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

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October 2018

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

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GMT Games

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

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

How’d it suddenly get so dusty in here?

 

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

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

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

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Courtesy GMT Games

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

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

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

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

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

Maneuver & Assault Combat

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Courtesy GMT Games

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

Bombardment

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

Efficiency Rating

Rule 2.4.5 defines Efficiency Rating as:

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

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

Hidden Movement

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

Creating a Battle Narrative

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

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

 

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

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

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Courtesy BGG

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

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

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

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

Featured image courtesy GMT Games.

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

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

My GMT Games 2018 Sale purchase was Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 – 25th Anniversary Edition by designers Gene Billingsley & Mitchell Land. According to the publisher’s blurb:

Silver Bayonet recreates the pivotal November 1965 battle between a full North Vietnamese Army Division and the US 1st Air Cavalry Division in the Ia Drang Valley. NVA expertise in lure and ambush tactics resulted in significant US casualties. US mobility and the ability to bring massive amounts of firepower to bear quickly virtually destroyed the attacking NVA division and forced a change in NVA tactics.

This re-issue of GMT Games’ 1990 CSR Award winning title that started it all keeps the original operational system, but streamlines to it to include innovative combat resolution integrating maneuver combat, close assault, artillery bombardment, and support from gunships and air sorties.

Increased accessibility to primary and secondary source material has made it possible to make changes to more accurately represent both sides’ unique capabilities without significantly altering or breaking the base game system. The major changes involve patrols, ambushes, landing zones, and the 1st Cav Brigade HQ, while minor changes tweak movement, combat, and coordination game mechanics to showcase radically different strengths and weaknesses the FWA and NVA force brought to the battles in the Ia Drang Valley.

I have a related game in my collection; Operations Shoestring: The Guadalcanal Campaign, 1942 (GMT Games, 1990). Although I recently played that title, the game mechanics in Silver Bayonet are significantly upgraded, enough to make the 25th Anniversary Edition a near-total new system.

Out of the Box Impressions

The component list for Silver Bayonet given on the GMT website does not inspire.

COMPONENTS

  • 1.5 countersheets with 9/16″ counters
  • 22×34 inch mounted map
  • Two 11×17 inch divider screens
  • Rules & Play Book
  • 15 Player Aid Cards
  • One 10-sided die
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Silver Bayonet unpacked (courtesy GMT Games)

Opening an actual box is a totally different, and very satisfying, experience. It starts even before you open the box with a famous picture of Lt. Rick Rescorla. [If you don’t recognize the name follow the link or google it; after you are done cleaning the dust out of your eyes you can continue reading here.]

Those “1.5 countersheets” works out to 351 counters with only 14 blanks. The reality is most scenarios use a subset of the counters. Scenario #1 – Breaking the Siege (Duc Co) uses only 31 counters. Nor is the entire nicely mounted map used every game; Scenario #3 – The Drang River Valley (LZ Mary) uses a 5×4 hex subset of the map (and nine counters). The map in the 25th Anniversary Edition is mounted making it look really nice on the table.

The Rules & Play Book is colorful, two column, and only 40 pages. The Standard rules cover 1.0 thru 12.0 and span 16 pages. The Campaign Scenario rules cover 13.0 thru 18.0 and are delivered in 10 pages. The balance is a short reference to the Scenarios, Designer’s Notes, and a very useful Example of Play. I really appreciate the use of color tone boxes throughout the rules; yellow for historical quotes, blue for Design Notes, and brown for Play Notes. The smart use of color certainly helps with deciphering the rules.

The 15 Player Aid Cards include eight for the 11 scenarios, a Standard Sequence of Play, a Campaign Sequence of Play, the Battle Board, two cards (one for each player) for holding units off map or in hiding, and two double-fold combat charts cards. As an added bonus, there are two player screens included. Both are nice but beyond the PAVN player using theirs to hide the Hidden Movement card I am not sure of the usefulness. Seems more like a Kickstarter stretch goal than a needed component. But the art is nice and inspirational so they will definitely stay!

New counters, a new map, a well laid out Rule Book, use of Player Aid cards and tables on the mounted map make this a very visually stunning game. Taken together, the 25th Anniversary Edition of Silver Bayonet is one of the best organized wargames in my collection.

Featured image courtesy GMT Games.

Why Panic? Game Night revisit of Castle Panic (Fireside Games, 2009)

Castle Panic (Fireside Games, 2009) was one of the family board games I bought when the RockyMountainNavy Kids were much younger and was trying to start a family gaming renaissance. My copy has the GAMES 2011 Traditional Games 100 seal on it. I know I played it a few times with the kids although I only recorded two plays from 2012 in my BoardGameGeek logged plays (back then I was not very diligent at logging plays). I always thought of it as a cardboard video game; a paper version of the classic collapsing tower defense game with evil trolls and orcs and goblins descending on your castle.

What I failed to realize until this weekend was just how much the RockyMountainBoys had played the game without me. So much the board tore apart! I discovered this when LittleRockyMountainNavy brought the game to me Saturday afternoon as a nominee for our weekly Game Night. When I opened the box to look at the rules he (nonchalantly) warned me about the busted board. All the other components were in there (including sleeved cards) so we went ahead and played it later that evening.

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Evidence of an often-played game….

Between my “manual video game” attitude and a perception that Castle Panic was more of a kid’s game, I didn’t have much hope for a deep game experience. The game is rated for ages 10+ and only one hour of playtime. Unexpectedly, after playing the game I was pleasantly surprised at how the cooperative play and simple strategy decisions deliver a tense play experience.

I had forgotten altogether that Castle Panic is a cooperative game. Sure, one mode can determine a winner, but at it’s heart the cooperative play mechanic makes this a game of teamwork. I really like the Order of Play which has you draw up your hand, then decide to discard and draw, then trade, then play cards. Each step involves all players as everyone watches for a card that is needed, agonizes over whether to discard and draw, and then jockey for the right trade. Even playing cards in the right order can be important. None of these strategic decisions are hard, but the tension of the collapsing tower and visibly descending hoards makes even these “simple” decisions being made under pressure and fraught with danger.

In our game we started off strong but the midgame turned bleak as too many smaller monsters descended through our defenses. It didn’t help that a few Plagued cards – forced discards – hit us at inopportune moments. We also started worrying because the real Boss Monsters – the strongest and most powerful ones – didn’t come out until literally the last set of draws. Even that one was bad as the final Draw Monsters step had a “Draw 3 Monsters” come out, which in turn brought out the final three Boss Monsters at the same time! Fortunately for us, we seemed to have hit our stride and made smart discards and trades that not only strengthened our hand but also set up the next player to be stronger too. My final Draw Cards was so thematically appropriate as I drew the awesome Barbarian – a one kill wonder – to eliminate the final Boss Monster as it was knocking down the walls of our tower.

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Courtesy firesidegames.com

Fireside Games offers several expansions for Castle Panic. We own the first expansion, Castle Panic: The Wizard’s Tower, though we didn’t add it to our game this weekend. The RockyMountainNavy Boys say it makes the game much harder. It looks to add about 30 minutes of playtime to the game, which actually makes it a better fit for a Game Night where we look for games from 90 minutes to 3 hours. I see there are two other expansions available too. I don’t think either of these are in the future for the RockyMountainNavy family; we like the game but more as a family filler than a Game Night centerpiece.

Castle Panic delivers a great, tense game of meaningful decisions in a very simple set of rules. Although the game is certainly kid-friendly, it is far from a simple kid’s game. Castle Panic will remain in the RockyMountainNavy collection and likely will be played more as a weeknight lite game when a hour of filler is needed.

Featured image courtesy Fireside Games.

#SPIEL18 – My ESSENtial thoughts including AuZtralia, ICECOOL, lots of Plastic Soldiers, and wars across the world

The Essen Game Fair, or International Spieltage 2018, is going on as I write this post. BoardGameGeek collected a list of around 1200 games that either debut or will be available at Essen. Like so many others I reviewed the list to see what strikes my fancy. Apparently, I am too much of a niche-gamer because my list of “Must Have” or “Interested” is very small.

I have seven games on my “Must Have” and “Interested” list. All but one are wargames or a “waro.” One is a kids game because, you know, reasons!

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Spiel18 My Picks via BGG.com

AuZtralia (Stronghold Games)MUST HAVE

I am not a Cthulhu Mythos fan and for that reason alone this game should not be on my list. However, this Martin Wallace-designed waro looks so interesting with its mix of multiple Eurogame mechanics (worker placement, resource collection, track laying, and action selection) combined with a semi-cooperative wargame. My preorder is already placed.

ICECOOL2 (Brain Games)MUST HAVE

The RockyMountainNavy house already owns the original ICECOOL. It is a favorite game amongst Mrs. RMN’s students (especially Little Clara). This expansion takes the possible player count to eight making it a great candidate for a Party Game.

1918: Death on the Rails (2D6.EE)Interested

Chosen mostly on the basis of the topic. Admittedly, the game does not appear to offer any really new or innovative mechanic but (hopefully) is a solid implementation of a block wargame. I have few European publishers in my collection; interested to see their perspective on wargames too.

Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy (Lautepelit.Fi)Interested

The original Eclipse was strongly recommended to me by Uwe Eickert of Academy Games but I never got around to picking it up. Maybe I will be better this time!

Lincoln (PSC Games)Interested

Card-based wargames are not really my thing but just maybe this one will work for me. Almost pulled the trigger during the Kickstarter campaign but several design controversies made my shy away. Still a bit reluctant to go all-in.

Radetzky: Milano 1848 (Post Scriptum) Interested

A cooperative wargame? Sounds interesting!

Wings of Glory: Tripods & Triplanes (Ares Games)Interested

Technically speaking, the RockyMountainNavy collection of Wings of Glory “belongs” to LittleRockyMountainNavy. He likes Wings of Glory over Fantasy Flight Games’ X-Wing because it is more historical and less tournament-based. That said, he does have an interest in the steampunk genre through games like Scythe (Stonemaier Games) or AuZtralia.

Undecided

Not shown above, I have another seven games in my “Undecided” category.

Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles – Starter Set (Ares Games)

Am interested in the topic but if this is another cinematic movement system and not vector movement (more thematically correct) then I am going to pass. Have some hope since the publisher’s blurb mentions, “…unique dynamics of the battles….”

Expedition Zetta (Ion Game Design)

Topic interests. Looks thematically appropriate. Need to learn more.

Hannibal & Hamilcar (Phalanx)

Another asymmetric card game. Not sure about card games.

Normandy: The Beginning of the End (Draco Ideas)

Need to explore what the Paths to Hell system really is. Another question is, “Do I really need another WWII tactical combat system?” After all, I am already all-in on Conflict of Heroes and the Panzer (Second Edition) series.

Quartermaster General: The Cold War (PSC Games)

Looks interesting…may be suitable for family game night with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Few games out there in that 3-6 player category (with three-players key for the RockyMountainNavy Game Night).

Scorpius Freighter (AEG)

“Recruit Crew, Customize Ships, Smuggle Goods.” Sounds alot like Firefly: The Game, which I already own, only with the serial number filed off. Although thematically close it is much different graphically. Interesting, but once again I have to ask myself is another “pick up and smuggle” game worth my investment?

SHAEF (PSC Games)

Another PSC Games card-driven title. But only 2-player.

So there is my Essen. Of the 14 games here I think three or four maybe will get into the RockyMountainNavy collection within the next 12 months. Maybe.

 

#WargameMetrics – War Games by Era

According to my BoardGameGeek Collection, I “own” 646 games. Not all of these are “War Games” but that category of games certainly dominates my collection with 463 unique items. On Twitter, @Ardwulf inspired me to look at the #WargameMetrics of my collection. In this post, I look at my “War Games” collection by era. To create these numbers, I sorted my BoardGameGeek collection by using the Advanced Search function and filtered “Owned” games by Board Game Subdomain “Wargames.”

Harold Buchanan (@hbuchanan2), designer of my beloved Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2016), insists that a “war game” must be historical. In a nod to his position, I am not including Science Fiction & Fantasy (SFF) titles in this view of my war game collection. If I did, it would be 32% of my collection!

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Starting at the 12 o’clock position and going clockwise – Ancients / Pre-18th / 18th / 19th / Early 20th / Interwar-WW2 / Early Cold / Late Cold / Modern

After excluding SFF, it is not surprising that the Interwar/World War II era dominates my collection at 43%. After all, World War II is the heart of the wargaming hobby! I was moderately surprised that my second ranking era was the Early 20th Century at 18%. I have always been a student of the Russo-Japanese War but didn’t realize just how many Great War games I had picked up.

Given that I started wargaming in 1979, I don’t find it unusual that the Late Cold War (which I define as starting post-Vietnam) came in at 14%. At the time, many of these wargames were “serious games” that sometime directly influenced policymakers. As a wannabe-serious student of the era, I played these games to learn more about the world I was growing up in. Today, my Modern era games (4%) now fill this niche of my gaming hobby.

If I had looked at my collection just a few years ago, I probably could not of found any 18th Century games (5%). I had all-but-ignored the 1700’s, in particular the American Revolution. After moving to the East Coast of the US in the 2010’s, I started exploring this era of history more. In a similar manner, the growth of 19th Century games (6%) in my collection is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Looking back, I see that most of the time I have been a classical WWII wargamer. It is only in more recent years that I have really started to stretch my gaming perspective and look beyond WWII and the Cold War. There are many good games out there, and hopefully I get to keep gaming for many years to come.