Stomping out a hit – Kingdomino Expansion Age of Giants (@BlueOrangeGames, 2018)

Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2016) designed by Bruno Cathala was the 2017 Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) winner. The game has also been a winner in the RockyMountainNavy house. We love this simple domino-like tile-laying game, so much so we also invested in Queendomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017). Of the two, we tend to prefer playing Queendomino as it is more a “gamer’s game” whereas we use Kingdomino as a gateway or filler game. This summer when Mrs. RMN and the Boys visited family in Korea they took an extra copy of Kingdomino to play and leave with the niece. It was very popular. So when I saw an expansion coming on sale I was interested.

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games

In Kingdomino Expansion Age of Giants the major change is the addition of Giant meeples. Thematically, certain tiles bring the Giants to your kingdom, and others chase them away into another player’s kingdom. Mechanically, Giants cover up scoring crowns and take away VP. The expansion also features a neat Domino Dispenser (tower) that makes dealing the tiles that much easier. With the additional tiles a fifth player can also be added.

 

I really liked the Giant meeple idea so that alone was enough to sell me on the game. To be honest, as much as we like Kingdomino it was dropping in popularity in part because the RMN Boys and myself had “solved” the game. We had reached the point that every game we play ends up with the scoring bonus for Middle Kingdom (bonus points for having your Castle centered in your grid) and Harmony (complete grid with no gaps). It is the very rare occasion that we don’t get the full 15 point bonus. The Giant meeple mechanic looked to be a great way to reinvigorate the game.

In looking at the publisher’s blurb for Kingdomino Expansion Age of Giants I totally glossed over this part:

End of game bonuses are eliminated, instead, before the start of each game, players must draw 2 challenge tiles. These provide additional ways to get points. For example, get 5 bonus points for each lake tile that surrounds your castle, and get 20 bonus points if your castle is located in one of the 4 corners of your kingdom.

This, my friends, it the true hidden gem of Age of Giants and the real reason Kingdomino will be back on the table with a vengeance. The game includes 17 Challenge Tiles, each with a different bonus scoring condition. Middle Kingdom and Harmony are just two of the possible bonus scoring means; there are 15 others.

Upon getting Age of Giants we immediately played several games. In our first game we all fell back on our “solved” approach – and failed to actually score many points. Midway through my second game I realized I had to “unlearn” what I “know” about Kingdomino and state with a new strategy to fit the scoring bonus. Rather than playing Kingdomino by reflex, I really had to think!

Bottom Line: The Challenge Tiles make Kingdomino really fun again.

Designer Bruno Cathala deserves great respect for what he has done with the Kingdomino line. From the “basic” Kingdomino to the “gamer’s” Queendomino to the renewed challenges in Kingdomino Expansion Age of Giants, a game for every skill level of gamer is present. This entire series of games are deservedly core members of the RMN gaming collection.

Featured image courtesy Blue Orange Games.

 

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Prelude to Corporate – The Full Experience of #TerraformingMars (@StrongholdGames / @FryxGames)

Terraforming Mars (designer Jacob Fryxelius at Fryx Games, publisher Stronghold Games, 2016) will likely become an “evergreen” game in the RockyMountainNavy collection. We love the theme and every game is new and interesting. This weekend was no exception.

My preorder for Terraforming Mars: Prelude arrived in the past few weeks and we decided to get this expansion to the table. At the same time, I realized we had not played the Corporate Era (extended game) version in the base set. More than a few of the comments in the BoardGameGeek Forums for Prelude mentioned that it shortens the game by “jumpstarting” the corporations. On balance it sounded like a good deal; shorter the extended Corporate Era game by using Prelude.

It worked. Really well. So well this will likely be our default game play mode from here on out.

Prelude jumpstarts your corporations by adding Prelude Cards and a new set-up step. Each player is dealt four Prelude Cards at the same time they are choosing corporations and project cards. After corporations are chosen and project cards paid for, each player plays two of their four Prelude Cards. According to the box back, each Prelude Card will either “jumpstart the terraforming process or boost your corporation engine.” This is a good counterbalance to the Corporate Era (extended game) which “focuses on economy and technology…projects that do not contribute directly to the terraforming, but make the corporations stronger, adding new strategic choices to the game.”

We didn’t take any photos but I remember the starting corporations. I took Inventrix, Middle RMN Boy was Interplanetary Cinematics, and Little RMN took Ecoline. From that point out the game developed in really unexpected ways.

Both RMN Boys ended up building fierce economic engines. By the end of game both had over 30 MCr income production. Interplanetary Cinematics also played several cards that reduced the cost of new projects, and Ecoline ended up going heavy into space (Jovian Tags) . For myself, Inventrix started out with many project cards but could not get a good income going meaning I was unable to purchase enough cards or play more valuable cards.

Seeing how we had not played Terraforming Mars in a while (since February…toooo loooong!) we were a bit slow. Even with the Prelude jumpstart our game lasted a bit over 2 hours. I don’t see this as a negative; without Prelude we could of gone at least 2 1/2 hours or more.

I don’t really have anything negative to say about Prelude except I wish that one major ruling had been explicitly stated in the rule book. It concerns the effect of Prelude Cards on the terraform rating (TR), specifically, an explicit ruling that a Prelude Card that adds an Ocean or affects Oxygen or Temperature moves the players TR. Fortunately, the question was quickly (son officially?) answered in the BGG forums. Everything else seems pretty straight-forward.

Indeed, the straight-forward nature of the two Terraforming Mars expansions I own, Terraforming Mars: Prelude and Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium make incorporating these expansions into the base game quite simple. Both can be added to the game with very minimal rules explanation needed. The RMN Boys and myself don’t really feel the need to add Terraforming Mars: Venus Next and are concerned about added playtime. A two-hour Terraforming Mars game is about perfect for us.

Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.

Frienemies with Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017)

The traditional RockyMountainNavy Game Night saw Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017) land on the table. The game covers 600 years of Roman history using relatively low-complexity mechanics. Our game this weekend reminded me both why I like the game even when I have issues with it.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself really like the game for its theme:

THE GAME:  It is 300 BC. Since being founded as a Republic in 509 BC Rome has grown in power and influence. Now it is your time…

You and up to 4 other players are one of Rome’s great leaders. Take control of legions and lead them across the known world for the next 600 years as you deal with uprisings, rebellions, political intrigue, and wars. Players can make alliances with one another (and true to Rome, break those alliances!) maneuver their forces and the enemies of Rome, all as they try to become the one true Caesar! All others are fed to the lions and their legacies lost to history…(Publishers Blurb)

We played a three-player game although we “know” this is not the optimal player count. Well, we play more for the fun of gaming together.

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Game Start – My Proconsul (Purple) is in Syria

The early turns were not kind to me. The other Proconsuls (i.e. the RockyMountainNavy Boys) moved the Enemies of Rome against me. As a result, I quickly lost my home territory.

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Enemy horde ejects me from my capital (Syria)

Not having a capital is not a total kiss-of-death, but having the fortress bonus on defense helps. I really needed a secure area to keep building up from. I thought I had found a way using the First Roman-Jewish War Event Card. I succeeded in reoccupying my capital in Syria, but along the way ended up fortifying the Enemies of Rome positions in Palestinia and Arabia Petrea.

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First Roman-Jewish War fortifies the area south and east of Syria

The other Proconsuls continued to use the Enemies of Rome against me, and as a result I ended up losing Syria again. I was forced to use Cilicia as my new “base” of operations.

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Ejected from Syria…again

Although I had difficulty in keeping a home territory, throughout the game I was always looking for easy opportunities to knock off a territory and gain that coveted Glory Point. I also paid a lot closer attention to the Event Cards I was dealt and tried to use them to create situations to gain Glory Points not just defend. When defending, one usually loses Legions to attrition in battle without any Glory Points gained. In the end game, the opportunity to retake Syria (yet again) presented itself. I took it, along with the Glory Point. To my (happy) surprise, at the end game scoring I pulled off a narrow victory!

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Victory by one Glory Point!

Playing Enemies of Rome again reminded me of several issues I have with the game. The first issue (which I have discussed before) is the victory point mechanic. In short, one gains VP (Glory Points) for winning battles as the attacker. What looks like a territory control game is actually not. Middle RMN Boy (playing Yellow) has the most territories and could of won if he was able to stay no more than two Glory Points behind the leader. My second issue is that for a game that is low-complexity (rated 3 out of 10 by the publisher) I actually have missed a few rules in the book. As a matter of fact, as I was reviewing the rule book before our latest game, I discovered this “obvious” rule that I had missed before:

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Enemies of Rome group size defined….

Although the Glory Point mechanic is a bit wonky, a larger player count is better, and some rules could be explained better, the RockyMountainNavy house still endorses Enemies of Rome.

Bottom line – It’s Fun!

I was a bad outlaw in #FireflyTheGame (Gale Force Nine, 2013)

The RockyMountainNavy Boys are back from their summer travels. Before they left, they had found my Customizable Ship Models package for Firefly: The Game (Gale Force Nine, 2013) and painted up their own ships. For our Friday Game Night they wanted to get the models to the table and misbehave!

Since this was really only our second full Firefly gameplay, we went back to the starter “First Time in the Captain’s Chair” Story Card. We had all the Contact Decks on the table so we could work with any of them.

The game was really fun and we certainly created a ruckus in the house!

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Setting up….

I had Burgess as my Leader. I was immediately able to purchases Burgesses’ Gun for a whole lotta Gun Skill. To helped lead me astray as two of my three Starting Jobs were Illegal. So my life of crime began. Along the way I recruited some unsavory types with more guns, a little bit of mechanics, and not enough negotiation.

Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy tried the lawful approach, getting Solid with Harken early. This gave him easy passage through Alliance Space. He was able to stay lawful until he needed to catch up – and went outlaw! Middle RMN Boy took a mix of Legal and Illegal Jobs.

My first job was Botched and I got a Warrant for my arrest. For the rest of the game I avoided Alliance Space. I did have one encounter with the Reaver but was able to Evade.

Middle RMN got a sweet deal and picked up a job where he was able to ship 10 passengers across the ‘Verse for a $3000 (+$400 bonus) payout. This gave him the money he needed for the win. He was not far from the bank but took his time Moseying Along which caused brother and Dad to desperately race to complete their last job and then Full Burn to the bank. He didn’t let us win and with a smirk on his face arrived at the bank one turn ahead of the rest of us.

Gameplay was much faster than before. We already have the basic mechanics of the game down and can now work on strategies to win. Unlike our first game, we all took on more Illegal Jobs (in my case, all Illegal) and drew from the Misbehaving Deck heavily. After the game we all agreed that we want to try another Story Card next game.

July Gaming Festivities – or – A Good Month of #Wargaming but Better to Have Family Back After Travel

This past July should not have been a good gaming month.

My “regular gaming group” (aka the RockyMountainNavy Boys) were on international travel the entire month. Before they left, we played one game, Queendomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017) together.We didn’t play another game together until they got back and Tiny Epic Galaxies (Gamelyn Games, 2015) launched.

Yet somehow in between I played 23 other games. Better yet, 20 plays were of WARGAMES! Yet even better, and uncounted in my BGG Played log, the RockyMountainNavy Boys shared games with the family in Korea and made some lasting memories along the way.

fullsizeoutput_609The top played wargame of the month was Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games, 2018). I call Cataclysm a wargame though I actually see it as a strategy game of politics. When I tried to play Cataclysm as a wargame it was disappointing; as a strategy game I love it!

Another notable play of the month was the first full scenario run of Battle Hymn Vol. 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games, 2018). The chit-pull activation mechanic makes this game very interesting by showing the friction of war. Additionally, it can’t be the Fourth of July without Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2016) making a rebellious appearance on the table. GMT Games also offered a Fourth of July Holiday Sale where I picked up Washington’s War (GMT Games, 2015 reprint). I am lucky I did so because it is now out-of-stock.

It was on travel this month that I picked up Tiny Epic Galaxies. Played it solo a few times in the hotel. As much fun as it is in the solo mode I enjoy it even more when playing against the RockyMountainNavy Boys.

Alas, July 2018 was also a month of wargaming disappointments. I was supposed to go to the CONNECTIONS 2018 wargaming conference but was pulled off at the last minute by work. I was supposed to go to the World Boardgaming Championships (WBC) but waved off after traveling on official business and getting home late the night before I was supposed to drive. I sorta owe an apology to Alexander and Grant of The Player’s Aid (@playersaidblog on Twitter) because I had planned to meet them. From the looks of it they certainly didn’t miss me as they tweeted and blogged about all the great talks and games at WBC!

When the RockyMountainNavy Boys returned home they brought lots of good stories about playing games with the family in Korea. They took along (and left behind) copies of:

  • Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017) – Very popular with cousins
  • Quartto Mini (Gigamic Edition, 2017) – Good brain game for older family and especially an Uncle who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Chicken Cha Cha Cha (Rio Grande Games Edition, 2011) – Mrs. RockyMountainNavy wanted to get this great game for her nephew’s daughter; she is a bit too young right now but the game will be there when she is ready!
  • Rhino Hero (Haba, 2011) – What is marketed as a kid’s game was the most popular game amongst the adults; so popular the RockyMountainNavy Boys surrendered their copy to their cousin so she could take it to play with her friends (all mid-late 20’s)
  • Happy Salmon (North Star Games, 2016) – I keep hearing stories of an epic night there all the adults stood around and played a game of Happy Salmon; the youngest RMN Boy tells me everyone – players and observers alike – were laughing so hard he couldn’t even record the game.

Though I was able to get alot of good wargaming in by myself this past month, I really and glad the RockyMountainNavy Boys are back. They want to play a game every day in August until school starts.

I like that idea; will keep you posted!

The Gygax Rule for GMs – All you need is good rules and good books

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Courtesy http://rpglabyrinth.blogspot.com

In my gaming pantheon, I clearly play wargames first, other boardgames second, and role playing games (RPGs) a distant third. Spending-wise, I have bought very few RPG products since April. In the past month I came close to buying two new RPGs but didn’t. Along the way I learned a valuable lesson taught to me by no other than the Godfather of RPGs, Gary Gygax. Gary reminded me that RPGs are inherently a personal creation; if a product is “not quite right” there are tools available to “do it my way.”

The big RPG splash of the month was the Kickstarter launch of The Expanse Roleplaying Game from Green Ronin Publishing. The project currently (as I write) has over 3,330 backers pledging upwards of $239,000 against goal of $30,000 – and 24 days to go.

I initially pledged to support at the Ship’s Boat-level which is $20 for the pdf version. I then downloaded the free Quickstart pdf and took a look. I am no hard-core The Expanse fan but I generally like the universe. I initially missed the books and became acquainted with the setting through the TV series. After looking at the Quickstart I mulled it over for a few days and then cancelled my pledge.

First, the Quickstarter did not appeal to me; indeed, it actually turned me off. My initial negative reaction was to the artwork. I think my expectations are biased from the TV series and the artwork in the Quickstarter just feels too different. More importantly, it is not what I see as evocative of the setting. It almost seems too cartoonish to me whereas I imagine The Expanse though a more hard sci-fi lens.

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Courtesy The Expanse RPG Kickstarter

Secondly, the RPG core mechanic (based on Green Ronin’s Adventure Game Engine – AGE) just didn’t capture what I think feels like The Expanse to me. I admit I was a bit confused at first because I was expecting to see the Chronicle System used in A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Game which is my only other exposure to Green Ronin. I really like the Intrigue Mechanic in Chronicle and it perfectly captures (is evocative of) the Game of Thrones setting.

Looking at the Quickstarter pdf, I weighed my pledge and thought about what I was getting. I decided that I actually already have a version of The Expanse RPG. I actually have two of them, both from Zozer Games, and both using a system I am comfortable with (Cepheus Engine):

  • Orbital: 2100 – “Realistic spacecraft, using reaction drives and rotating hab modules for gravity. Orbital is set in our own Solar System and has a real hard-science feel to it.”
  • HOSTILE – “A gritty near future setting inspired by those late-70s and early 80’s movies like Alien, Bladerunner and Outland.”

I seriously weighed getting The Expanse RPG if not for the system then for the setting material. Then I (fortuitously?) came across this article by Gary Gygax himself and published in 2001 where he talks about author Jack Vance and the Dying Earth books. In particular, Mr. Gygax writes:

There is a truly great advantage offered to the Game Master when devising a campaign set on the Dying Earth. It is not highly detailed. There is no strict timeline laid down. All that has happened before is not “recorded”, nor is there an accurate gazetteer of for the world. What magic operates? Nobody can say or guess, because in the long eons of the Dying Earth’s history, likely every form possible was discovered, used, and then forgotten…almost. That means that all that’s necessary is to have the game in hand, the books that Jack Vance wrote about the world, to create a really compelling campaign environment. Using the creative base of the author, the GM’s own imagination cannot fail but to rise to the occasion. (Emphasis mine)

 

In my mind, I already own The Expanse RPG. My version uses a core mechanic that I feel is evocative of the setting (Cepheus Engine). I have the sourcebooks in the form of several TV seasons and multiple books and short stories. I don’t need somebody else’s vision that doesn’t strike me as evocative of the stories or setting.

The second RPG I nearly bought was another Kickstarter campaign. Tachyon Squadron from Evil Hat Productions is basically Battlestar Galactica with the serial numbers filed off rendered using the Fate Core system:

Tachyon Squadron is a Fate Core supplement that blends space opera and military sci-fi. It’s Evil Hat’s take on popular stories about interstellar battles, like the ones that have ships with wings named after letters and the one where robots chase the human race through space. If you’re interested in deep space dogfights, friendly—well, usually—rivalries with fellow pilots, and playing scrappy underdogs with the deck stacked against you, this game is for you.

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Courtesy Evil Hat

The project funded with 1,401 backers pledging $25,295 against a $7,500 goal. Like The Expanse RPG Kickstarter, Evil Hat was very generous and offers a free download Quickstarter version. It is pretty much as I expected as Evil Hat has previously sold a smaller, similar setting found in Fate Worlds Volume One: Worlds on Fire. In Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie the PCs are pilots aboard a giant War Zeppelin taking on “a horde of WWI mechanical monstrosities.” For Tachyon Squadron I actually was more interested in Stretch Goal 7:

STRETCH GOAL 7 (UNLOCKS AT $26,000): The Battle of Britain: At $26,000, we’ll start work on The Battle of Britain, a 5,000 word electronic supplement that applies Tachyon Squadron’s dogfighting rules to a WWII squadron of Spitfire pilots defending Britain. This supplement will include plane stats and mechanics to help you take to the skies with the Allied forces.

Alas, this stretch goal didn’t unlock. My potential Pilot-in-Training pledge of $12 would not have made a big difference.

What really turned me off about Tachyon Squadron was the over-the-top SJW proselytizing. It is so in-your-face I think it overwhelms the game setting. Even if I am able to put the SJW part aside I see the the game offering me little new. The major rule of difference, dogfighting, is likely not far from that found in Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie which I already own. Much like The Expanse, I have a Battlestar Galactica RPG in the form of the officially licensed Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game (Margaret Weis Productions, 2007). This game uses the CORTEX Classic system which I generally like (indeed, I am still awaiting my CORTEX Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game Kickstarter to deliver – only 3 months overdue…so far). If I want to do Battlestar Galactica using Fate Core I already own all the setting and rules material; why should I invest more money into a near-version that alleges to be ruleset but comes across more like a SJW propaganda tract?

Passing on The Expanse RPG (Green Ronin’s AGE System) and Tachyon Squadron (Evil Hat’s Fate Core System) got me thinking about the games and systems I do have. Last June I listed Star Wars The Edge of the Empire RPG (Fantasy Flight Games) as one of my Top 3 RPGs. I like the Narrative Dice System and want to play more with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Thinking about expanding beyond Star Wars I picked up GENESYS: The Roleplaying Game for All Settings.

Genesys is a role playing system designed for flexibility and adaptability, specifically tooled to work with any setting imaginable. The Genesys Core Rulebook not only contains an overview of the rules and how the innovative narrative dice system works, but everything a GM and players need to run adventures in five completely different settings. Everything from equipment to adversaries, character abilities to an overview of narrative tropes, all is provided in the core rulebook for Genesys. With a system so adaptable and expansive you can explore every popular roleplaying genre, from classic fantasy style campaigns, to modern day detective thrillers, and even to a far off sci-fi future, Genesys doesn’t fit into any one genre of roleplaying, and instead invites players to craft their own stories with unparalleled freedom.

Taking GENESYS and combining it with Gary Gygax’s Dying Earth GM approach, I can likely make a version of The Expanse or Battlestar Galactica – or any other setting I chose to explore – for myself.

The most important RPG lesson I learned this month is that I don’t need Kickstarter to make an RPG for me that “isn’t quite right”; I just need good books and a good ruleset.

What You See is What You Get and More – or – Why I Love the Modern Wargame Renaissance

I HAVE BEEN A GROGNARD since 1979. I started out by playing board wargames and still play board wargames today. I have seen the height of wargame companies like SPI and Avalon Hill as well as the darkest wargaming days in the 1990’s caused in part by The Great Magic: The Gathering Extinction Event. These days, I think wargaming is in a renaissance period. Although there are quantitatively many wargames being published, the part that excites me the most is the quality of those games. Today you can still find a “classic” hex & counter wargame with a CRT it but is the innovative designs with modern presentation and gameplay that really grab my attention.

Harold Buchanan, designer of Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (amongst other games) has a really neat podcast called Harold on Games hosted off his website conflictsimulations.com. Episode 10 is an interview with designer Uwe Eickert, Principal at Academy Games. Uwe (pronounced “oova”) has a lot to say in the interview and listening to the whole podcast is well worth your time. For this post, I want to focus on his thoughts regarding presentation and probability in wargames.

Uwe believes (I’m paraphrasing here) that a major reason modern wargame designs are exciting is because they are incorporating many of the best practices in game presentation and streamlined play.  Although he didn’t mention it in the interview, Academy Games also uses the Warcholak Guide, named after editor and developer Nicholas Warcholak, which states:

Is the rule necessary to simulate the TYPICAL (over 10% of the time) conditions and outcomes on the battlefield? If YES, keep. If NO, go to 2. Does the rule require significant mental resources to remember to play? (Significant is defined as needing to remember more than 2 facts.) If YES, dump. If NO, go to 3. Does the rule add to the fun of the game? Does it produce outcomes that add significant replayability, oh-no moments, gotcha momments, or simulation pay-off outside the general flow of the game? If YES, keep. If NO, dump.

In the interview, I keyed in on Uwe’s comments regarding charts and tables in wargames. He advocates for more modern design elements and especially a need to incorporate “the math” into different die rolls instead of endless modifiers and tables. This approach preserves the “probabilities” (and realism) of a wargame but also makes it fun! I absolutely buy into Uwe’s approach, which is also why I have bought many Academy Games designs to grace my gaming collection.

Listening to the interview with Uwe, I also discovered a real gem of information. Academy Games has a Kickstarter campaign for Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon that is nearing delivery. This game, based on the Saint’s Row video game universe, is a “story-driven 3D tactical boardgame.”

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Agents of Mayhem (Courtesy Academy Games)

The part not mentioned in the publisher’s blurb but stated by Uwe in his interview is that Agents of Mayhem is based on their “Falujah game” for the US Marine Corps. Looking at Agents with this thought in mind it makes perfect sense! More pertinent to this post, Agents of Mayhem shows the extreme implementation of modern gaming presentation and gameplay mechanics. In wargame terms, Agents of Mayhem is a skirmish game. This skirmish game features a destructible 3D terrain board. Each soldier or squad has a tableau that in a graphically intuitive manner shows capabilities and available actions. Combat is resolved using special die rolls with few modifiers that capture the essence of combat in a speedy, easy to understand (i.e. highly playable) manner.

I really am enjoying the modern wargaming renaissance. As much as I am a classic hex & counter gamer, the newer designs are really exciting and I look forward to more!

Featured image – Conflict of Heroes – Guadalcanal, 1942 (Academy Games, 2016)