#RPG #Wargaming – #TravellerRPG Tech in #Mayday (GDW, 1978)

pic4387901Mayday (GDW, 1978) won the Charles S. Roberts Award in 1978 for the Best Science-Fiction Board Game. On this snowy weekend in January I played the game as part of my 2019 CSR Wargame Challenge. As a longtime Classic Traveller RPG player and more recent fan of the Cepheus Light: Old-School Rules-Light 2D6-Based Sci-Fi Role-Playing Game it was interesting to see just how Mayday’s take on the Traveller RPG universe was different even back then. The differences in the setting means Mayday is not true to the Traveller RPG universe but makes the game challenging and fun in its own way.

Movement

pic514041Mayday uses a simple vector movement system adapted from Classic Traveller Book 2: Starships. The major setting difference in this case is in the technology used to express Small Craft. In Traveller, small craft are usually propelled by the M-Drive. As described in Traveller 5:

M-Drive: Maneuver is the standard in-system ship drive. It interacts with gravity sources to produce vector movement. It requires a separate power plant. (T5 p. 323)

Power plants in turn are usually fueled for for two weeks. For the purposes of a Mayday scenario this means a ship has unlimited maneuverability. However, in Mayday the Small Craft found on p. 13 are rated in terms of G Level; the maximum acceleration in a movement phase and the total acceleration allowed. For example, the classic Fighter is rated “4G12” which means it can burn up to a maximum 4G in a movement phase but can only make a total of 12G of vector changes before it is out of fuel. In Traveller 5 terms this looks like the Fighter is equipped with Rockets (“Chemical fuels combine in an exothermic reaction in a combustion chamber to produce thrust. Rockets are high volume fuel users”). Rockets are the lowest-Tech Level drives represented in the Traveller/Cepheus Engine rules – and even then in certain setting-specific versions (like Orbital 2100).

The implication of this technology limit for Small Craft means maneuver must be a carefully considered choice. This makes Mayday a much more interesting game with a bit of resource management.

Laser Fire

In Mayday there is only one energy weapon, the Laser. This single Mayday weapon covers all the energy weapons found in Traveller/Cepheus Engine; Pulse Laser, Beam Laser, Particle Beam, Plasma Beam, Fusion Beam. This simplification may be in part because Mayday does not use any armor on ships. In this game, ships are small and fragile.

Ordnance Launch

Surprisingly, Mayday has a complete section on building customized missiles. Players can design missiles with different guidance packages, propulsion options, warheads, and fuel. This is far more in depth than what is found in Traveller/Cepheus Engine where there are three classes of missiles; Regular Missiles, Smart Missiles, and Nuclear Missiles.

Computer Programming

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biomassart.wordpress.com

Many people criticize the computer rules in the Traveller universe as “wrong.” After all, in this day of iPads and miniaturized computing, how come shipboard computers are rated in terms of displacement tons (13.5 to 14 cubic meters depending on the rules version used). In Mayday, like Classic Traveller, computers are rated in terms of CPU and Storage. The CPU rating is how many programs the computer can run simultaneously while Storage is the number of programs that are “loaded” in the computer. This leads to challenging game decisions. When flying my little Free Trader running a Model/1 computer (CPU 2 / Storage 4) I need make sure the right programs are in memory to be used during the turn. I may have the right program on hand, but my computer is too small to keep everything loaded and ready. Larger military ships like the Destroyer with a Model/2 bis (CPU 6 / Storage 6) don’t have as many constraints (and access to many more advanced programs too).

Although Mayday is not “true” to the commonly accepted Classic Traveller/Cepheus Engine rules the differences make for a more interesting game. Incredibly, it’s all because of the technology chosen.

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#ThreatTuesday – #Wargame update needed in South China Sea: Modern Naval Conflict in the South Pacific (@compassgamesllc, 2017)

The Chinese militarization of the South China Sea was certainly a lively topic for milbloggers and the OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) community online in 2018. One item that caught my attention because it feeds into modern wargame scenarios was the deployment of the YJ-12 anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) to several of locations in the South China Sea. As first reported in May 2018:

China has installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three outposts in the South China Sea according to several media outlets (the first one being U.S. news network CNBC), citing U.S. intelligence sources.

According to the reports, the land-based anti-ship cruise missile is the YJ-12B with a range of 295 nautical miles (545 Km). The HQ-9B is a surface-to-air missile that can engage aircraft out to a distance of 160 nautical miles (300 Km). Note that these range figures may be over estimated (more details below). The missiles are on Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands. The missiles were moved to the outposts within the past 30 days. China has also deployed jamming equipment to the islands. (navyrecognition.com)

The same site added a link to this handy tweet, complete with a map of coverage (the YJ-12 is in RED):

Updating South China Sea from Compass Games is the first game that comes to mind. I think the YJ-12 already appears in the game but is very limited in where it deploys. Adding a few more; well, that would be a real THREAT.

Post-Thoughts

Take a look at the Admiralty Trilogy Games and their product on China’s Maritime Forces. At the rate the Chinese seem to be building ships I don’t know it its the most updated product available but it is available…as a pdf download for $50!

Feature image courtesy navyrecognition.com.

#Wargame head-to-head – Victory in the #PacificTide (@compassgamesllc, 2018)

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Compass Games

With a winter storm forecast for Saturday, it was a good day to stay in and play some wargames. The latest arrival in my collection is Pacific Tide: The United States versus Japan, 1941-45 (Compass Games, 2018). This game, by designer Gregory M. Smith, is a “compact. strategic-level game covering the struggle betweent he United States (including some Commonwealth forces) and Japan in World War II.” The game “features a card-based combat/build system.” The game can also be played solo using a “personality-driven solitaire bot system.”

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Avalon Hill

Besides playing Pacific Tide, I also worked on my 2019 Charles S Roberts Wargame Challenge. As luck would have it, the next game in my queue was Victory in the Pacific (Avalon Hill, 1977). VITP is a strategic simulation of the naval war in the Pacific starting with the Pearl Harbor attack and going into 1945. Thus, both Pacific Tide and VITP cover a nearly identical gamespace and therefore gave me a good opportunity to not only explore Pacific Tide but to think about how far the wargaming hobby has come since 1977.

Both VITP and Pacific Tide are nearly identical in their degree of complexity and how they portray the war and combatants:

VITP

Pacific Tide

Complexity

2 out of 10

3 out of 10

Time Scale

2 turns/year

Yearly Turns

Map Scale

Area

Area

Units

Individual carriers or ships, air groups, infantry

Individual carriers or ships, army-level infantry, air groups

Average Play Time

5h

2-4h

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Sample Map (Compass Games)

Pacific Tide needs less table space than VITP. The 17″x22″ map and 5/8″ counters for Pacific Tide are make for a smaller footprint than the 22″x28″ map and 1″ counters in VITP. Further, the large reinforcements entry cards in VITP are absent in Pacific Tide. I have said before that I think VITP could use a graphical refresh. If that ever happens, I hope they look at Pacific Tide and the nice artwork by Ilya Kudriashov for inspiration.

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Sample Cards (Compass Games)

What really sets Pacific Tide apart from other wargames like VITP is the use of the card-based combat/build system. It really is a card-driven game. During each yearly turn in Pacific Tide players play cards back and forth to Move and/or Attack in order to Control areas. At the end of the year players Repair fleets under certain conditions, get new cards for the coming year, and earn Build Points. The Build Points are used to purchase previous year cards and place those cards into the deck for the coming year. In effect, there is a bit of a deck building mechanic in Pacific Tide.

The rules in both games are remarkably similar in volume. My 1981 2nd Edition rule book for VITP is eight pages long. The actual rules are on six, triple-column pages. The Pacific Tide Rules of Play is a 16-page booklet but the actual rules are covered on the first 12 pages. The Pacific Tide rules are written in a very conversational style (not the every-paragraph VITP formal 1. / 1.1 / 1.1.1 pattern) which is both a blessing and a curse. In the boardgame segment of the gaming hobby there is a definite trend for a more conversational tone of rules. However, for wargames (outside of some waros) I don’t think it really works. To me, wargame rules are more structured by nature and cross-referencing is often necessary making a more formal layout (and tone) necessary.

In the case of Pacific Tide, the writing of the rules is sometimes wonky. For instance,

“INF and Guerrilla units never roll dice against Fleets, CVs, or air units. They only attack other ground units.”

This seems backwards to me. I understand rules better when they state the positive portion first and the negative/exception second. Thus, the above rule would read,

“INF and Guerrilla only attack other ground units. They never roll dice against Fleets, CVs, or air units. Exception – See AA FIRE.”

In Pacific Tide, each combat factor rolls one or two d6 roll each. There are only a few other modifiers like naval gunfire support adding a die in infantry combat. Hits are scored on a roll of 4-6 with a 6 giving damage priority to CV units if present. One hit will destroy a CV or Air but two hits are needed to destroy a Fleet. Infantry are usually one hit per point unless they are Entrenched when the first hit is negated. This combat mechanic is not that different from VITP where units roll a number of d6 equal to their Airstrike or Gunnery Factor with hits on a 6 (unless they have the Attack Bonus which adds +1 to the die roll). Each hit then rolls a d6 for the amount of damage inflicted. In effect, combat losses in Pacific Tide occurs more often but each hit is less swingy than VITP.

I am actually having a hard time figuring out how to determine victory in Pacific Tide. I am going to quote 2.0 Victory Conditions in total as well as the text on US card 24 THE ATOMIC BOMB so you can (hopefully) see what I mean.

2.0 VICTORY CONDITIONS

The US player wins if he controls all areas on the map, with the exception of Okinawa and Japan. The Japanese player wins if he prevents this.

2.1 Decisive Victory

The US player wins a decisive victory if he drops the Atomic Bomb. The Japanese player wins a decisive victory if he controls Okinawa and one of these 3 areas: Iwo Jima, the Philippines, or the Aleutians.

The Japanese player also wins an automatic decisive victory if he controls the following areas at the end of 1942:

  • All starting Japanese areas plus the Phillippines, Singaore, Borneo, the Aleutians, Wake, and Midway.

US Card 24 THE ATOMIC BOMB

If, after playing this card, the US player controls all starting areas except Japan, the game ends and the US Player wins a Decisive Victory. Otherwise determine victory normally.

If I’m reading this right then:

  1. The US wins a Decisive Victory if they drop the Atomic Bomb (2.1)
  2. US wins Decisive Victory if they drop the Atomic Bomb and controls all starting areas except Japan (US Card 24)
  3. US wins a normal victory if the game ends and US controls all areas on the map except Japan and Okinawa (2.0)
  4. Japan wins an Automatic Decisive Victory at end of 1942 if they control all staring Japanese areas plus the Philippines, Singapore, Borneo, the Aleutians, Wake, and Midway (2.1)
  5. Japan wins a Decisive Victory if at game end they control Okinawa plus one of three other areas (Iwo Jima, the Philippines, or the Aleutians) (2.1)
  6. Japan wins a normal victory if at game end they control Japan, Okinawa, and any are other than Iwo Jima, the Philippines, or the Aleutians (2.0)

Conditions 1 and 2 look almost the same but are not. So which is it? In condition 5, does Japan also have to control the Japanese starting area? It seems logical, but unlike the other conditions its not explicitly stated. So what is it? This confusing wording appears to be the result of the too easy-going conversational tone taken in the rules. Yet another example of where tighter wording could be helpful.

Overall, and contrary to the complexity ratings above, I feel that Pacific Tide is actually the less complex of the two games. This in part may be because Pacific Tide does not have the different Patrollers or Raiders movement nor the Day or Night Actions combat distinctions found in VITP. The use of cards and unnamed ships and fleets for reinforcements means Pacific Tide is a level of abstraction above VITP. For a fast-play, strategic look at World War II in the Pacific that abstraction is perfectly fine for me.

One note about the solitaire bot in Pacific Tide. The bot here is very simple and really guidelines on how to play cards based on a die roll-determined “personality” that can shift every turn. For wargamers more familiar with the various bots in the GMT Games COIN-series the Pacific Tide version will likely be a bit of a disappointment. Not that it doesn’t work; it’s just not very complicated. Yet another simplification that tries to make Pacific Tide more accessible in spite of the sweeping topic.

Pacific Tide is a relatively uncomplicated (rules-lite?) and fast-playing strategic wargame view of the Pacific War. The graphics and components help players immerse themselves in the game and convey the theme more than adequately. The card-driven mechanic introduces the right amount of fog-of-war and helps the game run like, but not identical to, history. The game is very enjoyable to play but the conversational tone of the rules book leads to some problems. Nothing a really good reformat and careful editing couldn’t take care of. I just wish that happened before the game was released.


Afterward

One may be better off comparing Pacific Tide to Empire of the Sun (GMT Games, 2005). EotS is a card-driven, strategic hex & counter wargame of the Pacific War. Be warned though, EotS is rated 7 out of 9 in complexity and needs more like six hours of playtime to fight the whole war. I don’t own EotS so I cannot make a further comparison.

 

 

2019 RockyMountainNavy Origins Awards Challenge #boardgame #wargame #miniatures

I combed my game collection once again and found yet another challenge for myself. In this case, it’s to play all the Origins Awards winners I possess. Frankly, I’m surprised I have 16 Origins Awards winners because I think of the Origins Awards as a boardgame award and not a wargame. Surprisingly, 10 of the 16 Origins Awards winners in my collection are wargames.

I have written before about how I feel the modern Origins Awards are nothing more than a popularity contest. Looking back on the past winners I own, I am both surprised and appalled. Games like Ace of Aces (1993 Hall of Fame Inductee) are wonderful and certainly award worthy but the production disasters in the Battletech Introductory Box Set (2007 Miniatures Rules of the Year) make me wonder what game they played.

Update:

I belatedly realized my other challenges listed the games. So I am updating this post with my Origins Awards winners for this challenge:

  1. Ace of Aces: Handy Rotary Series (Flying Buffalo Inc, 1980); 1993 Hall of Fame Inductee
  2. Catan (Mayfair, 1995); 1996 Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Board Game
  3. Harpoon 4 (Clash of Arms, 1997); 1996 Best Modern-Day Board Game
  4. Great War at Sea: US Navy War Plan Orange (Avalanche Press, 1998); 1998 Best Historic Board Game
  5. Great War at Sea: 1904-1905, The Russo-Japanese War (Avalanche Press, 1999); 1999 Best Historic Board Game
  6. Fear God and Dread Nought (Clash of Arms, 2001); 2001 Best Historic Miniatures Rules
  7. Star Munchkin (Steve Jackson Games, 2002); 2002 Best Traditional Card Game
  8. Attack! (Eagle-Gryphon Games, 2003); 2003 Best Historic Board Game
  9. Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder, 2004); 2004 Best Historic Board Game
  10. Commands & Colors: Ancients (GMT Games, 2006); 2006 Best Historical Board Game of the Year
  11. Classic Battletech Introductory Box Set (Catalyst Games Lab, 2007); 2007 Miniatures Rules of the Year
  12. Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! – Russia 1941-42 (Academy Games, 2008); 2008 Best Historical Board Game
  13. Quarriors! (WizKids, 2011); 2013 Best Family, Party, or Children’s Game
  14. Trains (AEG, 2012); 2014 Best Board Game
  15. Love Letter (AEG, 2012); 2014 Best Traditional Card Game
  16. 1775: Rebellion (Academy Games, 2013); 2014 Best Historic Board Game

Feature image courtesy Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design

#Wargame Professional – Fighting Next War (@gmtgames) using Army Multi-Domain Operations

In Next War: Poland from GMT Games (2017) the players are challenged to fight a a near-future conflict in Eastern Europe. It asks,

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GMT Games

Can you, as the Russian player, enforce your will on the West and regain your former status in world affairs? Or will you, as SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) successfully use the assets at your disposal to blunt the Russian attack and save Poland?

In December 2018, the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) publicly released their new warfare concept, Army Multi-Domain Operations in 2028The pamphlet…

…describes how the Army contributes to the Joint Force’s principal task as defined in the unclassified Summary of the National Defense Strategy: deter and defeat Chinese and Russian aggression in both competition and conflict. The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations concept proposes detailed solutions to the specific problems posed by the militaries of post-industrial, information-based states like China and Russia. Although this concept focuses on China and Russia, the ideas also apply to other threats. (p. vi)

The Boogeymen in this document is the Bear and Dragon:

The Chinese and Russian militaries are powerful, but they also have vulnerabilities that MDO seek to exploit. Both China and Russia are fielding mutually supporting systems designed to be effective against the well-understood patterns, posture, and capabilities of the current Joint Force. Altering Joint Force operational patterns and force posture will mitigate existing capacity and capability gaps and create opportunities to exploit Chinese and Russian operational shortfalls. The militaries of China and Russia have and will continue to have finite capacity of critical capabilities. The Joint Force’s demonstrated capability to destroy or defeat these critical capabilities would prevent China and Russia from accomplishing objectives in competition, succeeding in armed conflict, or effectively transitioning to consolidation operations. (p. 15)

As a wargamer, either a player or designer, there is alot of fodder within. Although I am sure many veteran players of Next War will think they know how to do better, an interesting challenge is to try and use Army Multi-Domain Operations (MNO) in the game. This might necessitate a few house rules or tweaks to adjust the game engine to support the concept of Penetrate, dis-integrate, and exploit.

Penetrate, dis-integrate, and exploit. In the event of armed conflict, Army forward presence and expeditionary forces enable the rapid defeat of aggression through a combination of calibrated force posture, multi-domain formations, and convergence to immediately contest an enemy attack in depth. Army long-range fires converge with joint multi-domain capabilities to penetrate and dis-integrate enemy anti-access and area denial systems to enable Joint Force freedom of strategic and operational maneuver. Within the theater, Army forces converge capabilities to optimize the employment of capabilities from across multiple domains against critical components of the enemy’s anti-access and area denial systems, specifically long-range air defense and fires systems. Convergence against the enemy’s long-range systems enables the initial penetration. This sets the conditions for a quick transition to joint air-ground operations in which maneuver enables strike and strike enables maneuver. MDO in the Close and Deep Areas combine fires, maneuver, and deception to dislocate the enemy defense by physically, virtually, and cognitively isolating its subordinate elements, thereby allowing friendly forces to achieve local superiority and favorable force ratios. Army forces, having penetrated and begun the dis-integration of the enemy’s anti-access and area denial systems, exploit vulnerable enemy units and systems to defeat enemy forces and achieve friendly campaign objectives. As part of the Joint Force, Army forces rapidly achieve given strategic objectives (win) and consolidate gains. (p. 25)

I am sure there have been many wargames using this concept, probably in classified settings. Publicly, we have seen the RAND study of wargaming the defense of the Baltics. But you don’t need a clearance to take a wargame, some warfare concepts, and mix the two together. Just call it “professional fun.”


Feature image courtesy army.mil

#Wargame for Train Coups & Nukes – Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 (@GMTGames, 2017)

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Courtesy GMT Games

What do you get when you mix designer Brian Train, COIN in Algeria, and nukes? I’m going to find out soon!

I recently acquired a new-in-shrink copy of Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 (GMT Games, 2017). This is my second COIN-series game (the other being Harold Buchanan’s Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection, GMT Games, 2016). This is also my third owned game by designer Brian Train.

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Event 66

I never really thought I would be interested in the French-Algerian War, but curiosity is sometimes born in unusual places. In my case, it was an article I ran across recently. A “Nuclear Coup”? France, the Algerian War and the April 1961 Nuclear Test is a paper that details the days before an April 1961 French nuclear test in the Algerian desert. The test takes place at the same time there is a coup by French generals in Algeria against DeGaulle. That event is captured on Event Card 66 – Coup d’Etat, and reflects the “General’s Putsch” to seize power. Nuclear tests do not appear in any of the event cards in Colonial Twilight so one cannot play out the scenario of the rebels getting a device. Granted, that situation exceeds the design focus of the game but it’s an interesting thought experiment. Hopefully by playing Colonial Twilight I will get a better sense of the background and the general situation in Algeria during that time.

I also am looking forward to playing this game because of the designer. I always find Brian Train’s games interesting to play and educational. He certainly picks topics that are not the usual. I have played his Reichswehr & Freikorps (Strategy & Tactics, 2012) and more recently his Finnish Civil War (Compass Games, Paper Wars, 2017) – both games of civil wars. I am very happy to finally own Colonial Twilight as I believe Mr. Train is one of the foremost designers on “civil war” and counter-insurgency games and look forward to what his design can teach me. It also doesn’t hurt that Colonial Twilight is also a 2-player version of the COIN-series; a player-count that I want to explore more.

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Courtesy Hollandspiele

I am also looking forward to Mr. Train’s collaboration with Hollandspiele in his new District Commander-series coming this year. As Hollandspiele’s Tom Russell describes it:

“One more series we’re proud to be launching is Brian Train’s District Commander. These four diceless games for two players cover counter-insurgency operations in the twenty and twenty-first century. Our plan is to release the first two games (Maracas and Bin Dinh) in 2019, with the other two games seeing your table in 2020. Brian is one of our favorite designers – there’s a reason why one of his designs got our very first hex number – so we’re very pleased to be working with him on this project.”

(Darn it, Tom! Now I am going to have to get The Scheldt Campaign!)

Wargames; they’re not only for fun, but educational too.