Friday, July 30, 2010

Amazing site photos

A Russian photographer has created a site where he merges World War II images with modern photos taken at the precise same location.

The effect is haunting, like ghosts.

The site is in Russian, but no words are needed for the photos to have an impact.
Check it out.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Napoleon's War: The 100 Days review

2010 looks to be a big year for Ol' Nappy, with no fewer than three battle-oriented figure based games planned for release. Each is planned as the first in a new game series.

First out of the gate, by about a month, was Worthington Games' Napoleon's War: The 100 Days.

Based on WG's popular Hold the Line game, which in turn was based on WG's earlier Wars for America series games, Napoleon's War is a quick-playing, beer and pretzels war game, with a decided emphasis on the game portion. These are not detailed studies or simulations. That said, they also pay more than passing reference to the history behind the scenarios and are definitely wargames, not just war-themed games.

Napoleon's War is a further evolution of the well-tried HTL system, with some changes to account for the differences between the North American theater and European warfare. For one thing, there's a difference in scale. In some Napoleon's War scenarios a single 3-figure unit will represent more troops than an entire Hold the Line scenario represents on both sides. In North American warfare artillery and cavalry units were scarce and played secondary roles on the battlefield. In Napoleon;s War both horse and guns are more common and more powerful.

The basic structure of the game is intact, however. Players act through allocating "activations" to units. Generally one command action point (CAP) will allow a unit to move or fire. Spending a second CAP will allow infantry units to move an additional time and allow infantry and cavalry to conduct close combat. The number of CAP a side has will be 4 plus half the sum of a die roll, so 5-7. Losing leaders can reduce this amount.

Casualties are reflected by removing figures. The typical infantry unit has 3 figures and can therefor take 3 hits. British units have 4, while the Dutch have just 2. Some French Elite units have a counter that adds +2 "virtual" figures to a unit for the purposes of morale and absorbing hits. Artillery units have 2 figures, as do Cavalry units, although there are some "heavy" cavalry units that get +1 or +2 counters that again add virtual steps for morale and casualty purposes.

Losses don't directly affect firepower, which is usually 3 dice per shot, reduced for terrain effects. This is a significant change from HTL, where terrain reduce the effect of each die roll. Now terrain effects the number of dice rolled. The end result is that terrain is less protective in NW. Often in HTL a unit couldn't fire at all at a target in woods at long range, but in NW there's still a chance for a hit.

What casualties do is reduce morale. Most morale checks require rolling against the number of figures in a unit, so hits will reduce a unit's ability to do things like form square, rally losses or hold its ground in the face of a close combat.

Some optional rules add in flavor points such as skirmishers, British rifle troops, etc. There are also some additional optional rules for even more detailed treatment of skirmishers, so players can tailor the amount of detail to their liking. Even the most detailed version of the rules is not very complex by wargame standards, however, and they don't add much to the playing time.

That playing time is probably one of the best features of the game. Generally players can expect to finish any of the scenarios in about an hour or so, including setup. Gone are the terrain tiles that provide so much flexibility in HTL, at the cost of setup time. Instead there are four maps, each with all the terrain and set-up information already printed on them. Given the fact there are just three basic unit types and a handful of counters needed, it should take less than five minutes to get going. Turns will move quickly and even the longer scenarios should reach a decision in an hour, so you could probably play all four Waterloo battles in a single evening.

Of the four scenarios, the two British ones (Waterloo and Quatre Bras) are the best. Both appear to be tense battles that either side can win. Ligny is a straightforward slugfest between two very evenly matched armies, although one might want to allow a draw as a result in order to discourage the Prussian player from simply running out the clock by pulling back. The Wavre scenario's victory conditions make it impossible for the French to win. I would suggest giving the French 1 VP for every Prussian unit remaining on the map to encourage the Prussians to send Wellington adequate help. As it stands the Prussian can win by exiting a single unit and using the rest of their army to make sure the French don't exit any.

Napoleon's War may be competing for gamer dollars with the two other figure-based releases planed this year.

In the case of Battles of Napoleon: The Eagle and the Lion, these are really complementary rather than competitive games. While both have figures, Battles of Napoleon is definitely a step up in complexity and playing time, while being a step down the chain of command. In Battles of Napoleon units generally represent battalions or regiments, while Napoleon's War units are brigades or divisions.

While it's not out yet, the general scope of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics is pretty clear and it's much more a direct competitor to Napoleon's War. (Yes, I know C&C:N will be using icon blocks instead of figures, but they are functionally the same). Both game systems appeal to the same gamer demographic but up until now they have not directly competed on topic. There are Commands & Colors games on almost everything except warfare in North America between 1759 and 1815. It will be interesting to see if the marked can an support both. Worthington Games came out first, but C&C:N has the more marketing muscle behind it.

So far I like Napoleon's War, but I have to admit the jury has to be out until C&C:N appears as to whether I'll keep up with the NW system.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Midway maintenance

One of the things I miss about Avalon Hill is the ability to maintain my favorite games. For example, I replaced the box for my Midway game at least three times that I can remember. But with the demise of AH my third box has had to soldier on for many years rather battered.

So I was pleased to find a used copy of Midway at The Citadel game shop with a nearly prsitine box. I'll consolidate the the new copy and the old copy and have a nice one again.

I came to dislike the AH flat box package because it really didn't hold up well at all to either stacking or carrying, unlike the bookcase box package, which has proven reasonable sturdy.

Still, after a long spell in the wilderness where every wargame maker seemed to use flimsy boxes, the trend these days is for much stronger boxes. I particularly like the GMT "armored boxes" that have been used lately. Those look like they'll last a lifetime.

Bruce Catton's Army of the Potomac

A long time ago a much younger fellow read Bruce Catton's trilogy on the Army of the Potomac, probably best known for the third volume, A Stillness at Appomattox. It was one of the first history books I read about the Civil War and the trilogy followed me around all these years on my bookshelf -- yet I never revisited it.

So the last week or so I tackled it again, inspired in part by some recent BGG discussions about Lee and Grant.

It's been quite an eye-opening experience. First off, it really is a beautifully written book, well deserving of its Pulitzer prize.

I also realize now that it's not really a military history, but rather a biography. In this case it isn't the biography of an individual, but of an army.

And not just the Army of the Potomac, but of the five corps that made up the heart of the Army of the Potomac: I, II, III, V and VI Corps. Some other corps that were part of the Army of the Potomac or served with it are mentioned during their service with it, but their time before and afterwards rates a bare mention. Burnside's IX Corps passes in and out of the story a couple of times. The XI and XII Corps careers before they joined the AP are covered briefly and their exploits when sent away are not mentioned. But VI Corps sojourn under Sheridan in the Shenandoah is described in great detail.

It's a heartbreaking story as well, because it really was an ill-starred army that deserved better leadership than it got. Each of its commanders, in his own way, managed to fail the soldiers. An each man leaves the reader with mixed feelings.

McClellan, more than any man, left his stamp on the army, for good and ill. He was undoubtedly a gifted organizer and a good strategist as well. His failure of nerve when put to the test was deeply unfortunate, of course, but in many ways his worst legacy was the endemic lack of urgency which seemed to permeate the military culture of the Army of the Potomac -- a characteristic it never really shed.

Burnside was an infuriating mix of competence and bumbling. He really had some good moments and was on the whole, despite the final verdict of history, better than the average federal general. Compared to people like Sigel, Hunter, Butler etc. he really wasn't all bad.

Hooker is similarly a mash up of excellent qualities and colossal failure. But he also redeemed himself afterwards and performed some useful service under Grant at Chattanooga.

Meade was solid, but I think it's clear that he didn't have the qualities needed to sustain an offensive against Lee.

That had to come from Grant, who both shines and looks like crap at different times. Perhaps the most heart-breaking part of the book is at Petersburg, when Grant has finally out-maneuvered Lee and has a war-ending move in his grasp, only to have the Army of the Potomac's slows kick in again -- and so the war lasted 9 more months.

Another peculiar aspect of the book is how Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia figures in the narrative -- almost ghostly in the way it flits in and out of the picture. There's almost nothing from the Confederate perspective in the book, which creates a fascinating effect. It really is the Army of the Potomac's story.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Wow, that took a long time to see the table! Wings of War session

You know, sometimes it's just hard to get a game on the table. And sometimes it's even hard to figure out why.

Wings of War should have been easy to play before now. It's quick. It's easy. I have all the stuff needed and then some. I've been collecting expansions, miniatures and accessories fora couple of years and yet something always seemed to get in the way of getting any of it one the table.

But finally the logjam broke a little bit. A few days ago I did a couple of solitair balloon-busting missions and today I took the balloon down to the comic book store to see if I could get some interest going.

No problem at all. With the Wings of War playmats, a balloon and a few planes there was an enticing scene and four of the Magic players decided to try their hands. Three of them took Nieuports (a pair of Nie 17s and a rocket-firing Nie 16) while one of them joined me to defend the balloon. I took an Albatross DIII while the other fellow took Kempf's Fokker Dr1.

A good and bloody time was had by all. The poor fellow in the Fokker managed to fly in front of every single of of the French planes at some point and eventually went down without doing much damage in return. My Albatross was able to circle around one of the Nieuport 17s and shoot it down just moments after it finished off the Fokker. Meanwhile the other Nieuport 17 made a pass at the balloon, poking a few holes in it, but as he came in for another shot an unlucky rifle bullet blew up the plane!

Unfortunately for the Germans (me) I was unable to haul the Albatross around to pester the Nieuport 16 before that pilot got a rocket shot lined up. While the first rocket salvo missed entirely, the second salvo blew up the balloon and that was that.

The final tally was one Balloon and one Fokker downed by the French arcraft, one Nie 17 downed by ground fire and one by me.

The entire game took less than an hour to explain, play and pack up. A good time was had by all and I expect to run a few more scenarios soon.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

GMT says November for C&CN

GMT's latest newsletter lists Commands & Colors: Napoleonics for a November release, so I suppose it will be on a few wargamer Christmas lists!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Games and Puzzles boost Hasbro to 11% rise in profits

According to the Wall Street Journal, Hasbro's profits showed an unexpected 11% gain in profits, in large part because of how well it's Games & Puzzles division did. The G&P is listed as Hasbro's largest division, but there's no breakdown between how much is games and how much is puzzles, although I suspect that the puzzles are the smaller part of it.

The Wall Street Journal article specifically mentions "Magic" cards as one factor responsible for the company's positive performance.

Based on what I see down at the local shops, Magic does seem to be going strong these days.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hasbro giveth, Hasbro taketh away. Dreamblade site is gone

No sooner do I notice the release date for the upcoming Axis & Allies Europe 1940 announcement than I see some bad news.

It appears that the official Dreamblade site, including the useful Dreamcatcher utility, is gone. There's still a forum limping along, but I think it's days are also numbered.

It's really a pity, but the game itself is good. I can still gin up some interest at the local game store when I haul it out. But, as a collectible game, it really loses something when I'm the only one with figures. I end up seeing my own constructed warbands fighting my own warbands.

This sort of slow death is common for discontinued collectible games, of course, but it's one reason why I'll never get into another game with that format. I think Magic: The Gathering is probably as immortal as such a game can be, but other than that I think the format is doomed.

I'm following the A&A minis franchises, but I expect those will peter out eventually. Mitigating their fate is the usefulness of those minis for general purpose wargaming use, so they'll never really be obsolete.

Right now I'm sitting on three "dead" collectible miniatures games that I still like well enough to keep and play, but their long-term future appears very questionable: Dreamblade, Navia Dratp and Lord of the Rings: Tradeable Miniatures Game. So long as I have space and a stepson who'll play on occasion they're worth keeping. But should space become tight and/or Young General's interest shift I'll have a hard time justifying the play value vs. storage space tradeoff of these games.

Of the three, the LOTR:TMG is the weakest game and I mostly keep the miniatures because I like how they look. Navia Dratp is almost more of a big regular game than a collectible because it was discontinued so early. It's biggest problem is the obscure theme and terminology. Dreamblade was a nice combo of nice-looking miniatures and a more accessible theme, but it doesn't appear to be enough to save it over the long haul. I rather doubt I'll keep it for my retirement years gaming.

Friday, July 16, 2010

August 24 release date for Axis & Allies Europe 1940

Over at the Official A&A site there's an update announcing that the long-awaited Europe 1940 edition of Axis & Allies will be released on Aug. 24th.

This is designed to marry up with the Pacific 1940 game to make a truly ginormous Axis & Allies experience. It's not history but it sure promises to be Grand.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Battles of Napoleon -- Second Day, rules and glue

Day Two of battles of Napoleon revealed two truths about the game.

The first is that it's not ready to play out of the box. You'll need to assemble the artillery and glue your mounted officers and cavalry onto their horses before you play. Not a big deal, but a point requiring mention for anyone hoping to crack open the game for a play after purchasing at a convention, for example.

The second is that the rules are just involved enough that it will pay to have at least one person read the rules through before you start playing. There are some interesting concepts here, but there are enough differences from usual wargame conventions that some things won;t be obvious.

For example, the combat results depend on a combination of a die roll, modifiers AND a card pull. This is very interesting and I don't think I've seen anything quite like it before. I'm eagerly anticipating getting it on the table.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

OK, I'm officially impressed with Battles of Napoleon

The physical size of the box is imposing as it hogs shelf space with suitable Napoleonic narcissism.
Yeah, it's a hundred dollar game, but when you open the box you definitely feel like you got a at least a hundred dollars worth of game.

It's probably just as well that Worthington Games beat this one out of the gate. While not bad by wargame standards, WG's Napoleon's War can't hold a candle to Fantasy Flight's Battles of Napoleon. To be fair, they're definitely aimed at a different level of play.

Worthington's game is a light wargame that allows you to refight the entire battle of Waterloo or Ligny in an hour or so. It's a broad brush treatment.

The Battles of Napoleon moves down into the weeds a bit, to create a Napoleonic wargame that's akin to FFG's earlier Tide of Iron in complexity and intricacy, although it's not the same game system at all. Still, Battles of Napoleon focuses the telescope a bit, so the player is cast in the role of Napoleonic corps or division commander, rather than the entire army. For example, there are three scenarios in Battles of Napoleon depicting different episodes from the Battle of Waterloo, whereas the entire battle of Waterloo is a single scenario in Napoleon's War. Similarly, the single Quatre Bras scenario of NW becomes two scenarios in Battles of Napoleon.

As far as the physical presentation goes, all I can say is Oh. My. God.

Inside the huge box are 200 figures, stands for all of them, a large counter sheet of double thickness game markers and terrain hex tiles, two player aid folders, a rule book, a scenario books with 10 scenarios, two decks of glorious full-color cards for leaders, units and actions, four double-sided battlefield maps and an insert to hold it all.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Young general was looking forward to smashing up my army with a real cool kind of creature like the Hydra, but the beast ended up being a disappointment, as the beasts so often are.

As a matter of fact, the Hydra gave the Old Warrior his first flag. The fearsome creature charges a unit of heavy cavalry, inflicting no hits at all -- and then the battle back from that unit lopped off all three heads on the creature, killing it.

An advanced unit of dwarves bit the dust next, and then Old Warrior had a chance to use Young general's favorite tactic -- back-to-back Mounted Charges, which left another three units dead. Young General had managed to kill 2 units in the meantime so it was a 5-2 game at that point. He battled back over the next few turns to bring it to a 5-5 tie, with his 1-figure medium horse unit leading a very charmed life. its luck ran out in the face of a Sneak Attack card and that was it.

Young general continued his standard practice of having a war council of equals -- Level 1 all around. Old Warrior opted for a Level 3 commander and a Level 3 Wizard. He considered going with a level 1 Warrior and a Level 2 commander, but that seemed to merely dilute the chances of getting Wizard cards while giving Young General access to more warrior cards. So long as the Young General continues his policy of Level 1 war councils then Old Warrior's best move seems to be a L3 comamnder and a L3 lore master. This provides a substantial advantage in card hand size (10 to 6). The Commander's Stronghold was usefully placed next to the Center sectors archer, providing that unit with a protected perch for raining arrows on units near and far. On the far left flank a light infantry unit moved onto the Magic Pemntacle on Turn 3, providing a 1 lore bonus each turn which was also very useful. The Wizard was very active, emptying the cup on the last turn to spend 12 lore to activate the Sneak Attack that won the game.

Next up is the Magic Vortex.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Napoleon -- wargame man of the year for 2010?

Napoleon is like the Lady Gaga of wargames --- eww! Let me take that back.
He's the Will Smith of wargames, nobody's name is a bigger draw when you're trying to make a sale.

It appears that first-run copies of Battles of Napoleon will be hard to find, just as last month the initial run of Napoleon's War sold out before the game was even published. And I have no doubt that the publication of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics will be one of GMT's biggest hits of the year and will probably also sell-out quickly.

Now these are all good games, and most are based on previously successful games, but it's still interesting that Napoleon is still the go-to man for wargames even in this tough economy.

I don't even consider myself a big Napoloenic guy -- but I have at least 8 wargames named after Napoleon: The AH and Columbia versions of Napoleon; Napoleon at Waterloo, Napoleon's Last Battles, Napoleon;s Battles, Napoleon's Triumph, Napoleon's War and Bonaparte at Marengo. I expect to get both the Battles of Napoleon and C&C:N, so that will make at least 10 with the man's name in the title -- not even counting a various other games set in the era I also own.

Instead of blogging I've been sending too much time on BGG debating on a thread comparing Napoleon and Grant. Most of the discussion has been about Grant, and that may very well be that Napoleon truly is incomparable as a general and a historical figure. No matter how much I like and admire Grant, I have to admit that he has had nowhere near the impact of Napoleon on history. Grant is an important figure in American history, but Napoleon is a world history figure. Indeed, I would say that he rates among a very, very selct few generals who have achieved a degree of ppular renown that even the generally ill-informed have heard of him. Even people who slept through all their history classes have at least heard of folks like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, Genghis Khan and Napoleon, And I feel confident in stating that he will still be among that select group (maybe the future will add someone) centuries from now.

He's been written about, analyzed extensively and probed in far more detail than I can attempt here, but I think it's notable how much Napoleon and his era are identified with wargaming. I think if you had to pick just one iconic image for wargames, you'd probably have to select a Napoleonic soldier or cannon for that image.

You can't get away from Napoleon, really, even as a Civil war buff, because he played a big role in that conflict. While long dead, the top leaders of the Civil War were marinated in Napoleonic thought, dreamed of Napoleonic glory and studied his campaigns intently.

So even though I'm only a casual student of things Napoleon, I expect to get a lot of Napoleonic gaming in this year as I put all the new games through their paces.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Battles of Napoleon out of stock?!

Wow! Only days after it became available, FFG's Battles of Napoleon appears to be out of stock! It's reportedly OOS at FFG's own Web site AND at Miniature Market. Wow. I had asked my FLGS to order a copy and now I'm not sure they'll be able to catch it's availability. Damn.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Giants? Who need giants?

The Young General definitely didn't need his giant in the Denizen of the Wood scenario.

While the Young General has been anxious to start playing with more creatures, he didn't let the dramatic appearance of a Wood Giant in his order of battle distract him from the real key to victory, which was effective card play.

As usual, Young General's War Council was pure balance -- a council of equals, as it were -- with a Level 1 commander assisted by Level 1 masters of Wizard, Cleric, Rogue and Warrior lore. Filling out the Council was the aforementioned Level 1 Wood Giant.

The Old Warrior ,as is his wont, went with his usual maximize-the-hand strategy, with a Level 3 Commander assisted by a Level 3 Cleric.

And that cleric got early action with a second Turn Forest Frenzy that did some damage, although an ill-considered foray to try to assassinate the Wood Giant before he got into his Forest Lair came to a bad end for the Green Banner light infantry unit tasked with the mission, The battle savvy giant battled back with some dice that loved the bonus and three of the four green troops fell to the giant's hammer. Ouch. Needless to say, on his next turn the giant finished off the survivor.

Some jostling around the center weakened a few Pennant units and the Old Warrior was preparing for a strong advance in the sector when the Young General unleashed his favorite card. Yes, the Mounted Charge. It was nice to have a giant in the line, but Young General has the spirit of Murat or Stuart in his blood. His main pre-battle complaint was that his army didn't have any Red Banner horse!

Well, as it turned out, he didn't need any Red Banner horse because his three Blue Banner horse troops portrayed a reasonable facsimile of heavy cavalry. They literally smashed the opposition, eliminating a full strength Blue banner infantry (on the Standard army's right) and the entire left wing of the Standard army (three full-strength horse, one red and two blue) for absolutely no loss!. Suddenly the score was 5-0 and the Standard army was in desperate straights.

Of course there was really little to be done at this point. The Healing Pool brought back a dangerously low Green Banner unit and two of the offending Horse were eliminated in the coming turns to bring the score up to merely 5-2, but the surviving Blue Banner Pennant horse had no trouble picking out a vulnerable 2-figure Standard unit to hit. A Stone Skin clerical lore did little good as the Blue troop rolled three bonus strikes and that was it.

A resounding 6-2 victory for the Young General, who barely activated the giant,although said giant did get the ball rolling by killing the first enemy unit. Still, the heavy lifting was done by more conventional means, as his three Blue horse units eliminated 5 units for the loss of two.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Picketts' charge succeeds!

One thing I've noticed about Battle Cry, compared to Borg's later Commands & Colors series games, is that it has a greater tendency to turn on a few "good turns" that can be very hard to counter. An anniversary recreation of Pickett's Charge between the Young general and the Old Warrior illustrates this well.

The initial Confederate setup encourages, naturally, something like Picketts' Charge to occur. The strongest part of the Rebel forces is poised in the center, facing rather weaker Union opponents. But the cards need to cooperate. Old Warrior's initial draw as the CSA was spread between all three zones, but did have a Assault for the center zone. The grizzeled veteran decided to enagge in few truns of preliminary maneuvering around the flanks to see if he could draw more support for center offensive. With just a four-card hand it's hard to organize exactly what you need without some help from the draw.

But that aid was forthcoming, as over the next few turns the Old Warrior drew a Force March card and a fe coordinated advances. This allowed him to sidle forward a bit while getting ready to launch the Force March fueled charge, with a plan to follow up with the Center Assault.

Meanwhile the Young Generals didn't seem to have drawn the cards he needed to engage in his usual all-out offensive style and he contented himself with some dressing of the lines and long-range sniping. He also happened to draw the Reinforcements cards and rolled up Cavalry, so a brigade of horse made an appearance, much to his pleasure. Young General enjoys dashing around and he evidentlay already had the Hit and Run card he was about to use.

But it was a little too late, as the Force March rush was upon him. The valiant cavalry made their hit and run to attempt to blunt the charge but it had little impact. The Rebels followed up the Force March with the Center Assault -- and drew an All-Out Offensive! Needless to say the hammer blows were too much to withstand and Pickett and Armistead lead their boys in triumpnh over the Angle to to the Copse of Trees to a 6-1 victory.

Pickett and Armistead lead their boys in triumph through the Angle to to the Copse of Treees.

Despite the decisiveness of the victory, however, it was hard for the Old Warrior to take much credit for it, or see what he would have done from the other side had the positions been reversed.

It was fun, it was dramatic, but it's wasn't really a display of superior generalship.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

In the mail today, Gettysburg by Martin Wallace

I wanted to get this before this weekend's anniversary of the battle and. sure enough, it showed up today in the mail around the same time that Heth's men were skirmishing with federal cavalry outside Gettysburg.

With luck I'll get to try it out at least once before the sun sets on the third day anniversary.

My initial, out of the box impression is that it's much like his earlier Waterloo game, although perhaps a tad simpler.

I find Wallace's designs intriguing because, much like Bowen Simmons' games, they owe very little to the mainstream wargame hobby's conventions.