Strategy & Tactics Quarterly Issue #1 (Spring 2018 Premier Issue) – Caesar: Veni – Vidi – Vici

stq1-2
Courtesy Strategy & Tactics Press

In my experience, wargaming magazines have been a hit-or-miss affair. Many times the magazines are nothing more than “house rags” – publications devoted to a single publisher and focused exclusively (or near-exclusively) on their games. The old Avalon Hill The General was much like this, as was C3i Ops from GMT Games (now RBM Studio).

And then there were the wargame magazines. Publications like Strategy & Tactics. Magazines with games in them! Taking about those games will be another post for today I want to focus on the newest S&T publication, a brand new magazine called Strategy & Tactics Quarterly.

In the premier issue, the publisher has added the following note:

Welcome to the launch of a new magazine with a new format. This magazine is a stepping stone for military history magazine readers who are interested in going beyond stories to examine and understand the how and why of military history. We analyze the actual operations and maneuvers as well as alternative plans and possibilities. A Lessons Learned section summarizes how the topic and outcome influenced later events and why certain principles and techniques are still important today. Each in-depth issue focuses on one topic by a single author and includes over 20 detailed maps plus one large map poster. We also include an annotated bibliography for further reading as well as an overview of other media and games on the topic. – Christopher ‘Doc’ Cummins

The premier issue focuses on Julius Caesar. The issue author is Joseph Miranda, a longtime associate of Strategy & Tactics. Weighing in at a meaty 112 pages, the issue is divided into three major sections; I Caeser’s World, II Caesar Conquers, and III Caesar Triumphant.

Inside one finds lavish illustrations, images, the usual high-quality S&T maps. I especially like the addition of a timeline along many pages to help me track the many events as I read about them. The level of detail is not enough to make a wargame scenario, but it can provide deeper background to an existing game. The pull-out poster is double sided with one side being a map and the other a description of forces with lots of text. Makes it easy to decide which side to show when hanging….

GKq6jI8xSLmsLSvvJWeeHw
Poster Map for S&T Quarterly Issue #1 – Caesar

The writing is pretty good but I see nothing dramatically “revisionist” or “new” in the analysis. In some ways I am disappointed; a cursory look at the sources reveal very few “modern sources” – that is – unless Osprey Publishing books from the mid 2000’s counts as “recent.” Maybe this is not a real negative because the target audience is a more pedestrian reader. I know that the presentation draws my high school and early college boys to read the magazine. That is certainly one definition of success….

I am a bit disappointed that the only wargames mentioned are all S&T products, but I guess that is expected as this is an S&T publication.

According to the back of this issue, future topics include, “America in WWI, Battle of Stalingrad, World War III What-ifs, and the French Foreign Legion.” An interesting selection of topics; one standard (Stalingrad), one tied to a historical anniversary (100th Anniversary of WWI ending), one hypothetical (WWIII) and one narrow (French Foreign Legion). A print subscription is $44.99 for 1 year/4 issues or $79.99 for 2 years/8 issues. That’s a lot of value for $10-11 an issue (and a small savings off the $14.99 cover price). S&T Press also offers a digital option at $14.99 for 2 issues / $29.99 for 4 issues. I tried the digital subscription for S&T Magazine before and didn’t like it because it was too hard to read all those great maps!

In the end I will probably keep buying S&T Quarterly if for no other reason than breezy historical reading and sharing with the RMN Boys.

Advertisements

Visions of VERA (C-GVRA Lancaster Heavy Bomber) from Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum (@CWHM)

fullsizeoutput_5b5Flying over the house today was C-GVRA “Vera,” a Lancaster Heavy Bomber belonging to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. The plane is in town for the Great British Fly-In celebrating the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Royal Air Force at the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Center on Sunday, April 15.

The weather forecast for Sunday is not good so the organizers decided to fly the airplanes in Saturday. I was thinking about going with the RockyMountainNavy Boys to the events but may not; fighting crowds inside will be bad enough and with thunderstorms forecast going out to the flightline to see the airplanes up close may not be an option. In some ways we don’t have to go because we saw Vera today the way she’s supposed to be seen, in flight. Oh yeah, we got to hear Vera too. I have never before heard the sound of four Merlin engines purring along, and it will be a long time before that sound will be forgotten.

The RMN Boys were outside and lucky enough to see and hear Vera as she flew almost directly overhead. Some neighbor boys were stunned; both by the airplane and by the casual way the Youngest RMN Boy explained what it was. In some ways that was the best part – both RMN Boys were absolutely excited to see this piece of flying history. They understand what Vera is and what she represents; the heroic actions of so many in World War II.

It is one thing to see a plane on the ground but so much more to see it in flight. Thanks to the CWHM we enjoyed a great show from Vera today.

Humming Along with Battle Hymn Vol 1 – Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (@compassgamesllc, 2018)

A new game arrived this week. Battle Hymn Vol 1 – Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games, 2018). The game spent a very short time on my preorder list and now is hitting the table. Both Battle Hymn and a previous game of the week, Thunder at the Crossroads (second edition) (The Gamers, 1993), are brigade-level combat games in the American Civil War. Both titles include the iconic Battle of Gettysburg allowing in some fashion a straight-up comparison.

Thunder at the Crossroad

Battle Hymn Vol 1

Complexity

Medium

Medium

Playing Time

18 hrs plus

45 min – 8 hrs

Solitaire Suitability

Medium

High

Unit Scale

Brigades

Brigades

Turn Length

30 minutes

60-90 minutes

Hex Scale

200 yards

300 yards

Maps

2x 22’x34”

2x 39”x25”

Counters

560

528

Rules

Series/Game

Series/Game

In simple terms, the games look virtually identical. Whereas Thunder at the Crossroads uses it’s Command System as its distinctive game mechanic, Battle Hymn uses a chit-pull system and an “innovative” combat system to distinguish itself. As the publisher’s blurb puts it:

Battle Hymn is a new brigade-level game system that simulates the chaos of the America Civil War using a simple activation system combined with a detailed combat system. The system’s designer, Eric Lee Smith, originated the “chit-pull” activation system in his game “Panzer Command” and later used it in “Across Five Aprils,” Battle Hymn’s forerunner, both published by Victory Games. Units are organized by command, usually divisions, and activate for movement when the command’s activation market is picked from the cup. The system uses traditional mechanics for movement, with units differentiated by type, but adds a level of detail to combat that feels almost miniatures like. In fact, the system is designed for easy conversion to miniatures. When one side has the initiative they decide when their combat phase occurs, without it, you don’t know when it will happen.

In my first read-thru of the rules it appears to me that although both Thunder at the Crossroads and Battle Hymn are rated “Medium” complexity, Battle Hymn is a much simpler game than Thunder at the Crossroads.

Command System: This is the heart of Thunder at the Crossroads. In Battle Hymn there is no need for written orders. More “realism” in Thunder at the Crossroads at the cost of more complexity.

Movement: Units in Battle Hymn don’t change formation or extend lines or the like as found in Thunder in the Crossroads. Again, more “realism” in Thunder at the Crossroads but again, an increased cost in complexity.

Combat: Battle Hymn claims the innovative combat system “elevates realism” and is “based on recent historical research and the best practices used in miniatures games.” I will need to play more to judge for myself but from a simple game mechanics-perspective the combat system in Battle Hymn is much more intuitive to me. I was constantly stumbling during play of Thunder at the Crossroads with the A, AB, B, etc. Firepower levels.

I also have to say the map for Battle Hymn is one of the most gorgeous maps I have ever seen in a wargame. Done in “period style” it is extremely pretty. I am very tempted to reach out to Compass Games and see if they will sell one unfolded and shipped in a roll container so I can frame it and hang it on the wall of my gaming room.

battlehymn_gettysberg_map
Gettysburg Map (courtesy Compass Games)

I also like the scenarios in Battle Hymn. Ranging from 45 minutes to 8 hours I think I will be able to play the shorter ones first to learn the game system and then go for the longer engagements/campaigns:

  • Gettysburg
    • Pickett’s Charge – 3 turns, 45 minutes
    • The Best Three Hours (Devil’s Den) – 3 turns, 1 hour
    • The Accidental Battle (Day One) – 11 turns, 3 hours
    • Longstreet’s March (Day Two) – 9 turns, 3 hours
    • The Tide Turns (Day Three) – 7 turns, 3 hours
    • The Battle of Gettysburg (campaign) – 31 turns, 8 hours
  • Pea Ridge
    • The Surprise Attack (Day One) – 9 turns, 2 hours
    • Missouri Redeemed! (Day Two) – 5 turns, 1.5 hours
    • The Battle of Pea Ridge (campaign) – 15 turns, 5 hours

I am very happy that I pulled the trigger and stepped out of my gaming comfort zone to purchase Battle Hymn. To be honest, it was actually very easy given the videos @PastorJoelT posts on Twitter. Thanks Joel!

Featured image courtesy Compass Games.

Discipline – or – KickStarter and Preorder Madness (April 2018 Update)

fullsizeoutput_5b2I really need to get my game budget under control. Last year I purchased many games and this year swore to get my spending under control. I have tried to be pickier (No Honey, really!) with my choices.

This week I was purchasing a just few games (Honest, Dear!) and looked at my Preordered BoardGameGeek collection.

Uh oh….

According to BGG, I have 13(!) items on preorder. I actually have 15 given that Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing via Kickstarter) does not have an entry yet. And then there is Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games, never?). I have written before about my disappointment there. Here are a few I am most interested in:

Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon (Academy Games, 2018?) is not my normal game genre. But it’s designed by Gunter Eickert and Uwe is publishing it. I trust them to make a good game. Even it it is a Kickstarter project….

After watching @PastorJoelT ‘s videos on Twitter and following my visit to Gettysburg, Battle Hymn Vol. 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games, 2018) looked too good to pass up.

I have patiently waited for Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! – Kursk 1943 (second edition, Academy Games) for a while now. I am part of the ProofHQ looking at the new rules. I like what I am seeing so the delay, though unfortunate, is not totally unbearable.

Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017). Another buy after @PastorJoelT showed videos. Also like that it compares to 1775 Rebellion – The American Revolution (Academy Games). Looking for a deal, I ordered through Miniature Market. In preorder although I see a few copies on the street. Worth it to save a few dollars?

I actually missed the Kickstarter for Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right (Leder Games, 2018?) but recently pulled the trigger and ordered it via BackerKit. I was initially hesitant because I like the GMT Games COIN series (which Root is supposedly heavily influenced by) but just was not so sure the RockyMountainNavy Boys would like it. After looking at the Print-n-Play versions posted I decided to go for it!

Long ago I remember a friend had Triplanetary: The Classic Game of Space Combat (Steve Jackson Games, 2018?). At only $45 via Kickstarter this seemed like a good deal as it is a topic I love.

If predictions are to be believed, August/September 2018 may be a busy month of new games. Mrs. RockyMountainNavy keeps reminding me about this as I spend now for gaming later.

 

Game of the Week for April 02, 2018 – Thunder at the Crossroads 2nd Edition (The Gamers, 1993)

After the RockyMountainNavy trip to Gettysburg last week, it seems fitting that the Game of the Week be on that same topic. Thunder at the Crossroads 2nd Edition (The Gamers, 1993) is the only non-strategic Civil War battle game in my collection (the others being the broadly disliked The Civil War from Fresno Gaming Assoc. 1991 and the very popular For the People from GMT Games, 1998). Thunder at the Crossroads is a solid 7.7 on BoardGameGeek.com and has favorable reviews. It is not without its detractions, the main one being the required play time. BGG.com lists playing time as 360 minutes, though the back of the box states, “18 Hours Plus.”

This game is part of The Gamers’ Civil War Brigade (CWB) Series. As such, the rules are presented in two rulebooks; the Series Rules and Game Rules. The Game Rules are in a 20 page booklet but only the first four pages are “rules” with the rest being scenarios and notes.

The Series Rules are interesting. In the Introduction, the designers claim the games are, “accurate, readily playable portrayals of specific American Civil War battles at the tactical brigade level.” They go on to state,

The intent of this series is to focus on the command aspects of Civil War combat by having players use a game command system that mimics actual events. The game forces interact with each other in ways that simulate the functions of those they represent.

This focus on command becomes clearer when one realized that 10.0 Command and Control covers five pages of the Series Rules. This is a major portion of the rules, especially when one realizes that the “rules” are communicated in 24 pages with the balance of the 32 page rulebook being Designer’s Notes and several Optional rules and related essays.

All of which makes the reading 2.0 Beginner’s Note a bit confusing. Here the designer recommends,

Avoid the Command Rules as you learn this system, only using “command radius” to keep things in order. Once you understand the basic structure, include the rest of the command systems in your next session. All games in this series can be played without the command rules, so, if you do not find them to your taste, feel free to play without them.

I sense some cognitive dissonance here; the “focus” of the game is on the “command aspects” but it “can be played without the command rules.” OK…?

Another rule I had a hard time wrapping my head around at first was 6.5 Fire Levels. Infantry and cavalry units are rated using lettered fire levels. The rest of the game is fairly straight forward with a Turn Sequence (8.0) that is probably very familiar to may grognards:

  • First Player Turn
    • Command Phase
    • Movement & Close Combat Phase
    • Fire Combat Phase
    • Rally Phase
  • Second Player Turn
    • (Repeat above)
  • Game End Turn Phase

If there is one rule I like it is the Play Tip that appears in 20.0 Fire Combat. Recognizing that the fire combat rules require a series of die rolls the recommendation made is,

…place the following combination of dice into a dice roller: two large red dice, one smaller red die, one yellow die, one black die (white dots) and one white die (black dots). (The actual dice and colors used is up to you, but the above is a working example). Using the above dice, they will be read as follows. The two large red dice are for the main combat table. The smaller red die rounds any 1/2 results. The yellow die is for the Straggler Table. The remaining two dice are for the Morale Table with the black die the tens digit and the white die the ones. Use only the results from the dice which are needed according to the Fire Table result – in other words, if the Fire Table result is no effect, ignore all the other dice. This system speeds up play drastically – although it might sound cumbersome at first.

What the rulebook lacks is strong graphics. The three-column layout gets detailed and although there are several examples of play all are mostly textual – graphics are very limited. The Rules Summary Sheet lacks numerical rules references making it a short, but not-very-helpful compilation of rules. Some tables appear in the Charts & Tables but others (like the Movement Table) are directly on the map sheets. In 1993, the same year this game was published, designer Dean Essig was inducted into the Charles S. Robert Hall of Fame. That same year he won the James F. Dunnigan Award for Playability & Design. Granted, this award was for his 1993 title Afrika: The Northern Africa Campaign, 1940-1942 (1st Edition) which, judging from the photos on bgg.com, doesn’t visually appear much different from Thunder at the Crossroads. I guess this was the “state of excellence” at the time….

There are 11 scenarios provided, covering single days (like Scenario 1: The First Day) to smaller actions (like Scenario 5: Little Round Top) to the entire battle (Scenario 10: The Historical Battle of Gettysburg). There is actually a twelfth scenario which uses 6.12 Variable Arrival Charts to allow an Army Commander to “better implement his plans.” For my Game of the Week, I think I will use the shortest scenario, Little Round Top, which is only 9 turns. I also think I will use the Beginner’s Notes recommendation and only use the “command radius” rules. At least this first time….

Queendomino as a Family Game Night Filler

This last weekend was a bit challenging. With our trip to Gettysburg and Mrs. RockyMountainNavy having a job that requires some weekend hours, it looked like we were going to miss the Family Game Night. That is until Youngest RMN Boy asked to play something. Anything. As long as we play. Recognizing that we were short on time, we chose Queendomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017).

It was awesome.

The RMN Boys and I have played Queendomino before, but this time all the game mechanics were in play. There were many Knights sent to collect taxes, lots of Buildings constructed, many Towers erected, the Queen changed kingdoms a few times, and the Dragon burned down more than a few structures.

The game took a bit longer than its advertised 25 minute playing time but it was well worth the extra minutes. When the points were counted Youngest RMN had won thanks in part to a GIGANTIC forest territory he was able to cash in for a whopping 55 points! We all agreed that this game had just clicked with each of us. We all pledged to get it to the table more often as it is just that enjoyable!

Featured image courtesy Blue Orange Games.

March Gaming Madness – Month in Review for March 2018

fullsizeoutput_5b1Comparing raw numbers, I played 40% less games in March 2018 (26 plays) than compared to February (45 plays). The major reason is a drop off of the very lite children’s games since my schedule meant that I was not around as often with my wife’s students to catch a few quick pick-up games. That said, lighter games, be it children’s or family filler games, still accounted for half of the game plays in the month. Previously, we kept all the games in the basement, but this month we moved several lighter titles to the family room. Rhino Hero or Kingdomino are now “at the ready” and can be brought out for the quick filler game. Perfect for that 20 minutes before dinner or as the evening winds down!

Aside from the Weekly Family Night (4 games –  Air Force, 1754, Battlelore, and Pandemic) a third of my plays this month were associated with my new Game of the Week. I got to play a few old grognard-y titles like Air Force, Battle Stations, and 7th Fleet. The Game of the Week is having several positive spin-off effects; it keeps me off social media, fosters more reading, and engages the RockyMountainNavy Boys as they look over the games and we discuss what they are simulating.

Happy Salmon was the only new game purchased this month and that was in the last two days. Party games are not the RockyMountainNavy style, but Happy Salmon is just so silly and appealing. The first four-player game with all the RMN Boys and myself took place around the dining room table, and it was a riot as we all shouted louder and louder. Mrs. RMN looked on in mild shock, shaking her head and muttering about “those crazy boys.” Checking in on her later she admitted it was hilarious watching and listening to us as we shouted and jumped and threw cards. She is looking forward to seeing how we do against her students!