#FirstImpressions of Washington’s War (GMT Games, 2nd Printing, 2015)

I was fortunate to pick up Washington’s War by designer Mark Herman (@markherman54 on Twitter) during GMT Games 4th of July special sale. They had three games on sale at a deep discount; I already own Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection by Harold Buchanan and The American Revolution Tri-Pack so I rounded out my collection. I’m fortunate because GMT Games is now out-of-stock for Washington’s War.

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Guess we won’t see this for a while (Courtesy GMT Games via BGG.com)

I am ashamed to say I am late to the party, for Washington’s War has all the elements of a great game that meets many RockyMountainNavy Family Game Values; an awesome mix of mechanics and theme that teaches as much as it entertains and is playable in an evening.

Washington’s War (WW) is the GMT Games update of the Avalon Hill’s We the People (by…Mark Herman!). For many years I passed on We the People, and WW, because they are Card Driven Games (CDG) and CDG is just not my cuppa tea. I think this is because CDG’s are hard to play solo. However, my gaming tastes have changed over the past two years and the RockyMountainNavy Boys are my game group. As such, we don’t usually go for classic hex & counter wargames favoring instead more varied mechanics. So WW looks like it could be a good addition to the game collection.

Now, my first impressions are not the greatest because the RMN Boys are traveling this month and I have no built-in game group. So my impressions are based on several solo walkthrus of the rules and game mechanics.

Components

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Courtesy BGG.com

The game board is functional and thematic but not to the degree that Liberty or Death or Supply Lines of the American Revolution is. Artist Charles Kibler and a supporting cast delivered a very good game board that not only has the map of the area in question but also many game-related spaces for cards or counters or the like. The result is a good balance of theme and functionality. Of the counters, I really like the oversize, tall standees for the Generals. The gives WW a very “Kriegsspiel” look and feel.

The rules are in two books; a Rulebook and Playbook. The rules are not overly complex and contained in the nice 24-page rulebook. There are lots of nice color illustrations and examples of play and a handy index, meaning the rules themselves are actually quite short and succinct. I also think as this is the Second Reprint of a 2009 game based on a title first published in 1993 the rules have been criticized and torn apart and reworked and generally exist now in a very good state.

Game Play

Now, I said above that CDGs have not been my thing, but I see beauty in the mechanics of WW and this game could exist without CDG. The choice of Event Cards or Ops Cards (with different values) makes for a ton of choices. Developer Joel Toppen (@PastorJoelT on Twitter) also makes this important observation in the Player’s Notes:

Like the American Revolution that the game models, Washington’s War, is both a political conflict as well as a military conflict. In my opinion, the biggest challenge that the players will face in this game is balancing political initiatives with military action.

So, as I write this blog post, I am asking myself, “Do I dislike CDG because its not solo-friendly, or is it that I have been too in love with just hex & counter wargames?”

I am more than just a grognard!

Washington’s War has arrived at a time of gaming change for me, and I now see that as much as I love hex & counter, that very love has blinded me to some really great games. As my wargaming has evolved into boardgaming, and especially family boardgames. I am embracing games with a much broader set of mechanics than hexes and a CRT. Game mechanics that turned me off years ago (CDG!) I now recognize are actually wonderful, playable games/models that teach me (and the RMN Boys) more than a hex & counter military simulation can deliver.

So thank you Mark Herman, and GMT Games, and all the other game publishers out there that keep advancing the hobby and delivering quality gaming for not only die-hard grognards (guilty as charged) but also family strategy boardgamers.

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Courtesy nohighscores.com…but I’ve seen this many places around the interwebs

 

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Summer Doldrums – My Games of June 2018

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Ah, summer has arrived. A time for more outdoor activities by the RockyMountainNavy family. It is also the end of the school year, meaning Mrs. RMN has fewer students. The net result is less gaming.

June gaming breakdown:

  • Total Games Played: 16 ( -7 from May)
  • Actual “Full” Game Plays: 10 (-12 from May)
  • “Rules Familiarization” Plays: 6 (+5 from May)

June was one-third less games as compared to May. Whereas 22 of 23 games in May were “Full” games, in June a bit over half the games were “Full” and the rest were “Rule Familiarization.” Between May and June six new games arrived and I had to explore these before full plays.

Highlights:

#SciFiFriday – #Triplanetary (@SJGames) Third Edition @kickstarter

I first played Triplanetary: The Classic Game of Space Combat back in the early 1980’s. One of my friends had the GDW version and we (kinda) liked it, but all that vector movement seemed like so much work. Worse, moving in space using vectors made it impossible to do all those fancy X-Wing maneuvers like in Star Wars.

When a new Third Edition was Kickstarted by Steve Jackson Games, I jumped in. The game was promised for an August delivery; I got my copy in June! You can see more about the game at the SJGames.com website which also has some neat older, and newer, materials.

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Courtesy SJGames.com

My first out-of-the-box impressions are positive:

  • Classic Feel – The counters are retro but it reinforces the “classic” game feeling.
  • White Maps? – I first thought it silly that space would be a white map but it has to be to plot your vectors!
  • Game Mechanics – The rulebook is 16 pages, inclusive of rules and scenarios. The core mechanic (vector movement) is dead simple with an uncomplicated combat system included.
  • Model Enough – As game designer Volko Runke (@Volk26) says, all games are models. This model of space movement (vector movement) is a 2D representation of a 3D problem presented on a map that is NOT to scale. That said, the basics of moving in space are here. Want to see what a flip and burn is? How about a gravity slingshot? Watch your fuel supply! It’s all here!

I am looking forward to playing this one with the RockyMountainNavy Boys, especially Youngest RMN who has an interest in aerospace engineering. As much as he likes the (legitimately awesome) Kerbal Space Program, and as much as Kerbal shows about space engineering, I think Triplanetary will deliver another level of learning and discovery. That is because it is a boardgame, where the model is manipulated by the user and not hidden in a black box like in a computer game. What I saw as “useless work” back in the early 80’s I now see as a very useful model that is fun to play AND enlightening.

Featured image courtesy SJGames.com

Space Ain’t Big Enough – First Full Play of #FireflyTheGame from @GaleForceNine

Firefly: The Game (Gale Force Nine, 2013) landed on the Saturday RockyMountainNavy Game Night table. Although the game has been in-house a few weeks this was the first chance to get it onto the table for a full multiplayer experience.

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I reckon we gonna need a ruttin’ bigger table!

The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself made it a 3-player event. Seeing it was our first time, we used the “First Time in the Captain’s Chair” Story Card. I don’t recall who took which ship or what Captain beyond that the Boys “allowed” me to take Serenity and Malcom Reynolds.

After laying out the game (and it’s a lot to lay out) I spent about 20 minutes explaining the basics of the game to the Boys. They both caught on pretty fast, although there were a few hiccups like trying to start a Job without all the right Needs being satisfied. In the end, Youngest RMN Boy made it to Ezra one turn ahead of me and paid off his ship first, thereby winning the game. I was a close to the win, needing one more turn to make it to Ezra. Middle RMN Boy still needed to finish his second job but in doing so would have had enough cash on hand and be nearby to pay off his debt. Total playing time for this first game was about 2 hours.

All of us were very impressed by how perfectly thematic the game is. The whole mantra of, “Find a crew. Find a job. Keep flying” is perfectly captured.

Seeing as the RMN house generally prefers wargames, I was concerned that the low-degree of player interaction would make the game less enjoyable. I need not have worried; the Boys took to their roles with gusto. Youngest RMN Boy especially took on the persona of a ship’s Captain as he fancies himself something of a charming Han Solo-type. I mean the real Han Solo; you know, “Han Shot first.”

He found that attitude last year when he was creating a character for Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game. During this game, we came to realize that he has heard about the Firefly TV show but has not actually watched the entire series (I know…tragedy!). Will have to rectify that situation soonest….

Firefly: The Game also has many expansions. I usually hold off on getting too many expansions because it is hard enough getting the base game to the table, much less an expanded version. In a bit of luck, I actually have a copy of FIRE007 Firefly: Customisable Ship Models that I picked up nearly 2-years ago for pennies when a FLGS was closing. Today the RMN Boys brought it out and are each painting their own customized ship. Guess I’m near to acquiring a few other expansions (hey, The Games Tavern, are you ready?).

Both RMN Boys asked to get Firefly: The Game back on the table sooner than later. I was especially pleased to hear this from Middle RMN Boy who, though he lost, wants to jump straight to another Story Card. “We got the basics, Dad. Now let’s really misbehave!”

Featured image courtesy Gale Force Nine Games.

 

“You’re using Star Wars and physics in the same sentence….”

I had an unusual exchange on Twitter the other day. Unusual because I (frankly) was a bit of a jerk to @beltalowda_ and unusual because I let popular sci-fi get under my skin.

First, the exchange:

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I cut off my response because I was a bit of a jerk and talked down to @beltalowda_ (hey, if you’re reading this, sorry!).

The main point I was trying to make (on Twitter? I must be crazy!) is that science fiction and science fact don’t mix well, especially in the realm of gaming. Star Wars is nominally science fiction (I would argue it is more science fantasy but that is another, fruitless, discussion) and the games related to the franchise reflect that origin. Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game today is ranked as the #63 game overall on BoardGameGeek as well as the #7 Customizable Game (interestingly, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures – The Force Awakens Core Set is ranked #4 in the Customizable Game category). These games use what gamers often refer to as “cinematic movement,” i.e. they fly about in space like airplanes. This is far different from what space combat will likely look like. Atomic Rockets, IMNSHO one of the best sites on the internet, devotes a whole section to Space War and what is closer to reality. For me, one of the hallmarks of a hard sci-fi game is the use of vector movement, ala (loosely) The Expanse.

Overall, The Expanse is better at hard sci-fi than many shows but even here there is a good deal of “handwavium” involved. Scott Manley on YouTube has made one of the better explanations so far:

My personal gaming experience has shown the same conflict between hard and popular sci-fi. I have bounced between hard (realistic?) sci-fi and more cinematic portrayals. Here is a list of a few games in my collection and how they looked at space combat:

Finding the right balance between popular sci-fi and hard sci-fi gaming is tricky. For myself, games like Star Fleet Battles and its derivatives are fun because of the theme since when playing these games I am choosing theme over mechanics. Some of the more hard sci-fi games are fun with a bit or realism thrown in (like Mayday) but some go too far (Squadron Strike: Traveller) where the fun has a hard time overcoming the difficulty of rules and play.

The upside of all this is that the gaming scene is broad enough that either preference, cinematic or vector, can be accommodated. It’s a matter of choice, and the game industry is healthy enough to give us that choice. Even if I am choosing not to play.

Hattip to @TableTopBill who commented on my tweet with the title of this post.

Reconsiderations after first 4-player Enemies of Rome (@Worth2004, 2017)

After being on a post school-year trip, the oldest RockyMountainNavy Boy is back home. Given his love of history, and especially Ancient history, the other RMN Boys insisted that Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017) land on the table for game night. This was the first four-player game we have played.

Prior to tonight’s game I had very mixed reactions to Enemies of Rome. I “like” the game, but it had issues (especially scoring and victory conditions) that I was uncomfortable with. This four-player game was much more enjoyable. Here are some reactions/thoughts after play:

  • MovementI discovered through the BGG forums that we were doing movement wrong. Made the changes this game and it really changed the dynamics of the board. With the right movement rules the board was more wide-open with Legions and Enemies of Rome moving about in a more frantic (?) manner. FUN!
  • More Players – Having a fourth Proconsul (player) on the board, and one less starting Enemies of Rome, made a huge difference. The hordes are dangerous but also “manageable.” I think the real sweet-spot player count is 4-5, not our usual 3-player.
  • Glory PointsEnemies of Rome still suffers a bit of an identity crisis; it looks like an Area Control game but winning has little to do with territory control. Glory Points are won in battles the player initiates. Whoever has the most Glory Points wins. The player with the most territories gets a +3 Glory Point bonus. For the Oldest RMN Boy in his first play the victory conditions were opaque to him; he was worried about taking – and protecting – territory and as a result he played a very defensive, even timid, game. The other RMN Boys spent a lot of time moving the Enemies of Rome against their older brother and fought few battles themselves. Meanwhile, my strategy was to win at least one battle every other turn. At the end of the game I had 14 Glory Points (averaging closer to one Glory Point every three-turns) AND the territory bonus! Even without the bonus I won by 1 Glory Point.

This four-player go at Enemies of Rome has raised the game’s standing in my eyes. I am looking forward to our next 3-player game with the proper movement rules to see that wide-open board again.

Featured image courtesy Worthington Publishing.

A Little Rebellion – #GameNight 1775 Rebellion – The American Revolution (@Academy_Games, 2013)

After playing Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017) the past few weeks, the Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy picked an older but highly enjoyable title for this week’s Game Night. So it was that 1775 Rebellion – The American Revolution (Academy Games, 2013) landed on the table. We once again played a three-player version, with the very typical RockyMountainNavy Boys teaming up against Dad. The Youngest played the Loyalists while the Middle RMN Boy took the British Regulars.

Battle Forth

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End of Round 1 – 1775 Rebellion by Academy Games

Knowing that the Boys are tough opponents, I struck hard and fast. The Continentals were able to eject the British from Boston while an early Benjamin Franklin allowed me to land French troops in Savannah. Dangerously, the Patriots Militia had to play the Treaty of Paris Card as it was the only movement card in the first hand! Meanwhile, the Loyalist were recruiting a large Indian army in New York. At the end of Round 1 the Americans led 4 (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, & Georgia) to 3 (Quebec, Nova Scotia, & Delaware).

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End of Round 2 in 1775 Rebellion by Academy Games

Round 2 was more a war of movement as both sides postured for advantage. As the Americans I pursued a Southern Strategy and was able to bring Maryland to The Cause but was worried as the British were obviously looking to drive through New York from Canada and split the northern colonies.

End of Round 2 score:

  • Americans 5 (MA, CT, RI, GA, MD)
  • British 3 (Quebec, Nova Scotia, DE)

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In Round 3 the Americans took South Carolina and moved into North Carolina. In the North, French troops arrived in Newport to bolster the defenses there. This was especially welcome given the relentless British march through New York, The British also used their Indian allies to take Pennsylvania. Of note, the Loyalists’ played their own Treaty of Paris card. The next Treaty Card played would end the game.

End of Round 3 score:

  • Americans 7 (MA, CT, RI, GA, MD, SC, NC)
  • British 4 (Quebec, Nova Scotia, DE, PA)
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End of Round 4 – 1775 Rebellion by Academy Games

The first turn went to the Continental Army that hunkered down building forces. The second Turn was the British Regulars who used Warship Movement to land a force in Savannah – negating American control of the colony. The British also took control of New York by defeating a mixed Continental/Militia force in the area between New York City and Albany. The game was turning in favor the the British who now were tied 6-6. However, it would the be Patriot Militia who played the spoiler. During Turn 3 the Militia played the second Treaty of Paris card meaning the game would end after this Round. The Militia was able to move a force into New York City defeating a Loyalist-heavy force making New York an uncontrolled colony. Another small Militia force with Indian allies entered Western Pennsylvania which also took control of the colony away from the British. In Turn 4 the Loyalist player had too little too late and was unable to reverse a single colony falling. At the end of Round 4 (and game end) the Americans took the narrow victory with a 6-4 final score.

After Thoughts

1775 Rebellion has the least special rules of the Birth of America-series and is in many ways the easiest to play. The game can also end early like ours did tonight with both Treaty of Paris cards out for the Americans by the end of Round 4. Total game time was a short 60 minutes. Though the game was short by our game night standards (2-3 hours being acceptable) it was nonetheless very fun. I get a feeling that this month will be an Academy Games month as the Birth of America-series and 878 Vikings – Invasions of England come out for play!