Monday, March 29, 2010

King Philip's War developments

The game's designer, a local journalist and a professor who is an expert on the subject engage in an informative and civil discussion about the game, its origins, its limitations and its promise in an audio.

This is a positive development. Perhaps the voices of reason can make some headway afterall.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Half a Havoc report

Too much to do in not enough time, so I had to skip the bookends of Havoc on Friday evening and Sunday anyway, and as it turns out I couldn't even make the morning session on Saturday!

The good news is that the two session I did get to play were great fun, a pair of the most enjoyable games I've played in years. Both GMs did a fine job, there were minimal rules problems, the games flowed at an enjoyable pace, all the players were gentlemen, the overall quality of play was good even though each table had newbies and both games were fought to a clear conclusion in the allotted time.

The first game I took part in was a game of Axis & Allies War at Sea naval miniatures using the new long-distance battle rules. The scenario was billed as a refight of the 1942 Battle of Coral Sea, but the GM made a few adjustments to the order of battle such as including a fair number of Commonwealth and Fletcher-class destroyers and the USS Baltimore! Both sides had 400-point navies, so the OB fiddling didn't matter much. The GM also incorporated some house rules to aid the submarines a little, although as it turns out they didn't have a big impact on the game. The only other notable house rule was that Subs and DDs were NOT crippled by taking a hit. Again, s this affected sides equally I don't think it had a big impact -- especially because most of the time the DDs were sunk in the same combat phase as their first hit and therefore would not have been crippled under the regular rules anyway.

Being one of the more experienced players, I took the lead for the Japanese fleet and primarily concentrated on managing the air battles. As is often the case between evenly matched air forces it took a while to finally eke out an advantage in the air battles, but by game's end the Japanese still have two carriers afloat with usable air groups while the US was down to one with just fighters.

Still, the battle game down to a huge brawl over the objectives between the rival cruiser and destroyer fleets. In ship losses the two sides were nearly even, with 207 VPs for the US compared to 214 VPs for the Japanese, but the Japanese were the only ones to capture an objective so the final score was 414 to 207. (The game was called for time, but it appeared the Japanese would have a good chance to claim one of the other objectives on the next move with a destroyer and no Allied ships in range to contest it and just one US air unit that could attack while the Japanese would be able to place two fighters with Expert Dogfight overhead as CAP.

The second game was an interesting fight using the Check Your 6! rules for World War II air combat. The scenario was March Mayhem from the Aces Over Hungary expansion. This was a battle on March 20, 1945, which the GM admitted was part of his reason for selecting this scenario was it's near anniversary.

The battle involved a dozen Soviet fighters (6 ea Yak-9 and La-7) escorting a dozen Soviet bombers (6 ea Il-2 Shturmoviks and Lend-Lease A-20G Boston). Intercepting them were just seven Hungarian-flown Bf-109G Messerschmidts.

The design philosophy in Check Your 6! is that it's the "man" and not the "crate" that really counts so the battle was less one-sided than it might appear. First of all, the 12 bombers were on a bomb run and would do no more than fly straight ahead (under GM control). The dozen Soviet fighter planes boasted a grand total of one "veteran" (+2) pilot, three "skilled"(+1) pilots and no fewer than eight "green" (0) fliers. The seven Hungarians includes two "aces" (+3), two veterans, two skilled and just one green pilot. In other words, the seven Hungarians had a dozen points of skill between them while the dozen Russians had just 5.

The two players playing the Hungarians split the force 3/4 between them, with each player taking one each of the ace, veteran and skilled pilots and the more experienced player taking the green guy as well. The GM controlled the 12 bombers so the four Soviet players each got three fighters. The most experienced player took the Veteran pilot in an La-7 along with a pair of green. Each of the rest of us had an element that comprised a skilled pilot and 2 greens. My section was the other three La-7.

The battle, as so many wargame battles do, broke out into a couple of separate battles based primarily on where the players sat. Against the IL-2s the 3 Hungarians of the smaller flight did poorly, misjudging the approach angle and only getting one plane (the ace) into a decent firing position before game end. While he was able to hit one IL-2 a couple of times, he wasn't able inflict any damage on them and this was significant because the Soviets received 10 points for each undamaged element of bombers that exited the map, so this gave the Soviets a boost of 20 VPs. Five of the La-7s tangled with the Bf-109s and while the Ace was able to evade them and get into a firing position, the skilled Hungarian was ganged up on and shot down (for 4 more VPs) and the Veteran Bf-109 was deterred from closing and eventually flew off. This Soviet group took no losses.

Things went much more poorly on the other flank as the four Bf-109s controlled by the more experienced player timed their attack on the A-20s perfectly and looped in behind them. One A-20 was aborted by a lucky hit and three more were shot down for a total of 25 VPs for the Hungarians. The Yak-9s misjudged their intercept of the Hungarians and most of them didn't get into the fight and those that did suffered badly, with one shot down and one badly damaged, for a total of 5 more VPs for the Axis players.

Things would have been grim for our heroes if it hadn't been for the unlikely succor provided by one green La-7 pilot (played by yours truly). That pilot may have been green, but he sensed that if he pulled a Split-S reversal and left his element there was a good chance he could slip in behind the Hungarian flight that was going after the Bostons and he might distract them from their prey. The Hungarians, for their part, decided to ignore the green La-7 pilot and go after the bombers. After all, how dangerous could he be?

As it turned out, dangerous enough. The green La-7 was able to line up a long range shot from the rear and roll good dice, getting a hit on one of the veteran Hungarian pilots. One nice feature of the La-7 is that it's armed with a pair of cannon, so if it hits a fighter there's a very good chance it will down that fighter and that's exactly what happened to the Bf-109. This gave the Soviets 6 Vps (4 for the fighter and 2 for the veteran pilot).

The remaining five Hungarians were all being pursued by Soviet fighters (10 functional) without sufficient time left in the 12-turn scenario to turn around and fight so they opted to continue off board and back to base.

The final tally in aircraft was losses was 2 Bf-109s downed for the loss of three A-20 ad a Yak-9 while another Yak and an A-20 were damaged.

Interestingly enough the VPs were exactly even at 30 apiece, so the battle ended up a draw!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Running with the pack

Some specialization is probably unavoidable for wargamers, given the huge number of games published and the vast extent of potential topics. And I do have my fair share of relatively obscure interests such as the Spanish-American War and the battle history of the M3 Stuart tank.

But I have to admit that I do tend to run with the pack as far as my major interests in both wargaming and military history go. I have multiple games on many of the classic themes that have captured the interests of wargamers since the early days of Avalon Hill such as the Battle of the Bulge, D-Day, North Africa, the American Revolution, Midway and World War I aces.

And nowhere am I probably more of a pack runner than on the topics of Gettysburg and Waterloo. I am somewhat of a Civil War buff, but Gettysburg looms extra large in my collection of games and books even considering that. And I'm really not much of a Napoleonic fan at all -- I don't have much at all on that era.

So I even surprised myself a bit when I heard that Martin Wallace's new Gettysburg game was out and my first reaction was "Damn! And I don't even have it on preorder!"

My interest (and I'm obviously far from alone) in these two battles is hard to explain. While undoubtedly the most famous battles of their respective wars -- well-known even to the general public -- they can't be considered the most important battles of their time. And while exceptionally hard-fought, neither battle was a story of great generalship or maneuver.

But they do have drama and controversy galore and I'll admit a strange fascination with both. If I ever won the lottery I'd like nothing better than to recreate the Battle of Gettysburg from the point of view of several Gettysburg games, sort of a "series replay" between Meade and Lee, using their own words to describe the action.

I currently have the original Avalon Hill Gettysburg and the Smithsonian version. I ave SPI's quad Cemetery Hill and Columbia's block game Gettysburg: Badges of Courage. I have the hyper detailed This Hallowed Ground and the very abstract Dixie: Gettysburg. Undoubtedly the collection will soon include both Martin Wallace's Gettysburg as well as Bowen Simmons', Guns at Gettysburg.

My interest in Waterloo is just a tad less intense than Gettysburg, but it's still clearly there with more than a half-dozen games on the battle itself and a few about the whole Hundred days as well.

I don't know if it's a bad thing to run with the pack, but it's interesting to see how many variations on the theme are possible. My tastes and interests are wide, but I think it's good to have a few areas where you can plumb the depths as well.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hindsight bias

Some recent discussions on Boardgame Geek got me to thinking again about the problem of Hindsight Bias in historical wargames. Simply stated, a wargamer playing a Gettysburg game of any sort, no matter how realistic, enjoys a major advantage over the historical Lee -- he knows how it turned out. Or perhaps even more importantly, the gamer knows the potential range of possible outcomes.

I don't think there's a way out of this dilemma directly. You can only introduce so many changes into a game about Gettysburg before you're not playing a Gettysburg game any more.

But this is why I think there's some value in playing alternative history or what-if scenarios or wargames on occasion, because it can give the player a little taste of the situation facing the real commanders. For them the battle was the first 'playtest' and they had only a vague idea of the rules, let alone victory conditions or OB.

Mixing in a few alt history games can help keep in check our tendency to judge the actual participants a bit too harshly, much of the time. I know I wouldn't want to be judged on my first play most of the time.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Guns of Gettysburg getting closer

An exciting new design entry at Simmons Games on Guns of Gettysburg.

While interesting on a number of points, the best news is that it looks like the design has matured to the point that a release later this year is likely. That's great news.

Monday, March 22, 2010

An ill-informed opinion on some Battlelore specialists

Each Battlelore specialist pack and expansion includes two or more scenarios featuring the new units included in that pack.
A mere handful of plays isn't really enough to have a well-informed opinion of all the ins and outs of new units in the system, but it may very well be all the player has to go on when he is deciding on specialist units for his Call to Arms armies or how to use them in any scenario where they may show up.

After four plays of the two scenarios from the Goblin Skirmishers pack, I do have some initial impressions of the new units introduced, with the caveat they may well be ill-informed and are subject to change.

The Goblin Skirmishers pack introduces Red banner foot troops to the Goblin order of battle with a pair of Hobgoblin Spear Bearer units. In addition, one scenario includes a unit of Hobgoblin swords that was in the base set but not included in any scenarios.

Red banner foot units are slow, but roll a lot of dice while fighting. Goblins mitigate the slowness a bit because they have the ability to "rush" into melee and move two hexes if they attack an enemy unit in close combat. Red banner units benefit the most from being supported because their boldness increases the chance they will get to "battle back" and in most cases they will roll more dice than their attackers. This is even more true for the spear units, which get an extra die when battling back. While potent offensively, supported red banner units are also an intimidating way to anchor a portion of your line and this is probably their biggest boost to a Goblin army, which otherwise seems to have trouble holding its ground. The biggest weakness of these units is that they are still vulnerable to a "Goblin Run" which can prove costly in both lost ground and lost figures. Given that I'm not sure how often they'd be worth selecting as specialists. I suspect that Goblin Rush doesn't offset Goblin Run in most cases.

The new missile unit in the Goblin Skirmisher pack is the Goblin Slinger. This unit's attributes have been extensively revised in the errata, and this discussion is based on the updated stats. Basically, a sling-armed unit gets to roll one more die than a similarly situated missile unit of other varieties. A green banner Goblin archer, for example, rolls 2 dice when it attacks without moving and just one die if it moves. A slinger rolls 3 dice if it doesn't move and 2 if it does. This is useful, as far as it goes, but the sling's drawback is that it has a very short range of just 2 hexes. This forces the Goblin slingers to be closer to the front than is healthy for a light green banner unit and they had a hard time surviving to the end of the scenario in our plays. One suspects that they may be more of a benefit to the opposition as "walking victory banners" than damaging to the enemy. Selecting them voluntarily would depend a lot on the potential battlefield. A battlefield with a lot of line-of-sight blocking terrain would be suitable because other missile units may have trouble lining up long-range shots and will have to move a lot to get into firing position, reducing their dice.

By far the most useful new unit is the Goblin Band. We haven't tried incorporating the Goblin drummers into regular Goblin units yet, but when fielded as an entire unit, the Goblin Band is definitely useful. Indeed, it changes the entire character of a Goblin army because now there's a good chance that the Goblin units will get to be bold, providing more chances for battling back and, even more importantly, reducing the frequency of devastating Goblin runs. We had at least one scenario where there were no Goblin runs at all. The Goblin Band helps all friendly units, not just Goblins. Tactically this means that units in a band-supported sector can deploy at the end of a line and still be supported to boldness. Normally units need to deploy into 3-adjacent-hex formations I call "tercios" in order to provide a mutually supported group of Bold units. With a band present, those three units can form into a 3-hex line while remaining Bold. And even a 2-unit formation can be Bold if it has a band in its section. This is an enormous benefit, especially if not using the battle savvy rules, and would make a Goblin Band a very useful unit to select if given the chance.

So in order of usefulness, I would rank the new units from best to worst as Band, Spear and finally Slinger. In my ill-informed opinion, of course.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Return to Rising Down the Spear Bearers --a Battlelore session

After a bit of a hiatus, Young General and Old Warrior returned tot he Battlelore lists with a replay of the scenario Rising Down the Spear b
Bearers from the Goblin Skirmishers expansion pack. This time the old guy took the dwarves. I think it's fair to say that both of us expected the Goblins to lose, because they generally seem to suck.

As has been his recent practice, Young General spread his lore masters around, taking Level 1 for each, with his sixth War Council point spent on the required Spider. His argument for this strategy is that, even though he doesn't have many cards to choose from, just about every card he gets is useful. Given his heroic and opportunistic style of play, this is more useful than it might seem.

Old Warrior experimented with another variation on his war council policy. This involves selecting a Level 2 Commander, on the theory that having a large hand of Command Cards is the most important factor in designing a war council. While not a maximal position, this allowed a very credible 5-card hand for Command Cards, compared to 4 for Young General's army. A Level 1 Warrior seemed to promise getting the most bang for the war council buck. There is only one Warrior Lore card that provides a level bonus, so taking extra levels for that Lore master didn't seem worth it. The Training Camp Landmark, while sounding good, turned out to be underwhelming in practice so it didn't seem worthwhile going for a Level 3 Warrior.

Instead a Level 3 Rogue was selected. Having a Level 3 Lore master of some kind is very useful because it gives the largest hand of lore cards, a maximum of 4 in this case, compared to just 2 for the Young General's army. The Wizard, Cleric and Rogue all have good qualities but in this case the Rogue was selected because the Rogue's Den secret passage seemed likely to be useful.

The battle, itself, was the usual close-run affair. Young General is getting very comfortable with understanding his options with units and the implications of his moves, He still has some difficulty forming an overall strategy but this is far less of a drawback in Battlelore than it would be in many other wargames. As it turns out, he came within a hair's breadth of winning due to the improbably heroic actions of a single unit. (I'm expecting he'll enjoy playing with the Heroes expansion when we get to it.). If you look at the set up below, you'll see a single Red Banner heavy cavalry unit in the upper right corner (Goblin left flank).

While Young General moved and fought using most of his army, including the Giant Spider (which survived the battle this time for a change), all the kills he got were due to that heavy cavalry unit which rampaged through Old Warrior's right flank and his center for most of the game, killing all five units that were lost while not taking a single hit in return!

As usual, though, the dwarves were killers in their own right, especially against Goblinoids and Old Warrior was able to scratch out a win, although it took the play of a few good Lore Cards (including an Assault and Terrify) and the employment of the Rogue's Secret Passage to infiltrate a unit into the Goblin rear area.

The final score was 6-5 for the Old Warrior's Dwarves and Men.

The Goblinoid Spear units not only weren't ridden down, they were studiously ignored by Old Warrior's units, who avoided attacking them as much as possible. The scattered deployment of the Goblinoid army made it hard for them to mass sufficient force in the early part of the game, but this had little impact due to the heroism of the aforementioned heavy cavalry troop.

Overall, another close fight. When informed that the next expansion featured the Dwarven Battalion, Young General lay claim to trying them first.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Eye candy? Yes, I'll have some

A post over on Boardgame Geek asks if wargamers these days NEED "eye candy" to play a wargame, comparing these unfavorably to the classic games of yore such as Afrika Korps or Panzerblitz. The unspoken assumption is that real wargamers don't need fancy graphics and certainly don't need plastic soldiers.

Well, I have to admit that I am easily seduced by "eye candy," and that nearly all of my recent wargame purchases involve toy soldiers, blocks or full color counters. Visual impact has always been big part of the allure of miniatures games and I don't see any reason why board games shouldn't tap into it as well.

But in a larger sense, the writer misses the point because when they came out games like Afrika Korps and Panzerblitz WERE eye candy. It's easy to forget now, but that large yellow desert in AK was a step up from the bland white boards used in previous AH games such as D-Day, Gettysburg or Chancellorsville. And Panzerblitz, with its vehicle silhouettes and Redmond Simonsen-style graphics was a big leap up from the hobby state of the art. It wasn't just the rules that made Panzerblitz a runaway success.

So I think eye candy is not only necessary for wargamers but it has always been necessary.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More Battlelore coming

FFG's announcement of a new Goblinoid Battlelore expansion should put to rest rumors that they were about to abandon the game system in favor of the Battles of Westeros "Battlelore" game.

Looks like the company's commitment to the game system is strong.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Intriguing ships in the upcoming Condition Zebra expansion

One of the things I've enjoyed about the whole Axis & Allies miniatures approach is the potential educational aspects of the game. I'm still thrilled that real history gets to share some shelf space with orcs and space marines.

On various A&A forums you see occasional complaints by competition-oriented gamers about pieces that don't have any real use in the competitive game, such as the Higgins Boat back in the land game's D-Day expansion. In a purely competitive, fantasy game these complaints would have merit, but the complainers seem oblivious to the fact that the Axis & Allies land and naval miniatures games appeal to at least three not-mutally exclusive types of gamers. That Hasbro recognizes the constituencies is explicitly recognized in the rulebook copy for the Naval game.

The first group are the players who use the miniatures to play the game using the rules included in the Starter kit. While doing a rather good job of reflecting the theme, the game adheres to the usual conventions of collectible games as far as competition goes. This subgroup tends to be vocal on the A&A boards, but I suspect they make up a minority of the game buyers. These players get annoyed at "useless" ships, "reprints" of existing units and incorrectly "costed" units.

The second group are those players who use the miniatures to play more traditional naval miniatures games. Small at first, now that there will soon be more than 200 different models to choose from in the naval game, I expect this usage to grow. The A&A naval line already compares to traditional pewter-based lines such as GHQ in numbers and diversity. This use is already pretty common for the land game as well. This group will be pleased with a diverse choice of ships and often asks for more models of types that are unlikely to ever be useful in competitive games such as fleet auxiliaries.

The third group are pure collectors, who may not even use the models for gaming at all. This group also values diversity and especially odd and unusual units.

The key point is that no one of these groups is probably large enough to keep the line going and Hasbro has to balance their interests with each set. I think they've done a good job at that and the upcoming Condition Zebra expansion has a few models that look like they will be of minimal interest for competitive players but of considerable interest for traditional naval wargamers and history-obsessed collectors.

Scanning the list, the Finnish coastal defense ship Vainamoninen seems highly unlikely to be an important ship for competition and it didn't take part in any naval battles of note. But it's an interesting example of a ship type that was popular in the mid-war period and practically unknown even among naval buffs.

Another unusual ship is the Greek armored cruiser Giorgios Averof. It was an elderly example of an obsolete type and spent its wartime service performing convoy escort duty in the backwater zone of a backwater theater of war. It will take a creative scenario designer to get it into a wargame and I doubt it will be a very useful piece for the competitive game, but it's a great piece for the collector.

In contrast, the Japanese carrier Junyo isn't a particularly interesting ship for collectors and probably wont bring much to the competitive game, but it's a very useful ship for designers of traditional wargame scenarios given how many 194 battles it played a role in.

Overall, I think the lineup for CZ looks good and my only complaint is that we will have to wait so long for the next expansion.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

New War at Sea starter set arrives in stores

The new War at Sea Starter set arrived at local game shop Arkham Asylum today and a member of the store staff was kind enough to play a game with me.

Overall it's a good package. There are 8 miniatures included. representing the Allied powers are the Australian destroyer Nizam, the American light cruiser Montpelier, destroyer Taylor and TPF-1 Avenger. The Japanese side was represented by the cruiser Haguro, the destroyer Terutsuki, submarine I-25 and a "Betty" torpedo bomber. All the models are repaints of models that have appeared before, but they make for well-balanced opposing forces.

The box includes a couple of maps, as before, but no separate islands. Instead the maps have islands printed on them, evidently as a cost-saving measure. This reduces the possible map configurations, though, so instead of the 6 standard game maps in the first starter there are now just 4. I'll probably use the Gale Force 9 map all the time anyway, so this isn't a big problem. Similarly the box has some thin perforated markers for use in the game. These are similar in presentation to the original starter's markers but are not identical. Again, I'll probably use the Gale Force 9 markers for the most part.

The new rule book is much bigger than the original starter rule book and includes all the changes long incorporated into the online version of the rules, so I expect their use will now become universal.

It was a learning game for the store staff, so I won't go into the blow-by-blow but the Allied fleet prevailed this time, sinking the Haguro and Terutsuki and shooting down the Betty while losing both Allied destroyers. Both sides claimed one objective. All the ships and subs seem like credible combatants, as does the new, cheaper Avenger. The Betty still seems a bit fragile for drafting into competitive games.

Perhaps the biggest news is that the new starter includes checklists for all the expansions, including Condition Zebra. There's a lot of interesting stuff on the list, which I'll talk about later.


So the Providence Journal provides a forum for more ignorance about wargames as some Native American leaders are quoted criticizing the upcoming King Phillip's War wargame. From the context it's quite evident that none of them have a clue what a historical wargame might be and apparently imagine it must be something like a King Phillip's War Monopoly or CandyLand, which would indeed be trivializing. Nearly all of their criticisms would basically mean you couldn't to a wargame on any topic at all -- or at least none involving history or any tie to existing groups. Interestingly, some of the criticism seems to assume that the Indians are destined to lose. One ignoramus says that it's apparently still OK to kill Indians -- obviously ignorant that the carnage goes both ways. Indeed, one assumes that the premise of the game is that the Indians might very well have won. It was, as a matter of fact, probably the only occasion when the Indians might have driven off the English through force of arms. As valiant and understandable their later resistance might have been, all later the later Indian wars were, essentially futile. During King Phillip's War. on the other hand, the English colonists did not have an overwhelming advantage in numbers nor in technology. There's a legitimate what-if involved in this campaign and it appears to be an excellent and long-overlooked topic for a wargame.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Long bit of downtime for Boardgame Geek

It must be a very complicated site to keep running. Still, I'm beginning to hate seeing this guy. :(
UPDATE: Finally back around 1 a.m.

HTL Quebec session report

As I alluded to in the previous post, Mark K. and I played a couple of games of the Quebec battle scenario from the Clash for a Continent scenario book, although we used the slightly different rules published in Hold the Line along with the components from that game.

And as I mentioned, the outcome was a bit unexpected, as the French managed to win both times. Historically, of course, they were decisively defeated in a very short fight, about a quarter of an hour.

Both our games went far longer than that, nearly running out the 20-turn clock as a matter of fact. As the scenario map shows, both armies begin the action within engagement range, which is not common in the series.
I started with the French. My initial plan was to try to advance on both flanks and then use Bouganville's reinforcements to hit whichever flank was the weaker one. As an aside, the scenario includes Bouganville's detachment, which historically was not on the field. Montcalm chose not to wait for his detached troops before beginning his advance.

The initial shooting from the French artillery and the Indians in the woods was highly effective and prompted the British to refuse both flanks and drop their hole line back out of artillery range. I became concerned that I might run out of time so I decided to try pushing on my left (the British right) flank because I thought there's be a greater chance that Bouganville's troops would be able to get onto the field without being too cramped by terrain and enemy units.

And this was essentially how it played out, as Bouganville came on the board next to the small knoll next to the river. It was, however, a close-run thing as the close-rage fighting was naturally quite bloody. With both armies teetering on the edge with 5 VPs each I closed with several units. This risked a lucky leader hit bringing the battle to an end but the British muskets, while able to cause a lot of damage to the troops, were unable to find an officer. With many muskets to bear the French return fire was able to get the last VP. Final score 6-5.

The flip-side of the match was much grimmer or the British. Mark's Indians were very active, seeming able to run up, take a shot and run back unscathed. His militia was also uncharacteristically deadly, with a couple of British line units actually being destroyed by militia fire. Each attempt to advance into effective range left a bunch of British units shattered. By Turn 12 the French were up to a 5-0 lead.

The surviving British hunkered down in tight formation and several fresh units formed a human shield while Wolfe rallied some of the shaken survivors. The French had a hard time getting that last VP as their muskets fouled, apparently. The British even managed to morale boost by finally killing a French unit. Still, the French edge was overwhelming at that point and it was only a matter of time before the final VP came their way. Final score was 6-1.

Our initial impression had been that the French were likely to face a hard time in this scenario, being outnumbered at the outset and being stuck with militia for a significant portion of their OB. Mark called them "walking Victory Points." Normally that has been out experience, but in this scenario the militia, especially in the second game, performed way above expectations.

Similarly the Indians ended up performing very well for both of us, which is a little surprising because there wasn't an awful lot of woods on this battlefield.

I'm not entirely persuaded that the French are favored in the scenario, despite the outcomes of both fights, but they clearly are competitive with the British. Having twice as many guns and a veryn open battlefield in which to use them seems to go a long way towards evening the score.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Unexpected outcomes

The redoubtable Mark K. came by on Saturday for a day of gaming which ended up being full of unexpected outcomes. We started off the day with a match of Hold the Line playing the Quebec scenario from the Clash for a Continent game. The unexpected part was that the French won both times in a battle where they lost quickly and decisively in history. We ended the day with our first game of Serpents of the Sea, playing a duel scenario between the Shannon and the Chesapeake. The unexpected part of that game was a long, knock-down drag out fight between the two ships -- again a battle that ended historically with a quick and decisive victory for one side.
The bulk of the day's session was playing Twilight Struggle.

More than any game I've played in years I still feel completely at sea while playing it. So much so that I haven't even developed a sense of how to put together a narrative for a session report. Mark and and agreed that there was an awful lot going on and in our second game we were just beginning what promises to be a long learning process.
Overall the Early and Mid war games were pretty much a wash, with neither side able to make much headway one way of the other. Generally my USSR tended to keep the VP marker slightly on the Soviet side of the track, but Mark's US was able to keep things close enough that he had a reasonable expectation of making headway in the Late War. There were a number of scoring card plays that ended up with a relatively marginal haul for either player. Mark was generally ahead in Asia and the Middle East while Europe was very much contested. Both players tended to have a lot of influence spread around in Europe but had trouble controlling many nations.
Mark K.'s USA scored somewhat of a coup by getting the Africa Scoring Card discarded without scoring after the USSR had devoted considerable resources to building a strong position there.

The last turn of the Mid War period saw what turned out to be a critical turn-long battle for control of South America that ended up with the USSR scoring Control for a significant swing of around 10 points that ended up with the VP marker at around 15 for the Reds.

The game came to an unexpected end early in the first turn of the Late War period due to this card:

I used ops to coup a couple of countries, driving the DefCon down to 2 and then played this card. Being ahead by 15 at that moment I could give Mark's USA the 6 VPs while still remaining comfortably ahead on points. It seemed like an anti-climactic end to the game in many ways, although I felt pretty good about my chances going into the Late War anyway.

I'm pretty sure neither one of us will be caught by THAT card again, though, now that we have seen it in action. I think that's how it's going to be with Twilight Struggle -- a long series of harsh lessons on the way to basic competence. What a game!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I think Lake Champlain does hold the record

Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain, Oct. 11, 1776

I wondered a day or so ago if Lake Champlain held some sort of record for the largest naval battle on the smallest lake.
Some preliminary research suggest that it does. As a matter of fact, Lake Champlain was the site of TWO rather large naval battles.
Naval battle big enough to have a name are extremely rare on lakes, it turns out. I could find only a handful. It appears some very special circumstances are required and, in fact, the struggle for the lakes in the War of 1812 was to only campaign of its type ever that I could find.
It appears there have been roughly a half dozen major naval battles/campaigns on freshwater lakes in recorded history.
Three of those occurred on lakes considerably larger than Lake Champlain: Lake Erie in 1813. Lake Ontario in 1813-14 and Lake Tanganyika in 1915-1916.
There were, as I said, Two large naval battles on Lake Champlain: Valcour Island, Oct. 11, 1776 and Lake Champlain (also known as Plattsburgh) Sept. 11, 1814.
There's only one other candidate to threaten Lake Champlain's record, a battle or series of battles on Lake Poyang, China from Aug. 30-Oct. 4, 1363. This battle is sometimes regarded as the largest naval battle in history in terms of manpower, with several hundred thousand fighting men, but there doesn't appear to be an awful lot of confidence by historians in those numbers. In any case, there's also the question of the size of the lake. Lake Poyang is reported to be as small as 1,000 square kilometers in the dry season as compared to Lake Champlain's 1,130 square kilometers, so it's possible that Poyang edged out Champlain -- but the battle occurred during China's rainy season when Lake Poyang can be as large as 5,000 square kilometers. I think it's probable, then, that Lake Champlain securely holds the distinction of being the smallest lake to be the site of a major naval battle -- twice over.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Serpents of the Sea arrives

Serpents of the Seas arrived today. My box was rather battered by the Postal Service, which is unusual. I think that GMT may have packed the game a little on the light side as well.
On the other hand, the game itself looks interesting. I'm hoping to try out the duel rules pretty soon. Those appear especially interesting.
And the game gets a special Bonus Point from me, because it includes a namesake counter. Yes, it appears that the British had a gunboat named Owen. It appears at the Battle of Lake Champlain, 11 Sept. 1814. The counter tells us it was a 2-gun gunboat, making it just about the smallest gunboat there is.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cruising around looking for Dreamblade info turns up an unexpected warning and lesson

So I'm poking around the Internet on the Dreamblade official site, and Boardgame Geek and such and I happened to be looking at who else on BGG had played a lot of Dreamblade and I spot this fellow who had played about 50 times. And then I noted that his Geekbadge had the years 1970-2007 listed.

Hmm. That's awful young, I thought to myself, but that sure appears to be a lifespan. I quick check of his Dreamblade games showed they were all in 2006. Soon I spot a Memorial Tab on his BGG profile and it turns out the gentleman did, indeed, die back in 2007 around 37 years old. Apparently Scott Kelton was a game store owner, too.

And then this message by a friend reveals that this nice fellow (by all reports and he was a gamer, after all) died from an overdose of over-the-counter medicine. He had been persistently sick with a cold or flu (I know that routine) and had been taking Nyquil for several weeks straight. It shut down his liver. The friend noted that the bottle warns users not to use the medicine for more than 4 days. A sobering lesson.

Monday, March 1, 2010

River Plate using Victory at Sea

Continuing my series of River Plate refights using different rules sets, today I tried out Victory at Sea by Mongoose Publishing (not to be confused with the 1972 game of the same same I used in an earlier refight.)

Right off the bat, I decided to modify the scenario as given in the Victory at Sea corfe rulebook because it seemed to allow the British cruiser to start right on top of the Graf Spee. I'm not sure if this was a deliberate decision made for play balance or an oversight, but it's a very poor match for the actual situation and forces the Graf Spee to give up its main advantage --range.

So instead I started the British cruiser at the Graf Spee's maximum gun range of 40 inches, with the Ajax and the Achilles in line abreast on the Graf Spee's port quarter and the Exeter on the Starboard Quarter. The British squadron leader, Sir Henry Harwood is specifically listed as one of the "Admirals" in the Order of Battle supplement, so I deiced to include him in this refight. His flagship is the HMS Ajax and his "Traits" are Tactical Genius, Master of the High Seas and Defensive Tactician. These add some interesting special abilities. Master of the High Seas allows each ship in the fleet to use Flank Speed once per game without counting against the One Special Action per turn limit. Tactical Genius provides a +3 bonus to initiative and Defensive Tactician allows the use of Evasive Action.

Turn 1. The British win the initiative with a roll of 8 +3 for 11 to the German roll of 5. Harwood elects to have the Germans move first. The Graf Spee wastes no time and attempts the Special Action of Come About! in order to bring its main batter to bear with a turn to Starboard. This requires a Command Check die roll. A roll of 1 plus the Command level of 4 equals 5, which is not enough for success, so the Graf Spee moves ahead 3 inches and then turns 2 "points" to the right, and moves 3 more inches. Harwood expects the Exeter will not come under fire this turn, being out of arc for the Graf Spee's rear turret, so the Exeter orders Flank Speed! for its Special Action, making its speed 9 inches for the turn. The Exeter moves 4.5 inches and then turns 1 "point" to port and moves 4.5 inches. For the Ajax and Achilles the order is also Flank Speed! and both cruisers dash forward 10.5 inches.

The Graf Spee fires its main battery at the British flagship Ajax. The range is 29.5 inches, making it just close enough to qualify as Long Range, so there is a -1 to hit for that. The target moves over 7 inches that turn, for an additional -1. The Graf Spee has six attack dice, needing 5s to hit. The -2 to the die roll means the Graf Spee has no chance of scoring a hit. The Ajxa and the Achilles are out of range. The Exeter is in range, but the -1 for Long Rnage and -1 for going Fl;ank Speed mean it also has no chance of scoring a hit.

Turn 2. This key initiative roll also goes to the British. Both sides roll 5s, but Harwood's Tactical Genius trait's +3 bonus means the British win again. And once again they force the Germans to move first. The Graf Spee continues its starboard turn, this time succeeding in its Come About! Special Ability attempt. moving ahead 3, turning 3 points to starboard and moving 3 more inches. Harwood decides to have the Exeter slow down and turn to port while continuing its Evasive! Special Action. He intends to have the Exeter duel with the Graf Spee to keep its attention while the light cruisers continue their dash. He decides that avoiding damage from the Graf Spees guns is more important than inflicting hits at this stage. Unfortunately the die roll of 3 combined with the Command level of 7 is short of the 8 required and the Exeter is unable to perform Evasive. The Exeter moves ahead 3 and turns 1 point to port to bring its broadside to bear, finishing its move with 3 more inches ahead. Meanwhile the Ajax and Achilles continue their dash at Flank Speed! moving 10.5 inches.

The range between the Graf Spee and Exeter is now 23 inches. Graf Spee has 6 attack dice of main battery. It's still long range, so there's a -1 to the hit rolls, but the Exeter is beam-on for a +1, so there is no modification. A four is needed to hit the Exeter. The Graf Spee rolls 2.3,5,6,6,6 for a total of four hits. Very good shooting. Four Damage dice are rolled and compared to the Exeter's armor protection of 3. Because it's Long Range there is +1 to the damage roll. The rolls are 2,3,4,6 modified to 3,4,5 and 6 so four points of damage are inflicted on Exeter. The 6 is also a Critical Hit. The roll on the Critical Hit table is a 9 (weapons) and the follow-up roll of 2 means the AA weapons are damaged, which will have no effect in this aircraft-less battle.

The Exeter returns fire with 3 dice, with -1 for Long Range and +1 for Graf Spee showing its broadside canceling out. Needing a 5 to hit, the Exeter rolls 4,5,6 for two hits. The Graf Spee, despite having battleship-scale guns, is really a cruiser and the Exeter will cause damage on a 4 or better, with a +1 to each die roll due to the Long Range. It turns out to be feast or famine for the Exeter with damage rolls of 1 and 6. The 1 is an automatic bounce but the 6 is a Critical Hit. dice roll of 5 shows that it was the Crew that took the hit. A follow up roll of 5 is a Hill Beach, adding 2 to the damage and knocking out 5 crew. Total damage to the Graf Spee is 3 hull and 5 crew. While the Ajax and Achilles are now within range, the -1 for Long Range and -1 for Flank Speed mean they still have no chance of scoring a hit.

Turn 3. German hopes of winning the initiative by rolling an 11 are dashed when Harwood also rolls an 11. The Graf Spee decides to try to KO the Exeter while keeping its distance from the light cruisers, moving ahead 6 inches. Exeter makes another attempt at Evasive, succeeding with a die roll of 6 (+4 command level to a 10, 8 was needed). Exeter moves 6 inches ahead. The light cruisers continued their Flank Speed march, another 10.5 inches.

The range between the Graf Spee and Exeter is 21 inches, so it is still Range. Both ships are still broadside to each other, but this time the Exeter is performing the Evasive special action, meaning any hits it scores or that are scored on it must be rerolled. The Graf Spee's 6 attack die rolled are 1,3,4,5,5,5. The Target roll is 5, so there are 3 potential hits. The rerolls are 3,5,6, so two are confirmed hits. The damage rolls are +1 for Long Range still, so a roll s of 3 and 4 become 4 and 5 for hits, but not criticals. The Exter is down to 5 hull. Another turn like that will leave it crippled. The Exeter's return fire is still 3 dice, unmodified. A 1,1 and 5 means one potential hit. The follow-up roll of 5 confirms the hit. A damage roll of 2 would normally be a bounce, but the +1 for long range means it penetrates and does another point of damage to the Graf Spee, dropping it down to 13 hull. The Ajax and Achilles are close enough now to have a chance of a hit, being just 15 inches away. Each ship has just its two forward turrets bearing, so each will roll 2 attack dice. The only modifier is a -1 for Flank Speed. The Ajax rolls first, getting Snake Eyes! All missed. The Achilles shot is marginally better, a 2 and a3, but nowhere nearly good enough to hit.

Turn 4. Graf Spee rolls a 9, Harwood rolls an 8, modified to 11, so the Germans once again must move first. The German captain decides he's close to finishing of Exeter and will continue straight ahead, but will attempt the Evasive! special action now that the light cruisers have demonstrated they are close enough to be a threat. His rol of a 3 isn't enough to succeed, so he will have to rely on bad die rolling by the British. Exeter bravely continues straight ahead, taking Evasive action as it does so. The Ajax continues closing at Flank Speed, while the Achilles hauls off to port 2 points to bring its broadside to bear, while still going at Flank Speed.

The Graf Spee and Exeter had been on slowly converging courses and had now closed to 17 inches, so it was no longer a long range shot. Graf Spee's six attack dice were 1,1,12,3,5, for some pretty poor shooting. Even the +1 for a broadside target wasn't enough to have more than once chance for a hit -- and the confirming roll of a 3 meant the Graf Spee missed with its main battery. The Ajax was within range of the Graf Spee's secondary, however. Three attack dice, -1 for target speed, with rolls of 1,2 and 6 result in one hit. That hit is "weak" with a -1 to the damage roll, so the 4 was modified to a 3 which causes 1 hull point of damage to the Ajax.

The Exeter fires back with its 3 attack dice, +1 for broadside target but needing confirmation due to firing ship's Evasive action. The first rolls of 2, 4 and 5 result in two potential hits, with follwup rolls of 3,6 confirming 1. That hit's roll of 2 is a bounce, however. The Exeter has secondary guns, but they are out of range. The Ajax fires its two forward turrets at a range of 9.5 inches, which brings a +1 to hit, but rolls of 2,2 are not good enough. The Achilles fires 4 turrets at a range of 14 inches with rolls or 1,3,4,6 for 1 hit, which subsequently bounces off the Graf Spee's armor.

Turn 5. The Graf Spee's can't beat Harwood's roll of a 10, so the Graf Spee goes first. It decides it's time to face around to deal with the light cruiser, so the Graf Spee turns 2 points to port (a Come About attempting having failed. The Exeter and Achilles maintain course while Ajax swing port across the rear of the Graf Spee. Given the configuration, the Graf Spee elects to keep firing on the Eexter with its main battery while firing the secondary at the Ajax. No ships are going flank speed or using Evasive. Graf Spee fires 6 dice, 1,1,2,4,4,6. The +1 for Broadside aspect means there are 3 hits. A 1 is a miss, a 5 penetrates and a 6 causes a critical hit. A 5 is on the Crew, starting a fire, knocking out 2 Eexter Crew. The Exeter is Crippled and on fire. Turret Y is knocked out. The Graf Spee fires 3 dice of secondary at Ajax., getting two hits (rolls of 1,6,6). Damage rolls of 3 and 4 are modified to 2 and 3 for a toatl of one more poit of damage to Ajax.

Exeter fires back with 3 dice, 2,3,3 being misses. Ajax fires dice at close range, 2,2,2,6 for one hit, which penetrates for a point of damage. The Achilles is a little further way, but the Graf Spee is broadside to it, so the hit chances are +1. Four rolls of 1, 4,4,5 are modified to 5,5,6 for three hits, two of which penetrate the Graf Spee armor.

At the end of the turn the Exeter is able to put out its fire.

Turn 6. Harwood continues to win initiative. The Garf Spee continues its turn to port. Harwood's Ajax takes a position directly astern of the German ship while the two other cruisers remain broadside. Graf Spee switches targets to the Achilles. 1,1,3,5,6 is two hits, one of which bounces. On epoint of damage to the Achilles. The Graf Spees secondaries fire at Ajax, getting one hit that bounces. Exeter fires its two remaining turrets, missing with a 2 and a 4. Ajax fires four turrets at close range, 3, 4,4,6 for three hits. One bounces one penetrates and one scores a critical hit. Normally "weak" guns don't cause critical hits, but if the target's armor is a 3 or less then the weak gun can score a critical after all. The critical hit damages AA guns. At this point the Graf Spee is down to 8 hull. Achilles fires 3,5,6,6, scoring three hits, all of which penetrate, one critical. That critical hit hits the engines, causing a Turbine Damaged result, -1 off of speed. This damage is also enough to leave the Graf Spee crippled, with its Y turret KO'd.

At this point, with the Graf Spee crippled, down to 2 inches speed and surrounded, I called the fight.

Compared to some of the other systems I used this was a much tougher fight for the Graf Spee. While the Exeter was crippled, the two British light cruisers were still in decent shape.