#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.

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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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The FLGS has got to earn the F

Tom Vasel of The Dice Tower created quite the stir recently when he ranted on about the Friendly Local Game Store (FGLS). In all the negative backlash, mostly on reaction to the tone he took, I think people tried to ignore his real message – the FLGS is not always friendly.

Nearby where I live, there are four “Friendly Local Game Stores” or FLGS. There used to be five but one closed a few years back. Let me tell you a little about each.

FLGS #1 is the best for wargame selection but it is small and impossible to navigate on a weekend with gaming tables occupied in the middle. If there is a game going on then good luck getting the cashier to pay attention! The RPG section is in a dark back area with sagging shelves. They still writes out sales invoices. My wife refuses to enter the place because the regular clientele creeps her out; probably because they hit so many of the negative gamer tropes. If I want to buy a wargame this is not the place I really want come to, much less bring my boys to.

FLGS #2 is right in my neighborhood. It’s within walking distance. If I want to play Magic: The Gathering or in an X-Wing Tournament this is the place to go. If I was competitive. I say that because the players I see are hyper-competitive and this is not the place for a friendly pick-up game. That said, they did support a game outreach event at the local library, but it came and went quickly. Last year I walked in looking for card sleeves and they were helpful. This year I walked in with a card from Academy Games 1775 – Rebellion and asked for help finding the right size card sleeve. The store owner asked what game it was for and I told him. He acknowledged he didn’t know the game but after looking at (not examining) the card in my hand he declared, “We don’t have sleeves for that card.” I asked if he could measure the card (I know they have a sizing mat) and maybe find something close. He got up from behind the counter (out of his comfort zone?), walked to one display, roughly compared the card to a few packages and declared, “We don’t have any sleeves for those really old games.” I looked behind the counter at his more premium line of card sleeves but he totally missed my hint. Probably for the better as he obviously didn’t want to sell me any sleeves and I now felt like I was sullying his place with a non-MTG card. I left. I have not been back since.

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Huzzah Hobbies

FLGS #3, Huzzah Hobbies, is a real FLGS. Huzzah is the most balanced store in the area. It does have a focus on MTG and Flames of War, but also has a nice stock of new tabletop games and a few RPGs. This store actually spawned FLGS #4, Huzzah Junior, which is the “kids” version. We are patrons at both and the staff is very helpful and friendly. They usually have at least one new-ish game open and ready to demo. Huzzah sponsors many game nights (even at a local brewery) and contests. The problem is – as friendly as they are – the prices online are just so much better than they can offer. So we use these two stores mostly for game accessories, plastic models, and an occasional game purchase.

FLGS # 5, now closed, was the old veteran that had been around over 25 years. It had a fair selection of wargames and RPGs. Problem was their new item section was very small and their shelves were full of old backstock…in some cases very old. I had a love-hate relationship with the place. At first I went on weekends but came to despise the staff that always seemed to look down on my boys and I because we were not there to play MTG. I eventually figured out that the owners covered weekdays and they were much friendlier. I even made a package-deal with the owner to relieve them of several items that had been on the shelf for years (literally). The store closed because the owners wanted to be closer to their grandkids, though one candidly told me that online sales had taken a big bite out of their business.

camgirls1-300x247For a good example of another real FLGS, I point you to Petrie’s Family Games in Colorado Springs. Petrie’s is a real family game shop. When we lived there it had a very small selection of wargames and RPGs but was blessed with the friendliest owners. Petrie’s also had an awesome game library and they were often willing to break open a game, even a newly released one, to look and play with it. The owners are just good people and they made this the only game store my wife ever willingly entered.

You may be offended by Tom Vasel’s tone, but you have to listen to the message. FLGS are not automatically “friendly;” it is an honor they must earn. A major part of earning the “F” in FLGS is by creating a welcoming, inviting atmosphere. If my little corner of the world is any indication, two out of five understand that, one struggled with it but is now gone, and two others are missing the opportunity. That’s a 50% failure rate amongst the existing shops. That leaves two stores doing their best to support the hobby. It’s an uphill battle against online retailers and Kickstarter, but by being Friendly they get me through the door.

This is what Tom was really trying to say. The FLGS problem I see starts when a store feels that the “F” in FLGS is their entitlement and they stop earning it. Get me through the door and they are more likely to make some sort of sale. Without the “F” it is far less likely I will enter the store. If I don’t enter, I can’t buy.

#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.

 

#Buttkicking in #ConflictofHeroesAwakeningtheBear @Academy_Games

I have created a monster. Well, two monsters actually.

We played Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! (second edition) for the RockyMountainNavy Game Night. Used Firefight Generator to make the scenario. The RMN Boys took the Germans with myself as the Soviets (again). It really was a near-hopeless battle as the Germans started out with a control hex that they occupied/protected with forces deployed to the board at game start. The Soviets may have had a chance but the Boys played Expanded Battlefield and added a second board, making it necessary for the Soviet player to have to quickly cross lots of ground to get to the control hex. I was ready to play Partisans and get some forces behind the German lines but the Boys played a card that stole my Partisans and allowed them to use it themselves.

Not all was lost at first. I had Divisional Artillery as part of my forces and was looking for this to be a great equalizer. The Expanded Battlefield added a board with a nice hill that the Soviets were going to place anti-tank guns on. Unfortunately, they first had to eject a pre-deployed German anti-tank gun that started the battle there. Good job for the divisional artillery, right?

What Divisional Artillery has in firepower it lacks in flexibility. The artillery pre-plots at the beginning of a Firefight Round and impacts in the next round. This forced the Soviet player to avoid the gun the first round and delayed the deployment of the guns. By the time the gun was destroyed the waiting Soviet weapons were attacked by German “Partisans” and further delayed. Adding to these issues is the lack of flexibility of Soviet tanks, some of which are ponderous and don’t get the Tracked Bonus movement making them advance much slower than their German counterparts. Then there is the slower rate of fire issues where Soviet tanks often get only one shot versus two (or three) German chances to fire. The results were ugly.

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This is getting your butt kicked…those are all dead units!

Although I was soundly thrashed by the RockyMountainNavy Boys the game was very fun. There was much trash-talk at the table from the Boys but they really earned that right through great planning and tactical execution.

#GamesPlayed October 2017

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BoardGameGeek My Played

October 2017 was actually a relatively game-filled month for me. Of my twelve games played, nine were “actual plays” while three are what I call “rules exploration” or “familiarization play.”

The Saturday Game Night was mostly boardgames (i.e. not wargames) with Terraforming  Mars getting to the table two weeks in a row. In a lucky turn of events, what should of been a “familiarization play” of Command & Colors: Tricorne became an actual play.

I got two good solo plays in, The Expanse Board Game and Pacific Fury. I really need to get more wargaming going. With the coming of winter (hard to tell with unseasonable upper 70’s outside) I hopefully will get more tabletop time to do so.

Looking forward to November, my niece will be visiting. Last time she was here she became obsessed with Ticket to Ride. This time the RockyMountainNavy Boys want to get Scythe to the table with her. We shall see.

 

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….