#RPGaDay 2017 – The Questions

In the past I have looked at the #RPGaDay questions and even went so far as to try and answer a few. Looking at this years list, I find myself actually inspired in a way to try harder.

IMG_0157In past years, I often felt (for some reason) that the questions were too aimed at a certain RPG player, in particular the Dungeon & Dragons crowd. This year I feel like the questions are more apropos of the larger RPG community. This makes me happy, though over the course of August you may see that my RPG-life is in many ways narrow. Narrow in that I tend to concentrate on a niche genre (science-fiction) and narrow in that I don’t have a very wide collection of newer games.

So I’m going to give it a try, and see what #RPGaDay 2017 teaches me about myself.

#Wargame Wednesday – Merrill’s Marauders (Decision Games) First Impressions

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Merrill's Marauders: Commandos in Burma 1943-1944, Decision Games, $12.95. Designed by Joseph Miranda. Part of the Commando-series of games. A Decision Games mini-series product which is intended to be introductory-level and playable in an hour or less. Comes with an 11"x17" mapboard, 40 counters, 4 mission cards, 14 event cards, a four-page series rulebook and two-pages of scenario instructions. Play time is rated at 1-2 hours, but this seems to be the time necessary for an entire four-mission campaign as an individual mission can take 30 min or less.

Merrill's Marauders is a solitaire game that covers commando missions behind enemy lines in Burma during World War II. The player is the Allied commandos while the game engine is the OPFOR (opposition force). The commando player has to enter the map area and recover objectives while avoiding ambushes and other patrolling Japanese units. The game comes with four "missions" that can be played separately or strung together to form a campaign. The Mission Cards specify the number of objectives and ambushes to be secretly placed, the mission objectives, how many "operations" (time) is allowed, the force level available to buy, and any leaders. During each operation a stack of units move and event cards are drawn to determine what happens next. Battles are a simple nd6 roll against a Battle Results Table and is bloody.

The rules and game mechanics for Merrill's Maraudersare easy and certainly meet the "introductory-level" criteria of a mini-series game. The map is extremely functional, with almost all the information needed to play on it. Once the rules are learned (not a very steep learning curve to achieve) between the map and the event cards almost all the information needed to play is present. The "Operations" mechanic which counts down the number of operations (actions) available to the commando player is a nice touch that adds a time-crunch element, and winning battles (gaining Operations Points) becomes a key part of the commando players strategy. Although only four missions are included, the variable setup ensures the few missions are not going to be identical, leading to increased replayability.

Although the rules are easy to learn, they also are the weakest part of the game. This is because more than a few of the series-standard rules are superseded by the scenario instructions and the differences can dramatically alter play. For instance, standard rule 16.0 EVENT CARDS specify that when a commando force ends its movement, an Event Card is drawn. If there is an objective marker in the space, one Event Card is drawn normally and implemented, then a second Event Card drawn and implemented. This goes hand-in-hand with 23.0 OBJECTIVE MARKERS which specifies that a marker is not revealed until AFTER the two events are played. However, scenario instruction 38.1 Objective Segments & Real Objectives are revealed before drawing an event card and if an Ambush no Event Card is drawn. Elsewhere, standard rule 22.0 KILLED IN ACTION (KIA) which scores panicked and eliminated units is totally changed by scenario instruction 39.9. This change is welcome, but even with this change the ability for the commando player to score the necessary KIA to win is extremely difficult to achieve.

Despite the rules challenges that require careful reading and cross-referencing the first few times thru, Merrill's Maraudersturns out to be a short, enjoyable game that really captures the flavor of commando actions behind enemy lines. Once the rules are understood, the game becomes a deeply narrative experience that can turn out to be quite immersive.

RockyMountainNavy Verdict: MUST PLAY

#WargameWednesday – Close to Home: Battle of Ox Hill

IMG_1759Living in the Mid-Atlantic region means we have many historical places from the Colonial, American Revolution, and American Civil War close at hand. This past weekend, we took a short trip to a very local battlefield. After the trip, I pulled out one of my latest gaming acquisitions, Chantilly: Jackson’s Missed Opportunity 1 September 1862 (Decision Games, 2013). As the Historical Background lays out:

The ensuing battle, misnamed Chantilly for a plantation several miles to the west, was a disjointed, inconclusive affray that petered out in a thunderstorm that evening. But it need not have been so. It must rank as one of the great “lost opportunities” of the war; had Jackson got onto Pope’s line of communication, the result might very well have been the destruction of an entire Union army.

My copy of Chantilly is part of the Mini Games series that comes in a ziplock bag.  As the DG site tells us:

The Mini Game Series provides a variety of introductory games that are designed to be played in about an hour. The eras covered are: 19th century, Ancient, WWII and Modern. Each game is an 11 x 17 inch map sheet, 40 counters and a rules sheet. The mini game series takes only minutes to learn and once one game is played, players can immediately play other scenarios with the same standard rules.

The rules for Chantilly are based on DG’s Musket & Saber Quick Play Mini Game System Rules (4 pages) with 2 pages of scenario exclusive rules.

After several rules run-thru and two plays, I must admit I am disappointed with the game.

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Game map covers an almost identical area – though in a much smaller format

Component-wise the game is fine, and at the $9.95 price point is a great value. The rules complexity are a bit above pure introductory-level. BGG rates the complexity for Chantilly at 1.67 out of 5; a rating I agree with.

It is also that very simplicity of the rules that gets the game in trouble. Chantilly obviously uses a cut-version of a larger rules set. This leads to several issues that make gameplay challenging and lessens the gaming experience.

The first item that jumped out to me is F. Lee’s Cavalry Brigade. This unit has a Combat Factor (CF) of (2) – that is – a 2 in parentheses. NOWHERE in the Game System or Scenario rules is this explained. Luckily the question was asked on BGG, and a blessed soul referenced the full-series rules for the answer (“A parenthesized CF is halved when attacking”).

The FLee cavalry counter also confused me because not only did it have the parentheses around the CF, but it didn’t have a Charge Factor as seen on the counter example in 9.1 Cavalry Units. As I was studying 9.0 Cavalry, I read through 9.3 Squares with mounting anger because there were no square markers in the countermix! It was not until you get to the end of scenario rule 12.2 The Scenario that you discover that all the rules study is for nought:

All standard rules apply except 9.0. Treat the lone calvary unit (FLee) like an infantry unit for all purposes. There are no charges or squares.

The next part of the game system that I am unsure of is the combat results. There are six possible combat results:

  • Ar/Dr = Retreat. All units either disrupt or retreat 1-3 hexes.
  • Ac/Dc = Retreat Check. If MC [Morale Check] failed, treat as Ar/Dr. If MC passed, apply parenthesized result.
  • Ax/Dx = Retreat or Loss. If MC passed, unit may take a loss. If MC failed, or if passed and player chooses, all units disrupted and retreat 1-3 hexes.
  • Ex = Exchange. Each side loses step.
  • NE = No Effect.

I’m not going to show the CRT here, but suffice it to say that outright killing a unit (Ex result) is very hard. Indeed, it appears on the CRT only as the parenthesized result of the Ac/Dc – which is a bit counterintuitive to me. Most units have a Morale Rating of 4, meaning they must roll a 4 or less to PASS their morale check. But in the case of the Ac/Dc result, “passing” your morale check is BAD (Step Loss) whereas “failing” your morale check is good (retreat).

One other way to kill a unit is by Standard Rule 7.8 Rout. Basically, if a retreating unit has an Unsafe Line of Retreat (buried in 7.6 Retreats & the SLR [Safe Line of Retreat]) then it routs per rule 7.8.

Even the victory conditions are confusing. The scenario rules for Chantilly have conditions for either a Confederate or Union Major Victory. Scenario rule 14.3 Minor Victory states, ‘If neither player wins a major victory, calculate the VP scored by each. The player with the larger total wins a minor victory.” So I went hunting for how to score VP. Scoring VP is found in the Standard rule 3.4 Winning the Game which states, in part, “Unless otherwise specified in the exclusive rules, each player scores one VP for each enemy unit or leader eliminated, two VP for each enemy unit or leader captured.”

Capturing a leader is found at the end of Standard rule 10.0 Leaders while captured units are buried (again) at the end of 7.6 Retreats & the SLR in the discussion of No Line of Retreat.

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Situation after Second Player (Union) Combat Phase Turn 5 – Ferrero’s Brigade of Reno’s 2nd Division gallantly holds off the Confederate onslaught. Poe’s brigade with two batteries of artillery has retreated out of the picture.

All these rules nuances I discovered over the course of several plays. Yes, the answers in most cases are in the rules – once you find them. In DG’s effort to “standardize” as much as possible, they actually created confusion with poorly cross-referenced or formatted rules. They are not alone in this problem, I pointed outs similar issues with newer games from GMT and C3I such as Plan Orange and South Pacific.

In Scenario rule 16.0 Designer’s Notes, Chris Perello points out:

There were three major design issues that needed to be addressed in this game. First was the omnipresent mud. That was accounted for by reducing the movement allowances for all units, dropping it to four instead of the system-norm of six.

Second was the need to slow the Confederates. If they retain full initiative throughout the game they will steamroll the Federals in the early going.

The “full initiative” reference is to Scenario rule 15.0 Confederate Initiative, which is a mechanic for determining each turn if the Confederates have full movement or half movement. If the result of a d6 roll is less than the turn number, the Confederates have full movement. This rule is needed because of Standard rule 4.3 March Movement which allows a unit that starts and remains at least two hexes away from an enemy unit the entire movement to DOUBLE its movement allowance (meaning that when the Confederates have half-movement, March Movement allows them full movement – got it?). This allows units to fly across the map at a rate faster than rush-hour traffic on I-66 in the same area today. I am not sure Chris actually met his design challenge. I might try a variation where rule 4.3 is suspended just to see what it’s impact is on play is.

All this seems to me a lot to think about and write about a very short and simple game. But that’s my point; what is a short and should be a simple game is actually needlessly complex. I feel that the designer and developer looked at the Battle of Chantilly (nee Ox Hill) and thought that with only a few small changes it could work. It does, to a point less than what they probably hoped. Like the actual battle, Chantilly is a game of lost opportunities because of disjointed rules.

 

#RPGThursday – Reflections on The Klingons (FASA, 1983)

Star Trek Adventures, the latest RPG version of Star Trek, is currently (as of this posting) up for pre-order from Modiphius Entertainment. I participated in part of the Living Beta playtest, and made comments herehere, here, and here. Truth be told, I never really warmed to the system, and after somehow being dropped then re-added to the playtest when I dropped again I didn’t make an issue of it and finish the playtest campaign.

A quick look at the products page for STA indicates that Modiphius is focusing on the Next Generation-era of Trek. I find this unfortunate; in the living playtest I choose the The Original Series-era because it is my personal favorite.

Why The Original Series? Well, first off, my Star Trek gateway was actually via the Star Fleet Battles wargame. My first Star Trek RPG was, coincidentally, Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game from FASA. Both of these games have a very different (non-canonical) take on the Star Trek universe. Of the two, I prefer to RPG in the FASA setting. That setting is embodied to me in one key supplement and one book.

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Personal Collection

The supplement is The Klingons (1st Edition, 1983) written by John M. Ford, Guy W. McLimore, Jr., Greg K Poehlein, and David F. Tepool. The Klingons supplement was published a year before Mr. Ford’s novel The Final Reflection (Star Trek Worlds Apart #1). The Final Reflection was the first “official” Star Trek novel to explain the Klingon Empire.

The early-mid 1980’s was an interesting time in the lore of Star Trek. The “canon” of the time consisted of The Original Series, The Animated Series, and the movies Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. So when it came time for FASA to produce their Klingon sourcebook, they had a real challenge. As the Introduction from The Klingons says:

In the process of presenting interesting stories featuring Klingons, the series gave us only a few tantalizing looks at the culture and history behind the individual characters. In The Savage Curtain we meet Kahless the Unforgettable, the ancient Klingon who created his race’s traditions of treachery and tyranny, but we learn virtually nothing else of Klingon history. Klingon technology is revealed in bits and pieces in the series, but Klingon social customs remain a mystery.

To further confuse matters, STAR TREK: The Motion Picture introduces us to an entirely different breed of Klingon – less human in appearance and demeanor with even greater savagery in battle. It is a brief glimpse to be sure, before three D-7M battlecruisers are obliterated by V’Ger, but it opens a whole new chapter in the Klingon saga.

So what was FASA’s solution to this problem? Call in an old friend; in this case John M. Ford, former roommate and then-author:

When we discovered we were working on parallel projects, we couldn’t resist collaboration of sorts. Thus, the research on the Klingon Empire for his upcoming novel The Final Reflection (from Pocket Books) became the basis for the background material for this expansion set….The research-sharing went both ways on the project, with background data on the STAR TREK universe in The Final Reflection sometimes based on data presented in STAR TREK: The Roleplaying Game. In this way, the STAR TREK universe inhabited by game players and the novel’s characters remain consistent, and support each other in richness of detail. Thus, what you hold in your hands is not just a game supplement, but is also background on the Klingon Empire. With its detail and background supported by both the game framework and a major piece of professional STAR TREK fiction, it can lay claim to being an “official” look at the universe.

Within The Klingons and The Final Reflection there is a lot to unpack. From “the perpetual game” of society that all play to the “naked stars,” (“If there are gods they do not help, and justice belongs to the strong: but know that all things done before the naked stars are remembered”). One must understand kuve – servitor (not slave) – as well as tharavul (labotomized Vulcans made into living computers). This Klingon society is deep with meaning – and adventuring opportunity.

As the Star Trek universe developed, and especially in the Next Generation-series, the depiction of the Klingons changed (although Memory Alpha states Ronald D. Moore, eventually a producer for ST:TNG, claims The Final Reflection did influence him). What  I see is that instead of the Ford Klingons like Captain Kreen we get Worf – Space Samauri. When I look at the two settings…I only really see one choice.

It would be easy to get into a canon war at this point, but I look back on – and game by – the advice given in the Designers Notes to Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game:

…in the long run it will be the fans who decide what is and what is not STAR TREK for their campaigns. Feel free to change even basic assumptions if it suits you. Don’t be offended if we state something as “fact” that does not fit with your personal image. Simply run your campaign to suit what STAR TREK means to you. It’s your campaign, and we are by no means the final arbiters on such matters.

So with that thought, I say “no thank you” to Star Trek Adventures and look forward to welcoming back an old adventuring friend.

Kai FASA. Kai Ford.

#4thofJulyWeekend #Wargame – Liberty of Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2016)

It seemed fitting that on this Fourth of July weekend I pull out my absolutely favorite game on the American Revolution, Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection. This is Volume V of the COIN-series from GMT Games. I choose the short duration scenario, The  Southern Campaign, using the Optional Sprint Scenario rules.

As I have stated before, LoD is not really a wargame. Each faction must simultaneously cooperate with their allies and fight their enemies while trying to win. Thus, although the Patriots and French are allied, they both have independent victory conditions.

The Southern Campaign covers from 1778 to 1780, although in the Sprint Scenario only the first two years are played.

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Midway thru 1778

Unlike my previous games where I was really just learning the rules, this game I was able to actually try a bit more strategy. I still messed up the rules in a few places, but it didn’t prevent me from having a great time!

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Philadelphia Before the Attack (End of 1778)

Play was not perfect by any measure. The Patriots played a more northern strategy while the Royalists tried to turn the south. As 1779 neared an end, Washington and Rochambeau both took on Clinton in New York City.

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Winter Quarters Ends 1779 – Indecisive in New York City

Alas, the Patriots and French blew their timing, and at the end of 1779 and the Sprint Scenario, Clinton held in New York City. Meanwhile, Tories had been busy in the South. The final score was a Royalist Victory.

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End of The Southern Campaign – Sprint Scenario

The gameplay mechanics of LoD are actually quite simple and I think I have pretty much got them down. The much harder part is taking those “simple” mechanics and executing a “complex” strategy. Unlike many games which get played a few times then collect dust until that far-off next scenario, Liberty or Death will definitely land on the table more often.

 

#4thofJulyWeekend at the National Museum of the Marine Corps

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Invasion of Tarawa – with Air Support

Little RMN was agitating this morning that we really should go to a nice museum at least once this holiday weekend. So we jumped in the RMN-mobile and made our way to Quantico, VA and the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

This is a beautiful museum that covers the history of the Marines from 1776-1975. What, you say? Why stop there? The docent told us that they are working on a new wing that will bring us up to the 21st Century (scheduled to open in 2018). But what they have is more than enough and quite spectacular!

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M26 Pershing in the Korean War

The museum is beautiful. In addition to the many artifacts and historical items, it has many displays that vividly capture moments in history. These displays bring history alive by not only using static displays but visuals accented by lighting, sound, vibrating floors, blowing winds, and even deep cold. Walking through the Chosin Reservoir  display the room is deeply chilled with a breeze blowing. Not nearly as bad as it was for the real Devil Dogs that were there, but a small glimpse – and feel – of what it was like.

The museum also does a good job of remembering that the Marines were not all just glory in combat. There is a very nice tribute to John Philip Sousa and his music. Indeed, it is hard to imagine to 4th of July parade (or any celebration) without his great music.

IMG_1719The museum also manages to work in unusual bits of history that leaves one shaking their head. Like the story of Sergeant Reckless. Sergeant Reckless was horse that served alongside Marines in the Korean War as a pack animal. It is a wonderful story and it is awesome to see this fine animal proudly placed on the walls of the museum not far from where the Medal of Honor winners are shown.

The National Museum of the Marine Corps does an excellent job in showcasing the history of the Marine Corps and their contributions to freedom  of the United States of America. Surprisingly, admission to this great museum is free. The immeasurably valuable part is all the history shown inside.

#BookFinder July 2017

IMG_1705This Fourth of July holiday weekend I found a few books to add to the reading list and collection.

The French-Indian War 1754-1760 and The American Revolution 1774-1783 are both from the Essential Histories-series by Osprey Publishing. The author of both books, Daniel Marston, appears to be a professor of Military Studies at the Australian War College. Thus, these books are not written from a US perspective. This is a good thing; I strongly believe that reading other views of US history is useful for learning more about ourselves. I found these two at McKay’s Used Books where Osprey items are a bit pricy but often in good condition.

Bill O’Reilly’s Legends and Lies: The Civil War is a very new book (May 2017) that I found for a mere $9.99 at Costco. Being sold so cheaply so soon after release could be a bad sign. The few reviews on goodreads.com are generally positive but I will reserve judgement until after I read this one.

I have a wargame pre-order in for the second edition of Academy Games Conflict of Heroes: Storm of Steel! – Kursk 1943. So when I found The Battle of the Tanks: Kursk, 1943 at McKay’s I picked it up to help read-up on the battle in preparation for the game release later this year. It’s far more detailed than what is gamed in Storm of Steel! but it will also be useful for my other new game acquisition, Panzer: Game Expansion Set, Nr 2 – The Final Forces on the Eastern Front 1941-44 which expands Panzer (Second Edition) from GMT Games.