Saturday, April 30, 2011

Battle of the Starter Sea -- analysis and strategy for the Axis & Allies War at Sea 2010 Starter -- Part I: The IJN

The current Starter Set for the War at Sea Axis & Allies naval miniatures game provides an interesting tactical puzzle for the players as well as being a good introduction to the game system.

At less than 50 points worth of units per side and just a total of 8 pieces it's definitely on the smaller side, but there's a considerable amount of reply value as the Starter shows that you don't need battleships to have a good game.

Each side has its strengths and weaknesses but they're evenly matched and good play will generally prevail even in a game as dicey as WAS. Either side can win, but winning consistently will mean paying close attention to both sides' values and special abilities.

The Axis side is represented by a pair of surface ships supported by one sub and a patrol bomber, giving the Japanese player a wide variety of threats.

The centerpieces of the Japanese force is the Heavy Cruiser Haguro, which fought throughout the Pacific campaign and met its demise in the last surface action fought during the Pacific War.

At 18 points it's the highest valued unit in the set and it justifies that high value with a nice array of powerful attacks. At a range of 0 or 1 the Haguro will roll 10 dice with its main battery gunnery, which is the highest total available in the set. This is 2 more dice than the base roll of the Allied forces' counterpart, the USS Montpelier, and is enough to almost guarantee getting at least a hit on the Montpelier. The Haguro's advantage drops off rapidly with range, however. At range 2 the Haguro only rolls 9 dice, while the Montpelier still rolls 8 and may roll 9 dice if it's still undamaged and has its Radar Fire Control SA. At Range 3 both ships roll 7 base dice and an undamaged Montpelier actually has a 1-die advantage. The American cruiser, if undamaged, also has a Range 4 shot of 8 dice. So the Haguro generally wants to close the range if possible. The Haguro's secondary gunnery factors of 4-4-3 are adequate to pose a threat to either of the enemy destroyers, but its AA value of 7 is only enough to occasionally abort the American Avenger and it will take a very good roll to shoot it down.

The Haguro's nastiest punch rests with its torpedo battery. With 3 dice at ranges of 0-1 and 2 dice all the way out to Range 3 the Haguro threatens instant death to any Allies ship within range -- the Montpelier being just as vulnerable as the Allied destroyers because of the Long Lace's 3-point slam.

The Haguro's special ability of "Tough Cruiser" is useful, with two Allied DD's in the game. Most of the time DD gunnery will fail to damage the Japanese heavy cruiser.

The Haguro in the larger game: The Haguro is the third Nachi-class cruiser to appear in the game and arguably the best of the lot. The Myoko from the base set is vastly too expensive at 24 points to justify a competitive purchase, there being cheaper ways to get a +1 flagship. It will probably only be used in games with class restrictions or historical scenarios. The Nachi from the Task Force set costs 1 point more than the Haguro, which probably doesn't justify its "Cruiser Killer" SA. Overall the Haguro is one of the better values among the IJN heavy cruisers with powerful surface gunnery and a strong torpedo battery.

The Terutsuki makes a good consort for the Haguro, although it's a mistake to consider it an escort for the larger ship. It benefits from the Haguro's proximity much more than the Haguro does from the Terutsuki. Dispatching the Terutsuki off independently (perhaps to seize an objective) is nearly suicidal as long as the Avenger is around -- and the weak Japanese AA means that the Avenger will be around. A bomb attack from the Avenger is almost certain to at least cripple the Terutsuki. The Terutsuki should stick to Haguro like its shadow, providing an extra chance to abort the Avenger, an additional anti-DD gunnery shot and a extra torpedo factor or two.

The Terutsuki in the larger game: The Terutsuki is pretty comparable to other IJN destroyers, although its "Rapid Fire" SA may be attractive if you expect to face a surface-heavy build.

The I-25 submarine is actually the No. 2 unit on the IJN side and the Japanese player will face an early decision on employment. It's tempting to send it to operate away from the Haguro-Terutsuki pair, but a bit risky as the Allies have three units that can credibly attack it. I think it's better to operate within supporting range of the surface group to force the Allies to choose between ASW efforts and dealing with the Haguro. I think it's worth stacking the I-25 with the surface units the first few turns to keep the Avenger from scoring early on I-25 until the main battle is about to begin.

The I-25 in the larger game: It's cheaper than I-26 and has a better SA than I-19, so its worthwhile considering for IJN builds.

Betty is the weak sister in the IJN lineup, but the G4M1 is hardly useless. The key, I think, is to be patient. Resist the temptation to try for a potshot torpedo run in the first turn or two, as all this will probably do is cost you the Betty for no result. The Montpelier's Heavy Antiair and the decent AA values on the other ships, combined with the miserable defenses of the Betty, mean there's little chance of getting through. On the other hand, if the Allied player splits off one of the destroyers to hunt I-25 or try to grab an objective then the Betty should strike. A little luck and the Allies will be down a DD. The Excellent Endurance SA will give you another chance if, as is likely, you get aborted the first time.

The Betty in the larger game: This Betty is the same 6 points as the Base Set version of the plane and the SA's are comparably useful -- which is to say not too much given the short expectancy of the plane against USN AA fire.

So the basic approach for the Japanese is to maneuver the Haguro/Terutsuki pair as a unit, looking for a chance to combine against part of the Allied fleet is the split up to grab objectives or otherwise slug it out at close range with guns and torpedoes, with the aide of the I-25. The Betty should be used cautiously at first, saving it for use against an isolated DD or a cripple.

Friday, April 29, 2011

War at Sea Starter Set review

A successful starter set for a collectible miniatures games should hit a few marks: It should be affordable; It should provide a taste of the game system and It should provide a satisfactory game right out of the box before a player has to make any other purchases.

It's generally been fairly easy to hit these marks with starter sets for collectible card games. The relatively low production costs for cards makes it feasible to include two playable pre-selected decks with each starter kit. This has been nearly universal practice with CCGs since the beginning and even now, established games such as Magic: The Gathering offer products such as "duel" decks that are not exactly starters (being aimed at more experienced players) but provide a similar experience of a ready-to-play game right out of the box.

The higher per-unit costs of miniatures has made this much harder to do with collectible miniatures games. While a CCG starter will usually include a 100-120 cards plus ancillary materials for less than $15-$20, most CMG's starters only have 6-12 miniatures in them, which is rarely enough for a game. In some cases, such as Navia Dratp, the expectation was that each player would buy his "half" of a starter so that between the two of them a game could be gotten up. In practice, however, most players needed to buy both halves of the starter and recruit a buddy to play, which effectively doubled the price. Early starters for Wizards of the Coast and some other companies included a random assortment of figures in the starter, as well as in boosters. This was a problem because there was no guarantee that the randomized output of a starter pack would provide a balanced game.

Eventually WOTC hit on the idea of non-randomized starters with a specific set of visible figures, leaving the randomization to the boosters alone. This made it possible to insure that the starter was playable out of the box and it also allowed the rule book to use examples of play using the actual miniatures that the player had in front of him.

The current War at Sea Starter set is of this sort, which a specific assortment of 8 miniatures included. The miniatures are all exclusive to the Starter Set, which means there's no duplication with the boosters, but they are all repaints of miniatures that have previously appeared -- no doubt saving on design and production costs.

The 8 miniatures are carefully chosen to provide a chance for players to exercise most parts of the basic game system and also provide a good even match. Besides the 8 miniatures the box includes a rule book, two double-sided map sheets which join together to form the playing surface, a light cardstock set of die-cut markers and four dice.

The rules are a new "improved" version that makes some changes over the original rules based on player feedback. The game's sequence of play is straightforward. It starts with an Initiative phase to determine which player performs actions first in each subsequent phase. In this game "winning" the initiative allows you to go second, which is an advantage because you get to react to your opponent's moves. Next is a Sea Movement Phase where the players move all ships and submarines within their movement allowance. Next is the Air Mission Phase, where players alternate placing aircraft anywhere on the map. This is followed by an Air Defense phase where ships and aircraft attack enemy planes. Planes that are shot down or "aborted" now will not get to attack later. In the Air Attack surviving aircraft have their turn to attack ships and submarines, with damage taking effect immediately. In the Surface Attack phase, surface ships attack enemy surface ships and submarines with gunnery and torpedoes or anti-submarine attacks. In the Submarine Attack phase. surviving subs have their turn to attack enemy ships and subs. In the Air Return phase air units return to their bases (on land or aircraft carriers) and finally in the End of Turn step victory is assessed.

As with all collectible games, War at Sea is a "exceptions-based" game where special abilities can supersede the regular rules.

The "Axis" side is represented by four Imperial Japanese Navy units: The heavy cruiser Haguro, the destroyer Terutsuki, the submarine I-25 and a G4MI "Betty" patrol bomber. Under the game's point system this adds up to 46 points of units with variety of capabilities.

The miniatures themselves have no game-specific information on them, a feature which makes them easily usable in other games. Besides the eye-candy, all the miniature does in game play is show the location of the ship. All the game-related information is on the data card. The Haguro's card shows the ship's name, nationality, service entry date and point cost along the top.

The ship's speed is "2," which means it can usually move two squares on the battle map during the Sea Movement Phase.

The Haguro has four different attacks available to it. The first is its "Main Battery" attack, depicted by a turret icon with the letter M. The power of this attack varies, with the Haguro rolling a number of dice depending on the range in squares to the target ship. For example, if the target is in the same square or an adjacent square the Haguro rolls 10 dice, but if the enemy shp is 3 squares away the attack is made rolling 7 dice. The dice are standard D^, with "successes usually being achieved on rolls of 4 or 5, and a 6 counting as TWO successes. The number of successes is compared to the Armor Value of the target ship, so if the Haguro were firing at a similar ship and it got at least 4 successes it would inflict ONE hull point of damage. The Haguro has 3 hull points, so three hits will remove it from play. If the attack is so successful that it rolls successes equal to or greater than the Vital Armor value (10 in the Haguro's case) then the ship is sunk outright.

The Haguro also has a "Secondary Battery" (shown by a turret icon with a 2) that works the same way, but with fewer dice and a lesser range. Both the Main and Secondary gunnery attacks can only be used against enemy ships, not subs or aircraft.

The third attack available to the Haguro is its antiaircraft attack, shown by an icon of an aircraft in cross hairs. The Haguro can roll 7 dice to attack an air unit in the same square.

The final attack value for the Haguro is its torpedo value. Like gunnery attacks, torpedo attacks only affect ships, but unlike gunnery attacks torpedoes directly inflict hull point damage on the target with every roll of a 6 being a success. Normally torpedoes do 2 points of damage each, but the Long-Lance Torpedo special ability boosts this by one point to 3 points. This is enough to sink most cruisers and smaller ships instantly and is the forte of the Japanese fleet.

The Haguro has no ability to attack enemy submarines, although this will not be a factor in Starter set battles because the Allies player doesn't have a submarine.

As stated above, the Haguro's armor value is 4, which is the number of successes needed to score one hull point of damage on it, while its Vital Armor is 10, which means 10 successes are needed to sink it at once. It can take 3 Hull Points of damage, which is typical for cruisers in the game. The first hull point loss has no game effect, but the second one causes the Haguro to be "crippled" which reduces its speed, armor values and attacks by 1. The third hull point loss removes the Haguro from the game.

The destroyer Terutsuki is similar to the Haguro, except smaller and less capable in most ways, although it does have an anti-submarine attack value, depicted by the depth charge icon. This works similarly to gunnery, but only affects submarines. The Terutsuki also has Long-Lance torpedoes, however, giving it a dangerous punch despite its small size. Like most destroyers the Terutsuki doesn't have much staying power. It's easy to damage with an armor value of only 2 and with just two hull hits it's easy to cripple and sink it.

The third unit in the Japanese fleet is the submarine I-25. Although submarines are obviously vessels of war, in game terms they are not "Ships" but a separate category of unit. Submarines cannot attack planes and cannot be affected by gunnery attacks or most torpedo attacks. They also attack in their own phase of the turn. Like most subs, I-25 can use its torpedo value to attack an enemy sub in the same square with its "submerged shot" SA. This is the only way torpedoes can be used against submarines. Like all submarines in the game, the I-25 moves at speed 1, just 1 square per turn.

The weakest unit in the Japanese array is the "Betty" patrol bomber. It has an ASW value of 2, which it won't get to use in Starter set battle due to the absence of Allied subs, but it also only has a torpedo value of 2 -- and these are not Long-Lance . The biggest challenge for the Betty will be surviving long enough to get off a shot, however, as its defense of 4 and vital armor of 6 are low enough to cause it real problems. Damage to aircraft is handled differently than damage to ships and subs. All aircraft have just 1 "hull point." Achieving enough successes to match the Armor value "aborts: the plane, essentially canceling its attack for the turn. Matching the Vital Armor removes the plane from the game. On the other hand, like all aircraft, the Betty has a Speed of A, meaning it can be placed in any square. However, being land-based. after flying a mission the Betty acquires a "Rearming" marker which it takes a turn to remove, so generally the Betty can only be used every other turn. It does have a special ability, though, called Excellent Endurance, which allows it once per game to remove the rearming counter and therefor fly on consecutive turns.

So the Japanese starter squadron comprises a dangerous surface action group accompanied by an effective submarine but supported by a fairly weak air arm that will have to be used cautiously.

The Allied fleet poses an interesting counterpoint to the Japanese force. The lead unit is the USS Montpelier, a Cleveland-class light cruiser from the United States Navy. Compared to the Haguro, the Montpelier comes in at one less point. It has a flag icon with a number 1 which indicates it's a "Flagship" and gets +1 on initiative rolls. Compared to the Haguro the Montpelier's ,main guns are somewhat weaker while its secondaries are stronger, but its Special Abilities go a long way toward evening things up.

Extended Range 4 allows the Montpelier to fire an extra square so long as it's undamaged. Combined with the Flagship bonus, this means that there's a good chance to Montpelier will be able to shoot at Haguro on occasion without the Haguro being able to shoot back. Radar Fire Control allows the undamaged Montpelier to fire using an extra die as well, further evening the odds. Finally, the Montpelier has Heavy Anti-air, which allows it to affect aircraft in adjacent squares as well, making life even more difficult for the Betty. The Montpelier's edge is reduced when damaged, but its armor value is 5, better than Haguro and giving it some chance of avoiding damage even if the Haguro gets a long-range shot at it.

The biggest weakness of the Montpelier, and one it shares with almost all USN cruisers, is a complete lack of torpedoes.

Aiding the Montpelier are two Allied destroyers. One is the USS Taylor, a Fletcher-class destroyer, at 9 points, and the 8-point Australian destroyer HMAS Nizam. Both have very similar values, with the Nizam a little stronger in gunnery and the Taylor better attacking aircraft. The Taylor is a little tougher with an armor value of 3, but both ships are vulnerable. The Taylor has the same radar fire control ability as the Montpelier, and a Sub Hunter SA that makes it more likely to find an enemy sub to attack. The Nizam has an SA that lets it place a smoke screen which blocks line of sight and makes ships in the same square harder to hit.

The fourth Allies unit is a TBF-1 Avenger squadron. This plane is worth almost twice as many points as the Japanese Betty and is all-around a more formidable unit. It has an ASW vale of 3, making it a threat to I-25 and also a torpedo value of 2 making it a danger to surface targets as well. Once per game it can perform a bomb attack with 6 dice instead of its torpedo attack, which is especially threatening to the Terutsuki. Perhaps the most frustrating thing for the Japanese player is that it will be very hard to make the Avenger go away. Its armor value is a 5, making it hard to abort for either Japanese ship with average luck and its Vital Armor of 8 mean that even good luck will rarely shoot the Avenger down.

The total point value of the Allied force is 45 points, although the Avenger may be slightly overcosted because it's normally carrier-based (which allows it to fly every turn) but the Allied side has no carrier in the starter set so the Avenger is forced to fly every other turn instead. That said, the Allied force is a well-balanced and efficient force that will give the Japanese a good fight.

The mix of forces and the interaction between the two squadrons provides fodder for various tactics and strategies and the chance to exercise most parts of the game. In that sense I think this is one of the best starter sets ever designed because there's considerable replay value within it and it gives the purchaser a very good sense of what they're getting into. Even if the purchaser never buys any boosters, he still has a playable small board wargame with some cool bits.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dead collectible games -- what are they good for? Part II

Part II of my pondering (pawndering?) on the retained usefulness of out-of-print collectible games.

Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures
I backed into this one, after picking up a few miniatures and finding out that that my stepson liked playing. It's a decent little skirmish-level wargame and has the added advantage of being usable for role-playing as well, should I ever decide to get back into that. I didn't go too far into the game, ending up with just about 200 figures, which is enough for my local purposes. The competitive scene was already winding down when I first got into the game and so that never played much of a role in my purchases. DDM doesn't take up too much space (a couple of shoebox-sized boxes and a map tube) so its relatively low-impact as far as space and trouble goes and I'll probably keep it unless I have to move out-of-town. Its probably not worth shipping off in that situation.

Navia Dratp

Another relatively low-impact game space wise, Navia Dratp is really an odd duck. It really is a good game, as the high ratings it gets from people on Boardgmae Geek who've tried it attest. But it was probably one of the worst-marketed games in history. Between the strange theme, the tongue-twisting terms and obscure names it's amazing anyone bought it. But the worst aspect of the marketing plan was making it a collectible game. It really wasn't necessary. Unlike the open-ended universe of D&D or Dreamblade, or even the finite but large potential of Axis & Allies , it's hard to see how the game could have supported hundreds of different figures or dozens of expansions even if it had taken off. It turned out to be a moot point, however, as the game bit the dust as the second expansion came out and in effect it turned into the expandable games= it probably should have been in the first place. It really is quite good, however, and because my collection is big enough to support two players with a wide variety of units this remains a keeper -- even if I move.

Lord of the Rings Tradeable Miniatures Game

I liked the miniatures and the theme, but the game was rather ordinary as far as fun and interest go, and since its been discontinued I've had a very hard time getting it on the table. While it was still a supported system there was a game shop that hosted some gaming in it but that dried up and despite multiple attempts since this one just can't provoke any interest. I'm probably going to give up and unload this one as not worth the space devoted to it. Over the years I've been pretty ruthless about culling wargames that can't make the cut of getting table-time and one thing I've learned is that once it's gone I rarely miss it. In the case of LOTR I do like the miniatures and the game system is OK, but I don't like them enough to stare at them unplayed. Better they find a home elsewhere. It's really too bad, because I did build up a pretty decent collection overall, with a few hundred figures. There's room in my game room for a handful of games that may not get played much or at all, but not much. None of my usual reasons of nostalgia, study or historical interest apply in this case and so these guys are eBay bound.

Back from break ... or is that bad break?

In my non-gaming life, as some may know, I'm a journalist working for a good daily newspaper here in Connecticut. These are not good times for the newspaper business as a whole, and while my paper is not doing worse than the industry average, that's not really a very high bar.

No, it's rather similar to that famous scene near the climax of the movie Titanic when Jack and Rose and a few other people were perched on the upright stern of the rapidly sinking ship. It was better than being anywhere else on the boat -- but they were still going down.

As it happens I thought I was a little closer to the stern than I turned out to be, as Monday I found out I was being laid off from the newspaper. This isn't the first time that's happened in my career, but the circumstances are quite different this time than from those earlier episodes where I was able to quickly move to another paper.

It's not in my nature to be either a Debbie Downer nor shrink from facing a challenge thrown my way by life. I'm still sorting through options at this time, but I'm confident that things will work out one way or the other.

I suppose a small silver lining is that this opens up my schedule a little bit for the short-term and there are some writing and gaming projects I've been wanting to get to that I now have no excuse to neglect.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Brief break from blogging ...

I'm taking a few days off while I digest a development in my personal life.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dead collectible games -- what are they good for? Part I

With the possible exception of Magic: The Gathering, which seems immortal, there comes a time in the life cycle of every collectible game when it "dies." That is, it's discontinued by its maker, official company support comes to an end, tournaments and sponsored or "sanctioned" events are no more and the would-be collector/player is faced with the question of "now what?"

It's in the nature of collectible games that they're much more dependent on the continued support of the game maker, a steady flow of new material and some sort of tournament style venue for play. This is much less true for other types of games. Indeed, an ordinary boardgame can "live on" almost indefinitely once published. A good example are the old Avalon Hill games Dune or Up Front which, due to licensing and rights issues, seem highly unlikely to ever see print again despite proven long-term popularity. It's hard for new players to break in, sadly, but both games have a devoted fan base and the existing copies of the game (undoubtedly carefully treated) will see many more years of play despite the demise of official support.

On the other hand, collectible games that, even though popular, fail to meet market goals and are discontinued by their game maker leave the collectors and players who sank their treasure into the game in a quandary. While it's possible that demand for their collection will increase eventually (because, after all, no new ones are being made) over the short term so far the usual pattern has been for the bottom to more or less fall out of the market for most games.

The lack of official support means the end of tournament play, which is problematical for games that are highly competitive. The lack of official sponsorship means that playing opportunities will quickly dry up and opponents will be hard to find.

Finally, the end of the line usually means that the game is still incomplete in important ways unless it's had a long run. There may be pieces, powers, factions and aspects of the game that are left high and dry because the planned follow-ons will never materialize.

So what now?

The answer will vary depending on the game and the collector, but here's how I see what's in MY collection and how I answer that question.

Axis & Allies Miniatures:

This game system hasn't been declared officially "dead" yet, but there's been no announcement of when the next set (Late War) is scheduled to appear and in my opinion there's a good chance it will never come -- or if it does, it will be the last expansion. This game has had a good long runs, however, and there aren't too many critical holes in the lineup. This game is much less dependent on the tournament scene than most collectibles because a large part of its market is made up of purchasers who are buying it purely for collection or to use the miniatures in other games. Wisely, the miniatures are easily usable in other games and with the scale change in the second half of the run are mostly compatible with other military miniatures. I expect to keep these and find them useful while playing other games and for the occasional game of AAM, itself.

Axis & Allies War at Sea Naval Miniatures:

This is not dead yet and it looks to have several more sets of life in it, BUT as a history-based line there are natural limits on how long it can go on, as opposed to a fictional setting. There's already been some trouble filling out the Axis fleets because they simply weren't very big. As an expedient some what-if ships have already appeared and some ships that appeared earlier in the series are being reissued but at some point the well will run dry. Like its AAM, however, A&A War at Sea miniatures can easily be used with other wargames and while it's a unique scale, the line has gotten large enough that it includes nearly every important ship from th war and if it goes on for 2-3 more sets there's not going to be naught but odds and ends left out. This is a real keeper. The War at Sea game is a good lite wargame (rather better than the land game, in my view) and is always be useful for more traditional gaming as well.


Dreamblade is both quite dead and yet still pretty popular. While the plug was pulled a little early (after just four expansions after the base set) the existing universe of product is just big enough to make it a workable game for the long haul. This game has been hurt by the collapse of the tournament scene, so opponents with their own sets are scarce, but if you own a big enough collection (I have a few hundred figures) so that you can provide a drafting pool then you can get some reasonable gaming in. I've had some success getting people to play. It's really a pretty good game, fundamentally, so I expect to keep it for occasional play. The game pieces aren't really usable for any other purposes, though, which is limiting.


This game was 'dead" and then resurrected in a new incarnation. From what I can see, there's less vitality in the new version, but there's still some life. It's no thanks to me, however. I bought and played the game when it was WizKids. largely because it was the most gaming action I could find locally for a while, but when that sanctioned game scene evaporated I cut way back on my collection. I now have about 200 or so, left, mostly DC and I can't see re-entering the tournament scene by buying new product. For me what I have will have to last me as fodder for casual play. The game isn't bad, but it's also not one of my top interests. It's another game where the pieces aren't really usable for other purposes and I haven't been ale to generate much interest in scenario-based play in my local area. Nearly everybody who plays this seems only interested in playing it competitively -- and I'm not getting back into that scene. So this game's future on my shelf is very much up in the air. I've been chipping away at the edges of the collection through eBay sales for a while and if I ever have to move this is probably the first or second collection to go en masse.

More to come .... .

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

And so it begins -- 150th anniversary of the Civil War

And so it began 150 years ago today -- The American Civil War -- variously known as the War Between the States, the War of Secession, etc. In a sense I am looking for to this 150th. I think anything that nurtures a sense of history in the public is a good thing, and public appreciation of the Civil War in particular is needed because it's not quite dead history yet.

Compared to just about any other war that Americans fought the controversy over the meaning, events and consequences of the war still reverberate. While there's some controversy over the wars we are fighting today in Afghanistan and Iraq, and even lingering bitterness over Vietnam, I'm confident that the 150th anniversary of those wars will be as little remarked as the anniversaries of the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War or the Spanish-American War. Indeed, the recent 20th anniversary of the First Gulf War passed with hardly a mention in the media.

Today I commemorated the opening of the Civil War with a Civil War Game day at Arkham Asylum where we played games from the centennial of 1961 (Avalon Hill's Civil War) and the 150th Anniversary edition of Battle Cry. Over the next few years, God willing, I hope to reprise that with other game days marking significant battle anniversaries from the war. Next up will be First Bull Run in July.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Interesting news from Rich Baker on Angels 20 and War at Sea Set VI

A new entry in Rich Baker's Hasbro blog has some interesting tidbits. First off, the Japanese carrier Taiho will be in the new set. This was probably the best-designed Japanese carrier of the war -- comparable to the US Essex class. But poor damage control led to its loss during the Battle of the Philippine Sea when fuel vapors ignited.

He also talked a little about a new type of unit, the Installation, which will be represented by Fort Drum, which was a heavily fortified island in Manila Bay. This is an interesting sculpt at least and may bring the game in some new direction. It badly needs some other kinds of scenarios besides the sea control and convoy battles.

He also talks about the new Angels 20 air game which is looking more tempting all the time. He reveals that one of the planes will be the I-16 Russian fighter and one of the models will be in Nationalist Chinese colors! So with I-16s and P-40s the Chinese actually get some interesting choices to play with.

Musings on modeling damage in skirmish-level wargames

I was looking over my Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures game today in preparation for a hoped-for game and I noticed an oddity -- it's almost impossible for a single blow to be fatal among comparable fighters.

For example, the Human Fighter, shown above, normally does 15 hit points of damage with a successful attack. But the fighter has 55 HP himself, so if he were fighting a similar warrior it would take at least three blows to defeat the foe. The first successful attack would reduce the enemy fighter to 40 HP, the second would cut him down to 25 and leave him "bloodied," which would set up the "Death Blow" attack action (if available) which would finish him off.

Now I don't have a problem with this from a game perspective. It applies to everyone equally and works well enough -- the same basic system has been used in D&D for decades.

But it doesn't bear much resemblance to actual sword fighting. I'm sorry, but if you get cut by a greatsword you're fighting efficiency will suffer. And often enough a single slash or stab will do some vital damage that will kill you outright or at least incapacitate you. But in D&D this only happens if you have some very powerful fighter matched against a very weak one. Many skirmish level games are like this, of course. It's easy to see why. I can hear the howls as some 15th level character gets nailed by a lucky shot from a random archer and is killed instantly. Yet just that sort of key blow plays a big role in fantasy fiction. Consider Bard's arrow that felled Smaug in the Hobbit, for example. Simply impossible under the D&D system.

The western gunfighter game Cowboys; The Way of the Gun has this effect, too. The Cowboy characters can't be killed by a single shot. Great for players but obviously absurd. The earlier wargame-like western gunfighting game Gunslinger was more realistic on that score. If you got shot, you were probably not going to be able to do much, and what you did get to do would take longer and be less effective. And there was always a chance of an instant kill.

I don't mean to pick on DDM, because the same thing is nearly universal among skirmish-level games, especially those with a fantasy or science fiction base. Occasionally there's a provision for quick KOs for ordinary run of the mill NPCs, but the more powerful characters can always take a licking and keep on ticking.