#WargameWednesday – That sinking feeling… #SecondWorldWaratSeaCoralSea (Avalanche Press, 2010)

I love naval games. Just look at my Twitter handle or BoardGameGeek user name – RockyMountainNavy. So it should not be surprising that in the late 1990’s and through the 2000’s I bought many naval games. One of the more prolific publishers was Avalanche Press and their War at Sea-series including the Great War at Sea and the Second World War at Sea. Each game is actually two games in one; an operational campaign game and a tactical battle resolution game.

In 2010, Avalanche Press rolled out Introductory games for each series. Second World War at Sea: Coral Sea is the introductory title supporting that line. As the publisher’s blurb states:

Coral Sea is the new introductory boxed game for the Second World War at Sea series. It covers this key battle and is intended as a gateway for players new to the world’s most popular series of naval boardgames. The Japanese player must establish new bases in New Guinea and at Tulagi in the Solomon Islands; the American player must stop them. Forces are very closely balanced, and victory will rest with the player who can best make use of his or her resources.

The game is rated as 2 out of 5 in complexity with a playing time of “30 minutes to many hours.” I recently pulled out Coral Sea to give it a go. My reaction to the game is decidedly mixed; I like the operational aspects of the game but was reminded just what a chore playing the Second World War at Sea-series really is.

The rules for Coral Sea come in two books; Series Rules (24 pages) and Special Rules (8 pages). Mechanically the game is quite simple. In execution, it becomes long, repetitive, and a bit disinteresting. Back to that in a moment.

Set up for a campaign game, even with the low counter density (45 “long” ship counters and 100 1/2″ squares for ships, aircraft, and markers) should be fast but instead it takes time. I spent a good 30 minutes just setting the game up! Not only did I have to place the counters, but copy the Log Sheets (one for each side) and Data Sheets (five pages). This is NOT a pick-up game.

Each turn in the operational game is four hours of actual time. Each hex is 36nm across. Operational Scenario One covers the time period of 1-10 May 1942. That’s 60 turns! Each turn has the same 12 phases that both players have to step through together. 

After checking the weather and assigning aircraft to Air Patrol missions, both players go to the Orders Phase. This is the first great analysis paralysis opportunity of each turn as the players have to plot movement a various number of turns in advance based the mission of the task force. Task forces with a Bombardment or Transport mission plot their movement for the entire scenario or until six turns in a friendly port are passed. This is especially painful because the fastest ships move three spaces a turn while slow ships (like transports) only move one. Fortunately, in Coral Sea each side has only a few task forces, and in the case of the Japanese player at least two have transports and will therefore preplot their slooooowwwww advance across the ocean.

Once plotting is complete, the Air Search Phase with searches and ASW patrols is carried out. If there is an air strike to be launched, in the Air Mission Assignment Phase the orders are written out. This is followed by Naval Movement, Submarine Attack, and Surface Combat (resolved in a separate Tactical Board). Air Strikes and an administrative Air Readiness Phase follows. Players then execute a Special Operations Phase which is all those activities exclusive of the above. The turn ends with an Air Return Phase and then it all starts again.

Simple and straight-forward. Even a bit realistic (preplotting shows delay in orders execution or pre-planning). It works, as long as one is ready to repeat this process 60 times (or 180 times in the 1-30 May 1942 Operational Scenario Two) for a game.

All that for an Introductory game.

I am not going to go into my dislikes of the tactical combat resolution system. For a taste of my opinion I refer you to an old GeekList where I compared World War I Tactical Naval Combat game systems. With that said, maybe a very simple tactical combat system fits this system because it is already a looooonnnnngggg game.

Remember, this is an Introductory game.

coral_lexington
Courtesy APL

As I get older, I am coming to appreciate the luxury of larger counters. This is not the case in Coral Sea which has awesome 1″ long ship counters but 1/2″ aircraft counters crowded with information in tiny fonts – fonts too tiny for my old grognard eyes to comfortably take in. I could also use a pair of wargame tweezers to move or examine stacks of tiny counters.

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APL

I forced myself to play Operational Scenario One to its conclusion. I took me almost three hours of play time. Thirty minutes of set up and three hours of play.

For an Introductory game.

Looking back, I guess the game makes for an adventurous retelling of the battle but finding that narrative-vibe in-game is hard when slogging through 720 phases across 60 turns.

As an introduction to the Second World War at Sea-series, Coral Sea shows that one needs to be greatly committed to this game system and invest lots of time for little action. For me, it’s going to be a long time until this title – or any other Second World War at Sea-series game – lands on my table again.

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#WargameWednesday – A Conventional Revolution #AmericanRevolutionTriPack (GMT Games, 2017) #FirstImpressions

As much as I am an Old Grognard, I missed out on more than a few games over the past 38 years. After moving to the East Coast of the US, I took an interest in the American Revolution. So last year when I saw that GMT Games was going to publish the American Revolution Tri Pack with the battles of Saratoga, Brandywine, and Guilford I jumped on the P500. It recently delivered and I have started playing the games. My first impression of the game series is that it is a welcome conventional hex-‘n-counter wargame that is simple and fast playing.

The American Revolution Tri Pack (TriPack) is actually four battles. It updates Saratoga (first published 1998), Brandywine (first published 2000), and Guilford (first published 2002) that includes the bonus Battle of Eutaw Springs. TriPack has two 22″x34″ double-sided mounted mapboards for the four battlefields with each battle getting one counter sheet (176 chits). There is a Series rulebook and each battle gets an Exclusive rulebook and player aid card. This really is four games in one box! First impressions are important, and out-of-the-box TriPack is impressive; the high quality of the components is ready apparent.

The heart of TriPack is a good ol’fashion hex-‘n-counter wargame. Initiative, morale, movement, and fire combat mechanics will be very familiar to many veteran warmers. The Series rulebook is easy to follow and understandable. It incorporates nearly 20 years of errata making the game mechanics pretty tight. Tight, but relatively uncomplicated. GMT rates TriPack as “Medium” complexity in exactly the middle of their scale. For the Series rules alone, I would rate it a bit below center as the game mechanics are logical and very straight forward. Where it may creep up a bit in the complexity scale is the many die roll modifiers (DRM) in various combat actions, but the player aid cards have them all captured making it easy to step thru combat resolution. If anything, TriPack suffers from the lack of a Series player aid card; each battle gets a card but some of the Series-generic rules (like combat effects) are only found in the rulebook. Battlecards add tactical flavor and are a welcome additional mechanic that is layered in without harsh rules overhead.

The Exclusive rules for each battle add nice flavor, but without major rules overhead. I look forward to playing the Brandywine Intelligence rules (“Muddying the Waters of Brandywine Creek”) and I really enjoyed the Looting rules in Eutaw Springs. These battle-specific rules really bring out the distinct character of each battle. It also doesn’t hurt that each Exclusive rulebook has very good historical notes making reading about the battle more than half the fun.

At first I was worried that the mapboards were too large for the battles. For each countersheet only about 1/2 are actual combatants, split amongst the two sides (Guilford/Eutaw Springs use only a half-sheet for each game or 88 counters). Thus, each player “gets” really no more than ~20-40 units each. Even in larger battles, with up to 80 units on the board, stacking rules will allow some to occupy the same hex. For each battle, the major area of combat seemed confined to about a third of the board. I was worried that the games would devolve into a long, boring approach battle with a major action confined to a small space. Fortunately, in play I found the balance between scale of units, distance, and time work out well and the approach battle goes quickly (and interestingly) with the major battle not always where one expects it.

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Battle of Eutaw Springs

The smaller counter density enables faster playing games. I played the Battle of Eutaw Springs for my first solo/rules exploration experience partially because the counter density looked to be the smallest. From set-up to finish was less than 2.5 hours. The simple rules and handy player aid cards made stepping through turns quick and efficient. In the RockyMountainNavy household, table space is a bit limited so getting a game down, played, and put away in an afternoon (or evening) is most welcome. TriPack meets this desired requirement quite well.

Although I consider the RockyMountainNavy Boys to be gamers, I am shy to play the more “grognard” games in my collection. They are quite happy with “light” wargames like Memoir ’44 or 1775 – Rebellion. We do play Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! (second edition) but it is a medium-complexity wargame using many “modern” game mechanics making it a less-than-conventional hex-‘n-counter wargame.  TriPack, with its easy rules, lower counter density, and handy player aids may just be the hex-‘n-counter “gateway” game to move them towards the more grognard part of my collection.

 

#GuestPosting – #ConflictofHeroesAwakeningtheBear (@Academy_Games)

Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy continues his writing exercises. This week he wrote about what is one of his favorite wargames, Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! (Second Edition) from Academy Games. We also play with Firefight Generator to make our own scenarios. As before, what follows is his lightly edited essay. I really like getting his perspective on gaming and enjoy reading what works – or doesn’t – for him.


Overall, I think the game Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! with the Firefight Generator is fun and interesting. This game is based off the Russian Front during World War II. The players in the game are commanding either the Germans or the Soviets.

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Courtesy BGG

The appearance of the game is interesting because of the counters and the map. The counters are easy to read and all the information needed to play is right on the counter. The map is geomorphic meaning all the maps fit together in different ways.

The Action Points in the game show the difference between the Soviets and the Germans. For example, a German tank gets two or three shots while a Soviet tank only gets one shot each turn. This shows the differences in training and leadership between the Soviets and the Germans. Action Points can also make you think about what you have to do and what you can do. Also, Actin Points can give you a lot or a little flexibility in the game.

Finally, the Firefight Generator makes the game fun because you get to make your own battle. You get to pick your own troops. You get to pick the battlefield and the conditions on the battlefield.

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Courtesy Academy Games

Overall, I think the game Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! with the Firefight Generator is fun and interesting.

 

Why Navies Fight – #PacificFuryGuadalcanal1942 (Revolution Games, 2016)

One of the smaller games I got last year was Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal 1942 from Revolution Games. After my first play thru I took issue with the historical accuracy of the game but generally liked it. This past weekend I pulled the game out again and ran thru the campaign again. This time I payed more attention to the rules. After this second play thru, I see a lot more depth in the game and like this particular design a lot more!

Pacific Fury simulates the naval battles off Guadalcanal in late 1942. Each turn is a month, and each player must allocate his forces to up to seven Operations each month. Once Operations are allocated, the forces can only enter in that order. But operations can be more than just a Sortie to enter the board; to move and fight also takes Operations. Every Operation is a choice – enter more forces or execute an action with a deployed force. This is one layer of depth that makes Pacific Fury an interesting game; the timing of forces entering and (usually combat) actions. How long do you allow for the carriers to clear the area? Will that bombardment mission disrupt Henderson Field and allow a follow-on landing? Do I have a strong enough force to hold Ironbottom Sound? what about the Tokyo Express?

Another layer of depth – and one I misplayed my first play thru – is Hits and Sunk ships. The combat system is very simple – for each “firing” unit roll d6; if the number is less than or equal to the Combat Factor THAT NUMBER OF HITS is scored. Hits are then apportioned by the attacker with the number of hits allocated to each target compared to the Defense Factor. There are two possible results: Sunk (removed from game) or Hit (moved to Turn Record Track to return later).

The practical impact of this game mechanic to strategy is very important – although sinking ships is good to simply “damage” the ships might be more effective. The Japanese player can return ships two turns later meaning a ship damaged in Turn 3 will not return before Turn 4. In contrast, American ships with better damage control and closer repair facilities return the next turn. Thus, like the real battle it portrays, Pacific Fury becomes a furious battle of attrition.

Another design decision in Pacific Fury that makes it very interesting is the victory conditions. There is only one way to win this game; control Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. This may seem like blasphemy to a naval gamer – many of whom only think in terms of sunk ships – but it actually reflects the reality of the battles fought from August to November 1942.

As I recognize how these game mechanics reflect aspects of the campaign often overlooked (or glossed over) in other games both my respect and enjoyment of Pacific Fury has increased. In my most recent campaign play the result was a draw. Actual losses on both sides were small; the Japanese lost Zuikaku, Shokaku, Ryujo, Nagato, and Nachi while the Americans lost Saratoga, Wasp, South Dakota, North Carolina, San Francisco, and Chicago.

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End of Game Condition

The Americans were actually a bit lucky that they were able to even get the draw. On Turn 3 (October 1942) the Japanese had retaken Henderson Field but at a cost a many damaged ships – ships now effectively “out of the game.” In the Event Phase of Turn 4, the Americans rolled IJN Overestimated which returned a “destroyed” carrier to the battle (incidentally, a carrier originally destroyed in the Event Phase of Turn 2 when the Japanese rolled three (!) Torpedo Hits and elected to sink that carrier). With the Hornet back, the Americans were able to use airpower to destroy the Japanese force patrolling Ironbottom Sound and get a bombardment force in to disrupt Henderson Field just in time for an amphibious force to land in the very last Operation of the game.

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Courtesy  goodreads.com

Pacific Fury reminds me that it is not enough to just “learn the rules” but it is also important to step back and understand the “why” of a game mechanic or rule. Usually these are hinted at in Designer’s Notes but in Pacific Fury such notes are lacking probably because the original game was published in Japanese. So in this case I had do do a bit of (enjoyable) discovery on my own. I am glad I pulled this game out again as I have deepened my understanding of not just the game but of the entire naval campaign for Guadalcanal. Pacific Fury is actually great compliment to what has to be one of the best books on the subject, James D. Hornfischer’s Neptune’s Inferno. Enough so that I need to stop typing away here and resume my reread of that book….

#FirstImpressions #TheExpanseBoardGame (WizKids, 2017)

From the publisher’s blurb:

The Expanse, a board game based on the Syfy television series of the same name, focuses on politics, conquest and intrigue similar to the board game Twilight Struggle, although with a shorter playing time. The card-driven game uses key images from the show, along with action points and events that allow players to move and place “Fleets” and “Influence”. (BGG)

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Authors collection

It is not often that a publisher’s blurb captures a game so completely as WizKids has done for The Expanse Board Game (TEBG). After purchasing the game and playing it a bit, I am torn in my feelings for the game. To me, TEBG feels very much like a “classic” Eurogame – in a negative connotation of the definition; great mechanics with a pasted on theme.

The BoardGameGeek Wiki defines Eurogames as follows:

“Eurogames (or alternatively, Designer Board Games or German-Style Board Games) are a classification of board games that are very popular on Board Game Geek (BGG). Though not all eurogames are European and not all of them are board games, they share a set of similar characteristics. A game need not fit ALL the criteria to be considered a Eurogame.

Most Eurogames share the following elements:

  • Player conflict is indirect and usually involves competition over resources or points. Combat is extremely rare.
  • Players are never eliminated from the game (All players are still playing when the game ends.)
  • There is very little randomness or luck. Randomness that is there is mitigated by having the player decide what to do after a random event happens rather than before. Dice are rare, but not unheard of, in a Euro.
  • The Designer of the game is listed on the game’s box cover. Though this is not particular to Euros, the Eurogame movement seems to have started this trend. This is why some gamers and designers call this genre of games Designer Games.
  • Much attention is paid to the artwork and components. Plastic and metal are rare, more often pieces are made of wood.
  • Eurogames have a definite theme, however, the theme most often has very little to do with the gameplay. The focus instead is on the mechanics; for example, a game about space may play the same as a game about ancient Rome.”

TEBG hits all of these points, but with mixed results.

TEBG does a good job of capturing the feel (theme) of The Expanse TV series. Using Eurogame mechanics the players place influence (tracked using small wooden cubes) on various bases throughout the Solar System. To place influence usually requires a fleet in the orbital above the base. Although the game mechanics are simple, each player/faction has unique asymmetric abilities which allow them to “break the rules” in thematically appropriate ways. For instance, while is usually cost 1 Control Point (CP) to take the second action card, the United Nations (UN) player has Planning as their initial Technology which means the first two action card slots cost 0 CP. As the game progresses, more thematically-appropriate technologies are gained by each faction.

“Combat” in TEBG consists of removing influence or fleets (which can be rebuilt). This is not a cooperative game; ruthlessly building your influence while reducing your opponents is the real core mechanic.

TEBG uses much artwork from The Expanse TV Series. Although this makes the game appear like The Expanse, some of the artwork does not have a clear connection to gameplay. For instance, the action card Scopuli can be used for 2 Action Points or as an Event by the Martian Congressional Republic (MCR) or UN. The Event states, “Place 1 influence on each Saturn Base where you do not have influence.” I do not see how this is related to the Scopuli in the TV series which is [SPOILER ALERT]:

…a Martian light transport freighter from Eros that was in service to the OPA. One of its crew was Julie Mao and it was attacked by the Stealth Ship Anubis. It was later used as a lure in the ambush and destruction of the Canterbury.

To me this is a thematic disconnect. I think Scopuli should be used as an Event to the advantage of the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) or ProtoGen. Granted, most of the action cards have a picture that ties well to the event described, but I think to make the connection one must be a real fanboy. If a player is not knowledgeable of The Expanse the immersion into the game will not be served by the graphics.

The full impact of all these design and graphics decisions is an area control game that looks like The Expanse. The game comes across as very functional; simple game mechanics with some asymmetric differences in a kinda staid, plain package.

Finally, I have an issue with the component quality in TEBG. The board uses a non-glossy finish that, while good for pictures, has already shown rubs and scratches after just two plays. I also have a major problem with the Quick Start Rules which use white text on a semi-transparent background over a starscape page. The font, smaller than that used in the main rule book and the third layer of printing has lost all its edges and is nearly impossible to read.

It is going to be interesting when The Expanse Board Game lands on the Family Game Night table. All of the RockyMountainNavy Boys know a bit about The Expanse, but none are fanboys, Thus, the success of this game will stand not on theme alone (which appears to be much of the buzz around the game) but on its ability to blend graphics and gameplay into a enjoyable gaming experience.

 

#FirstImpressions #TerraformingMars (@StongholdGames, 2016)

This week’s Saturday #GameNight brought Terraforming Mars (Stronghold Games, 2016) to the RockyMountainNavy gaming table. This game, currently ranked #12 on the BoardGameGeek “Hotness,” has been out for a while. The game was strongly recommended by Uwe Eickert at @AcademyGames to me way back in August as a good engine-building, resource management game. I was a bit slow to acquire (hey, even I have a budget…as much as Mrs. RMN tells me I exceed it) and only this month got the game to the table.

As the publisher’s blurb for Terraforming Mars (TM) puts it:

In the 2400s, mankind begins to terraform the planet Mars. Giant corporations, sponsored by the World Government on Earth, initiate huge projects to raise the temperature, the oxygen level, and the ocean coverage until the environment is habitable. InTerraforming Mars, you play one of those corporations and work together in the terraforming process, but compete for getting victory points that are awarded not only for your contribution to the terraforming, but also for advancing human infrastructure throughout the solar system, and doing other commendable things.

Game Play

Our first game was 3-player with each using the Beginner Corporations. There were several rules mistakes made including a major faux pas of not counting budget right the first few Generations (turns). This is because the game arrived Thursday and I rushed it to the table after just reading the rulebook twice and only looking at one How-to-Play video. I also failed to adequately explain the various Milestones and Awards meaning that some were missed or scored differently than all players understood. That said, the game is not overly complex and the problems we had are the fault of me rushing and not a negative reflection of the rules. Once we got the budget right the game started to click right along; I think playing in the advertised 60-90 minutes may be possible.

Cards & Actions

The cards in TM are also incredibly thematic; more then a few times we had short halts in the game to discuss what the events on the cards were describing. RMN Mom really likes listening to this part of our game nights because it demonstrates the teaching power of games. The incredible variety of Actions (Standard or Cards) ensures that there is no “one way” to win and that no two games of TM will ever be alike.

Components

I had read some criticism about the component quality in TM. Suffice it to say that I generally agree with the critics. I will definitely be sleeving these cards. The RMN Boys and I are already looking at GamerTrayz to replace the Player Mats. We do like the footprint of the game; this game can be played on a 3’x3′ card table if necessary.

Component quality aside, Terraforming Mars is a spectacular game that has already earned a repeat slot in our family game night line-up. It is also another tangible piece of evidence of my evolution as a gamer. One year ago if you asked me if I was ever going to play an engine-building game (loosely) based on science about terraforming a planet I would of asked how many space battleships were involved. These days I cannot see our family game night without games like Terraforming Mars landing on the table because of their incredible game play and teaching potential.

#TerraformingMars (@StrongholdGames) Guest Posting

The youngest RMN Boy needs to work a bit on his writing, so we ask him to write a short item on weekends. This weekend, he wrote about the new game arrival, Terraforming Mars (Stronghold Games, 2016). What follows is his short essay (very lightly edited by me). Note that when he refers to the “game mat” he is taking about the Player Boards.


Overall, I think the game Terraforming Mars is a great game because of the cards and game mat, but I wish the game mat was more 3D-like.

The cards in Terraforming Mars are one of the reasons I like this game. The cards are what helps build your Corporation. Cards can also help or hurt fellow players. Cards help get money or resources or sometimes both. Finally, there is a variety of cards, over 200.

The game mat is another reason why I think this is a great game. The game mat is very easy to read and nice looking. The game mat works well with the money and it makes you feel rich with all the gold cubes!

I do wish the game mat was more 3D-like, like the game mat in Scythe. The Scythe game mat has holes to hold the cubes. The game mat in Terraforming Mars is too flat and if you accidentally hit the table, the cubes will move.

For all these reasons; the cards and the game mat, and even though I wish the game mat was more 3D-like, I still think Terraforming Mars is a great game.


RMN Dad’s Comment: I wish he talked more about the game play in Terraforming Mars but that will come with time. We have already looked at GamerTrayz and we may be making an order in the near future.

With regards to the game itself, Terraforming Mars is actually a text-dense game; although there is much symbology used on the Project Cards they ultimately must be resolved through a careful reading of the card. This can be challenging considering the RMN Boys are a middle-schooler or on the Autism Spectrum with a reading disability. It is a testimony to the careful editing of the text on the cards that we all found them easy to understand and implement, although the strategic application of the cards will take many plays to grasp!