November 2018 #Kickstarter & Preorder Update

 Total Games On Order = 22

(Wargames 18 / Boardgames 3 / RPG 1)

This month there were two new games ordered (AuZtralia and Paper Wars 84 – FINNISH CIVIL WAR) with AuZtralia already delivered!

Theoretically, six of these games should deliver before the end of the year. Theoretically…but looking more unlikely based on the more recent updates. I think I will be lucky to see three of them.

Academy Games (@Academy_Games)

Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon (English first edition)

  • [Source / Order Date / Initial Delivery Date]
  • Kickstarter / Feb 2018 / Aug 2018
  • Per 13 Nov email now shipping Jan 2019

Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! – Kursk 1943 (English third edition)

  • Preorder / Jul 2017 / Late 2017
  • Latest version of rules (v26) sent to ProofHQ 01 Nov
  • Latest version of Battle Cards (v7) to ProofHQ 26 Oct

Ad Astra Publishing

Squadron Strike: Traveller

  • Kickstarter / Mar 2016 / Jul 2016 LONG OVERDUE
  • PDF bundle delivered 09 Nov (still awaiting my boxed set)

According to an email late 15 Oct, this game was “supposed” to ship in the next few weeks. We. Will. See. (Am not holding my breathe….)

Canvas Temple Publishing (canvastemple.com)

WW2 Deluxe: The War in Europe (First edition)

  • Kickstarter / Aug 2018 / Dec 2018
  • Per 27 Oct email now at printer; press sample “sometime in next 30 days”

Compass Games (@compassgamesllc)

Battle Hymn Volume 2: Shiloh & Bentonville

  • Preorder / Aug 2018 / Mid 2019

Indian Ocean Region: South China Sea – Vol. II

  • Preorder / Aug 2018 / Mid 2019

Pacific Tide: The United States Versus Japan, 1941-45 (First Edition)

  • Preorder / Sep 2018 / Nov 2018 
  • Website now shows release date 15 Dec

**NEW** Paper Wars 84 – FINNISH CIVIL WAR by Brian Train

GMT Games (@gmtgames)

**Note that the GMT Games P500 program works differently. Games are not slotted for production until a threshold is met. Status per GMT Games website 18 Oct** 

Flashpoint: South China Sea (English first edition)

  • P500 / Feb 2018 / Status: 458 Not There Yet

Imperial Struggle (English first edition)

  • P500 / Nov 2017 / Status: 2866 Made the Cut Later 2019

MBT: 4CMBG (Expansion for MBT (Second Edition))

  • P500 / Jun 2018 / Status: 462 Not There Yet

Panzer: Game Expansion #4: France 1940 (First Edition)

  • P500 / Feb 2018 / Status: 720 At the Printer Nov-Dec 2018

Panzer: Game Expansion Set, Nr 1 – The Shape of Battle on the Eastern Front 1943-45

  • P500 / Oct 2017 / Status: 83 Not There Yet

Plains Indian War (First Edition)

  • P500 / Jun 2018 / Status: 331 Not There Yet 

Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987

  • P500 / Nov 2016 / Status: 631 Made the Cut, Art Department, Early 2019

Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs (English first edition)

  • P500 / Nov 2016 / Status: 786 Made the Cut Early 2019

Wing Leader: Eagles 1943-45 (GMT first edition)

  • P500 / Jan 2018 / Status: 529 Made the Cut

Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942, 2nd Ed. Update Kit

  • P500 / Nov 2017 / Status: 423 Not There Yet

History in Action Games (on SquareSpace)

Tranquility Base (includes Tranquility Base: Soviet Moon Expansion)

  • Kickstarter / Oct 2018 / Mar 2019
  • Per update 31 Oct bonus Lunar Landers will be produced

Magic Vacuum Publishing (Cam Banks)

Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game

  • Kickstarter / May 2017 / April 2018
  • Cam Banks is moving to New Zealand in December and everything is pushed to after

Stronghold Games (@StrongholdGames)

**NEW**ARRIVED** AuZtralia: Martin Wallace (The Great Designer’s Series #11)

  • Preorder / Oct 2018 / Nov 2018

**ARRIVED** Terraforming Mars: Colonies (Terraforming Mars Expansion #4)

  • Preorder / Oct 2018 / Nov 2018

Worthington Publishing (@worth2004)

Hold the Line: The American Civil War (First Edition)

  • Kickstarter / Apr 2018 / Sep 2018
  • Per 14 Nov update now in printing; delivery in 30 days

Z-Man Games (@Zmangames_)

Pandemic: Fall of Rome

  • Preorder / Sep 2018 / 4Q18
  • Website shows “At the Printer”

Quick Stats

  • 32 Months: Longest time on “preorder” – Squadron Strike Traveller
  • 28 Months: Most Overdue – Squadron Strike Traveller
  • 10 Games: P500 from GMT Games
  • 6 Games: Preordered
  • 6 Games: Kickstarter
  • 2 Games: Delivered
  • 2 Games: New Order
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Game of the Week – or – Talking a’Bot Tokyo Express: The Guadalcanal Naval Campaign, 1942 (Victory Games, 1988)

img_2594A few weeks back I looked at Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 (Revolution Games, 2015) as my Game of the Week. In keeping with the Guadalcanal theme, and noting that the anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal is this week, I pulled another Guadalcanal title off my shelf. Sitting on my game shelves unplayed for many years was Tokyo Express – The Guadalcanal Naval Campaign: 1942 (Victory Games, 1988). Thirty years later I am happy to report that Tokyo Express is my latest grogpiphany. I enjoyed playing it so much I decided to deep dive into the game as my Game of the Week. Most importantly, Tokyo Express got me thinking about opponent AI and Bots in wargames.

What makes Tokyo Express unique is that it is a solitaire game. From the publisher’s blurb:

Tokyo Express is a solitaire and two-player simulation of the night naval battles off Guadalcanal. In the solitaire version, you command the US fleet, awaiting the emergence of the Tokyo Express from the darkness. You group your ships into formations, assigning them orders, and select the targets to attack with torpedoes and guns. Simple mechanisms control Japanese maneuvers and target assignments in a realistic manner. You never know when combat will occur until the explosion of torpedo salvos signals the presence of Japanese forces who detected you first and made their surprise attacks. The two-player version modifies the solitaire game and pits players against each other in an exciting recreation of World War II naval combat. Tokyo Express is graduated in complexity to help you learn the rules as you play.

When Tokyo Express was released in 1988 it garnered critical and fan praise by wining the 1988 Charles R. Roberts Award for Best WWII Board Game. I purchased the game new in 1988 but never really got the chance to play it as that was near the end of my college days and I didn’t have a wargaming group. Being a solitaire game should have made playing it easy but I only got the game to the table a few times before packing it away.

One gripe I often have with solitaire games is that the game mechanics often require learning above and beyond other games. This is in part because the solo player must not only execute their own actions, but that of the opponent too. In more modern games, the opponent is sometimes run by a Bot usually found on a player aid card. The more “intelligent” the Bot, the more difficult the Bot is to execute.

When I first reopened the box for Tokyo Express I was a bit startled by the rules. There are TWO Rules Booklets; a 24-page Basic Game Book and a 64-page (!) Standard Game Book. In addition to the rules booklets, there is a somewhat cryptic Battle Movement Display and 10 double-sided Charts and Tables Cards. I had totally forgotten about the 120 Gunnery Cards too! Of the 676 chits in the game, only 156 are Ship Counters while the remaining 520 are Information Markers. Looking at the array of contents, especially those two large Rules Booklets, made me doubt the back-of-the-box Complexity rating of Medium-Low to High. Based on rules alone and all those information markers, Tokyo Express looks to be a daunting beast to play!

Even after reading the Basic Game Book, I began to doubt my motivation for playing the game after all these years. However, after setting up the 3.9 Basic Scenario and pushing cardboard around I began to understand the simplicity of the game mechanics. The true core mechanic is Battle Movement and the Battle Movement Display. This is the heart of the “opponent AI” and the closest counterpart to a modern Bot in Tokyo Express. The Standard Game introduces more advanced rules but Mission Movement and Battle Movement remain the heart of the AI.

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The heart of the AI – The Battle Movement Display for Tokyo Express

I think the reason some people claim the opponent AI in Tokyo Express is difficult is that it is hard to see the flow of the AI/Bot. The front of Card #8 has the Standard Sequence of Play Track with boxes for tracking which segment is happening but there is no rules cross-reference. I see in the forums that noted designer Jack Greene of Quarterdeck Games is planning on republishing Tokyo Express. One part that certainly could use an update is the graphic representation of the flow of the Bot.

Having played the Basic Game a few times I next turned to the Standard Game. That was a whole other beast….

(To be continued)

Featured image courtesy BoardGameGeek

Game of the Week – Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 (Revolution Games, 2015) – Theme & Game Mechanics

I love war-games on naval warfare. The Admiralty Trilogy Games (Fear God & Dread Nought, Rising Sun, Harpoon) are amongst my favorite wargames of all time. I tend to like the more tactical-level of naval combat but always am on the lookout for games about other levels of war. I have most of the Avalanche Press Great War at Sea / Second World War at Sea series in my collection that try very hard to marry tactical combat resolution with an operational-level campaign game – and ends up doing neither very well. Thus, it was with both hope and trepidation that I picked up Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 (Bonsai-Games/Revolution Games, 2015) a little over a year ago. I need not have worried; Pacific Fury delivers a highly thematic game using a set of game mechanics that doesn’t emphasize combat, but planning. If that sounds boring to you and you skip this title then you actually are missing out on a great game that is not only fun to play, but provides a unique view into a pivotal naval campaign in the South Pacific in late 1942.

Pacific Fury is played out over four turns with each turn composed of five phases. The simple sequence of play builds a strong campaign narrative each turn through the interaction of four key rules:

  • 8.2 Form Task Forces
  • 9.7 Counting Operations
  • 10.7 Applying Hits
  • 10.8 Return to Base (Forced Return)

8.2 Form Task Forces

This rule is really the heart of every turn. In this step players have to plan their turn – everything after this is execution, not planning. Players plan their turn by forming either Amphibious, Bombardment, or Carrier Task Forces (the Japanese can also form the special Tokyo Express). Each Task Force (TF) is placed in one of seven Operations Boxes. The Operations Boxes are the order in which the units can enter the map (9.1 Sortie) during the turn. Need a carrier? Better hope it’s the next up on the track!

9.7 Counting Operations

In every Operations Phase a TF can “Sortie” to enter the map. The TF in the lowest numbered box on the Operations Track enters the map. Other possible actions, “Move,” “Landing,” Naval Bombardment,” or “Air Strike” can only be used by TF already on the map. When taking an action other than Sortie, every TF in the current Operations Box is “bumped” up the track. It is possible to actually “bump” TF off the end of the Operations Track, meaning they won’t ever get a chance to enter the map (Sortie) that turn! This simple mechanic of Counting Operations creates a compelling dilemma for players; do you enter/sortie a TF or use one already on the map? Is the one on the map the right one needed for the mission? Do you lose time getting the right one in position? Or do you fight and maybe never get the right one into the battle?

10.7 Applying Hits / 10.8 Return to Base (Forced Return)

These two rules go hand in hand. 10.7 specifies that any ship hit but not sunk is “damaged” and placed on the Turn Track to return later as a reinforcement. This removal of the unit from battle occurs after each round of combat. With only four turns, damaged ships may, or may not, return in time for a later turn.

The Forced Return rule is also very important. Under Forced Return, the attacking TF MUST return to base after the second round of combat or after the first round if there are no targets. This means attacking TF never hold ground. A defending TF that suffers no hits in either round of combat may remain. However, if the defending TF suffers even one hit in combat it MUST return to base. Combat in Pacific Fury becomes a game of damaging, not sinking, ships. Sure, sinking a ship is best (it cannot return) but often times it is enough simply to damage a ship and force a TF to return to base.

These four rules make Pacific Fury a much different naval combat game from many others. The game mechanics do a very credible job of reflecting the theme of planning a months-worth of operations by forcing the player to sequence the arrival of their forces. The challenge is not only to sequence their arrival, but to do so while trying to ensure the right units are available when needed. It is very easy to build one mega-TF with all the carriers together that will sweep the sea areas early in the turn…but once it attacks it returns to base and leaves the map – potentially depriving another TF of vitally needed cover.

In Pacific Fury choices really matter. The choice of what ships go into what TF, the choice of which Operations Box a TF is placed, the choice of what action to take, the choice to engage in combat – every choice matters. By emphasizing planning, the real objective of the campaign is brought to the front. The game highlights quite clearly that it is not the number of ships sunk that matters, but only who controls Henderson Field at the end of the game. The winner in Pacific Fury will be the player who plans the use of their dwindling forces the best.

Game of the Week – Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 (Revolution Games, 2015) – Out of the Bag Impression

Almost exactly a year before this post, I wrote my thoughts on Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 (Bonsai-Games/Revolution Games, 2015). In the time since, the game has landed on my table four times, including three times in the past two days. Every time I play the game I fall more in love with the simple design and totally enjoy the campaign narrative every game delivers.

At first glance, the game doesn’t look like much. Pacific Fury is a simple folio (bagged) game with a paper 11’x17″ map, 50 counters, an eight page rule book (double columns), and a cover sheet.

Map

Nicely done, save for a few spelling errors and holding boxes that are too small. That is not a problem, as stukajoe  was kind enough to upload a print-it-yourself replacement.

Counters

Apparently, I have the published version with “Japanese” counters where the ends of the ships are cut off. Personally, I am not sure one really needs the full-length ships given how small the counters are. What Pacific Fury really needs are blocks instead of counters!

Rule Book

According to 12.0 CREDITS, Scott Muldoon, recently famous as co-designer of Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games, 2018) did the rules translation. As good a job as he did, certain sections of the rules, like 10.0 COMBAT, require a very careful reading to catch all the nuances. To help myself when playing, I turned the eight pages of rules into seven flowcharts that step me thru the turn and each combat type. I probably could use an eighth page to extract the Opposed Landing Table for 9.6 Tokyo Express and the Sunk Table in 10.7 Applying Hits but seeing as those are the only two tables not on the map it seems like overkill to add an extra page!

Playing Time

According to the publisher and BoardGameGeek, Pacific Fury is rated at 60-120 minutes. In my plays I tend towards the low end of that number, and when playing against my arch-nemesis “Mr. Solo” and using my flowcharts I can get the game down to as little as 30 minutes. This means I can try (and retry) many different strategies. As I will discuss in a later post on Game Mechanics, it is the simple operational planning aspects of the design that really make the game shine.

Pacific Fury has become a must-pack game when I travel. I totally enjoy pulling the game out in the evening and running through a campaign. This works because the game has a small footprint but builds a large battle narrative. More about that in a near-future post!

October ends with a Silver Bayonet charge from @gmtgames & Dad is the real King(domino) (@BlueOrangeGames)

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October 2018

My October gaming featured 20 plays of 11 different games. Actually, I played 19 times with 10 games and one expansion. Or two expansions? Confusing. The ability to tie an expansion to a game is a needed upgrade to BoardGameStats to avoid this very confusion.

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GMT Games

The top game of the month was Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 (25th Anniversary Edition) (GMT Games, 2016). I played this game six times in the one week it was in the house this month making it currently tied for my second-most played wargame of 2018. I like the game so much I wrote about my out-of-the-box impressions, theme, and game mechanics.

DFILK233QhiVw9QZAigEhAThere was one special game this month, Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017). My father, aged 88 years and a veteran of the Korean War, visited our area as part of an Honor Flight group. After dinner one night the RockyMountainNavy Boys got to sit down and play a single game of Kingdomino with him. When we lived closer to him we played many games togther. I remember one early game where he sat down and played Blokus with the kids. As the kids racked up the points Dad sat there pondering the board until he finally asked, “How do you win?” To him a game is always a puzzle to be solved; it was supposed to have a “key” to unlock it. He never did figure out the key to Blokus, though over the years he did play several games of Ticket to Ride with the kids (and often held his own). Given my dad’s age and general health, and the fact he lives on the opposite side of the country, this very well could be the last game the RockyMountainNavy Boys play with him. Thanks to boardgaming we have several good memories of times with him.

How’d it suddenly get so dusty in here?

 

Game of the Week – Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 – 25th Anniversary Edition (GMT Games, 2016) – Game Mechanics

The 25th Anniversary Edition of Silver Bayonet is a substantially updated version of the original game that first appeared in 1990. Designer Gene Billingsley calls Silver Bayonet “my first published game” even though it appeared alongside two sister titles, Air Bridge to Victory and Operations Shoestring (which I talk previously talked about here).

According to GMT Game ads, Silver Bayonet is an operational game that features, “innovative combat resolution, integrating maneuver combat, close assault, artillery bombardment, gunship rocket and air support into one easy to use system.” All that certainly sounds like alot. So just how does it work?

SilverBayonet25-ban1(RBM)
Courtesy GMT Games

To explore this question and learn the game I followed the advice in the Standard Scenarios portion of the Rule Book. The part I focused in on was this passage:

The scenarios are numbered in chronological order. To play them in an order that gradually adds size and/or complexity, use the following order: 6a, 6b, 3, 5, 4, 1, 2, 7. These scenarios all use the Standard Sequence of Play.

Scenarios 3, 4, 5, 6a & 6b are intended to be played directly on the scenario cards provided.

In general, Standard Scenarios do not use Helicopters, Patrols, Observation, Ambush, or Hidden Movement, although they may use a form of these concepts (Rule Book, p. 29)

The “innovative combat resolution” system is the heart of the game design and models the interaction of Bombardment, Maneuver Combat, and Assault Combat. Although I had exposure to this system in Operation Shoestring I did not fully understand how it works until the far easier to understand rules and player aids in Silver Bayonet taught me.

Maneuver & Assault Combat

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Courtesy GMT Games

In a typical turn, following the placement of reinforcements and movement the active player must declare his combats. This phase involves more than just pointing to a stack of units. The type of combat (Maneuver or Assault) must be declared. Maneuver Combat can be thought of in terms of levering a unit out of a position. In game terms the possible combat results are fatigue, retreat, step loss, and elimination. Assault Combat is in many ways a frontal assault; possible combat results are step losses and elimination. Both combats use a different CRT. Maneuver Combat uses an odds-based CRT with the attacker resolving the combat with a single die roll. Assault Combat rolls on a different CRT using straight combat strength with defender, then attacker, both getting rolls.

Bombardment

In Silver Bayonet, Bombardment is performed by artillery, some helicopters, and abstracted air points (air support). Bombardment can happen at three different points in a turn. Regardless of the firing platform, or when in the turn the bombardment happens, all use the same Bombardment/Support Table. While the table is the same the results are interpreted differently depending on the type (Offensive, Defensive, or Maneuver Support). This is a very interesting model of how artillery and air support work in combat. Although at first glance one might think that resolving bombardment at three different points in the turn is cumbersome, the use of a single table with common DRMs but different interpretation of results actually makes resolution quick and (mostly) painless.

Efficiency Rating

Rule 2.4.5 defines Efficiency Rating as:

The efficiency rating (ER) of each unit represents that unit’s level of training, effectiveness, and cohesion. The higher the ER, the better.

ER is used at several points in a turn, most importantly during Combat Refusal, Attack Coordination, and Maneuver Combat. ER is what makes units really distinguishable; a Attack Strength 3 units with an ER of 5 is a much different animal than Attack Strength 3 with and ER of 3.

Hidden Movement

Hidden Movement is actually a Campaign Scenario rule and admittedly much harder for me to fully explore as I am learning the game by playing against my evil twin, “Mr. Solo.”

Creating a Battle Narrative

The combination of the Bombardment-Maneuver-Assault and Efficiency Rating mechanics creates a “battle narrative” that feels thematically correct. It is possible in Silver Bayonet for that 100-man US infantry company to hold off that NVA regiment given enough artillery and air support. It is equally possible for the NVA or PAVN to ambush the US or ARVN and then fade away into the jungle. For a great example of a how Silver Bayonet builds a “battle narrative” look at the original COIN game designer Volko Ruhnke’s (@Volko26) Operation Silver Bayonet (Part 1) AAR on the InsideGMT Blog.

The more I play Silver Bayonet the more the game is growing on me. I am pretty sure I am going to place this game in my personal Top 10 wargames. In this case, the innovative mechanics just “fit” the campaign and make the game come alive for me like few cardboard simulations have before.

 

Game of the Week – Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 – 25th Anniversary Edition (GMT Games, 2016) – Theme

I have very few Vietnam-topic wargames in my collection. As sorted by BoardGameGeek, the three wargames beside Silver Bayonet that I own are Firepower (Avalon Hill Games, 1984), The Speed of Heat (Clash of Arms Games, 1992), and Downtown: The Air War Over Hanoi, 1965-1972 (GMT Games, 2004). Nor do I have many operational-level ground combat games having focused more on the tactical or strategic level of war, and then mostly on naval/maritime or air campaigns. Thus, Silver Bayonet occupies a rare part of my collection.

pic27366
Courtesy BGG

When I first started wargaming in 1979, the Vietnam War was still fresh in the public’s memory. That memory was also a bit raw given how divided the country was over the war. Thus, I encountered very few wargames on the topic; the only one I remember playing was Operation Pegasus (Task Force Games, 1980**). Even come the 1990s there still were few games making the first edition of Silver Bayonet published in 1990 special even then.

In 2015, when designer Gene Billingsley went to update Silver Bayonet, he wrote in the Inside GMT Blog:

A recommended book. The “We Were Soldiers Once and Young” book came out in late 1992, and the movie a decade later, and Americans began to learn about the bitter struggle ofPleikuBook Hal Moore’s troopers in the shadow of the Chu Pong at LZ X-Ray. But even now, little has been written on the broader campaign in October and November of 1965, a campaign that stopped, attritted, and later routed a tough North Vietnamese Division poised to overrun the Special Forces camps and meager fortifications around Pleiku in just over a month of campaigning. Considering that airmobility was mostly “an idea” at that point, and that the unblooded 1st Cavalry troopers that implemented new strategies and tactics were about as familiar with the area of operations as they were the face of the moon, what they achieved was quite remarkable. And, of course, terribly costly. To this day, I know of no better book – if you want to read up on this campaign – that dissects the entire campaign, than J.D. Coleman’s “Pleiku,” a book that was my primary source for constructing the game’s scenarios way back in 1990. To be sure, we have more information today, and some of that will make its way into the updated edition of the game, but this book remains a tremendous resource, written by a gifted writer, with enough precise detail that it almost reads like an after action report (though much more interesting.) If you’re interested in the topic, read (or re-read) this book.

Having both read the book and watched the movie, the game Silver Bayonet is extremely evocative of the topic. This is GMT Games at its finest; a respectful treatment of the subject with little oh-rah and a very fair representation of the capabilities and motivations of both combatants.

Featured image courtesy GMT Games.

** Operation Pegasus is available as a digital download from the successor to Task Force Games, Amarillo Design Bureau, at wargamevault.com.