What You See is What You Get and More – or – Why I Love the Modern Wargame Renaissance

I HAVE BEEN A GROGNARD since 1979. I started out by playing board wargames and still play board wargames today. I have seen the height of wargame companies like SPI and Avalon Hill as well as the darkest wargaming days in the 1990’s caused in part by The Great Magic: The Gathering Extinction Event. These days, I think wargaming is in a renaissance period. Although there are quantitatively many wargames being published, the part that excites me the most is the quality of those games. Today you can still find a “classic” hex & counter wargame with a CRT it but is the innovative designs with modern presentation and gameplay that really grab my attention.

Harold Buchanan, designer of Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (amongst other games) has a really neat podcast called Harold on Games hosted off his website conflictsimulations.com. Episode 10 is an interview with designer Uwe Eickert, Principal at Academy Games. Uwe (pronounced “oova”) has a lot to say in the interview and listening to the whole podcast is well worth your time. For this post, I want to focus on his thoughts regarding presentation and probability in wargames.

Uwe believes (I’m paraphrasing here) that a major reason modern wargame designs are exciting is because they are incorporating many of the best practices in game presentation and streamlined play.  Although he didn’t mention it in the interview, Academy Games also uses the Warcholak Guide, named after editor and developer Nicholas Warcholak, which states:

Is the rule necessary to simulate the TYPICAL (over 10% of the time) conditions and outcomes on the battlefield? If YES, keep. If NO, go to 2. Does the rule require significant mental resources to remember to play? (Significant is defined as needing to remember more than 2 facts.) If YES, dump. If NO, go to 3. Does the rule add to the fun of the game? Does it produce outcomes that add significant replayability, oh-no moments, gotcha momments, or simulation pay-off outside the general flow of the game? If YES, keep. If NO, dump.

In the interview, I keyed in on Uwe’s comments regarding charts and tables in wargames. He advocates for more modern design elements and especially a need to incorporate “the math” into different die rolls instead of endless modifiers and tables. This approach preserves the “probabilities” (and realism) of a wargame but also makes it fun! I absolutely buy into Uwe’s approach, which is also why I have bought many Academy Games designs to grace my gaming collection.

Listening to the interview with Uwe, I also discovered a real gem of information. Academy Games has a Kickstarter campaign for Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon that is nearing delivery. This game, based on the Saint’s Row video game universe, is a “story-driven 3D tactical boardgame.”

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Agents of Mayhem (Courtesy Academy Games)

The part not mentioned in the publisher’s blurb but stated by Uwe in his interview is that Agents of Mayhem is based on their “Falujah game” for the US Marine Corps. Looking at Agents with this thought in mind it makes perfect sense! More pertinent to this post, Agents of Mayhem shows the extreme implementation of modern gaming presentation and gameplay mechanics. In wargame terms, Agents of Mayhem is a skirmish game. This skirmish game features a destructible 3D terrain board. Each soldier or squad has a tableau that in a graphically intuitive manner shows capabilities and available actions. Combat is resolved using special die rolls with few modifiers that capture the essence of combat in a speedy, easy to understand (i.e. highly playable) manner.

I really am enjoying the modern wargaming renaissance. As much as I am a classic hex & counter gamer, the newer designs are really exciting and I look forward to more!

Featured image – Conflict of Heroes – Guadalcanal, 1942 (Academy Games, 2016)

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A Little Rebellion – #GameNight 1775 Rebellion – The American Revolution (@Academy_Games, 2013)

After playing Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017) the past few weeks, the Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy picked an older but highly enjoyable title for this week’s Game Night. So it was that 1775 Rebellion – The American Revolution (Academy Games, 2013) landed on the table. We once again played a three-player version, with the very typical RockyMountainNavy Boys teaming up against Dad. The Youngest played the Loyalists while the Middle RMN Boy took the British Regulars.

Battle Forth

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End of Round 1 – 1775 Rebellion by Academy Games

Knowing that the Boys are tough opponents, I struck hard and fast. The Continentals were able to eject the British from Boston while an early Benjamin Franklin allowed me to land French troops in Savannah. Dangerously, the Patriots Militia had to play the Treaty of Paris Card as it was the only movement card in the first hand! Meanwhile, the Loyalist were recruiting a large Indian army in New York. At the end of Round 1 the Americans led 4 (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, & Georgia) to 3 (Quebec, Nova Scotia, & Delaware).

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End of Round 2 in 1775 Rebellion by Academy Games

Round 2 was more a war of movement as both sides postured for advantage. As the Americans I pursued a Southern Strategy and was able to bring Maryland to The Cause but was worried as the British were obviously looking to drive through New York from Canada and split the northern colonies.

End of Round 2 score:

  • Americans 5 (MA, CT, RI, GA, MD)
  • British 3 (Quebec, Nova Scotia, DE)

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In Round 3 the Americans took South Carolina and moved into North Carolina. In the North, French troops arrived in Newport to bolster the defenses there. This was especially welcome given the relentless British march through New York, The British also used their Indian allies to take Pennsylvania. Of note, the Loyalists’ played their own Treaty of Paris card. The next Treaty Card played would end the game.

End of Round 3 score:

  • Americans 7 (MA, CT, RI, GA, MD, SC, NC)
  • British 4 (Quebec, Nova Scotia, DE, PA)
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End of Round 4 – 1775 Rebellion by Academy Games

The first turn went to the Continental Army that hunkered down building forces. The second Turn was the British Regulars who used Warship Movement to land a force in Savannah – negating American control of the colony. The British also took control of New York by defeating a mixed Continental/Militia force in the area between New York City and Albany. The game was turning in favor the the British who now were tied 6-6. However, it would the be Patriot Militia who played the spoiler. During Turn 3 the Militia played the second Treaty of Paris card meaning the game would end after this Round. The Militia was able to move a force into New York City defeating a Loyalist-heavy force making New York an uncontrolled colony. Another small Militia force with Indian allies entered Western Pennsylvania which also took control of the colony away from the British. In Turn 4 the Loyalist player had too little too late and was unable to reverse a single colony falling. At the end of Round 4 (and game end) the Americans took the narrow victory with a 6-4 final score.

After Thoughts

1775 Rebellion has the least special rules of the Birth of America-series and is in many ways the easiest to play. The game can also end early like ours did tonight with both Treaty of Paris cards out for the Americans by the end of Round 4. Total game time was a short 60 minutes. Though the game was short by our game night standards (2-3 hours being acceptable) it was nonetheless very fun. I get a feeling that this month will be an Academy Games month as the Birth of America-series and 878 Vikings – Invasions of England come out for play!

 

#FirstImpressions – Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing LLC, 2017)

Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing LLC, 2017) is a rules-lite, family-friendly, area control wargame. Well, sort of area control. Maybe too rules lite. Regardless, Enemies of Rome is a simple wargame that looks to be a fun shorter game that engages the entire family.

I missed out on the Kickstarter campaign in early 2017 that raised $17,000 against a $10,000 goal. The game is now reaching retail distribution where I got it. My interest comes thanks to a series of videos that @PastorJoelT posted on Twitter.

Components

The map has a very theme-appropriate presentation. The back of the Event/Action cards are a bit cartoonish as compared to the map but remain loyal to the theme. The card faces are easy to read and understand. The many cubes look overwhelming at first but once separated into color groups and matched with the few cardboard tokens they also support immersion into the theme.

Rules-Lite

The rulebook for Enemies of Rome is eight (8) pages. Actually, it is seven pages as page 8 is a simplified map. The mechanics of the game is very straight-forward; place reinforcements, play “Intrigue Talents” (special bonuses earned during play), play either an Event or Action card to move and maybe battle, then draw your hand back up to two cards. Victory points, called Glory Points here, are earned by conquering a territory and lost if you lose a battle against another player. Total play time is rated at 120 minutes, but even our first game was over in 90.

As simple as the rules are, the rulebook could of used a bit more work. Looking at the names of the designers and play testers, Enemies of Rome looks to be mostly a family affair. That is not bad, but I feel that if an outsider or a professional technical editor had looked at these rules they could be much clearer. Having grown up as a grognard with rigid SPI rules formatting (1. / 1.1/ 1.11, etc.) I find it helpful in breaking down a rule and making them easy to follow or cross-reference. I totally understand that this “rules lawyer” format is not popular with some, especially those who want to read a more “natural language” text.

Who are the “Enemies of Rome”

Enemies of Rome is for 2-5 players, making it high suitable for group or family gaming. What makes this game work is the presence in every game of a non-player, the “Enemies of Rome.” Enemies occupy every territory the players do not. During a players turn, some Event and Action cards allow the player to move the Enemies. This simple mechanic introduces a subtle element of strategy that quickly becomes a focus of all players – do I move my own Legions or do I move the Enemies? This makes for interesting dilemma’s – how do I move/battle the Enemies to my advantage?

Area Control – Sorta

On the surface, Enemies of Rome appears to be an area control game. Indeed, at game end the players with the most territories gains a Glory Point bonus. However, a closer look at the rules reveals that Glory Points are won/lost in battle. If at the end of a battle the player is in sole possession of a territory, a Glory Point is won. If the player battles another player (not the Enemies) and loses, Glory Points are lost. The subtlety of this rule can be lost on beginners. In the RockyMountainNavy family first game, as Red I had the least territories but fought a number of good-odds battles towards the end and tied Blue who had the most Legions and territories. In the tie-breaker I lost to the more numerous Blue Legions. The RockyMountainNavy Boys were a bit confused at first until they realized its the battles won, not the number of territories, that count for Glory Points. A quick glance through the forums at BoardgameGeek seemingly indicate this is not a popular way of determining victory with several alternate VP conditions being bantered about.

Similarities

What struck me after the first play was the similarity of Enemies of Rome to the very popular Academy Games Birth of America-series. This especially applies to the first game in the series, 1775 Rebellion: The American Revolution. The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself have many plays of the Birth of America series and the similar 878 Vikings: Invasions of England which are team-play, area control games. Indeed, @PastorJoelT mentioned in one of his videos that he saw Enemies of Rome and 1775 Rebellion as similar games. His comment is actually what triggered me to buy the game!

In my opinion, although superficially similar to Enemies of Rome, there are enough differences with the Enemies of Rome and the Glory Point scoring mechanics that these games are just that – superficially similar. I view Enemies of Rome as the simpler game of the two.

Collection Worthy?

Although Enemies of Rome is a simple game with a scoring mechanic that is a bit opaque, that does not mean it is not good enough for a gaming collection. If you look closely at the featured image of this post, you will see several Rick Riordan books in the upper right corner of the image. The RockyMountainNavy Boys pulled these out because the geography in the books was also found in Enemies of Rome. The Boys also found my copy of Decision Games’ Strategy & Tactics Quarterly #1 – Caesar. The Boys are making what Mrs. RockyMountainNavy refers to as “connections.” They are studying the map, reading the history on the Event cards, and learning.

Enemies of Rome promotes learning while having fun at the same time. That’s a winning combination in the RockyMountainNavy stronghold. Even if you are not into learning, the simplistic nature of the game, combined with subtle strategy, make Enemies of Rome a good group game, especially when introducing new gamers to wargames.

Personal Quick Take – 2018 Origins Awards Nominees

As found on the ICv2 website:

The Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design (AAGAD) released the list of games nominated for 2018 Origins Awards. The Awards will be presented during the annual Origins Awards Ceremony, held on Saturday, June 16.  The Academy added a category to the seven from 2017, Roleplaying Supplement, bringing the total to eight.  The nominees were selected by the Academy; the winners will be selected by a jury of professionals.  Origins Game Fair attendees will vote for Fan Favorite winners at the show.

As a wargamer, I understand the the Origins Awards are not really my cuppa tea. For the longest time the Charles S. Roberts Award was all I cared about, but those ended in 2012. Since then, the Golden Geek Awards on BGG.com have been what I watch, but its really hard for me to get behind that award given that the demographic playing “war games” on the BGG sub-domain is quite different than players on ConsimWorld. Consequently, there are no “war games” of interest to me amongst the nominees.

All that said, I am kinda interested in the Origins Awards from a family gaming perspective. I regret to say that I have not played a single one of the 12 Board Game nominees. Card and Collectible games are not my thing so it is not surprising that I have not played any of those 20 games. I like miniatures but shy away from the cost, meaning the four games in that category are more unknowns to me. I guess this means I failed to qualify as a card-carrying COTN (Cult of the New) member or suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

I admit my roleplaying interests are narrow (usually sci-fi) and I am not surprised that my favorite Cepheus Engine publishers are not recognized. Shamefully, I see Mongoose Publishing somehow got their money-grabbing Traveller Starter Set on the list. I am heartened though by the diversity of other titles and publishers on the Roleplaying Game and Roleplaying Supplement lists.

Gaming Accessories? Looks like the Academy still has to decide what really goes into this category. I see everything from box inserts to game expansions. A firm definition of “gaming accessory” appears to be lacking.

Of course, who am I kidding? These days game awards are less professional recognition and more fan service. Look no further than the fact Gloomhavenwon six of 13 categories in the 2017 Golden Geek Awards. I consider it lucky that 878 Vikings – Invasion of England (Academy Games, 2017) was the 2017 Golden Geek Best Wargame Winner.

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Courtesy Academy Games

Discipline – or – KickStarter and Preorder Madness (April 2018 Update)

fullsizeoutput_5b2I really need to get my game budget under control. Last year I purchased many games and this year swore to get my spending under control. I have tried to be pickier (No Honey, really!) with my choices.

This week I was purchasing a just few games (Honest, Dear!) and looked at my Preordered BoardGameGeek collection.

Uh oh….

According to BGG, I have 13(!) items on preorder. I actually have 15 given that Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing via Kickstarter) does not have an entry yet. And then there is Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games, never?). I have written before about my disappointment there. Here are a few I am most interested in:

Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon (Academy Games, 2018?) is not my normal game genre. But it’s designed by Gunter Eickert and Uwe is publishing it. I trust them to make a good game. Even it it is a Kickstarter project….

After watching @PastorJoelT ‘s videos on Twitter and following my visit to Gettysburg, Battle Hymn Vol. 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games, 2018) looked too good to pass up.

I have patiently waited for Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! – Kursk 1943 (second edition, Academy Games) for a while now. I am part of the ProofHQ looking at the new rules. I like what I am seeing so the delay, though unfortunate, is not totally unbearable.

Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017). Another buy after @PastorJoelT showed videos. Also like that it compares to 1775 Rebellion – The American Revolution (Academy Games). Looking for a deal, I ordered through Miniature Market. In preorder although I see a few copies on the street. Worth it to save a few dollars?

I actually missed the Kickstarter for Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right (Leder Games, 2018?) but recently pulled the trigger and ordered it via BackerKit. I was initially hesitant because I like the GMT Games COIN series (which Root is supposedly heavily influenced by) but just was not so sure the RockyMountainNavy Boys would like it. After looking at the Print-n-Play versions posted I decided to go for it!

Long ago I remember a friend had Triplanetary: The Classic Game of Space Combat (Steve Jackson Games, 2018?). At only $45 via Kickstarter this seemed like a good deal as it is a topic I love.

If predictions are to be believed, August/September 2018 may be a busy month of new games. Mrs. RockyMountainNavy keeps reminding me about this as I spend now for gaming later.

 

Gettysburg and Gaming

This week we missed our weekly Family Game Night for maybe only the second time in over 18 months. The fatherly part of me feels a bit sad since I missed out on quality gaming time with the RockyMountainNavy Boys, but we more than made up for it in a short spring break trip to Gettysburg. The trip to Gettysburg National Military Park made me think of several games I have and consider how wargaming can help me teach the American Civil War to my family.

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Courtesy BGG.com

I last went to Gettysburg in the mid-1990s. I was attending a school in the military and we did a staff ride to Gettysburg. As I recall, we didn’t see any movie or the cyclorama and instead used the Army War College staff guide for moving about the battlefield. I sorta recall that I picked up my main Gettysburg wargame, Thunder at the Crossroads, 2nd Edition (The Gamers, 1993) in the gift shop. I remember because I had to explain to my classmates what a wargame was (sigh).

For the family this time we didn’t do our visit the military way, but the way the National Park Service recommends. For a very affordable $15 ($14 with military discount) one can get in to see the 20 minute movie A New Birth of Freedom (narrated by Morgan Freeman), the Cyclorama painting of Pickett’s Charge, and the museum before embarking on an auto tour of the battlefield. The movie is excellent, the cyclorama breathtaking, and the museum extremely educational. As much as I was looking forward to teaching the RMN Boys about the Battle of Gettysburg, it was Mrs. RMN who got the best education. Being a naturalized citizen fo the United States, she missed out on a great deal of history in the schools. Beyond the battlefield, the history that resonated with her the most was the divided nation, much like her original birth land of Korea. She studied closely the words of Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation as well as the Gettysburg Address. It was a good learning experience for all of us.

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Courtesy BGG.com

Looking at my gaming collection, I actually have on three American Civil War games. In addition to the previously mentioned Thunder at the Crossroads, I also have The Civil War (Fresno Gaming Assoc, 1991). This game rates a solid 2.8 on BGG.com and appears in geeklists like “The Worst Game in Your Collection” or “Worst. Game. Ever.” I rate it as a 5 (Mediocre – Take it or Leave it) though I don’t remember why I rated it this way.

 

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Courtesy BGG.com

The other American Civil War game in my collection is For the People (GMT Games, First Edition, 2000). This card-driven game (CDG) was one of my first forays into that game mechanic and, at the time, I found it wanting. Since then the CDG mechanic has grown on me and I have come to like it.

 

For a guy that is was so into tactical or operational-level wargames, I am surprised that I have only one Civil War game of that flavor in my collection. I guess I am a bit lucky that it is Thunder at the Crossroads given that there are many positive reviews of the game out there. I like hearing comments that it is long, but playable. It is also popular enough that there are even how-to videos posted out there. I strongly recommend Gilbert Collins’ review posted on Youtube.

More recently, I have been following Joel Toppen (@pastorJoelT on Twitter)and his replay of the new Compass Games title Battle Hymn Vol. 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge. This one looks interesting enough I may just have to order it!

I aslo note that Worthington Publishing announced a new Kickstarter coming soon for new Hold the Line: American Civil War.

I like the Hold the Line system, and this one looks interesting. I guess my getting it will depend upon the price point. Worthington is going to be working a bit uphill here since I have an inherent distrust of Kickstarter.

I have also heard rumors that Academy Games is looking at a Gettysburg version of Conflict of Heroes. Take my money!

So although I missed out on game night, our family trip to Gettysburg helped all the family learn much more about a vital period of American history. In the long run, we will get more American Civil War games to the table.

Featured image: Pickett’s Charge Cyclorama courtesy NPS.gov.

Old Lore – #BattleLore (Days of Wonder, 2006)

The RockyMountainNavy Family Game Night game this week was BattleLore (Days of Wonder, 2006). This is the first edition of the game and not the more recent Fantasy Flight Games second edition. Our game this week was generally good although I made a few errors during the evening. Playing BattleLore has rekindled my interest in the game and it deserves more table time.

In the RMN family, we usually end up playing a 3-player event. This makes it harder than it should to find a good game because many games are either 2-player or a multiple thereof (i.e. 4-players, etc.).  The Birth of America-series from Academy Games (1754 -Conquest: The French & Indian War, 1775 – Rebellion: The American Revolution, 1812: The Invasion of America) work well because they are 4-player games that also work at 2-players or – best for us – 3-players.

I own BattleLore: Epic BattleLore (DoW, 2007) that I thought would give me a scenario using the multiple boards that is suitable for 3-players. Using the extra board, it is possible to make a layout that is six-sectors wide that allows multiple commanders to play one side. But when I looked for an adventure (scenario) that used this map configuration there was none in the booklet. As the RMN Boys were already at the table and itching to play, I went ahead and laid out an adventure from the booklet that used a single army and an epic-scale 3-sector map. I asked the Boys to share command and they (reluctantly) agreed.

Wrong choice on my part.

Asking the Boys to “share” command of a single army spread over three sectors did not work. I thought about using a variation of the 4-player Reluctant Allies in Epic BattleLore but decided it would be unfair in a 3-player set-up. The Boys ended up bickering a fair bit (more than their usual friendly banter) and I could see the frustration growing in Middle RMN as his younger brother outright refused at times to work together. The Boys ended up winning, 7 banners to 5, but it was not a really fun game.

I apologized to Middle RMN about my choices going into the game and he was a good sport. I think he and I are OK but I don’t want to be his brother on the other side of a future battle because I sense there will be no mercy given!

All that said, the game night was not a total disaster. Having not played BattleLore in a long time (my last previously recorded play was in 2010!) and putting aside the command issues we enjoyed it. The addition of Lore and Creatures and the Goblin or Dwarf units – each with advantages and disadvantages – makes for an interesting game. The game is not without its challenges; soft sculpts and lack of good player aids detract a bit, but should not be showstoppers to enjoyment. I also think that the Boys are much more able to handle all that BattleLore brings to the table now that they are more experienced gamers. The last time we played Youngest RMN was a wee 6-years old and Middle RMN, my Austism Spectrum hero, was 12.

In addition to the core set and the previously mentioned Epic BattleLore expansion, I also own Call to Arms, the Dwarven Battalion Specialist Pack, and the Goblin Skirmishers Specialist Pack. Between all these expansions I “should” be able to come up with good adventures for 3-players, especially using the Call to Arms system. Although fantasy is not my go-to genre for gaming, I sense that BattleLore may actually fit many of our Family Game Night needs. BattleLore will find itself on the gaming table again, but not before I thoroughly reread the rules and make considered decisions on adventure design and balance.