#WargameWednesday Retrospective – Victory in the Pacific (Avalon Hill, 1977 Second Edition)

pic188896_mdVictory in the Pacific (VITP) is one of the oldest games in my collection. Originally published in 1977, it won the Charles S. Roberts Award for Best Strategic Game that year. My copy is a Second Edition with a 1988 Avalon Hill Game Company catalog inside. For many years the game sat on my shelf partially because – as itself states – it is an Introductory-level wargame and my personal tastes run to other difficulty levels. However, with the RMN boys now getting into more wargaming, I pulled VITP out to see if it would make a good game for them. What I discovered is that VITP is a “diamond in the rough.” The game itself (mechanics and gameplay) are wonderful, but the game suffers from early wargame publishing issues that present challenges.

1.0 Rules

pic669500_md1.01 The rulebook for VITP is short but difficult to understand. It is laid out in the old SPI style (numbered paragraphs) that should make it easy to cross reference. However, the arrangement of the rules is not intuitively easy to follow; finding even basic game concepts like the Sequence of Play or the Combat Round Action Sequence [my term] is very difficult. It’s all there, but buried within walls of text with little real cross-reference or even logical order. I do not want to turn this game over to the RMN boys “as-is” because the rules will likely create confusion. Even if I was to introduce the game to them, I eventually will need to let them go it alone; the rules as written are not very supportive of that course of action.

Mapboard

pic669499_mdThe mapboard is functional. The colors are very 1970’s – not totally hideous but abstract in a classic Monopoly sort of way. The mapboard is in some ways too big; there is some real estate around the edges that could possibly be used for port holding boxes (like Yokosuka or Truk or Ceylon or Pearl Harbor). This would certainly help with stacking counters on the map!

Counters

pic175059_mdSpeaking of counters, they are nice and big. This makes them easy to stack or sort. The counters themselves are a great example of functional simplicity with easy-to-read factors. The color palate is a bit bland, but once again it was the 1970’s!

Game Mechanics

Reinforcements – Movement – Combat – Control. Speed Rolls can be a bit confusing because the Speed Factor on the counter is not a “speed” in terms of areas moved but number that must be rolled under to move an additional area. Combat resolution is from the school of “Yahtzee combat”; roll a number of d6 equal to your Attack Factor and try to get 6’s (or 5-6 if the firing unit has an Attack Bonus). A 5 Disables, a 6 is a Hit with another d6 rolled for the amount of Damage. When Damage exceeds the Armor Factor (defense rating) a ship is Sunk (removed from the game) or an air unit/amphib destroyed (to return two turns later). Doesn’t really get much simpler.

Now that I look at it, I see that movement is “roll low” but combat is “roll high.” Another rules area of potential confusion?

Gameplay

Although VITP is an Introductory-level game, I was pleasantly surprised (and delighted) with the “historical feel” of the game. At the strategic level, the Japanese start out dominating in force but must husband ships for the long conflict. This is neatly in contrast to the Allies who over the course of several turns build up huge forces. Thus, the Allies will likely favor a longer view of battle (i.e. the Allies must be patient and not rush for a quick victory). This in turn drives a strategy that is very historical where the Japanese player pushes out to establish a defensive perimeter and then tries to attrite the Allied player as they start the island-hopping campaign across the Pacific. Having the US move second in each phase also is a nice nod to the historical intelligence advantage the US possessed.

At the operational level, the choice of Patroller or Raider makes for an interesting dynamic. Patrollers move first and can control an area at the end of the turn. Raiders move later in the turn (after Patrollers have been set) but cannot control an area. Like at the strategic level, having the Allies move second is a nice nod to the operational advantage intelligence gave Allied commanders.

At the tactical level the choice of Day (air strikes) or Night (surface gunnery) actions is evocative of the era. Even the use of a simple Attack Bonus creates the feel more capable/better trained/elite forces.

All that said, it is indicative of just how “game changing” the Japanese battle plan for the opening of the war was that it requires special rules to handle. The Turn 1 Pearl Harbor Air Raid and Indonesia rules actually “break” the game to force a more historical opening. I look forward to playing where the Japanese forego the Pearl Harbor Air Raid and see how that war develops.

Metagaming

pic207078_mdIf I had to pick a weakness of the game, I would point to the Order of Appearance charts. Not that they are ahistorical, but I wonder if they give too much information to the players. The Japanese player can easily see that the forces they start with are pretty much going to be it for the war, whereas the Allied player will see his forces grow turn after turn. This potentially creates a metagame situation for the players; does knowing what reinforcements are coming unduly influence player decisions? I understand that this is addressed by the Japanese player bidding Points of Control at the beginning of the game, but this is a mechanic to balance between players and in effect recognizes that the game (like the historical situation?) is not balanced. In effect, VITP is “play with what you get” not necessarily “what you need.” Does this make it a failed game? No, but it explains other strategic Pacific War games that introduce resources and variable reinforcements. It certainly gives me a new appreciation of the Card Driven Game (CDG) mechanic used in games like Mark Herman’s Empire of the Sun (GMT Games, 2005) which has, to borrow an RPG term, more player agency (and complexity).

Conclusion

Even given its warts, VITP is a good introductory-level wargame. Like I did for GDW’s Mayday game before, I come back to my “simply complex” characterization; the game is simple in mechanics but complex in the depth of gameplay. That said, on the scale of game vs. simulation VITP certainly falls on the game side of the spectrum. That doesn’t make it bad, but highlights to me how I need to frame any “history lesson” that my boys may derive from play. I will eventually hand VITP over to the boys, but not before I search grognard.com or ConSimWorld for some player aids to help “smooth the edges” of this great game.

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All images courtesy BoardGameGeek

#BookFinder – March 2017

fullsizerenderFebruary was another good month for book purchases. In keeping with my recent interests in George Washington and the American Revolution, I picked up Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle. This book is a 2017 George Washington Prize Finalist that I heard about thru the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon (on Twitter @GWBooks).

The second book is 1812: The Navy’s War. This book has appeared before on the Chief of Naval Operations Reading List.

The third book is Civil War Northern Virginia 1861 from The History Press Civil War Sesquicentennial Series. I picked this one up at Costco for cheap because it looks at my neighborhood. Skimming through it my boys and I were surprised at the smaller battles of 1861 the took place practically in our yard. We were especially surprised at the Battle of Dranesville. We are using this book as a sort of “staycation” guide for weekends around town.

I am going to have to spend some more serious reading time if I am to get through all my new books this year (seen here and here). I really am short of time; this is only my “serious” reading and not my gaming or other guilty pleasure books!

#TheExpanse Ships in #TravellerRPG

Watching “Home” (The Expanse, Season 2, Episode 5) with the Rocinante at high-g burns got me back to thinking about the ships of The Expanse and how they could be portrayed in tabletop RPGs. I previously looked at the Epstein Drive and how it might be translated into game terms for use in Traveller RPG or Cepheus Engine or Orbital 2100.

**WARNING – Minor Spoilers Ahead**

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Courtesy SyFy

Going all the way back to the first book in the series, Leviathan Wakes, the small shuttle Knight gives us some insight into the technology of The Expanse:

It wasn’t long before Alex called down, “Okay, Boss. It’ll be about a four-hour trip flying’ teakettle. Total mass use at about thirty percent, but we’ve got a full tank. Total mission time: eleven hours.”

“Copy that. Thanks, Alex,” Holden said.

Flying teakettle was naval slang for flying on the maneuvering thrusters that used superheated steam for reaction mass. The Knight‘s fusion torch would be dangerous to use this close to the Canterbury and wasteful on such a short trip. Torches were pre-Epstein fusion drives and far less efficient. (Leviathan Wakes, Chapter 3)

From the book we know that the trip covers 50,000km. Working with classic space travel time equations, we can compute the Knight is traveling at about 1.0368 m/s or just over .1G acceleration.

Later in Chapter 5 we see the Knight running flat-out at 2G acceleration. At this speed the same 50,000 km trip should take only 53 minutes, which is a bit shorter than the approximately 70 minutes obliquily stated in the book. At this point it is unclear if the 2G speed is the upper limit of the teakettle or the fusion torch at low power.

The Knight does eventually clearly light it’s torch:

“Roger that, XO. Bleeding-g burn-and-flip laid in. Angled approach course so our torch won’t burn a hole in the Cant. Time to rock and roll?” Alex replied. (Leviathan Wakes, Chapter 5)

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Courtesy NBC Universal

Here we have to interpolate the fusion torch acceleration based on Holden and his apparent weight. When lighting the torch Holden weighs 500 kilos. Assuming he is an average 75 kg to begin with, this works out to almost 7G. Interestingly, from the novella The Drive we know that 7G is the instrument limit on Solomon Epstein’s ship that he installed his new drive on, indicating that the fusion torch may have an upper limit of 7G.

In summary, we can say the shuttle Knight has maneuvering thrusters (teakettle) that operate efficiently at .1G. The shuttle also has a fusion drive (torch) that can accelerate it at up to 7G.

The Knight‘s torch drive could deliver a lot of thrust, but at the cost of a prodigious rule-burn rate. But if they could save the Cant, it wouldn’t matter. (Leviathan Wakes, Chapter 5)

The missiles that are fired at the Canterbury are also very impressive:

As if in answer, six new objects appeared on his radar, glowing yellow icons appearing and immediately shifting to orange as the system marked their acceleration. On the Canterbury, Becca yelled out, “Fast movers! We have six new high-speed contacts on a collision course!”

“Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, did that ship just fire a spread of torpedoes at us?” McDowell said. “They’re trying to slap us down?”

“Yes, sir,” Becca said.

“Time to contact.”

“Just under eight minutes, sir,” she replied. (Leviathan Wakes, Chapter 5)

For these six missiles to cover 200,000km in 8 minutes means their acceleration has to be around 150G!

In Leviathan Wakes, Chapter 51, Holden tries to remember how fast the Roci can go:

He tried to remember the Roci‘s maximum theoretical acceleration. Alex had already flown it at twelve g briefly when they’d left the Donnager. The actual limit was one of those trivial numbers, a way to brag about something your ship would never really do. Fifteen g, was it? Twenty? (Leviathan Wakes, Chapter 51)

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Courtesy solotalkmedia.com

In the episode “Home” if I caught the screen correctly it looks like the Roci was accelerating just over 17g. This again is in line with the book; and way faster than the 6g of Classic Traveller or Cepheus Engine and far ahead of the technology in Orbital 2100 where the alternative Nuclear Pulse Fusion Drive tops out at 1.2g! Compared to the Traveller RPG or Cepheus Engine universe, the ships and weapons of The Expanse are way faster and likely far more deadly too.

As late to the game as I am, I look forward to reading more of The Expanse series and seeing what further ship secrets are hidden within.


PS: The math for figuring time and acceleration is actually easy, but to help there is an EXCELLENT site at http://www.transhuman.talktalk.net/iw/TravTime.htm that does the math for you!

 

 

 

#RPGThursday – “These are the voyages….” Star Trek Adventures Starship Shakedown

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http://www.ex-astris-scientia.org
The latest version of the Star Trek Adventures RPG Living Playtest from Modiphius includes Alpha Shakedown Cruise – Starship Operations v1.1. This is the first glimpse into the rules for starships in STA. Given the very prominent role starships have in the Star Trek universe these rules will likely be a major part of any adventure.

Going through the rules, several parts jump right out at me:

  • STA uses the “Ships as Characters” approach; i.e. ships are described much like characters
  • In keeping with canon sources, Power is a vital starship commodity that is limited but can also be used in support of actions
  • Crew support gives the PCs a version of an “on-call” NPC that can be used to Assist, as an Advantage, or as an Alternate PC; this is a great GM tool
  • Starship Combat has several very loose definitons (like ranges); does this empower a more narrative approach?
  • Crew Roles are an attempt to ensure that all the PCs have a role to play (i.e “share the narrative”) in starship combat
  • Power can be used in combat to create Momentum but at the risk of a Complication
  • The Attack Task may require three (3) die rolls
  • Inflicting Damage may require up to three (3) die rolls.

enterpriselineagecarrier
Mangledduk (Photobucket)
Without starship construction design rules it is hard to see how scaling will work. The lack of the rules also make some of the ship designs appear suspect. For instance, my beloved Constitution-class cruiser (for the 23rd Century missions) has a Power of 7 and Independent Phaser Power which means the phasers can’t use ship’s power for firing (and cannot be boosted with extra Power either). A 24th Century Galaxy-class starship has a Power rating of 6 although the phasers can use power, cause more damage, and have several additional attributes that the Constitution-class phasers don’t have. At first glance this seems counterintuitive; surely the Galaxy-class has far more power than an old Connie, right?

enterprise-tos7
http://www.ncc-1701-a.net
The number of rolls in combat also concerns me. When making an attack, the ship can Assist (just like a character) which is a separate die roll. Then the PC makes the Attack die roll and if successful then the System Hit table is consulted. That’s already 2-3 die rolls. THEN, to inflict damage, Challenge Dice [CD] are rolled with a possibility that another [CD] roll from Soak is needed and, if necessary, yet another [CD] roll if there was a Crew Breech hit.

The ship Assist condition is concerning, and actually reveals a deeper potential conflict from the “ship as a character” approach. The Assist Rule on p. 14 of the v1.36 states:

In combat or other situations with pressure, assisting a Task is considered to take up a character’s turn.

So, does the ship get a Turn like a character or not? This gets to a deeper question; is the ship really just a character or a tool? Reading the v1.1 Shakedown Cruise rules, it seems that the designer has firmly concluded that ships are characters and not tools. The problem is that the ruleset needs to reflect this clearly with how and when the ship acts as a character and when (or if?) it is simply used as a tool.

Playtest Example – Lexington vs. Klingon D7

To try out the rules, I ran a small scenario. The Federation starship Lexington (the 23rd Century Constitution-class from The Original Series) is investigating a colony that suddenly stopped sending messages.

As Lexington drops out of warp, Captain Moore Directs, “Science Officer, make a sensor sweep.” This lets Captain Moore Assist on the task using his Command skill. Captain Moore’s roll is a Success. Mr. Shelor, the Science Officer, attempts the Sensor Sweep. First we have to roll the Starship Assist, which ends up as a Complication (interference?) which increases the Difficulty of the Sensor Sweep to 2. Mr. Shelor (finally) makes his task roll, rolling 2d20 and getting a Success and another Complication. Given the Assist from the Captain, the Sensor Sweep (barely) detects a Klingon D7 at Long Range (2 Zones), but the GM notes the Complication makes it a poor quality sensor lock which will add +1 Difficulty to any other sensor or combat operation for the rest of this turn.

The Klingon D7 gets their first of three actions this turn. The GM spends one Threat in place of Power and Warps the ship two zones, or into Close Range (0 Zones).

At a glance from the Captain, Lt. Niemec, the Communications Officer, Opens Hailing Frequencies. Maybe the Klingons just want to talk! Once again the ship can Assist, and rolls a 1 on 1d20 adding two Successes. Lt Niemec’s task roll of 2d20 gives her two more Successes which translates into Success with three Momentum. The channel to the Klingons is open. Lt Niemec decides to immediately spend one Momentum to Obtain Information. Stating the channel is open but the Klingons are apparently unaware, the question asked is, “Are the Klingons going to shoot?” The GM truthfully answers, “Yes.” With two Momentum left, Lt. Niemec could Keep the Initiative and pass the action to the Navigator for a Tactical event (i.e. firing) but knowing the Federation would never fire first, instead adds the two remaining Momentum to the Momentum Pool. The GM rewards Lt. Niemec with a point of Determination as she has upheld the values of the Federation in the face of a sure threat.

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http://www.ex-astris-scientia.org
The Klingon D7 acts as expected and Fires Weapon. The D7 fires their Disruptor Cannon. Given the range (Close) the Difficulty is 2 (actually it is Difficulty 1 but since this is the second action by the D7 this turn the Difficulty is at +1). The Klingon Weapons Officer gets lucky and scores two Successes getting a Hit. Rolling on the System Hit table, the damaged system is the Lexington’s engines. Disruptor Cannons roll 7 Challenge Dice [CD] for Damage and thanks to their Vicious quality each Effect is an extra point of damage. The [CD] roll is 3, 4, 5, 6, 6, 6, 6 (wow!) for 5 Damage and 5 Effect or a total of 10 Damage! The Lexington’s Soak value of 3 reduces this to 7 Damage. This reduces the Shields from 10 to three and causes a Breech against the Lexington’s communications systems, adding +1 Difficulty to all future tasks involving that system.

enterprise_vs_klingon_d7_by_captain86-d7gqwby
Captain86 (DeviantArt)
Having been fired upon, Lt. Cmndr. Varg at Navigation makes a Tactical action and fires the Lexington’s Phaser Array. This is usually a Difficulty 1 task but remember the bad sensor sweep makes this Difficulty 2. Once again the ship can Assist and gets a Success. Lt. Cmndr. Varg decides to use one Momentum from the Momentum Pool and rolls 3d20, getting Success with Momentum (two Momentum counting the extra Success from the ship). Since the Lexington’s Phaser Array is Versatile, two extra Momentum are added from the Success for a total of four Momentum. The System Hit is Structure. As Lt. Cmndr. Varg prepares to roll the 6 [CD] for damage, he declares that he will use one Momentum point to make the hit a Penetrating hit which will ignore two Soak. The [CD] are 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 6 for 4 Damage with two Effect. This is a horrible roll, so Varg spends another Momentum to reroll the two 3’s and the 4. The new [CD] roll is 1, 2, 5, 5, 6, 6 for 7 Damage with four Effect. A single Soak reduces this to six Damage against the shields (from 9 to 3) and a Breech against the D7 Structure. The Breech reduces shields to 0, life support is failing and the ship is crippled.

The D7 crew immediately tries to repair the Structure. This would usually be a Difficulty 1 task because of the single Breech, but given this is the third action this turn it is attempted at +2 Difficulty. The GM spends a Threat to add an extra d20, but the task attempt fails. The GM immediately spends his last two Threat for another action and announces the  D7 self destructs.

As the Lexington spends the next few hours rebuilding the damaged communications system, questions remain. Why were the Klingons here? What were they doing? What was so important they would die for?

As you can hopefully see, there is much “roll-playing” and not so much “role-playing” in the above example. It continues to appear that the rules of STA favor mechanics over narrative play.


Star Trek Adventures – Alpha Shakedown Cruise Starship Operations v1.1, ™ and ©2016

Star Trek Adventures – Alpha Shakedown Cruise v1.36, ™ and © 2016

#WargameWednesday -Finding the CDG Pathway in Paths of Glory (GMT Games, 1999)

My recent acquisition and play of Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, Reprint Ed. 2016) as well as Plan Orange: Pacific War 1930-1935 (C3I Magazine Nr. 29) and South Pacific: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier 1942-1943 (C3I Magazine Nr. 30) got me to relook at the Card Driven Game (CDG) mechanic. These recent CDGs have captured my attention – and imagination – because each player holds cards in their hands that can be played in many different ways, often in some form of Event, Operation, or Resupply.

pic93623I actually have two much older CDGs; For the People (GMT Games, 1998) and Paths of Glory (GMT Games, 1999). Given Little RMN is studying World War I in school right now, I pulled out PoG and gave it a whirl. In doing so, I rediscovered a gem.

I must admit that when I first got PoG nearly two decades ago I was not very enamored with the game. At the time, I (stupidly) saw the CDG mechanic as hindering my self-initiative. Why should I let a card tell me, ME(!), what I can or cannot do. If I want to conduct an offensive at Verdun, then I can conduct an offensive at Verdun and I don’t need a stupid card to tell me how many units I can use. Sure, the historical Events are interesting, but all of that is just chrome that distracts from the battlefield.

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Central Power Cards
How wrong I was.

Many of us who play wargames see ourselves as students of history. The difference between regular students and us grognards is that we grognards play out recreations of the battle in an attempt to learn more. To try and make the game more “historical,” the common approach was to create a special rule. What I now see is that CDGs bake many of these special rules into the cards. Whereas 20 years I saw CDGs as limiting, I now see how they are great teaching tools that subtly recreate historical limitations and opportunities.

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The “Guns of August” Event Card in Play
For my game, I played the Introductory Scenario. The first turn was a bit rough as I stepped thru many rules mechanics. Turns 2 and 3 were much more strategy and less rules mechanics.

 

And it was fun.

The Mobilization Deck is very interesting; lots of chances to bring more troops into the fight (Reinforcements) and many Events to play. The end of the scenario is really just the beginning as the next phase is Limited War, with may other nations drawn into the conflict. 

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HMS Barnham (Pintrest)
As an old Navy guy, I still wish there was more naval play in this game. As a strategic game it seems criminal to me that the naval side is glossed over like it is. But PoG stands well even without the naval aspects of the war. I’m really glad I dusted this old game off and look forward to playing out the full war.


All images courtesy BoardGameGeek except where noted.

Ted S. Racier’s Paths of Glory, GMT Games LLC (1st Edition, 1999)

 

#WargameWednesday -Liberating Thoughts on Liberty or Death (GMT 2nd Ed, 2016)

pic2960799_mdPlayed through the Middle Years scenario of Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection. This is part of GMT’s counterinsurgency or COIN series. LoD is not my usual “wargame” because this is not a game of a “war” as much an exploration of the politics of the time. Conflict is here, but it is just one “tool” in a faction’s kitbag of options.

I have read on BGG where some people find the rulebook a real mess. I disagree! Maybe it is my grognard background and years of Star Fleet Battles or Squad Leader or any number of Richard Berg games that clouds my thinking. That’s not to say the critics are stupid; the game is difficult to grasp at first because – as I see it – LoD is not a pure Eurogame nor is it a pure wargame. To play takes a different thought process.

Playing my first game was a bit of a challenge. In the first year of play I had to constantly refer to the Rulebook and the Playbook for clarification. By the second year of play I started to find the rhythm of the game, and by the third (and final) year I actually started “playing” the game; that is, I started making moves based on some form of strategy. The winners and losers of my game are not worth mentioning since so much was played without a coherent strategy behind the moves. Next time will be different.

LoD, being a different game, has captured my imagination. I want to try to win as not just the Patriots, but see what it takes for the British, or French, or even the Indians to win. We grognards often say that wargames can teach us history, but LoD goes beyond a simple battlefield experience and brings the politics and confrontations of Empires and Colonies and Frontier together in a beautifully packaged experience.

 

#ModelMonday -The Me-262 (Pegasus Hobbies)

img_1375Another weekend another model for Little RMN. This time it’s a Pegasus Hobbies 1/48-scale German Me-262 jet fighter from World War II. I really like the Pegasus Hobbies models; these are snap-tite and go together really well. They come molded in a base color making the paint job one step easier. This Me-262 will soon be joining others World War II fighters in the “dogfight corner” of his bedroom ceiling.