Monday, November 29, 2010

"Golden Age" blog post is harsh on Memoir '44

This interesting blog post maintains that today is the "Golden Age" of wargaming.

I generally agree with the blog -- and I think his criticisms of Memoir '44 are mostly valid. I just think its flaws bother me less.

To me games like the various Borg designs, Larry Harris' Axis & Allies board games and the Hasbro Axis & Allies land and naval minis, Wings of War, Worthington Games' Hold the Line series and so on fill a needed and valuable niche in the wargaming universe. I don't need any one wargame to be the "ultimate" wargame. There's a need for many different approaches.

To me these lighter wargames are much like a good painting, a television documentary or a comic book. They provide a vivid evocation of a topic, perhaps and insight or two, and with luck prompt a desire to learn more. Their constrained realism is not a bug, but a feature that, if well done, makes a topic accessible to a wider audience. They are no substitute for a detailed study, a book or a library.

Ideally when your new gaming partner starts to point out the unreality, compromises and general silliness that can crop up in a Memoir '44 or Axis & Allies game he/she is ready to move up to the next level. "Yeah, I agree that strategy wouldn't be possible in real life. Maybe you'd like to take a look at _________" and see how it turns out." Many people find all the strategy they want or can handle in a game of M44 or A&A. Indeed, for many people that desire is well-sated by Risk! But for those who are looking for more I think games like Memoir '44 are an excellent introduction. They're fun, colorful and quick and much more successful than SPI/AH era attempts to do the same thing.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Historical scenarios shared in Gunslinger and Cowboys

Avalon Hill's super-detailed Gunslinger and Worthington's Cowboys: The Way of the Gun cover much the same ground, both being skirmish-level wargames depicting Old West gunfights. Cowboys is the newer and more streamlined design. It's primarily designed as a two-player game with each player able to handle up to a dozen cowboys and town folk, while Gunslinger depicts the action in painstaking and loving detail to the point where it plays best as multi-player game with each player controlling the actions of a single individual or two.

Both include a number of historical scenarios and even include many of the same fights.

Here's brief rundown of the scenarios in Cowboys and and the equivalent scenario is Gunslinger:

Scenario 3 : Shootout at the OK Corral covers the same incident as Gunslinger Variant Showdown One Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Probably the most famous single gunfight of the Old West, the showdown between the Earps/Doc Holliday and the Mclaurys/Clantons in Tombstone Arizona on Oct. 26, 1881, is a straightforward close-range slugfest.
In Gunslinger the action happens within the confines of the corral on Map A, while in Cowboys it's on the open-terrain on Board K, but there's no practical difference as the corral terrain is unlikely to come into play with both groups of gunfighters set up facing each other at close range in the open.
The Gunslinger Scenario has Wyatt, Virgil and Moragn Earp with Doc Holliday facing Frank and Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton. The Cowboys scenario adds an unarmed Ike Clanton. In both games everyone (except Ike C.) is armed with pistols except for Doc Holliday who has a shotgun. In both scenarios there's also an unpossessed rifle available nearby. The characters used in the Gunslinger scenario for Doc Holliday (Gambler) and Wyatt Earp (Dude) are the best while the Cowboys scenario makes Doc H. and Morgan Earp the best on that side. Frank McLaury is the best character on that side in Gunslinger while Cowboys makes Billy Clanton the top guy among that gang. Gunslinger is more "historical" giving the Earps the advantage of starting "alerted" where in the cowboys scenario both sides have an equal chance of shooting first.

Scenario 4: "You're My Huckleberry" is depicted by one of the small versions of Showdown 1: Gunfight in Gunslinger, a face-off between Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo on July 13, 1882. This is probably the simplest scenario in both games, with a single gunfighter one each side facing his opponent at close range in the open with holstered pistols. Both use the most open maps (A in Gunslinger and K in Cowboys).

Scenario 6: Commodore Owens vs. The Blevins Boys is the same incident as the small version of Gunslinger Showdown 25: Robber's Roost as Sheriff Commodore Perry Owens tangles with some horse thieves. Oddly enough, the Gunslinger scenario is much more expansive -- using all 8 mapboards -- than the Cowboys version which takes place on just one. But in both cases the focus of the action is a small clutch of buildings and a corral where the four thieves are set up as theya re surprised by Sheriff Owens. In both games Owens is a high-powered guy (+2 in Cowboys and the Marshal +3 in Gunslinger) who is well-armed with a rifle and two pistols but the Gunslinger scenario makes the thieves better armed with some long arms while the Cowboys bad guys just have pistols. The scenario victory conditions are different as well. In Gunslinger the thieves are trying to escape -- any left on the map at game end are captured whereas in Cowboys the thieves must eliminate the sheriff and he has to eliminate one particular horse thief to win, with mutual failure by Turn 15 being a draw.

Scenario 9: The Ambush of Wyatt Earp at Mescal Springs is small version 2 of Showdown 16: Bushwacking from Gunslinger. Both depict the ambush of Wyatt Earp and his companions at Mescal Springs Ariz. on March 24, 1882. There are considerable differences between the two, however. The Gunslinger scenario map set up shows the ambush happening near a stable with other buildings nearby while the Cowboys scenario happens in open country from a rocky area. The Gunslinger scenario shows just Wyatt Earp and his brother Morgan alone facing three Bshwackers while the Cowboys scenario adds Doc Holliday, Warren Earp, Sherm McMasters and Jack Johnson to Wyatt's party while leaving out Morgan. The ambushers number five in the Cowboys version. In the Gunslinger scenario both sides are armed with an assortment of long arms while the Cowboys battle includes only pistols except for Wyatt Earp, who also has a shotgun. Finally, the Cowboys scenario includes a special rule that has combatants fleeing the fight based on a die roll.

Scenario 21: The Dalton Gang's Last Ride depicts the infamous Oct. 9, 1892, Coffeyville, Kansas, Raid, also shown in part in Showdown 9: Bank Robbery in Gunslinger. Both games show the main street of an Old West town, using 8 maps for Gunslinger and five for Cowboys. The tightly focused nature of Gunslinger works against that game here as its forced to focus on the action at just one bank with two members of the Dalton Gang facing five townsfolk. In contrast the Cowboys scenario shows five Dalton gangsters robbing both banks facing the sheriff and four townsfolk with more showing up each turn. In both games the robbers are trying to escape but Gunslinger adds a colorful touch with money bags in the bank.

Scenario 22: Buckshot vs. The Regulators is the same as Gunslinger Variant Showdown 20: The Regulators. Both show Buckshot Rogers alone facing a posse of Regulators (six in Gunslinger and eight in Cowboys) at Blazers Mill, N.M. on April 4, 1878. Both maps feature scattered buildings separated by considerable open space (eight in Gunslinger and six in Cowboys). The posse's target is set up in a building while the Regulators have to try to cross the open ground to get to him. In the Cowboys scenario casualties may caise the other posse members to lose heart and flee, which is an interesting touch.

Scenario 25: Billy's Escape depicts the same July 19, 1878 incident in Lincoln County, N,M, as Gunslinger Showdown 20: Lincoln County War. Billy the Kid is trapped in a burning building, surrounded by enemies, and has to escape. The Gunslinger map is the same setup used for the Regulators scenario, showing a large farmhouse surrounded by outbuildings and countryside. The Cowboys map shows another town setup, using six maps. The Gunslinger scenario includes extensive special rules for darkness falling and the house burning, while Cowboys dispenses with all that and simply requires Billy or two other Regulators to get off the map. The limits of Gunslinger forces it to show a "simplified version of the incidents" with Billy the Kid and one compatriots facing off against five opponents. The Cowboys version shows Billy with four Regulator cowboys and two "townsfolk" against five cowboys and three townsfolk.

Overall, with the exception of Scenario 9, the scenarios shared between the two games are similar enough to clearly represent the same incident while showing some interpretive differences and highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each game system. Gunslinger's forte is detail and intimacy, which serves it well for tight close-quarter fights like the OK Corral which can be interesting, but force it to compromise when depicting a large event sch as the Coffeyville Raid or Billy the Kid's stand. In contrast Cowboys is a little too streamlined to do OK Corral justice while allowing the whole of something like the Dalton Gang 2-bank heist to be shown.

I'm surprised there isn't more overlap between the two games, as each has several other historical incidents included among its scenarios. It's also worth noting that both games seem to include a scenario inspired by the movie High Noon. In Gunslinger it's rather obviously also called Showdown 23: High Noon, while Cowboys similar treatment is Scenario 15: Gunnin' for the Sheriff. In both a single lawman opposes four outlaws, although the Gunslinger scenario adds some colorful touches with "reinforcements" for the Sheriff comprising a "Lady" and a "Running Boy."

Friday, November 26, 2010

A sad little affair -- Session report for M'44 Gallabat-Metemma

Celebrated the day after Thanksgiving and the 70tg anniversary of the East African campaign with a game of Memoir '44 at the local game shop with the stalwart Game Store Tony.

The scenario was Gallabat-Metemma from the Air Pack, which depicts an action from the opening statges of the British campaign to conquer Italian East Africa -- a campaign they won, but not without suffering a setback here and there. Among those setbacks was this battle and history repeated itself in outline, although not in detail.

It doesn't take long to get to four medals in Memoir '44 for I expected this would be a sharp little action and so it proved. While the British attack on the left side of the river went well enough, taking one hex of Gallabat Fort and eliminating a unit while losing a unit in return, the other side of the river was a disaster for the British.

Things got off to a good start as the air lane once again proved to be pretty disappointing. The Me-109 (representing an Italian CR42) took off, made a strafing run that killed one figure and was promptly shot down during the air check for a medal. That was the last thing that went well for the British on that flank, however, as the three British infantry units on that side immolated themselves on the wire under withering Italian fire (damn good dice) and the battle came to a quick close with a 4-2 Italian victory.

So far I have NOT been impressed with the utility of aircraft in Memoir '44. Like Battlelore's creatures and C&C: Ancients' elephants they seem to be difficult to use and pretty fragile in practice. So far I feel like they're more of a distraction than a game-winner.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wartime Thanksgivings

While we enjoy Thanksgiving at home with friends and family it's appropriate to remember our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and others serving overseas and dining on MREs or less at cold outposts in Afghan mountains, at sea or inside missile silos and all the other places where duty requires.

By the President of the United States : a Proclamation

...In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union...

...I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.


SOURCE: Pilgrim Hall Museum website, which lists a sample of wartime proclamations from 1898, 1917, 1943, 1953, 1967 and 1991.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Four-day Axis & Allies Global 1940 knock-down, drag-out marathon


Well, the redoubtable Game Store Tony and I started a game of Axis & Allies Global 1940 (the combined A&A Europe 1940 and A&A Pacific 1940 mega game) on Saturday, continued Sunday, continued again Tuesday and finally called it on Turn 9 on Wednesday.

I'm definitely more comfortable with the naval/air powers such as the USA, Britain or Japan than I am with the land powers like Soviet Russia and the Germans.

I played the Axis, so I controlled the Germans, Italians and Japanese while Tony had all the Allies.

I wanted to make sure the Germans did the necessary deed that didn't happen in the last two games I played and I ensured the France fell on Turn 1. Unfortunately I couldn't turn that success into an effective campaign against Russia and I spent the balance of the game in a rough stalemate in the East. I made it partway into Russia but by game end the Soviets were pushing pack and Poland and fallen.

Tony's British did a good job on keeping pressure on Germany's Atlantic front, including invasions of Norway, Holland and Normandy that sometimes were pushed back but ultimately were able to stay ashore once the US arrived to help.

Meanwhile Italy ran rampant throughout the Med and Africa and even made forays as far as southern Russia, Iran and off Madagascar. It was all great fun, but the Allies eventually recovered (that factory in South Africa is a big help to the Allies) and retook most of sub-Saharan Africa. After a seesaw struggle that saw Gibraltar change hands at least five times the Americans sank the Italian navy and made landing attempts at both Southern Italy and Southern France that didn't succeed, but were costly for both sides. The German air forces wiped out some significant U.S. and British naval task forces, but the overall trend was inexorably in the favor of the Allies. While we felt that the Allies were not in a position to take the victory cities needed to win by Turn 11 (which would meet the criteria of the 'America +8' variant that's been suggested) we also felt that eventually they would be able to get them.

The story was somewhat different in the Pacific, where Japan was able to achieve a clear edge in the naval war, eliminating the British and ANZAC fleets and chopping the US down to size. We used the "Alpha Setup" which cuts down the number of aircraft by about half for all sides and makes tweaks to the setup. Hawaii, The Philippines and the Dutch East Indian colonies all fell. The Japanese invaded Australia but were not in a position to really follow up their success so the Australians were able to eventually liberate their own territory. It's very difficult to take out a player country unless you take the capital early. The ability to build new troops right at the scene of action helps a defender a lot.

On the other hand the Chinese were able to liberate almost their entire homeland with British help. Things were somewhat in doubt in the Pacific as it looked like it would be very hard for the Allies to rebuild their naval power in the face of Japanese sea superiority, but it would be equally hard for the Japanese to make a return to mainland Asia given the vast hordes of Chinese and British eastern forces. The probable outcome was a stalemate until a decision was reached on the European board.

This was the first game where we used the R&D rules, with the slight modification that you kept your R&D dice after a failed roll and could keep rolling until some success was found. The Italian investment in a couple of R&D dice was a waste as they never came up and the German investment in three R&D dice was a disappointment as well, gaining "radar" which improves the AA guns. As the Allies never tried a strategic bombing raid this had no game effect.

The Japanese and US investments, in contrast, paid off handsomely. A total of 3 dice bought three breakthroughs! While the US "rockets" never came into play the "Jets" were very helpful to the US, basically making Tac Bombers obsolete for them and playing a big role in several battles. Meanwhile the Japanese got "Improved Shipyards" which aided their achievement of naval superiority considerably.

Overall it was a great experience, although rather exhausting for both players. Because there was no "down time" for each player while others were moving we found that the game moved more slowly than it does with multiple players.

We're going to shoot for another Global 1940 come January.

Friday, November 19, 2010

King Philip's War review

King Philip's War, an offering of Multi-man Publishing's International Games Series line is at once both a fairly ordinary cardboard chit wargame and an unusual, even extraordinary, game.

The ordinary aspect of the game is that it's a relatively low complexity, point-to-point, CRT-based wargame that uses cardboard counters and markers (154 of them), has one standard-sized map, two double-sided player aid cards, one 20-page rule book, two standard D^ and one special Event die. The MSRP is $44, so it's not exactly a bargain, although it's still in the mainstream of current wargame pricing. System-wise it doesn't really break any new ground, although there are some neat twists here and there.

The extraordinary part is the amount of attention the game received before publication and its potential to popularize a truly little-know, but important, part of American History.

King Philips' War was fought in 1675 to 1676 in southern New England in the area now occupied by the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Those three states were then colonies, with that part of modern Massachusetts that comprises Plymouth and Bristol counties and Cape Cod and the islands being the separate Plymouth Colony. I think it's safe to say that for most Americans the era between the Pilgrims stepping ashore at Plymouth and Paul Revere's ride are a blur, often covered in an afternoon in high school history courses. Growing up in Massachusetts I was exposed to more about the colonial period, but for us it was local history.

King Philip was the sachem (overall chief) of the Wampanoag Indian tribe, which lived in Southeastern New England and had had the longest and most intimate contact with the English. By 1675 the English had already been in the region for more than half a century. Despite that long contact relations between the native population and the newcomers were not smooth. While a substantial number of Indians had adopted Christianity and English ways (the so-called "Praying Indians") the majority still lived in the traditional style and considered themselves very separate people from the English. The colonists, on the other hand, seemed to regard the Indians as part of their community in some way, and not wholly separate.

Peace was mainained between the English and Indians so long as Massasoit, who was the grand sachem when the Pilgrims arrived, lived. And fortunately for the English, Massasoit lived to a ripe old age, dying in his 80s. His eldest son, Wamsutta, took over, but he died within a year, which elevated his brother Metacom, known to the English as Philip, to be sachem. The circumstances of Wamsutta's death were murky, and it appears that Philip believed that Wamsutta had been murdered. War didn't break out immediately, however, but over the next dozen years tensions rose. The final straw was the English arrest and punishment of two Indians for the murder of another Indian, which Philip regarded as a purely Indian affair. War broke out soon after.

King Philip's War was proportionately the bloodiest war in American history. While exact numbers are not available, it appears that about 1.5% of the 52.000 English colonists lost their lives and property destruction was immense. The Indians suffered even more heavily, with at least 15% of the 20,000 Indians in the involved tribes being killed and the tribal social structure being largely destroyed. Many of the surviving Indians were sold off into slavery.

It was the one chance, however, that the native people ever had to inflict a strategic defeat on the Europeans. The odds would never again be as close.

Fighting the war required the colonies to cooperate, laying the groundwork for colonial cooperation in later generations and also starting to forge an identity as Americans. The English colonist were completely on their own, getting no help from England during the war. It was fought entirely with local resources.

That there are still raw feelings about this conflict, despite the passage of more than three centuries, was revealed when an article in a Rhode Island newspaper stirred up a minor firestorm when it reported that a game about the war was being designed.

As a journalist myself, I have to say that I didn't find this story an example of good journalism. The reporter apparently contacted some tribal leaders (yes, the descendants of the tribes still live in the region) and asked them for comments. It's hard to know exactly what was said to the tribal leaders about the game. It's highly likely that they were completely unfamiliar with the concept of hobby wargames or that many other conflicts past, present and future have been depicted by them, so it's natural that they had a negative reaction upon being told that someone was making a game about the biggest tragedy in their history. They protested, they criticized and they demanded that the game be dropped. Attempts by the designer, John Poniske, to reach out to tribal officials were rebuffed. To his credit, and he credit of MMP, the project went ahead. In his designer's notes he says "The purpose for this game simulation has never changed: it has always been my hope to increase knowledge and interest in this little-know, but highly influential, chapter of our country's history."

And to do that, the game will have to be played. Fortunately Mr. Poniske has designed a very playable and enjoyable little game that provides and interesting game experience and should see better-than-average table time for a wargame.

First off, it must be said that this is not a definitive, highly detailed simulation of all aspects of the war. I'm not sure there's information available to go into great detail and it's probably too risky to try it on such an obscure topic.

Instead KPW concentrates on the big picture of overall war strategy and maneuver, with questions of diplomacy, logistics and internal politics sketchily covered and the most tragic elements inferred.

The map depicts the colonies of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth Colony, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Strewn throughout the colonies are spacces representing English settlements (red circle with a colored band for each colony) Indian villages (white circles with color bands for each tribe) and neutral spaces. linking the spaces are paths with 1, 2 or 3 "pips" that indicate the movement point cost for using that path. Normally Indian units have 6 movement points available, while the English normally have 5. Some spacesa re also linked by rivers which the Indians can always use and the English can use under special circumstances. River movement is speedy, costing just half a movement point per space.

The sequence of play is straightforward, beginning with several phases that may add new troops, followed by Indian movement and combat and then English movement and combat.

The mainstay for each side are counters depicting small groups of warriors (Indians) and soldiers (English) worth 2 Strength Points (SP) each at full strength and 1 SP when reduced. Each side's villages (Indian) and settlements (English) have an inherent defense of 1 SP, while the two forts on each side have a strength of 2. There are two "key leaders" on each side who also have a strength of 1, and the Indians have some musket counters that give a 1 SP bonus to the warrior carrying it.

Combat is conducted by rolling three dice, 1 green D6 for the Indians and one red D6 for the English and a special Event die, which I'll discuss in a moment. Generally the D^ roll for each side is cross referenced on the CRT with the number of SP in the respective force to determine a result expressed in SPs lost. For example, a full strength Indian warband with a musket (3SP) attacking an undefended English settlement will miss entirely on a 1 or 2, will cause 1 hit on a 3-5 and 2 hits on a 6. In return, the English settlement, with it's inherent 1SP, will miss on a 1-4 and inflict 1 SP loss on a 5 or 6. The first SP loss on the settlement permanently eliminates the garrison and it's marked with a "raided" counter. If another hit is inflicted then the settlement is "razed" and considered completely destroyed for all game purposes and awards a victory point tot he Indians. The English can do the same to Indian villages. Victory points are also scored for eliminating units and leaders.

The twist in the combat system is that third die, which is an "Event" die. To determine which player is affected by the die, you total the red adn green dice. If the total is odd, then the Indians are affected, even it's the British. If there's a tie then there's no battle at all (due to bad weather, getting lost, etc.).

Three of the results Panic, Ambush and Emergency Reinforcements aid one side or the other in the current battle, while the other three (spy, guide, massacre) potentially add counters for later use to one side.

Leaders are vital for both sides. Without a leader only two combat units can occupy the same space. A leader can stack up to three combat units, aids in evading combat and intercepting enemy units. Leaders can have guides attached to them to speed their movement and can have spys attached that hinder their movement. Each of the English colonies has one "captain" to lead their "companies" (stacks) Each Indian tribe has a sachem to lead their "warband." The Indians have more leaders overall, as there are nine tribes and just four colonies.

Each side also has two "Key Leaders," one at start and one that comes as a reinforcement. Key Leaders have all the powers of other leaders, plus they add one SP to a stack, allow units from different tribes to stack and they often have other special abilities.

For the Indian side the most important leader is King Philip, who starts on the map. Besides leading troops, King Philip can conduct "diplomacy" at the beginning of the turn. Depending upon how many English settlements have been razed, other tribes may join the three Wampanoag tribes in the war. For example, after 2 settlements ahve been razed, the powerful Narragansetts on the Connecticut-Rhode Island border will join if Philip conducts the necessary "diplomacy" to do so, which in game terms is simply picking Philip up from wherever he is and placing him on a village belonging to that tribe. Basically Philip can bring in one new tribe a turn so long as the Indians are burning settlements. On the other hand, if the English burn enough Indian villages then some tribes start surrendering and dropping out of the war.

The Narragansetts bring in the other Key Leader for the Indians, Canonchet, who doesn't have any special powers. The English start with one Key Leader on the map, John Winslow, who like Cononchet doesn't have any special powers other than the general leader/key leader ones.

The other key leader is a literal game changer, Benjamin Church. Historically Church was largely responsible for turning the tide after the initial Indian successes as he employed allied Inidans and used Indian-style tactics to fight the Indians instead of the less-effective European tactics.

In the game Church has a tremendous impact. Before he arrives the English can't use paths that cost more than 1 pip, they can only move three stacks and fight three battles, and they can't use river movement. After he arrives the English can use any path, they can move and fight with five stacks and stacks with Church and Indian Allies can use river moves. Once Church arrives the English can roll to receive Indian allies, which are 2 SP units that can arrive almost anywhere. The Indian movement/combat limit is five stacks all game.

Both sides have the dilemma of more things needing doing than stacks able to do it, so managing resources as well as strategy is vital. The Indian side starts with the initiative and Philip needs to do as much damage as he can to bring in allied tribes before Church arrives and evens things up between the two sides. The standard rule is for Church to enter on a die roll, but this does add a big luck element to the game and there's an optional rule that has Church arrive automatically on Turn 3. I'd recommend this for competitive play.

Both sides are to choose between trying to burn villages and eliminating combat units. Razing settlements/villages is important for tribal recruitment/surrender, a direct source of victory points and they're easier targets than stacks of troops. On the other hand, eliminating the enemy's troops can really crimp their ability to raze YOUR villages and can also generate victory point awards.

Overall victory is determined by accumulated victory points. If either side reaches 30 VP then they win immediately, otherwise whoever has the most VP at the end of Turn 9 is the winner. There are also sudden death victory conditions. If both Philip and Canonchet are eliminated then the Indians lose instantly. If both English forts (Boston and Plymouth) are razed then the Indians win instantly.

With both sides intermixed and evenly matched overall, King Philip's War is a game of opportunism and nerve. There's a pretty high chaos factor between the Event roll, Church entry, CRT results and the 1-in-6 chance a planned battle won't happen at all, so this is definitely not a game for those who hate too much luck. On the other hand it's a wild and woolly ride for players who have the nerve to try it and it should be an entertaining -- and educational -- time, win or lose.

KPW take about 2-3 hours to play, so a two-game match is doable in an evening's gaming. Set up time is minimal.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

More stuff on the way -- this time Days of Wonder

Wow, I wish these guys would spread it out a little more. Now Days of Wonder is charging for some of their newest stuff -- Winter Wars and Disaster at Dieppe for Memoir '44 and Be Not Afraid, Necromancer Island and Be Not Afraid Catapult for Small World.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Persian Incursion on the way?

CoA Web page on the game
It appears from my bank account that Clash of Arms has started charging for Persian Incursion, a Harpoon4-series game that looks in detail at the war that neo-cons dearly want to see -- a US and/or Israeli strike on Iran.

This is the sort of speculative wargame that used to be done all the time but seems to have fallen on hard times lately. I'm looking for ward to seeing it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ellis Con Axis & Allies Global 1940 session report

Well, I spent all of Ellis Con playing one game, but what a game!

I think the Global 1940 Axis & Allies is a terrific game experience. The scale of the game mitigates some of the things about A&A I didn''t care for in the past -- especially some strange geography and an unfortunate luck factor. These seem much less of a problem with Global.

This was the first game I took part in where everybody had some level of experience with at least the Axis & Allies system and several players had played Global before.

On the Axis side the German player was a fellow who had definitely played A&A before and I think he said he'd played the Global game once. He was joined by a gentleman who played Italy and Japan and had played Global before. While I hadn't met him before, he was well-known to some other participants, who liked to tease him for his "deliberate" (slow) playing style. I worried a bit about this given how big a game Global is, but in the end everyone else seemed to make u for it with speedy play and time-saving steps like figuring out their build ahead of time and some powers moving at the same time as others when they were not affecting each other. We were able to play seven turns, which was enough to reach a decision.

The Italo-Japanese player had brought his teen nephew to the game and he wanted to have fun beating up on uncle so he took the US. While young, he handled his nation very well, as we'll see.
I took the British because I wanted to have a hand in both ends of the board. Our Russian player had played A&A before, but never Global, but he had an excellent appreciation of the fundamentals of Soviet strategy in A&A. Our final player was also experienced in Global and he took the trio of "minor" powers, France, China and the ANZACs, Having an experienced good player for those minor countries ended up playing a big role int the outcome as well.

The game started with in a familiar way, as the German player made the same mistake I made as the German player in my last game -- failing to ensure that France fell on Turn 1. In my case I misjudged the forces I needed, but in this game the German was intent on taking out the British navy and he launched a huge air and sea campaign over the next few turns that saw a lot of drama, including an invasion of Scotland! He did succeed in gutting British naval power, but at the cost of his own and a huge chunk of his air force as well. Scotland was recaptured so no permanent damage was done to the British.

Naturally the Germans had to let someplace else suffer and that place was France. While Normandy fell easily enough, the German attack on France proper -- already a marginal affair -- suffered a huge setback when he failed to roll a single hit in his attack. The French were much luckier and nearly wiped out the German infantry in the attacking force. Unwilling to start taking hits on tanks and Stukas the German called off the attack.

There was some discussion over whether or not to simply reset the game at that point, given the poor German opening, but the Axis players declined. The German player was satisfied with the damage he did to the British fleet and the Italo-Japanese had yet to move so the Axis pressed on. The Italians, when their turn came, joined in the attack on France, taking southern France amphibiously while using their navy to crush the French Navy. The Japanese launched a ground offensive against China, beginning a multi-turn campaign that was well handled by the China player. At this point I should mention that we were using the "Alpha" variant setup for the Pacific board which reduces the air power of all the Pacific countries (which were disproportionate) and makes some other changes, including a beefier Chinese army.

When the French turn came around we started to see some of the effects of a surviving France. The French had money and a chance to build, so they bought a chunk more infantry to make the second German attempt as costly as possible. And the French sent their one fighter to attack the Italy's unguarded merchant fleet of two transports! The Italy player had forgotten that France had a fighter (naturally, since normally France doesn't have one by the time its move comes around). After sinking Italy's merchant fleet the fighter landed in Malta. From there it was destined to be a thorn in Italy's side for the rest of the game when it joined the British forces iN Egypt. The hero French fighter survived the game, as matter of fact!

The failure to capture France put the Germans a turn behind schedule, and the destruction of Italy's merchant fleet likewise put Italy a turn behind schedule in the Med.

To make a long story short, the Italian effort in North Africa was stalemated. By the time they rebuilt their transports and tried to take Egypt it was strongly held. The Italian Turn 3 invasion was crushed (with notable help from the sharpshooting French fighter which killed 2 of the four invaders) and after that the British won the buildup race, shipping aircraft via Gibraltar and from South Africa and eventually joined by troops from Iran and east Africa after Italian East Africa and Iraq were dispatched. When the Americans joined the war they sent some troops into unconquered French Algeria.

Stymied in the Med, the Italians sent substantial ground forces to aid their German ally, who had run into a solid wall of Soviets. As seen in the last game, the 1-turn delay in the German timetable meant that the Russians actually declared war on the Germans first. The delayed German Barbarossa was also critically short on air support, most of the Luftwaffe having been expended against the Royal Navy. The Soviets were able to blunt the German attack and were slowly gaining an edge, thanks in no small part to the large Soviet air force!

Meanwhile in the Pacific, after a few turns of expensive fighting against China the Japanese decided they had better grab the resource-rich Dutch territories while there was still time, so on Turn 3 they moved.

The lack of Japanese pressure, however, meant that the US, Pacific British and ANZACs were able to build up their naval forces and before long the Japanese found themselves in a five-front war! Besides the undefeated Chinese they faced newly aggressive Russians and three navies. When a Japanese naval task force ventured within range the British gladly expended their Pacific navy to take it out. Both fleets were destroyed, leaving a lonely Japanese merchant to be dispatched by a French destroyer! Meanwhile the US eventually brought an overwhelming force to bear against Japan itself -- despite a game attempt by uncle to sucker nephew into a premature attack. Vast navies and air forces (At least five loaded US carriers, three US battleships and other surface ships and a heavy bomber against two Japanese carriers, tow BBs and air units and other ships) clashed over Japan. When it was over there were still three damaged US battleships and two cruisers holding the sea zone and Japan was down to one task force off the coast of China -- and that task force was being stalked by an equal-sized ANZAC task force of a loaded CV, a BB, a CA, a DD and a Heavy bomber within range! The ANZAC player was quite willing to follow the example of his allies and lose his fleet to destroy the last Japanese fleet.

At this point the Axis players admitted defeat. Germany was stalemated on the Russian border, the Italians were about to lose their navy on the next British turn to a strike by 5 heavy bombers, 3 Tacs and four fighters (the British had meanwhile been conducting a strategic bombing campaign against Germany, which has 19 damage on its main industry site. Japan was being pushed back in China and southeast Asia and had lost 3/4 of its fleet. With no good news anywhere it was time to call it.

We started at about 10:30 a.m. and finished at 8:30 p.m. with a half hour lunch break and another half hour or so pause during the auction so total playing time was between 8 and 9 hours.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ellis Con worth the trip

Ellis High School is a tech school located off I-395 in Northeastern Conn. which has slowly become the site of one of New England's best little wargame-oriented conventions, sponsored by the high school's Simulation Club.

I don't know what the official count was, but there were well over 100 people taking part in games. Some were euros and simpler style wargames such a sMemoir '44 and Heroscape, but there were also a number of honest-to-goodness real hardcore wargames including some large world War II and modern tactical miniatures wargames, a large Civil War battle using Fire & Fury and a large WWII naval battle using a heavily modified version of the Axis & Allies War at Sea game.

There were also two simultaneous games of Global Axis & Allies, one of which I took part in and I plan to write up a a session report on it tomorrow.

It was, as always, a chance to see some old friend and overall was an excellent way to sepnd a Saturday.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Today is, of course, Veterans Day in the U.S. (and Remembrance Day in Canada). Now dedicated to the memory of all veterans, it has its roots in Armistice Day, which celebrated the effective end of World War I in 1918. This is the 92nd anniversary of the end of the war, not a particularly noteworthy anniversary as far as those things go, except for the fact that there's a good chance it will be the last one that we get to honor a living veteran of the war.

That's the thing about anniversaries. There are so many things to commemorate that common sense dictates we use some system to keep them to a manageable number. Every day is the XXth anniversary of something or other. I've been making note of a number of 70th anniversary of World War II events, recently. For example it was 70 years ago this week that the initial British campaign into Italian East Africa started. Again, the 70th anniversary of something, while a rounder number than 92, usually isn't one of the milestone markers we note. It's again noteworthy in part because we're losing so many World War II veterans these days and there will be many fewer around even for the 75th in a few years.

There are, however, some pretty noteworthy milestone anniversaries coming up in te next few years. We're nearing the centennial of the start of World War I in just 4 years which will probably bring heightened interest. We've already started seeing events marking the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War, which will definitely be in the news a lot. It's also sobering to recognize that World War II is already much further in OUR past than the Civil War was in the past for World War I participants. We sometimes think that World War I generals were backward in recognizing that warfare had changed a lot from Gettysburg -- but our modern military bears more resemblances to World War II military tech than World War I did to the Civil War, no?

We're also in the middle of the 200th anniversary of the Napoleonic Wars and on the cusp of the related 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. But 200 years seems to be the limit to how far back the popular remembrances are willing to go before disappearing for good into the history books and becoming the concern only of experts and specialists. We just passed the 250th anniversary of some key events of the Seven Years War with, so far as I know, hardly a hint of it in the popular press.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

An oddly pointless little game -- Battle Grid

Image of the game (here showing some 100 Years War figures) from the company Web sit at

I received an odd duck of a game in a BoardgameGeek trade the other day, a 2002 title from an outfit called Zeno Games titled Battle Grid. After messing around with it solitaire I have to say that it seems like a rather odd, pointless little game.
Now, I don't like to be harsh about someone's creative work, but it's really a disservice to quality work not to take note of efforts that really don't work out.
The presentation is pretty nice, although to me it has a retro feel -- like it's a game from the 1950s before modern wargaming took off. There's a good-sized, full color box that's reasonably sturdy. Inside is a mounted game board with an 8 by 8 square "battle grid." The playing pieces are high quality 54mm American Revolution soldiers by an English toy soldier company in various poses. There are three dice, one each of six-, eight- and ten-sided varieties and a dozen red glass beads to mark 'wounds." The final componets are a small rules set and chart listing various special powers for each of the possible armies, although everything other than the American Revolutionary war figures are ordered separately.
I'm not entirely sure whether the game company is still in business -- the Website hasn't been updated since 2006 -- but the MSRP for the game is $25, which seems reasonable for what you get in physical product.
What's less reasonable is the lack of gaming 'there' being there.
When playing two player each player places four soldiers in the center area, which is a "safe' zone where no combat is allowed in or out. One of the four soldiers is designated a "commander" who can basically act twice per turn for one "order," while the ordinary soldiers can act once per order.
Those actions fall into four types -- Move, Open Fire, Close Combat and Heal.
The "move" action is conducted by rolling a D6 for distance (move 1-6 squares) and D8 for direction (basically N,NE,E,SE,S,SW,W,NW). Aside from the decision to roll or not, the player has no control over where they move. Very odd.
The "Open Fire" action allows a soldier to "shoot" in a straight line at a non-adjacent opposing soldier with a D10 roll, with a 30% chance of a miss, 30% chance of inflicting a "wound" and 30% chance of an outright kill. There's also a 10% chance of a "frag" or friendly fire wounding hit on a friendly soldier if there's a straight line of fire to it.
The "Close Combat" action is similar, attacking an adjacent enemy soldier with a D8 roll and similar no effect, wound, kill and frag possibilities. The main difference is that a wounded or killed enemy soldier gets a saving roll on a D6 to "block" the wound that has a 50-50 chance of negating the attack.
Finally a wounded soldier can try to "Heal," rolling a D6 with a 50% chance of removing the wound.
There are some specially marked spaces on the board that allow for a free shot and free healing and in the corners there are squares that allow a second roll if the first roll leaves yous stuck in the corner.
Victory goes to the last man standing.
Which brings us back to the pointlessness of the game. One may ask if a game requires a point, and the answer is that as an activity it does, even if the point is simply to amuse oneself while whiling away time. By this criteria I'm not sure the game succeeds in even that minor point.
It's clear no test of skill nor any kind of simulation at all. There's no real narrative and very little scope for decision-making. Nearly every decision is obvious and the choices trivial. It won't look bad set up on a coffee table, but there's little challenge in playing it and little charm in the experience.
It's a pity, because some care went into the presentation but insufficient attention was paid to game play. The biggest blame goes to the movement rules, which are essentially just one half step less random than Snakes & Ladders.

Friday, November 5, 2010

150th anniversary of the Civil War

Well, it's not exactly the 150th anniversary of the war itself, we're a few months away from the start of the bloodshed, but 150 years ago this week the election of Abraham Lincoln marked the events that proximately led to the outbreak of the war.

There are already a number of interesting sites marking the various 150s coming up, although this one is already establishing itself as one of the best.

Of all the wars associated with the hobby of board wargaming, none, perhaps, is more closely linked to the hobby than the American Civil War. It was the approaching centennial of that war that inspired the father of wargaming, Charles Roberts, to take the ground-breaking system he had used in his hypothetical first effort, Tactics, and apply it to a historical situation -- in this case the Battle of Gettysburg.
The sales success of that title (deeply flawed as the game was) that really launched Avalon Hill and the wargame hobby. It's always been true that history-based wargames have been much more popular than fictional ones. Gettysburg was followed by a whole series of historical wargames by AH, including several on the Civil War.

So it's deeply fitting that Hasbro is re-releasing a 150th Anniversary edition of Battle Cry this month, which could, maybe, introduce some new players to the joys of history-based board wargaming.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

New Battle Cry shows up on Hasbro site

Well, not exactly a lot of hype, but the new edition of Battle Cry is on Hasbro's site now.

The drawbacks of victory points

I picked up the new Decision Games Folio Games series title Arnhem: The Farthest Bridge, which is basically a re-implementation of the classic SPI Arnhem quad game.

There are several interesting changes in the rules, but one that caught my eye is the simplified victory conditions. While the old game was decided by victory points, which could be earned by destroying enemy units and, for the Allies, maintaining units north of the Rhine, the new game's victory condition are much more straightforward. "The Allied player wins the game if he can at any time, (even if only momentarily) occupy at least two of the Arnhem hexes (3423, 3523 or 3524) with any Allied non-airborne/non-glider units." It goes on to say that occupying just one is a draw while if they never occupy any then the Germans win.

This is likely to be an improvement because I've long felt that victory-point based victory conditions have been the bane of wargaming. Now, I'd never argue that they should NEVER be used, but I think they've definitely been overused. They tend to muddy the clarity of a game and don't bear much resemblance to how victory is actually measured by historians, historical commanders, the politicians they worked for nor the public's opinion.

Often they're used when the designer can't think of a more elegant way to reflect the historical reason why commander's made the choices they made.

Playtesting in some Gettysburg game shows that USA players don't defend Cemetery Hill often enough? Well, let's make it worth some victory points! That may work, after a fashion, but I'm unaware of any accounts that suggest Major Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock decided to hold Cemetery Hill on the afternoon of July 1, 1863 because he was worried about Lee getting a "victory point" for it.

Most of the time a military operation is directed towards some aim and either that aim is achieved or it isn't and everyone, from civilian to private to general to president judges victory on whether that aim was achieved or not. Occasionally an aim can be achieved at such a heavy cost as to not seem worth it (often called a Pyrrhic Victory) but even here I'd say that some absolute measure is probably better than some victory point system.

Using victory points can distort play down some very strange lines unless the victory point awards are very carefully calibrated, sometimes to the point of rewarding an actual failure. In the old SPI Arnhem game it's possible for the Germans to win the game even if Arnhem Bridge is captured so long as they manage to cut the supply road a couple of turns. While I understand the rationale behind the rule, the fact of the matter is that no temporary blockage of the road (inevitably soon to be cleared) would have mitigated am Allied breakthrough over the bridge.

And likewise. an Allied advance that manages to kill most of the Germans in the area with low Allied losses might eke out some level of "victory" in the SPI edition of the game but if the Germans still hold Arnhem Bridge then the operation was a failure. Losing a few more battalions would have been of small import for a German army that had just lost entire divisions in the breakout from Normandy and subsequent pursuit The Allies lose a lot of points in the SPI version of the game, but really, if they had taken the bridge the destruction of the 1st Airborne would have been considered regrettable, but would not have turned the victory into a defeat.

Like I said, there are situations where VPs are useful, for example, in situations where attrition was the goal , but I prefer to have victory defined more simply. Almost invariably one side or the other is trying to do something and the other side is trying to stop them. If there are secondary factors at play I think it's better to provide some in-game benefit for doing something than simply handing out VPs for it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Heroscape discontinued!

Rather surprising news buzzing around the Scapesphere.

Yes, it's true, Heroscape will be discontinued after the next expansion (due out on Nov. 16) comes out. Apparently the redirection of Herosoape into the D&D universe didn't do the trick for WOTC. Unable to find a marketing/pricing strategy that supported sales targets they ahve pulled the plug, although this is still a popular game by most standards.

Ominously for fans of some other WOTC products (I'm thinking of Axis & Allies miniatures, especially), one of the stated reasons for this decision is for WOTC to concentrate on its core products, namely Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. I wouldn;t be surprised if AAM either stops now or is ended after the 1944-5 set. Likewise I think we can see the end of the tunnel for the War at Sea line, although designer Rich Baker seems to have a commitment for a couple more sets of that one.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Operation Catapult at sea

HMS Hood

While it's too involved a rules system to easily use with the Game Store Crowd, the Admiralty Trilogy's Atlantic Navies provides good scenario fodder for simpler games such as Victory at Sea.

On July 6, 1940 the British attacked and devastated the French fleet in harbor at Oran, but it didn't have to be that way. The French had time to sortie.

This scenario assumes the French capital ships went to sea and were intercepted by the British Force H. For scenario purposes it's assumed the respective light forces cancelled each other out and we just looked at the opposing battle lines. The French order of sail was Dunquerque, Strasbourg, Bretagene and Provence. Force H was Hood, Resolution and Valiant. The British also had three flights of Swordfish torpedo planes from the Ark Royal.

The victory conditions were straightforward. Historically one French BC escaped, so if the French did better than that, they would win. If no French capital ships escaped the British would win.

Game Store Tony took the French and followed a policy of concentrating all fire on one ship at a time, starting with the Hood. The British tried to spread the damage, hoping to slow down enough ships to keep the French from scooting away. While some damaging hits were landed that slowed the French temporarily, good French damage control prevented those hits from changing the result Good shooting by the French buried the Hood in a deluge of shells and it was the first to go down, followed by the Valiant. Meanwhile the Swordfish attack was completely ineffective, despite the anemic French AA fire.

Both the Strasbourg and Dunquerque eventually escaped. Dunquerque had 50% damage, but the Strasbourg was unscathed, having never been shot at. The two old French battleships were not as fortunate and both eventually succumbed to British fire. The surviving British battleship, Resolution, was also heavily damaged by the end, taking 60% damage, leaving it nearly crippled.

All-in-all it was a clear French victory and suggests the French lost an opportunity historically. The two French battlecruisers were speedy enough that the British Force H was ill-prepared to deal with them. Only the Hood could keep up, but it didn't have enough of an edge in combat power to defeat them.

The game was played using Axis & Allies War at Sea miniatures, Victory at Sea rules with Order of Battle supplement, on a Hotz mat and scenario information from Atlantic Navies. It took about an hour and a half to play.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Wings of War 3-sided air battle session report

I think Wings of War miniatures is just about the perfect Game Store Game.

1) It's visually appealing, especially if you use the game mats.

2) It's extraordinarily easy to teach, with very intuitive game mechanics -- no charts, phases, rule lookups.

3) It plays fast

4) It's dramatic

5) World War I air combat is a favorite topic for wargamers and the wider culture.

I decided to try a 3-way scenario.

First I gave myself Richthofen's Roland CII -- the one without a forward -firing machine gun. The game objective was very straightforward. If I landed at the far airfield I won. If someone shot me down, they won. I gave myself a Pfalz DIII as cavalry coming to the rescue from the far side of the map.

To my left were a trio of British planes flown by the redoutable Game Store Tony -- two Sopwith Camels and an Se-5a. To the right of me were three French planes controleed by another Game Store regular named Cory, who's one of the stalwarts of the Magic: The Gathering crowd. He had two Nieuport 17s and a SPAD XIII.

The twist in the scenario design was that each Allied player also controlled a German Albatorss DVa flying escort for the Roland. The victory condition was that whoever shot the Roland down won, so the two All;ied teams were in competition. The allies were prohibited fron shooting at each other -- French on British violence -- but they each had a German plane they could use to hinder their "ally."

The battle itself was a messy affair, as none of the pilots had much experience. The Roland had to endure a few passes in the first rush but the inexperienced Allies found it hard to set up for a second shot. Game Store Tony's British did the most damage, but he twice jammed his guns! There was a scary episode for the Roland as one burst staretd a fire that did some serious damage but eventually it went out. The Alies conceded when it was apparent the Roland would succeed in landing before they'd get back into firing position. In the end no planes were shot down. but everyone enjoyed themselves.