Retroplaying an early waro – Manchu: The Taiping Rebellion 1852-1868 (3W / Strategy & Tactics Issue 116, Dec 1987)

Manchu: The Taiping Rebellion 1852-1868 (3W / Strategy & Tactics Issue 116, Dec 1987) is an ambitious game on an obscure topic. As designer Richard Berg writes in the accompanying article, The Dragon and the Cross: The Taiping Rebellion in China, 1850-1868:

Above all, the Taiping Rebellion was a massive and bloody conflict. Although fought for the most part with primitive (for that era) weapons – small-arms were mostly 18th-century muskets of dubious reliability, as well as swords and pikes, while small contingents of artillery often used cannon from the Ming dynasty, over 200 years before! – it was the most costly war in terms of human lives up to that time (and exceeded in history only by World War II). Approximately 30 million Chinese lost their lives (three times the casualty rate of WWI) and all of this sprang from the perceptive but unstable mind of a Hakka peasant, Hung Hsiu-ch’uan. (p.16)

Manchu simulates the war years of 1852-1868 where the Taiping Player tries to overthrow the Ch’ing (or Manchu) dynasty. the Manchu Player must overcome disinterest and eventually commit to fighting the uprising. (1.0 INTRODUCTION).

Presentation

If the topic of the game draws one in, the first look at the map will scare them away. The map colors are garish and a real turn-off. I realize that the graphic artist was striving to differentiate between provinces (important to many rules) and was likely working with a limited color print palette but, my goodness, it just doesn’t work!

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It’s…colorful

Another issue I have is the orientation of the map. Again, limits of printing presses likely drove the north-south orientation but the map ends up sitting strangely on my game table. The counters themselves are plain and simple, but the red ones don’t pop enough against the pink hexes and the blue ones don’t stand out against the blue rivers – important since most blue chits are junks that sit on the water!

The lower quarter of the map sheet is taken up by various gaming tables. This is in addition to many charts and tables in the rules on two facing pages. Although the map tables are laid out in a somewhat sensical manner, the rule book layout is crowded and very confusing. Both could use a good relook and fresh approach to presentation to make them more player-friendly.

Playability

Manchu is a slow-playing game, rated at 240 minutes (4 hours) on BoardGameGeek. The game in part plays slow because learning (and using) the rules is clumsy. The rules are written in a classic wargame format of numbered paragraphs. The net result of reading the rules is a very proceduralized view of a game turn with many references to tables and charts and rules look-ups. Again, the limitations of cost and the printer for a magazine game likely drove many graphic design decisions, but a few play aids (or even a Play Book like many modern games have) could probably enhance the learning experience and get the focus back on play, not rules.

Mechanics

Each turn in Manchu revolves around Operations (6.0 OPERATIONS) in which, “each player can move his troops, engage in combat, raise more troops, etc….” The heart of Operations is the Turn Continuation Table:

Before performing any Operation the player must consult the Turn Continuation Table (TCT) to determine if his Player Segment will continue, allowing him to perform the desired Operation, or if he must Pass control to the opposing player, or if his game-turn is finished (6.0 OPERATIONS, General Rule)

This cycle of Operations makes for interesting game turns. Both players must decide what needs to be done and try to sequence Operations to accomplish their goals before the game turn concludes. Combat is certainly an important Operation, but other Operations like “Raising Troops” are just as essential.

Another mechanic that is essential but adds complexity is the fact every combat unit has two ratings: Strength Points and Manpower Steps. This concept, important to combat and recruiting, is deeply buried in 11.0 COMBAT as rule [11.12]:

Strength points are the measure of a unit’s combat prowess regardless of the number of troops it may represent. For example, a 1 manpower step Mongolian cavalry units has a combat rating of 5 strength points, while a 1 manpower Chinese Banner unit has a strength point rating of 1.

Both Strength Points and Manpower Points are used differently:

“[11.13] A unit’s strength points are used solely to determine the odds/ratio between attacker and defender (see 11.31).”

“[11.14] A unit’s manpower steps are used to take losses. All combat are taken in manpower steps, not in strength points.”

The concepts of Manpower Points is closely tied to 14.0 RAISING TROOPS; so much so it makes me question why the concept is buried in the combat section. With time a good developer could reorganize the rules to make core concepts such as this one stand out in an appropriate place of the rules rather than being buried.

The rules for leaders (12.0 LEADERS) are perhaps the second-most important set of rules (right after Operations). Leaders are also an important part of the theme of the game; the Manchu start with inefficient Imperial Commissioners which are eventually supplanted by Provincial Army Commanders that in turn grow into quasi-warlords.

Historical Flavor

Getting past the poor presentation and the complexity of the rules, Manchu actually delivers a compelling game thesis. It captures the theme of an unwieldy central power slow to recognize a rising rebellion and then not having the ability to deal with that challenge as that government cedes power to warlords to carry the fight. Rules for “barbarians” (aka foreigners such as the British) are also included as well as Bandits. All make Manchu “feel” thematically correct.

Support

Virtually non-existent. There is an entry on BGG for errata but it is quite dated. Nobody has taken up the mantle of trying to redo player aids or the like. This is likely because many wargamers probably don’t see a “real” wargame here.

Bottom Line

If one is able to look past a hideous game presentation and parse through a complex set of wargaming rules, one might discover that Manchu is a compelling game of a classic rebellion. The rebels (Taiping) start with almost nothing but rise up against the unwary Manchu. The real “battle” is in the ability of the Taiping Player to raise troops and conquer territory faster than the Manchu can respond. As the Taiping rebellion grows, the nature of the response changes from an unwieldy central power to more agile Provincial Army Commanders that eventually grow into warlords.

As a game I don’t think Manchu is a lost cause. The core of a good game is here but it could certainly use a more modern games approach that takes elements of Eurogaming and mixes it with a wargame – especially when it come to game presentation in the map and player aids. A reading of the Editorial by Keith Poulter in the accompanying Strategy & Tactics Issue 116 reveals that he recognized the need to improve their games:

However, as mentioned in another recent editorial, this is soon to change. Later this year, Ty Bomba will be joining us as our first full-time game developer. Paul Dangel has also recently taken on responsibility for the development of several games a year. By the middle of 1988 we shall have a core of half a dozen developers, all tried and tested, who will undertake our development work. During the course of the year we shall be working on further improvements in rules layout, though it will take until sometime in 1989  for this process to complete, as we work through the pipeline. (p. 6)

It would have been interesting to see if Manchu was any different if it was a year later and had a bit more development (and new art) given to it.

More recently, Designer Brian Train was interviewed on the Harold on Games podcast (episode 12) and hinted at a new COIN-series game tentatively titled Thunder Out of China. Although covering a later period of Chinese history it might be interesting to see  a COIN-like approach to the Taiping Rebellion if a redone Manchu is indeed beyond hope.

Featured image courtesy BGG.com.

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Rules Rush – Noticing the obvious in Enemies of Rome (@worth24, 2017)

Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017) is not a complex game. Personally, I rate it a 2 out of 5 in terms of Weight on BoardGameGeek. This lite wargame gets played a fair bit in the RockyMountainNavy home in part because the RMN Boys enjoy it. I myself have mixed feelings about the game, but I do rate it a 7.0 (Good, Usually willing to play) on BGG. After last nights game, I may have to reappraise the rating because I discovered, after all this time, I missed a simple (but subtle) rules difference that, when played right, makes the game a better expereince!

Movement in Enemies of Rome comes in four types. It should be obvious, the rules sections is even titled, “4 Types of Movement.” Legion and Enemies of Rome both have Land and Naval Movement. The subtle difference I missed before last night is that Legion and Enemies of Rome Land Movement is NOT the same. Specifically, Legion Land Movement comes in two flavors (again, obvious in the rules…if I paid attention):

LEGION LAND MOVEMENT

A. Movement from an area you control to an adjacent area that contains another color cube in which case you must stop, even if you have movement remaining. A battle will occur after all movement is completed for the card play.

B. Move from an are you control through adjacent land areas you control ending in an area you control. A cube that moves more than one area may not enter an area with opposing cubes.

On the other hand, the Enemies of Rome Land Movement specifies:

ENEMY OF ROME LAND MOVEMENT

Enemies of Rome units may enter an adjacent area with enemy of Rome units in it. This does not cause a battle.

Enemy of Rome units may enter an adjacent area with legions. This does cause a battle.

The subtle difference between Legion and Enemy movement actually has a major impact on the game. The difference is mobility; Legions have it (move across multiple friendly adjacent areas) while the Enemies of Rome can’t (move to an adjacent area only).

Another rules subtlety I missed before is in the first part of the Movement rule. It states, “When an area has 2 different color cubes present no units may move from or into that area.” This prevents “multi-axis” attacks.

Now, it would be easy to say that the rule book is poorly written and blame the designers Grant and Mike Wylie. It is written in a more conversational style that can trip up gamers (Root, I’m looking at you!). In this case, I think the cause of the confusion is more my own grognard hubris. I have been playing wargames, some very complex, for nearly 40 years and a lite wargame like Enemies of Rome appears easy. In turn, I tend to skim the rules catching concepts over details. Looks like I have to slow down and pay more attention, even to “simple” games. The end result will likely be a more fun game – and that’s worth alot!

Featured image courtesy Worthington Publishing.

 

#Wargame Retroplay – Rockets Red Glare (Simulations Canada, 1981)

I HAVE BEEN PLAYING WARGAMES since 1979. In my early years, I really was more a tactical wargamer than playing operational or strategic-levels. I also was firmly rooted in  the World War II or Modern-eras with a healthy dose of science fiction games. So I am not sure when, or even how, I ended added Rockets Red Glare: An Operational & Strategic Study of the War of 1812 in North America to my collection. This Stephen Newberg design published by Simulations Canada in 1981 has sat on my gaming shelves for years unpunched and unplayed. This past week, while looking for a weekday evening game, I pulled this one off the shelf for no other particular reason and opened the rulebook.

My gawd…I have missed an incredible game.

Presentation

By today’s standards, the presentation of Rockets Red Glare is very underwhelming. It has a desktop publishing feel to it. The dark pink(?) rulebook is 12 pages (including cover) without page numbers. The rules are presented using the classic SPI rules structure (A / A1.0 / A1.1/ etc.). Although the page count is small, each page is a wall-o-text with few graphics. The baby-blueish map over a white background with tan or blue text is functional but won’t win any graphical awards. The map actually has three sections; the Strategic Map, the Operational Map, and various boxes and tables.

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This one is a boxed version…mine is just bagged (Courtesy BGG)

Playability

Rockets Red Glare is in many ways a classic hex & counter wargame. Two players, a very intricate Sequence of Play, cardboard chits, and dice rolling against a CRT (Combat Results Table). Rockets Red Glare is also two (nearly three) wargames in one.

Each turn represents one quarter of a year and starts with the first game using a Strategic Turn. Using a map of North America stretching from Boston to New Orleans, as well as the waters of the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and off New England, the British and American players vie for dominance. Most importantly, the Strategic Turn features a Naval Phase for both players where the war at sea takes place. Although part of the Strategic Turn, these Naval Phases virtually count as a separate game unto themselves!

Following the Strategic Turn, play shifts to the second game in the Operational Turn which is played out on a map of the Great Lakes border area between the US and Canada. Here, in addition to the expected land combat, there can be naval operations on the Great Lakes.

Mechanics

Amazingly, playing the two levels of war in Rockets Red Glare is accomplished using a common set of counters and fairly unsophisticated rules. Three mechanics of the game jump out at me; the Naval Phase in the Strategic Turn, Land Unit movement, and Combat.

As a long-time naval wargamer, the war at sea has always interested me. Rockets Red Glare pits a small US Navy against the might of the Royal Navy. It portrays this war as a cat-n-mouse battle between individual US warships and Squadrons of the Royal Navy. The a US ship encounters a Royal Navy Squadron, a die roll is made against the squadron composition to determine what individual ships are actually met. This simple mechanic keeps the counter density low and adds a nice fog-of-war element to each battle. For instance, Squadron ‘E’ is rated as 3L, 3F, 1B. When encountered, the American player rolls a die against each category (Line, Frigate, Brig, or Troopship). If the die roll is equal to or less than the number, one of that class is encountered. Individual ships are picked from a set of face down counters meaning the actual ship may be the best, or the worst, or even a detached vessel (no encounter). Naval Combat uses the Strength Difference but each ship is rated A/B/C where A causes a column shift to the left (unfavorable) and C causes a shift to the right (favorable). A simple way to show a quality rating!

There is no movement factor on the Land Unit counters. In the Land Phase of the Strategic Turn, units instead have a number of movement points based the season. In the Operational Turn, each side has a maximum movement allowance based on the season. As easy as this is, it did bring up one of two gripes I have with the game.

As I already stated, in the Operational Turn, each side has a maximum movement allowance. As a unit (or sick of units) moves they draw down against this movement cap. The rules recommend using a piece of paper to keep track of MP expenditures for the turn. I created a simple player board track of 10 boxes using a 1x and 10x counter to cost down. Although the map is already full, I think a low-use map edge could of been set aside to support this important mechanic.

Land Combat uses a classic Combat Odds CRT. Like Naval Combat, Land Units are rated with A/B/C Class. As with Naval Combat, the Class provided a favorable or unfavorable column shift to the CRT. A very easy way to show troop quality. Additionally, on the Strategic Map, each hex has an Intrinsic Defense Strength. This mechanic again keeps the counter density low yet portrays the need to “battle” through certain areas.

The last mechanic I will discuss, and my second gripe with the game, is Victory Points and VP tracking. Rule D3.2X Victory Point Events is actually found on the map. There are nine events that generate victory points. Rule D3.1 Victory Points – General warns that, “Since the sums can be very high a calculator is useful….” THEY WEREN’T KIDDING. To determine the winner, the VP is reduced to ratio:

At the end of the scenario the player with the higher total compares his total with the lower total and produces a ratio. In all scenarios if the higher player has a victory point ratio of 1.5 to 1.0 or greater he is the winner of the game. If the ratio is less than 1.5 to 1.0 the game is considered a draw.

This has to be a mistake because, using the Rules as Written, the higher total will always win and there can be no draw. I think the intended rule may be a VP ratio equal to or greater than 1.5 is the winner and a ratio of 1.5 to 1.0 is a draw.

Historical Flavor

I am not heavy into 19th Century gaming outside of the American Civil War. The only other War of 1812 games I have is the lite wargame 1812: The Invasion of Canada from Academy Games and the unfortunately closely named Rocket’s Red Glare from Canadian Wargamer’s Group in 1994 which is more a set of miniatures rules. Rockets Red Glare does something that I have rarely experienced in a wargame; mix two levels of war (Strategic & Operational) as well as Land-Sea into a single functional gaming system. It certainly feels true to the themes of the war. The large Royal Navy against the small US frigates. The generally more experienced British operating at the end of supply against the numerous but less-experienced Americans. Indian allies for the British. It’s all here and can be experienced in a wargame of around 2 hours playing time.

Support

As an older game, there is not a lot of support available for this title. Compass Games published a new edition in 2013 as the issue game in Paper Wars 78 (Spring 2013) but it is out of stock. Even BGG has only errata for the second edition and nothing for the first.

Bottom Line

For wargamers this game is a relatively quick, easy to play, very insightful game of the War of 1812. The need to play the two levels of war and control both the land and sea campaigns makes this a very different game from many others. If for no other reason than to experience a game of this type, I recommend it to you.

For wargame designers, there is a lot to unpack here. I the last few months, I have heard the phrases “wargames are models” and “paper models” thrown around a lot. Rockets Red Glare is a paper model of the War of 1812 that successfully integrates Strategic and Operational levels of war as well as Land and Sea campaigns together. There is a lot that can be learned by today’s wargame designers from this Stephen Newberg classic.

Wargaming the Battle of Eutaw Springs – September 08, 1781 & 2018

The Battle of Eutaw Springs was the last major battle in South Carolina in the American Revolution. The main battle was fought on September 8, 1781. Luckily for me, September 8 fell on a Saturday in 2018 so I was able to get some historical wargaming in!

The Battle of Eutaw Springs has two parts to the engagement. The first part is the Meeting Battle where the American army runs into the British foraging party. Historically, the “rooting party” was overrun but a few soldiers escaped and alerted the British camp. The main battle followed. The two wargames I used to refight Eutaw Springs took different approaches to the battle and the relevant events.

The first wargame I pulled out was Commands & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games, 2017).  This is Compass Games’ version of venerable designer Richard Borg’s Commands & Colors-series for the American Revolution. The scenario is one of the larger ones in the base game and focuses on the main battle starting after the events of the foraging party. As with the historical situation, the Americans are deployed in two lines with the Milita forward and Regular troops behind.

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Opening setup from British perspective

In today’s game the British could just not get anything going and the American dice were hot. The turning point was the death of a British Leader (+1 VP) followed by the Rout of three units. The Morale rules in Commands & Colors Tricorne are maybe the most important to consider. In this case, all three units were forced to retreat and then conduct a Morale Check. A Morale Check is a die roll using the number of dice equal to the remaining blocks in the unit. To pass the check the roll has to have at least one Flag rolled. There are a few modifiers but that’s essentially the rule. In today’s battle, two FULL STRENGTH units that were forced to retreat outright FAILED their Morale Check and Routed away! The end result was a run-away victory for the Americans.

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Endgame – British routed away….

The second game pulled out was the American Revolution Tri Pack from GMT Games (2017). Although not listed in the subtitle (Guilford, Saratoga, Brandywine) this game actually has a fourth battle included; Eutaw Springs! This battle has two versions that can be played; a Historical Battle that starts after the events of the foraging party (around 10am in the morning) or a Campaign Game that begins at 7am before the foraging party is encountered. Depending on the result of the foraging party battle the British may be alerted or caught unawares. Having already played out the battle, I set up the Campaign Game to see what might happen differently. Alas, the battle of the foraging party resulted in a Retreat which meant the historical result, an alerted British camp, happened again.

After that though, nothing went historically for the British. Once again the American dice were hot with many Disruption results in combat. Disruption results force retreats but more importantly reduce the army Morale Track. The battle saw many British units Disrupted with few actually Eliminated. The Americans were able to continuously push the British back as they were unable to keep a solid line to stop the American advance. By noon (Turn 6) the battle was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Even with the late arrival of British reinforcements was unable to stem the tide. As with the historical situation, once the Americans got into the British camp there was some Looting (though less than historically) but it did slow down any pursuit of the British.

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Disruption after Disruption….

As with my Fourth of July Gaming, it is always fun to play a wargame battle on the anniversary of the event. Doing so brings fresh insights into the battle and the events around it. It demonstrates the real teaching power of wargames which match fun with learning.

Featured image “Battle of Eutaw Springs” by Granger courtesy fineartamerica.com

 

An august August – @Mountain_Navy games played in August 2018

August was a very good month for gaming in the RockyMountainNavy household. I managed to play 45 games this month (actually 40 games with five expansion plays thrown in). A bit incredible considering the school year has restarted and the my gaming cohort, the RockyMountainNavy Boys, are theoretically less available.

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45 total games for the month (40 w/o expansions)

There are two major reasons so many games were played this month. First, we played many smaller, lighter games like Ticket to Ride: New York, Tiny Epic Galaxies, or Villainous. Secondly, I set up a game table in the loft and got larger games like Root or other wargames to the table more often.

These days, we keep a strategically-located collection of smaller games in the family room. This makes it easier to bring these games out and play. This is how Ticket to Ride: New York got played so often. Occasionally it served as a filler game before dinner. Once it even was a filler while waiting for the school bus!

Having a “dedicated” game table in the loft also allowed me to get my wargames out more often. Thus, I was able to explore Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right more thoroughly as well as get in multiple plays of Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942. I also was able to explore South China Sea along with new Pentagon reports.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys took a particular liking to Tiny Epic Galaxies. We also played the new Disney Villainous, with mixed reactions.

We also tried something new – a game night at the local The Games Tavern (@thegamestavern on Twitter) where we played Enemies of Rome. We may make this a more regular family event given they host Board Game and Hobby Nights (for plastic model-building) throughout the month too.

I do expect September to slow down as the RockyMountainNavy Boys get deeper into school and they have less free time. For myself I may try to restart my Game of the Week where I focus on one game each week and try to explore it more deeply with a thorough rules review and multiple plays.

New Games this Month

Upcoming Kickstarter or Other Expected (or Overdue) Deliveries

  • Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon (Academy Games – Kickstarter August/September delivery?)
  • Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing – Kickstarter August/September delivery?)
  • Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games – Kickstarter July 2016>OVERDUE…BackerKit paid for…last update 31 May…need lawyer)
  • Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! – Kursk 1943 Second Edition (Academy Games – Late 2017 release>OVERDUE…new rules v4.5 sent to Command Post members August 22)
  • Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game (Cam Banks/ Magic Vacuum – Kickstarter April 2018>OVERDUE…BackerKit paid for…promised before Dec 2018)

Understanding dogfights through Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942 (@gmtgames, 2015)

AT FIRST GLANCE, Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942 by designer Lee Brimmicombe-Wood (published by GMT Games, 2015) looks like an old side-scroll video game. My first reaction years ago when I saw the game was, “That can’t be a serious wargame!”

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Courtesy boardgamegee.com

How wrong I was.

The entire Wing Leader series focuses not on the intricacies of air-to-air combat but on the larger dynamics of air combat. If you want to see how a P-51 can turn against an Me-262 you will be much better off trying out the Fighting Wings series from J.D. Webster. Wing Leader is a maybe better described as a grand tactical view of air warfare. The most important lesson one learns from Wing Leader is not its not just airplanes that fight, but more importantly the aircrews in the planes.

My recent weekend play of Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942 reminded me of this lesson. I played Scenario V03 Stalingrad Airlift where two flights of German He-111 bombers escorted by a flight of Me-109F-4 fighters are trying to deliver supplies to Stalingrad. Opposing them are two Soviet squadrons of Yak-1 interceptors. By the measure of most air combat games this should be a cake-walk for the Soviets; after all they have 18 interceptors against a measly four German fighters and eight sluggish bombers!

In Wing Leader it’s not that easy. In this case, the Germans have at least one Veteran flight and an Experte (Ace) to assign. The Soviet squadrons are inexperienced; Green in game terms. The Soviets do have an advantage with early warning and ground control (GCI – Ground Controlled Intercept) but there is also a dense cloud layer at low altitude. In this play the Me-109 flight was given both the Veteran and Experte.

The He-111’s started just above the cloud layer with the escorting flight a bit higher and between them. The Soviet squadrons started one ahead and one behind the German stream. The leading Soviet squadron got a Tally on the lead bombers and dove to attack. The escorting fighters reacted late (Late Reaction) and a fur ball developed between the bombers, fighters, and interceptors. Immediately, the difference in crew quality showed through as the German fighters mauled the Soviet interceptors and the bombers scooted away. Though they tried to pursue, the Germans engaged in a Dogfight and kept the interceptors busy.

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Mid-game – Dogfight in the middle.

Meanwhile, the trailing Soviet squadron, guided by GCI, bounced the trailing bombers. Poor shooting by the interceptors yielded no damage to the bombers but the intercepting squadron became Disrupted; that is, unorganized. The bombers dove for the clouds below (Note: Technically the bombers were not allowed to dive per rule 9.2.1.2 Transport. Oh well, a rules learning point!). The interceptors attempted to follow behind and engage again. They finally caught up to the bombers, but in the attack they caused no damage and instead lost cohesion and broke. Dropping to the deck, they raced for home.

The dogfighting interceptors did no better. In the Turning fight the Soviet Yak-1 pilots, now likely green with fear like their Green experience, were disrupted again and also broke. Like their brethren below, they left the fight and turned for home.

So just how did four German Me-109s hold off an entire squadron of 18 Yak-1s? At the dogfight altitude the Me-109 has only a slight edge in combat. The real telling factor was the experience and skill level of the pilots. The four Veteran Me-109s with that Experte just shot up the Yaks. The Green pilots got in one or two shots then broke for home.

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Soviets break off – supplies get through!

Cohension Checks, Disruption, and Broken Squadrons are probably the most important rules in Wing Leader. The real test of combat is not how many guns you have or how tight you turn, but the ability for a flight or squadron to stay and fight, or just run away. Wing Leader reminds us that it’s actually not the hardware of war that makes the difference, it’s the people.

In this game, the numerically-superior Soviets were simply outclassed by the fewer, yet more experienced, German aircrews. Using that advantage, the Germans were able to get supplies though, their true objective. The Germans didn’t need to shoot down Soviet aircraft (though it helps) but get the bombers across the skies. The really neat part is that Wing Leader allows one to explore this “squishier” side of aerial combat in an easy-to-understand model that delivers the experience without having to learn how to fly an airplane. This is partly why I rate Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942 and the companion Wing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 amongst the top 10 games in my collection (that’s the top 1.5% of my collection).

If you really want to understand why air battles are fought and not just the technical how, one can’t go wrong with Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s Wing Leader series.

Featured image courtesy boardgamegeek.com

 

 

There’s a good game in here…somewhere. Thoughts on Yarmuk (Command Magazine / XTR Corp., 1997)

Yarmuk (XTR Corp., 1997) was the second game in Command Magazine Issue #45 (Oct 1997). The game recreates an epic battle in 636AD between Byzantine and Moslem armies. Yarmuk is a relatively simple game that decently captures its theme but suffers from unclear rules and lack of a “gimmick” mechanic to make it truly unique and memorable.

Spelling errors litter the rules of Yarmuk. Thankfully, the rules are short and fairly simple. In some ways Yarmuk is an early Command & Colors-style game with alternating formation activations, a very simple combat resolution system, and several possible special “events” playable each turn. After going through the rules and playing the game, these are the ones that stand out to me:

5.2.A.2. Parley Check. One in six chance of skipping a full day in the game (the battle is six days long). In my play through I rolled Parley on Day 1.

5.2.A.3. Sandstorm Check. One in six chance of a sandstorm for the day. Reduces combat effectiveness.

5.2.A.4. Duel of Champions. First day only. Good chrome that makes the game “feel” more thematic with little rules overhead.

5.3 The Sword of Allah. One of two “unique” game rules that reinforce theme. Twice each day, the Moslem player gets an extra Action Phase using Moslem cavalry. This is the only time Moslem cavalry can charge (9.8).

6.0 Zones of Control. Units must stop when entering an enemy ZoC. To leave an enemy ZoC is a morale check. Units starting the Combat Phase in an enemy ZoC MUST attack. Units retreating though the attacking units ZoC must make a morale check.

7.0 Stacking. What should be a simple rule is actually confused by the rules layout. Rule 7.1 Stacking Generally specifies that at the end of each phase only two units can be in a hex. However, in the second half of rule 7.2 Stacking Specifics (which is unfortunately found on the next page from the rule header) states that, “only the top units in a single hex may attack or be attacked in a single combat. The stacking order in a hex may be changed only by shifting an activated units during its movement phase….” I missed this part of the stacking rule in the first few days of my game and it totally changed the complexion of combat.

9.1 Combat Generally. Combat is a simple affair. The difference of attacking units to defending units yields a column used on the Combat Results Table (CRT). Or it should be, but again the rules as written get in the way:

  • “…undisrupted units…may attack. Any such unit starting its combat phase in an enemy ZOC must attack.” (Units in enemy ZOC must attack, or may they?)
  • “A single unit may attack up to six adjacent defending units.” (One unit, six attacks?)
  • “Up to six units may attack a single hex.” (Surrounded unit)
  • “Each attacking unit may participate in only one combat per combat phase.” (So one unit – one attack, not up to six attacks as above?)
  • “A single defending unit may be attacked only once per combat phase….” (What about a single defending unit with two enemy units in its ZoC? Attack by only one? Or both? Per above both must, or may?)

I think the intent of the rules is that each unit can only attack (or be attacked) once per combat phase. I think this is the rule, but as written it is difficult to determine what the rules actually say.

9.3 Retreat. Requires very careful reading. A retreating unit that is forced to retreat into a ZoC of a non-attacking unit is fine, but if it retreats into the ZoC of the attacking unit it must make a morale check and, if it fails, disrupts of routs and must continue to retreat until reaches a hex not within ANY enemy ZoC.

10.0 Supreme Effort. The second unique game mechanic. Each formation has a Supreme Effort (SE) chit that can be played for extra combat power. Well, each formation should have a chit except for a printing error on the counters which has the back side of one formations SE chit on a combat unit. To offset the power of SE, using SE can lead to backlash (10.3 SE Backlash) which is a negative combat effect and risks morale.

At first glance, Yarmuk appears to be a game with simple rules and just enough theme. The sad reality is that confusing rules get in the way of enjoying the thematic elements. Furthermore, Yarmuk has a very Command & Colors feel to it. I cannot find a Yarmuk scenario for C&C so maybe making one is worth it. Doing so is more likely to result in a positive game experience because trying to sort through the Command Magazine/XTR Corp. version of Yarmuk is probably more effort than it’s worth.

Featured image courtesy boardgamegeek.com. By the way, the setup shown is wrong because, according to 3.0 Setup, “Each leader must be stacked with any unit under his command.”  None of the leaders visible are stacked with a unit but in a separate hex. Appears I’m not the only one confused by the rules….