Is this a wargame? – or – A grognard’s foggy thoughts on #FogofWar (@StrongholdGames, 2016)

Fog of War by Stronghold Games (2016) is marketed as a “two-player grand strategic game covering the European theater of World War II.” On its surface, Fog of War looks to be a “wargame” but, to this old grognard, I am unsure it really is.

The BoardGameGeek wiki glossary defines wargame as,

n. A game in which players put military units or military-type units in direct or indirect conflict with each other. The goal of these games is typically annihilation of opponents and/or the attainment of certain strategic conditions. These types of games will often have high thematic content and a varying degree of abstraction. (See also miniatures game). Wargames are subdivided into three general scales: Strategic, Operational and Tactical. (See also simulation)

By this definition, Fog of War qualifies as a wargame as it has military units (cards) in direct conflict and victory is through the attainment of strategic conditions (control of various provinces).

But I disagree.

Fog of War is superficially a wargame, but at its heart it is a game of Bluffing. BoardGameGeek defines bluffing as, “Bluffing games encourage players to use deception to achieve their aims. All Bluffing games have an element of hidden information in them.” Now, I recognize that wargames often have an element of Bluffing in them, but it is not the core mechanic as in Fog of War.

To be fair, Fog of War is not marketed as a wargame. Let’s look at how Stronghold Games describes Fog of War:

The game does not have units that move around a map; instead the game focuses on the planning and intelligence aspects of the war. Each player has a deck of cards that represent the army, navy, and other assets of their nations. A map shows the 28 land and sea provinces over which the players are battling.

You defend a province by placing cards face down on the map. If you wish to attack a province, you must plan an “operation” to do so by creating one on your operation wheel. The wheel is a unique way of forcing players to commit to operations in advance, while giving opportunities for intelligence gathering and bluffing. An operation consists of a province card that shows the target of the operation, plus one or more cards to conduct the attack. All of these cards are placed face down, so your opponent does not know the target of the operation or the strength of the cards that are taking part. Each turn, the dial on the operation wheel is rotated by one position. This controls when an operation can be launched and any attack or defense bonuses that apply.

In addition to combat forces for attack or defense, you may also spend Intel tokens to look at your opponent’s operations and defenses.

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Operations Wheel (Courtesy BGG)

Hopefully, you see that the core mechanic of the game is focused on the Operations Wheel where players secretly plan attacks. Defense of provinces and attacks on the Operations Wheel are secret but players can use Intelligence Operations to try to discern the defense or attack plans. The use of deception and hidden information, and not military conflict, is at the heart of Fog of War.

 

But does that make it a bad game?

BGG User TimSmith wrote a long review of Fog of War where he praises the game. In a final assessment he declares:

This game is an absolute must for every wargame designer with any interest in the theory of war, in Clausewitz and SunZi, or the works of Michael Howard, Michael Handel and Edward Luttwak. Even the deans and doyens of our discipline will find that FoW deepens their conceptual insight into some of the non-obvious causal factors that govern war, not just in the military sphere such as attrition versus maneuver, but in the wider context of strategic interaction described by game and decision theory.

For similar reasons, it is a must for all grognards interested in studying warfare through simulation modeling. It might prompt one to contemplate how incomplete the standard wargame framework is, and perhaps to introspect into whether we have been sufficiently aware of this.

FoW is a great addition to the repertoire of those who enjoy stimulating, challenging strategy games. For all its Boogy-Woogie Bugle Boy artwork, it’s a cerebral game. The Anglo-Allies cannot blame the dice if they get booted off the continent!

And finally, for any wargame coach or teacher who uses wargames to teach history or strategy, this game offers a highly valuable and unique insight into the challenges historical figures face in committing their nations and forces to great endeavors during conflict. The game conveys a sense of plunging into the unknown that few games can match.

I know Tim (professionally) and have great respect for his opinion. I can see many of his points, but I personally think he gets a bit carried away. Fog of War demonstrates the role of planning and intelligence in war – STOP! When I keep this (narrow?) perspective I find great enjoyment in playing Fog of War. It is when I try to “read more into the game” that I find my enjoyment dropping off as I (sub?) consciously start questioning design assumptions and doubting the design. For instance, combat is resolved through a straight comparison of attack versus defense strength. The attacker automatically wins if they have a ration of 2:1 or better, seemingly ignoring the historical maxim that 3:1 odds are needed to assure victory. I think I see the design assumption behind the 2:1 decision (driven by a limited number of cards in the game) but as a grognard I found myself doubting the “validity” of the game.

Fog of War is a good game and I am glad to have added it to my collection, but it is best enjoyed with a narrower set of expectations than I started with. As a long time grognard, Fog of War challenged my definition of a wargame, but as a gamer I can enjoy the Bluffing in a military conflict setting.

Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.

 

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The Simplicity of #1812TheInvasionofCanada (@Academy_Games, 2012)

This weekend the RockyMountainNavy Game Night featured 1812: The Invasion of Canada (Academy Games, 2012). This title is actually the first in the Birth of America-series but was the last to land on the RMN gaming table. 1812 is probably the simplest, least refined game of the series but that same simplicity creates a fast-playing, easy-to-learn gaming experience that delivers a wonderful historical feel that immerses players in the game.

The core mechanics of 1812 are the same as all Birth of America-series games. The usual Reinforcements – Movement – Battle – Draw Cards sequence is there. In 1812, Reinforcements enter at designated Muster Points. This limitation immediately forces players to consider how to flow forces into battles. Movement is done with the usual Movement Cards of which some are movement, some are Events, and of course one is the Treaty Card (combination movement/event). Battles have a subtle asymmetric character about them through the use of special Battle Dice that have different results depending upon the type of unit fighting. In one difference from the usual game series rules, the first “attack” rolls depend upon where the battle takes place with the Home Territory owner getting the first roll. In terms of rules complexity, I consider 1812the least complicated of the series. This makes it very easy to learn and quick-to-play.

Victory in 1812 is through simple majority area control. The game ends at the end of Round 8 or at the end of any round when one side has played all their Treaty Cards.

Unlike other Birth of America titles, 1812 can be played with up to five players (rather than the standard four). The “fifth” faction in this title is the Native Americans. As much as I appreciate the designers stretching the title for five players, in this case I doubt the real enjoyment the Native American player would get in a full game with (very) limited reinforcements and small forces. Native Americans appear in 1775: Rebellion (as a “neutral” faction that can be controlled by either side) and in 1754: The Conquest of America where they are represented again as a “neutral” faction that can be allied with and (using the Native American Expansion) as a source of asymmetric powers and alternate victory conditions.  In 1812, the Native Americans are a sort of “special forces” but are definitely an adjunct force but not a major power.

A major source of enjoyment when playing 1812 is simply looking at the game. The beautiful box art is supported by a map that is evocative of the era and card art that is exceptionally detailed. Just looking at the game immerses the players in the period and helps with the narrative experience.

U%u3KDqDRQKzsGLnzbhsmQOur first game ended in a tie after Round 4 when the Americans had played all their Treaty Cards. Both sides controlled one enemy Homeland Territory. In very typical fashion, the game came down to the last battle roll in the final battle. In this case, the British Regulars were able to defeat a mixed American Regular-Militia army and take the one territory they needed to tie the game. Total playing time for our first game was a very fast 55 minutes. This is partially because all four players (myself and all three RockyMountainNavy Boys) are familiar with the rules.

1812: The Invasion of Canada may be the “simplest” of the Birth of America-series but that does not mean it will end up not getting played. Rather, the many positive attributes of the game (familiar rules, beautiful artwork, thematic play) means it will land on the gaming table often.

Feature image courtesy Academy Games.

Thoughts on Native Alliances in #1754Conquest from @Academy_Games

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Courtesy AcademyGames.com

In my first impression of 1754 Conquest – The French and Indian War (Academy Games, 2017) I touched on how much the game is like the others in the Birth of America/Birth of Europe-series. I discussed how 1754 Conquest adds new rules for reinforcements (Harbors and Muster Areas) and Forts. There are two other different rules that help set 1754 Conquest apart from other games in the series. The rules are Native Americans and the optional Native Alliance Expansion which we played with.

In all the Birth of America/Europe-series, there are four factions each of which draw their Turn Cube during a Round. In 1754 Conquest, there is a fifth “faction;” Native Americans. When the Native American Turn Cube is drawn, reinforcements are placed on the board. There is a clever mechanic using the spot on the Turn Order Track that helps determine which Native American area gets the reinforcements. Rules are included for when Native American are allied with a faction and how they act in battle.

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Courtesy AcademyGames.com

The 1754 Conquest Native Alliance Expansion is a deck of 15 cards. During Setup, each faction draws a single card. The card will either have an Native American area that, if controlled at game end, scores extra Victory Points or a special Native American ability that the faction can use. For instance, in the image above if the Algonquin Alliance card is drawn, when the game ends with the faction in control of those Native American home areas gains extra Victory Points. Other cards are special abilities for the factions, such as the Mingo Alliance card (pictured above) that negates the Fort Die if present.

These simple changes and expansion make 1754 Conquest extremely thematic. Not only are the major contested areas the Native American lands (as was historically the case) but the importance of alliances with the Native Americans cannot be understated both in history and the game. Academy Games (rightly) boosts that, “This expansion exemplifies the impact that the Six Nations had on the French and Indian War!” For the full experience of 1754 Conquest, the expansion is essential. Adding this expansion should be a no-brainer as there is little-to-no rules overhead and seamless integration with the existing game system.

In our first game, two of the factions (British & French Regulars) drew Area Alliance cards. The British Colonials drew the Ojibwa Alliance power (ability to cross the Great Lakes) while the French-Canadiens had the Mingo Alliance power (nullifies Forts). In the end game scoring, neither side gained extra points (failure to have Native American units in the areas). During the game, the Colonials were able to use the Ojibwa Alliance to cross the Great Lakes and take some French territory (although the “invasion” was later turned back). The French-Canadian faction should of used the Mingo Alliance in one battle but we all forgot (to our later disgruntlement as it may have made the difference in the battle and possibly even the final scoring). On balance the Native Alliance cards added an interesting element of gameplay with little rules overhead but with great thematic impact.

In many ways the Native Americans in 1754 Conquest exemplify what I love about the entire Birth of America-series and 878 Vikings. The games are great for 3-4 players, feature easy-to-learn and easy-to-play rules, and hit so many thematic elements that they teach without being preachy. 1754 Conquest, and it close cousins 1775 Rebellion, 1812 Invasion, and 878 Vikings are the epitome of family wargames that are fun to play and educational.

#FirstImpressions – #1754Conquest by @Academy_Games

On the table for this weekend’s RockyMountainNavy Family Game Night was a full 4-player game of 1754 Conquest: The French and Indian War (Academy Games, 2017). I usually do a “first impressions” post after playing a game for the first time and I guess this posting is no real exception. Well, except that since 1754 Conquest is part of the Birth of America-series and we have previously played 1775 Rebellion and 878 Vikings, we actually have a great familiarity with the basic game system. So this is more of a “ongoing thoughts” after the first play of another game in the series. Bottom Line: 1754 Conquest is a great family wargame and beautiful on the table.

Like other games in the Birth of America/Europe-series, 1754 Conquest is team-play, strategic-level of conflict, lite-rules wargame. The core gameplay is the same; Reinforcements, Movement/Event Card play, Battles, and End Turn. 1754 Conquest introduces several advanced rules (that are changes from 1775 Rebellion and 1812 Invasion) including Strategic Forts, Muster Areas, and Harbors. The later two determine where reinforcements arrive (British and French Regulars enter at Harbors, British Colonials and French-Canadiens enter at Muster Points). The Fort Rule thematically captures the important roll of forts in this war.

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Courtesy AcademyGames.com

Beyond the familiar gameplay, another part of 1754 Conquest that captures my attention (literally) is the fantastic art. I recently listened to a podcast (can’t find it now) that talked to Steve Paschal, the artist who did the cover of 1754 Conquest. Mr. Paschal has done lots of work for Academy Games, and his work is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. The cover of 1754 Conquest is by far my favorite because I think it captures so much of the spirit of the game. Not only is the cover nice, but all the components nicely compliment each other and make the game extremely beautiful to lay out on the table and adds immensely to the joy of play.

Playing games, and especially wargames, has an important role in the education of the RockyMountainNavy Boys. When playing 878 Vikings, I discovered just how much the Oldest RMN Boy loved Viking history, and how much the Youngest RMN wants to learn. Personally, I have a love of early American colonial history and the French & Indian War and American Revolution are amongst my favorite periods of history to study. So this time we did something a bit different and I read aloud from the Historical Notes at the back of the rulebook. The Boys were fascinated learning about George Washington’s role in the war, and were awed when they realized that their mother’s favorite movie, The Last of the Mohicans, is on the board (Fort William Henry). When I got to the section labeled The French Plan, Youngest RMN Boy stopped me and suggested we not read further until after the game so they could explore the situation for themselves. To say I was proud is an understatement!

The game ended after Round 4 with the British having played both their Treaty Cards. The result was a very narrow victory for the British, 6-5. Total playtime was a very short 70 minutes, which is very fast for us in a first-play of a new game. Again, 1754 Conquest is not a truly “new” game to us, and the fact we have familiarity with the core game mechanics meant the introduction of the new rules did not slow down our learning of the game.

1754 Conquest is less complex than 878 Vikings due to the absence of Invasion and Leader rules. It is more complex than 1775 Rebellion given the different reinforcement rules and forts. But in no way can I say that 1754 Conquest is better than or lesser than either of those other games. 1754 Conquest is superior in what it delivers; an easy to learn, simple to play, team wargame that captures the feel of the French & Indian War period. Additionally, it is a beautiful game!

2017 Gaming Retrospective

Well, its that time of the year for the obligatory post addressing the question, “How much did I game in 2017?” This year I tried to keep better stats using BoardGameGeek. Here is my year:

fullsizeoutput_56bIf my math is correct, that is 124 plays of 59 different games. Actually, it’s only 57 different games because there are two expansions in there.

I have no real data to compare these numbers to because I admit I only sporadically logged game plays in 2016 and before. But there are a few trends I noticed myself.

Family Gaming: This was the year that the family started gaming together. Look at all the family games. From heavy games like Scythe to lighter fare in Kingdominothe game shelf is sagging a bit more this year.

Academy Games: Easily one of my favorite publishers today. In particular I love their Conflict of Heroessystem and their “lite” family wargames of in the Birth of America and Birth of Europe series.

Hollandspiele: Another small publisher. Small, innovative and interesting games have rekindled my love of wargames.

GMT Games: A powerhouse publisher, this year I explored titles beyond their niche wargames. Their COIN-series title Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection is a favorite.

All in all, 2017 was a good gaming year. Here’s to hoping 2018 continues the trend!

Happy New Year!

#FirstImpressions – 878 Vikings: Invasions of England (@AcademyGames, 2017)

This Christmas was a very merry Academy Games Christmas in the RockyMountainNavy household. Our Birth of America collection was completed with 1754 Conquest: The French & Indian War and 1812: The Invasion of Canada. The first of the Birth of Europe titles, 878 Vikings: Invasion of England also landed under the tree. This weekend, 878 Vikings found it way to the RMN Game Night in a full 4-player scenario. 878 Vikings delivers a fun family game that strikes a nice balance between playability and teaching.

Academy Games calls the Birth-series “light grand tactical play.” In reality, these games are light strategic play with little “tactical” elements. In 878 Vikings, two factions of Viking invaders are trying to conquer England which is defended by the Housecarl and Thegn. Each turn, a new Viking leader will invade and try to conquer shires while the English try to hold back the Viking hordes.

It is actually a bit rare for all three RMN Boys to play on a game night. This is usually because the oldest RMN Boy, a die-hard video gamer, often chooses to pass on boardgames. However, in this case it was he who wanted the game because he absolutely LOVES Vikings. Thus, the teams were Oldest RMN Boy – Viking Beserkers, Youngest RMN Boy – Viking Norsemen, Middle RMN Boy – Housecarl, and myself as Thegn.

As we were setting up the game it became very apparent that the game had struck a cord with the oldest RMN Boy. Without reference to any materials he was talking about the history of various Viking Leaders. Youngest RMN Boy had pulled out his Guts & Glory: The Vikings book and was trying to keep up with his older brother. You have to understand something about these two; the Youngest RMN considers himself the smartest and was not prepared for his older brother to be so far ahead of him in Viking knowledge.

This “conflict” between the two of them continued as play began. Youngest RMN considers himself a bit of a tactician and usually leads his middle brother in plan development when they play against me. This time, it was literally like watching two Viking factions arguing amongst themselves.

The initial Viking invasion went well but was stopped in the south. Aggressive Thegn play (by me) and a Reinforcement rather than another full invasion slowed the Viking advance and allowed the English to take advantage of Viking overreach. The first invasion was eventually defeated (the leader eliminated) but at the cost of many Thegn which weakened further defenses. A lucky Saxon Navy card play forced the next Viking invasion to land in a less-than-optimal location and gave time for the English defense to stabilize. When the next Viking invasion arrived, an absolutely heroic stand on the beach (with Middle RMN rolling 5 hits on 6 dice) gave the invaders pause and made them adopt a less aggressive strategy. One feature that (happily) surprised us was the many Event Cards that feature some sort of betrayal. Both Viking Treaty of Wedmore cards were out by the end of Round IV, meaning Round V would be decisive. This was also the turn of Alfred the Greats arrival and when Housecarl went first they took back two Viking controlled shires. At the end of Round V, the Vikings only controlled 8 shires, short of necessary victory.

All the RMN Boys have played 1775 Rebellion: The American Revolution which is the first of the Birth of America series featuring the least complicated rules. Although the basic game mechanics are similar in 878 Vikings, all agreed that the Leader rules and invasions makes 878 Vikings play very differently. In this case the difference is welcomed as 878 Vikings plays very thematically appropriate. The rules overhead is very light but delivers a powerful gaming experience. As an added bonus, the Viking knowledge that Oldest RMN Boy possesses has challenged Youngest RMN to go back and carefully reread his Viking book and dig into the historical notes in 878 Vikings. In this way, 878 Vikings has achieved a goal that Mrs. RMN and I both strive for in gaming; teach the Boys.

So as 2017 comes to a close I have to give a big shout-out to Academy Games for delivering not only a fun game, but one that makes my boys hungry to learn more. Such is the power of gaming. Here is looking forward to many more learning chances from gaming in 2018.

Hot #Boardgames in Winter

In preparation for the arrival of a few new games this Christmas, I was updating my BoardGameGeek collection pages and noticed my profile page. There are two lists given, one is my Top 10 and the other my Hot 10. Looking at the two lists, I realized I had a methodology for creating the Top 10 list (based on my personal BGG rating) but I did not have a system for the Hot 10. Giving it a bit of some thought, I decided to use my Logged Plays as a guide. The resulting list is actually a good reflection of my year in gaming.

My logged plays games are a bit unbalanced. From January to July it featured one or two wargames a month. Beginning in August, the RockyMountainNavy family started family game nights every weekend. In the last five months of the year my gaming changed from wargames to more family boardgames. The pace of gaming also accelerated; so far in December I have already played more games that all of January to July put together. So here is my Hot 10:

#10 – Agricola: Master of Britain

As much as I play wargames solo it is actually rare that I play solo games. Agricola: Master of Britain is an easy-to-learn yet hard-to-master game that uses interesting cup mechanics to reflect shifting allegiances of tribes. I also like the escalating victory conditions that constantly force you to achieve more – sometimes more than is possible.

#9 – 1775: Rebellion

A “lite” wargame that plays well with 2-4 players. In many ways 1775: Rebellion showed me that a “family wargame” should be.

#8 – Scythe

Scythe marked the real birth of family board gaming in the RockyMountainNavy this year. One of the heavier games we played this year, we have not played in a while and need to get this one back to the table soon.

#7 – Pandemic

An older game that we “discovered” this year, I am always amazed at the narrative power this game delivers.

#6 – Plan Orange: Pacific War 1930-1935

Probably the only “real” wargame in my Hot 10. At first I was a bit surprised this was in my Hot 10 but then I thought about it; I really enjoy this CDG-design and the shorter play time means it can land on the gaming table more often.

#5 – The Expanse Board Game

At first I was a bit negative on The Expanse Board Game but I have warmed to it. I want it to land on the table a bit more but in the last game Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy was ruthless on his brother who swore revenge. So far he hasn’t had a chance, but when it comes I’m sure it will be glorious to watch.

#4 – Terraforming Mars

Another game that exemplifies the arrival of family board gaming in the RMN family. This will be played many more times and there may even be a few expansions purchased.

#3 – Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (second edition)

If there is a wargame that connected my grognard past with my boys it is Conflict of Heroes. The Firefight Generator has led to several memorable games so far.

#2 – Ghostbusters: Protect the Barrier Game

A lucky thrift-store find, I posted earlier how this is actually a reskinning of the Kinderspiel des Jarhres-winning Ghost Fighting’ Treasure Hunters. A fun cooperative game, it probably will be superseded in a future Hot 10 by Pandemic and demoted to the kids collection for Mrs RMN to use in her teaching.

#1 – Kingdomino

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games

Given the short play time and our usual Dynasty play where we play three games in a sitting one could argue that this game is artificially high in my Hot 10. I disagree; Kingdomino fully deserves to be the Hot 10 leader not only because of my logged plays, but it is landing on the table with the RMN Boys even without me. Even the video-gaming oldest RMN Boy will join in!

So there is my Hot 10. This list helps me recognize what I have sensed all year; as much as I am a wargaming grognard this year I became more of a family gamer. This has resulted in many positive changes in the family. Not only do we spend more time socializing together, we also use games to guide our learning. The boys have learned so much more about the American Revolution and space exploration thanks to gaming. Even Mrs. RMN,  a non-gamer, is touting the value of board gaming to the parents of her students.