Monday, September 26, 2011

Looks like a second Campaign Book is on the way for Memoir '44!

Days of Wonder's site has a link to order a new campaign book. It says there are 11 different campaigns involved, which is similar tot he number that were in the first campaign book. There's no mention of any "Grand Campaign" rules however and the breadth of campaigns mentioned int he write-up would seem to preclude the kind of links seen in the first book.

This looks like a nice product and it's definitely on my list.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Test of Fire -- action around Henry House Hill

It's not just politics that seem to be becoming more polarized -- my tastes in games are going in two different directions as well.

As I get older I find I'm appreciating games on the far ends of the realism/playability spectrum and losing interest in the much that's in the middle.

On the one hand, I'm really enjoying games such as Test of Fire. It is, by no stretch, a simulation. But it does manage to capture the overall flavor of the Battle of First Bull Run with an elegantly spare set of rules -- practically a Japanese rock garden as far as wargame rules go -- that's also a lot of fun and extremely quick to play (45 minutes to an hour).

And on the other hand, when I really want to understand the "what-ifs" of History I find myself drawn to games such as Command at Sea or Persian Incursion.

The problem is that medium complexity wargames no longer hit a "sweet spot" for me. They're generally too lengthy and work-intensive and yet I've lost faith that the work leads to a significantly more accurate simulation. Some of the newer designs I've come across sometimes seem to do things differently simply for the sake of doing things differently. And some design abstractions seem to be inadequately justified to me. I'm often left wondering why things are done a certain way and the designer doesn't enlighten. There are exceptions, of course, but that's the trend I'm seeing. Now there's no question that a game like Harpoon 4 is a lot of work, but at the end of the day you see what the work is for and its explicit nature makes it easy for you to modify as you see fit. As soon as the designer starts abstracting things, a certain opaqueness descends on the design. Even if you tiker with it, you can't be sure you're having the desired effect on realism. If you add an artillery unit that's missing from the OB are you really making the game more realistic. Maybe the designer already factored it into the strength of another unit -- or maybe you're over-estimating the effect of the unit and the designer was justified in leaving it out.

On the other end, a game like Test of Fire isn't about that sort of thing anyway. It's about providing an entertaining game narrative that captures the overall flavor of the battle without worrying overmuch about any details. And it only takes an hour.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

This is too cool

About 50 or so re-enactors gathered to commemorate the 2,500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon this week.

2011 is, of course the actual 2,500th year since the battle of 490 BC because there's no "Year Zero" in the calendar system we use.

I didn't have the ability to travel to Greece this year, but I did commemorate the anniversary a few weeks ago with an Epic game of Marathon using Commands & Colors -- which the Greeks won, although perhaps not quite so decisively has they did historically.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Test of Fire -- testing, testing

It's ideal when you can open a box with a game that came in the mail and less than 24 hours later see it hit the table, but that happy circumstance came about with Mayfair's new Test of Fire.

Originally this was supposed to some out in time for the 150th anniversary of the battle, but, as such things tend to do in the wargame hobby, the release date slipped a bit and ity just arrived in September. Well, at least it's still the 150th anniversary year.

Test of Fire is an introductory historical wargame by noted euro game designer Martin Wallace. While not his first historical wargame, Wallace is definitely much better known as a euro designer and he's been careful to state that his wargames are not simulations in any way. I think he's being a little too humble, though, because no introductory warggame is going to manage to be much of a simulation and Wallace's games so far have shown a reasonable level of historical fidelity considering their scope. I think they compare very favorably to more traditional wargames. About the only thing Wallace designs definitely avoid it's being tied down to any particular unit or time scale. While units are differentiated by type, as appropriate, they're not labeled in any way. So, while we know that the Red Elite Federal unit in Gdettysburg is the "Iron Brigade," the figure doesn't say that.

Likewise in Test of Fire we don't see any unit identifications. The vast bulk of both armies is formed of infantry units, which seem to represent about 1,000 troops. Each army has two artillery units, which seem to represent nothing more than an aggregatuon of firepower in a sectoir. Both armies historically divided their artillery units up into a number of separate batteries. Each army has a commanding general (or, optionally, two commanding generals for the CSA). The presence of Stuart's cavalry is represented by a card ad the federal horsemen present are ignored altogether.

The mounted mapbaord is divided into areas representing the battlefield at Bull Run. Some area boundaries are marked with a number that shows how many units can be moved acroiss the boundary at once, with the default for unmarked ares being 2. Roads allow 3 units, woods just one. Along the river the values range from 0 to 2.

In addition to their on-board troops, each side has access to its own deck of cards which provide various bonuses and special events.

Game play is straightforward. Each player in his turn rolls a number of D6 (4 for the Union, 3 for the CSA) with the die results controlling which actions the player can take. For every 1 rolled the player can draw a card. For every 2 or 3 rolled an artillery unit can fire at an adjacent area with a 5 or 6 being a "hit." A subsequent roll determines the effect, with a 6 causing damage to a unit while a 1-5 forces a unit to retreat. For every 4 or 5 rolled a player can move one group of units from one area to an adjacent area, subject to the boundary limits. Finally, a 6 allows a player a choice between firing an artillery unit with a general, condcuting a move with units in the same are as a general or drawing a card.

Combat is also very simple and straightforward. Units use move actions to enter an enemy occupied area. As the timing of actions is under player control, more than one move action can be taken before a battle is fought. Infantry units roll 2 dice per unit involved, up to a maximum of 6 dice worth, with the defender firing first. Eacgh 5 or 6 is a hit (4-6 if defending a hill) with a subsequent roll resolving the hit effect: 1-3 is a retreat, 4-6 is damage. Damage flips an infanrty unit or destorys an alaready flipped unit. Artillery and leaders don't take direct part in the combat and have to retreat if left alone in the space with an enemy infantry unit. The attackers has one round of combat to clear the defenders from the space, otherwise the attacking units retreat.

Victory is assessed several possible ways. Most basically, if a side captures the enemy home base (Centerville or Manassas) then it wins, but barring very reckless play this shouldn't happen. When the cards run out, the next time a card would ahve to be drawn then the game ends on the completion of the Confederate turn. If the federals have two of the three starred areas on the Rebel side of Bull Run, then they win, otherwise the Confederates prevail. Finally, and perhaps most controversially, each side has a number of "Rout" cards they can play. each entitles the player to roll 2D6 and if the total is equal two or less than the number of enemy infantry units lost then that side wins. This obviously makes the game potentially very dicey, with a sudden death victory possible as soon as 2 enemy units are lost.

About the most that can be said for this is that's basically what happened historically, and a similar idea is seen in the Decision Games Blue & Gray First Bull Run quad. The game moves very fast, so there will generally be time to pick up and start again if a quick end happens.

The basic situation is familiar, the federal army is heavily weighted to its right flank as it prepares to march around the flank of the rebel army, which is, in turn, strongest on its own right.

Our first game took a bit over an hour, which seems good for a virgin out-of-the-box play. I can see experienced payers cooking through the game in the advertised 45 minutes easy.

Like all of Wallace's wargames, Test of Fire manages to skin the cat in a very different way from the traditional hex-and-counter game while being at least as historical and fun. The situation's historical constraints make this less wide-open than most euros, of course, but players do seem to have several viable approaches besides the strict historical plans.

The MSRP is under $30 so overall I'd rate this as a good value.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Opening Salvos preview -- 8 ships revealed!!

USS Montana

Rich Baker's blog revealed 8 sip images with data cards that will likely be the 8 ships in his Opening Salvos for Set VI -- and an interesting bunch it is, too.

The big boys are the USS Montana, weighing in at 80 points with absolutely monstrous stats and a new version of the Yamato.

For cruisers we have the Sheffield from the Bismarck hunt and an Italian fast light cruiser.

For carriers we have the Japanese Taiho, which was expected and the British Eagle, which was not.

And for support units there's a common LST and a German minesweeper! All good stuff.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Brazil in World War II

It's not well-known, but Brazilian troops saw ground combat in Europe in World War II. As a matter of fact, the Italian campaign was the first in history to include troops from every inhabited continent -- with North American, South American, African, Asian and ANZAC troops as well as Europeans taking part.

Back in the 1980s my first contribution to Strategy & Tactics magaizne was an article about "The Other BEF," referring to the Brazilian Expeditionary Force that fought in Italy. Now, it wasn't exactly a secret to wargamers that Brazil fought in Italy -- there's a counter for the Brazilian Division in Anzio -- but I think my article was the first one in a wargaming publication to go into any detail about it.

My main source was the account of the division's operation written by its commander, a copy of which was in the library of the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill where I was student at the time. I supplemented the account with some American sources as well, especially the IV Corps report. These were what I had available at the time, which was, naturally, less than satisfying.

So I was intrigued when I saw that Osprey was publishing a book on the topic by Brazilian authors which could take advantage of Brazilian accounts. I was relieved to find that my account was correct in general, although I naturally didn't have much of the unit-level detail and battle accounts that the Osprey book features.

The Brazilian's biggest contribution to the war effort was making it's geographical position available to the Allies for air ferry missions to Africa and anti-submarine work against U-boats. It took a lot of time to ready the Brazilian Division for ground combat given the lack of domestic military equipment and experience. Still, the Brazilains arrived at an opportune time for the Italian front, as troop shortages had become acute in that secondary theater. (To the point that a neighboring unit was Task Force 45, a brigade-sized group of anti-aircraft artillerymen pressed into service as infantry!)

The Brazilians had hard-won experience against German troops over the winter but played major role in the final breakout and pursuit across Northern Italy that resulted in the first mass capitulation of Axis troops in Europe. In addition to the Brazilian Division, that country also contributed a squadron of fighter pilots that also served in Italy as well as some support formations.

It's an interesting story and I'm glad it's been told.