#Wargame #Retroplay – Beachhead (Yaquinto Publishing, 1980)

My not-so-lazy Sunday was capped off by a solo play attempt of Beachhead: A Game of Island Invasions in the South Pacific 1942-1944 from Yaquinto Publishing in 1980. Beachhead came packaged in what Yaquinto called their “Album Game'” format; the game “box” was basically a dual LP record cover. Very thin – so thin you couldn’t store the counters in the sleeves of the “box” without warping the board! Beachhead was designed by Michael  S. Matheny with a gorgeous cover by Roger B. MacGowan (@RBMStudio1 on Twitter). As I replayed this game I discovered it is not the game I remember; in some ways it is better, in other ways not.

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Small footprint – a 3’x3′ table will do!

As I reread the rules before play, several items jumped out at me. The first concerns serious gaming. Production of Beachhead was led by J. Stephen Peek, formerly of Battleline and obviously a serious gamer. So serious he didn’t call Beachhead a wargame but a “simulation”:

 

002 – BEACHHEAD As a Simulation

BEACHHEAD is a small unit level simulation of combat on an island in the South Pacific during the Second World War.

I pulled Beachhead out because I wanted to play a solitaire game. However, I quickly discovered that there is actually a fairly large degree of hidden information making this game not-so-solo-friendly.

4. All Japanese units are placed on the game board and are turned upside down. (102 PREPARING TO PLAY THE GAME-D-4)

2. Flip over all units that will move this Turn. (202 Basic Game Sequence of Play, STEP B.2.)

4. Return the moved units to the Face up [sic] position. (SoP, STEP C.4)

The next rule that was different than I remember is Sighting. The mapboard has many jungle hexes so as I read the rules I expected to see a rule about jungle blocking line of sight. Instead, I got this:

3. Hexes containing trees do not individually block the line of sight. Though the trees may be up to 25-40 feet in height, there are very few of them in each hex and so so not present a problem in sighting. They will present obstacles to combat. However, if the line of sight passes through three Tree hexes the line of sight is blocked. (205 SIGHTING-B-1-3)

This “terrain as combat obstacles” theme is also applied to buildings:

4. Hexes containing buildings do not block line of sight. There are very few buildings per hex and so do not present a problem for sighting. They will still present obstacles to combat. (205-B-4)

I did remember what made Japanese machine guns so deadly – Fire Lanes:

  1. Only Japanese Machine Gun, Infiltration Machine Guns, and Emplacement units have a ‘Fire Lane’ and are called Fire Lane units.
  2. The base of the Fire Lane is the numbered edge of the playing piece.
  3. The Fire Lane extends ten hexes through the hexside to which the numbered edge of the playing piece is facing.
  4. ….
  5. ….
  6. Any American unit that attempts to cross this ten hex line is immediately fired on by the Fire Lane unit. (This means that the American player will be attacked during the movement portion of his Movement Phase…. (205-F)

Another rule I missed many years ago is Aircraft Spotters (207 COMBAT-C). This rule allows one to use Airstrike units as spotters. A simple way to give the American player a complex choice; bombard or spot?

One rule I did remember and still enjoy is how Preliminary Bombardment is implemented in the game. This is another challenging choice; delay the arrival of landing craft to bombard and risk running out of time or land against more defenders? While rereading the rules, I discovered a little wrinkle that I had missed years before and it comes from the fact the Japanese player’s units are face down (hidden) from the American player:

4. In a normal Firing procedure the Firing player consults the Combat Results Table to determine the effects of fire. In Preliminary Bombardment the Japanese player consuls the Combat Results Table. The American player still rolls the dice, but is not allowed to know the odds column being used. (207 COMBATJ. Preliminary Bombardment)

+VL5G3uHRRuvZp8VK9UhrAVictory Conditions (210 VICTORY CONDITIONS) are based on points differential. I really like the flavor text. It ties neatly back to the introduction where there is an emphasis placed on YOU. As the introduction states, “You are, in fact, on the BEACHHEAD.”

In the OPTIONAL RULES there are several items of “chrome” that I remember and really like such as:

  • Randomly rolling to see what size naval guns are bombarding (303 BOMBARDMENT TYPE)
  • Randomly determining what payload airstrike have (304 AIRSTRIKES)
  • The Duke arrives as SGT. Stryker! (308 SGT. STRYKER)

Near the end of the rules in the HINTS ON PLAY there is a section on GAME ABSTRACTIONS. It directly addresses concerns over the game’s realism. It is interesting to read the designer’s perspective that Beachhead is essentially a game of points with units representing those points. It is a useful perspective that conflict simulations/wargames sometime forget.

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They knew…all the way back in 1980

Given the hidden information needed to play, my solo Beachhead game sort fizzled out. These days, this game is ripe for an implementation using blocks instead of face down counters.

More importantly, the rules of Beachhead, in a mere 16 pages, show a great degree of design elegance and certainly capture – and communicate – the theme of the game. The game is a great reminder that good things sometime do arrive in small packages. For some reason, this game, with its mechanical elegance and smaller footprint reminds me of many Hollandspiele games. That’s a good thing because it means there is at least one publisher is delivering elegant, smaller games to this very niche hobby market.

Now, to get the RockyMountainNavy Boys to play….

 

 

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#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

 

#WargameWednesday – Deep Play of Patton’s Vanguard (Take Aim Designs/Revolution Games, 2017)

Patton’s Vanguard: The Battle of Arraourt, 1944 covers key battles in September 1944 in the Lorraine region of France. Designed by Mike Rinella (Michael Rinella on BGG) with graphics by Charles Kibler (BGG link), the game was published by Take Aim Designs and Revolution Games in 2017. Although I had played the game twice while on a road trip, it was not until this last weekend that I really played a deep dive of the First Scenario.

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Patton’s Vanguard comes with two scenarios, each covering four days battle. Turns are a single day, units are Company-level, and the map uses areas to segment the battlefield. The really interesting game mechanic is found in 8.0 Impulses. Each Impulse the German then the American player performs one action. If the first American die roll (DR or 2d6) of the turn is equal to or greater than the Impulse number, the next Impulse is played. If the DR equals the Impulse number the weather also changes. If the DR is less than the Impulse number the Daylight Phase of the turn ends and the Refit and End Phase is executed and play goes to the next Turn. This mechanic is called the Sunset DR. It is what makes Patton’s Vanguard a tense game; one can never be sure just how long each turn will last. With only four turns to achieve victory the pressure is on the Germans to attack.

Using an area map also means there are no Zones of Control. Well, not officially. One of the hardest concepts for me to wrap my head around is the concept of Contested Areas in the game. Contested Areas first appears in 7.0 Stacking and Control.

7.4 Contested – An area is considered Contested if it contains units of both sides. Contesting an Area that is controlled by the enemy does not alter control of that Area. Units within a Contested Area may only conduct a Ranged Attack (8.1.2) or Bombardment (8.1.3) against enemy units within that Contested Area.

Sounds simple enough. An Area with units from both sides is Contested. Units in Contested Areas can only use Ranged Attacks or Bombardments. Looking at 8.1.2 The Ranged Attack Impulse further specifies in part:

….A ranged attack may not be declared in Fog Weather (9.1)….Units in the Active Area may attack (only).

The sticky wicket here is that each turn the weather starts at Fog Weather and it stays that way until the Sunset DR changes it or Impulse 6 when the fog automatically burns off. So units in a Contested Area cannot move –  or attack – in Fog Weather.

OK you say, so armor and infantry can’t attack if stuck in a Contested Area during Fog Weather. Just use your artillery to bash’em.

Hold on. 8.1.3 The Bombardment Impulse states in part:

Artillery and Air Bombardment may not be declared in Fog Weather (9.1).

So OK, find a way to move them. Maybe 8.1.4 The Regroup Impulse? Be careful though:

….Units within a Contested Area may not Regroup into another Contested Area, even if friendly controlled….

In my postgame review I discovered the counterbalance to Contested Areas. It is 11.1 Mandatory Attacks and 11.2 Optional Attacks. Specifically, 11.1 says in part:

….If a Mandatory Attack results in a Repulse (11.5.4) all participating units must retreat (14.2).

11.2 Optional Attacks states in part:

….Moving units may not join with units already within a Contested Area (7.3) to make one combined attack.

Which shouldn’t make a difference until one reads Repulse in 11.5.4 Computing Results:

….Retreat is required in cases of Mandatory Attacks (11.1). Attacking units making an Optional Attack (11.2) may not retreat.

Why this detailed discussion? Because I totally messed up Mandatory Attacks and the Repulse part of 11.5.4 in my deep dive game. I didn’t retreat correctly (i.e. often enough) meaning I missed many opportunities for an Assault (move & attack) by making units too sticky with Contested Areas.

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End of First Scenario…sort of

You might be thinking I am hating on Contested Areas and all the nuanced interactions with movement and attack and retreat. YOU. ARE. WRONG. I actually think Contested Areas is a BRILLIANT game mechanic and the very heart of Patton’s Vanguard. I am not disappointed or angry after my deep dive game, I am immensely happy that I unlocked another level of understanding in this game.

I am also amazed at the amount of chrome that is found in the short 16-page rulebook. Chrome like US airpower or weather or historical leaders. Chrome that is seamlessly integrated into the game and contributes to the experience rather than a useless bolt-on mechanic put there to be “historically accurate” with no real game reason.

Patton’s Vanguard is a refreshingly different operational-level view of the Battle of Arracourt. Kudos to Mike Rinella for delivering a tight, tense game. Even though I made mistakes the game continues to intrigue me. Will have to get it back to the table for the larger Second Scenario covering September 25-28, 1944.

 

 

 

First Play of The Eagle and the Sun in Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT, 2018)

Today I tried Scenario C.4 The Eagle and the Sun in designers William Terdoslavich and Scott Muldoon’s Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games, 2018). Scenario C.4 is a three-turn scenario covering the Pacific Theater between 1941 and 1946. 

I am still learning the game (this was my second scenario play) and it was a bit difficult. The heart of the Cataclysm system is the chit-pull mechanic. How you build your chit-pool (Economics) and how you employ Political Actions and Military Actions is truly an art; an art I am not close to mastering yet. I have to admit that the biggest mistake I made was ignoring a Design Note in the scenario:

Design Note: Global War enables Japan to increase commitment to total war while non-belligerent, hint hint.

I read this note and looked at 5.6.5 Global War to see what was being hinted at. Seeing nothing of seeming importance there I shrugged my shoulders and moved on. What every player should do – that I didn’t do until too late – is also look at rule 6.4 Increased Commitment. Here it specifies that, “…if the power is belligerent the effectiveness check is automatically successful.” This is followed by a note:

IMPORTANT: A power may only increase it commitment to total war if it is a belligerent or the game’s war status (5.6.3) is currently Global War.

Ah…now  get it! In C.4 Eagle and the Sun all the powers (Japan, UK, US) start at Mobilization. When the first UK Home Front marker is pulled, the Special Rules specifies the UK increases commitment to Total War. When a German offensive marker seeded in the pool is drawn (representing Operation Barbarossa) the war status marker goes to Global War. Now Japan (or even the US) can increase commitment to Total War. I totally missed this rules connection, and as such I failed to raise the commitment levels of Japan and the United States beyond Mobilization in a timely manner.

That does not mean my scenario was a total disaster. Indeed, it was interesting as the UK stretched out from India and ran into the Japanese Empire in Southeast Asia. The Japanese invaded the Dutch East Indies but did not attack the United States. The US, still at Mobilization, was slowly building up forces. If the scenario had gone on for another turn it would of probably been real interesting as an over-extended Japan was going to have to face a three-front war (India-Australia-Pacific) against a (now) rapidly arming US.

So to all you new players of Cataclysm that might be struggling with the rules like I am…don’t give up. There is a very rich game here with simple mechanics that plays quickly. But don’t let simple mechanics fool you; there are many rules connections that cannot be ignored. Cataclysm will take time to master but even when wrong it feels oh-so-right.

History Supplied in Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy (Hollandspiele, 2018)

In wargames, seeing history repeat itself is seen by many as a mark of good game design.  To many gamers, being able to recreate the historical result is often expected. To me, a mark of a good game is not only when it has the ability to recreate the historical result, but to offer some insight into why it happened. Such a case was well-illustrated in a recent wargame I played.

In the history of the American revolution we are taught that the war ends with he surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. True to history, my play of Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy by designer Tom Russell (Hollandspiele, 2018) ended in nearly the same way.

Awesome sauce. Supply Lines – The Southern Strategy plays out close to reality. Nothing to see, nothing to learn, right?

Wrong.

At game start, the Crown player begins in Savannah, the extreme other end of the Southern Colonies from Yorktown. The Patriot player has only a small army at Charleston. In order to win, the Crown player must either control 10x Cities or Forts or move the Political Will Track to the far right. The Crown player moves Political Will through being victorious in battle. The Patriot player wins by either forcing the Surrender of the Crown Leader (instant Victory) or moving the Political Will Track to the far left. Similar to the Crown player, the patriot player moves Political Will by victory in battle and the passage of time; as more years pass Political Will decreases reflecting Crown fatigue with the campaign.

The victory conditions immediately supply the time pressure and in many ways drive strategy. The Crown must fight battles and win; the Patriot either focuses on the Crown Leader or avoids defeat and bides their time.

The Crown players advantage is that they have Transport (9.3) or naval movement available. This strategic movement ability can be used to outflank the Patriot player.For the Patriot player, the ability of a defender to Refuse Battle (10.0) is crucial. The Patriot player also has the ability to Skirmish (9.5); that is, battle but not take territory. Useful for eliminating Loyalists or moving away small Crown armies.

Layered onto this military confrontation is a irregular war. Militia and Loyalist units are also available to the players. Arranged according colony, these units can supplement the player armies. Available actions include:

  • Recruit – Exchange 2 Militia/Loyalist for 1x Army
  • Forage – Use to gain 1x Food Supply cube in the colony
  • Raid (Militia Only) – Removes Crown units or supply from the board
  • Hold (Loyalist Only) – Occupy a place to help move Supplies (see rule 5.3 “adjacency” – an easily overlooked yet vital rule) but are vulnerable to Raids.

In my campaign, the Crown player started out by taking the many forts in the southern part of the map. The thought was to take the Forts then let Loyalists hold them. This didn’t work out because the Georgia Loyalists didn’t materialize (units must be drawn from a pool and made available) in a timely manner. As a result, too many Crown troops were stranded in Forts with not enough Food available to move quickly. Sensing the time pressure, a (now reduced) Crown expedition was launched to Yorktown using Transport. It had to go all the way north because the Patriot player had built a supply line along the coast and controlled all the other landing points. The overland route would have to go through all those Forts meaning Food must be supplied from Savannah – a slow process given only 1x Food cube a turn is generated in Cities. At this point the Patriot Fleet showed up and forced the Crown Fleet to withdraw after a Sea Battle. Using a better supply line, the Patriot army struck west from Norfolk and looped around to Richmond getting a single Army into the second area around Yorktown and forcing a Siege. Twice the Crown Fleet returned, and twice it was defeated to keep the siege in place.

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The Battle of the Capes and The Battle of Yorktown

In the photo above and beneath the Siege marker is a Crown Army with Leader. In Norfolk is the Patriot Leader with a sizable army. Offshore, the Patriot and Crown Fleets are ready to fight their second Sea Battle. Much like history, the Crown fleet is defeated. Not quite in keeping with history, rather than waiting out the siege and risking the Crown Fleet returning a third time and possibly lifting the siege, the Patriot Leader led his army against Yorktown and forced the surrender of the Crown Leader for automatic victory.

So my campaign gave me the historical result, but in doing so did so much more by delivering insight into why forces moved where they did. I don’t think designer Tom Russell is a deep historian (not a criticism) but I do think he identified key factors of the campaign and brought them into this game. I am highly impressed with the amount of history Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy gives to players using an uncomplicated set of game mechanics. By focusing on supply, a different view of the campaign is taught and made clear.

I wonder what other campaigns this supply line focus could help teach. Maybe Patton’s dash across Europe after D-Day? Hmmm….Tom Russell, you got any other ideas?

Featured image courtesy Hollandspiele.

#IndependenceDay 2018 #Wargame – Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2nd Edition, 2017)

For the second year in a row I got Harold Buchanan’s (@HBuchanan2 on Twitter) Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2nd Edition, 2017) to the gaming table on the Fourth of July. I played the medium-length scenario “British Return to New York” that covers four years – 1776 thru 1779.

This year I committed to playing solo with Bots. I felt I was ready to tackle the automated opponents thanks to the great work of Ben Harsh and his Harsh Rules series of videos. Part 5 in his Liberty or Death-series covered the solo play system:

Like the historical situation, the war in 1776 focused on the New England colonies. Massachusetts was a hotbed of activity with the Patriots Rallying forces while the Indians led Scouting with British troops to Skirmish against the Rebels.

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The war in 1776

1777 was a short campaign season (Winter Quarters came out early) and as a result many British troops were not in cities. In order to stay in play the British would have to spend resources. As @HBuchanan2 pointed out on Twitter, it was going to be expensive to keep the British troops outside of cities. But stay they did (OK, I was not strictly following the Bot…still learning, alright!).

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The 1777 campaign season ends early – British troops winter outside cities…paid for in dear resources

Early in 1778 the French played the Treaty of Alliance and entered the war. With the arrival of Rochambeau the French fleet – and blockades – started. By the end of 1778 the Northern Colonies were firmly in Patriot control. Like history, the British were going to have to look South (the “Southern Strategy”) to try and put down this insurrection.

(I misplayed blockades a bit…should have paid attention to the Howe special leader abilities. Relearning, ugh!)

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End of 1778 – Patriots control New England colonies

Sure enough in 1779 the British shifted their effort to the South by landing in Savannah. Indian Raids, led by Cornplanter, struck the frontier of New York and Pennsylvania sapping away Patriot support. Luckily for the British, just as the French were preparing to land Spanish troops in Florida (Don Bernardo Takes Pensacola was the next card to play) the season ended when the final Winter Quarters came out.

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1779 scenario end

The end game scoring was very close, thanks in part to the Indian raids that reduced support in Pennsylvania and New York. Final rankings:

  1. French +4
  2. Patriots +3
  3. Indians -1
  4. British -4

I had a very fun time with this play of Liberty or Death. Mechanically it took me a little while to get back into the game but thanks to the Harsh Rules videos it was easier than before. I did not play flawlessly; I missed some of the nuances on the Non-Player Cards and misapplied (or outright missed) some rules. None of that detracts from the overall game experience. Liberty or Death teaches so much about the American War of Independence that I always have to make an effort NOT to look up every card during play and read the historical background!

Volko Runke (@Volko26 on Twitter), the master-designer of the COIN-series, says all games are models. Every time I play Liberty or Death this model teaches me more about the American Revolution. It helps me appreciate what our Founding Fathers went thru over 200 years ago.

God Bless America.

Featured image courtesy GMT Games, LLC.