Thursday, September 30, 2010

Battle of the Bulge themed expansion planned for Memoir '44

Most Memoir '44 expansion have come in one of two formats: a large white envelope with a paper map sheet and attached small set of vehicles or a small box with rules and extra figures/tiles. Most of the recent ones have been of the former type, so it was a pleasant suprise to see that the next Memoir '44 expansion will be of the meatier second style. In this case it's also suable with the regular sized maps AND with the larger Breakthrough Maps.

The main feature, besides scenarios, are a new set of Command Cards specificaly designed for use with the deeper Breakthrough Maps. I haven't had chance to try one of those yet, but it's high on my to-do list.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sgt. Rock Our Army at War one-shot

I'm not a big comic book person, Sure, I pick up an issue now and then that catches my eye, but about the only genre I get on a regular basis are the rare war comics -- specifically war comics based on actual events, although I won't turn my nose up at well-done fantasy elements. I like The Haunted Tank, for example.

Sometimes these are good, such as the recent Lost Battalion series, sometimes they're just fair, like the newest Haunted Tank One Shot that came out this month. But every so often there's one that's really exceptional like this month's Our Army at War Featuring Sgt. Rock. Like the Lost Battalion series, Sgt. Rock isn't really the star or focus of this book, just an entry point. No, the focus of the story is on two American soldiers -- separated by two generations in time but sharing a hauntingly similar narrative. One goes to war because of Dec. 7, 141, the other because of Sept. 11, 2001, but the story of each is told with a interwoven parallel narrative that's been used in comics before, but very well here. I don't want to give any part of the story away, but let me say that the overall effect is amazingly powerful for a tale told in just 20 illustrated pages.
Here's a link to a review by a comic book reviewer who helps palce the book in context.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Out of the box impressions of King Philip's War

King Philip's War would normally be an unremarkable wargame covering a little-known subject with a straightforward simple design.

But a story in the Providence Journal a few months back that highlighted the fact that a game on the topic was going to be published and spiced up with questions from a reporter to various tribal figures in the Rhode Island area that seemed designed to provoke reaction made this game stand out a bit from the crowd. Because, while the war it depicts happened a very long time ago -- 435 years to be exact -- feelings about it still run a bit raw among descendants of the Native Americans who were on the losing side of the conflict.

This is natural, of course. It was a brutal and sad war, even by the standards of the time. Only a generation earlier Europe had been ravaged by the 30 Years War, for example. Indeed, the more genteel style of warfare that would come about in the 1700s was largely in reaction to the excesses of war in the 1600s.

King Philip's War is interesting, because it probably represents the one time that the balance of power between the English colonists and Native Americans was close enough that there was an actual possibility of a strategic defeat for the British. Unfortunately for the Indians, they had only a dim sense of what was at stake and disunity reigned. Indeed, a signficant factor in the ventual Engish victory were Indians who took their side in the conflict. Even among the tribes that rose against the English there was division, and many individuals tried to stay neutral or aided the British, King Philip, himself, was fated to die at the hand of an Indian ally of the English.

The game is, by the designer's admission, not meant to be an exhaustive detailed simulation of the conflict but an easy to play wargame that highlights some aspects of the war. The factors emphasized by the game include its fluid, no-front-line nature, the fractiousness among the Indians, the unpreparedness of the English, the greater resources of the British, the large distances involved and the volatile nature of the fighting which involved militais on one side and tribal warriors on the other.

Component-wise it's a fairly typical MMP offering, with a large, full-color heavy paper map, two color player aid cards, a rulebook, also in full color and one counter sheet with large counters. There are three dice includes, two standard D6 one in green and one in red and a special custom "Event" die which adds potential random events to each combat.

I won't venture much comment on how it plays as yet, having just one solitaire session, but it solitaires pretty well and plays fast. It should be easy to play within a typical evening's time.

As far as the controversy goes, there's nothing remotely controversial about the game content aside from the same objections one could levy against any wargame. The Indian side is treated with respect and the sanguinary nature of the conflict well exposed. And I think it provides a valuable reminder that this nearly forgotten war happened.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Victory at Sea session -- 1940 battlecruiser clash

The first encounter of battlewagons in World War II came on April 9, 1940, during the initial stages of the Norway campaign. Shortly before 4 a.m. the HMS Renown (6x 15-inch guns) ran into the German Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, (9 x 11-inch guns each) in bad weather off the Norwegian coast.

This encounter is one of the given scenarios in Mongoose Publishing's Victory at Sea simple naval miniatures battle rules. With just three ships it seemed like a good introduction to the game to bring to the local game shop, where Game Store Tony is always willing to try out something new.

The initial setup given in the rulebook is shown below and right off the bat I saw I'd have to make at east one adjustment and rule that despite the bad weather the radar-less HMS Renown could still see the German ships at Extreme Range. I felt this change was justified by the historical fact that the Renown opened the action by firing on the Germans first and by the game consideration that strictly following the rule would make the scenario unplayable as the British ship would never be able to fire if the Germans followed a strategy of running away.

With that change, we started playing. I took the HMS Renown while Game Store Tony commanded the Gneisenau and another store denizen took the Scharnhorst. One reason why Game Store Tony is always a tough opponent is that he has a very commendable focus of the victory Conditions. While many players would be sore tempted to turn the two German capital ships towards the Renown and force a showdown, Tony noted that he could also win by withdrawing off the left map edge. He, as squadron commander, ordered that both ships should turn hard port and make for the board edge and stuck to that plan despite events that might have shaken the resolve of others.
The course of the battle therefore followed a more or less historical result. The leading Scharnhorst turned to port and made a beeline for the edge, using Flank Speed often, unmolested by the Renown. The Scharnhorst's return fire was negligible. The Flank Speed threw off its aim and it had just one turret to bear and so hits were few and those few failed to penetrate the armor of the Renown. So the battle was really a duel between the Renown and the Gneisenau.
That duel for a while looked to go against the German ship. While most of the time the Renown had only four guns bearing, the range was long and bad weather all hindered the British chances of hitting, those 15-inch shells that did hit were quite damaging and a couple of critical hits reduced the German ship's speed dangerously. Meanwhile the German return fire was spare and did little damage when they did hit home. In total the Renown took four points of damage, or just over 10%. In contrast the Gneisenau limped off with 14 points of hull damage and 23 dead crew factors for damage levels of 40% and 33% respectively, as well as 33% off its maximum speed. But the Gneisenau did limp off the map and escape, and so the Germans won the scenario. This was mostly due to successful damage control by the Gneisenau's crew, which was able to restore enough lost sped to make it off the map before the ship took a crippling level of damage.

Everyone enjoyed the scenario and it only too about an hour to play
This battle also appears as a scenario in Atlantic Navies, the Command at Sea series game from Clash of Arms and it's interesting to compare this game's more detailed treatment with the Victory at Sea scenario. Here's the initial situation according to Atlantic Navies:

The first thing to note is that the historical British force also included a bunch of destroyers. The very bad weather precluded them from taking a meaningful part in the battle, however, so ignoring them seems to be a reasonable design decision.

On the other hand the initial configuration of the capital ship's is also radically different between the two. Given its attention to detail, Atlantic Navies seems to be the more reliable source and the initial deployment shown even matches the VaS scenario description better because it notes that "During a break in the weather, the (German) battlecruisers were sighted by HMS Renown, which closed the range and opened fire as soon as she was able." This sequence of events isn't really possible with the VaS as written while it does match the Atlantic Navies setup (which includes a rule that visibility is one table better to the East (in the direction of the German ships) which accounts for the Renown sighting the Germans first. Note also that Atlantic Navies has the two forces on reciprocal courses while the VaS scenario shows them on parallel courses.

The point of this is that scenario designers for simpler wargames have to play close attention to the scenario parameters in order to avoid the blunder where a scenario becomes unplayable as written. Whereas a detailed game like Atlantic Navies can expect that its internal procedures will account for the important factors that affected a battle and it will wpork out naturally a simpler game such as Victory at Sea doesn't have that back up. Unless a sceanrio special rule is used the British fleet can't enagge the German fleet before it escapes. In addition, the scenrio seems to have satrted the two fleets much too far apart, which again defeats the scenario's design.

While a veteran gamer can be expected to make the adjustments required, the idea of a simpler wargame is to be accessible to new and inexperienced players who may be thrown for loop when confronted by a flawed scenario, so for this reason I don't think the presentation of this scenario was successful. A btter setup would be for the two German ships to be setup reversed, heading toward sthe "bottom" of the sceanrio map and the distance between them and the Renown should be reduced to the maximum sighting range of 30 inches and should start with the British attack phase. (In other words, both sides have already moved for the turn and the British won the inititative. The Germans, being surprised, don't get a shot.). Thes mininal changes would bring the scenario closer to the actual event.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Taking care of customers

This is what I call taking care of customers. This new expansion is going to include a tray for holding all the game's expansions.

Bad journalism

It appears that a British newspaper mixed up Days of Wonder's Small World with a similarly named online game that's linke do a case of parental neglect in England.

Days of Wonder is issuea press release ont he controversy, although it's unclear whether the newspaper had responded or issued a correction yet.

This is the kind of thing that unfortunately seems to happen all to often when newspapers delve into any kind of specialist area. Too many journalists are not cautious enough when the report on topics they don't know well and are not wary of what they don't know they don't know.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thinking about the unthinkable -- Persian Incursion

Clash of Arms has announced palns for a Harpoon 4 based module called Persian Incursion which will explore the military, political and other aspects of a potental Israeli strike on Iran to destroy its alleged nuclear weapons program.

An overview of the project was presented at Historicon.

This sort of "what-if" was pretty popular duringt he Cold War era but there haven't been too many since then, despite the fact the U.S. has been involved in quite a few conflictssince 1989. This product promises to be a provocative look at the issue and may even get some mainstream media attention once it appears.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Heroscape's new direction

The Heroscape game seems headed in a new direction now, for good or ill.

The "classic" game was notable for its eclectic mix of combatants. The "battle of all time" would draw on warriors from just about any heroic genre -- Westerns, sword-and-sorcery, World War II, Rome, gothic, spies, etc. One of the first things I heard about the game was that it had, among the combatants, an orc riding a dinosaur! You have to be a hard hearted realist not to think that's really cool at some level.

This "world," involving five (later six) warring Kyrie lords was enough to take the game through 10 "waves" of 4-pack expansions, pluse several large pack terrain expansions and two master sets. Aside from a short-lived and noatbly unsuccessful foray into the super hero genere, this was Heroscape.

The newest Dungeons & Dragons themed master set, however, definitely alters the trajectory of the game into a much more fantasy-oriented direction. And I'm unsure whether this is a positive move, because to me it seems potentially limiting. There are now two full 4-set "waves" of D&D based squads and heroes so I think we can judge where D&D is taking the game.

The good news is that the D&D stuff is fully compatible in tone and detail with the classic game, unlike the Marvel Superhero stuff. A few new and interesting twists ahve been added to the system ("shadow" terrain, "uncommon" heroes and treasure glyphs).

The main concern is whether the game will become too tied to D&D and too fantasy-oriented. Can D&D maintain player interest over the long haul? Especially considering that there's already a D&D miniatures game out there AND that D&D, itself, in the latest version, become much more of a skirmish-type game. If you're going to go adventuring, wouldn't D&D make more sense than Heroscape?

So far there's no indication the D&D theme has hurt Heroscape, and there's been no official announcement that there won't be any more classic Heroscape, so it may be that this is just a short-lived diversion to take advantage of cross promotion with D&D and saving on production costs by reusing DDM molds. I do hope that this isn't a permanent change in the game.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

No talent pimping of Napoleon's War

Napoleon's War: The 100 Days is the latest interation of the same game system seen in Hold the Line, and before that Clach for a Continent and For Honor and Glory. Many players of those earlier games had already converted the games to a figure-based approach, so it wasn't surprising that Worthington Games would take the plunge with NW and make it official.

Overall the presentation is nice, but I felt that they stopped a little short of making the most of the visual potential figures provide. Specifically, there were still quite a few cardboard counters cluttering the map. This didn't bother me over much, although I thought the counters were more functional than attractive.

So when I found out that the figures used in NW were the same ones used in Viktory II, and that more figures could be ordered, I decided this provided a chance to banish cardboard from the map.

The first thing to go would be the Dutch-Belgian counters, to be replaced with orange infantry figures. I decided to get some black figures to use for the Brunswickers as well. The Brunswickers were famous for their all-black uniforms.

Using counters for the horse artillery was unacceptably lame, but the Viktory pieces come in just three varieties: infantry, cavalry and artillery, so there remained the problem of differentiating the horse guns from the rest. Horse artillery units often used bronze guns instead of iron because bronze was lighter, so I painted a few guns with bronze. I also ordered some extra French in order to be able to field the Guard and Heavy Cavalry units. These were marked with some red paint to set them apart from their ordinary colleagues, red being a color often used to show elite troops in Napoleonic era games. This posed a problem for marking the British Heavy cavalry for the Waterloo scenario, of course. I decided to borrow the solution used by System 7 Napoleonics, which used white to replace a color whenever there would be a case of the same color being used on top of itself.

I also wanted to replace the cardboard commanders. It turns out that Litko offers a set of 20 customized plastic counters that come in a variety of shapes and colors and can hold up to 12 characters of text. I chose a flag-shaped plastic marker and suitable colors for the four nations represented: blue French, red British, grey Prussian and orange Dutch. Each counter includes the leader's bonus (+1 to +3) and name, although I had to cheat a little with Wellington's long name and he became "The Duke." There are a total of 13 leaders between the scenarios (Ney, Wellington and Napoleon appear twice each, while Blucher is in three!) so I filled out the remainder of the 20 with other markers for rifles, lights, CAPs and turn.

Finally I orderd some D3 dice from Chessex. One was included in Hold the Line and I was a little disppointed to see Napoleon's War go back to a D6 roll divided by 2. I don't care for unnecessary mental computations. I just want to roll a 1, 2 or 3, darn it.

Overall I like the effect, although I missed the skirmishers, which still require cardboard chits.

Here is the cardboardless Waterloo scenario set up with orange DB infantry, Litko leaders, and painted Guard infantry and Heavy Cavalry.