to really juice up a monster to an unexpected degree.
Wandering Monster -- 2 cards. These allow a player to add another monster to a combat.
Discussion -- Most useful when trying to stop another player's bid for victory, it's also useful for jacking up the potential treasure haul by adding a second weak monster to a monster you can easily defeat. Still, given the shortage of means to thwart other players, it's probably best reserved for later use if you're in the middle or late stages of the game.
Munchkin Impossible is the runt of the litter in the Munchkin Line. Thematically strained and humor-starved, Munchkin Impossible doesn't quite work and evidently has not been a sales success, attested to by its singular status as the one Munchkin game that didn't have an immediate expansion.
Still, the game is not without merit for certain groups. I think that it may, oddly enough, be a good gateway game in groups that have limited exposure to RPGs or highly competitive gaming in general. The spy genre does have the advantage of being widely recognizable outside gaming circles. While your Monopoly or Scrabble partner may not be familiar with Dwarves and Elves they have almost certainly seen at least one James Bond movie. Munchkin Impossible is more straightforward than other games in the line, and the lack of a lot of end-of-game interaction (which can get pretty hard to follow in a good Munchkin game) may be considered a feature, rather than a bug.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
In another one of my running projects on questions that suit my fancy, I'm going to look at the cards of various Munchkin series games and how they effect play of that particular edition.
I'll be starting with Munchkin Impossible, as it's the smallest set, currently, with only the basic game appearing. I think it's safe to say that, considering the game has been out for three years already and past Steve Jackson Games practice has been to push out all the expansions the market can stand, that there won't be an expansion.
Munchkin Impossible is the least successful of the series. Many people found it unfunny and I think that the play tends to be less interesting because the mix of cards doesn't really allow the sort of back-and-forth endgame drama that usually makes Munchkin games fun and frustrating.
I believe there may a promo card or two for MI that I don't have and therefore won't be considered.
This will be a two-part post. First I'll look at the Treasure Deck. this won't be a card-by-card look but an overviews of the cards by frequency and category.
Items (permanent) -- 36 items, ranging from +1 to +5 in level bonuses, plus one item of footgear providing a +1 bonus to run away and two items that are enhancements to Guns (a +1 and +2). Three of the items are considered vehicles (a new kind of item introduced in MI) and one item can be optionally be a vehicle. Six of the items have restrictions on who can use them (i.e. female, assassin, British, etc.)
Discussion -- By Munchkin standards the items are fairly low-powered. The majority are +1 or +2 and there are just a couple that can enhance other cards. This makes it hard to juice up your character levels in combat.
Items (one-use) -- 15 items, with a variety of benefits. Most of the ones that give combat bonuses are +3. A few have restrictions on who can use them, including the most powerful combat effect, the +5 American Pie usable only by American loyalty only.
Discussion -- There aren't a lot of these in the deck, but the ability to combine them is probably the player's best chance to get to some high levels or block another player going for the win. One particularly odd item is the Poison Pill, which allows you to kill yourself. You can avoid Bad Stuff or Traps with it, but you'll lose your stuff. On the plus side you draw your new hand immediately.
Level-ups -- 11 cards! In a humor-deprived set, these are the more amusing ones as a group. Nine are straight Go Up a Level. For one you have to eliminate a Hireling (not necessarily your own) to Go Up a Level. The last one lets you Go Up 2 Levels, but only if you've just lost a level or a card.
Discussion -- These are always useful, but 11 seems like an awful lot of arbitrary levels for the base game. These should make up a little for the inability to earn your levels.
Hirelings -- 4 cards. These folks range from 0 to +4 in combat bonus.
Discussion -- Dusty McRonin (+4) and Agent K-8 (+3) will be appreciated in a game without too many combat bonuses. Arm Candy is only a +1 and restricted to Playboys, so she won't have a big impact. The Hireling called "N" doesn't provide a combat bonus, but does provide a free stream of treasures, so he may be the most useful one in the box. His ability is, I believe, unique in the Munchkin series so far.
Loaded Die -- 2 cards. Allows you to change one die roll.
Discussion -- Another card with no real downside. Given the difficulty in building up real studly munchkins in MI, I suspect these may be a little more valuable than usual for running away.
Miscellaneous -- 1 card. He Was Loaded lets you draw three more treasure cards.
Discussion -- No drawbacks except the lack of juicy treasures to draw from. This is a better card when playing a Blended Munchkin.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
The point of this scenario is to introduce the concept of a full war council. Each player had the option of choosing the composition of their war council with only a few limitations. Each player's commander has to be at Level 1 at least, there are no "strongholds" (introduced in the next scenario) and the Banner Player has the Giant Spider, which counts as one level for his war council.
Young general prefers to play with the monsters on his side, so we agreed he'd take the Banner Army. He chose to go with a Level 2 commander, giving him a hand of five command cards and a Level 2 Warrior Loremaster and a Level 1 Rogue Loremaster. The Spider rounded out the six-level council.
My choice was to go heavily militarized this time, so I took a Level 3 Commander, giving me six command cards and a Level 3 Warrior.
This made a Lore Deck comprised of 14 Warrior, 8 Rogue, 5 Wizards and 5 Cleric lore cards.
Troopwise, the Banner Army was pretty strong, with human troops comprising the center and right sectors with three Red, 4 Blue and a Green unit, plus the Spider. The left flank was Dwarves -- one red and three blue sword units. The Banner army was short on numbers of horse (just 2) and just a single missile unit (the green human unit on the right flank.)
My Standard army was much weaker in melee power, with just a single red human unit, five blue and three green. The humans made up the Standard center and left flank, facing the Banner human units. Facing the Dwarves were a mass of seven Goblinoid units, all green or blue. Our experience so far has been the Goblinoid quantity rarely makes up for Dwarvish quality and I determined from the beginning I'd do my best to keep the Goblins away from the Dwarves. My army did have an edge in cavalry units (three blue human horse and two green Goblin lizard-riders) and missile units (three).
The battlefield is rather unuusal in Battlelore, being devoid of any large exapns of clear ground. Instead it's all scattered hills and woods throughout, with the only extensive clear spots along the board edge. A small clearing existed where the Goblins set up, but otherwise every other clear hex in the central 7 rows of the map was next to a woods or a hill.
The two sides are nominally Burgundian and d'Armagnac, but this has no bearing on play.
My initial draw gave me three attack cards in the center, although my Lore hand was nothing special. I started off with some minor maneuvers to adjust my troops positions a little and improve my hand, expecting that my redoubtable, but young, opponent would follow his usual scattered toss-everything-and-see-what-sticks approach. While fatal in many wargames this kind of approach can work surprisingly well in BattleLore. It's hard to plan against because you literally don't know what's coming next and it tends to make efficient use of whatever cards one draws, although not the most efficient deployment of the troops.
Young General's dwarves made an effort against the Goblins, but apparently he failed to draw the cards needed for a sustained effort on that flank. The opposite flank was much better served by the card draws and the Spider and its escort pressed back that wing rather effectively.
Meanwhile I made my big center push, actually reinforcing the center with some troops detached from the two wings.
A long struggle ensued along the whole line, with my two flanks doing their best to hold on until the center was able to break through. Unfortunately the Banner center was pretty hard to crack, especially the two red sword units. Eventually the crisis of the battle was reached, with my army having just three victory medals while the Banner army had five -- leaving it one away from victory. Lore cards played a bigger role in this battle than earlier ones, although Young General still seems to be reluctant to part with them. On the other hand, I persisted in my spendthrift ways, and sometimes found myself needing to save up Lore over a couple of turns in order to play the cards I wanted. Generally the Lore cards were useful, although I did end up spending 8 Lore to activate a Lost Orders Rogue card (cost double Lore because I had no Rogue Loremaster) that ended up helping the Banner army because the random command card I forced him to play was really better than the card he had originally wanted to play.
Fortunately for my cause, I was able to execute a plan that had been in the making for several turns as I gathered even more forces in the center, including both Goblin mounted units and one full-strength human cavalry. I played a Mounted Charge along with the Cry Havoc Lore card. The Banner's Young General countered with a Mass Shield Lore card, a very good play that did mitigate the damage a little, but not enough to stop the Goblins and Humans from riding down the enemy with 5-dice and 6-dice attacks to bring me to the magic number of 6 victory medals.
The final score was 6-5, therefore, and there's little doubt that had the Mounted Charge fallen short the Banner army wouldn't have had any trouble grabbing that last casualty.
Lessons I derived from this encounter were to be a little more cautious about expending Lore cards and tokens for minor advantage because it may mean not being able to play the decisive card in time. I was vulnerable for a couple of turns as I massed not just my mounted forces but the lore tokens I needed to play the Cry Havoc card. The Banner army came within one figure of making that effort too late.
The lesson was reinforced that Goblin foot units are best kept out of the fighting when possible, especially when facing Dwarves. The Banner army had a shortage of command cards for the Dwarvish flank and a good thing, too. The Goblinoid mounted units' speed makes them very useful and being able to play a Mounted Charge/Cry Havoc combo made them into the equivalent of enhanced heavy cavalry for the decisive moment.
As usual. the game was entertaining to play and the actual gameplay only took a little over an hour, although setup time is starting to become substantial now that the full Lore rules are in effect.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
The game that did get payed was Martin Wallace's Waterloo, which is what I played the last time I went to the CCW session.
I did better this time with the French, although still coming up short of victory at the end as the British took advantage of a couple of mistakes to win the battle of attrition. The final score was 22 to 17 casualties. While I reached the target of 13 British casualties before the British reached their target of 16, they were able to come back in a very bloody turn that saw every attempt of mine to stay ahead in the casualty count more than matched.
I think the French side is a bit more challenging for new players because there's a lot to figure out in this game, so I decided it was only fair for me to take the French side because I had played once before, while my opponent had not.
Once again I sent a flanking cavalry force around the Allied left, but I ended up not pressing that attack after an initial repulse. I suspect that is a dead end. Instead I concentrated on capturing the three strongpoints and eventually succeeded without too much loss. I committed some Guard to exploit that success, but I'm not sure that was wise as that exposed the Guard to losses and they count double for the casualty victory condition.
We found that attacking infantry has to be careful about being caught by cavalry counterattacks, both sides lose several brigades that way and I discovered that unsupported cannons were vulnerable as well. The British player in particular got a couple of good action draws that let him just cut through my artillery park without opposition. He ended up losing most of the force, but most of it was Prussian or cavalry and did not count for victory.
It was a very intense game and definitely provokes a strong desire to study it in order to do better. I think the Waterloo situation is inherently challenging for the French in any game on the topic. Usually the French have to get off to a good start in order to win. early missteps tend to snowball. I didn't feel satisfied with my progress during the first two turns. By the time I felt like I was hitting my stride the Prussians were starting to be an issue. Because the game is so different from usual wargame norms there's a pretty steep learning curve, but I feel like I'm starting to get the hang of it. I can't wait to play again.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
As a matter of fact. we're having another one on Nov. 15. I don't know if anyone will be playing Monopoly, but we did have a Scrabble game going on.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
The Inspiring Lieutenant is a core British leader unit of Axis & Allies Miniatures, showing up as collector No. 11/48 from the Base Set and again unchanged as No. 3/60 of the 1939-45 set.
Tally-Ho! — In your movement phase, friendly non-Artillery Soldiers that start their move adjacent to this unit get +1 speed. (revised wording)
The 42nd Division was a Territorial Army formation that had a distinguished record in the Great War. In the Second World War it formed part of the BEF in France and was caught up in the disaster that led to the evacuation from Dunkirk. In England it was reformed as an armored division but later broken up in 1943 without seeing any more action. The British ended up disbanding several divisions over the course of the war due to manpower shortages.
Photo caption: Platoon Commander Lieutenant I. MacDonald (with binoculars and Thompson SMG) ready to give order to attack at S. Leonardo di Ortona, Italy, 10 December 1943.
The revised wording specified that only non-Artillery Soldiers could benefit from Tally-Ho! Also note that the SA specifies the Movement Phase, so movement in the Assault Phase does not get the +1 to speed.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
It's amazing to me how often wargames fail to do this. For one simple, yet obvious example that should be familiar for most wargamers, in the introductory wargame Napoleon at Waterloo the chateau at Hougoumont always automatically falls on the first turn, freeing up the French corps attacking that site for further action elsewhere. In the actual event, of course, Hougoumont held out for the entire day and tied up that French corps during the critical phase of the battle.
So I thought I'd try a little experiment and see how a few wargames tack up when put to the test of recreating the course and outcome of a historical battle, in this case the naval engagement between the USS Chesapeake and the HMS Shannon during the War of 1812.
I selected this engagement for several reasons. It's a famous and well-documented battle with little controversy over how it was fought. It's a standard scenario in most naval games covering the period. It was very quick, the decisive phase lasting just 15 minutes and small, there were just the two ships involved. Finally, it was not a complicated battle with a lot of maneuvering. Both captains were eager to come to grips with each other directly.
The opposing sides
My primary source for the historical course of events is Theodore Roosevelt's highly regarded 1882 work The Naval War of 1812, with supplementary use of the Osprey title American Light and Medium Frigates 1794-1836 by Mark Landas.
The USS Chesapeake and the HMS Shannon were very evenly matched ships, at least on paper. Both were rated as 5th-rate frigates in the style of the times.
The Chesapeake was one of the original six frigates of the new U.S. Navy. Laid down as a 44-gun frigate in 1798, although of a lighter build than the famous Joshua Humphreys designs, the Chesapeake was was re-rated as a 36-gun frigate by the War of 1812. During her engagement with the Shannon the Chesapeake carried 50 guns, mostly 18-lb long guns and 32-lb carronades, with a couple of smaller guns. Her broadside weight was 542 pounds of metal according to Roosevelt, who said American cannonballs during the era tended to be underweight. 379 men were aboard.
The Shannon was a fairly standard 38-gun Royal Navy frigate in design. She carried 52 guns, also mostly 18-lb long guns and 32-lb carronades, with a few smaller guns. The weight of her broadside was 550 pounds and she carried 330 men.
The biggest difference between the two ships was the experience level of the crew. The Chesapeake sailed into battle with a brand new crew, although many of the individuals had served on other ships. There was no time drill the crew in their duties beforehand, however, which probably reduced the effectiveness of the crew somewhat. The Shannon, on the other hand, had a well-drilled crew that had mostly served for a long time on the ship. The British ship's captain had drilled his crew extensively in gunnery, which was unusual among British ships at the time. This would prove to be an important factor in the fight.
The two captains were both highly skilled, competent and aggressive leaders. Captain Philip Broke of the HMS Shannon had, as has been mentioned, drilled his crew extensively in gunnery with much firing at targets. To our 21st century sensibilities this is simple common sense, but ammunition was expensive in the 19th century and the military sciences rudimentary, so Broke's attention to training was definitely progressive.
Captain James Lawrence was newly promoted to frigate command, having already won fame in a single-ship duel as commander of the brig USS Hornet when it captured the brig HMS Peacock. Both ships were very evenly matched, but the Peacock got much the worse of the affair.
The Shannon had been cruising off Boston for a considerable time, attempting to goad the Americans into sending the Chesapeake out. Broke had even gone to the trouble of sending a letter to Lawrence, challenging him to come out and fight. The letter never reached Lawrence, however, as he needed no goading. In fact, he was already on his way out of the harbor and the two ships closed for action on June 1, 1813.
Roosevelt's account includes a diagram of the action, reproduced below:
The notable aspects of the fight, as can be seen in the diagram, is the limited maneuvering involved and the extremely short duration of the fight. Roosevelt's diagram picks up the action as the first broadsides were exchanged and shows both ships running before the wind, with the Chesapeake to windward.
The naval rules in For Honor and Glory do not specify a scale, but as guns are allowed to fire just two hexes and most naval gunnery of the time was effective out to around 800 yards we can probably assign a hex scale of 300-400 yards and a time scale of about 5 minutes per turn.
The initial setup given in For Honor and Glory doesn't match Roosevelt's account, showing the two ships beating before the wind with neither ship having a clear advantage in wind position.
For Honor and Glory's naval rules system is extremely simple. Ships can move in any direction, with the distance determined by how many "plotted moves" are available. In this case, each side had three, for an effective base movement rate of 3 hexes. Ships that start their turn with the wind coming from their rear three hexsides get a bonus of one more plotted move to use, and if only one ship has the wind behind it that ship gets the "weather gauge" and moves second. If both ships or neither ship have the wind to their back then the ship with "commander's advantage" moves second. In this scenario the Shannon has the commander's advantage.
Firing is handled by rolling a number of d6 based on the ship's "Gun rating." Both ships, unsurprisingly, have the same gun rating here, a "two." The effectiveness of the guns depends on the range and whether or not the target's "T" is crossed. The least effective shot is a 2-hex broadside to broadside one, which hits on a 6 only. The best position is a one-hex T-crossing shot which hits on a 4, 5 or 6. Intermediate situations hit on a 5 or 6. Crossing the T is strictly defined, being achieved only by firing ships directly ahead or behind the target.
The damage-absorbing ability of the ships is expressed by a damage rating, which is how many hits the ship can take before destruction. In this case both ships are a "6." A ship that takes hits equalling half its value is penalized by losing one plotted move per turn and firing at one less die.
The final important rule concerns boarding. Ships that end up in the same hex may get involved in a boarding action. A dice roll is involved, with a larger ship having an advantage in either boarding of avoiding a boarding action. If a boarding action begins it's resolved by having the two ships' "Marines" fire at each other sequentially (defender first) with 6's being a hit. Each Marine factor allows one die roll and each hit reduces the Marines by 1. If reduced to "0" the defending ship is captured. The attacking ship has the option of calling off the attack, which otherwise continues to the bitter end. Here the British ship has an unexpected advantage, with a Marine factor of 4 compared to the American ship's 3. I can only assume these numbers were assigned based on the historical outcome, because the Shannon actually had a smaller crew than the Chesapeake, including fewer marines.
The Chesapeake begins in Hex 3L facing in direction 3, with the HMS Shannon three hexes ahead of it in Hex 6L also facing in direction 3.
The two ships closed on each other under reduced sail, according to Roosevelt's account, although the breeze still allowed both ships to move pretty fast. The details of the sail states are not reflected in For Honor and Glory's rules however and the bottom line is that both captains' aim was the same, to get in close.
So we will assume that both ships will turn immediately, with the Shannon making the tighter turn in order to close the distance quickly, so Chesapeake orders are 1 straight, right turn and then 1 straight to end up in Hex 5L facing direction 4. Shannon's orders are Right turn, 1 hex forward and then another Right turn to end up in hex in 7L facing in direction 5. Under the rules a chip can fire at any point in its move and the Shannon is in a position to fire at range 2. In FHAG there's no penalty for firing at every opportunity, but in the actual event the Shannon's crw had been orderd to hold fire until the range was much closer. Here's where we find our first major departure from the historical event. While in the game the player isn't forced to fire, there's no reason NOT to and a player would naturally fire. We will assume the Shannon fires its two dice but fails to roll a 6 on either one.
Both ships have the wind to their rear, and so are allowed 4 plotted moves, but the British ship retains the initiative because of the commander's advantage.
At this point Roosevelt informs us that "Broke was afraid that Lawrence would pass under the Shannon's stern, rake her and engage her on the quarter."
This is a real danger in the game, as well, and so Shannon's orders will reflect this fear, with plotted moves of "X" (no move), 1 straight, 1 again and 1 straight, ending in Hex 7J facing direction 5.
Roosevelt tells us, however, that "either overlooking or waiving this advantage, the American captain luffed up within 50 yards upon the Shannons's starboard quarter." We will reflect this with this series of plotted moves for the Chesapeake, 1 straight, right turn, X and finally 1 straight, putting the US ship in 6J facing direction 5.
The British captain will elect not to fire when the US first comes adjacent, hoping for a better shot later, but by the final hex both captains will realize no better shot is in the offing and will open fire.
Now, as it turns out, despite the fact that the British ship was noted for its gunnery, the Chesapeake's fire was also very effective and before the short battle was over 83 members of the Shannon's crew were killed or wounded, for a casualty rate of about 25 percent! Roosevelt's account states that over the course of the whole battle the Shannon was hit 158 times and the Chesapeake was hit 363 times, for about a 2-1 ratio. Both ships roll two dice with 5s and 6s being hits, so we will credit the Chesapeake with a good roll that includes one 6 but the Shannon with an even better roll of a 5 and a 6 for 2 hits.
For the next turn both ships will continue ahead slowly. Roosevelt informs us that "at 5:53, Lawrence, finding he was forging ahead, hauled up a little." The Chesapeake moves X, 1 straight, X and 1 straight to end up in Hex 6H facing direction 5 and the Shannon moves X, 1 straight, X and X. to end in 7I facing direction 5. Both ships continue to fire with effect and we will assume that each score 1 hit. This reduces the Chesapeake to half damage.
The next turn finds us in difficulty again, as the game doesn't really lend itself to recreating the historical events. Roosevelt account says that "at 5:56, having had her jib sheet and foretop-sail tie shot away, and her spanker brails loosened so that the sail blew out, the Chesapeake came up into the wind somewhat, so as to expose her quarter to her antagonist's broadside."
In game terms this requires us to have the Chesapeake move 1 straight, turn right and then X., ending up in Hex 6G facing Direction 6. (Due to damage the Chesapeake is only entitled to three plotted moves). The Shannon's move has to be 1 straight, followed by X,X,X., which is somewhat risky in game terms because it would have allowed the Chesapeake to cut ahead of her for a rake. It's no great stretch to award the Shannon another hit on the Chesapeake with a stern rake by two guns with a 4-6 hitting. The Shannon ends up in 7H facing direction 5.
Our difficulties reflecting the actual course of events accurately in game terms continue, as the best move for the Shannon at this point would be to keep the range long, having a 4 to 2 advantage in remaining hull points and now a 2-1 advantage in firing dice. And indeed, Broke did attempt to delay the boarding action, Roosevelt tells us, but the wind blew the Chesapeake backwards into the Shannon so that her rear port quarter collided with the Shannon, leaving Chesapeake unable to fire while the Shannon could stern rake her. There's no way for this to happen in FHAG because there are no rules for drifting.
Instead we must assume that the player Lawrence would turn his ship right, and then X. X. to remain in 6G but now facing Direction 1. And we must assume that our aggressive player Broke would move X (to get in another rake -- we'll score another hit without being at all generous to Shannon), turn right (to pursue in case Lawrence tries to open the range) 1 straight and finally an X (to avoid potentially overshooting the US position) therefore also ending up in 6G, but facing in direction 6.
Given the grim situation (Chesapeake gravely damaged, unable to fire and raked), it's no surprise in either real-life or in game terms that Lawrence would attempt to board, it being his one chance at victory. The real Lawrence, however, never got the chance, being cut down by a musket ball at this point and mortally wounded. We can assume the player Lawrence, being immune, would however order a boarding anyway. The real-life Broke did not hesitate to order his crew to form boarders and led them over the side. In game terms a player Broke might be tempted to avoid a boarding action, given his solid advantage in the game, but the player might fear losing the boarding roll and prefer to be the attacker able to call off the attack if it's not going well rather than being the defender and forced to stick it out. So our player Broke will copy the real-life one and announce he will board also.
Under the rules the players compare the current damage rating of the two ships. In this case the Shannon is a 4 and the Chesapeake a 1, for a difference of 3. The Shannon rolls two dice and adds the difference in the damage rating to the roll. In this case we will assume a quality roll of a 9 plus 3 for a final result of a 12. The weaker ship then rolls 2 dice straight, and we will give the Chesapeake a slightly below average roll of a 6. If the difference had been less than 7 there would have been no boarding action, which would suit the Shannon just fine. As it turns out the difference is exactly 7 and we move to the boarding procedure. Because there' s boarding action each player now rolls two dice again with the stronger player again adding the difference between the damage ratings to his roll. The Shannon would win a tie due to commander advantage. We will assume both players roll near average, a 6 for Shannon, boosted to 9 and a 7 for the Chesapeake so the Shannon is the attacker. This still suits Broke as Shannon now has a chance to end the battle right away and yet can call off the attack if it starts to go bad.
Finally we have the boarding phase, The defending American marines number 3 factors and on the first turn can get hits with a 5 or a 6. We will assume they roll average and get 1 hit on the Shannon boarders. The Shannon still has three marines left, after losing one, so Broke decides to push his luck and continue the atatck for now. He's rewarded with a hit. The remaining US mariens now only hit with 6s and their 2 dice miss. Broke's three boarders fire again and get another hit. The final US marine factor, having no choice fire again and gets a hit! At this point we may note that Broke was wounded badly. The player Broke, however, being unhurt, and well tempted by the fact that one more hit will end the battle elects to stay for another round and hits again with one of his 2 dice, reducing the US Marines to 0 and taking the ship!.
Overall, For Honor and Glory can't really replicate the course of the historical action very well. The simple movement system is simply unable to capture the subtle maneuvers that affected the action. The simple combat system also has trouble capturing the action. Our illustrative replay gave the Shannon good, if not exceptional luck, while not cutting the Chesapeake much slack. But in reality there's very little to choose from between the two ships and in a solitaire run-through I tried without regard to the historical account the Chesapeake actually emerged victorious by having better luck in gunnery and fending off a boarding attempt by the Shannon. That engagement also lasted much longer than five turns, with much more maneuvering by the two ships as they tried to get unanswered broadsides. I don't think many players would either "overlook" or "waive" the chance to rake the enemy like Lawrence did.
The final verdict is that For Honor And Glory, while achieving its goal of being very simple, probably overshoots the mark so much so that it can't be considered a good simulation. Historical decisions don't make sense in game terms and often are not even physically possible.
Friday, October 9, 2009
A consensus seems to be emerging that the Casabianca's special ability is occasionally useful and that the T1 is useful enough to use anyway so it might have times when it's SA may sort of get used incidentally.
Jury seem to be out on GH, but the merchant ships and the shore bombarding BBs are a bust as far as SA goes.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
The special abilities are:
SS Jeremiah O'Brien Vital Cargo 6 -- At the end of each turn, if this unit is adjacent to an island on your opponent's side of the map, you may remove this unit and score 6 victory points. You can only remove one unit with Vital Cargo from the game per turn.
Kinai Maru Vital Cargo 8 -- At the end of each turn, if this unit is adjacent to an island on your opponent's side of the map, you may remove this unit and score 8 victory points. You can only remove one unit with Vital Cargo from the game per turn.
Casabianca Secret Cargo 4 -- At the end of each turn, if this unit is adjacent to an island or coast on your opponent's side of the map and no enemy ships are local or adjacent, you may score 4 victory points. You can only use Secret Cargo once per game.
USS Gunston Hall (LSD5) Landing 10 -- Once per game, at the end of a turn, if this unit is adjacent to a coast or island on your opponent's side of the map, score 10 victory points. You can score victory points from Landing ability once per turn.
Oktyabrskaya Revolutsia Shore Support -- Once per game, instead of making a Main Gunnery attack, this unit can perform shore bombardment if this unit is in your opponent's ship deployment area. At the end of the turn, score 4 victory points.
Schleswig-Holstein Shore Support -- Once per game, instead of making a Main Gunnery attack, this unit can perform shore bombardment if this unit is in your opponent's ship deployment area. At the end of the turn, score 4 victory points.
T1 Landing Ship Landing 5 -- Once per game, at the end of a turn, if this unit is adjacent to a coast or island on your opponent's side of the map, score 5 victory points. You can score victory points from Landing ability once per turn.
They're pretty common, but can they be used? I'm going to try a poll on ForuMini to see what the opinion is.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Base set Humber Scout Car
Authentically depicting tactical reconnaissance is one of the weakest aspects of tactical wargames. Whereas finding out what's over the "next hill" is a critical need on the battlefield and what might be over that hill almost completely unknown, the wargame player rarely operates very much in the dark at all. He knows the enemy order of battle from the scenario card or at least the point total of the enemy force and has an accurate and birds-eye view of the ground with a decent idea of where the enemy might be even of there's some sort of hidden or concealed unit rule.
Being a very basic level tactical wargame, A&A miniatures doesn't solve this common problem, so recon units basically turn into weaker, faster but cheaper tanks. The first one to appear in the game is the Humber Scout Car, classed as an armored car in game terms, but in actuality a "scout" car. Basically an armored car implicitly has some limited ability to fight for information and brush past light resistance, whereas a scout car's weapons are for self-defense.
The Humber appears in the Base Set (10/48) and again in the new larger scale and sporting desert colors in the 1939-1945 set (2/60).
1939-45 set Humber
Attacks vs troops at short-medium-long ranges: 9-8-7
Attacks vs vehicles at short-medium-long ranges: 2-2-2
High Gear 2 -- If this unit makes its entire move along a road it gets +2 speed.
Strike and Fade 2 -- In your assault phase, this unit can move at speed 2 after attacking.
AThe Humber saw action in North Africa, Burma, and Italy with the famed 7th Armored Brigade, the Desert Rats.
The unit in history: The Humber Scout Car was just one of a wide variety of similar vehicles in British service. Many of the vehicles were unarmed, but some had various machinegun mounts including remote-controlled setups, which is what the car depicted in the game seems to sport.
Monday, October 5, 2009
I'm not going to propose a definition here, either. I'm not sure that it's a definable term in the scientific sense, even though it has a socially useful meaning.
And perhaps that's a distinction worth keeping in mind, that words can have useful meanings that may still not hew to some strict definition -- particularly words describing human interactions. And war is definitely a human interaction.
There's the cataloger's understandable urge to sort everything into one definite slot or the other. This is difficult in any endeavor that involves nature. Arguments over classification of fossils or species can be very loud. But it's even more difficult when dealing with anything having to do with people. Even words such as "family" and "marriage" and even "gender" (i.e. the South African runner controversy) have found their heretofore rather straightforward definitions coming unglued. But while their definitions are strained, they still retain useful meaning.
And so I think this approach may help with wargames. I think that obsessing too much over trying to set boundaries for -- to define -- wargames may obscure the value of the word's meaning. Indeed, for many purposes a game may be a wargame for some purposes while not for others.
Generally I prefer a rather expansive definition of wargame that has room for everything from Memoir '44 and Wizard Kings to Advanced Squad Leader and Harpoon 4. Generally, I think easily rethemed games such as Battle Line or extremely abstract games like chess normally aren't usefully meant by the term.
But Battle Line is pretty popular among wargamers nonetheless and chess is generally considered a war game (two words) by scholars of games.
On the other hand I think that people who strive too hard to set conditions a game must meet in order to deserve the hallowed title of wargame are being too pedantic. Clearly a detailed simulation of a historical battle is a wargame -- but we're not arguing whether Paris is part of France here. We're really debating Alsace and Lorraine -- and wargamers will know what I mean!
Friday, October 2, 2009
Thursday, October 1, 2009
The funeral arrangements for Mark have been finalized. Calling hours at the United Congregational Church are on Friday night - October 9th at 7:00 - 9:00 Pm. The funeral will be at the church on Saturday -October 10th at 11:00 AM. The address is 524 ...Valley Road, Middletown RI. I want to thank everyone who has called, emailed, and stopped by. Your kindness and support during this awful time has been so appreciated.