History to #Wargame – French carry the Battle of Savannah this time (Commands & Colors Tricorne: The French & More!, @compassgamesllc, 2018)

October is a very historical month in American history, especially when studying the American Revolution. October 7 is the anniversary of the Battle of Kings Mountain and October 9 is the anniversary of the Battle of Savannah. Later this month, we get the anniversary of the attacks on Redoubt #9 and #10 during the Battle of Yorktown (October 14). All of these battles are included in the new French & More! expansion for Compass Games’ Commands & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution.

Here in the United States, Monday, October 8, was a holiday. Even though it was one day ahead of the actual anniversary I played out the “Savannah – 9 October 1779” scenario from the French & More! expansion. This is a somewhat brutal battle where the French under d’Estaing and Americans under Benjamin Lincoln throw themselves against a British line dug in using Field Works. In C&C Tricorne, Field Works allow Infantry and Artillery units to ignore one hit from ranged combat (except when attacked by artillery) as well as giving the unit the Morale Effect of ignoring one flag (retreat) except again from artillery. In effect, Field Works force the attacker to either bombard or close and Melee Battle (close assault) to remove the dug in defenders.

When setting up this game I missed a crucial new rule; a French Regular Infantry unit is composed of five blocks vice the usual four for British, German, or Continental. Thus, the French units fought at a disadvantage in my game.

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Continental-French view of Battle of Savannah at start

The French ended up carrying most of the fight this time. The draw of Command Cards for the Continental-French side ended up favoring the American right flank. Over the 15 rounds, I think something like nine Command Cards were for the right or a Line Command that was utilized in that section of the battlefield.

To win this battle, one needs to get nine Victory Banners. In addition to the usual banner awarded for destroying a unit, the Continental player also gains a banner for each unit exited off the British side of the board (relief to Savannah) or when occupying a Field Works at the start of their turn. The British gain a banner when there is no enemy in a Field Works at the beginning of their turn or when playing a Scout Command Card (representing the arrival of reinforcements). In this game the British never played a Scout card (indeed, one was never even drawn) and instead had to rely on destruction of enemy units and trying to eject any intruders in the Field Works.

The French attack on the right was a real slog and saw six complete units destroyed. As three of these were Regular Infantry I have to wonder if the fifth block could have saved these units! The Americans only lost one Light Cavalry unit under Pulaski. One American Light Cavalry and one French Light Infantry unit exited the board (two Victory Banners). Even with the artificially-weak French Regular Infantry the final score after 15 rounds was 10 Victory Banners for the Continental-French army (+7 for units destroyed – including the death of Leader Tawes, +2 for exited units, +1 for occupying a Field Works)  versus seven Victory Banners for the British (+7 for units destroyed).

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End of game. British right rolled up but at high cost to French.

Like many Commands & Colors games, the fickle hand of Fate played a major part in this battle. A French Grenadier Elite Infantry unit failed its Rally Check even with a +1 die advantage and Routed off the battlefield. Although the British had a 4:1 advantage in Light Artillery the draw of Command Cards saw very few actual bombardments take place. After a few rapid advances by the American cavalry on the left the Continental infantry in the center and left barely got moving and did little to contribute to the battle.

This game was my seventh play of C&C Tricorne since I got the base game in 2017. I am definitely becoming more familiar and comfortable with the game system and as a result it is playing much faster. At 15 rounds I think this was the longest C&C Tricorne scenario I have ever played but even so it still took just under 2 hours. I sometime hear hardcore grognards belittle the Commands & Colors-series as being “too simple” but I believe such criticism is misguided. Sure, the game mechanics are highly simplified but the game delivers a somewhat-realistic version of warfare with little rules overhead. Additionally, the table-presence of the game with the terrain tiles for a variable board set up and colorful blocks (all readily marked for easy reference) make it easy to play.

And it is fun!

Featured image “Siege of Savannah – Death of Kazimierz Pulanski” from pinterest

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History to #Wargame – No scaling Kings Mountain this time (#CommandsandColorsTricorne from @compassgamesllc)

The real Battle of King’s Mountain was fought on 7 October 1780. Historically, the battle resulted in an American Patriot victory. But not today.

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Battle of Kings Mountain – Setup. Continental Baseline is at top, British on bottom.

I refought this major Revolutionary War engagement on the 238th anniversary of the battle using Commands & Colors Tricorne: The French & More! expansion from Compass Games. This battle started out well for the Americans, with Provincials and Rifle units under Servier, Campbell, and Shelby (left of photo above) pushing in from the Continental right and forcing Ferguson back (left of British line as seen above).  Meanwhile, Militia under McDowell and Winston (bottom right) advanced along with two other Militia units coming across Clark’s Ford (upper right). Servior reached the mountain first, gaining the Continentals a Temporary Victory Banner. However, Turn 6 proved to be devastating to the Continentals when the British used Line Volley to decimate American units. Even at long range, the British were able score hits against Militia under Williams and Provincials under Cleveland (both at top-center of photo above) scoring just a few hits but also forcing a Retreat off the board and thus scoring a Victory Banner. Combined with Militia failing to Rally and Routing off the board the British were able to hold on even as their defenses collapsed on their camps.

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End of Turn 7 – British 6 Victory Banner vs Continental 2

One of the Special Rules in this scenario is “racing against time.” The British player can earn one Permanent Victory Banner for each Scout Command card he plays. This didn’t happen this game but it looks to be an interesting scoring mechanic that I want to see more of.

The best part of this game was making the History to Wargame connection. The RockyMountainNavy Boys saw the board and asked about the battle. This led to a nice discussion of the battle history. In the past year I have come to realize that I had pretty good knowledge of the northern campaigns and battles of the American Revolution but games like the “War in the South” scenario for Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (found in C3i Magazine #30) or Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy have taught me that I missed out on an understanding of the battles in the south which were often nasty, highly personal affairs.

The anniversary of the Battle of Savannah is 09 October, and within the French & More! expansion is the scenario “Savannah – 9 October 1779.” Historically, this was a very bloody affair:

On October 9, at dawn, thousands of French and Americans attacked the British positions and were cut down. It was the bloodiest hour in the Revolutionary War. Pulaski and Marion expressed strong disagreement with the plan proposed by D’estaing, but obeyed orders. As the 5 units attacked the British resistance stiffened. Still, Continental soldiers broke through the redoubt in at least two places near Spring Hill. As the Americans carried the wall of the redoubt, the flags were planted to show the soldiers the breach in the line. Suddenly, British Regulars, under the command of Col. John Maitland, advanced and turned back the combined French and Continental Army.

The American line at the redoubt began to crumble under the intense pressure of Maitland’s Regulars. Pulaski, seeing the line pull back, rode up and tried to rally the men as well when he was mortally wounded by cannister. American hero, Sgt. Jasper, was killed on the ramparts trying to save his unit’s battle flag. Polish patriot Casimir Pulaski was killed in a calvary charge. Black troops from Haiti in the French reserve came forward to cover the retreat of the shattered attackers. In an hour, a thousand casulaities resulted. During a truce, hundreds of French and American soldiers were buried in a mass grave. The city was held by the British until 1782 although guerrilla efforts by men like Col. Francis Marion, a survivor of the siege, continued.

Next week is also the anniversary of the Battle of Yorktown and there is a scenario “Yorktown (Assault on Redoubt #9 & #10) – 14 October 1781” also available. This was siege warfare unlike anything seen before in the American Revolution:

By October 14, the trenches were within 150 yards (140 m) of redoubts #9 and #10.  Washington ordered that all guns within range begin blasting the redoubts in order to weaken them for an assault that evening.  Washington would use the cover of a moonless night to lend the element of surprise to the enterprise.  To reinforce the darkness, he added silence, ordering that no soldier should load his musket until reaching the fortifications- the advance would be made with only “cold steel.” Redoubt 10 was near the river and held only 70 men, while redoubt 9 was a quarter of a mile inland, and was held by 120 British and Germans.  Both redoubts were heavily fortified with rows of abatis surrounding them along with muddy ditches which surrounded the redoubts at a distance of about 25 yards.  Washington devised a plan in which the French would launch a diversionary attack on the Fusiliers redoubt, and then a half an hour later, the French would assault redoubt 9 and the Americans redoubt 10.  Redoubt 9 would be assaulted by 400 French Regular soldiers under the command of the German Lieutenant Colonel Wilhelm von Zweibrücken and redoubt 10 would be assaulted by 400 light infantry troops under the command of Alexander Hamilton.  There was briefly a dispute as to who should lead the attack on redoubt #10, Lafayette named his aide, the Chevalier de Gimat, to lead the attack, but Hamilton protested, saying that he was the senior officer. Washington concurred with Hamilton and gave him command of the attack.

I look forward to playing these scenarios and getting the French Army into battle!

These games, like Commands & Colors Tricorne, have helped open my eyes to the history of these battles. This learning from wargaming is a part of the hobby I enjoy best and am happy to pass onto the RockyMountainNavy Boys.

Advanced #878Vikings from @Academy_Games

The RockyMountainNavy Game Night this week featured 878 Vikings: Invasion of England from Academy Games (2017). This was the first game we played using the Advanced Setup Rules found on page 2 of the Rule Book. This rule allows players to “customize” their deck by choosing which five (5) event cards of cards 08-19 they want to add to deck. Players still use a 12-card deck, but in this Advanced Setup version cards 01-07 are “fixed” and the last five cards are “customizable.” The resulting game was very fun!

The Youngest RMN Boy took the Vikings against Middle RMN Boy (Thegn) and myself (Housecarl). The first Viking invasion stabbed through the middle of England but eventually culminated with around seven shires taken. The Second Viking Invasion was stopped with its leader killed. A Third Invasion didn’t expand much. Alfred the Great eventually arrived for the English but the first attempt to push back the Vikings ended in near-total disaster.

In Round 6 the Vikings were forced to play their second Treaty of Wedmore card which ends the game after that turn. The Vikings held seven shires going into the Round and to win needed to take two more.

Middle RMN Boy played an Advanced Training Thegn Battle Card that converts all Thegn Fled results to Hits. Unfortunately, neither of us realized just how much this changes the die roll odds in favor of the Thegn and instead of removing Housecarl on Viking hits removed too many Thegn too early, thus missing a chance to attrite the Vikings a bit more. As it was, the game came down to a nail-biting conclusion where a lone Fryd (English peasants called up to defend their homes) stood against a single Norseman on the last battle of the last turn. The Fryd missed while the Norseman hit, delivering Youngest RMN Boy his ninth shire and (barely) making his victory condition.

The Advanced Rules Setup adds some simple player-driven variability to the game. This feature is not found in games of the Birth of America-series (at least the base games). I really like this rule as it has the potential to make each game different and allows exploration of subtly different strategies. Yet another example of how “lite wargames” from Academy Games actually deliver a deeper strategic challenge.

History to #Wargame – Battle of King’s Mountain using #CommandsandColorsTricorne from @compassgamesllc

The real Battle of King’s Mountain took place on October 7, 1780. Today I am going to refight the battle using Commands & Colors Tricorne: The French and More! expansion from Compass Games. I really enjoy it when I get to play a battle on its anniversary because it makes for yet another a great connection to history from wargaming. This is a big reason I love the wargaming hobby!

September Schooling

bg-stats-icon-small-e1454598933841I am trying out Board Game Stats this month. Nothing fancy; just the basic module with no Cloud Sync or Deep Stats or the like. I am, after all, mostly a solo or family gamer. After using it for a month I am convinced I don’t need more because it pretty much proves I am a tame boardgamer.

IMG_0057In September, I played 20 different games 25 times. I surprised myself that five games got two plays apiece. Three of them are wargames (Cataclysm: A Second World War, Rockets Red Glare, and Operation Shoestring: The Guadalcanal Campaign, 1942). Two of those games were a “grogpiphany” – an older wargame that is joyfully rediscovered. I also got a rare 4-player game of Enemies of Rome to the table. Finally, there were two games of Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game, a very fun Four Solo play and a 3-player game night.

The other stats are mildly interesting to me and, like all stats, some are a bit misleading. I see that I played 43% of the time with “Mr. Solo” who, honestly, is not a person but my second-player gaming alter ego. Twenty percent (20%) of the games were with both the RockyMountainNavy Boys and the rest were with various solo personalities or bots (as in the Mechanical Marquis from Root: The Riverfolk Expansion). Unsurprisingly, Saturday is the day when most games are played (Saturday Game Night is surely a factor) and all my games were at the RockyMountainNavy Home. On another screen (not included above) the app tells me I had a 57% win percentage this month.

There is one stat here that makes me sad, and that one is the fact I only got to play six  games this whole month with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Outside of our once-a-week dedicated Game Night this is only two other random plays. The small number is a real (sad) testimony to just how busy our schedules are with work and school. For the good of all of us I probably need to work on getting more short family games to the table.

New Games this Month

Upcoming Kickstarter or Other Expected (or Overdue) Deliveries

  • Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! – Kursk 1943 Second Third Edition (Academy Games – Late 2017 release>OVERDUE) – Printing?
  • Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon (Academy Games – Kickstarter August/September delivery) – Per 14 September update now looking to ship in November.
  • Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing – Kickstarter August/September delivery?) – Per 12 September update caught in Essen printer backlog; to print and ship soon after.
  • Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game (Cam Banks/ Magic Vacuum – Kickstarter April 2018>OVERDUE…BackerKit paid for…promised before Dec 2018)
  • Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games – Kickstarter July 2016>OVERDUE…BackerKit paid for…last update 31 May)

Thoughts on commercial wargames in RAND report “Will to Fight”

IMG_0056Will to Fight: Analyzing, Modeling, and Simulating the Will to Fight of Military Units. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2018.

Will to Fight is a 2018 RAND Corporation study undertaken on behalf of the US Army G3/5/7 “to explain the will to fight at the unit level and develop a model designed to support assessment of partner forces and analysis of adversary forces” (iii). Within the report, the authors offer a model of Tactical-Operational Will to Fight. Of particular interest to me, as both a hobbyist and part-time professional wargamer, is the report’s use of commercial wargames. Reading these sorts of studies is always interesting because I get to see how others, often outsiders, view the wargaming hobby. In the case of Will to Fight, the view is definitely mixed with some good for the hobby…and some continued (negative?) stereotyping.

Here is how the authors describe war games (note the use of two words):

War games and simulations are approximations of combat intended to help people think about the nature of war, to help people understand complex military problems without actually fighting, to reduce uncertainty in decision making, and to forecast and analyze notional combat outcomes. War games are played between people, usually across a table, and usually across a flat two-dimensional map. Some war games use three-dimensional terrain and figures to represent soldiers and vehicles. (p. 113)

The study defines simulations as, “computer representations of combat” (p. 113). The footnote to this section makes mention of other types of games, specifically matrix games and card games.

On the positive side, the study makes the point that commercial tabletop games and computer simulations are “generally more effective at representing will to fight, but focus varies” (p. 126). This conclusion is based in great part on a nonrandom sample of 62 commercial products and military games and simulations drawn from a pool of 75 products (p. 126). The study broke this sample into four categories (p. 127-130)

  1. Commercial tabletop games using hexagon maps or model terrain, counters, or figures
  2. Commercial simulation, or computer games from platoon level to the battalion level
  3. US military tabletop games typically using hexagon maps and counters
  4. US military simulation from the squad level to the corps level

As much as I want to commend the authors for taking the time to actually learn about commercial wargames, I also feel they missed an opportunity to experience many great wargames that are out there. By narrowly defining commercial wargames as only “hex map” (hex & counter) or “tabletop” (miniatures) they actually exclude many great games that could help their research. Further, the study group actually reveals a bias against many of these games with comments like this footnote talking about Advanced Squad Leader:

Some commercial game players would argue that rules are always fixed. For example, many hard-core players of the game Advanced Squad Leader would never consider bending a rule to speed game play or to account for an unusual situation. Official military tabletop gaming tends to allow for greater flexibility to account for the messy realities of combat to ensure the purpose of the games not lost at the expense of hidebound conformity (footnote 4, p. 113)

There are other little examples, like the seemingly off-hand comments such as, “Complex commercial tabletop war games like Lock ‘n Load Tactical Modern Core Rules 4.1” (p. 130) that show a belief that commercial tabletop wargames are by nature complex. As an long time grognard, I understand I have a different definition of complexity but have to wonder just how much of the study typing is based on “wall-o-text” reading versus actually playing a game.

Looking a bit closer at the commercial tabletop war games chosen for study shows a mix of old and new games and a variety of designers and publishers. Taking games typed as “Hex map” only from Table 3.5 War Games and Simulations Assessed and Coded (p. 128-129) we find:

This is the point where I am supposed to say that there are better, more representative games out there that could be used for this study. I personally missed my favorite Conflict of Heroes series or Panzer / MBT. I am sure there are many games that could of been used. I can only wonder if this “nonrandom sample” is actually someones game collection (and if it is, it’s a great collection…just not mine!).

All that said, the study reports that commercial games are better than military games at depicting will to fight. The authors define this advantage using a near-formula expression:

  1. Will to fight (not) relevant to combat outcomes + will to fight (not) relevant to victory conditions + game or simulation type – US military simulation
  2. Culture affects will to fight (yes) + training affects will to fight (yes) + veterancy affects will to fight (yes) + cohesion affects will to fight (yes + game or simulation type – commercial (p. 130)

I found it disheartening to read the contention that “none of the military war games or simulations…gave priority to will to fight as the most or even one of the most important factors in war” (p. 133). Indeed, military war games and simulations are, in the words of National Defense analyst Michael Peck in 2003, “firepower-fetish attrition models that award victory to whoever has the biggest guns, rather than giving equal weight to soft factors such as morale, fatigue, and cohesion” (p. 133).

So it looks like military war games need to take their cue from the commercial sector. The strongest accolades are given to a tabletop (miniatures) game, GHQ’s WWII Micro Squad rules:

…GHQ’s WWII Micro Squad, place will to fight at the center of the game. GHQ created a cohesion system that rolls together leadership, morale, and other aspects of will to fight. This meta-cohesion system applies at each tactical fight, and it clearly influences the outcome of the game. WWII Micro Squad and a handful of other tabletop games represent the kind of aggressive adoption of will-to-fight modeling that might help make military simulation more realistic (p. 130)

Wargame designers may benefit from the Will-to-Fight Model (p. xx) presented in this study. It certainly provides a different way of looking at those factors that affect a soldier on the battlefield.

My own reaction to the study is mixed; I like the model but shake my head ruefully at the games selected for study. If nothing else, maybe Will to Fight will give another generation of wargame designers and publishers a chance to assist the military and create a better war fighting force. I can only wonder what designers and publishers like Mark Herman or Uwe Eickert or Volko Ruhnke, or even small start-up companies like Covert Intervention Games think as all in the past or presently support government or military gaming.

It’s a Co-op with a Traitor Mechanic – A RockyMountainNavy play of Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2008)

pic354500Something awesome happened this gaming weekend. The RockyMountainNavy house got Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2008) to the gaming table in a 3-player event. I played Tom Zarek (Political Leader, President) while MiddleRockyMountainNavy Boy played Helo (Military Leader, Admiral) and LittleRockyMountainNavy was Apollo (Pilot).

There were many Cylon ships on the board before the first jump and both Helo & Apollo ended up in lots of space combat. Galactica herself was in a poor way with four hits (six needed to destroy – and lose) as well as a Boarding Party aboard. We were eventually able to jump, clearing the board of threats and made repairs. The time up to the second jump proceeded without any real trouble and it looked like we were going to do fine.

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Courtesy Dynamite.com

As it turned out, none of us was a Cylon though the Sleeper Phase because I drew the “You Are a Cylon” card at that time! Before the Sleeper Phase, I had made the statement that I thought Middle RMN/Helo was a Cylon so I kept pushing that thought even as he protested his innocence. Little RMN/Apollo was not sure. Using the power of the President, I stripped the Admiral title from Helo. Eventually, the Boys grew suspicious at my actions and I had to reveal myself as the Cylon before they could Brig me.

The game then switched from a 3-player co-op to a competitive race to human victory or death. As the Cylon player I almost made it but the Boys were able to face down several Super Crisis Cards and (barely) survived a final jump. They won the game with Fuel 3 / Food 1 / Morale 6 / Population 1.

Overall, the RMN Boys found the game fun. If we have one complaint it is that the game takes time to play. Including rules explanation our game took nearly three hours – putting it at the long end of our usual gaming nights. Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game is not a heavy game as the rules are actually quite easy to learn and execute. In our game the slow play was a combination of first time and the paranoid-induced analysis paralysis that is part of the experience.

Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game will land on the table again, I am just not sure when. As the winter months approach, there are several new game due to arrive and other longer games (like Scythe) need to get back out too. At least we all know that this”shelf queen” is worth the space.

Featured Image: Ralph McQuarrie concept art for BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (1978) via @HumanoidHistory on Twitter